Issue No. 16, Spring 2016

Snow and the Lie
Lanette Cadle

Forget what I said earlier. It snows here
all the time. Every winter is heavy with the anticipation
of snow. Legends of getting lost

on the way to the mailbox and freezing
to death get confirmed every year. Even here,
a woman died two doors down

from her house in four inches of snow,
huddled next to a pickup truck. Count twenty steps per lot
and see how many steps

it takes to get back home. Other questions,
Why did she go out at midnight and eight degrees in her nightgown?
Why did the settler have to get the mail

in a whiteout? Why didn’t she
ring the doorbell? Or did she, and the neighbors do what I do
when the doorbell rings in the night—

fold it into my dream and forget it
in the morning, a dim tolling of tower bells stuck on two notes
as I half wake, searching

for words to fit the tones—
Tuesday, shoehorn—until they turn into the click and rumble
of central heat in a blanketed room.


Lanette Cadle is a professor of English at Missouri State University where she teaches both rhetoric and creative writing. She has previously published poetry in Weave Magazine, TAB: The Journal of Poetry and Poetics, NEAT, Menacing Hedge, Yellow Chair Review, Young Ravens Literary Magazine, Blast Furnace, and Stirring.

Issue No. 16, Spring 2016

Loon. Or

Wing-lurker. Or
carbuncle of
shadow & blood
ruby. Holder
of the hangdog
eyeball. Or barbed wire
gumbo, gunnysack of
buckshot sinking
in a lake. Minutes.

Empty. Minutes.
Horrible full of nothing.
Necks full of break.
Or stern starched
collars. Or warning
song. Or memorial
bell. Ghost howl. Wings—
a shroud draped
over the damned. Or
fingers puppeteering
wraiths on the sky—

mirror, the lake. Loon
territory. Or lips
the ground purses
to kiss the sky.
All is loon
territory. Or a lure
for every fish
and a hook behind it.

Wraiths feast where they will.


Gahl Liberzon is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan’s Residential College and School of Education, where he studied Creative Writing & Literature and Secondary English Education, respectively. A native of Ann Arbor, Gahl was a two-time member of the University of Michigan Poetry Slam team, a four-time coach for the Ann Arbor Youth Slam team, and a three-time Hopwood award winner. In his spare time, he enjoys singing, beatboxing, filmmaking, dialogue, dance, fighting arts, dance-fighting arts, photography, and impatiently fiddling with his tie. He plans to teach high school English.

Issue No. 16, Spring 2016

The Audition
Gahl Liberzon

The man in the suit sat in a back booth and waited for the young man to walk up, even though the bar was closed. Alright, he said. Let’s see what we’re working with.

The young man unbuttoned his shirt. In his stomach were two glass doors that opened to a small town where everything was engulfed in flame— cobblestone streets and colonial houses, children playing stick and ball in the yards, all glowing orange under the tongues of fire shooting out from their backs. I see, said the man in the suit. But what about the burning?

You can get used to all sorts of things, he replied.

The young man opened the glass doors so the man in the suit could hear—from his belly came only the sound of pizzicato harps, a celestial music box. Good, said the man in the suit. And how do I change the tune? Something more upbeat?

The young man took out a bag of black powder, withdrew a pinch and sprinkled it inside. A slight breeze picked up, as the flames grew higher and turned green. The children began to dance the maypole, while the harps were joined by bowed violins.

Excellent, said the man in the suit. Again! The young man put another pinch in and the breeze became a gust as the flames grew higher, blue now, and the children took to coursing hares with their bats as the harps and violins were joined by coronets.

Fantastic! A little more now! said the man in the suit, as he grabbed the bag and threw in a handful. The gust became a gale, the fires turned bright pink and hot and snaking up out of the fireplace and bubbling the skin around the glass. Inside, the children took their bats to each other in a rage and the sound of wood on bones emerged from the young man’s abdomen undisguised.

No. No. No. said the man in the suit. This is unacceptable.  He ran to the kitchen and came back with a pitcher of water and tossed it into the young man’s stomach. The flames died instantly, and the water sloshed once and poured out of the smoking hole. The gale, still as strong, reversed and pushed the smoke back into the young man’s abdomen and out of his eyes and ears and nose and mouth like a chimney.

The man in the suit peered into the town as the last of the smoke cleared. The cobblestone streets were blackened with soot, the colonial houses half sunk-in with debris from collapsed roofs. Clots of glass and timber littered the streets, and here and there tatters of cloth fluttered from under the rubble.

Where did they all go? asked the man in the suit, but all that came out of the young man was the brush of the little furls of fabric against the stone. They shushed in the wind.


Gahl Liberzon is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan’s Residential College and School of Education, where he studied Creative Writing & Literature and Secondary English Education, respectively. A native of Ann Arbor, Gahl was a two-time member of the University of Michigan Poetry Slam team, a four-time coach for the Ann Arbor Youth Slam team, and a three-time Hopwood award winner. In his spare time, he enjoys singing, beatboxing, filmmaking, dialogue, dance, fighting arts, dance-fighting arts, photography, and impatiently fiddling with his tie. He plans to teach high school English.

Issue No. 16, Spring 2016

Jaide
Emma Karnes

tonight the great waters rise behind her eyes and wash
dull-moon hair down her back. the skin around her bones
screams for a certain shade of justice— revised like Anne
Frank’s diary— drowned like the poorest aboard—
and she cannot soothe it with tea. nor shutting
the curtains. not even smashing pretty cosmetic mirrors
against her gas-stovetop. filthy starlight rapes her room
and although she is pale she bathes in it,
finally. after trying everything, wildly resisting, she sinks
into an old mattress as one million coffins may be
lowered into measured holes at once. yes, each consciousness
is an excavation; flint left burning after the foot-
army moves on. and perhaps that is why her skin
screams so. and her bulge when she thinks
too hard, tsunamis worse than destructive: pitiful.


Emma Karnes was born in Rochester, New York and now lives in Ithaca, New York. She has had poems published in Cyclamens and Swords, Verbaleyze’s “Reaching Beyond the Skies: Young Writers’ Anthology,” and Word Soup End Hunger. Emma continues to write poetry and hopes to share her work with as many people as possible.

Issue No. 16, Spring 2016

The brave night blooms with broken teeth
Emma Karnes

Warriors have been
gathering darkened shards, horizon
ribs, dusk and glow, and
sculpting them into women, whose lips
taint the eclipsed world and
whose legs break the
light of stars. Perpetual, the warriors
bleed their night while
mountains beside the sea cast veils
to the water, as if the women
float beneath, holding their breath.
One night still and none have died,
none have slept. As more darkness
is collected more darkness is born,
out of the pain of so many
shadowed women.


Emma Karnes was born in Rochester, New York and now lives in Ithaca, New York. She has had poems published in Cyclamens and Swords, Verbaleyze’s “Reaching Beyond the Skies: Young Writers’ Anthology,” and Word Soup End Hunger. Emma continues to write poetry and hopes to share her work with as many people as possible.

Issue No. 16, Spring 2016

In the Other Room
Len Kuntz

In the other room
something is burning.
In this one
moonlight falls like charcoal rain
through sheer drapes
that hike up their skirts
and dance under a vent
maybe mocking me
or not.

Our bed has never felt so vast,
so irrelevant and unused,
a raft adrift in some black ocean
where even the current has lost its will.

Soon you’ll be descaling yourself,
gargling in front of the bathroom mirror,
recounting kisses,
the different pressures of his touch,
his voice in your ear like a frustrated wasp.
At least that’s what I imagine.
Even a clever actress like you
turns see-through now and then.

