bald spot

I always make a joke about my very prominent bald spot on the first day of the semester to endear myself to the students. Usually i say something about how they need to be careful because the light from the halogen bulbs in the ceiling might reflect off of the bald spot at the perfect angle and damage their eyes and maybe even blind them. They always laugh awkwardly and i know that i've got them. But today there was one student in class who was totally bald, and clearly not bald by choice, and while i don't know much about cancer, it seemed obvious that she was bald from chemotherapy. Her head  just had that look to it. It was too late once i noticed her because i had already started the joke and couldn't stop. I told the joke, and all the students shuffled in their seats and most of them looked at her, and after a couple seconds she alone laughed 

sex scene

They asked me what i liked to write and i said violence. They said the market wasn't good for that right now, but what they could really use was a sex scene. I told them i really didn't know how to write sex scenes, but i'd be willing to try and fake it. They said that would be fine, and so i faked it for them right then and there. They liked my fake sex scene very much, i could tell. They were sweating and becoming excited right from the very start. I saw hands groping legs and hair being flung back and chests becoming flush and i just kept on faking it. I wrote the climax and they all appeared to orgasm. When i finished they all clapped and told me i was excellent at faking it, that the scene would work brilliantly. I asked them if they meant it and their heads nodded and some of them snickered. They said they'd let me know when they need me again  

smokes

The first time anyone ever bought smokes for us we were 12 and shoulder tapping outside the York Hill convenience store. We'd been out there for over an hour, asking everyone that walked by if they'd take our five bucks and get us cigarettes, and most passersby just looked at us funny and shook their heads and one woman with a stroller even yelled at us. Finally one woman said yes, and she must have been about 80 and looked just like my grandmother. She had brownish-orange stains on her fingers and walked with one of those wheely baskets. I didn't want to ask her but Barry called me a pussy, and then he took the coins out of my hand and went right up to her and popped the question. She stared off into space for a solid minute before she said alright and took the money and went in. She was in there for god knows how long, and i was sure she just plum forgot what she was doing in the store at all. But sure enough she came out with two packs of Matinees, one for her and one for us, and i was pissed cause those are old-lady cigarettes. She said here's your goodies when she handed us the pack, and she even gave us the receipt. It was probably the greatest moment of my life up till that point and still ranks up there. We went to the park and smoked three cigarettes each until i felt sick and told Barry he could take them home, even though we had split the money. The next day my mouth felt gross and i was happy i gave them all to him. The day after that i wanted one and called Barry, but he'd left to go to disneyland with his folks

anxiety

TJ told me that his sister Angela always misses her flights. Just about every single time she has to fly, he said, she misses her flight. I asked why and he just shook his head. I asked if she left enough time to get to the airport and check-in and he said he wasn't sure, because she lived in Oregon and he didn't see her much, but he said that she was very impulsive by nature and was usually late for things and often didn't show up to engagements. I got very angry and said that she was probably the kind of person that leaves their house less than an hour before their flight is scheduled to take off, and that i always get to the airport at least 24 hours in advance and sometimes i  bring a small tent and several books and even a typewriter. i started to shake and told TJ that he had made me very angry by telling me about his sister, and that hearing about her airport behavior was giving me terrible anxiety and that i might throw up. I left his house early and threw up when i got home, and i threw up three more times that night, and i pictured myself in my warm tent at the airport 

if you mention david foster wallace, they'll shoot you

if you mention david foster wallace, they'll shoot you

if you mention kathy acker, they'll smile but deep down they'll feel uneasy

if you mention matthew barney, they'll blink

if you mention jk rowling, they'll praise jesus

if you mention james baldwin, they'll pluck your eyes out

if you mention bell hooks, they'll commend you, but dubiously

if you mention gilles deleuze, they'll ask about the other one

if you mention angela carter, they'll force you to masturbate

if you mention phillip k dick, they'll roll their eyes

if you mention james joyce, they'll change the subject

if you mention haruki murakami, they'll pause the interrogation

if you mention orlan, they'll inject you with truth serum

if you mention junot diaz, they'll know 

if you mention richard ford, they'll kill their spouses

if you mention judith butler, they'll debate your future

if you mention gabriel garcia marquez, they'll commence the apocalypse

if you mention jonathan franzen

gravestones

Sherry is retired and spends her days having tea with gravestones in the cemetery near her house. She always brings her green teapot and two mugs and saucers, and sets up a picnic in front of a different stone each day. She pours the tea, always for her guest first, and then pours for herself, and proceeds to chat excitedly with the gravestone, gossiping about this and that, sometimes throwing her hair back and laughing. Yesterday she had tea with Margaret Cavill's stone. The day before that it was Edison Smith. Today, Maurice, the old security guard that watches over the grounds, asked her if she would ever offer him some tea. She looked at him very seriously and said no. He told her she had to leave and she said in time she would  

elevator

I have never been worried about being murdered by the other passenger in the elevator, but i am constantly worried about becoming bored to death or being suffocated by awkwardness. I do, however, worry that every person i ride with in the elevator thinks i'm a serial killer. They know that it can't just be a coincidence that we are there at the same moment. They look at me for one second and they know that i've tracked them there, and when i get in behind them they know i'm watching them, analyzing how they move, and when they press the button for the 20th floor, it's obvious that i'm going to press the button for the 21st floor just so i can be in there long enough. I know they know that when i spend the whole ride looking at the floor, it's because i'm really trying to look disinterested on purpose. Sometimes i can see them reaching deep into their jacket pockets, maybe for their keys or a knife. Sometimes they have their phone in their hand, their thumb firmly placed on 9. When they get off and mutter "take care," or "have a good one," i know that their squeaky whisper is coming from a throat choked by the fear of imminent death. Their super-quick saunter out of the elevator and down the hall is the fastest they'll move all day and the hairs on their neck are standing prone until they hear the elevator door close and they look back and i'm not there, in the hall, behind them

mixology

Here is the recipe for the perfect cocktail:


3 parts alcohol, 2 parts something fermented from the jungle, 

1 part fevered dream about leading her country to revolution, 16 parts sediment of a nation, 

1 part image of a determined, if not idealistic, heroine

some ice, some sweetness, something palatable to take it with

add:

1 part clever deception, 1 perfectly fitted fake guerrilla outfit, 1 shared fireside tea, 1 sly smile, 1 part cyanide

it's supposed to go down easy at this point

add:

1 part hospital, 1 code blue, 4 parts surgery, 1 part rehab, 1 part walking again, 1 part galvanizing the resistance, 1 part stone-faced gaze with a raised fist, 1 part vengeance, 1 part magazine cover, ripped shirt, photoshopped extra cleavage

many parts Kalishnikovs, many parts molotovs, many parts militarized response, assorted bullets, explosions, limbs, blood

