By Peter Tieryas Liu
An autopsy of time would expose midnight at this LA rave as a buildup of greedy seconds poisoned by impatience. I’ve often wondered what it’d be like to split my brain open, unravel my memories like noodles that’d squirm because I’d boiled them too long. Melancholy weaves her way around my noodle and I split into a million different versions of myself.
I’m attending the event cause an old colleague is catering and I’m assisting. The theme is Locust, or hunger, a charitable masquerade pretending to empathize with the impoverished and destitute. There’s thousands who’ve starved the whole week to gather at this factory on the outskirts of town and smoke exotic herbs to alter their perceptions. Many of the women resemble spirits with all the smoke around us, rippling into thin mirages that meander frenetically. What would a lifetime with any of them be like? I spot a Chinese girl who’s statuesque enough to fit into Roman porn with her chipped breasts and ivory ass. She notices my glance, approaches and introduces herself as, “Ella. I combined the Spanish words for the feminine and masculine ‘the.’”
“I’m Byron,” I reply.
She shakes my hand. “Tell me a secret.”
“Why don’t you go first?” I suggest.
She simpers. “I’ve lost my reflection.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let me show you.”
She pulls me into the girl’s bathroom and points at the mirror. I see my ugly self and twenty girls behind, but no Ella.
The Alley Healer
Photographer: Neil CaldwellWriter/Model: Luna LarkQuailBellMagazine.com
EXT. CANAL – NIGHT
A cool mist, the stir of crickets—ingredients for a lonely early autumn night in Richmond. A young woman crouches by the James River canal. Chimera, robed in black, and clutching a small bag, kneels on the sidewalk. She grits her teeth as tiny pebbles and glass scrape her knees. All scraped up, she is filthy.
Suddenly Chimera puts down the bag, eyes locked on the water. She plunges her hands into the canal and withdraws a frog. One of its legs hangs at a strange angle. The frog struggles, so Chimera squeezes it more firmly. She brings the frog closer to her face and inspects its lef. After pinching it slightly, she furrows her brow.
Chimera reaches into her bag with one hand. As the frog continues to struggle (less so now), Chimera pulls out a tiny splint. She places the frog on the ground and begins tying its leg to the splint. Once she has completed the task, Chimera puts the frog in a pouch knotted at her waist. It blends in with her dress.
Chimera gets up and starts patrolling the area for more animals. Each time she hears a rustling, she perks up. A couple minutes later, she stumbles across a fluttering month on the ground.
Again, she kneels on the ground. She is, after all, the alley healer.
You Can Get Lost Anywhere
By Jim Meirose
The old workman put down his wooden box of well-worn tools and sat at the bar next to Dickens. He laid his rough worker’s hands on the bar and his mouth moved in his deeply lined face as he said one word to the bartender. “Beer.”
The beer came on the bar and the bartender hadn’t had to ask him what brand he wanted because he always wanted the same brand. The old workman picked up the beer and brought it to his lips and drank. He put the beer down. He turned to Dickens.
“So what kind of day you have Dickens?”
“Pretty good,” answered Dickens.
“I had a pretty good day too,” said the old workman.
Another lousy day, he thought. I’m all aches and pains—maybe someday I won’t have to work anymore—maybe someday I’ll be able to retire—would that I had a cushy office job like this guy—look at his suit—look at his shoes. Yes, I should have gotten one of those jobs when I got out of school. I should have went to college—I’d have a nice office job now too—look at what I do for a living—nail up walls, hang doors—things that anyone can do. I always wanted to make my mark—in a cushy office job I could really make my mark--
“That’s great,” said Dickens.
The two men looked into their drinks and Dickens once more readied himself to down his whisky shot and again, as he did every day, he envied the old workman. Dickens worked as a manager in a large financial corporation and felt deep down that he had produced nothing all his life, while the old workman had actually left his mark on the world. Dickens didn’t actually know what kind of work the old workman did but he was sure the man had made his mark by fixing or building things that you could touch feel and use. The box of tools was well worn and battered from years of use on job after job after job after job.
All Dickens produced was—nothing. That was all he could think of. He watched over a department of people who went about their jobs without needing to consult him or get advice from him and claimed at the end of every year that he had produced so many thousands of whatever his people produced but it hadn’t really been him; he himself produced nothing. He felt his soft hand grip the shot and bring it to his lips—he knocked it back and motioned to the bartender for another. He glanced at the old workman’s hands—dark and rough and craggy and cracked—and he considered his own hands—soft and smooth and weak, like a child’s.