When you slink under the covers
I’ll pretend to be asleep as I always do,
keeping my eyes shut
regurgitating the reasons for staying.
My mother always claimed I was weak.
You have no fight, she’d say.
Just like your father, she’d say.

In the other room
something is burning.
Listen with me.
Hear the wood crackle,
timbers spitting sparks,
flame tongues licking every appliance and wall,
everything sizzling with life
for the first time in years.


Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and an editor at the online magazine Literary Orphans. His story collection, The Dark Sunshine, debuted from Connotation Press in 2014, and his newest collection, I’m Not Supposed to be Here and Neither Are You, releases from Unknown Press in March of 2016. You can also find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com

Feature: Issue No. 16, Spring 2016

"Locked Out" -- Fabrice Poussin
Locked Out

"Oddity" -- Fabrice Poussin
Oddity

"On the Hill" -- Fabrice Poussin
On the Hill

"Secret" -- Fabrice Poussin
Secret

"Skeleton" -- Fabrice Poussin
Skeleton

"The Threat" -- Fabrice Poussin
The Threat


Fabrice Poussin is assistant professor of French and English. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in France at La Pensee Universelle, and in the United States in Kestrel and Symposium. His photography has also been published in Kestrel, and is scheduled for upcoming publications throughout 2016.

Issue No. 16, Spring 2016

Tony and the Apocalypse
Andrew Hogan

I glided to a stop in front of the Portsmouth Security and Social Services Station. My client, an eleven year old geek holding a BlazeMasterIX V-phone, was waiting for me at the second pickup station, accompanied by a frightened policewoman. I lowered the window.

“Tony?” He nodded. “Hop in, kiddo.” I waved to the policewoman, who was scanning the buildings around the Station; she gave me a painful wink and then scuttled back toward the station ready to dodge any sulfurous missiles that might be sent at her.

“Nice to meet you, Tony. I’m Burt.” We shook hands, Tony’s was limp. “Ready to ride?” Tony nodded. “Buckle up. I gave Lizzie,” patting the vehicle control panel, “an extra charge of double ionization, just in case we need to speed.” Tony gave me a half smile. I couldn’t tell if he was scared or depressed. He’d just lost both of his parents in what everybody was calling the Impending Apocalypse, but don’t get me started on that load of crap.

Lizzie powered up to nice, gentle 2.5 megavolt cruise down Gallia Street. It gave me the chance to talk to the kid a little before we got on the highway.

“My file says your parents just died recently. What happened?” I needed to know how traumatized the kid might be.

“Hounds of hell got them.”

“Hounds of hell? Where?”

“We were having a picnic in Riverside Park. The hounds of hell came racing out of a fissure near the river. Ma and Pa got me and Janey into the backseat of the car, but the hounds of hell caught them before they could get in the front.”

“How’d you and you sister get away?”

“There was a crack of doom, and then all the hounds went away. I got in the front seat and pressed the OnStar button. They sent an ambulance, but it was too late.”

I patted Tony on the shoulder as I drove through traffic. “That’s terrible. I’m sorry. Did any of those dogs look like the pit bulls the drug runners keep?”

“I don’t know. Their eyes were red.”

“Yeah, they do that to scare people who believe in the Apocalypse,” I said. “Where’s your sister?”

“I don’t know. We were separated when we got to the Station. I asked the lady about Janey; she said the computer system was failing because of the Impending Apocalypse, so she couldn’t find her right then.”

“That’s a load of crap,” I said. “The damn power grid’s been failing for years, and the State won’t pay for backup generators.”

“A couple hours later the police lady took me outside to be picked up. I said Janey and I should be together. ‘What difference would it make,’ was all she said.”

“You guys got a Facebook page? Maybe she posted where she is?” I said.

“They took our V-phones before they put us in the cells.”

So the cops did think the deaths might have been a drug hit. “How old is Janey?” I said.

“She’s fourteen.”

“Oh, crap. They probably put her in with the hookers.” I hung a hard left, chucking a u-ey on Gallia, then I punched the ionization drive. We were back at the Station in two minutes. I parked around back in the jail entrance. “Stay in the car,” I told Tony.

Half an hour later I was back in front of the car, resisting the urge to kick the magnetic boosters, which I did a couple of months ago and broke my toe. I took a couple of breaths, so as not to get Tony too excited, and opened the door. “They lost her, or said they did. But I made them copy me the surveillance video of the hooker lockup. Does this look like Janey?” I flashed the snippet of surveillance video on my V-phone.

“It looks like her,” Tony said. “I can’t see her face very well, but the hair’s the right length and color.”

“Okay, it looks like they shipped her off with a load of hookers to the Fredericksburgh detention center. I got her case transferred to me, so now I’ve got her chip ID.” I fired up Lizzie and headed towards Fredericksburgh. “We’ll get her scanned and spring her from the detention center.”

I put Lizzie on autopilot and opened up the traffic cam feed. There’d been a morning news tweet about a chasm of doom opening up along US-35, spewing fire and brimstone. Damn apocalypticists were setting fires and bombing buildings to make people think the Great Tribulation had really started, herding them into Salvation Centers, where they signed away all their worldly possessions to whatever bogus church they had joined—there were now more churches than nail-salons, each one promising to get the convert off the late great planet earth before the Battle of Armageddon. In the last two years, five prophets of doom had replaced power grid owners on the list of the ten richest people in the world.

Sure enough, US-35 was closed at Chillicothe due to low visibility. I entered a route modification into Lizzie’s navigation system and punched the speed up to 8.5 megavolts.

“Tony, do you think your Aunt Edna will be able to take both you and Janey? When I spoke to her on the phone, she said her place was already pretty crowded with orphans from her husband’s family.”

“Aunt Edna don’t like Janey too much, but maybe she could sleep on the floor for a couple of days,” Tony said. “That’s all we got anyways.”

“What do you mean?”

“My End-of-Times app countdown clock’s only showing 49 hours and 7 minutes left before the Battle of Armageddon starts,” Tony said, showing me the screen on his V-phone. “All of us mid-tribulationists will be rapturing once the Battle begins.”

“You’ve been following that for a while?”

“Yeah. A couple of months, ever since Mom and Dad got us baptized,” Tony said.

“How many times they push back the date since you’ve been following it?”

“Sure, a couple of times, but they changed it the other way too,” Tony said. “Like when the Lady of Guadalupe re-appeared last month in Mexico City, they set the clock forward because of what she said.”

“The world’s fucked up, kiddo, but don’t get your hopes up about it ending any time soon. You and Janey have got long and miserable lives ahead of you, especially her, if I can’t get her out of that detention center.” Damn, wish I hadn’t said that; don’t want Tony to be any more upset than he already is.

I had to swerve to avoid hitting a baby rabbit that some kids had chased into the street; it wouldn’t have made much of a stew if I pulverized it with my boosters—besides I’d just run Lizzie through the sonic wash this morning.

There was a large cloud of brimstone blowing south across the Old Frederickburgh Road. I popped open the glove compartment and gave Tony one of the masks. I was glad I opted for the Tribulation Special at the carwash, the polymer coating they’d applied after the sonic wash would keep Lizzie’s finish from eroding in the brimstone cloud.

“Look,” Tony said, after we emerged from the brimstone cloud. “Dragons. They’re chasing the planes.”

“No, they’re not,” I said. “The planes are pulling the dragon decoys behind them. They’ve got a winch on the plane. It pulls the dragon closer. Then they fly off and let it out again. You ever see the dragon catch the plane?”

