Deities hissing to feast on our lives,
flogging trees to destruct the horizon,
and pacing the earth to pierce its green,
they hollow out boxes to hold our bodies.
Though powerful enough to tear out souls,
they can’t put us back in our corpses whole.
One day he showed up humming in her
head every time she tied her shoes. She
woke up once on her roof ledge, fingers
spread and wired blue to umbrella tines.
Even miles away, the voice still preyed
upon her. So she hid under his stairway,
hunted by slithering soundwaves, tying
her throat to seek peace in dead silence.
Our sister is wrapped up in burlap,
so we’re ready to dump her in the hole
and then stoke her soul into bowels as fuel
for the flame that comes to subsume her alive.
Though she pledged to wallow in pain and shame,
repenting from the suffering she caused by her birth,
God decreed she deserves to be burned in the earth.
Regardless of whether she worshiped or obeyed
or gave away the bones of her unnamed young,
irrelevant her plea to be loved by her family,
she’s wrapped in burlap, ready for Hell.
Two lifetimes ago, Catherine performed her poetry in Madrid. Now her main jobs are to write and hang out with her family. Her work has appeared in Pank, Journal of the American Medical Association, and The Grief Diaries. Her chapbook, Soul Full of Eye, is published through Aldrich Press. Find her on twitter @czickgraf. Watch/read more at www.caththegreat.blogspot.com
you didn’t expect the glass to break but
when it shatters, I bleed violet & sage green
glittering hues we once planned for our wedding
curled ribbons that pool on our carpet
with lilac & vanilla & mint- aromas from
the bouquets we selected so carefully- now
bloom from my cut, glossy in morning light
& there’s no stopping my wound from festering
periwinkle ache of you leaving that night
when I finally stop bleeding our apartment
is a garden- intoxicating, you cannot walk
without following into a slumber
your eyes locked on mine
wide open as you sleep
& when you wake
I’ll take these extraordinary
sorrows, so that you are left
in a mundane existence
prick my finger-
watch it bleed gold
this is what you wanted
room draped with precious tapestries
all made from my pain
isn’t it dazzling
but of course my blood, my gold
isn’t enough- you discover my tears
drip diamonds & rubies
I collect the gems, the gold-
I can carry more than you ever could
down to a store selling used clothing
and let them take my burden
until my body is once again mine
Erin Jamieson (she/her) holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Miami University. Her writing has been published in over eighty literary magazines, including a Pushcart Prize nomination. She is the author of a poetry collection (Clothesline, NiftyLit, Feb 2023). Twitter: @erin_simmer & @EJAMIESEE
He should look older
but he doesn't,
he's been dead too long.
His skin should be wrinkled
but it isn't,
his face is as smooth as a silk sheet.
He should be emaciated
but he's not
Let's face it, his body odor is unbearable.
He is, well
something of a dead issue
even now as he walks his favorite dead dog
down main street
holding the leash near soiled fire hydrants
watching the traffic with a stiff, vacant
All the neighbors comment:
"What's he doing now?”
“Walking his dog?”
“He should know better
and keep to his own kind."
That old dead fool
walking his favorite dead dog
this one last time.
Dead Man Don Juan
He's not exactly Casanova
a wilted rose affixed to his lapel,
musk cologne redolent of moss
and earth, dark eyes hard, lusterless
as cat's eye marbles.
The words he whispers are hardly
words of love, the chill he sends
down a woman's spine is not one of lust
or even merely fear.
Fixing his hair in the mirror is an impossibility,
no reflection stares back.
Cancer warnings on the cigarette packs
are nothing more than an old joke
among friends, gathering by the light
of the moon to exchange strange tales
of how it was and how it will always
used to be.
The Dead Man in the Graveyard
The dead man
has gathered flowers in the graveyard
of his dreams, intending to place them
at the foot of his grave.
He kneels down on the ground beside the place
where he has been lain to rest
and brushes back a tear with a cold, pale hand.
He thinks, then, "What have I become?
What about all those things I could have
done? and all those things I would like to
undo?" The dead man rises making a sad
gesture of farewell to himself, suddenly
realizing that the cold white hands,
stabbing through the ground are his hands
and that the night surrounding him will be black,
The dead man buys a round
with the copper pennies he has retrieved
from the eyes of the companions, he has
accompanied from this world to the next
and back. The beer is cold and frothy
a welcome relief to a throat so long
without liquids. Along the bar, the men
ask no questions about this dark stranger
buying beer, singing softly to himself
ancient tunes no one recognizes, asked
questions, he neither replies, nor acknowledges,
merely smiling in a dark, enigmatic way,
signaling the barkeep for more beer,
a bowl of chips, a last shot for himself,
and all those who stand along the bar.
Alan Catlin has published dozens of chapbooks and full-length books of poetry and prose. Among his more recent books is Asylum Garden: after Van Gogh (Dos Madres) and Exterminating Angles (Kelsay Books. Forthcoming this summer is a book based on the life and work of Diane Arbus, How Will the Heart Endure (Kelsay Boks) and Listening to Moonlight Sonata (Impspired)
By THE light of a tallow candle, which had been placed on one end of a rough table, a man was reading something written in a book. It was an old account book, greatly worn; and the writing was not, apparently, very legible, for the man sometimes held the page close to the flame of the candle to get a stronger light upon it. The shadow of the book would then throw into obscurity a half of the room, darkening a number of faces and figures; for besides the reader, eight other men were present. Seven of them sat against the rough log walls, silent and motionless, and, the room being small, not very far from the table. By extending an arm any one of them could have touched the eighth man, who lay on the table, face upward, partly covered by a sheet, his arms at his sides. He was dead.
