This is before a terrible thing happens
And this happens often, troublingly.
So the happening, and the thing before
The happening, become a continuum
Of beautiful screams and vivid, healthy
blood sprays.

But allow me to be more concise:
The music has stopped.

By Neil Ballard

From Ear To Ear


we took a walk by jesus’ tomb
for a dance describing love
hidden by poppies waiting for
a brain song of excised fatalities

straight down for the holidays
a mix and match – it’s a walk away
watch the swirl around the silence of trees
hear the time cascade around
she takes her suitcase in hand
an explosion expression

a walk down broadway
spontaneously spouting tears
as he recounted his hagiography
to anyone who cared to listen

a cut / a smile
an exhilaration
but just a silence
then spasms of
an imagination of
what should have been

to construct her face
of iron and plaster
coated in violent blue
later walking home from the
cinema after viewing
french films for a

long afternoon
in wet spring

so complacent sitting in a chair of nails
lying to herself and to all others about what grows inside
situations unfolded re-bent she feels a
harshness a liquid cold an air freon frisson
a saint’s kiss with burning lips.

they’ll try to fly
maybe they’ll run to a hideout
or into that ditch built from silence
where the rain will wash dirty things away

they were sharpening
a straight razor’s steel – this
stuff’ll kill ya – as the rooms fell apart laughing as
the robots clanged and morphed into sky

cooked up a shot for
a decoration to be applied to her lust
she watched the crowds watch them
stimulated in heterosexual form
perched in the trees. watching.

“we are walking down a sour street.
a wash of aquaregia for the eyes.
love gone in a deep death.
starting to run. A slow breath.
i ran away
and i left you there.
beneath the ocean of salt and blood.
and i still had you.
and the water screamed.”

“louder – it. is. difficult”

her day dreams of corsets on fire
coaxed him into a green embryo
making final arrangements

By Peter Marra


You Want Fries with That?

