Artist, Dorothee Lang: Lang is a writer, web freelancer, and traveler, as well as the editor of BluePrint Review. She lives in Germany, keeps a sky diary, and always was fascinated by languages, roads, and the world, themes that reflect in her own work. Currently, she is taking part in the 100 Days Project. For more about her, visit her at BluePrintReview or meet her in 100 days.
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There were times in the mountains I would tell the bears that years ago we were one nation with the foxes. That the eagles and hawks would share their secrets with us. Our afternoons would be spent together, all of us like prenuptial icicles hanging from some subsistence farmer’s outhouse. Mornings we would bury chicken bones and our own dung in one communal hole and no one worried what species it smelled like.
Much later came the years of separation, white tablecloths versus checkered ones, the occupation of enforcedly distant lands. In the bears’ dim brains the foxes’ ordinary form was forgotten and became a composite of childhood closet dwellers, stray circus clowns, the man who never gave correct change at the ice cream stand. Eagles began to believe bears had sold eagles and hawks to itinerate medicine men for their inept, if magical, potions. They imagined bears on balance balls as the pinnacle in bear exclamations of superiority, the last grand bit of hubris before the bears would soon dissolve into beggar atoms.
Each then went to their separate mountains, made nests or dens or warrens, and invited me over for coffee. I was a good story teller and my protagonists would always be the politically correct animal. At the end they would share their chickens with me. My appetite was legendary, but it made me all the more a memorable guest.
The chickens remained in the valley: prey when we were one nation, prey when we were distinct nations.
Our days in the mountains passed. I had grown fat on my stories — telling the foxes how once we had been one congregation with the bears and eagles and hawks; telling the raptors how they had been the eyes for bears and foxes; telling the bears how their size and power had been augmented by flight and cunning. The chickens had been amazed I could remember these things, and I brought them the feathers of their devoured brethren. They tried to bring thanks to their lips, but could not and simply offered me their succulent underbellies in appreciation.
But it is no more. The glory is past and these days I sleep in the farmhouse with the farmer’s wife when the farmer is out hunting bears and foxes and baiting raptors. I eat the best of the chickens, but I also bring their morning grain graciously into their new pen, tell them about feather coats and the days when they were loose in the valley, with their own tablecloth, and all that it cost was a few unimportant lives, images of thanks, and a story that would end only eons away.
Ken Poyner has been lurking about the small press arena for nearly forty years. Work in 2011 is out, soon or now, in Corium, > kill author, decomP, PANK, Fear of Monkeys, and about a dozen other places. He lives in the bottom right hand corner of Virginia with his power lifter wife, five rescue cats, and a refrigerator liberally stocked with beer.
By Jackson, you called and said, I’ll be too drunk to drive. Hell, if I do my very best, I could be blind by Shreveport.
I warn you son, you whispered, everything’s losing its shape. The sky cracks like knuckles all day. Now my dog has decided I’m no friend. I can’t outrun the end much longer. But my boy ain’t no coward. Fly down, meet your old dad, we’ll take a ride to see my new grave.
The plane bounced along a gyrating sky. The stewardess hung over me like a flesh angel. You’re just a boy, she said, and your face says you’re sweet. Don’t fear the tumult outside. I told her it’s more dangerous down below, where everyone wore a bullseye.
In Jackson I stood outside the Dust and Ash Hotel. Your traveling dog, he was a German, said he knew you loved me but I was too late. I didn’t want to step through the door, he said. Who knows what you’ll be on the other side.
Come in, you yelled. I smiled at the dog and said I can’t. Your hound is guarding the gate. It was a hell of a predicament, you agreed. There was always one asshole who wouldn’t get with the plan.
You shot the dog and we moved on.
I drove while you snored. The car sped inside a song once sung. Beyond dawn morning mist gave way. At dark you took the wheel. Night ripped open. I flipped dog-eared corners, watched new universes boom, felt my own animal swim inside. Wondered how the dog had died. Was it a final explosion like rage behind the eyes. Or was it warm soup, with soft bread, a glass of cold milk on the side.
John Riley lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he manages Morgan Reynolds Publishing, an educational publishing company he founded. He is an assistant fiction editor at Ablemuse. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Fiction Daily, Smokelong Quarterly, Conteonline, Willows Wept Review, and elsewhere.
