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Patricia Marquez

The Fire at Bastrop

The town of Bastrop looked as if a fire-breathing dragon had careened above the twenty mile stretch of land, incinerating everything below. To his right and left, he saw thousands of blackened and jagged stumps and half-trees, trailing into the distance as far as his eyes could see. The ground below was sable earth and ash.

Jon tried to imagine the fire, the highway empty and hot, the sky bright and smoking from flames. Not a living soul within a mile, nothing to be heard but the crackling and whirring of an inferno. The loud and constant sound of nothing, because no living thing would hear it.

How long did this go on behind the livings’ eyes, he wondered. When did the fire finally die, satiated?

It was the penultimate of if a tree falls in the forest, with no one around to hear, does it make a sound. For centuries, perhaps millennia, scholars had mulled over this question. It is the question of man’s existence; its answer answers all to intelligent life as we know it.

More likely than not there would never be one. Like the old farmer he interviewed, whose house was destroyed in the blaze, and whose wife died of a heart attack during the evacuation. What answers could he find in the final chapter of his life? Could any give him comfort this far down the line?

There were infinite questions. They overran the mind and drove one nearly to madness. The central one of late was whether he was making the right decisions. Early in adulthood, he learned quickly that no one could tell him this. There was no objective truth in the matter. He was entirely on his own.

The old man had flicked a cigarette onto his porch and said “Life goes on”. Life does, yes, but what about the rest of it, he wondered.

There was a legacy to think of, mistakes he knew were coming, and pain from which he knew one day he would suffer. And all these uncertainties were a certainty, as if someone somewhere already knew. And this made him more frightened than anything, with a consuming terror he had never known.

- Patricia Marquez

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Arthur Heifetz – A.M.

A.M.

Why do you draw the sheets
over your head
and shrink from the day?
Is it because your father
taught you life
was an aching tooth
to be endured until
they finally removed it?
Or that friends’ fatal illnesses
began with nothing more
than a numbness in the arm
or a lump in the throat
and you’ve lost your energy
of late?

Or is it the anniversaries
of those who,
lulled by the frosty season,
never awakened at all?
You search for them
in your brooding dreams,
your footsteps echoing
down deserted streets
in cities with no name.

Stretching out your arms now,
you are relieved to find
a warm body next to yours.
You press her hand
and paddle to the kitchen
and set a pot of coffee there
for two.

- Arthur Heifetz

Author’s Note:

This poem is for my wife Mayela who gives me the courage to draw back the sheets and face the day.

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Ashley Shaw – Boning

Boning

I’m just one on the assembly line
Strung up on a bar stool
Torso pierced by your
Meat hook irises
Hands glide along the
Glinting metal counter
“Let me buy you a drink.”
Just slip that liquid past my teeth
Let the grog sweeten the meat
You dress my flesh,
Pepper me with compliments
“So pretty,” you say. “Such a pretty girl.”
And I wonder
Do my flanks meet your standards?
Do you enjoy the pulsing
Frenzy of my jugular?
Do you want to drain the blood
From my lips?
Grasp my hips
And split me in two?
Process me
Into pieces
For easier digestion?
Well, buddy
Let me break it down to the bones
You are more like me
 Than you’d like to be
And we
Are nothing but
 Gristle and stardust

You’ve seen the butcher.
She wears a blouse.

- Ashley Shaw

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Thom Mahoney – Blow Wind Blow

Blow Wind Blow

Blow wind, blow wind, blow my baby back to me.
Blow wind, blow wind, blow my baby back to me.
Well you know if I don’t soon find her, I will be in misery. 

–”Blow Wind Blow,” McKinley Morganfield (Muddy Waters)
 

When the wind stopped, there was an eerie and sudden silence before debris began returning to Earth. Shower doors and 2 x 4s and spatulas and stuffed animals tumbled from the sky alongside terrified cats and dogs. And when the dazed residents began emerging from their bathtubs or hall closets or from under piles of scattered rubble, the horror was everywhere. Roofs pulled and tossed like playing cards, cars toppled over and piled like Lincoln Logs, second stories sliced from houses like layers from a cake. Leafless and barkless trees stood naked and withered, their branches reaching skyward, asking, pleading: Why?

And then car alarms and police sirens and the anguished cries of neighbors and friends.