1 part ricocheted bullet, 1 part wrong place wrong time, 1 part martyr

some time later, after appropriate dust has settled, a drink will appear in every local bar and restaurant, and everyone will know it is named after her, and it will be called La Revolucion, or something like that, and it will be sold for a moderately high price. It will wipe away troubles; it will dull stresses of everyday life; It will bring things back to way they were 

the greatest

We were drinking from a bottle of Speckled Hen in the park when Antoinette asked me who I considered the greatest author of all time. Christine and Ola gawked at me, interested in what i had to say, but Johnny kept fiddling with his lighter, his mind elsewhere. I said it was a tough call, but ultimately Faulkner deserved the number one spot. Christine and Antoinette looked annoyed, but Ola said at least you didn't say Hemingway. Then she offered Jane Austen as a retort. Antoinette and Christine laughed and Christine bopped Ola on the head, and said that Emile Zola was the greatest of all time, hands down. Antoinette seemed very angry at Christine, and we were all quiet for some time. Then she announced that Carson McCullers was her pick, and said this couldn't be disputed. Johnny picked that moment to chime in, right after he had lit a cigarette and he batted the smoke away from his eyes, and said that the greatest author of all time was Gramercy Orbort. He said that Orbort had won The Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and The Nobel Prize. He wrote what many critics considered the greatest novel of all time, which was called Fold The Laundry Properly and was 1800 pages long. We all looked at each other, puzzled, and said we'd never heard of him. Johnny spat and said we were a bunch of uncultured idiots, and then he stamped his cigarette out in his hand and ran away as fast as he could. Antoinette said fuck him, he's a weirdo anyway

make it a thing

Robbie told Crumbs that he was tired of always being the last egg on the shelf. Crumbs said that's not a thing. Robbie said so make it a thing. Crumbs threw his hands up and said you can't! you can't just do that, it doesn't work that way! You can't just make something a thing like that! Robbie didn't like this, and he said to Crumbs you're a rat punk with no balls. Crumbs said i don't give a shit, it's not a thing, learn some real expressions. Robbie kicked him to the ground and pulled out his knife, and, holding it half an inch from Crumbs' eyeball, he muttered make it a thing. And Crumbs said ok. And he made it a thing  

imagination

There's something down here. I can smell it breathing on me. The air tastes different when it's close. It's mostly black down here but I can feel a strange warmth when it's near me. It never makes a sound.  I asked them if i was crazy or if there really was something down here, and they scoffed and said that i should be better at using my imagination. I sat at my tiny desk in the pitch dark and tried to use my imagination as hard as i could, but i felt certain it was there, behind me. It's breath was hot, making the air sticky and unbearable. And it stunk, like rotten eggs and partially consumed flesh. I turned around but couldn't see anything beyond the black space surrounding me. When i asked them again about the thing down here, they said that if i asked one more time, if i refused to use my imagination properly, then it was all over for me. A day or two later (it's hard to be precise with time in the dark) they brought someone else down here, but because of the dark i can never see them. When the time is right, i will ask them if they think there is something down here, with us

socket

Henry dared me to stick my dick in the electrical socket, so i did. The electricity flowed through me and i saw god and the heavens. I saw the end of times, and the cosmic rebirth. I understood the purity of existence, and every nostalgic longing i had ever had made perfect sense. I no longer had desire or need. Time ended. Transcendence was achieved. In the hospital my parents asked me why i did such a stupid thing and i said cause Henry dared me to. My mom said if Henry dared me to jump off a bridge would i do that too? and I said no, no way, there's just no way it would be as good    

none of this is fiction

There's a Cuban heavyweight boxer named "Irish" Mike Perez, which is strange because Cuba isn't particularly well known for producing heavyweights. He defected from Cuba so that an Irish trainer could take him under his wing and turn him pro, and in order to do defect he had to dive into the ocean at night and swim onto a Mexican cartel boat, and then his Irish trainer paid the cartel so he could have his future champ. "Irish" Mike was undefeated when he took on a huge Russian named Magomed Abdusalamov in a 10-round fight. The bout went the distance, but Mike had beaten him so badly that Abdusalamov ended up in a coma after; he probably won't walk or talk properly ever again. "Irish" Mike's undefeated streak ended shortly after that; he's never been the same since almost killing Abdusalamov. Rumor has it he's changed his nickname so maybe he isn't Irish anymore. None of this is fiction   

closeness

She asked me if i wanted to be committed to her and i told her that i did. She said she had been hurt in the past and wanted to know that i wouldn't hurt her or flake out if things got rough. i suggested we sew our skin together to show that we were both committed and as a sign that we wanted to be together always. She clapped and jumped for joy and agreed that that was a wonderful idea. She took out her needle and thread, and we did it right away. It took a while and did hurt a bit, but it was successful. We went to the movies that very night, sewn together and in love. Some people became annoyed with us, if we bumped into them in line or while trying to squeeze down the aisle into our seats, and we did get blood on some customers and on the floor and i think a little got in an older gentleman's popcorn. But we felt so close, and we knew that we would feel this way forever  

clone

My clone is sitting next to me in the car, as i drive. He's staring at me. This is weird, i say. You don't know what that word means, he says. We keep driving, and as we pass a decrepit, burnt-out farmhouse, he lights a cigarette. I tell him that it doesn't make sense, that i quit smoking ages ago, which should mean that he did too. He just shakes his head and blows smoke everywhere. The sun is setting. Black birds fly off into the dusk as we approach the horizon. He blows smoke in my face and says, you wanna know something? I fucked your mother. Did you know that? I tell him that that doesn't make any sense, since we have the same mother, and she would obviously never do that. He tells me that i don't understand anything. We sit in silence for a while, and all we hear is the hum of the tires on the pavement. The place is coming up soon, he says. There are no more cars on the road. There are no more birds. He says we're almost there. I close my eyes and let the road take us. He asks me why i agreed to this and i tell him that i don't know. He laughs. Quite the thing to be unsure about, he says. I put my hand up, signalling for him to be quiet. He says it's pretty naive of me to really think we have the same mother. I see the farmhouse now. It looks black in front of the sinking sun. I've never seen a building so ominous and rotten. My clone gets nervous. I'm happy to see him show some kind of a soul, finally. What are they gonna do to me in there? I say. He puts his hand on my shoulder. You'll be ok, he says   

good will hunting

I opened the door to Barry's room and found him bent over on the bed with his pants down around his ankles trying to shove a cigarette up his ass. I said what the hell are you doing? and he said that in the movie Good Will Hunting Robin Williams tells Matt Damon it'd be healthier to shove his cigarette up his own ass rather than smoke it, and he wanted to see if Robin Williams was telling the truth. I asked him how he would know, and he said that if he got really sick or died of a bowel obstruction then he would know Robin Williams was lying. So as he got ready i said wait, you have to light it first. In the movie, Matt Damon lights the cigarette and then Robin Williams says it would be healthier shoving it up his ass, so he was referring to a lit cigarette. Barry said what! I'm not doing that! And then we heard his mom call us down for supper. He pulled his pants up and he said fine, i'll light it and try again after supper, it'll be a more accurate test then anyway   