“I’ve seen video. The dragon gets close, blasts the plane with fire, and then eats the cooked passengers after the plan crashes. They don’t like raw meat.”

“It’s all faked,” I said. “They’re just scaring people so they’ll convert to some church and donate all their possessions.”

“You’re going to be one of the ones left behind when the Battle of Armageddon starts.”

“I’ll keep Lizzie all charged up, just in case,” I said. “Okay, here’s the detention center. Whatever you do, don’t get out of the car. I don’t want to have to spring you out of this place as well.”

I went through the pink door of the detention center. Forty-five minutes later I came out with Janey. Back in the car, Tony was surprised by how Janey looked.

“Whoa, what happened to you? You got different clothes, and they painted your face.”

“This is rouge, you moron. And the ladies swapped me for some of my clothes. What do you think?” Janey said, expanding her chest to show off her rather unimpressive cleavage.

“You look like the pictures they show of the Whore of Babylon,” Tony said.

“The ladies said I was nobile.”

“You mean nubile?” I said.

“Whatever, it means I look young and innocent,” Janey said.

“You are young and innocent,” I said.

“Hey, I done stuff at school,” she said, “with some of the guys in the Grand Theft Auto Gaming Club.”

“Janey, you’re going to get stuck here in the Tribulation if you don’t act good,” Tony said.

Janey turned to Tony. “Yeah, well, the ladies told me that there’s guys that would pay me 300 bitcoins to go all the way with them.”

“Whoa,” Tony said.

“I could buy the whole 59-volume set of dramatized Left Behind audiobooks,” Janey said. “All I have to do is repent before the Seventh Trumpet sounds, and I can still avoid the worst of the Tribulations.”

“According to the End-of-Times Prophecy Center, you’ve only got 49, no 48 hours left,” Tony said. “Can you arrange a hook-up that fast?”

Before Janey could answer, I said, “You’re not becoming a hooker while you’re my case.” Janey slumped back in her seat, putting on her best face of teenage disgust. “Listen up, you two. We need to cross the Carl Perkins Bridge to get to your Aunt Edna’s place.”

“Aunt Edna,” Janey said, bringing her hands to her head. “No way, no way I’m going to live with that witch.”

“The Great Tribulation Navigator app says that bridge has been taken over by vampires,” Tony said. “We can’t go that way.”

“Sure we can. There’s plenty of daylight,” I said. “There won’t be any vampires out now.”

“They’ve got Renfields that do their bidding during the daylight.”

“That’s why you’re both going to put on your second safety restraint, and I’m going to punch Lizzie up to 8.89 megavolts.”

“It says here,” Tony said, holding up his V-phone, “you can make a 20 bitcoin offering at the gate, and the vampires will let you pass.”

“It just encourages them,” I said.

“I’d rather have my veins sucked dry than live with Aunt Edna,” Janey said.

“As long as you’re my case, you’ll keep your blood pumping through your cold little heart.” I hit the button for the front force field and upped the juice to Lizzie’s magnetic boosters. Working for social services got you low pay and no respect, but all the best leftover military hardware. It would take more than a couple of pretend vampires to stop Lizzie.

We blew through the gate and glided over the deluge-swollen Ohio River.

“Look, there’s a sea monster chasing the boat.” Tony said.

“No, it’s a decoy, just like the plane,” I said.

“Watch out,” Tony said, pointing to dark figures on the bridge trusses. They were dropping two-by-fours.

“They’re going to need something a lot harder than wood to dent Lizzie,” I said, as a beam bounced off the trunk.

“Hey, driver,” Janey said.

“Name’s  Burt,” I said.

“Butt, I got a text from my BGF4L Darbi. Says I can crash at her place until the End Time. Her brother was gulped by one of those Serpents of Satan, so they’ve got an empty room. Like, they get paid, right?”

“Darbi’s parents got an R-16 foster care license?” I said. Janey tapped away on her screen. After a moment, a beep.

“No,” she said. “But they got an R-12.”

“No good. They’re not licensed to foster a child going through puberty, and honey, you’re way past going through.”

“What difference does it make? The fucking world’s going to fall apart in a couple of days.”

“And when it does, your ass is going to be sitting in appropriately licensed foster care home or the residence of a blood relative.”

“I should laser-tattoo the Mark of the Beast onto my forehead right now and go directly to Hell. It’d be better than living with Aunt Edna,” Janey said.

“Living with Aunt Edna will get you some time off in Purgatory,” I said.

“I’m not a goddamned Catholic. I don’t believe in Purgatory. I’ll be called straight to Heaven.”

I took the first right off the bridge onto Ferry Street, which merged onto Beattyville Road. Aunt Edna’s house was the first one on the left. We pulled into the driveway, and Lizzie released the doors. Tony and I went up to the door, Janey stayed in the car.

“Tony, thank God you’re safe,” Aunt Edna said, after opening the door. “I’m so sorry about your mom and dad. Come in.” Aunt Edna looked around after we entered. “Where’s Janey? You brought her, didn’t you?”

“She’s afraid to come in because of what happened with her and Tommy,” Tony said.

Aunt Edna looked at me. “My son, well, late son, Tommy and Janey, well, let’s just say there was a little horseplay, too much horseplay, there was a bit of a scene, some stuff was said, in the heat of the moment, maybe some feelings got hurt. You know, let me go out and talk with her myself, just for a minute. We can get this straightened out.”

“Sure,” I said.

While Aunt Edna was gone, Tony came closer and whispered, “Tommy died of an overdose. He was doing that Take-Me-Now drug, the one they say gives you the glimpse of the other side.”

“I had a couple of orphans last week whose parents were doing it.”

“Don’t say anything to Aunt Edna. She’s telling everybody Tommy’s been raptured.”

Outside we heard some shouting, maybe a slap. I went out to look, but Aunt Edna and Janey were already at the door. Janey’s face was flush, maybe a little red on one side.

“Everything okay, Janey?” I said.

“Oh, she’s fine,” Aunt Edna said. “My sister was such a wonderful mother, who wouldn’t be upset, what with the way she passed and all.”

“Fine,” Janey said, clearly lying.

“Okay, then, if I can get your thumb print here on this foster agreement, Mrs. Tutwell, I’ll leave both the kids in your custody. You’ll get the first prorated foster stipend later today, if the system stays up, and then full payments at the first of every month. In about ten days, a clothing allowance will be credited to your account. After things settle down a bit….”

“We’re only just about finished with the Beginnings of Sorrows,” Tony said. “Things are going to get a lot worse for the next three and a half years.”

“No matter how bad things get, I’ll still be checking back with you on how the kids are doing.” I waved goodbye. Tony and Janey were standing next to each other; he looked scared and she looked pissed. Aunt Edna several feet away looked like a snake who’d just swallowed a juicy mouse. It wasn’t my best orphan placement, but what the hell, the world was coming to an end and I had another kid waiting for me back at the Security and Social Services Center.

 

A couple of days later I got a v-tweet from Tony, “Janey’s run away. Aunt Edna put her in the basement to keep her away from the boys.”

I was making an orphan placement on the other side of the River that afternoon, so I swung by Aunt Edna’s place. She had quite a swarm of kids, three orphans from her husband’s side of the family along with Tony and Janey. Two of the older boys were outside by the pool, smoking cigarettes and rough-housing around; maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to keep Janey away from them. Aunt Edna came to the door.

“I heard Janey’s gone missing.”