By Alexander Kafka
My Jenny Went to California
By Mlaz Corbier
When he was born, Catboy was an almost perfectly normal human being baby but his parents didn’t much like almost perfectly normal human being babies. What made Catboy a little less perfect than his folks had hoped for was a spine as flexible as a rubber chicken, a body completely covered in thick, black hair, and plaintive meows that ought to have been cries. After a few days, Dad couldn’t take it any longer and decided to put his boy in a bag and lob him into a lake, just like a real unwanted cat. Thoughts like these happen only on dark, dark nights, of course, and it was a particulary dark, dark night when the man set out with his son struggling in a sack. The thing with dark, dark nights is that many people are about and none of them with intentions they’d dare mention in front of their mums. The young father had barely swung the sack over his shoulder when fortune fell upon him.
“Top-o-the-evenin’ to yer, sir,” a dodgy type said as he tipped his bowler hat; there wasn’t anything in the ape’s appearance that justified him wearing such a gentleman’s garments. It turned out Catboy’s dad had walked into a dicey alley right in The Gent’s district, a good-for-nothing bounder that looked as squalid as any seven snakes. “Just leave them goodies on the ground an’ get lost, will yer?” The Gent said.
“Sorry, but am I being mugged?”
“I think not, sir. Looks to me as you’s voluntarily leavin’ that there sack behind in this here side street.”
By Hélène Grasset
When Wolves Cry
By William Falo
The sign at the entrance to Wolf Lake Indian Reservation bent and swayed, but it withstood all of Aaron’s rage despite a constant pelting with a crowbar. The metal absorbed the beating until his hands stung. He forced himself back into the truck and drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding the scar on his stomach trying to stop the memory of the Native American man that stabbed him. The sign brought it all back. The GPS directed him to the area where the reported sighting of a captive lynx took place. He drove to the outskirts of the reservation until he found the right dirt road and stayed alert because the deep woods hid many secrets and dangers.
The house looked deserted with shredded curtains and broken glass in the small windows. A graveyard of engines and other debris created a maze of junk around the house. Aaron pulled out the crowbar, not needing the tranquilizer gun until he found the lynx. Trash overflowed in the area often blowing past him into the woods in a gust of wind.
It disgusted him to see people living in such horrid condition and how often they hoarded animals and even had children living with them. The stench of death wafted over him, like a rogue wave in the ocean, almost stopping him in his tracks. The silence made him hesitate; although he wasn’t a police officer, the people around here didn’t take lightly to the government telling them what they can and can’t do. A clang from his left made him spin around and duck behind a stack of wood. He left the gun in the truck; he stopped carrying it not ever wanting to feel responsible for someone’s death ever again. With the crowbar held out in front of him, he peeked out and saw a child washing a cage out with a sponge and bucket.
She was dark skinned and her long black hair had a red-tailed hawk feather hanging from it. He stood up and approached keeping an eye on the house at all times.
When she saw him, the girl recoiled and dropped the sponge into the bucket. She opened her mouth, but no words came out.
“I’m not here to hurt you. Is there a lynx here?” He waited for a minute, but she remained quiet. “A big cat?”
The girl pointed to a shed. He noticed burns and bruises on her arms and the scar on his stomach began to pulsate like it was alive.
Inside The Goblin's Basket
By M. Craig
Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from an early draft of the recently released novel, The Narrows (Papercut Press).
Flickering orange light danced through the soot that shaded the front window of Sim’s house. Sir Nogad Nogron had set up a living quarter for his servants on the other side of his woods, so that he wouldn’t have to see his workers’ drab homes and dirty streets. As Sim got older, Nogron got richer and his collection of servants expanded. She’d watched the living quarter grow. Now one building was pushed up against another so that there was barely a breath of air between them. Muffled yells came from the house next to Sim’s. If she wasn’t kept awake at night from her mother’s boorish snores, their neighbors’ reliable bickering always did the trick. There was a lull in the current fight--as if the mother had stepped between the father and son and was urging them in a whisper to be quiet.
Sim took a deep breath and pushed open her door. Her mother didn’t miss a beat.
“Where were you?” she said. She sat in front of the fire, in a fraying cream armchair that Sim had rescued from the garbage heap behind the Nogron Manor. Her mother filled the entire chair. She lounged there with her leg-like arms crossed over her hefty chest. She looked up at Sim with an expression that could only be interpreted as loathing.
“Where’s the firewood?” her mother asked.