immaculate

Janine started boxing when she was seven years old. In the early days she was the only girl in her gym so she had to fight the boys, and she whooped their asses over and over again. Angry parents called in, complaining that their sons were getting emasculated by a girl. Coach Sommerset told them that their sons were sissies and that little Janine was going to be a star. She became a Golden Gloves medalist at age 15, knocking out Ashley Winburger with one massive right hook. Coach sommerset told her she could turn pro and become a world champion. On her 17th birthday, she found out she was pregnant. Her parents were furious. She told them that it didn't make sense because she was still a virgin. They didn't believe her, but she swore to them and to god that it was true. She told coach Sommerset the news and when he asked her what she wanted to do, she said she wanted to fight; she said she wanted to be a world champion. Her parents had a meeting with coach Sommerset and he recommended they let her continue, and they said that this was a gift from god, that their daughter had been blessed with an immaculate conception, and that the divine child growing inside her would bring them glory. She had a few fights before she was showing, all of which she won by first-round knockout. When the time came to take on the champion, Wynona Rockman, Janine was seven months pregnant. Everyone at the event made faces when they saw Janine's round belly. Her parent's kissed it for good luck and she went into the ring. She paced back and forth with murder in her eyes, and Wynona Rockman looked uncomfortable. The ref gave them the last instructions, and Janine rubbed her belly, kissed her right glove, and stared hell into Wynona's eyes 

fireball

Gilda sat down at the bar at Anguish, somewhere deep in the fifth layer of Hell. The surroundings were all ablaze, which made it hard to see through the fiery blur around her; the temperature must have been somewhere around 200 degrees. She wiped the sweat from her brow and said Goddamnit i could use a drink! A bartender materialized; he was scrubbing a glass with a filthy rag, and had a long ponytail and an eyepatch. I can help you with that, he said. Were you a pirate when you were alive? Gilda asked. What? Fuck no, he said. I got this cause i got in a fight with Esmerelda a few months ago. She's the lead bartender for all nine layers. She insists on serving one thing and one thing only: Fireball, straight up. I told her she was a hack and couldn't bartend worth shit, and she broke the bottle in half and attacked me. We had a good scrap, but, well, as you can see she and her stupid broken bottle won and i lost my damn eye. As if things weren't hard enough down here. Gilda nodded as if she were paying attention and asked if she could have a drink, and the bartender put down his filthy rag and his unclean glass, and poured her a healthy shot of Fireball. You don't have anything else, eh? she asked, and the bartender shook his head. Gilda took it down in one gulp, which made her clench her fists and stick her tongue out. Do you have any ice? she asked. Only on level nine, he said. She shook her head and pointed at the empty glass, and he poured again 

suit with sandals

Gonzales sat down at the bar at Hydrogen, atop the Global Bank Building. He wore his favorite brown corduroy suit, and his brown sandals. He ordered an orange juice, and the bartender made a face and poured it for him. The patrons beside him glanced over their shoulders with disdain. Eventually the manager approached, and said sir, i'm sorry but you cannot wear sandals in here. This is a fashionable place, and we have a dress code. Gonzales ignored the manager and sipped his orange juice. The manager opened his mouth to speak, but Gonzales stopped him and in his deep voice asked am i not fashionable? The manager, dumbfounded, said look at the people in here! Do you see anyone wearing a suit with sandals here?? Gonzales stood up, and the manager was taken by his height. He said, if i am the first person to do this, am i not an innovator? Am i not the very definition of fashion? Am i not a god, good sir? The manager stared at him, and for several minutes neither of them spoke or moved, as if both were transfixed by the presence of a higher power. The manager fell to his knees and said forgive me lord! I am not worthy of you! Gonzales touched his head and the manager began to cry. Everyone near the bar applauded with polite, dignified claps. Gonzales took his seat and sipped his orange juice 

receipt

I bought a muffin at Groucho's Coffee over on Blimp Street, and after i paid, the nice cashier asked me if i wanted a receipt. I said no thank you and her demeanor changed instantly. She got very nervous and started to shake. She said you have to take your receipt, sir. I said really? Why? Who needs receipts in this day and age? And she said that her manager was a psychotic maniac who will yell and beat the employees if they don't ensure that the customers get their receipts. She said that once he even put poison on the computer keyboard, and one of the other employees' skin flaked off from her fingers and one of her lungs collapsed and she was in the hospital for a week. She shook the receipt in my face and i took it. I walked outside and bit into my muffin, getting crumbs on my face, and when i was almost at my car i looked back and she was laughing with the other cashier. On the drive home i thought long and hard about poisoned keyboards. I got home and  opened my sock drawer and pulled out my bundle of receipts. I counted them; I had over two thousand now. I stacked my new one on the very top of the pile, wrapped my elastic band around the stack, and put it back in the drawer carefully

the writer

It's brilliant! The Editor said. Maddingsly was happy to hear it. You're a real writer! A one of a kind talent! We've slept on you too long! The Editor got on the phone and dialed three or four numbers and waited. Pick up, goddamnit! Ah, Henderson! Get in here! I've got this country's next great genius in my office, the Maddinglsy kid! Get in here and lets give him a deal! The Editor hung up and lit a cigar. You want one? Maddingsly said no thanks. Get ready to be happy kid, The Editor said. Let's just say if Henderson likes you you'll be laughing all the way to the bank! Henderson came in and stared at Maddingsly. He nodded and said mhmm three times. You must be Mr. Maddingsly. I'm Mr. Henderson. We've read your novel, and it's quite the feat, quite the feat indeed.  Yes, I think we can get you quite the deal, quite the deal indeed. Maddingsly smiled for the first time in a while. There is one catch though, Henderson said. This book is very dark. Very very dark. The public will feel that no sane person could have written this. What we're saying, Mr. Maddingsly, is that in order to publish your book, we would require you to kill yourself. Maddingsly looked at The Editor, who nodded uncontrollably. He looked back at Henderson. I know that's a big ask. Take a day to think about it. Take two days, Henderson said. Maddingsly left, thinking about the offer. The fall wind was brisk; he zipped up his thin jacket. The Editor popped outside and said Maddingsly! Be rest assured that if you take our deal, your whole family will be taken care of. Your whole family! He puffed on his cigar and nodded before closing the door. Maddingsly stood with the wind beating against him, thinking about the deal

lift

          Ivan limped from the hangar. His hips would break. His forearms would tear off. His knees would crumble into dust. He sat at the table, still dripping sweat. He twisted his arms out of his spandex suit. He had even forgotten to take off his lifting belt. 

          Coach Bonn removed a pre-wrapped bowl from the fridge. Ivan hadn't heard him come in. He popped the bowl in the microwave for one minute, and watched Ivan with his steely eyes as the bowl circulated. He put it in front of Ivan and removed the plastic wrap. Ivan recoiled as the initial wave of steam struck his face. He was used to the smell of the meat by now, but the initial shock of that strange smell always shocked him. He ate in silence. 

