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Sommer Nectarhoff – Ad Mortem

Ad Mortem

     He slipped the bullet into the chamber and gave it a spin with a flick of the wrist. The chamber rolled for a few moments before slowing to a halt, and then he cocked the piston and set the revolver down on the table.

     We picked up our glasses.

     “To the death,” I said.

     “To the death,” he said.

     I threw back the shot and felt the heat of the poison as it spilled down my throat. The room swam in a shimmering haze as I set down the glass. 

     Maxim drew a silver coin from his pocket. He held it between two fingers up next to his face. “Heads,” he said.

     The coin was scratched and inscribed with odd characters. Pictured was a rudimentary carving of a goddess holding a scale in one hand and a bow in the other. Her scratched face was still beautiful.

     “Tails,” he said, as he turned the coin around.

     More symbols. More scratches. No picture.

     I looked him in the eyes; they were bright. His jaw was set.

     “Heads,” I said.

     He nodded and brought his hand down to the table. He flipped the coin into the air.

     As it spun the two faces blurred together in a dance of light and shadow to form a glittering sphere of fate embodied.

     The coin clattered to the table and bounced a few times before landing between us.

     It was heads.

     Maxim picked up the revolver, put the barrel in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

     The piston shot down.

     The chamber was empty.

     Maxim took the gun from his mouth, spun the chamber, cocked the piston, and placed the gun on the table.

     I stood and lifted the bottle and poured a shot into my glass.

     I poured a shot into his glass.

     As I poured the sound of the trickling liquid filled the small cabin.

     We raised our glasses.

     “To the death,” I said.

     “To the death,” he said.

     I took my shot.

     He took his.

     Maxim retrieved the coin.

     “Heads,” I said.

     He flipped the coin. It rose and spun and landed on the table.

     Heads.

     Maxim blinked and clenched his teeth. He took the gun, bit the barrel, and pulled the trigger.

     The piston clicked. Empty.

     He reset the gun.

     I poured the shots.

     “To the death,” we said.

     We drank.

     “Heads,” I said.

     Maxim flipped the coin. It rose into the air and landed with a thud on the table. It did not bounce.

     It was tails.

     I grimaced and reached for the gun. It was the first time I’d touched it. The metal felt cold and smooth in my hand as I picked it up and looked down into the dark barrel.

     I put the barrel in my mouth.

     I closed my eyes and pulled the trigger.

     There was a bang loud enough to burst my ear drums and a resounding crash as glass shattered behind me. I spit the barrel from my mouth and dropped the revolver to the table.

     Maxim was staring at me, his eyes wide open.

     I turned around.

     The only window in the cabin had been right behind me.

     It wasn’t there anymore.

     I reached my hand to the back of my head.

     Everything was still there.

     I turned back to Maxim. He had the gun in his hand. He pulled open the chamber and rolled it.

     It was empty.

     He sat back down and put the gun in the center of the table next to a second bullet.

     “To the death,” he said.

     I picked up the bottle.

–  Sommer Nectarhoff

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Jahla Seppanen – The Screen Door

The Screen Door

He fixed his eyes on the small sun. In the distance there were mountains and the sun hovered above the tallest peak, apprehended by only one thin cloud. The orb was yellow and red. The color of Anne Marie’s favorite dress. The man stared at the sun, and stayed staring. He stared until the peripherals of his vision caved into darkness, falling away and into the middle towards the center point: the sun. This was no sunset, when the darkness pulls down over the light. Instead, it started from all sides and crept to the core. Then after the last grains of light slipped down the hole and his vision filled with darkness, there was a white circle left where the sun had been. Then the outlined circle faded too. He blinked, and thought he was blinking, and he was to anyone who might have been there and might have seen him, but as he blinked no light filtered in. He was blind. He tried crying but could not imagine a picture to be sad about. A young girl beaten or a boy sent to prison. Nothing from the newspaper headlines or five o’clock news. He reached for the pint of whiskey by his ankle and twisted the cap. He heard the plastic top roll out of his fingers and across the wooden deck, without any idea as to which direction it ran. The cap dropped and the man drank. He took the bottle fully until there was nothing left, but the weight of the glass made him believe something was left inside. A note perhaps, or a sign of forgiveness from Anne Marie. He threw the bottle away and it landed on the wood with a clap. He heaved up and reached for a bottle of vodka left by his other ankle. The metallic lid came off, twisting its teeth like an old fashioned torture machine. He threw the lid and did not hear it land. The liquor poured into his mouth until it filled everything and bubbled up his throat, spewing from the corners of his mouth. After a breath, he drank again. The liquor was gone, or he could not taste it anymore. So much liquor, all at once, that it killed trillions of taste buds planted on his tongue.  He imagined his mouth as an apple, and could see it clearly in his mind, a shining green skin. He imagined his tongue as a worm, black and rotting. He tipped the vodka to his lips and no taste. And no sight to tell if the liquor was gone for good. He stopped drinking and leaned his head against the screen door. He felt very little. Less than little, but still longed to rid the feelings that were left. It could have been deep night or very early morning. There could be more liquor around the deck. The man blinked and slapped his lips and had nothing. Nothing but the feel of the giving screen behind his back, and the sense that nobody would find him, and nothing but a sadness to hold his Anne Marie again. But he lost that long before he lost the rest, and the rest was nothing compared to Anne Marie.