At Columbia & Johnson
The busiest four-way in Lake Chelan now has lights to direct the flow of traffic. It has been ruled by stop signs for a long, long time, over fifty years, one would guess. As of a week ago, the stop-and-go now sings out in red, yellow and green. The mind gets confused when staring at something that has always told it to STOP, yet is now saying, “No, don’t slow down, it’s alright, keep coming and pass right on through.” The mind will then say to itself, “But I’ve always stopped here. All of my life I have stopped here. Never have I just simply driven right on through without STOPping. I do not understand. I do not feel well. What in the hell is that box with the green light thing doing hanging up there on a wire? Something is wrong here. Something is very, very wrong.” Earlier this Winter, the scrape of snow plows pushing through downtown could be heard from far away. There is a new sound echoing on hillsides in the valley. Cranky young drivers are honking horns at the four-way while old-timers are stopping on green and running red lights.
Michael Dickes is a singer-songwriter, composer, and writer living in Washington’s Cascade Mountains. His stories have been featured in THIS Literary Magazine, Metazen, Istanbul Literary Review, Negative Suck, 52/250, and LitSnack. His numerous CDs include Dig, Loose Ends, Moveable Child, and Thirty-Five, and his work is featured on the soundtrack for “Henry Poole Is Here,” a film starring Luke Wilson and George Lopez. More information about Michael’s fiction and music can be found on his website, Michael Dickes.
I knew a girl.
She jumped off a bridge. She did it daily, multiple times a day. She would sit on the ledge with her best friend. The Punsha River fanned out about twelve feet below them. When a car came along, they would start rocking back and forth, laughing. One girl would slap the other on the back as the car approached. Pretending to lose her balance, the struck girl would topple off the bridge, landing on a narrow sandbar rising out of the water. The girl remaining on the bridge would look down towards the river in horror.
I fished that river, a little downstream. I would see the girls playing at this game. I once caught an eel in the Punsha River. I didn’t know that it was an eel at first. I thought it was the biggest fish I had ever caught. Then I thought my line had gotten snagged on a submerged rock and I pulled at various angles to get it free. Eventually I reeled in the eel, the worst parts of both fish and snake. I pulled a jackknife out of my back pocket and cut the line near the tip of my fishing rod.
One day my mother and I were riding by the bridge on our way to an orthodontist appointment. From a distance, I could see the girls sitting on the bridge. As we got closer, they performed their tragedy for us. My mother provided the terrified reaction the girls craved, swerving slightly toward the guardrail. I explained that it was just a trick, though not quite giving away their secret. My mother said it was a damned-fool-stupid thing to do, which was about as close as she ever came to swearing.
For about a year, when we shared the same homeroom, I had a crush on the girl. One morning, as I got off the school bus, a friend told me that she had been seen out in the dugout by the softball field. She had let a boy from our class go to 2nd base. I didn’t know what 2nd base meant and my friend had to explain it to me. I was equally thrilled by this new knowledge and heartbroken by the news.
Some time later, I saw her at the bridge by herself. I was a ways off and didn’t let her see me. She was sitting on the ledge. When a car passed by, she leapt to the sand bar below and then climbed back up through the woods to the road. She sat for a while on the ledge staring down at her dangling feet, or the water passing under the bridge. After a few minutes she slid off of the bridge, falling through the air. It seemed odd that she was doing this because there weren’t any cars coming. I figured she must have known that I was there watching somehow. That or she was just practicing.
Thomas O’Connell is a librarian living in the mountains of southwest Virginia. His short fiction has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Broken Plate, and Ramshackle Review, as well as other print and online journals.
I stand in the empty kitchen looking out the back window at the old barn that rises out of a trough down below the crest of the hill. The ground sloping down the hill is now a deep muddy green but I can almost see faded streaks of yellow where dandelions blanketed the lawn in the summertime. We played hide and seek in that barn, hiding in the cool shadows behind rusted tractors, abandoned furniture and stacked bags of fertilizer. In later years we snuck liquor out of our parents’ houses, measuring our swigs so that the bottles could be secreted back without their noticing that there was any missing. I took my first fumbling attempts at romance with red headed Jane Perry lying on a musty flannel blanket on the hard dirt floor. It was a dark moonless night in late summer. I groped unsuccessfully at the clasp on her bra until she gently pulled my arm away.
The sale closed yesterday. I signed all the papers at the lawyer’s office to make it official. I slept in my old bedroom one last time. The posters and the baseball pennants had finally been taken down but their ghosts remained, darker squares and rectangles on the walls where the sun had been kept from penetrating and bleaching out the blue paint. I left the window open a crack and the pillowcases felt cool and smelled of clean fresh air when I woke in the morning.
The new owners are coming by around noon to pick up the keys. It is deep into the fall now and the maples have grown together into a soaring canopy that surrounds the old barn. Their leaves, red and flame orange, flicker in the wind above the sloped tin roof like a massive wildfire waiting to devour the past.