          Bonn sat across from him at the table and watched. Ivan looked at the fridge. The original white had become yellow; rust flaked off the door handle. He looked down at the bowl of meat and contemplated.           What is it, boy? Bonn said. 

          Who was this one? Ivan asked. 

          Bonn hesitated.  I don't like when you ask. It removes focus, Bonn said. Ivan looked at him with the pleading eyes of a child. Henrik, Bonn said.  

          Who lived down by the creek? With the Rottweiler? Ivan asked. 

          Yes, Bonn said. He was happy to give himself for us. He believes in you.  

          Ivan sat in silence. He stared at the meat. Bonn's look intensified and Ivan forced down another mouthful. Who is going to look after the dog? Ivan asked. 

          Focus, my boy. Focus. Don't concern yourself with details. Focus. On the bar. You lift. I'll take care of the rest, Bonn said. He got up and put his hand on Ivan's shoulder. His grip was powerful, and Ivan began to eat with vigor. You almost broke the snatch world record today, in training, Bonn said. You are going to win gold. There is no doubt. Focus. Eat. And Lift. I will handle the rest   

two sentence horror story

she turned off the wifi, and cut the iPhone cord in half, dropping it at his feet. He let out a horrible gurgling sound and fell to his knees, as he began to bleed from his eyes 

helga the toronto fuckboi hexer! (W/ Julia Monson)


          "I noticed the little bell isn’t above the door anymore. There's no ding ding when you walk in now," Charlotte said.  

          "Too old fashioned, I've been told," Helga said. "I don't want people to think I'm looking at tarot cards or reading palms, or any other such nonsense in here." Helga lit the candles. Charlotte scratched the cross tattoo on her knuckle. 

          "Your finger, it bothers you?" Helga asked. 

          "It always tingles when I'm in here. Are you ready?" 

          "Yes. Show me what you have." 

          Charlotte put her purse on her lap and began to rummage inside. "His name is Dave," she said. 

          "Tinder?" Helga asked. 

          "No. At a bar actually, if you can believe it. My god, I'm so old." 

          "Nonsense dear. Our youthfulness is a gift to cherish. But do continue." 

          "He's a drummer, and he also works in one of those modern, hip barbershops, where everyone is young and they have man-buns. Yes, he has one." 

          "Has it gone as you expected?" 

          "Yeah. We did it the night of the date, and I haven't heard from him since. It was almost a week ago. He was kind of a weirdo. He asked me to shave his pubes right before. I was drunk so I guess I was into, but now it seems ridiculous. Wanna know why?" 

          "Tell me." 

          "To show me his Supreme tattoo. He has it on that part right above where the cock starts. In the proper red colour and everything. Too bad for him, swiping this was easy," Charlotte said, as she took a small baggie of pubic hair out of her purse and put it on the table. She also extracted a dented, empty Ace Hill can, and a Blue Jays baseball hat. "Will this do?" she asked. 

          "Oh yes," Helga said. "This will do just fine."     


Check out Julia Monson's corresponding drawing at juliamonson.com or https://www.instagram.com/p/Ba7FNb_gwbQ/?taken-by=julesmonson

robot

Sheila raced home in anticipation. When she got home, Warren was sitting on the couch with his head in his hands. So? she said, how is it? does it work? Warren put his hands in the air and said it's a total failure! All it does is masturbate all day long! It's been in there all day, frigging itself off! It's done it 40 times today already! I built this robot to help do chores! To mow the damn yard! My back! My back! I can't mow the damn yard! I'm no spring chicken anymore! It's a total failure! Sheila rubbed his back. Oh honey, it can't be all that bad, she said. Here, why don't i go in there and take a look at this thing. She went into the bedroom and closed the door. Warren sat there, huffing and puffing. Sheila didn't come out after several minutes, and Warren went over to the door and put his ear to it. He could hear the bed rocking back and forth. You're supposed to do the damn yard, he muttered, and hobbled into the garage to look for the lawnmower 

distance

I move my hand against the suture marks that run the length of my body. It has been a year since she left, but the scar still hurts to touch. And yet, i can't help but touch it. Usually i do so several times a day, sometimes nonstop. Sometimes the urge to touch it is so strong that if i am out in public, i will run to the nearest bathroom and strip down just so i can feel those hard ridges of calcified skin. One time an older gentleman in the bathroom helped me get undressed, because he could see how desperate i was; i showed him the mark and let him touch it. The separation had hurt, even more than when we had sewn ourselves together, but the physical pain was nothing compared to the pain of her leaving. Every time i touch the wound, i wonder to myself, can she feel this? Every now and then, out of nowhere I'll get a shudder that will shoot up my entire body; it is an intense feeling, like an electrical shock, and nowhere does it feel more present than in the wound. Every time it happens, i tell myself it is because in that moment, she is touching her scar

streetcar

Samantha stood on the cramped streetcar on her way home during rush hour. She barely held on to the bar above her head to keep her stable, gripping it with her fingertips. She tried to adjust her position but there were too many other passengers around for her to move at all. A very dirty, stinky man tapped her on the shoulder. She took her earphone out and said yes? He said can i use your sleeve? He had a younger woman clutching at him from behind. They both looked at Samantha pleadingly. Yes, go ahead, Samantha said. The dirty man pulled out a little phial and sprinkled white powder on Samantha's sleeve. He took out a $100 bill and snorted the powder up his nose. His ladyfriend behind him started to jump up and down as she clutched at his shoulders, nearly smacking the other passengers around her. The dirty man then turned, spun his ladyfriend around, pulled her leggings down, and started to fuck her from behind. They bumped and knocked the passengers around them, and she began to moan louder and louder. People made subtle, annoyed faces; people looked out the windows, or up at the ceiling. Samantha brushed the remaining powder off her sleeve; she put her earphone back in and turned the volume way up

block

They brought me upstairs, out of the cellar. I hadn't seen natural light in weeks, maybe months. They sat me down and said you haven't written anything in six weeks. What's the reason for this? I said because i am working on a big project but the idea takes time to form in my head before i can write it. They looked around the room at each other and they all shook their heads. You're not taking this seriously enough, they said. Do you know what that is? they said, pointing to a giant slab of rock in the middle of the room. That's our trusty writer's block, they said. When there's a problem, we use it to take parts off the writer that aren't working or aren't necessary. Sometimes we use it to put other parts back on, they said, but in the wrong place, to encourage creativity. All we need is an axe or a sewing machine. I can do better, i said. They nodded; they were happy to hear it. They led me back down into the cellar. Get to work, or it's the writer's block for you, they yelled from the top of the stair