The man with the book was not reading aloud, and no one spoke; all seemed to be waiting for something to occur; the dead man only was without expectation. From the blank darkness outside came in, through the aperture that served for a window, all the ever unfamiliar noises of night in the wilderness—the long, nameless note of a distant coyote; the stilly pulsing thrill of tireless insects in trees; strange cries of night birds, so different from those of the birds of day; the drone of great blundering beetles, and all that mysterious chorus of small sounds that seem always to have been but half heard when they have suddenly ceased, as if conscious of an indiscretion. But nothing of all this was noted in that company; its members were not overmuch addicted to idle interest in matters of no practical importance; that was obvious in every line of their rugged faces—obvious even in the dim light of the single candle. They were evidently men of the vicinity—farmers and woodmen.
The person reading was a trifle different; one would have said of him that he was of the world, worldly, albeit there was that in his attire which attested a certain fellowship with the organisms of his environment. His coat would hardly have passed muster in San Francisco: his footgear was not of urban origin, and the hat that lay by him on the floor (he was the only one uncovered) was such that if one had considered it as an article of mere personal adornment he would have missed its meaning. In countenance the man was rather prepossessing, with just a hint of sternness; though that he may have assumed or cultivated, as appropriate to one in authority. For he was a coroner. It was by virtue of his office that he had possession of the book in which he was reading; it had been found among the dead man’s effects—in his cabin, where the inquest was now taking place.
When the coroner had finished reading he put the book into his breast pocket. At that moment the door was pushed open and a young man entered. He, clearly, was not of mountain birth and breeding: he was clad as those who dwell in cities. His clothing was dusty, however, as from travel. He had, in fact, been riding hard to attend the inquest.
The coroner nodded; no one else greeted him.
“We have waited for you,” said the coroner. “It is necessary to have done with this business to-night.”
The young man smiled. “I am sorry to have kept you,” he said. “I went away, not to evade your summons, but to post to my newspaper an account of what I suppose I am called back to relate.”
The coroner smiled.
“The account that you posted to your newspaper,” he said, “differs probably from that which you will give here under oath.”
“That,” replied the other, rather hotly and with a visible flush, “is as you choose. I used manifold paper and have a copy of what I sent. It was not written as news, for it is incredible, but as fiction. It may go as a part of my testimony under oath.”
“But you say it is incredible.”
“That is nothing to you, sir, if I also swear that it is true.”
The coroner was apparently not greatly affected by the young man’s manifest resentment. He was silent for some moments, his eyes upon the floor. The men about the sides of the cabin talked in whispers, but seldom withdrew their gaze from the face of the corpse. Presently the coroner lifted his eyes and said: “We will resume the inquest.”
The men removed their hats. The witness was sworn.
“What is your name?” the coroner asked.
“You knew the deceased, Hugh Morgan?”
“You were with him when he died?”
“How did that happen—your presence, I mean?”
“I was visiting him at this place to shoot and fish. A part of my purpose, however, was to study him, and his odd, solitary way of life. He seemed a good model for a character in fiction. I sometimes write stories.”
“I sometimes read them.”
“Stories in general—not yours.”
Some of the jurors laughed. Against a sombre background humor shows high lights. Soldiers in the intervals of battle laugh easily, and a jest in the death chamber conquers by surprise.
“Relate the circumstances of this man’s death,” said the coroner. “You may use any notes or memoranda that you please.”
The witness understood. Pulling a manuscript from his breast pocket he held it near the candle, and turning the leaves until he found the passage that he wanted, began to read.
“…The sun had hardly risen when we left the house. We were looking for quail, each with a shotgun, but we had only one dog. Morgan said that our best ground was beyond a certain ridge that he pointed out, and we crossed it by a trail through the chaparral. On the other side was comparatively level ground, thickly covered with wild oats. As we emerged from the chaparral, Morgan was but a few yards in advance. Suddenly, we heard, at a little distance to our right, and partly in front, a noise as of some animal thrashing about in the bushes, which we could see were violently agitated.
“‘We’ve started a deer,’ said. ‘I wish we had brought a rifle.’
“Morgan, who had stopped and was intently watching the agitated chaparral, said nothing, but had cocked both barrels of his gun, and was holding it in readiness to aim. I thought him a trifle excited, which surprised me, for he had a reputation for exceptional coolness, even in moments of sudden and imminent peril.
“‘O, come!’ I said. ‘You are not going to fill up a deer with quail-shot, are you?’
“Still he did not reply; but, catching a sight of his face as he turned it slightly toward me, I was struck by the pallor of it. Then I understood that we had serious business on hand, and my first conjecture was that we had ‘jumped’ a grizzly. I advanced to Morgan’s side, cocking my piece as I moved.
“The bushes were now quiet, and the sounds had ceased, but Morgan was as attentive to the place as before.
“‘What is it? What the devil is it?’ I asked.
“‘That Damned Thing!’ he replied, without turning his head. His voice was husky and unnatural. He trembled visibly.
“I was about to speak further, when I observed the wild oats near the place of the disturbance moving in the most inexplicable way. I can hardly describe it. It seemed as if stirred by a streak of wind, which not only bent it, but pressed it down—crushed it so that it did not rise, and this movement was slowly prolonging itself directly toward us.