Three days later, 139 people were still missing. The President had come and hugged and promised, volunteers had brought bottled water and shovels. Media crews swarmed like insect infestations, gawkers and looters circled like jackals.

Zombie-like survivors wandered through the streets searching for loved ones. Photos posted on bare trees and toppling utility poles, hastily copied flyers handed out to anyone, everyone. Rescue dogs and expert trackers were brought in, hi-tech listening devices, robotic probes.

Sandra Nichols had been laying a flagstone path through her vegetable garden with her daughter, Amelia, when the warning siren sent them into the bathtub with the mattress pulled atop them. Then the wind came.

But, she couldn’t hold on, the wind yanking her daughter from her arms and sucking the scream from her throat.

Now, she wanders the Salvation Army and Goodwill, the hospital and clinics, the emergency services, and like all the others, she stands at the doors of the makeshift morgue and wonders why they won’t let them look at the bodies. Surely she’d know her Amelia, they’d all know their loved ones.

These people – these survivors, they are called – they wait for their DNA to be matched, while praying it never is.

And as the sun begins to set for the fourth time since the wind came, you can hear the cries of the living for the lives they have lost, as they pull wet teddy bears and shattered family photos from twisted and splintered piles, looking for artifacts of how life once was.

While mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, wander the streets hoping to hear, hoping to see, hoping to find what others have not.

“Amelia. Amelia, can you hear me?”

- Thom Mahoney 

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Heather M. Browne – Letter From Speedy Stevie

Letter From Speedy Stevie

I’m sorry Daddy, I made you run. I tried to be good.
I’m your Speedy Stevie, cuz I’m so fast and loud. I screamed real loud that night, huh?
I didn’t know the coppers would come.
I shouldn’ta tried to make you stop.
Or go.

Mama cries all night long, holding her pillow real tight, so I don’t hear.
Trying to make everything white & soft like Snowflake’s fur.
Wishing her pillow was you.

She says it’s not my fault. I was just scared and wanted it to stop.
But she never cried all night ‘til now.
I got so mad yesterday I broke that plane we made. Threw it so hard
it flew straight out the window.
Oh Daddy, I laughed! But Mama screamed and yelled, wouldn’t let me help
or pick up the pieces. Her hand got cut too, kinda bad.

Mommy needs you back so she can sleep.

I tried to take Johnny,
cuz I don’t think he’s bad.
But I’m just fast and not that strong.
So I took his pillow & let him cry into it, just like Mama.
Making everything white & soft like Snowflake’s fur.
Wishing his pillow was you.
He kicked real good, Daddy – a fighter. He beat me with those little fists
as long as he could.
I bet when he got big he coulda been a real fighter, like you.

I left him there all quiet,
so Mama can rest. She’s real tired Daddy.

So come home now, Dad. I’ve run away with my loud, loud voice.
Runaway, like you.

Heather M. Browne

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Greg Letellier – Angels

Angels

At the bell, Nick and Marvin are walking unwillingly into the gymnasium. Colorful chairs are set up in neat rows. Most of the seats are already taken.

“Let’s squeeze in over there,” Nick says, pointing to an almost empty row.

Nick and Marvin met on the first day of high school. They met in an English class on the American canon. Nick really likes Salinger, but he prefers English writers. Nick writes, too. He writes long historical fictions about wars in other countries. Marvin doesn’t like to read or write, but is intrigued by Nick’s stories.

They squeeze into the row, trying to slide past people’s knees.

Then something happens.

An older boy grabs Marvin’s ass. He clenches on his ass cheek so tight that Marvin yelps. Nick doesn’t see or it hear it, so he keeps walking. Marvin’s eyes water in pain and humiliation. The two boys sitting on either side of the ass-grabber laugh hysterically.

“Faggot,” the ass-grabber says as Marvin shoots him a look.

Marvin says nothing. He makes his way as quickly as he can over to where Nick is sitting. He can still hear the laughing even as he gets closer to Nick. He can still hear them howling with laughter and he wishes he was deaf or able to bury his head in sand.

Nick is waving him over. He waves in a way that reminds Marvin of a baseball coach. Marvin never played a day of ball, but he imagines it. He imagines running on the baseball field down the road, smelling the grass and dirt, and having Nick wave him safely into third base.