reservation

S1 and S2 waited silently outside the apartment door. They heard pots and pans clanging within. S1 put his ear to the door. He put his index finger to his mouth, which was partially obscured by a balaclava, and whispered ssshhhhh. Wait for the sink, he whispered. S2 nodded. Remember, he said, you don't have a name. S2 nodded again. He heard the sink turn on and then pulled his gun out. S2 pulled out her iPad, and S1 kicked the door open. The woman at the sink screamed, dropping a pan, spilling water everywhere, and S1 forced her to the ground. He held the gun to her head. What's your name? he said. J..Josie! she cried. What's your full name? Josie Ravchuk! S1 looked over at S2, who typed something on her iPad. She nodded, and S1 nodded back. You have a reservation at Earth and Soil Restaurant on January 18 of next year, is that correct? Josie looked puzzled. Y..yes, I do, she said. S1 knelt down beside her, and spoke quietly. Not anymore, he said. She is Josie Ravchuk now, he said, pointing at S2. It is her reservation now. Do you understand me? You will not go to that restaurant on January 18. Do you understand? Josie began to panic. What? What! No! It took me two years to get that reservation! She cried. S1 put his index finger to his lips. We know who you are. We know where you live. It's our reservation now, he said. He held the gun in front of her face. Understood? Josie shook with terror and nodded that she understood. S1 and S2 backed out of the apartment, closing the door behind them    

earth and soil

I was in the thick of it, serving a big section on a Saturday night at Earth and Soil Restaurant. I had it under control until the couple at table 34 ordered the bottle of Chateau Trepanier. I played it cool when they gave me the order, but i was shaking when i told Magritte, our sommelier, that they had ordered it. Oh mon dieu, she said. Ok, i guess i'll go get it. I said that i wanted to be the one to open it. Are you crazy? she screamed in my face, that is the most expensive bottle of wine in the entire world! I said it was my table and that i insisted that i be the one to do it, and that i had opened countless bottles throughout my life and this one would be no different. She got it for me, from the secret cellar in the basement, and told me to treat it like my first-born child. I brought it to the table and showed it to the gentleman, and he said no no, Josie will taste it. I began to cut the foil off the top, but that foil was sharp as hell and it cut me deep on the index finger, and the bottle slipped out of my hand and exploded on the floor. Everyone went white with shock. Magritte and the other servers were aghast. A drop of the wine landed on my tongue; it was the most glorious moment of my life. Without even considering an alternative i got down on my hands and knees and sucked the wine off the floor. Magritte fainted. One of the other servers crossed herself and ran away. Some of the guests shouted things that i couldn't make out. Someone stood on his chair and applauded. The couple at table 34 was silent; they watched in horror. I kept sucking and sucking. I licked the beautiful juice off the floor like a cat. Broken glass got in my mouth and sliced my gums. It brought the wine closer to my heart. I licked until the floor was almost dry, until my entire uniform was stained red. One of the other guests tapped me on the shoulder and asked if she could join me before i finished it all. With a drunken slur i said by all means, mon amour, and together we licked the floor clean 

Twins (W/ Kari Maaren)

Macy walked into the playroom and found Stacy messing around with a giant cardboard box.  

          "Sister, what are you doing?" Macy said.  

          "Hello sister. I have completed work on my time machine. Observe," Stacy said, pointing at her creation.  

          "It hardly looks like a time machine. It's simply a box with a door drawn on." 

          "Your skepticism shall soon come to an end. Step inside with me sister. Let us explore the temporal landscape." 

          "I shall not, under any circumstance, enter that hackneyed excuse for an invention. Now, tell me, where are mother and father?" Macy asked. 

          Stacy smiled devilishly.  "Mother and Father are somewhere in revolutionary France, if my coordinates are correct. They are my first participants." 

          "Stop this nonsense. I need to speak to mother about preparing my Vera Rubin costume for the talent show. I require her assistance immediately. Now, foolish sister of extreme foolishness, tell me where they are." 

          "I told you," Stacy said. "They're gone." 

          Macy left the playroom and searched all over the house. She checked the garage and the barn, the basement and the attic. Both cars were still in the driveway. She stopped in the kitchen and made herself a mayonnaise sandwich, and ate it while contemplating her costume and the importance of the discovery of dark matter. She finished, wiped her mouth, and stomped back upstairs to the playroom where she found no sign of Macy. 

          "Macy? Stop these shenanigans at once! Where are you? Where are mother and father?" There was no answer. She looked inside the cardboard box and was blinded by phosphorescent glowing lights. The sound inside was deafening. The air inside the box twisted into a corkscrew, and her hair blew back. A rip in the fabric opened in front of her. She reached out to touch it

To see Kari Maaren's accompanying take on twins and time travel, check out https://wobtalk.wordpress.com/2017/12/14/over-easy/

Explore the fantastical world of Kari Maaren and her debut novel Weave A Circle Round at http://www.karimaaren.com/  

smith

Lanky, emaciated, phlegmatic Smith walked into work his usual forty-five minutes late. He sat in his cubicle for thirty more minutes and stared at his blank screen. Johnson walked by and saluted him. Smith did not react. He went to the photocopier and breathed on the screen until it was fogged up. He wrote his name in the fog. He went to the bathroom and took a shit, and then sat there for thirty more minutes without his phone. He used his canine tooth to prick his index finger until blood was drawn. He reached down behind him to the back of the toilet bowl and wrote another notch. It was number 117, and he placed it perfectly without looking. He went out with Efraim for lunch. They ate sandwiches, and Efraim took the meat out of his and said he was going to save it for later, and if he didn't eat it he might give it to his turtle. Smith nodded. When they were back at the office, Don McKey said boy would i like to give to her good, and Smith got up from his desk and threw his glove at McKey, who apologized and slumped away. Smith watched him walk back to his desk and then continued to stare for fifteen more minutes. Later, when he played FreeCell, Jim Rivers came to his desk and said Smith, i don't tell you this enough, but you are the most significant asset this company has ever had. I'd sell my own kids' vital organs to keep you here. Smith just stared at him, and Rivers nodded and walked away. When Smith was preparing to leave for the day, he overheard Jamaica and Charlene talking about him. Jamaica said That Smith is the sexiest son of a bitch that's ever worked here, by far. Charlene said that is the absolute truth. I wish my seat was his face instead of my lousy desk chair. Smith turned around and looked at both women and they scuttled away. He stood there for several hours, and went home long after everyone else had left the building 

award

44XD and SL101 approached the intergalactic throne. Emperor Blorb sat on his ivory seat, picking his teeth. He waived them forward. 

          "Good evening, my bulbousness. We have returned from our galactic surveillance assignment and have finalized our report," 44XD said. SL101 made globular clicking sounds, and then used one of its tentacles to reach into its translucent mass and extract a stack of several hundred pieces of paper. It passed the papers to 44XD, who floated to the throne and handed the report to Emperor Blorb. The Emperor flipped through all the pages in a matter of 5 seconds. He put his head down and began to moan.

          "My lord?" 44XD said.

          "This is TERRIBLE!" Blorb said. 

          "I'm sorry your extreme nobleness, but our calculations are infallible. You must know this is true."         

          "Of course its true, that's the problem! We cannot, repeat, cannot, give Earth the award this year. This is a travesty of such gargantuan proportions that it could cause total cosmic chaos! Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! "

          44XD and SL101 looked at each other and shrugged. SL101 made several gloopy clicking sounds and waived its tentacles around.  