“Yeah, she’s been acting out,” Aunt Edna said. “Losing your parents like that, it’s not unusual.”

“You know the rules. You have to report a missing foster kid.”

“I know. I didn’t want to get her in trouble,” Aunt Edna said.

More likely didn’t want to lose the foster placement and the stipend. “You got any idea where she went?” I said.

“Over to her friend Darbi’s. But Darbi’s parents said Darbi was on a sleepover at another friend’s house, and they hadn’t seen Janey.” There was a crash from inside the house. Aunt Edna turned away and screamed, “What’d I tell you two about throwing the football in the house.”

“Tony around?” I said.

“Up in his room. Come on in. He’s been pretty mopey since he got here.”

Tony was sitting on the top bunk in a dark corner of what must be the boys’ bedroom with two sets of bunk beds. He looked up from his tablet, “Burt, I might know where Janey is going. I bet Darbi and her other friend, Silki, are going too. Look.”

Tony’s tablet displayed a webpage, Early Ascension to Heaven. There was a picture of Horseshoe Mound Park, the only Hopewell mound to survive the agricultural and industrial boom that transformed Portsmouth in the early twentieth century. Next to the picture was a diagram of the mound, with the title Nephite Rapture Station. According to the webpage, the Nephites, one of the ten lost tribes of Israel, built the mound, actually two mounds, one having been turned into farmland and later a residential development, as a depot for the faithful to be transported to heaven during the Second Coming—all this supposedly described in the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith.

“This is a bunch of crap, Tony,” I said. “The whole lost tribe of Israel story was debunked decades ago. Colonial settlers couldn’t believe the Indians were capable of building all these massive mounds, so they invented a myth about the Lost Tribes of Israel migrating here before Christ, and then somehow they converted to Christianity, in spite of being so far away.”

“What happened to them?” Tony said.

“Well, it never happened, but, in the myth, I guess you might say they suffered their own apocalypse. One of the two tribes, the dark-skinned Lamanites lost their faith and went to war with the Nephites, destroying them, and then the Lamanites degenerated into the primitive Indians that Joseph Smith met on his travels through the Midwest.”

“That’s like what’s happening to us now,” Tony said. “We’re degenerating.”

“Okay, things are bad right now, but that was all just a myth. There was no scientific evidence of any Israelites in Ohio or any state. Besides, look at the corner of the webpage. It says, ‘Not Affiliated with the Mormon Church,’” I said. “We need to find Janey and get her set up in a better place—don’t say anything to Aunt Edna.”

“I think Janey and Darbi and Silki are going to the Early Ascension event at the Park,” Tony said. “Says here to arrive at 4:30 pm for preadmission preparations.”

“Want to go for a ride?” I said. We didn’t exactly tell Aunt Edna where we were going. In a couple of minutes we were across the River and riding up Grant Street to Horseshoe Mound Park. As we got close, clutches of teens and preteens were walking along the sidewalks and even in the road. By the time we got to Greenlawn Cemetery, the road was too crowded to drive; we pulled into the old Ralph Scott Funeral Home parking lot and walked the rest of the way.

Next to Highland Elementary we found a line forming. Young men and women wearing what looked like traditional Mormon underwear over their street clothes were moving up the line handing out forms. Tony got a copy, but the teenager in the underwear told me, “You’re too old to be saved prematurely.”

“What do you mean, too old?”

“I can’t give nobody over twenty a form. You got to get out of the line.”

“And if I don’t.”

She didn’t answer. She clicked on her walkie-talkie. “I need the hounds, southwest entrance.” She turned her back to me and raised a hand with a laser pointer that she flicked back and forth. A large guy in a black robe and hockey mask came over with a couple of pit bulls, their eyes stained red. The girl pointed, “That’s him.”

“Out of the line, old fella.”

I leaned over to Tony. “Close your eyes and hold your breath.”

The black robe came closer, the dogs growled, he loosened their leads, the dogs came forward and I left loose the military grade pepper spray, closing my eyes quickly. In seconds there was a chorus of whimpering, the dogs ran off, dragging the black cloak behind him. “Shit, man, what’d you do to my dogs?”  Lizzie wasn’t the only military equipment Social Services got for me.

I nudged Tony. “Let’s go up to the front of the line.” I took the sheet Tony got from the underwear girl. It was a disclaimer form, releasing the Early Ascension to Heaven Transport Company, LLC, from liability due to the failure of celestial transport during the Early Ascension Ceremony. EAHTC is not able to determine the salvation status of Early Ascension celebrants prior to the Ceremony. Failure to ascend is proof that the celebrant is not saved. No refund will be provided to unascended celebrants. However, unascended celebrants will be entitled to two more ascension attempts at half price, as well as discounted fees for their Ascension Prep Courses, which according to a study by the graduate theology students in the End-Times Seminar of the New Resurrection Bible School was shown to increase the likelihood of early ascension by fifteen to forty-three percent, depending on the seminar package selected.

“Do you think your sister believes this crap,” I said, while Tony and I walked up to the Park’s southwest gate.

“She’s pretty desperate. Aunt Edna called her a slut and made her stay downstairs during the day after she caught her flirting with my cousins Tom and Jeb.”

Tony had tears running down his face. “What?” I said. “Are you afraid for Janey?

“No, I really want to get out of here too. Get back with my parents. Not be afraid all the time.” He looked up at me. I felt like a veterinarian with a sick dog begging to be put to sleep.

“Hey, things’ll get better. I’ll find you and Janey a better place to live.”

“Not on this earth. Not in the middle of the Great Tribulation.”

I wasn’t much of a hugger, but I put my arm around him and gave him a little squeeze. “Things are screwed up, but it’s not the Black Death, it’s not the Holocaust…”

“What?”

“Didn’t you take world history in seventh grade?”

“It was boring. Mostly I played the pyramid building game. I learned the names of all the Pharaohs.”

“Is that Janey?” I pointed to three girls just about to pass through the Park entrance.

“Yes, and that’s Darbi and Silki with her. They’re already inside.”

I walked up to the gate. Off to the side, the black cloak security guard was rinsing out his dogs’ eyes with a hose. I took out my Social Services laser ID and flashed it in the face of the Pearly Gates Admissions Assistant. “Social Services. We had a report of child abuse inside the Park.” She let me pass.

I’d lost track of Janey in the crowd, but Tony picked up her two friends standing next to some kind of bubbling cauldron. When we got there, the girls were removing their earrings, toe-rings, eyebrow and navel studs. They dropped them in the boiling cauldron, which wasn’t giving off any kind of heat, probably a sonic jewelry bath.

“Where’s Janey?” I said.

“Who are you, perv?” said the girl I subsequently learned was Darbi. “You’re too old to be in here?”

“He’s our caseworker,” Tony said. “Where’s my sister?”

“She’s in there,” pointing to a long tent of what looked like changing rooms.

“What’s that for?” Tony said.

“To remove genital piercings. We don’t have any,” Darbi said.

“Yet,” Silki giggled.

“Why are you putting your jewelry into this cauldron?” I said.

“They said our jewelry would interfere with the ascension process,” Darbi said. “You know, like metal in a microwave.”

“How are you going to get it back?” I said.

“We don’t need it where we’re going, you know, to Heaven.”

“And if you don’t ascend?” I said.

“That hardly ever happens, they told us,” Darbi said. “If something goes wrong, they’ve got those buses over there to take us to the Octagon Mound up at Newark. It’s bigger and higher, everybody ascends from there, practically.”