“You ok?” Nick asks. “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”

“I’m fine,” Marvin says.

They sit silent until the assembly begins.

Later, Marvin walks home along tall snowbanks. He takes a long way home so he can walk along the train tracks. He stops and sits by the tracks and draws in a notebook. He draws the tracks and a big train with a light on the front of it. He takes off his hunting cap and fills it with snow and lays it on the tracks, to leave a piece of himself behind. Then he continues walking, listening for a train. He turns three times thinking he hears it, but it’s always just the wind.

Marvin arrives home later than usual, but nothing seems different. The only thing that seems different is that someone shoveled the driveway. Besides that, everything is the same. The same few shingles are missing from the house. Marvin’s mother is in the window over the stove. His father’s car is gone.

Marvin walks over to the lawn and lays on the snow. He has always wished that snow was warm like sand at the beach. That way he could sit in it longer. He wanted to be entombed by the clouds of snow; boy that’d be magic.

Then he hears the front door creak open, and close.

“What the hell are you doing out here?” his brother Dillon says, hovering over him. “Dinner is almost ready and you’re out here trying to give yourself pneumonia?”

“I’m not gonna get pneumonia.”

“Then your arms’ll fall off,” Dillon says. Dillon is in college and aspires to be in the Air Force. He’s always talking about limbs falling off.

Marvin starts waving his arms and legs. It feels cold. He starts laughing out white wisps of breath. He laughs and laughs.

“You think getting sick is funny?” Dillon says. “Think dying out here in the snow is funny?”

“No.”

Dillon pulls him up by his coat. Marvin has stopped laughing. Marvin tries to fight him off, but Dillon is stronger and tougher. He stands face-to-face with Dillon.

“What are you doing then?” Dillon asks.

“Making angels.”

“Well grow the fuck up,” Dillon says, shoving his brother back down into the snow. “You have no idea what life is like.”

Marvin watches Dillon turn and eventually disappear into the house. Marvin stays outside in the snow.

It’s cold and windy, the air bites at his face. He stays out there a while, even after the dark is tossed over the day. He is waiting for stars. They come, but only after the snow starts lightly falling. He tries to think of what Nick might say about the sky and the stars, but all he can think of is Nick as a baseball coach again, waving his arms like mad, and yelling two words, over and over: Come home! Come home! Marvin’s ears are pink and stiff in the cold, and he wishes he hadn’t ditched his hat down at the tracks. That’s life, he thinks. He starts laughing again and makes another angel.

There is not much need for the comforts inside.

- Greg Letellier

Author’s Note:

“Angels” emerged as an attempt to write about male relationships, and the way masculinity is defined through the eyes of other men.

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Alex Sons – Gone.

Gone.

There.

Jaw chiseled and strong. Mouth wide open; a smile flashing blindingly white teeth. Eyes displaying chronicled accomplishment. Hair black and full. Tan skin conceals athletic muscles and bones. The A.C. pumping and humming as hard is it could, keeping him cool.

I step out of the car and into a new environment surrounded by popsicle sticks adorning backpacks. He looks at me, “Well, this is it. I’m always here for you. Good luck in college.”

He was never prying or probing. Always helping and holding.

He says, “I love you, Son.”

I wanted to tell him I loved him. I wanted to thank him for everything that he had done for me. I swallowed my words as I assured myself I could tell him that some other time.

I nodded and shut the door.

Gone.

Here.

Jaw slacked. Mouth propped open. Blood stained teeth from dry lips. One eye shut. One half open. Grey, thinning hair wildly glued to his head. Low on platelets, the skin can barely hold the blood. The breathing apparatus pumping and whining as hard as it could, keeping him alive. Mechanical limbs extend themselves. Prying and probing. Helping and holding.

Popsicle sticks adorning white gowns hurriedly flood the room. Up, down. Up, down. Over and over again. Prying and probing. Helping and holding. Words from the doctor’s mouth. Words from my mother’s. White gowns exit and disperse.

Tears flow onto the frail form of my father. No more whining, no more pumping. No more prying, no more probing. No more helping. Just holding.

“Dad, I-“

Gone.

- Alex Sons

Author’s Note:

This is a creative non-fiction/flash fiction piece about a son having a difficult time expressing his feelings to his loving father. The son cannot overcome his own apprehension before time runs out on their relationship.

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