Hey Shitbag, What’s My Destiny?

You hit a nerve, made my hands shake when you grazed those painted nails across my arm. The way you shook your ass at me and that peek-a-boo on the sly when you bent over and let me get a good look at ya cunt from behind.

You made me make a sacrifice,

For you,

Not me.

I hated the thought of your smile and your fake pouty lips, but I loved the commune of your flesh, shared and tattered. You gave it a bad rap. Your life, you said. It was just porno and tap water, malted milk balls and restless cocks. You called yourself Destiny, and I wondered why someone like you would work in a chicken house like this. Maybe you was mad at your daddy. Hope I didn’t look like him, so I sat at the back of the bar, in the dark, contemplating your full lips and how they would look severed from your face and mounted on my throbbing cock. You said you could see the future in that little deck of cards you carried around in your purse, said it with a “Hey Mister,” when you asked me if I wanted to know mine. “Ten bucks,” you said, and I replied, “Divine.”

You thought I was talking about you, but I wasn’t. I asked what you did for a living while I flipped the tassel on your boob, and you said you liked to fuck. “With a crystal ball?” I asked, and you laughed at me. You didn’t want to know what I did, what my passion was. You said it was all in the cards, and that death with his rusted out scythe and his emerald green eyes was just a beginning. I nodded and fingered the razor in my pocket, cause I supposed it was true. Well, you believed it, along with the moon and the stars and the voodoo priestess who told you “you” had a gift. You didn’t want to know about all the naughty things little girls like you shouldn’t know about. You didn’t want to know about my fascination with skin.

I am a sculptor.

What’s inside you is weak,

And I can fix it —

With plaster.

I want to fuck you with a chisel. Scrape the ligaments from your bones. What I do is a labor of love. I bring things back to life, but you didn’t even really want to know me beyond the free drinks and the bits of coin I dropped in your tip jar. You thought you were a hipster, a girl gone wild, but you’re really just a fucking parsley smokin’ bigot, getting back at her rich drunk daddy. Your bust will look nice mounted next to the saw palmetto by the shed. I’ll use pencil erasers to keep your nipples hard, yet supple. That’s what I was thinking while you giggled and practiced your “witchcraft” as you liked to call it. You went on and on about sinkholes and bedbugs and why it’s so important to wash the fucking sheets. What if I default on my lottery payment? Will I get sued for all those vile accusations I made about the frigid bitch of a mayor? or Was I letting failure bloom when I spread my seed to the hookers on the next street corner? “Fuck no,” I replied. “This is a small town, honey, and there ain’t no jobs in a dust-storm famine funeral parlor. I got clients. Not a lot of huntin’ to do around here,you see, so I might be easy money, but this strip ain’t the only game in town.” You smiled again, said I was hokey and quaint. Wanted to know whether I wanted to smoke a joint and get a lap dance or not. Now, I don’t know nothin’ bout your big city ways with your tattoos and pierced clits and all that greasy black eye makeup. I just skin em and stuff em; well, you don’t really stuff em, not like a scarecrow with sawdust and hay.

I do like your sky blue innocent eyes, though.

I think I’ll keep them for myself.

By Cheryl Anne Gardner

WARNING: May Cause Serious Harm, Deafness, and Decapitation

Nobody tells you the real reason you shouldn’t poke around in your ears; I bet they don’t even know.  Actually, I know they don’t.  Now.

It was an ear infection that did it.  I blame the swimming pool.  Whenever I venture into its stinking blue heat, I find myself diverted from lane swimming and smooth strokes of front crawl into avoiding the peachy plasters, succulent scabs, pubic hair and skin flakes texturing the water with infection.

Whatever the reason, I bought a box of cotton buds, tiny white dumbbells of deafness, from the chemist next to the takeaway down the road.  ‘Warning: do not insert into ear canal – may cause serious harm or deafness’.  My Uncle Jim always said the only thing you should put in your ear was your elbow.  Yoga, stretching, even the near dislocation of my shoulders never helped me attain that impossible goal.  Salt water, that’s what he’d recommend.  Cures anything.  Broken heart?  Have a cry.  Sore throat?  Gargle with it.  Sunburn?  Bathe in it.  But water in my ears got me into this mess, no chance I’m adding to the worrying wetness, none.