“Nothing that I had ever seen had affected me so strangely as this unfamiliar and unaccountable phenomenon, yet I am unable to recall any sense of fear. I remember—and tell it here because, singularly enough, I recollected it then—that once, in looking carelessly out of an open window, I momentarily mistook a small tree close at hand for one of a group of larger trees at a little distance away. It looked the same size as the others, but, being more distinctly and sharply defined in mass and detail, seemed out of harmony with them. It was a mere falsification of the law of aerial perspective, but it startled, almost terrified me. We so rely upon the orderly operation of familiar natural laws that any seeming suspension of them is noted as a menace to our safety, a warning of unthinkable calamity. So now the apparently causeless movement of the herbage, and the slow, undeviating approach of the line of disturbance were distinctly disquieting. My companion appeared actually frightened, and I could hardly credit my senses when I saw him suddenly throw his gun to his shoulders and fire both barrels at the agitated grass! Before the smoke of the discharge had cleared away I heard a loud savage cry—a scream like that of a wild animal—and, flinging his gun upon the ground, Morgan sprang away and ran swiftly from the spot. At the same instant I was thrown violently to the ground by the impact of something unseen in the smoke—some soft, heavy substance that seemed thrown against me with great force.
“Before I could get upon my feet and recover my gun, which seemed to have been struck from my hands, I heard Morgan crying out as if in mortal agony, and mingling with his cries were such hoarse savage sounds as one hears from fighting dogs. Inexpressibly terrified, I struggled to my feet and looked in the direction of Morgan’s retreat; and may heaven in mercy spare me from another sight like that! At a distance of less than thirty yards was my friend, down upon one knee, his head thrown back at a frightful angle, hatless, his long hair in disorder and his whole body in violent movement from side to side, backward and forward. His right arm was lifted and seemed to lack the hand—at least, I could see none. The other arm was invisible. At times, as my memory now reports this extraordinary scene, I could discern but a part of his body; it was as if he had been partly blotted out—I can not otherwise express it—then a shifting of his position would bring it all into view again.
“All this must have occurred within a few seconds, yet in that time Morgan assumed all the postures of a determined wrestler vanquished by superior weight and strength. I saw nothing but him, and him not always distinctly. During the entire incident his shouts and curses were heard, as if through an enveloping uproar of such sounds of rage and fury as I had never heard from the throat of man or brute!
“For a moment only I stood irresolute, then, throwing down my gun, I ran forward to my friend’s assistance. I had a vague belief that he was suffering from a fit or some form of convulsion. Before I could reach his side he was down and quiet. All sounds had ceased, but, with a feeling of such terror as even these awful events had not inspired, I now saw the same mysterious movement of the wild oats prolonging itself from the trampled area about the prostrate man toward the edge of a wood. It was only when it had reached the wood that I was able to withdraw my eyes and look at my companion. He was dead.”
The coroner rose from his seat and stood beside the dead man. Lifting an edge of the sheet he pulled it away, exposing the entire body, altogether naked and showing in the candle light a clay-like yellow. It had, however, broad maculations of bluish-black, obviously caused by extravasated blood from contusions. The chest and sides looked as if they had been beaten with a bludgeon. There were dreadful lacerations; the skin was torn in strips and shreds.
The coroner moved round to the end of the table and undid a silk handkerchief, which had been passed under the chin and knotted on the top of the head. When the handkerchief was drawn away it exposed what had been the throat. Some of the jurors who had risen to get a better view repented their curiosity, and turned away their faces. Witness Harker went to the open window and leaned out across the sill, faint and sick. Dropping the handkerchief upon the dead man’s neck, the coroner stepped to an angle of the room, and from a pile of clothing produced one garment after another, each of which he held up a moment for inspection. All were torn, and stiff with blood. The jurors did not make a closer inspection. They seemed rather uninterested. They had, in truth, seen all this before; the only thing that was new to them being Harker’s testimony.
“Gentlemen,” the coroner said, “we have no more evidence, I think. Your duty has been already explained to you; if there is nothing you wish to ask you may go outside and consider your verdict.”
The foreman rose—a tall, bearded man of sixty, coarsely clad.
“I should like to ask one question, Mr. Coroner,” he said. “What asylum did this yer last witness escape from?”
“Mr. Harker,” said the coroner, gravely and tranquilly, “from what asylum did you last escape?”
Harker flushed crimson again, but said nothing, and the seven jurors rose and solemnly filed out of the cabin.
“If you have done insulting me, sir,” said Harker, as soon as he and the officer were left alone with the dead man, “I suppose I am at liberty to go?”
Harker started to leave, but paused, with his hand on the door latch. The habit of his profession was strong in him—stronger than his sense of personal dignity. He turned about and said:
“The book that you have there—I recognize it as Morgan’s diary. You seemed greatly interested in it; you read in it while I was testifying. May I see it? The public would like—”
“The book will cut no figure in this matter,” replied the official, slipping it into his coat pocket; “all the entries in it were made before the writer’s death.”
As Harker passed out of the house the jury reentered and stood about the table on which the now covered corpse showed under the sheet with sharp definition. The foreman seated himself near the candle, produced from his breast pocket a pencil and scrap of paper, and wrote rather laboriously the following verdict, which with various degrees of effort all signed:
“We, the jury, do find that the remains come to their death at the hands of a mountain lion, but some of us thinks, all the same, they had fits.”