– Jahla Seppanen

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Daniel Clausen – Magic

Magic

Magic. You want it to be there forever. It’s like that time when you’re six years old and you find yourself in first grade with your favorite teacher with your favorite book and you’re transported to a different place; that time when you’re lost out on the beach making sandcastles with your monster friends; it’s drinking wine in a temple with your friends on top of a mountain on the other side of the world.

When you find it, you want to wrap yourself in it. This is what love is. You spend Friday nights going out with friends, doing harmless things like drinking in parks or hanging out at your favorite bar. Your job is nothing to brag about, but you’re not the type to brag anyway. But it’s not just magic. It’s also about the feeling. Feeling safe enough to wrap yourself in the simple pleasure of the moment. How long can I hold onto this magic? Does it have a limit or can it go on forever?

I spit water and unwrap seaweed from my body. I cling to the sand for a moment with weak muscles. When the water exits, something new fills my lungs. And when I look up, for the first time I can feel a world empty of cats and full of fireflies. They fly around me, their light, something akin to optimism, shines down and illuminates my way. Somewhere out of the water, my shadow follows tentatively.

“Where am I going?” I ask the fireflies, and the movement of their light in the night air gives me the impression they are talking amongst themselves.

The beach is only a narrow strip of sand. I soon find I’m climbing up the mountain. The path is narrow and hard to see, but the fireflies light my way.

Where am I? I think. Have I made it to the island? The aching in my muscles from the swim is gone. Even my knee feels better. The aches and pains from old injuries go away. The light from the fireflies fills me with purpose.

As I walk up the mountain, I find my memories being rearranged. The lonely anger of my early years soon fills itself with friends―tough ones, smart ones, scrappy ones. Did I have a high school sweetheart? Yeah, I had one of those too.

With light feet, I make my way up the mountain, working through my memories, all the way up to the triumph of my college scholarship. Somehow, I think I should have parents to celebrate this with―but they don’t appear. I don’t feel any sadness, though, because my foster mother Susan is there. When I see her, there is a pain where my heart is supposed to be. Even this quickly passes. I know now that she’s going to live a long and happy life. That we will have our arguments, our misunderstandings, and that we’ll have to work through these things, forever and ever, with only the kind of tension that the two of us can share.

The path ends, and I make my way into a mountain town. Quiet and empty, the only place it seems to exist is in my imagination. I walk past the post office, the dry goods store, a small schoolhouse, and some modest houses. Eventually, I find a little traveler’s inn. A two-story building made out of wood. Without a word, I make my way to the door.

A note has been left for me, and in beautiful calligraphy someone has written “Welcome.” The door is open, so I walk in and up the stairs. I shuffle my way up to my room. Somehow I know that the middle one close to the end is mine. The moonlight seeps in and makes everything vaguely visible. The little wooden room has a small western-style bed, and by the window are kids’ books. When I lie down near the window somehow my body feels lighter. My body loses all its substance. My memories, my burdens, my fears, all slip away, and I become a tiny firefly floating toward the sky. I drift upward and upward, and before I know it, I’m out the window, watching myself sleep. I continue to drift upward into the night sky, toward the moon. It’s made of cheddar cheese and somewhere in one of its craters, Peter Pan lies in a hammock dreaming of an American boy living on an island on the other side of the world. And in my mind, content, I think: I knew all along this is the way the world really is.

– Daniel Clausen

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Dawn Corrigan – To Arthur S. Hartford, Esq.

To Arthur S. Hartford, Esq.

I’m writing concerning a case I hope you might review. From your website, I see you offer a Free Initial Consultation to every prospective client. I’m sure it’s customary to conduct these sessions in person, but I hope you’ll be willing to read this e-mail instead. I find it easier to express myself in writing than out loud, especially when it comes to the matter I’m going to tell you about.