Kourtney leaned against the drinks dispensing machine, filing her nails with the bored countenance of a fast food restaurant worker. Britney, her friend and co-worker, stood by the till, ready to serve customers. As the clock ticked towards nine in the Burger Place that Thursday night, only a handful of people sat eating meals.
“What you doing after work? Fancy going to a club?” Britney asked.
Kourtney finished her nails. “Me and my man are gonna have a night of non-stop shagging!” She let down her bottle-blonde hair and re-applied the scrunchy holding it in a ponytail.
“Gonna let him fuck you in that big fat ass of yours?” Britney asked cheekily.
“Don’t be crude,” Kourtney chided. Then she smiled mischievously. “Maybe.”
“Uh-oh, look, your stalker’s back.”
The man they only half-jokingly referred to as Kourtney’s stalker had just entered. He was medium height, somewhat podgy, with a chubby face and hands. Mid-fifties with greying, slick-backed hair.
“Just the way he looks at you is creepy,” Britney said.
“I wish he’d just fuck off,” Kourtney whispered under her breath.
He moved with a walking-shuffle past the tables and up to the counter, where Britney greeted him with a half-smile. Her boss’s mantra about the customer always being right played through her mind like an irritating pop song.
Kourtney moved a little farther away, keeping a wary eye on him, expecting his lizard-like eyes to flick her way at any time and capture her in his unwelcome stare.
“I want a cheeseburger,” he said.
“You want fries with that?”
“No, but I want a Coke. I want her to get it.” He pointed towards Kourtney, moving his gaze in her direction.
Kourtney shrank back at his gaze, feeling almost violated. His fat finger jabbed in her direction.
“I’ll get your drink,” Britney said, her voice clear and certain.
“I want her to-”
“I’ll get it.” Britney was firm. He didn’t argue back but his gaze stayed on Kourtney. He licked his lips as he stared. Kourtney felt a shiver run through her. I bet he’s undressing me with his eyes right now.
Britney quickly bagged up his order and slid it across the counter to him. She had no intention of handing it to him – the thought of his hand touching hers was not appealing. Behind gritted teeth, she warned. “Why don’t you leave my friend alone, you creep.”
He took the bag, turned to leave, then turned back. “Bye, Kourtney,” he called over, a big grin of victory on his fat face.
When he was out of the building and in the parking lot, Britney went over to comfort her friend, who was shaking.
“Don’t let him get to you.”
Kourtney took a deep, fortifying breath. “Damn right, I won’t. If he comes near me again, I’ll pull his balls off.”
Kourtney heard the distinctive growl of her boyfriend’s truck as it pulled into the Burger Place’s parking lot. Rob was right on time too. Her break was just about to start.
He came in and she greeted him with an enthusiastic kiss.
“You smell of fries, babe,” he joked.
“I always smell of fries.”
They took a booth in a corner, by the window.
“How’s your night been?” he asked.
“That fucking creep came in earlier. The one I told you about.”
“Did he hurt you?”
She waved a hand absently, purposefully playing down the incident. “Just scared me a bit. Let’s forget it.”
She slid round the table to sit next to him. The cheap plastic seat creaked under them. She took his hand and planted it on her bare leg, to his surprise.
“You ready for tonight,” she whispered, moving his hand further up her leg, to the hem of her skirt, which was several inches above what company rules allowed.
“You’re a naughty, naughty girl,” Rob teased. “But I like it.”
She nuzzled his neck with her nose. “And you’re a dirty, dirty man. My Mom warned me about tattooed white boys like you.”
“Ain’t no one warned me about you, baby!”
“Cheeky sod!” she jibed.
“Sorry, babe.”
“Did no one warn you about naughty girls doing this?”
She moved his hand a little further up, along the inside of her thigh. She could feel his damp fingers on her skin and it felt good. She whispered in his ear. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking about my pussy, all wet and juicy and shaved, just how you like it. You’re thinking about sliding that big cock of yours in it. You’re thinking about me calling out your name as you fuck me.”
Rob licked his lips. “You can read me like a book, babe.”
“And when I get home, you can do whatever you want. I’m all yours. But now, I have to get back to work.” She removed his hand, gave him a peck on the cheek and returned to the counter.
Britney asked, “Why hasn’t he left yet? He’s just sat there.”
Kourtney smiled. “I gave him a boner like Mount Everest. He must be waiting til it goes down.”