          Emperor Blorb rose from his throne and slimed his way to the window, where he observed the black expanse of outer space. 

          "40 years ago," he began, "long before your time, we gave the award to planet Earth. The award, of course, made sense for Earth. They deserved it, based on infallible calculations of agents much like yourselves. To award the same planet twice in less than a thousand years would be an absolute outrage. Especially if you consider what a stinking hole that place has become. The Razzzingzazzands would throw such a shit fit there would be genocides and mass extinctions and all kinds of craziness. Many planets would respond violently. It would be a full scale war. And my imperial rule would come into question." 

          "But sir," 44XD said, "our analysis is never wrong. Earth does deserve the award."

          Emperor Blorb thought for a moment. "Blah! Just destroy the damn planet and we'll give the award to the runner up. The council will never know."

          "Yes my great leader. Shall we enslave humanity first? For fun?"

          "No time for that! No time for that! Just blow up their sun and let it consume the whole solar system. It'll look natural."

          "Yes my great Sage of the Roundness," 44XD said. 44XD and SL101 left the intergalactic throne room and floated out into space, heading toward Earth  

psychic

I was at the party when the drunk blonde girl lit her own hair on fire. They poured wine on her to put it out and she laughed, drenched and stained red. She danced while her friends held her up, with half her hair now short and burnt. She held a bottle of wine in each hand, and slowly danced her way toward Stan and me. I half wanted her very badly to come talk to us and half totally dreaded the thought of her being near us. She said wanna see a fuckin party trick? I'm a psychic, but i need booze, watch. She chugged back several gulps and then pointed at Stan and said your birthday is...... June 16th! Stan said Holy shit! and i laughed. Stan's girlfriend Geraldine came up behind us and put her arm around Stan. The drunk girl stared at her with a very concerned expression. She took another huge swig of her wine and dropped the empty bottle. She looked Geraldine right in the eyes and subtly shook her head. Stan didn't catch it, but i sure did. Geraldine said do i know you? and the drunk girl shook her head again. She had a look of horror on her face that i'll never forget. Geraldine caught it, but stupid Stan was too wasted to pick up on anything. Soon her friends came to her and said come on, we gotta get going, and they escorted their drunk psychic friend, and she looked at Geraldine intensely as she was led away

do you mind watching my laptop while i use the bathroom?

Henrietta was reading her book at Groucho's Coffee, occasionally picking her head up to stare at the handsome barista with the manicured moustache. The woman at the table beside her leaned over and said do you mind watching my laptop while I use the bathroom? Henrietta looked at her and nodded, and the woman got up and went to do her thing. Henrietta analyzed the computer, and the iPhone charger that was also plugged into the outlet near the table. She waited a few seconds, and then she climbed up and stood on her table, her shoes scuffing the marble. People turned to look at her, confused. She cupped her hands to her mouth and made the announcement. I need everyone's attention, she began. I've been tasked with guarding this computer. Anyone who feels the urge to steal it, be warned; i will guard this at all costs. Until death. The other patrons in the cafe looked around at each other. Two men stood up; they were both huge, nearly as tall as Henrietta even from her vantage point on the table. One of them grabbed a porcelain saucer and through it at her head like a frisbee. She ducked and both men lunged at her. She kicked one hard in the temple and he went down. The other tackled her, and they flew to the ground with a thud. As they grappled with each other, a young woman made a jump for the computer, but the short woman behind her grabbed her by the hair, broke the glass water bottle from her table, and stabbed her repeatedly. Henrietta got on top of the large man and twisted his head with her muscular thighs until she heard his spinal chord snap. The short woman with the broken bottle got in front of her like a rabid wolverine, covered in blood and foaming at the mouth. She lunged at Henrietta, but was too slow, and Henrietta kicked the bottle with perfect precision, and it went right up into the short woman's eye. Suddenly Henrietta couldn't breathe; an electrical chord was being squeezed around her neck by the barista. He wrenched the chord as hard as he could, and Henrietta started to go unconscious. There was a loud bang, and Henrietta could breathe again. She was covered in blood, brains, and skull bits, and the barista slumped to the ground. The woman who had asked Henrietta to watch her laptop stood there with a smoking pistol in her hand. I asked you for one thing, she said. One. Simple. Thing. She shook her head, put her gun away, and scooped up her computer. Henrietta watched her step carefully around the bodies and exit the coffee shop. She noticed that the woman had forgotten her iPhone charger; she unplugged it and slipped it in her purse, and then she got up and left, catching the sound of sirens in the distance 

bad things

They brought a new person down to the cellar. We couldn't see each other because of the darkness. For two days we didn't speak to one another, we just sat alone in the dark. On the third day he asked me to tell him a story. I said i didn't have any because i was suffering from writer's block, so there were no stories available, and he said okay then tell me something about telling stories. I told him about a young writer i once knew, who was obsessed with making it as a professional, and liked to write about dark, bad things, but he struggled to find inspiration because he had lived such a pleasant, trouble-free life. He was raised by good parents in a nice town, and had a respectable upbringing. He was convinced that good writing had to be dark, and could only come from experiences of trauma, violence, terror, and death. He sought out these things in his nice suburban town, but they were hard to find. He visited morgues and cemeteries, hospitals and prisons, he looked for conflict wherever he could. He tried to get himself hit by a car when crossing the street, but everyone avoided him. He tried to goad people into assaulting him, but people simply ran from him. I lost touch with him, but last i heard he had killed a man and was in jail. I don't know if he has ever written anything. I stopped speaking, and my new mate in the cellar was quiet. I asked him if he wanted me to talk more, but he didn't respond, so i went back to thinking about stories  

the ages

Young people: Facebook is cool

Old people: Facebook IS cool! Let's try it!

Young people: Fuck. Ok, Instagram is cool 

Old people: Haha Instagram most definitely IS cool! We love the pictures

Young people: FUCK! all right, Snapchat is cool

Old people: Haha we don't necessarily get it but sure, this is fun! Snapchat IS cool, come on everyone!

Young people: JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!! Memes!

Old people: Already there with you! we look at the memes on the smartphone. Lol, what's with the gorilla? 

Young people: Alright you wanna know what's cool? You wanna know what's cool?? Eating fucking poisonous laundry detergent!

Old people: This is the death of society. The decline of civilization. Our children have betrayed us *a shift of eyes, and slow, mincing bite of a Tide pod* it's actually not that bad if you eat it slowly, over the course of a week. There's not as much poison that way, and the flavor could be worse. I might use it in the roast next Sunday

Young people: This has gone far enough. We have no choice but to self-terminate en masse. Coordinate via Finsta and meme pages and whatever routes we can. The method is irrelevant. Bullets, blades, blunt force trauma, jumping in front of freight trains, playing dangle-the-bacon with rattlesnakes, skydiving without parachutes, whatever. As long as we coordinate the timing so that we all take ourselves out of this stupid existence at the same time

Old people: Um, you know we monitor your Finsta, and we understand your memes, right? Ok, so no, no mass suicide, and you're grounded!