“There’s Janey,” Tony said. “Janey,” he shouted to her, waving.

Janey saw us and ran around behind the tent. Tony ran after her.

“Tony, wait,” I said, but he kept going. The organizers began herding the celebrants, who had purple stick-on crosses on their chests, into the valley of the horseshoe mound. I lost track of both the kids in the commotion. Within fifteen minutes the interior of the horseshoe mound was filled with teenagers. There was a chain-link fence around the exterior of the mound. By the time I finished unsuccessfully scanning the crowd, the gate to the fence was closed and locked. Flashing my laser ID badge had no effect. All I could do was wait.

The organizers had placed a series of fog machines along the top of the mound. Soon fog poured down into the interior of the mound where the celebrants were assembled. It was getting dark, and the organizers turned on the strobe lights located in between the fog machines. Large concert speakers placed outside of the fence began blaring The Day of Doom sung by Enoch and the Four Horseman, the Christian Punk Rock version of Wigglesworth’s 1662 poem that had been topping the pop charts for the last several months.

Virgins unwise, who through disguise

Amongst the best were number’d,

Had clos’d their eyes; yea, and the wise

Through sloth and frailty slumber’d.

At the open end of the horseshoe mound where the fog wasn’t quite as dense, I could see the celebrants milling around, apparently making way for people with black light headlamps. Every few minutes a cross would fluoresce in the black light and then disappear. After forty-five minutes, the fog machines were turned off and the lights were switched from strobe to constant. The gates of the chain link fence were opened, and the music stopped.

Then came the announcement, “Congratulations to all those who ascended early out of our time of tribulation. For those of you still aspiring to ascend before the Seventh Trumpet sounds, please, proceed to the information desks on the southeast corner of the Park to receive your half price coupon for the next Early Ascension celebration at a location to be announced on the website identified on the coupon. If you deposited any jewelry prior to entering the Ascension arena, you can retrieve it at the tables on the south side of the Park.”

As the crowd cleared, I looked for Tony and Janey. Only after the crowd thinned out did I find Tony wandering back and forth in the rear on the horseshoe mound.

“Janey, Janey, where are you?” He was screaming. He seemed oblivious to the remaining left-behind celebrants, sometimes bumping into them in his search. Someone Tony bumped into pushed him to the ground. I got to him and helped him up.

“What’s wrong with your eyes?” I said.

“Somebody sprayed me. I wouldn’t let go of Janey.”

“They took her away?”

“No, she wanted to go. ‘I want to be saved, Tony. Let me go,’ she said. ‘Take me too,’ I said. ‘I can’t. It’s not up to me. You’ve got to believe, really believe,’ she said. ‘I do believe. Take me,’ I said. Then somebody squirted stuff in my eye. Janey went away after that. I’ve got to find her. I don’t want to be left alone.”

I looked around. The crowd had cleared out of the mound. The buses parked on the north side of the Park were gone. “Let me take you back to Aunt Edna,” I said. “You’ll be safe there, until you get called up.”

Tony struggled against me as I led him out, but his heart was broken and he didn’t have much fight left in him. “Wait,” he said. “I got to get my Dad’s Christian Soldier ring. I had to take it off for the ceremony.”

We went over to the table where all of the jewelry dropped off in the cauldrons had been spread out. A couple dozen teenagers were sorting through the pile. One of the teens threw a handful of jewelry onto the table. “This stuff is all junk. Nobody I know would wear this crap.”

Tony looked for almost a quarter of an hour but couldn’t find the ring. “Maybe somebody took it by mistake?”

“You’re probably right,” I said. “Keep an eye on the lost and found section of this church’s webpage. I bet it’ll turn up.” I couldn’t kick the kid in the teeth again, not after he’d lost his parents and his sister.

“Okay,” he said. “I guess I can’t take it with me anyway.”

“That’s right. You won’t need any jewelry in Heaven.”

“You don’t believe in Heaven,” Tony said.

“No, but you do.”

“You think this is all a big hoax,” he said.

I put my hand on his shoulder and led him toward the exit. “Look, it’s possible everybody is right. Like it’s all subjective. You’ll end up the Heaven, the place you believe in, and I’ll get stuck here in this crappy world, because that’s what I believe in. It’s all a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“What do you really think happened to Janey?” Tony said.

I wasn’t going to tell the kid his sister was probably on her way to a whorehouse in Anguilla or one of the other Pleasure Islands. “I don’t know. Maybe some kind of special bible camp. Like they thought she was really close to being saved but needed a little boost.” He looked up at me. “She has kind of an attitude, you know.” Maybe he agreed a little. “They left you behind because you’re all set to go, if and when the Rapture happens.”

Tony didn’t say anything. Nothing turns a kid into a cynic faster than inept lying. He’d be better off a little more cynical. “So, let’s get you back home. Aunt Edna’s probably worried about you.”

“Right,” Tony said.

See what I mean. Another week with Aunt Edna, and he won’t believe anybody about anything. A healthy attitude if you’re living through the Great Tribulation, or whatever the hell you want to call this mess we’re in.


Andrew Hogan received his doctorate in development studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before retirement, he was a faculty member at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the University of Michigan, and Michigan State University, where he taught medical ethics, health policy, and the social organization of medicine in the College of Human Medicine. Dr. Hogan published more than five-dozen professional articles on health services research and health policy. He has also published fifty-two works of fiction in magazines like OASIS Journal (1st Prize, Fiction 2014), Hobo Pancakes, Subtopian Magazine, Twisted Dreams, Midnight Circus, Stockholm Review of Literature, The Beechwood Review, Cyclamens and Swords, Festival Writer (Pushcart Nominee), and many others.

Feature: Issue No. 16, Spring 2016

Azrael: Year 7
Luke Guidici

Leather shoe. Plastic bag. Glass bottle.

#

Daniel Anders noted the items as he grabbed them off the conveyor belt. Without wasting a motion he dropped each into the appropriate chute. Shoe into carbon. Bag into plastic. Bottle into glass. He paused and looked down the line. Along each side, men and women dressed in simple blue coveralls and wearing heavy gloves combed through the refuse, grabbing whatever salvage they could. At 28 years of age, Anders was one of the younger ones.

He exhaled, watching his breath condense. The metal walls and concrete floors of the warehouse did little to keep out the cold winter air. Anders inhaled. For months he’d worked twelve hour days, seven days a week, a constant flow of garbage rolling past. He looked for carbon, metals, plastics, and glass: anything that the automated sorter missed, he and the other workers endeavored to find and send for reclamation. It was mind numbing, but at least it was a distraction.

“I’m not paying you to daydream, Anders.”

Anders snapped to attention. In front of him was Williams, a portly man dressed in a dark jacket that hung loosely across his narrow shoulders and a brightly colored tie that rolled over his gut. He jabbed a finger into Anders’ chest.

“You’ve got a quota and I expect it to be filled or, by Azrael, you’ll be out with the Pickers.”

“Don’t worry.”

“What?”

“Don’t worry, sir. I’ll make my quota.”

“You better.”

Williams smirked and headed off down the line. As he walked, the other workers dropped their eyes, hoping to avoid his attention. Williams stopped next to a grey-haired woman and began to berate her.

Anders clenched his jaw and looked away. He’d never cared much for Williams. How could he? The man hadn’t served.

#

Just three years earlier, Anders was halfway around the world, fighting in the Trans-Pacific War. He’d volunteered, not because he was especially patriotic, but because the United North American government had promised post-war jobs to all volunteers.