Now, with the itching threatening to scour my sanity and pale liquid trickling like piss from my ears, reminding me of my one dalliance with alternative sex and Golden Showers, I was doing something I’d promised my mother I’d never do.

I was going to clean my ears out.

Oh, the relief.

The twirling of bud after bud, turned soggy and yellow, piling like little paper bones in a heap on the bathroom floor.

Just one more.  Just this one.

But I had to go deeper; I couldn’t not.

Chunks of brown and red, stiff and rank, almost hairy round the edges.  Could I make candles?  Should I?  No…

This must be another old deposit, I held the fuzzy end in frantic fingers and pushed, trying to hook it free, shove it out, clear the infection.  I should have stopped.  I know that now.

I heard a ‘click’, felt the obstruction shift, and suddenly my head was full of noise.  Pulling the cotton bud out, nothing came with it.  But the voices, oh, the voices stayed.

Did you know there was a switch in your head?

That if you work hard enough, dig deep, push and pull and itch and squirm, you can flick it, too?

I don’t recommend it.  People sometimes wish they had the ability to read the minds of others, in a nice, clean, pick-and-choose way.  It’s nothing like that, nothing at all.  The films about it?  They bear as much resemblance to the reality as celebrity sex tapes do to Friday night fingers in the shower.  My flatmate was considering which of her teachers she’d most like to fuck and how; I had no idea her breath stank from eating Mr Overbaum’s shit.  Stan at the shop below was wondering if his mum would mind him using her microwave to explode wasps on the lowest setting.  It made them last longer before they blew.  And that nice old lady, the one from down the road who waved at passersby and gave babies shiny new pennies – she was the worst of the lot.  Helping Hitler, looking out for non-blonds.  I’d dash the coins from her evil old hands next time I saw her.  She wiped them in her knickers first.

It was all too much.  I tried it for an hour, and it was just overwhelming.  Nothing useful, nothing sexy, nothing I wanted or needed to know.  Just a constant torrent of other people’s nasty little ramblings and wonderings, inane shopping lists and to do files, whining and whining and scuzzing through my head. 

No point running to the doctors for help, they’d have me on happy pills in the time it takes to swaddle a near adult in a straitjacket.  Who believes in telepathy?  Not even me.  Perhaps if I flicked the switch back… yeah, that should do it.  Then stick the rest of the packet in the bin.  Done, never to fuck up with again.

It was hard work moving it the first time, but my mum’s due over any minute and there’s no way I’m hearing what she gets up to with my dad.  No way.  In, dig, move, move…

Oh shit – too far – it’s gone over the other way – normality must be the middle setting.  I’m surprised at how much it hurts when my face hits the floor, how cool the summer air feels on the wet base of my neck.  My lip’s split on my teeth, but it hardly matters now.  A tear seeps onto my cheek.

As the oxygen fades I can hear them at my door; just footsteps, no voices.  My body crumples over to the side, hitting the sink with its empty hands, and someone in the hallway asks if I’m alright.  But there’s nothing the chemist can do for me now.

Re-label the boxes, you bastards.

They should read ‘Warning: do not insert into ear canal, may cause serious harm, deafness, or decapitation’.

But seriously, who knew?

By Gill Hoffs

Paper or Plastic?

Cycling down, compressing, Ronald watches as the arms and legs hanging outside the machine snap off like muted branches.  Thick and bleeding, they fall to the concrete floor, no longer a part of what once made them whole.  Occasionally—perhaps one in five—these appendages roll towards him, but most times they do not.  Inert, they remain still about his feet, pooling, each piece preceded only by the dull thud its weight creates against the floor.  It is Sunday, pre-church, and before the morning rush.

Does he care that they make fun of him?  Yes.  More than they could know.  Does Ronald show it?  Never—not once.  He is good at this; at holding things in.   He lets them stew, boil.   That is how he cooks; how the man inside him rolls.  In the mirror, naked, he repeats:  I am rage. 