The case concerns an alleged Sex Offense, which I see on the site is one of your areas of expertise.

The victim and her attacker were known to each other before the events I’ll describe. In fact, they dated for several months in college before breaking up and going their separate ways.

A few years later, the woman was working at a bookstore when one day the man came in. After he made his purchase, they began to talk. The man said he was reevaluating his life, thinking of moving to another state. The woman shared that she was in a serious relationship, and said she too was thinking of making some changes, such as going back to school. After a few minutes the man asked if she’d like to go for a beer after work. The woman was enjoying their conversation and said yes.

That evening, the man picked the woman up after her shift and drove them to a nearby bar. They drank and talked. Though the woman was normally a light drinker, she had several beers and then, at the man’s suggestion, switched to shots. She wasn’t worried; she figured she could get a cab home if necessary.

After a few drinks the conversation grew more intimate. The man said he’d realized recently that for most of his life he hadn’t known how to treat women. He even apologized for some of his behaviors back when they’d been dating. However, he was now living with female roommates on a friendship-only basis, and felt he was learning a lot. The woman congratulated him on his new maturity.

When they left the bar, the man said he was okay to drive them home. The woman, however, had greatly exceeded her capacity. The car ride only worsened her condition and she was very sick by the time they reached her apartment. The man helped her upstairs, where she threw up in the bathroom before passing out on her bed.

Here’s where the story gets interesting, Mr. Hartford. At this point, the man could simply have left. Or, he would have been welcome to sleep on the couch. But instead, the woman came to sometime later to find that the man was raping her.

What did the woman do, you wonder? Did she jump up and accuse her attacker? Did she hit him over the head with a lamp? Later, she thought she should have done these things. But her first impulse was to not make a fuss, to see if she could just clean things up. She disentangled herself from the man and jumped up from the bed. She straightened her clothes and looked for her keys.

As she scurried frantically around the room, however, she couldn’t stop herself from repeating “You shouldn’t have done that!”

“You shouldn’t have done that!” She said it over and over again. This was the only outward sign she gave that something was wrong. She wanted so badly for it to be over she even drove the man home, forgetting his car was already parked in front of her building, forgetting she was drunk.

Back at her apartment, horribly sobered up, the woman couldn’t sleep. The question was whether or not to go to the police. She ought to, she knew. But the fact is, Artie—you don’t mind if I call you Artie, do you?—she was afraid.

Let’s face it, if she pressed charges, some defense attorney—someone a lot like you—would make much of the fact that she let him into her apartment, even her room. That she drank lots of beer. His words of trust and friendship would be made to seem like a code whose real meaning was clear.

The end result of all her thinking was that she did nothing.

Time passed. The woman tried to live with constant anger and humiliation. She regarded her male friends and coworkers with suspicion. She and her boyfriend stopped having sex. Then he became her ex.

Believe it or not, though, after a while something else began to bother her even more than the rape itself. Something she remembered.

That night, as she’d echoed the phrase, “You shouldn’t have done that!” over and over, the man had replied, “Why? Do you have an STD?”

And that, in the end, was what made her most angry. That the man didn’t even know he’d done something wrong. That he thought he was the one who had something to worry about.

Then one night her worst fears were confirmed. She got home from the bookstore to find a message on her answering machine.

He wanted to know if she’d “like to go out again sometime!”

He’d “really enjoyed their evening!”

For all these reasons, Artie, she began to think she should summon her courage and come forward, even though she knew how it was likely to go.

Why just last week, a judge overturned a rape conviction where a knockout drug was used, saying the incident should serve as a warning for women who like to party.

Not to mention, the man would surely hire some hotshot lawyer. Someone just like you, right Artie? Only it wouldn’t actually be you. What’s that saying in your profession? “The attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client?”

That’s a real riot.

– Dawn Corrigan

Author’s Note – “To Arthur S. Hartford, Esq.” is the story of a woman who attempts to reclaim her violated sense of agency and autonomy by writing a letter, with mixed results.

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Michael Putnam – Progenitors

Progenitors

Our grandparents always found us. For years, my wife and I packed up our possessions and moved to another city. Then they would find us again. They never called asking where we were, and we never called them. Our grandparents were cordial in the beginning, said they just needed proximity. They’d move into the neighborhood or the next sub-division over.