But no one expected the Free Chinese to be defeated so thoroughly—or so quickly. And no one expected the casualties to be so low. After only two years of combat, the combined Sino-North American armies had destroyed all major resistance. The victory was so complete that they didn’t even bother with a puppet government. They just secured the borders and let the Free Chinese fend for themselves.

As veterans flooded back to UNA, the promised government jobs were quickly filled. By the time that Anders returned, there was nothing left. After a year of searching, he was willing to do almost anything.

#

Anders grabbed a piece of newspaper, then a plastic milk jug. His eyes scanned the approaching trash until he found the next item: a leather boot. In one smooth motion he grabbed it, flipped it over, and carried it toward the carbon chute. As he did, debris spilled out of the boot and landed on his foot. There was something solid in there.

He smiled. Maybe he’d gotten lucky and it was ferrous. Some iron would really help his quota, but probably it was just a rock. He crouched down.

A trio of small rocks sat by his foot. He frowned. Then something further under the belt caught his eye. It was a small, grey cellular telephone. He gasped.

What the hell?

Anders leaned out from under the belt and looked around. None of the workers had noticed. He checked the second floor. Standing on the metal catwalk was Williams. A coffee cup in one hand, he was gesticulating wildly as he talked to two officers of the Terran Survivability Bureau. These TSB guards were part of the contingent permanently stationed at the mine.

Who has coffee everyday? No way he isn’t skimming.

Anders ducked back under. He grabbed the rocks with one hand and the cell phone with the other. As he stood he slipped the phone into a pocket, then tossed the rocks onto the belt. He glanced at his coworkers; it didn’t seem like any of them had noticed.

But that didn’t mean no one saw. If they did, Anders’ only hope would be a bribe. And the chance of that working was 50–50. It wasn’t unheard of for TSB spies to be in industries related to “Terran survival,” which this close to Azrael’s arrival was basically anywhere they wanted to be. Not only that, but failure to report a crime often carried a penalty as stiff as the crime. All this meant it was hard to trust anyone anymore.

Anders pushed the fear aside. He still had time to figure out what to do. If he didn’t, he could drop the phone on the line and let someone else deal with it.

#

A bowl of thick green sludge landed on the table next to Anders. A tall, wiry man with thinning black hair sat down with a sigh. Carlos Rodriguez might have been handsome once, but the strains of a hard life had taken their toll.

“Solidarity green. Glad they’re serving this again.”

“At least they feed us. I heard night shift doesn’t get a meal anymore.”

Rodriguez glared up at Williams’ office.

“Terran dogs.”

Anders nodded as he ate a spoonful of soup.

“Hey, you’re old. You ever have one?”

“One what?”

“A dog.”

“No. But, my Abuela did. Little thing, like a mop with eyes. She called it…”

He paused to take a bite.

“Can’t remember.”

“What was it like?”

“First, it would bark like hell, then it’d just sit in your lap and nap.”

“Sounds nice?”

“I can think of a few things I’d rather have in my lap.”

He nodded toward the base of the stairs.

A group of women had arrived. Young and old, they wore short, tight skirts, and an odd assortment of layers that struggled to provide warmth while at the same time show enough flesh. Clinging to the hand rail they teetered on impractically high heels as they climbed.

The last, a pretty Latina woman in her early thirties, looked out across the cafeteria, searching. Her eyes met Anders and stopped. They held each other’s gaze for a moment, then she glanced away.

Rodriguez noticed.

“Don’t be getting any ideas.”

But Anders already had.

“I’ll be right back.” He pushed away his bowl and slid out from the table.

As Anders walked across the floor, he touched his pocket, fingers tracing the outline of the phone. It wasn’t too late. He could go back.

#

To hell with it.

#

At the top of the stairs Anders saw the women crowded around Williams. Giggling, they vied to be the next one into his arms. Anders wiped the disgust from his face and pushed his way through the women.

Williams didn’t notice; a blonde in one arm, he was busy nuzzling the neck of a brunette.

“Mr. Williams, sir?”

Startled, Williams looked up, “What are you doing away from the floor?”

“I wanted to tell you that I’m on track to meet my quota.”

“Can’t you see I have guests?”

“I thought you’d want to know, you—”

“—I don’t give a damn. Get back to work before I give your shift away!”

“Very sorry, sir.”

With a look of defeat on his face, Anders’ shoulders dropped. He turned and walked back through the women toward the stairs.

#

Red stop. Green step. Red stop.

#

With a loud buzz, the light changed back to green. Anders, Rodriguez, and the rest of the day shift took a step forward. Tired and dirty, they made their way through a series of security checks. The last, a scanner for rare earth elements, was just in front of them.

“Everyday, the same old shit,” Rodriguez muttered.

“Quiet in line,” said the nearest TSB guard.

Rodriguez gave Anders a look.

“Face forward.”

Rodriguez turned and smiled “Yes, sir.”

The light turned and he moved into the scanner.

Anders stared up at the red light. It was almost his turn.

With a loud buzz it changed to green, but Anders stayed frozen.

“Into the scanner!”

Anders jerked to attention and shuffled forward. He held his arms out as a low whirring sound passed from his toes to his head as the machine searched for any illicit materials. It seemed like an eternity… finally, the scanner beeped, the buzzer sounded, and the light turned back to green.

Stepping out of the scanner, Anders headed for the exit. As he pulled a wool stocking cap onto his head, he began to smile.

#

Almost there…

#

Outside, Rodriguez waited. Rubbing his hands against the cold he noticed Anders’ grin.

“What’s with you?”

“Nothing.”

“Sure.” Rodriguez shrugged his shoulders and they joined the other workers walking through the ramshackle town to the mag-lev station.

Back when the landfill was still a dump, there was nothing here. But once the mine went into operation, a town began to form. Now you could find whatever vice called your name, be it prostitution, alcohol, or gambling, all were only steps away.                 

As they got deeper into town, the crowd began to thin in search of just those things. Anders was no different.

“I got to go see this woman about a book,” Anders said.

Rodriguez smiled and slapped him on the back. “You have a good ‘read’.”

Anders nodded goodbye, then turned down an alley.

He passed rows of small buildings all made from the same scrap wood and salvaged metal. Only hanging signs marked their differences: a red dragon, a pair of dice, an empty glass. Anders found the one he was looking for: a stack of books.

#

Anders was three steps inside before his eyes adjusted. Soft light revealed plush furniture, thick carpet, and oil paintings on dark-stained walls. Music drifted from down the hall. Anders removed his hat and waited.

To his side, a narrow door opened and an elegant woman in her mid-forties emerged. She reached out, her finger tips brushing against his arm.

“Hello, Daniel.”

“Hello, Miss Sarah.”

“You here to see Maria?”

Anders nodded.

“Have a seat and I’ll check on her. Would you like something to drink?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Please.” She motioned to the nearest chair.

Anders sat. Leaning back, he shut his eyes and sighed.

#

A delicate hand reached down and gently shook Anders awake.

“I was expecting you.”

As the sleep cleared from his eyes, he saw Maria, the pretty Latina from the mine. Her dark hair now pulled back, she’d traded her skirt for a silk robe.

“So?” She crossed her arms.

“Can we talk somewhere more… ?”

Maria grabbed Anders’ hand and pulled him down the hallway. Their feet padded soundlessly past closed doors and the faint sounds of passion. Reaching the last door, Maria stopped. Her fingers traced a path across a key pad and the door opened.