In the diary of the late Hugh Morgan are certain interesting entries having, possibly, a scientific value as suggestions. At the inquest upon his body the book was not put in evidence; possibly the coroner thought it not worth while to confuse the jury. The date of the first of the entries mentioned can not be ascertained; the upper part of the leaf is torn away; the part of the entry remaining is as follows:
“… would run in a half circle, keeping his head turned always toward the centre and again he would stand still, barking furiously. At last he ran away into the brush as fast as he could go. I thought at first that he had gone mad, but on returning to the house found no other alteration in his manner than what was obviously due to fear of punishment.
“Can a dog see with his nose? Do odors impress some olfactory centre with images of the thing emitting them? . . .
“Sept 2.—Looking at the stars last night as they rose above the crest of the ridge east of the house, I observed them successively disappear—from left to right. Each was eclipsed but an instant, and only a few at the same time, but along the entire length of the ridge all that were within a degree or two of the crest were blotted out. It was as if something had passed along between me and them; but I could not see it, and the stars were not thick enough to define its outline. Ugh! I don’t like this. . . .”
Several weeks’ entries are missing, three leaves being torn from the book.
“Sept. 27.—It has been about here again—I find evidences of its presence every day. I watched again all of last night in the same cover, gun in hand, double-charged with buckshot. In the morning the fresh footprints were there, as before. Yet I would have sworn that I did not sleep—indeed, I hardly sleep at all. It is terrible, insupportable! If these amazing experiences are real I shall go mad; if they are fanciful I am mad already.
“Oct. 3.—I shall not go—it shall not drive me away. No, this is my house, my land. God hates a coward….
“Oct. 5.—I can stand it no longer; I have invited Harker to pass a few weeks with me—he has a level head. I can judge from his manner if he thinks me mad.
“Oct. 7.—I have the solution of the problem; it came to me last night—suddenly, as by revelation. How simple—how terribly simple!
“There are sounds that we can not hear. At either end of the scale are notes that stir no chord of that imperfect instrument, the human ear. They are too high or too grave. I have observed a flock of blackbirds occupying an entire treetop—the tops of several trees—and all in full song. Suddenly—in a moment—at absolutely the same instant—all spring into the air and fly away. How? They could not all see one another—whole treetops intervened. At no point could a leader have been visible to all. There must have been a signal of warning or command, high and shrill above the din, but by me unheard. I have observed, too, the same simultaneous flight when all were silent, among not only blackbirds, but other birds—quail, for example, widely separated by bushes—even on opposite sides of a hill.
“It is known to seamen that a school of whales basking or sporting on the surface of the ocean, miles apart, with the convexity of the earth between them, will sometimes dive at the same instant—all gone out of sight in a moment. The signal has been sounded—too grave for the ear of the sailor at the masthead and his comrades on the deck—who nevertheless feel its vibrations in the ship as the stones of a cathedral are stirred by the bass of the organ.
“As with sounds, so with colors. At each end of the solar spectrum the chemist can detect the presence of what are known as ‘actinic’ rays. They represent colors—integral colors in the composition of light—which we are unable to discern. The human eye is an imperfect instrument; its range is but a few octaves of the real ‘chromatic scale’ I am not mad; there are colors that we can not see.
“And, God help me! the Damned Thing is of such a color!”
Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (June 24, 1842– circa 1914) was an American short story writer, journalist, poet, and American Civil War veteran. His book The Devil’s Dictionary was named as one of “The 100 Greatest Masterpieces of American Literature” by the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration. His story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” has been described as “one of the most famous and frequently anthologized stories in American literature”, and his book Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (also published as In the Midst of Life) was named by the Grolier Club as one of the 100 most influential American books printed before 1900…”
Margaret sat alone in her apartment, a continuous loop of the same TV game shows growing dimmer with each passing replay. Outside, the world grew progressively darker as well, details diffusing from light to shadow. She knew what was happening, of course. She was slowly fading from existence, like a candle burning down to its final wick.
At first, she had tried to fight it, clinging desperately to the things that had once defined her – her job, her friends, her hobbies. But one by one, they had slipped away, leaving her with nothing but a hollow ache in her chest, like a persistent shortness of breath.
She tried to explain it to her friends, her coworkers, tried to make them understand what was happening, but no one could see the gradual erasure of her life the way that she could. To them, she was just a woman growing old and forgetful, nearing retirement, slipping away into the fog of memory.
As she sat on her sofa, staring out the window at the dimming world, Margaret realized that she was tired. Tired of fighting, tired of clinging, tired of trying to hold on to a life that did nothing to try and keep her here. The best that one could hope for was delay. And would it be so bad? To slip away like sand through an hourglass? And the deepest question of all, the one that drew her towards the dark…what was on the other side? Would that life be different? Better?
She sat that way most of the night, television murmuring in the background, pondering her fate. Just before dawn, before the light of yet another day could distract her, she closed her eyes and breathed out, knowing that this breath would be her last, feeling herself slip away into the nothingness that awaited, disappearing like a whisper on the wind. There was no fear, only peace. For the first time in a long while, she felt light and free, unburdened by the weight of life, becoming one with the vast and infinite universe that had always been there waiting for her. This life was over. Let the next begin.
System Reset in 3… 2… 1
Russell Marlin is a practicing trial attorney who has been telling his clients’ stories to juries for more than twenty years. Some are funny, some are heart wrenching, but all deserve to be told. His passion for storytelling has brought him to the world of fiction.
BAM! Something hard hits me on the side of my head and I’m out.