We’d let our guard down, and they would pounce. The arrived always at dinner time, crock pots in hand and wine for the grownups. There was an incident in Madison involving the destruction of our front door and tire marks on the carpet. They were cycle heads, Gram and Gramp, and when they moved they moved light. My wife offered them Brian, our oldest, after they found us somewhere near the place EST became CST. They refused, said it was the whole family or nothing.

We transitioned to hotels, staying a week at a time. Our children enrolled in online school. Still they found us. Gramp and I exchanged black eyes at a movie theatre in Charleston. Her parents did all they could, up to and including buying us a blueberry island on a lake in northern Maine. We changed our names, sold our possessions, and burned our clothing with the boat we rode in on. The kids were gone by that point, unable to cut it on the road.

But our grandparents burned their boat too when they landed on shore. One violent month ensued: hand-made traps, make-shift weaponry, deplorable acts committed by both sides. Until it was me and Grams, both too bruised and shell-shocked to care. So she taught me to fish, and how to plant a blueberry bush. Turns out she grew up Down East and summered near that lake every year ‘til college.

– Michael Putnam

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Micah Tauscher – Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek

Last year I woke up and didn’t see my brother.

He slept across the room from me, but that morning he wasn’t there.  No one knew where he’d gone.  Not Mama.  Not Papa.  Not even the maid who picked up my toys when I wasn’t looking.  A lot of people came and looked for him.  They looked around the house.  They looked in the woods outside.  I could see them through the window.  They even tried to look in the attic, but there were nails in the door.  After a while, we couldn’t find him and gave up.

I didn’t miss him.

He’d been older than me and only talked about girls.  He wasn’t any fun.

Besides, now there was no one to split dessert with. No one to have to share my toys with.  No one else to distract Mama and Papa.  Maybe, it’d be nice to have him to play with, but the maid tells me stories and Papa gives piggyback rides, so I really don’t miss him. 

Papa was tough.  Papa took it okay. 

Mama wasn’t.

Mama looked out the window more after he left and she cried a lot even though she hadn’t hurt herself.  I checked every time.  She told stories about him.  He never started a fight.  He always picked up his messes.  It wasn’t true, but Papa wouldn’t let me tell her that.  Papa said it was the only time she smiled.  She only looked at me and cried. 

Mama wasn’t fun anymore.

Last week, Mama went missing too.

Papa was really worried.  He called the police and they looked everywhere she could have gone.  They checked the garage, but the car was still there.  They looked through the cupboards and flowerbeds, but nothing was out of place.  They even checked the bathroom, but they didn’t find anything.  You don’t hide things in the bathroom.

They never checked the attic.  They said it was sealed.

Plus, the maid lives up there.

Papa’s started looking out the window a lot.  I like to watch him to see what he’ll do if he sees me.  Sometimes he looks scared, like me when I wake up at night and see our maid on the ceiling above me.  Usually, he just calls me over and talks to me.  It’s fun, I guess, but he doesn’t give piggyback rides anymore. 

I miss the piggyback rides.

Sometimes I miss Mama and I get a little sad, but the maid tells me stories.  Most of them are fun.  She won’t when Papa’s around, so we wait until Papa’s asleep.  She tells the stories until I get bored, then she plays hide and seek with me.  She says that I’m the only one who ever found her –when she was picking up my trucks and hiding Legos in the corners of the house.  She says that’s why she plays with me.  She says that she can teach me to hide good enough that no one will ever find me.

I ask her if that’s what Mama and my brother are doing. 

She says no.  She says that they weren’t good at hide and seek, that when you’re not good at a game you can’t keep playing.

I ask her if Papa is good at it.  She says she doesn’t know but she doesn’t think so.  I tell her that I bet he is. 

I’ve been hiding for three days now, and Papa can’t find me.  He can’t even find the maid and she’s just been standing behind him for most of the day.  She told me last night that Papa wasn’t very good.  She didn’t want him playing anymore.  I guess today’s his last chance, but that’s okay.

The maid’s more fun anyway.

Micah Tauscher

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Dane Karmick – Unforeseen

Unforeseen

Out of the blue
your gray matter
is tickled pink
with flying colors
you achieve peace
so you’re cool
as a cucumber
your thoughts
flat as a pancake
because you see
the whole enchilada
the world is slow
as molasses
like a brush stroke
over canvass
that completes a
portrait of bliss
resembling some
psychic reading or
astral projection
the third eye
channeling
the premiere of
epic stillness
written and directed
beyond time
starring what is
until you cast
the first stone
one by one
you put
two and two
together
feeling the rush
of division
pull your
whole number
into pieces.

Dane Karmick

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