#

The room was simple yet elegant, a bed, a nightstand, and a chair its only furniture. Maria turned and threw her arms around Anders’ neck, kissing him. She broke the embrace, pushed him away, and slapped him across the face.

“What was that for?”

Maria marched to the nightstand and jerked open its drawer.

“This.” She removed a small grey object and threw it on the bed—it was the cellular telephone. Hands on her hips, she glared at him.

“What if they sent me through the scanners?”

“They never do.”

“But what if they did?”

“Williams is too cheap to pay with credits.”

Maria pouted. Anders smiled and wrapped his arms around her.

“What did he give you today?”

“Copper.”

They kissed. Anders pulled away.

“You know I’d never…?”

Looking away, Maria nodded. Anders frowned. He placed a finger under her chin and brought her eyes to his.

“Honest to Azrael.”

“I know.”

They kissed again.

“If anyone asks, I was here the entire hour.” He reached into his pocket and peeled off several bills.

“Can you trade for this?” She reached back into the dresser drawer and removed a small roll of copper wire.

“What do you want?”

“Vegetables or fruit, if they have it.”

“Okay.”

Anders took the wire and the phone, tucking them inside his jacket.

“And check on Juan?”

“Of course.”

Maria took Anders’ hand and they walked to the back door.

“Be careful.”

“Always.” Anders leaned in and kissed her, then he was out the door.

#

Shivering against the cold, Anders pulled his jacket on. He started down the alley, but before he got far, he saw them. Clothes in tatters, and backs stooped from hard labor, three Pickers were coming towards him.

These poor souls spent every day digging through the mine’s discards—the trash of the trash. Just because they were outcasts, didn’t mean they weren’t dangerous. In the last month, at least two of Anders’ coworkers had been beaten and robbed leaving a brothel.

No one knew for certain it was Pickers, but now that he had something worth stealing, Anders didn’t want to take the chance. He spun on his heel and headed in the opposite direction.

The Pickers noticed. And followed.

Anders turned down an empty side street and picked up his pace. From behind him, the Pickers did the same. If he ran, they’d know he had something on him. But if he didn’t, they might just as easily find it.

They were almost upon him. The time to make a decision was at hand… but before he could, two TSB guards turned the corner and headed straight for them.

Anders swallowed hard and raised a hand, greeting them.

“Excuse me, Officers?”

They stopped. One of them gave him the once over, while the other stared down the Pickers.

“Yeah?”

Anders checked over his shoulder and saw the Pickers, slinking off into the distance.

“Could you point me toward the Mag-lev.”

“What’re you, blitzed? It’s right there.”

The officer pointed past him to where the train station stood high above the buildings on an elevated track.

“Oh right! Thank you, officers.”

Without wasting time, Anders began to walk in that direction, the phone heavy inside his jacket.

#

I gotta get rid of this thing.

#

Anders exited the mag-lev train in what used to be a nice part of Tucson. If a repair wasn’t directly related to Terran Survivability, nobody cared. The years of neglect showed.

Anders walked down the crumbling sidewalk: for every shop that was open, three were boarded up. Their walls pasted over with posters that asked, “Are you ready for Azrael?”

He turned into an alley and walked to a rough metal door. Knocking twice, he stepped back and waited.

The door slid open and Anders entered a small dark room. He held out his arms as a blue light projected from the wall. Starting at his feet, it travelled up his body then clicked off.

A voice crackled over an intercom: “Clear.”

In front of him, a second door opened, revealing a dark stairwell. Anders began to descend, each step triggering a light on the next. At the bottom was the metal cage that guarded the Controller, a gaunt, grey-haired man, he wore a jeweler’s glass and the confidence of having two armed guards

“What’ve you got in trade?”

Anders slid the phone and the small coil of copper wire through the cage.

“Antique telephone. Should be full of rares. And copper.”

The Controller pushed the copper aside and grabbed the phone. Turning it in his hands, he picked a small piece of dirt out of the keypad.

“Work at a mine?”

Anders looked at him stone-faced. Neither confirming or denying.

The man smiled wryly. “Everything is from somewhere. We don’t mind so long as no one comes looking for it.”

“It won’t be missed.”

“Good.”

The Controller picked up a hand-held scanner and switched it on.

Red light projected from it as the Controller began to create a 3D map of the phone. He watched on a small monitor as the system searched through its catalogue of antiques. It didn’t take long to find a match.

“2001. Nokia brand cellular telephone. Palladium and iridium.”

He turned back to Anders.

“300 for the telephone. 10 for the copper.”

Anders nodded. “Okay.”

The Controller keyed in a series of numbers and pressed a button, dispensing a set of bills. He slid them through the cage to Anders.

“Don’t spend it all in one place.” The man laughed as Anders grabbed his payment.  Naturally, he would spend it all in one place: the credits were only good here.

#

Anders had been coming to markets every since rationing began, but he’d never had this many credits to spend. Now, thanks to the phone he had enough for a firearm, a face scrambler, or even a pair of real leather boots. As long as the TSB didn’t show up, he’d be leaving with something that he never could have afforded otherwise.

He strolled past the different vendors, past those hocking weapons, pornography, and clothing. Then a table of antiques caught his eye. He stopped and began to look at the hand-mirrors, makeup, and other items from a time gone by. The proprietor, a matronly woman with silver hair, noticed his interest. She pushed a hand against her hip and walked over

“Looking for anything particular?”

“No, not really.” Anders picked up a tortoise shell hairbrush.

“But for someone particular.” She smiled, a twinkle in her eye.

Anders nodded.

“Who is she?”

“She’s my… she’s very special.”

“I see.” The proprietor paused and sized Anders up. She reached down and picked up a small glass bottle.

“Women always appreciate this, especially if they grew up in Azrael’s shadow.” She handed Anders the bottle.

Examining it, he read the label aloud, “Number five what?”

The woman laughed. “Oh, you young ones. It’s Chanel No. 5, the most famous perfume ever sold.”

Anders raised it to his nose and sniffed.

“Perhaps you remember the famous beauty from the Golden Age, Marilyn Monroe?”

He shook his head no.

“Marilyn was once asked ‘What do you wear to bed?’ She responded ‘Why Chanel No. 5, of course.’ She was their Helen of Troy.”

“How much?”

“250.”

“150.”

“200 and not a credit lower. There isn’t much of it left and when it’s gone, well…” She trailed off.

Anders tilted the container in his hands. It was almost half empty. He looked back at the woman.

“Okay.”

He handed her credits and she began to wrap up the perfume. Had he meant to spend that much on Maria? Three hundred credits was over three months of wages, but it’s not as if he was going to save it.

She handed him the perfume. “Come back and tell me how she likes it.”

#

Anders wandered deeper into the market until he reached the food area, sparse tables with fruit, meats, and vegetables. He stopped and picked up a tomato. Inhaling its aroma he sighed. He’d almost forgotten their smell. He returned it to the table and continued.

Several stalls down he saw a sign that read “Confections & Sweets.” The last round of rationing had made sugar even more scarce, so an entire table of candy was something to behold. Anders walked over and looked longingly at the wrapped hard candies, bags of jelly beans, and ropes of taffy. But it was the small, silver wrapped squares that stopped him.

“Oh my god.”

“You found our chocolate.” A white-bearded man with a warm smile greeted Anders.

“It’s been so long since I had any.”

“Probably not since the Lunar Project.”

“Is this that old?”

The man laughed. “Chocolate wouldn’t last that long. No, this was made here in Center-west.”

“How?”

The man stroked his beard and cast an eye around the market, as if to make sure no one was listening. He beckoned Anders closer.