At sixteen he is hit by a car.  It hurts, but he survives.   Scars come, many, and every day he limps because of it.   So what, he thinks.  It beats the hell out of being dead.  Dead can’t bring closure.  Dead could not extract revenge.  His right hand turns inward as well, up and towards his chest.  It resembles a claw, but one which has lost the will to live.  Chicks never look at it, not if it can be helped. 

At least I survived.

He says this whenever an associate asks.  And he says it with a smile on his face each and every time.  He believes it keeps them humble, the ones he secretly despised.  They think he never hears their whispers; that he could ever possibly know.  Each of them is wrong; all of them his rage.

Mr. Gray keeps him on at Mister Food even though Corporate doesn’t want him to.  Ronald gives the man credit for that.  He really, truly does.  Mr. Gray—tall, bald, bad breath—shouldn’t have done what he did though, and only because of what it would produce.  He should have given Ronald severance; just ensure he went away.  He did not however, and soon enough Ronald finds out that Mr. Gray is no better than the rest of the people behind his back.  He never yells at Ronald, nothing as vulgar as that.  But he whispers along with the rest of them, and at times Ronald would see him laugh.

The final straw involves the baler, and the day Mr. Gray takes him aside.  Mr. Gray says it is only meant to house cardboard and plastic—that only a bale of each could be made at a time.  Ronald says he understands; that it hadn’t been he who mixed the two.  It was then Mr. Gray chooses to call him a liar, and his voice, had it been raised?  Ronald can’t remember, only that his fellow employees have stopped in their tracks to stare.  One of them had been Cara, a girl Ronald wished he could call his own.  She would never fuck him though, and he was happy he held no delusions concerning that.

  “And Ronald, really, you need to be washing your uniform more than once a week.”  Ronald nods, takes what has been given, and then watches Mr. Gray walk away.  From the side he sees him roll his eyes as he passes Patrick, Bill and Mark.  They smile in return, the secret shared and understood.  The rage comes forward then, leaping, but Ronald smiles instead, his big grin containing what will no longer be contained.  Later, while masturbating, the staff meeting at the end of the month enters Ronald’s mind.  They are always held out back, where Mister Food keeps all its excess stock.  Mr. Gray purchases folding chairs and everyone gets a seat.  Beside these seats looms the baler, metal and brown, stickered and wide.  Plastic and cardboard Mr. Gray had said, saying it as though Ronald were new; that he hadn’t been an active member of the Mister Food Team for the past twelve years.   The baler produced rectangle kids after you fed its mouth and the plunger pushed down until it no longer could.  After that came the twine, six lengths of rope you tied off in order to hold the child you created in place.  Ronald was far from wondering about cardboard and plastic as he spasmed into his hand.  He was thinking about bodies; about stacking them high.  Could it be done, he thought, and realized he had been talking out loud.

“Mr. Gray?”

“What is it now Ronald?”

“At the staff meeting—could I be in charge of the refreshments?”  Pausing, Mr. Gray finally swivels in his chair.  “Of course you can,” he says.  Ronald notices that Mr. Gray is more than enthused that he has offered to do this.  Good for me, Ronald thinks—everyone needs a little happiness in their lives.

The dosage is enough, more than, and all but Florence had taken a glass.  It doesn’t take much to persuade her however, not once Ronald puts the full force of his limp on display.  She takes the glass, sips—comments on how peachy it tastes.  Thirty minutes later all thirty-seven employees lay prone before him.  Where to begin, he thinks, and suddenly he notices how hard his breath has become; how hard his heart is now knocking against his chest.  “I am Rage,”  he says and looks around, taking each of them in at a time.  I will be stacking you, he thinks, and then goes on towards Mr. Gray.  In time—stupid fucking hand—he gets the big man up, rolling him up and over the baler’s bottom lip.  Easier, he takes the cashiers next, each of them half the weight of Mr. Gray.  Eleven of them inside, Ronald closes the safety gate and then pushes the big green button on the side of the machine.  With a start and then a screech, the plunger descends, crushing breath and bone alike.  They never wake, not one of them.  They only bleed, forming a lake like syrup to which Ronald sees no end.