The girls exchanged a mischievous glance, began to snigger, then burst into laughter.
* * *
At midnight, the Burger Place closed. The staff said their goodbyes and returned home.
Kourtney and Rob’s apartment was on the ground floor. Convenient, no stairs to climb, but it was small, or compact as current real estate parlance would say. A cloudless sky hung above, speckled with stars and a bright half-moon.
No sooner had she closed the door behind her than he swept her up in his arms and deposited her on their bed. The moonlight trickled through a gap in the curtains into the room.
With her laid on the bed, Rob began to undress her one item at a time. His purposefully slow movements meant it took some time, which only increased her excitement as her willing body was gradually revealed.
“Close your eyes,” he whispered.
He kissed her forehead, lips, neck. She moaned, a smile sliding onto her face. He took one of her erect nipples in his mouth, licking and sucking it. She arched her back, wanting him to be in her; but Rob teased her some more. He moved to her other breast, licking and nibbling her nipple, leaving it glistening with saliva. She felt him move down her body, his hands now on her thighs, his hot breath on her cunt. She spread her legs as wide as she could, revealing the tempting pinkness of her wet pussy to him.
The delicious sensation of his tongue on her clit sent a shiver of excitement through her body. She moaned with pleasure, murmured “Fuck me”, opened her eyes – and screamed.
* * *
Rob pulled on his boxers and raced to the door and out into the night to investigate. The chilly night air prickled his bare skin.
He scanned the area. “I don’t see no one,” he shouted back into the house.
Kourtney appeared at the door, tying the belt of a large dressing gown about her waist. “I know I saw someone at the window. I know I did. It was him.”
Rob went around the corner of the apartment and returned. He shrugged.
Kourtney walked to their bedroom window, just a short distance from the front door. She peered in through the gap in the curtains. The whole room could be seen. What we were doing would have been visible to anyone watching, she realised. A shiver ran down her spine. He’d seen her, and at her most vulnerable. She felt violated, unclean, knowing that he’d been watching.
“Look!” She called Rob over and pointed to the window. The marks of a pudgy handprint were clearly visible on the window.
“Christ,” murmured Rob, running a hand through his hair. He could see that Kourtney was shaken; their night was ruined too.
Kourtney pulled the robe a little tighter about her, glancing about with unease. “He might still be about, watching us. Let’s get inside.”
* * *
“No shit,” Britney exclaimed when Kourtney told her of the events of the previous night as they started their evening shift. She gave Kourtney a long, loving hug.
“That guy’s a serious sicko. You should call the cops on him,” she said.
Kourtney shrugged. “And tell them what? All I’ve got is a smudgy print on a window. What would they do?”
“They’d protect you, that’s what. That’s what we pay our taxes for, for them to protect us from weirdoes like him. Look, I thought about you this morning and got you this.” Britney took an item from her purse.
Kourtney looked at the small canister in a plastic housing. “What’s that?”
“Pepper spray. You hold it like this, flip the top to reach the spray button. See?”
Kourtney nodded.
Britney planted it in her hand. “It might come in useful. Keep it safe.”
* * *
Kourtney and Britney’s shift went by without incident. As midnight arrived, the Burger Place closed and they went their separate ways.
Kourtney went to her car, parked on the far side of the parking lot. Her old green Plymouth Duster was battered and rusty, but reliable and surprisingly easy on the gas. The lot was ringed by tall spotlights, most of which were broken. A working bulb bathed her car in a cone of crude, artificial light.
During the evening a short rain storm had passed overhead, leaving the ground damp and reflective as though it were dotted with pools of oil.
Britney beeped her horn as she drove past on her way home. Kourtney gave her a wave goodbye.
She put her key in the lock just as she heard a voice.
“Kourtney! Kourtney!”
She turned, surprised that anyone else was still there.
He shuffled towards her, emerging from the darkness like the living dead in a cheap zombie movie.
“Keep away from me! Stay back!”
“Stay away! You’ll regret it! I mean it!”
But he kept coming closer, ignoring her warnings. Twenty meters away. Now ten.
Kourtney could feel her heart racing faster. This guy just wouldn’t take a hint. She flung the car door open, got in, locked it. Safe, temporarily.