I float in a murky sea for what seems like an eternity. I have no sense of time or distance, no thoughts, no emotions, just the sensation of water flowing through me as I slowly sink.
Then I hear a voice, thin and far away, as if it someone were calling through a string telephone. I see the lighted surface above me and I desperately struggle towards it.
I regain consciousness with my face pressed against cold concrete, my ears ringing, my head pounding from the blow. I open my eyes slowly. My vision is blurred but I can see that it is night-time. Apparently, I’ve been unconscious for—I don’t know—five, six hours? I can’t recall exactly what time it was when I was hit. Or what I was doing there. Or even who I am.
I hear the voice clearly now, a woman who is bent over beside me.
“Viktor,” she says, “Can you hear me?”
I nod groggily and struggle to get to my feet. She grabs my arm. “Careful,” she says as she pulls me up, “Let’s just take it easy until you regain your balance.”
I stand still for a minute, my legs wobbling, looking around in the darkness. My vision is beginning to clear and I try to figure out where I am. But nothing is familiar.
Except her. She is slender, brown hair, unremarkable at a glance. Her face is soft, with blue-white skin and deep-set eyes that hint of sadness. I know her from somewhere and she obviously knows my name. But the complete memory refuses to ignite.
“Do you think you can walk now?” she asks.
“I’m sorry,” I answer, “Have we met?”
“You don’t remember me?” She shakes her head and laughs softly, “I’m not surprised. It must be hard keeping track of all of us.”
“I’m Elsa,” she continues in a matter-of-fact tone, not bothering to extend a handshake.
I give her a confused look. She seems amazed at my denseness.
“Elsa?” she says, “Berlin? 2008? Ring a bell?”
Berlin! Yes! Now I see her face, staring out at me from a black-and-white photograph. I remember that she’s a single mother with two small children and that she’s earning a living as a waitress.
And Karl. For some reason, Karl also begins emerging from the fog in my head. I don’t know his last name, or even if his real name is Karl. He has an accent, maybe Eastern European, maybe South African, who knows? He shows up when there’s a problem.
“You’re a solution,” Karl tells me, “That’s what I pay you for. I don’t care about right or wrong, fair or unfair, none of that crap. All I want is a solution. As long as that’s you, we’re good.”
“Let’s start walking, Viktor,” Elsa says as she takes me by the arm and begins leading me forward.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
She ignores my question and follows with one of her own. “I’m curious, Viktor. Are you a religious person?”
“No,” I scoff.
She frowns thoughtfully, then continues.
“I used to be,” she says, “I was a good Catholic, believed in heaven and hell. I believed you pay for your sins when you die. My girlfriend, Jana, on the other hand, was a Buddhist. She believed you pay for past sins in your present life.”
She sighs, shakes her head.
“They’re all wrong,” she continues, “All the theologians and philosophers. They scrape off a few crumbs from the edge of a world they cannot see. And from those few crumbs they think they can extrapolate the entire length and breadth of the spiritual universe.’ It’s all so absurdly naïve.”
She pauses as if she’s waiting for all of this to sink in, then she resumes with finality.
“There’s no heaven or hell, at least not the neatly packaged version that Christians believe in. And it’s not about paying for your sins. It’s about maintaining a cosmic balance between good and evil.”
As we continue walking, it dawns on me that I have yet to see any recognizable landmarks. No houses, trees, sidewalks. But now we’ve stopped and we’re standing in front of a large windowless building with a single door. She turns to face me.
“That’s where your case becomes relevant,” she says.
I study her face again and finally realize who she is. I see her walking out of her apartment in a waitress uniform, a smile on her face as if she had just kissed her children goodbye. I am on a rooftop across the street with a Russian SV-98 sniper rifle. I frame her face in the crosshairs of the scope. A single shot from 250 meters out.
She places her hand on the door and pushes it open.
“An evil act creates an imbalance that has to be restored. That’s what we’re here for,” she pauses for a second, then shoves me through the door.
“Restoration,” she says, walking in behind me and closing the door.
We are in a dimly lit room. A small group of people are gathered in the shadows along the back wall.
“You probably remember Alfredo. Miami 2019.”
She nudges me towards the group of people.
“And Sean, London, 2015,” she says, “They all want to meet you.”
Invisible hands reach out from the crowd. As they pull me towards them, I hear the voice of Karl from years ago.
“You’re good, kid,” he said, “You have no empathy. I like that. You’ll make a lot of money. But enjoy it now, because nobody gets old in this business. You start getting old, you start slipping, you start making mistakes. You become a problem instead of a solution. Then one day, you’re walking down the street, and out of nowhere—BAM!”
Louis Kummerer is a technical writer working and living in Phoenix, Arizona (USA).
It draws deer out of pine woods
who stand at the edge of the parking lot
like they’re listening to an orchestra of cobwebs.
I watch through the kitchen window while I finish the dishes.
I’d like to go down and see if the light
feels as child-like as it looks, like it would hurt you
just so it could learn to love you.
The yard fills with tree ghosts
who snuff out fireflies and dissolve moths in their wake.
Why can’t they leave the summer alone?
We’ve had rains that draw worms to the sidewalks
so we can catch them for the compost heap.
We were outside in a swarm of light last night
catching fireflies. I wouldn’t have called it a swarm,
maybe a concert of wicks,
not a plague, but a symphony.
Or I might’ve called them the punctuation
of sentences unspoken
falling from the tongues of trees.