  The buggie boys come next, followed by the Stationary Department.  Of them all, Sheila the office girl proves the most difficult.  Over three hundred pounds, she is more than he can lift.  Using empty milk crates, Ronald creates the leverage he believes he will need.  In, she sinks half way down, her face coming to rest beside George from Frozen Food.  Amanda is beside them, her brain exposed and grey.  Done, he looks around at the empty chairs, at the skids full of overstock beyond.  He takes in the blood that continues to seep from the bottom of the baler and arms and legs that rest within.  Should I leave them, he thinks, but knows a job is not complete until you have cleaned up after yourself.

He makes a bale using twine that will never again be white.  It does not turn out as he had hoped, not as rectangular, nor as solidly built.

From skin that runs in flaps to muscle that hangs and drips, Ronald stands in front of the baler’s open door, squints into the chamber for all the faces he can still make out.  There is Stacy and Beth, both of them covered in Shawn.  Below them he sees Richard, the man finally inside Peggy-Sue.   And there at the bottom lay Mr. Gray, his bright eyes now dull, his nose below his mouth.  They would not be laughing anymore, nor would their whispers continue to come.

Washing up, Ronald changes into his extra uniform.  He then goes out and fills the milk.  He rotates the product as he’s been taught, finds that the person before him has not.  He sighs when he finds this; dejected to see that someone had not been doing their job as they were supposed to.  Finished, he takes his empty crates out back and piles them away.  He stacks the chairs as well, the ones Mr. Gray had rented for the day.  Making his way up front, he realizes he has lost track of time; that the customers have been waiting longer than they should, many of them now tapping their keys against the glass.  Opening the doors, they look at him weird, like they have never experienced rage before.  Have I missed some blood, he asks himself, and then he looks to his one good hand.  Seeing nothing, he welcomes them in; informs them that the cashiers will be up front shortly.  The customers smile in response to this, but Ronald feels that something is off.  He doesn’t know what, only that it is there.   The customers do not whisper however, nor do they laugh.

By Beau Johnson

The Haunted Housewife

They called her the Haunted Housewife. She wore June Cleaver dresses from the 50’s. They were moth-eaten and dyed black to match the circles underneath her eyes. Her skin was doll’s porcelain, powdered into transparency. Some say she didn’t exist at all, that she was only a ghost who showed herself in the windows of the sinking Georgian manor on Pine Street. Holding a martini for a husband who would never come home and cooking dinner for children that could not digest anymore.

They called her the Haunted Housewife and her black hair was streaked white. Empty bottles of chemicals were found in the trash bin on the mornings after her sightings. Whole gallon jugs of Windex, tile cleanser, bleach and lye. The women would all whisper, what was she doing in there? Did she still clean that house? Did she polish the silver? Did she buff the floor? When did she emerge? Neighborhood children made a game of knock knock knock on her door. They ran away and hid behind the trash can and flaking picket fence.

She used to have a family the older women would say. She wasn’t always alone. One day no one was there, except the haunted housewife. Left to make empty beds, and iron unworn shirts. the police came. Everyone talked, but there was nothing said. Except that the husband and her two boys were never seen again.

Then, the children started disappearing in the woods off of Pine Street. Little boys with chubby cheeks, and a penchant for marble games, shooting things with BB guns. Winchester model. Hollering after a felled squirrel, compatriots would watch them fade into the forest fog. No one saw them after that. Now and then a boy’s sneaker would show up, smeared with mud with the faint odor of cleaning products.

Peering out she smiled, in the dark when they all slept. She was their joke but she had them all wrapped around her bony white finger, little did they know. Mounting the stairs she descended to the basement family room. It was set up just as they left it: trains, tv, molding floral print couch and reclining lounge chair. Underneath the big red wool rug, she pulled pieces of floor, exposing a locked door. Fitting the key carefully into the heavy lock the Haunted Housewife adjusted her heels, and opened up her real home. Down she twisted into the lighted hole where her family had multiplied like bunnies. Her husband sat at his work bench reading the paper, her boys were on the shag carpet with their Erector set, and the others . . well the others had come to live with them forever. Once her husband had said she should take up a hobby, now she was quite proud of her work. Taxidermy was a very considerate art after all.

By Emily Smith-Miller