Young people: … fuck

Old people: And stop swearing so much or you're double grounded

Young people: *eye roll* 

Old people: Ha! That looks fun! Let's do that together. *all eyes are collectively rolled, which become stuck up inside their heads, because they did it wrong. They are unable to see, and the panic, which following the sudden blindness, results in mass hysteria. They accidentally run off of buildings, run through plate glass windows, run into traffic, run into freight trains, run into rattlesnakes, run into Niagara falls, run into the sun, until there are none. The majority of the population is eliminated. Older generations are completely decimated 

Young person, retired, Bitcoin-rich, sitting in a rocking chair, smiling triumphantly: what will younger generations enjoy in the future?

Young person's unborn child: *eye roll*  

death

Dirkwood Gleebs, 117 years young, hacked up a storm and rose at 6 AM. He walked to his little rickety office, still wearing pajamas, and sat at the typewriter. He heard a sound coming from the doorway and spun around to see a young man standing there. Who'n the hell'r you? he said. You know who I am, Dirkwood. It's time; let's go, the young man said. Wot? I ain't goin nowhere's. I gots a write my memoirs. I dunno how in the hell ye got in here, but git! The young man smiled and said Come on Dirkwood, make this easy for yourself. Don't make my whip out my scythe. Dirkwood typed on his rickety typewriter and said ye best git the hell on outta here 'fore ye git hurt. The young man rolled his eyes and touched Dirkwood on the shoulder. Dirkwood jerked out of his chair and stood up, hunched and wobbly. Well that's weird, the young man said, and Dirkwood punched him hard in the nose, and then he kicked him in the balls. The young man went down like a bag of hammers and lay there moaning for a while. Ye git the hell outta my house! If i see y'around here again i'm on' kill ya! The young man crawled out of the room and coughed. You old son of a bitch! I'm coming back tomorrow. Sure y'are, sure y'are, Dirkwood said, shaking his fist. That's what they all say 

weight

I'm at the gym four times a week but i saw some crazy shit the other day that i've never seen before. Skinny Greg Mallard was in the squat rack, loading up that tiny amount of weight that his skinny little legs can barely even handle, like 95 pounds or something, and he's chatting away while he's doing it with anyone around him that will listen. One of those gym talkers. Some people hate that, but me, i don't mind. Hard enough to make friends as it is. Outta nowhere this big, mean looking juice-head comes along and throws him, and i mean literally throws him out of the squat rack. Skinny Greg must have flew five feet. This jacked up shithead says something like Get your puny ass out of my squat rack! Everybody was stunned, just standing there, looking. Skinny Greg picked himself up and walked right out the front door. The juice-head was so terrifying no one even said anything. But you won't believe what happened the next week. Skinny Greg came into the gym but he didn't put his duffel bag in his locker, just brought it with him into the weight room. And there was the juice-head, already in his rack. Skinny Greg waited till he had the bar on his back, and there must have been over 400 pounds on that bar, and then Skinny Greg unzipped that duffel bag and whipped out a big honking 12-gauge. Everybody froze solid. The juice-head could see the shotgun pointing at him in the mirror, but the fear didn't register till Skinny Greg pumped it and said Squat! The juice-head went down and came up like there was nothing on that bar, like angels helped him lift in up. Skinny Greg yelled it again, Squat! and the juice-head, sweating and shaking, squatted again. And he did it again and again and again. After twelve or thirteen reps the juice-head was weak, grinding up the weight with all his might. I could see Greg's finger tightening on that trigger. The juice-head had nothing left but Greg yelled Squat! and the juice-head went down with no strength left to come back, and Greg levelled that shotgun right for the bullseye. That's when those slow-ass security guards charged in and put the kibosh on the whole murder thing. Haven't seen Skinny Greg or the juice-head since. Probably won't again. Goddamn security, always gotta ruin everything

liquor store

Work is not always fun. Yesterday the same troop came around, the ones that always give us trouble, and they got us good this time. Chained up all the employees around the special cheese and white wine tasting display, and stole all the red wine from the store, and i mean literally all of it. The ring leader came inside the store this time. She usually waits in the car. I've made eye contact with her a few times while on the phone with the cops. Normally they run around, smash a few things, and only steal a few bottles. But this time there was more of them than usual, and one of them, the twitchy skinny kid, had a gun. And then she came inside, tall, dark eyes, towering over us. Looked like someone not to be trifled with up close. I said why the hell are you doing this? and she said Cause my best friend has cancer. We all looked at each other, the employees, and the blonde continued talking, said My best friend has cancer. She's dying. Wants to swim in a pool of red wine before she goes out of the game, and i don't plan on letting her die unfulfilled. I said You won't get a way with this! and she just shrugged her shoulders. They had a truck waiting and everything; must have been twenty of them. It all happened in a few minutes. She blew us a kiss and then they were gone. Left the chains on us too. Cops took almost an hour to arrive. After i gave the police report i went to change and my arms felt like they'd been squeezed by god himself. By the staff room a lone bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape was rolling on the floor. I picked it up and tucked it into my shirt. I brought it out to the car later, tucked it under the seat. I don't think anyone noticed   

that lou reed album that's nothing but noise

Jim sat down in his and put his coffee cup on the wood coffee table. He began to read his book. Sheryl came into the living room and glared at him. He looked up at her. Please use a coaster, she said. He nodded and said alrighty, and she walked away. Thirty minutes later she brought a laundry basket full of towels into the living room and set up to fold them on the floor. She saw that Jim still had his coffee cup directly on the wood of the coffee table. As he flipped a page of his book, Sheryl looked up at the coffee cup. She walked over and lifted it off the wood, revealing a water mark. Look, she said. Look at this mark. That's never gonna come out. I asked you to use a coaster! Jim nodded and closed his eyes. He said I'm sorry. Next time i'll use a coaster. Sheryl took the coffee cup away and went into the kitchen. Jim continued to read his book

the author

They let me out to visit The Author. At one point he had a normal name, but he changed it legally to The Author a few years before he went prison. I had told them many times that if they let me out for anything it should be for this, despite the difficulty involved in arranging a meeting of this nature. He hasn't been in a normal prison for the last year, but rather a maximum security psychiatric facility. I heard a rumor that he keeps his Pulitzers and his Nobel Prize on a shelf he built in his cell out of some of his own books and pieces of human bone. But it didn't happen the way it was supposed to; The Author wasn't there. They opened the cell door, and they were all as shocked as i was; there was no one inside. Security scrambled; people got on their walky-talkies, spewing out codes for this and that security situation. In the confusion i entered the cell. There were words written on the wall: "My biggest fear is that the world will end during my lifetime. My greatest desire is that the world will end during my lifetime." It was written in bold, childish lettering. The words were brownish-red in color, and i started to wonder about what substances he may have used to write them. A security guard came in and pulled me out of the room, citing danger and escaped patient and other things that blurred together 