“I know a chocolatier. He smuggles the cocoa beans in from Central America. Very dangerous. But very, very good.”

“How much?””

“For you, 120.”

Anders frowned. After buying the perfume he only had 110 credits left.

He went low, and countered with, “60.”

“100.”

“80.”

“90, then.”

Anders nodded.

#

With sweat on his brow and a box labelled “Official TSB Rations” in his arms, Anders climbed the last few steps to the twelfth floor of a worn apartment building. After catching his breath he walked to the door marked 1246 and knocked. A moment later it opened.

“Hello, Mr. Dan.”

Juan had the same dark curly hair as his mother. He gave Anders a big hug and smiled up at him with a jack-o-lantern grin.

“Did you get food?”

“Yeah.”

Breaking the embrace, Juan headed inside. “Good, I’m hungry.”

Anders walked into the sparse apartment and to the dining room table. He dropped the box on it.

“Can you get me something to write on? A pencil and paper.”

Juan smiled and ran to the bedroom.

Anders pulled an old chair out from the table and sat. His gaze was drawn to the window sill where a small pot with a snowdrop sat. As light from the sunset filtered in, its solitary flower began to change from white to orange.

“Here, Mr. Dan.” Juan handed Anders a pencil and a leaflet.

It was propaganda for McCarthy’s Legion. Anders frowned, it didn’t matter that he agreed with them about the TSB, supporting any faction group had become too dangerous. Crimes against Terran Survival were now a capital offense. It just wasn’t worth it.

#

No sense inviting trouble.

#

He wrote a quick note, then placed the bottle of perfume and several small zucchini on the table.

“Grab your coat, we’re going to the roof.”

“Why?”

“I’ve got something for you.”

“A present?” Juan asked, excitement in his eyes.

“A special one.”

#

A door opened and Juan bounded out onto a roof crowed with antennae and satellite dishes. On one side, a large electronic billboard sat idly. Anders emerged and began to weave his way toward the edge.

“What did you get me?”

Anders smiled. “Let’s sit over there first.” He motioned to the billboard.

“Why?”

“So we can watch the sunset.”

“Why?”

“Because sometimes—you have to take a moment and appreciate something beautiful.”

Juan put a hand to his chin and considered this for a moment. Then he nodded. “I agree.”

Anders laughed. He took Juan’s hand and led him to a ledge in front of the billboard.

“Careful now.”

They climbed up and sat, their legs dangling as they looked out across the city. In front of the them, the sun burned brightly as it fell through the layers of pollution.

“Do you take Mom up here?”

“Sometimes, why?”

“‘Cause it’s pretty. She likes pretty things.”

“She does.”

Anders stared off, lost in the moment. Juan tugged at his jacket.

“Yeah?”

“My present.”

Anders smiled and opened up the box. “Have you heard of chocolate?”

The boy shook his head no.

“Well, it’s a type of candy.”

“I love candy!”

“When I was your age, this was my favorite.”

Anders took out the bar and handed it to Juan. The boy’s fingers tore into the silver wrapping, peeling it back to reveal the darkness underneath.

Juan raised it to his mouth and stopped, looking to Anders for approval.

“Go ahead.”

Juan bit in. Bittersweet, bold, and rich—the taste was strange and unfamiliar. But as he chewed, his eyes grew wide. He turned to Anders with a face full of joy.

“You like it?”

Juan nodded and continued to eat. Anders watched until his eyes grew wet. Quickly he turned away and wiped them before the boy could see.

He reached into the box and removed a small jar of clear liquid. Its label read “Starshine” and it was just what you’d expect. Anders took a big pull and gasped. It had been a while since he’d had something that strong.

“What’s that?”

“An adult drink.”

“Make sure to save some for Mom.” His attention returned to the chocolate. “I’m going to save some chaco-let for her, too.”

Anders reached an arm around Juan’s shoulders and gave him a squeeze.

“She’ll like that.”

He took another sip. This time it didn’t burn so bad.

#

By now the sun had dropped below the horizon. Reds and oranges gave way to purples, violets, and blues before finally reaching night.

There was a crackling sound as the billboard behind them came to life. Light shown down as a simple animation told the story of Azrael.

#

“Are you ready? Do your part for Terran Survival, today.” From deep in space, a large asteroid hurtled toward Earth, steadily growing closer.

#

“Azrael is coming.”

#

At the bottom a clock counted down…

7 years.

5 months.

23 days.

8 hours.

36 minutes.

6 seconds.

#

5 seconds.

#

4 seconds.

#

3 seconds.

#

2 seconds.


When he was six, Luke Guidici broke his family’s TV. Free to spend his days imaging new worlds, he grew to love storytelling. After graduating from SFSU, he moved to Los Angeles where he’s worked as an extra, grip, editor, falconer, writer, and director.

Issue No. 16, Spring 2016

Here There Be Giants
Cathy Ulrich

My father had killed the last of the giants while my brothers watched through the front window, their mouths and eyes matching rounds. Their breath fogged up the window, and my mother said don’t get too close while she seasoned the soup. I was setting out the bowls and spoons, and peeking out the window when I had a moment. I was wearing my best apron and going barefoot through the kitchen. I could hear the sound of giants being slain, the toppling of their bodies. I nearly dropped a bowl, and my mother frowned.

Careful, she said.

She sprinkled salt into the soup.

My father called from outside: That’s the last of them.

My brothers bolted out the front door. They were going to help with the digging. There were mounds all round our property where they liked to play.

I’m King of the Giants, the one would shout until the other one knocked him down and became king himself.

My brothers always had dirty hands.

Boys, said my mother. Boys will be boys.

She was making a special soup. My suitor was coming for dinner. He had heard of my father. He had heard of my father’s beautiful daughter. That was supposed to be me. He had sent letters declaring his love. My mother had answered them for me, laughing girlishly as she crafted her replies.

Do you remember? she said to my father. Do you remember how it was between us?

When giants fell in love, mountains crumbled and the treetops roared. My parents had loved like that. I would love like that too, someday. That was what my mother said.

My suitor would arrive soon. His shoes would be damp with the blood of giants. It was soaking into the ground. My mother had shown me one of his letters. He had a beautiful hand.

You must smile when you meet him, my mother urged. Smile.

Men like a woman who smiles for them. That’s what my mother tells me. Men like a woman who can fix a good soup.

Outside, my brothers were digging trenches. My father would put the giants into them, piece by piece. It was always best to bury their parts separately, so they wouldn’t come back together. My mother said she’d never heard of a giant coming back together after it had been killed and dismembered (and she disliked that word, dismembered, spitting it out rapidly), but my father assured her that was how it was always done.

It’s because he can’t dig a hole big enough for a whole one to fit, my mother told me with a wink. She took a taste of the soup and declared it perfect. She put me in front of the pot so I would be stirring it when my suitor arrived. His shoes would be soaked with giant’s blood. My mother would have me come to greet him, and to remove his shoes. She would have me place his feet, one at a time, into my lap to warm them. If there was any blood on his bare feet, it could be wiped off on my apron.

My brothers were outside, proclaiming over the insides of slaughtered giants. My mother said they would have to wash up before they had any soup, and my father too.

There was a knocking at the door. My mother smiled, and pinched my cheeks until they were red. A maidenly blush, she called it. She went to answer the door. I stirred the soup.


Cathy Ulrich can make several different kinds of soup, including a yummy onion chowder that’s perfect for winter. Her work has recently been published in Gingerbread House Magazine, The Bookends Review, and ExFic.