She jabbed the key in the ignition as he reached the car and planted his grubby hands on the driver’s window. “Kourtney, I love you. You’re beautiful and I love you.”
She wanted – needed – to get away, and doubted that a slim piece of glass would protect her for long.
Ignoring his unwanted proclamations of love, she turned the key in her trembling hands. Nothing happened. She tried again to the same result.
He was hitting his hands against the window now, leaving clammy palm-prints. “I love you. Let me in. I only want to look after you,” he pleaded.
Kourtney could feel the fear rising in her.
She tried the window wipers, the headlights. Nothing. It was as though the battery wasn’t flat but… missing? Disconnected?
The bastard’s sabotaged my car, she realised. And I’m trapped in it.
He was striking his palms against the window with significant force now. “Let me in, Kourtney! I love you.” She could feel the force of his strikes rattling through the car.
Kourtney grabbed her handbag and began to rummage inside for the pepper spray. Tissues, lipstick, purse, makeup bag, tampons, hairbrush.
“Kourtney, my love!”
She couldn’t find it, then remembered that she’d put it in her work locker and forgotten to put it in her purse.
She threw her handbag on the passenger seat. Half its contents spilled out but she didn’t care. She was breathing quickly now, edging nearer to panic.
But the quiet suddenly struck her. He was no longer at her window. She twisted in her seat, looking about her into the dark parking lot, wondering where he had gone.
Can I make a run for it and get help? she deliberated. Possibly.
She continued to twist in her seat, looking out each window in turn, scanning the area. She knew he was still out there, lurking, waiting.
“You can’t just sit here all night,” she told herself. “Get your arse in gear.” What fate at the hands of that maniac awaited her, she didn’t know, but the longer she delayed, the more likely such a fate would be.
Mind made up, with trembling hands, she shovelled her belongings back into her handbag, adding the car keys, and readied herself to run from the car. She took a deep breath just as a loud shattering sound startled her. Flecks of broken glass washed over the passenger seat and dashboard. A cold wind now drifted into the car.
She turned to see, and heard his voice goading her.
“Kourtney, Kourtney my love. You’ll be mine, you know you will.”
He crept round the passenger side of the car, a large metal bar held between both hands like a club.
“Leave me alone!” she screeched.
“You know you’ll be mine, my love,” he said, voice lowered, sounding almost normal. “We’ll be together forever. Just you and me.”
“Fuck you!”
Flinging the driver’s door open, she fled from the car. Behind her, she heard the clang of metal as he dropped the bar and gave chase.
She barely put five meters between herself and the car before her high heel got caught in a drainage grate and she tumbled to the floor, belly first. Just as she managed to roll over onto her back, he pounced, landing on top of her like a fat, out-of-practice wrestler. She was winded, gasping for breath.
Although not strong, he was heavier than her and pinned her to the ground without much effort. He wriggled on top of her. She was certain she felt his erection underneath his jeans.
He stank. This close to him, his unwashed odour infiltrated her nose.
Pinning her, he flicked his tongue out, trying to lick her face. She turned her head to one side with revulsion. And there she saw, within reach, her handbag on the tarmac, its contents strewn about. Glinting in the weak light were her car keys, barely inches away.
His rotten breath washed over her as he slid his slimy tongue up her cheek, unaware of what was about to happen.
Kourtney grasped her car keys, moving them in her hand so that the biggest key poked out like a small, oddly-shaped dagger.
With a swift, forceful, unrepentant move, she brought her arm around and jammed the key into his right eye. She thought she heard something pop, but wasn’t sure. Blood and some viscous, sticky liquid like an egg white leaked from his eye onto her face and neck.
He yelped out in pain, putting both hands to his destroyed eye, rolling off her and onto his back, crushing the scattered items from her handbag.
“You bitch, you fucking bitch,” he screamed. “I’ll fuck you then kill you.”
Kourtney stumbled to her feet, clothes grubby and wet from the dirty ground; her hair tangled and messed up. “That ain’t gonna happen,” she told him.
She retrieved the metal bar. Kourtney wasn’t particularly strong, but she was determined, and that was enough.