basquiat

I'm telling you, i can't deal with Aanders anymore. You wanna know what he pulled the other day? We left the Penile Hacksaw show and then went to shoot pool at Sadie's. There were these two girls playing 9-ball at the table next to us and one of them, the blonde one, was wearing this Jean-Michel Basquiat shirt, the one with the crown on it. Aanders interrupted their game and said, Excuse me, but do you even know who that is? The girls just looked at each other all confused, and Aanders went ballistic! He screamed You don't even know who Basquiat is! Have you ever even seen an artwork of his? Have you ever even been in an art gallery before? and the girl is just yelling Dude, get away from me! Get away from me! I'm like trying to tell Aanders to chill, and then this huge black guy comes over and asks what the problem is, and the girl says This guy is freaking out at me! The guy turns to Aanders and tells him to calm down, and Aanders says Well she doesn't even know what a commodity is, so tell her to calm down! The big guy says Hey man back up, that's my girlfriend, and fucking Aanders says Well your girlfriend is a moron. The guy smashes Aanders in one shot, and then kicks him twice in the face while he's down. The guy and the two girls are running out of there, and all Aanders can say is She can't even spell Basquiat! Like two of his teeth are on the floor in front of him, and he's still giving this girl shit! I help him up and hand him his teeth and there's blood all over his shirt. That moron, she can't even spell commodity! he says. I say Dude! You're holding your own teeth right now! Who cares if she's wearing that shirt! Who cares! And he just spits out blood and says Moron. I can't deal with him. I just can't 

valentine's day

Beth stared in shock at Valentine's Day. She read the artist's name on the placard: Shonda Williams. She looked around the exhibit, but she was alone. Beth had seen many famous, challenging works at The Beringen Contemporary Art Collection in her 75 years. She would save up money for a month to pay the entry fee, even though it meant she'd eat less. Here she'd met Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol when Basquiat premiered his Irony of the Negro Policeman. She'd come here and marvelled at the works of Damien Hirst and Francis Bacon, and the performances of Marina Abramovic. But Valentine's Day made her uncomfortable. The hands were grasping one another in such a way that suggested that they were the hands of two people deeply in love. And yet they were identical-looking, except that the left ring finger bore a gold band. Beth stared at the bones that jutted out of the severed wrists. Some blood had leaked onto the white slab. At the base of the slab, Beth read the words: "hands donated by a willing subject. She lived and loved without them, for a time." Beth felt a drip on her head, and looked up just as another drip hit her eye. Suspended several feet above her was a human heart, still beating, attached to some kind of special pacemaker. It dripped blood onto the floor and onto the slab on which the hands rested. She walked around the slab and read the other note, "heart also donated by our willing subject, at the very end, while she was alive." Beth felt faint, looking up at the bleeding, pumping organ, and rested heavily on her cane. She let the blood continue to drip on her forehead 

through pain we learn to live

Beth lined up to purchase a ham and cheese sandwich in The Beringen's cafeteria. When she attempted to hand the cashier some money, the cashier said We don't take money anymore. You have to use photos you took of the artworks on your smart phone. If you've published them on social media they are worth more. Beth said But my phone doesn't have a camera. It's an older one. The cashier shrugged her shoulders and said You'll have to buy a new phone i guess. Beth asked for a cup of water and the cashier filled a plastic cup and set it down hard on the counter, spilling a little. Beth drank her water and then explored the gift shop. She found a book about the life of Shonda Williams, the artist of Valentine's Day. In the opening blurb it explained that Shonda never had a husband or a lover, and lived alone until her death. Beth was surprised, as she assumed Shonda was still alive. She read about an older work of Shonda's, entitled Through Pain We Learn To Live, where she took several dead dogs, all of which she had owned at one point, and all of which she had killed herself, and stacked them on top of the other, in order of age with the most recently dead at the top. The dog on the bottom was nothing but a pile of bones. In the section about Valentine's Day, Beth read that the severed hands belonged to Shonda herself. She had had them removed the year before for the piece. When Shonda was alive she would grasp her own hands when she lay in bed, imagining that one hand belonged to someone else, so she could experience intimacy. The heart also belonged to Shonda. She had had it removed the day before it was included in the piece by her assistants. Beth took the book to the counter and asked if she had to pay using smart-phone photos. The clerk nodded. Beth took the twenty dollars out of her pocket; it was what she had remaining after she had paid the entry fee. Do you think this is enough money to buy a smart phone? she asked. The clerk shook his head no. She leaned in on her cane and motioned for the clerk to come closer. I'll give you this twenty dollars if i can use your phone to take some pictures in the gallery, she said. The clerk looked unimpressed by the offer. And i'll give you this, she said, showing him her cellular phone. Ha! he said, that's like a relic. Ok lady, deal. How many pictures do i need to take to buy this book? she asked. Twenty pictures, he said, but only ten if you are uploading to social media. Since you're doing it on my phone i'll give you a deal; upload five and you can buy the book. All right, she said, that's a good deal. Now you hold on to that book for me. I'll be back in a few moments. She walked into the gallery, looking at this strange device in her hand, wondering how to use it. She looked at the gallery exit, which was only a few feet away, and she looked down the hall, toward the exhibit which housed Valentine's Day. She looked one way and then she looked the other way, deciding

beringen

They opened the door to the cellar and told me it was time i went to an art show. They told me i needed some culture, plus seeing the artworks might inspire me to write. I asked them if i had a choice which gallery they took me to and they laughed. They said Do you know any art galleries? I thought for a minute and then i said Beringen? They looked at each other, unnerved. Where did you hear that name? one of them asked. I said i didn't know, that for some reason it was in my head. One of them whispered something in the other's ear. They said they needed a minute to consult about something, and brought me back down to the cellar. After some time, maybe an hour or so, they opened the cellar door. Now's not a good time after all, they said. We'll try again some other time. But you keep writing, they said, and they closed the door 

a story used to be here that disappeared

Too bad for you i suppose

zebrahead

So tell us about your trip to Africa! Janie said, sitting down at the dinner table. The roast was almost ready. Her sister, Amanda, was playing with the cat in the living room, avoiding the conversation. Papa Morris sunk into his chair at the head of the table with a nice cold beer in his hand. It was great, he said. Wild animals and safaris, mmm mmm mmm. Mama Joan took the roast out of the oven; she lifted the tinfoil and revealed the gigantic zebra head. The fur still smoldered; the stripes were still discernable, despite being cooked. Joan began to carve. What a great trip, she said. Your papa here got us this zebra with his own two hands and a machete. What nice people those park rangers are. From the living room, Amanda said what countries were you in? The African ones, Morris said. Amanda got up and shouted You don’t even know which countries you were in?? Morris said Silly girl and Joan said Silly girl and Janie said Silly girl and they all patted Amanda on the head. Once they were all seated they said a prayer and began to eat. Amanda took a bite that was covered in burnt fur. She chewed for several minutes but couldn’t seem to chew through it. Everyone else around the table appeared to be doing just fine with the meat. She kept chewing and pretended everything was okay