Whatever they were, they landed
softly on our hands, like ashes. They didn’t let go
until we propped them up like small torches
and offered them back to the moon.
They took their time,
searching our skin for some darkness
they hadn’t swallowed yet.
Tonight the light from CVS reaches past the curbs
and makes sparrows in puddles. It turns toward me
with its ecliptic stare as the ghosts surround me
and fill the kitchen with a wind
that smells like October. What do they want me
to remember? How do I see myself
in this new world that’s learning to disappear
one mirror at a time? Does it get any easier,
staying here? I should have asked
the firefly last night who paused
on the young curtain of skin on my daughter’s wrist.
She was worried it was hurt,
that something was about to die
on her. I told her to put it in the sky
and wait. When it’s ready, it will fly.
The Man in Our Basement
is covered in starlings.
Drinks water that drips where the pipes
are wounded. While I lie in bed, I hear ashes
falling from the sky of his mouth.
I hear him staring at nothing.
I hear the trees outside,
and they sound like him
while Dad sleeps with the TV on,
his mouth open,
a bit of the blue glow pouring down his throat.
The day I met the man in our basement
I’d accidentally left the refrigerator door
open then went to school.
I have a theory that everyone has a window inside them.
You can hear them breaking underneath
if you listen hard enough,
but the harder you listen, the more they break.
When Dad and I came home that evening
the milk and all the meat and cheese had gone bad.
Dad yelled until his face was the color of a bruise.
He broke a chair, then stormed out.
I sat in the last cough of daylight.
The kitchen still smelled like Mom.
I looked out the window and saw
a silhouetted cloud of starlings
warping like a tear on the torn twilight.
Below the floor I could hear laughter
slowly growing like rust inside the walls.
Marcus Whalbring is the author of A Concert of Rivers from Milk & Cake Press, as well as How to Draw Fire from Finishing Line Press and Just Flowers from Crooked Steeple Press. A graduate of the MFA program at Miami University, his poems and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in, Strange Horizons, Space & Time, Illumen, The Dread Machine, Abyss & Apex, Spaceports and Spidersilk, Cortland Review, Pittsburgh Quarterly, Spry, and Underwood Press, among others. He’s a high school teacher, a father, and a husband. You can connect with him via twitter at https://twitter.com/marcuswhalbring and learn more about his work at https://marcuswhalbring.wpcomstaging.com/poetry/.
wasted in a local bar
fooling myself that I can start again
the world moving slower than before
hanging on to the hook of that song
that I believed would change my life
it was easier than having faith to pray
smelling of whiskey
before drifting off
I leave in the darkness
wasted on the always waiting
just a part of the scenery
dancing to the Ravens song
it's lyrics holding my name
in a melody of broken wings
leading me to where they roost
underground in tombstone trees
lost to the winds
trying to gather my broken parts
back into a whole with all the cracks
asking the Ravens to let me start again
terrified of what that might mean
afraid of what the Ravens sing
to sin each day because we can
Joseph A Farina is a retired lawyer in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. drawing from his profession and his sicilian-canadian back round, he is an internationaly award winning poet. Several of his poems have been published in Quills Canadian Poetry Magazine,The Wild Word,The Chamber Magazine, Lothlorian Poetry Journal,Ascent ,Subterranean Blue and in The Tower Poetry Magazine, Inscribed, The Windsor Review, Boxcar Poetry Revue , and appears in many anthologies including: Sweet Lemons: Writings with a Sicilian Accent, Canadian Italians at Table, Witness from Serengeti Press and Tamaracks: Canadian Poetry for the 21st Century . He has had poems published in the U.S. magazines Mobius, Pyramid Arts, Arabesques, Fiele-Festa, and Philedelphia Poets . He has had two books of poetry published— The Cancer Chronicles and The Ghosts of Water Street .
She was staring intensely, fascinated by the contours of his ears, the way they seemed to pout outwards, the fleshiness of the lobes. Of course, she couldn’t scientifically prove any of this, but she was convinced that the shape of one’s ears could provide wonderful insights into a person’s character.
The crisp December air chilled her to the bone. She tightened her feathered boa around her neck and buttoned up her velvet jacket. “Vincent, you’re not cold?” she asked. Her companion loosened his neckerchief and shook it out. It was yellowed and covered in grimy splotches of linseed oil and pigment and reeked of turpentine. He mopped his brow with the filthy rag then stuffed it in his threadbare pocket. She noticed with squeamishness that his fingernails were unkempt and stained with half moons of gritty black charcoal and paint.
“Let’s have some Absinthe,” Vincent said to the waiter, “and bring some fried sardines, too. Paula,” he said turning to his companion, “you’ll see we have the freshest fish here in Arles.”
“It’s the Absinthe I’m worried about,” she said. “Isn’t it a little strong?”
“Ah no, and yes—just a little bitter like wormwood. It transports me and brings me to celestial heights. See that sky up there—that starry night sky? In my eyes these are not just stars. They are eyes themselves, pulsating eyes, portals to the great mysteries behind this flimsy sheet of paper we call the heavenly vault. I can see God Himself behind those stars…”
Paula remembered how Vincent had boasted how he had once been a preacher a while ago. She looked around at the café interior. In the gaslit gaudily painted room were strung bold colored yellow and red Chinese paper lanterns swaying in the breeze escaping from the gaps in the glass door. In the background, a musician was lazily punching out a tune on his concertina that he was pulling in and out as if kneading a lump of bread dough. He looked up briefly from his accordion and grinned at Vincent. “Do you like that tune?” Vincent asked.