By Dan Shelton


Fey Animus

engaged in autotrophy as
a self-sustaining pain
while driving up from tupelo
carrying a hitchhiker
holding failing limbs
stopping at
the occasional diner
for a smoke and
heavily caffeinated coffee.
read him, read her
she doubled as his being
naked except for a suicide
that was squeezed into the
mask of a surgeon.

thunder sings slowly as the turnpike
bends to the automobiles.
the brightness of the watercolors
muddled and burned in the downfall,
laying exhausted at the end of the day.

she showed him the result
and the faces were messy,
nestled on one side in an unknown pattern:
“my eyes. i searched by saying so,” he replied.

while driving:
“what else may i do to you?” she replied.
they checked into the motel
the neon was eliminated.
the mattress breathed.
forced by gravity, the soft blankets
collapsed around them.
a day done.
drive more tomorrow.
they withdrew completely.

a timeline says these are the
individuals that are involved:
extricating her from the equation.
“a sundial is inside you,” he replied
“i licked my lips and other stuff,” she countered,
“your breath is humiliating – so familiar to me and the moon.
the glitter of banned light slams
the city.”

eventually his tongue atrophied
as shown in the stranger’s films:
images rising
spun around quickly.
reminiscent of blackened paintings.

By Peter Marra


Who Was She?

Whenever mom and dad had a fight, we would hear something running around upstairs. Really loud stomping, back and forth, directly over their heads in the TV room. Dad was always superstitious, he would stop yelling to listen. Mom would get mad because he wouldn’t be responding to what she was saying, so she would grab me and Trish, take us into town with her.

When we got back from town, dad was always sitting in his La-Z-Boy watching sports. Beer and cigarette in his hand. I always wondered if the running upstairs kept up while he sat there, alone in the house. I wondered if he had to turn the volume up on the TV to drown out the other sound.

But maybe I’m remembering it wrong, maybe we heard the running other times, when they weren’t fighting. Maybe they just fought all the time, and it was just when things got quiet enough that we could hear it.

I could be remembering it like that because the pattern seemed to be that it would make itself known whenever things were tense in the house. Like when aunt Aubrey was in the hospital, on chemo, and I was sitting at the breakfast nook, smoking a menthol. I noticed one of the figurines on the knick-knack shelf was lying on its side. I saw something out the window, it was Trish running across the lawn. Curly blonde hair glowing in the middle of summer. She ran into the woods at the edge of the property.

The phone rang. I let it ring four times, taking a drag, holding back my tears. I didn’t want to pick it up if it was going to be mom calling from the hospital. I didn’t want aunt Aubrey to die. I picked up the phone. It was my mom. She was calling from a payphone, she was at Trish’s ballet lesson and she wanted me to pre-heat the oven to 450.

‘But Trish is here,’ I said. ‘She’s playing around outside.’

Now, whenever I remember the little blonde girl, it’s something different. I think I can see her face, or the way she was dressed, but the only thing I can really remember is her hair, which really was different from Trish’s. Not as curly, and lighter in color.

For a couple years, I had dreams about the girl. Not really about her, I guess, just with her in them. And she wasn’t always a girl. Sometimes she was grown, sometimes she looked old and her hair wasn’t blonde anymore, it was white and thin around a leathery face. I would see her in crowded places in my dreams, always at a distance, and she’d never try to say anything to me. She would just stand there staring at me. It wasn’t really that scary- at least, I didn’t feel scared during the dreams. She was just a part of my life.

Remembering the dreams was another matter. I would wake up, walk downstairs, notice a cup had smashed on the floor, and it would occur to me that I had seen her in last night’s dream. I would look at the broken cup, or a misplaced figurine on the shelf, and I would think: was that because of her? Who was she?

Sometimes Trish and I would joke about it, by leaving mom’s Raggedy Ann doll different places around the house. Once we put it sitting in dad’s chair, and he came in the door and fell backwards because it scared him so much. We stopped when Trish claimed she heard a woman’s laughter coming from the attic whenever we would do it.

I thought it was fun, I didn’t want to stop. And if it made her laugh, up there in the attic, then it couldn’t be so bad. At least we were keeping her amused, I said. Not that I believed Trish was hearing what she thought she was. I told her she was just hearing mom and dad having sex. Mom was laughing, I told her, because sex is fun, and it was a woman’s laughter because women are the only ones that make sounds during it.

Trish had a hard time in high school. I didn’t do much to help her. I took her along to a concert with my friends out of pity one night during her freshman year, and told her to go stand somewhere else so she wouldn’t embarrass me. My friends thought I was being cruel and unfair, so Gwen went to find Trish to invite her back to stand with us. Gwen came back after twenty minutes with a serious look on her face. She couldn’t find Trish anywhere.