Sim slapped her hand up to her forehead. She usually gathered dead branches where the path from the Nogron Manor led out into grassy fields on her way home. “I’m sorry, I--I forgot.”
“Well then how is Alayne supposed to cook dinner? Or any of us sleep through the night? We’ll all have to freeze now because you forgot? I think not. Go back.” She waved her pink-specked hand toward the door. “Go back and get it.”
Sim stared at the floor. The woods weren’t safe at night, and she’d already felt the danger of that deserted place on her walk home that day. Sim’s chest clenched and her breathing turned shallow at the very thought of going back to where that man could still be hiding, waiting for the next lone girl to rob.
“Either you go, or you can sleep outside.”
Sim looked up at her mother, at her greasy hair that was matted down onto her forehead, at her thin, chapped lips that were twisted into a scowl. Her loose-fitting dress caught in her stomach folds and fell over her legs, to just above where her calves turned into her feet. There was not a doubt in Sim’s mind that her mother would indeed kick her out and make her sleep outside in the cold night. It wouldn’t be the first time.
There was a bang on the wall where the fireplace was. Muffled yells followed. The neighbors were at it again. Her mother didn’t seem to notice.
“Ok,” Sim said. “I won’t be long.” She turned to the door.
“Wait,” her mother stopped her. Sim turned back and stared at her outstretched palm. “You got paid today, didn’t you? Give me the magic dust before you go. Rent’s due tomorrow.”
Sim swallowed. Fear that matched the icy feeling she had when that man held a knife to her throat swam in her heart once again.
“Where is it, Simetra?”
“I was robbed,” she mumbled.
“You were what?” Her mother’s hand fell to her lap and her brows drew together in disbelief.
“A man robbed me in the woods.”
“A man robbed you in the woods. Do you think I’m an idiot?” Her mother’s voice got slightly louder. “What did you spend it on? Where are you hiding it? I knew you had to be up to no good, coming home so late.”
“I’m telling the truth. I don’t have it.”
“Your sister will be home any minute with food from Locklawn. I gave her the last of my magic dust. How can you be so selfish, Simetra?”
“I was robbed.”
“Go,” her mother said.
“Go. Get out. If you can’t contribute to this family, then you can’t be a part of it. I don’t know what you spent your wages on, but you go get it back. Give it to me and then you can stay here.”
“Get out. Get out!” Her mother’s voice turned to a screech. Even if the neighbors were still arguing, Sim imagined them pausing and staring in disbelief at the dirty wooden wall that they shared with Sim and her family.
The arms of the chair creaked as her mother grasped them with her chubby fingers and fought to push herself up. Sim took a step back. She reached for the door handle, ripped it toward her, and escaped into the abandoned street. Everyone was home and locked up inside. There was no one she could go to. Her friends from the Nogron Manor had little space as it was, and Sim was sure they’d turn her away. Because she worked as a maid for Nogron’s daughter, she hardly spent time with the other workers. When she did interact with them, it was usually to demand better service for Jaylenik Nogron. Sim was hardly someone they ever looked forward to seeing. Not knowing where to go or what she would do, Sim started to walk back toward the woods.
Now that the sun was down, the air was turning frigid. Sim hugged her arms to herself and tried to ignore the cold. Her eyes were cast toward the ground. She didn’t see the person approaching her until her eyes caught sight of the frayed ends of a long skirt. She stopped and snapped her eyes up.
“Sim. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
It was her sister. Alayne cupped a heavy burlap bag in her arms, leaned backward against its weight. Her dark eyes examined Sim.
“Where are you going?” she asked. “What happened?”
“Nothing.” The memory of the robber crept back into Sim’s mind. She felt like she might throw up. “I was robbed on my way home. I’ve lost all of my wages for the last two weeks.”
“What?” Alyane shook her head and looked at Sim with a mix of pity and accusation. “Why weren’t you more careful?”
There was a pause. Sim filled the moment of silence with a low snort. “I didn’t know he was going to rob me,” she said, slightly angry that her sister was blaming her for it. But at least she believed her.
“Mom’s going to be so mad... You know she needs that magic dust to pay the rent.” Alayne looked down at the bag. “She just gave me the rest of your last pay to get this food. I can’t bring it back. Can’t you ask Sir Nogron for an advance?”
Sim laughed. “Right.”
“Well, that’s selfish. I need to take care of mom; I can’t get a job, can I? Even if I could, rent is due tomorrow.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Alayne. I didn’t ask to get robbed--”
“You’ve already said that.” Alayne pushed her lips together into a frown. “You have to figure it out.”