“My Darling Clementine?” Paula asked incredulously.
“I told him you’re my American friend. He wanted to please you.”
The waiter arrived and placed two fluted glasses filled with a greenish liquor before them. He affixed a slotted spoon at the top of each glass, placed a cube of sugar in the center and covered it with a few shards of ice. The fried sardines were wrapped in day-old newspaper that was seeping with darkened oil stains. “Bon Appetit,” he said with assurance.
“How do I drink this? I don’t know…”
“Like this,” Vincent said demonstratively removing the spoon and downing the vile looking glass of garish liquor in a few quick gulps. Paula stared in wonderment as his Adam’s apple seemed to flap up and down excitedly like a bobbing sparrow’s head. She reached in her cloth bag and pulled out a pair of calipers. “What the deuce is that?” he asked.
“Just a craniometric tool, that’s all. It’s my hobby,” she replied impassively. “Something’s not quite right here. Be quiet, I must measure your head.” She positioned the instrument against the top of his ear and gauged its length, then stretched the hinges from the top of his brow to his chin. “No, no, this isn’t right,” she remarked. “Your lobes are disproportionately long and narrow. And there is a suspiciously thick, fleshy fold running vertically to the tip. Petulance. And heart trouble.” Vincent stared at her with his steel-blue eyes, which were becoming more limpid and unfocused. “And your brow. It’s clearly vestigial, this jutting Cro-Magnon protuberance. There is an abnormality in the mounds of color and order…”
“But I am an artist!”
“They are misshapen. And your pointed, narrow chin…” How could she tell him that this was a sure indication of a weak, unstable personality? The overpowering smell of stale fish was beginning to upset her. She was now twisting uncomfortably in her seat. “I’m sorry, Vinnie, but your faculties of reasoning are clearly impaired…”
Vincent’s eyes were glazed over by now and his florid complexion was becoming unnaturally flushed with a network of angry broken capillaries. He sank precipitously to his knees and buried his ginger-colored head in her lap pinning her arms down with his trembling hands.
“Let me go!” Paula cried with revulsion.
“Can’t you see? I love you—what does it matter what my head looks like, or my ears or my forehead. I must have you. I w-want to m-marry you!” He began to stutter and slur his speech incoherently while his features began to look as brutal and desperate as a madman’s.
“We hardly know each other!” shouted Paula with mortification.
“But we w-went walking in the c-cornfields today. Here in France, in this region, once you agree to walk with someone alone—surely, you s-see we have an understanding?”
“Let me go—you are mistaken! Look at you. You’re flushed and feverish. You’re not in your right mind!” She pulled herself away forcibly, knocking the table with its contents onto the floor, and ran out the café down the dimly lit street to her hotel room across the town square leaving her companion sobbing hysterically and thrashing about like a quivering knot of worms.
In the dead of night a few hours later, the town was awakened by a series of blood-curdling, savage animal shrieks that echoed up and down the terrified square. Early the following morning as Paula prepared for breakfast, she heard a knock on her door. “For you, Mademoiselle,” said the messenger, a young street urchin. She examined the sealed paper bag covered in grubby fingerprints and opened it reluctantly. Inside a small glass jar filled with greenish liquid smelling of strong alcohol was swimming the tip of a creased earlobe, clean, pink and spongy and drained of all blood.
Paula dropped the gift, grabbed her belongings and left on the first train headed north.
Author of the critically applauded debut novel Twelfth House, and Shaded Pergola, a new work of short poetry that features her original illustrations, E.C. Traganas has published in a myriad of literary journals and enjoys a varied career as a Juilliard-trained concert pianist & composer. https://www.elenitraganas.com
As I knelt beside the shore of the Lethe,
Eumenides, falsely named, attending,
I drew the waters into my mouth, but did not swallow,
fearing the fugue, and arose to face them.
I thought of those I had loved and lost,
and those I had left behind, mourning.
A daughter, a son, a wife, all dear.
I recalled the fresh scents of spring
as the reek of dying asphodels filled the air.
And I wondered why gods so-called would have it thus.
The only treasures one may carry beyond are memories,
yet they would take these from Man as well,
that not even the mind's eye might gaze on aught but Erebus.
They laughed at the cries of my mourners,
Hecate's hounds that mocked my mortality,
foul abortions of Earth, steeped in blood,
unworthy of Olympus.
I spewed the black water into their accursed faces,
black water to mix with the blood that rains ever from their eyes.
No, I decided as they tore at my flesh, I would face their unyielding fury.
It were better to scream unto the end of days than ever to forget.
Michael Mina’s work has appeared in Haunts, ComputorEdge, Figment, Penumbra, Next Phase, Eclipse, Mystic Fiction, and other magazines, as well as the anthologies Shadows of a Fading World and Once Upon A Midnight. His Amazon author page is TheSpeedOfDarkness.com.
A classic cliché
that everything comes back
three times over
but its true as though the
energies we briefly borrow,
cups of sugar,
stirred into morning
coffee, reflections drunk that
flow back in concentric
karmic waves, all the
birds flocking home—divorces,
broken promises, lies, the
pack of bubblegum stolen as a
child, secret kisses, the kicked
dog, all distant beating wings
settling down at evening—
and that final big black
bird has been following
you, like a stalker, a loving shadow
The Misfit’s Brother
He stood there as I drove by,
standing at the edge of a parking
lot— behind him a ruined
industrial building, shattered windows, weeds,
gravel, filth—some 1940s postwar
structure, as dead as most of the
His clothing matched that era, chilling,
black dress pants,
black suit coat,
straight black tie,
black shoes, all dark as
November crows in a stubbled field.