We waited for my dad to come get us, and we weren’t that worried because Trish knew where and when he was going to pick us up. But she didn’t show up and we had to look for her all night long. Nobody had seen her. When the sun started to rise, dad told me to wait on the hard leather bench at the police station while he went inside and talked to them.

There was nothing for us to do. We went home. Mom said she wanted to talk to me but I said I had to sleep, and I went up to my room. I didn’t sleep. I hugged my knees, sitting on my bed, waiting to hear her. I knew she would make some sort of noise, I wanted to hear her running through the halls or laughing in the attic.

But I never heard a sound. Aunt Aubrey called- she had survived the tumor- and mom gave the phone to me, in my room. I wanted to tell Aubrey about the girl, about how we could all hear her but only I could see her, but there I couldn’t think of an appropriate way to bring it up. Aunt Aubrey told me it wasn’t my fault for losing Trish and I cried into the phone.

For an entire month there were no noises or misplaced objects. Of course that got me thinking that Trish had been the one making all the sounds in the first place. I started seriously doubting everything I could remember, especially the girl running across the lawn.

After a month, we were sitting watching TV after dinner, and we heard a knock at the door. Dad opened it up, and it was Trish. All the police investigators, all the volunteer searches, and she came home on her own. As soon as they could, my parents asked where she had been. I remember she was sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of hot chocolate and a blanket around her.

‘Where did you go, Trish?’

Her eyes went wide and she slammed the table with her palm, spilling hot chocolate everywhere. That was how she first let us know she would never tell us what had happened to her.

That’s one of the big reasons we don’t talk so much anymore. I went away to Sac State for college, they had a study abroad program in Florence so I went over there, got a job as a maid for a rich family, dropped out of school. I married an Italian and had a bunch of kids.

Trish went wild after high school- drinking and partying, always with a new boyfriend. We worried about her constantly, and everyone was partially relieved when she married Tim, because he was an easygoing sort of person, but they had problems with fidelity and they divorced after four years.

Mom and dad loved Tim though, and he lived with them for a little while in the old house after the divorce. He slept in Trish’s old room, which they made into a guest room. Tim was the last person to have a strange experience in the house.
It was late. They’d stayed up drinking and playing pinochle. Mom and dad went to bed around two AM, and Tim made a snack in the kitchen before heading to the guest room. It hadn’t really been decorated, there was just a double bed with a white comforter, and a rocking chair with a quilt draped over it.

Tim walked in the room without turning on the light. The window didn’t have blinds, and the moon was bright enough that he could dimly see the room. The last thing he saw before he fell asleep was the Raggedy Ann doll in the chair.

Raggedy Ann was clinging to the ceiling, head turned around and staring at him, when he woke up at four. He crept out of bed, its head following his movements, and he left the room. My parents heard his car peeling out on the gravel drive. They went into his room, found the doll face down on the bed.

Tim was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. He’s having trouble finding a job these days. Dad died a month ago, in the condo he and mom moved into five years ago. I stayed with them, and helped mom afterwards. Trish never visited dad at the end.

She came a few days after the funeral, unexpectedly. She sat down at the table and mom made us tea. Trish behaved like everything was fine, though she did say she missed dad, missed how he got so scared in the old house. She said she’d like to visit the place. She drove up there right after visiting me and mom.
Trish has been gone for three days now. I keep trying her phone, my husband tells me to let the local police know.
She might be gone for good this time.

By Neil Ballard


No one grasps

how I impersonate Nice.

Deep down,

I’m invisibly cold


Take a mute—


better off dead,

slit his throat,

lynch him on my dick—

makeshift tampon


by bloodstained string

from a menstrually

mauled vagina,

above the scarlet toilet


Bathe his carcass

in gasoline,

put a lighter to his legs—


Meals on wheels,

prime rib, baby!

Go home, relax—


tomorrow’s episode,

more spectacular—

more intense—

then go to bed.

Drift away,

to where the world

is a sourly scented STD,

dead in stale blood

on cotton panties.


By William Andre Sanders