When he looked at me, his eyes were
dark opal, expression blank. I felt
as though I had been marked,
that O’Connor and Dickinson were
his dead sisters.
In my dream that night he stood by
the bed, gazing at me like the empty
space between the stars. I knew then
how the dead feel
run hands over cold bodies.
A Dark Renaissance
A pooling of wet leaves remind me,
clumped there in summer’s autumn
languor, despite all this late August
butterscotch light, that it is the dark,
the dark, that returns soon which never
No Renaissance maidens walk in the
sun. None remain.
If there were, they would say the shadows of the
leaves is dark enough for me.
History is dark.
Today is dark.
No matter how much one seeks the light,
drinks it in, let the summer sun bake
skin to a tanned sienna, dream of green
iguanas basking in the light—
the universe expands outward
flung by unknown dark particles.
Melodies of light never the dominant
tune, the vibrations of the sable cello
give song to those maidens walking in stubbled
fields where crows domino about and fiddle
the same earth theme on wet, beating wings.
History is dark.
Pages written in black ink.
The maidens themselves now part of concealed
stone, brunette song long faded, they
could not dip finger in night’s inkwell, write
of the dark time like a court fool grinning at the
They know the dark.
Long after the perishing expiration
Following All Souls Day
November, now past All Souls.
Still I was eager for the mist & darkness clotted
among the clouds waving to
the fat swollen apples shattering the sky.
The root of the earth we share like buttered
brushstrokes hammering out visual
meaning in a place of parallel trees.
It is the moon falling from umbra to penumbra that
links women’s lives in that they roost from one
calling to another, one kingdom seeking a key
whether or not the realm exists.
The key could be made of rustproof silvered nickel
with many doors, multiple locks to turn like a bride
shucking off her wedding dress.
The women will weep and look for lost souls
in those vacant gates & dream of mystics, mediums,
signs from the dead.
But here, in the moment, the last pumpkins hold
court in siennaed, stubbled fields. Frost
has made them sweet & they know no kingdom
save their own. Their own jesters, holy vegetable
souls, they pour mute salute to that which is,
will be, and never was
Sonnet 73 an Homage
When you look at me now and see the years
piled up as a few staggering burgundy leaves
clinging like scarecrow tufts upon my boughs
shivered by cold, where of late the birds made
caroling lament—with me now the sunset
umbra envelops as a cloud and sinks westward,
toward the ancient land that barracks all.
Now you look at my fading red embers,
behind me nothing but gray ashen days,
my fire spent by those same nourishing hours.
Know that this, too, is the fate birth moment
prescribed for you as well.
Embrace the moment, open perception’s doors,
love obsessively what tender hours you may.
Ralph Monday is Professor of English at RSCC in Harriman, TN. Hundreds of poems published. 4 poetry collections and a humanities textbook. Member Lincoln Memorial University Literary Hall of Fame.
On Sunday, March 7, a friend of mine, Tim Stamps, whom I have known since college way back in the dark ages of the 70’s, sent me this link to a truly dark video. I thought it would make an excellent special feature for The Chamber. Here’s what he says about it:
“Hey Phil, check this out —A friend [Samuel Hanon is the name on the video] put this together. Playing the Twilight Zone version of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” with a Pink Floyd concert CD “Live at the Empire Pool, Wembley Park, London” recorded in November, 1974. Nothing is edited out or changed, except color effects added. All the lyrics and everything synchronistically match on queue. Play here: https://www.facebook.com/samuel.hanon.3/posts/545802596336504“
As you will learn with Rod Serling’s narration during the intro, this is not a Twilight Zone production per se. This is a French telling of the classic tale “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce. It was the winner of the 1962 Cannes Film Festival and of several other international prizes as well. The original version is truly haunting, but the additional soundtrack and colorization take it to a whole new, nightmarishly surreal level.
What I find interesting about the story is that, when it was written in 1890, feelings about the Civil War were still very intense. After all, the Civil War had erupted only thirty years earlier in 1860. Many soldiers on both sides were still alive. Many African-Americans were still alive who had been slaves. Bierce had served with the Union Army and had seen combat several times including at Shiloh. He sustained a traumatic brain injury at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, whose effects he felt for the rest of his life. Nonetheless, Bierce penned this story about the hanging of a Confederate soldier told from the rebel’s perspective. Bierce did not see his former enemies as inhuman monsters, which I am sure many former Union soldiers did. He recognized the humanity in them and he brings this out in this story, making his readers, many of whom doubtlessly still had strong feelings about the war, feel sympathy for their suffering as well and made them see the former rebels as human.
In our current atmosphere of political turmoil (which cannot hold a candle to the turmoil before, during, and after the Civil War), there is a lesson for us in this classic work of American literature. It shows us that in spite of our feelings about current political and national issues, no matter how intense they are, we must not lose sight of the fact that our political opponents are as human as we are and feel as deeply and as intensely as we all do. We are people with differing opinions, but we are all still people. We must not lose sight of that fact.
By the way, I will take submissions of links to dark videos or films so long as they meet the stipulations in The Chamber’s submission guidelines and so long as the person submitting owns the copyright. There are a wide range of formats to which I can link, so please query first and I will let you know if I can link to it.