Nine Ways in which Pac-Man Speaks to the Human Condition
forthcoming in Ilk; Revolver; A Clean, Well-Lighted Place; and Whiskey Island. She has a twin; he is not a poet. Illustration by Alex Fukui . Alex Fukui
The Cut
Shelley is a woman who writes best under pressure. Illustration by Alex Fukui. . alex fukui
Playboy Buddy Rose Knows How Much He Weighs
Elegies (Curbside Splendor 2014) Visit him at www.toddkaneko.com. Illustration by Alex Fukui. Alex Fukui
On the Repercussions of Divorce for Men
David Drury Before she left me, my ex-wife cast a spell that turned me into a mouse. When the shock of this spouse-to-mouse transition wore off, I realized I could still recall all the moves to Michael Jackson’s "Thriller," so of course the endorsement deals came rolling in. Sellers of fine chips and cheeses who air advertisements during prime-time sports broadcasts have made me a very rich and famous rodent. In the view of the public, I am likable and believable. Claims of past my past abuses fall on deaf ears. The public contends that I am the real victim here. The pussy is abundant, and smaller than ever. David Drury lives in Seattle, Washington. His fiction has been published in Best American Nonrequired Reading and read on NPR. He has been thrown out of every casino in Las Vegas. He turns other people's instagram pics into fables and fictions as the one and only @foldedshorts. Illustration by Alex Fukui. alex fukui
Review: Homesick by Jason Walz
comic by Jason Walz // review by Alex Fukui A lot of ink has been spilled on the topic of illness and loss. The theme is a universal, as we all eventually face the death of a loved one and therefore must come to identify with the experience. Like all of the important parts of life, people want to share their experiences with grief. Tackling stories of personal loss in storytelling is a difficult undertaking, but some comics on this topic are the highest regarded examples of the medium—think Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which is as much about the death of Spiegelman’s father and its impact on Spiegelman as it is about his father’s experiences during the Holocaust. The ways in which cartoonists have approached this topic are varied and richly nuanced, and each story speaks to the reader differently. Homesick, the first graphic novel of Minneapolis-based cartoonist Jason Walz, is one such story. A semi-autobiographical account of Walz’s experiences dealing with his mother’s cancer, it follows a long path of shock, panic, and aching nostalgia gradually through to a point of release, while conjuring images of cosmic loneliness and sweeping loss. Always engaging and heartfelt, the book’s imagery and the emotions it evokes become stronger as the story progresses. Walz made an effort to avoid other comic stories based on terminal illness while he was developing this book. I find this completely fair. Why try to compare these experiences to each other? It seems crude to say one artist’s pain is more provocative than another’s, and in this way Walz distills his experience rather than diluting it with notions of how this kind of book should work. The story leaps great distances between time and space and tends to emphasize how these distances affect the characters, especially the distance between Walz and his mother. After opening with a scene featuring an astronaut in orbit, the narrative slides to Earth where, while in Istanbul with his fiancee, Walz receives news of his mother’s cancer returning. From there, the reader is pitched into early memories from Walz’s childhood, when his mom protected him while he struggled through medical issues, the memories making it harder for him to not be able to be there for her. Later, dialogue between Walz and a student about the first man to orbit the earth and the lonely sound of his heartbeat picked up by a radio signal shifts the story spaceward again, tying the isolated astronaut—who reflects Jason’s anxiety—to the story. The astronaut bides his time away from Earth by making paper cranes, not unlike the author making art to deal with the same sense of distance from his mother. This emphasis on distance makes instances of immediacy and intimacy more striking, such as the close-ups andmedical shots, particularly sequences of cancer treatment paraphernalia, cross-sections of the tumor and of Jason’s heart during panic attacks, mirrored expressions of worry, and hands tangled together in support of their owners. These tightly observed sequences give us a solid recollection of Jason’s memories of the events of the story. The comic is illustrated in black and white, and the line work is evocative of Craig Thompson’s graphic novel work. The character design is reminiscent of more stoic books, such as Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, Chester Brown’s Louis Riel, and Frank King’s Gasoline Alley—blank eyes without pupils and lumpy figures that distance the reader from the scene they’re observing. Walz endeavors to match the quiet but intense line work that Thompson seems to glide through, and in many places the artwork shows his potential as a cartoonist. Walz will be launching and selling his book at Rain Taxi’s Twin Cities Book Fest on Saturday, October 13 at the State Fairgrounds in St. Paul. If you’re in town you should consider stopping by to check it out. Chris Ware, author of Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid in the World will also be there. And, of course, so will Paper Darts. Alex Fukui
The Psychiatrist
Lara Georgieff - All Rights Reserved to Lara Georgieff Illustrations by Alex Fukui Alex Fukui
Doggy-Dog World
alex fukui
We Live in the Furniture Store
appeared in Nomad, Lady Parts Zine, and the UNCW Randall Library 2016 Flash Fiction Anthology. Illustration by Alex Fukui. alex fukui
Migration
Garrett Biggs Four months after her mother set fire to a yellowing wedding dress and drove top-down to Florida, Liz Johnson began studying the mating patterns of hummingbirds, to the surprise of her husband who was expected to build a floral topiary on which the birds could mate. “I’m not getting rid of our furniture to move into an avian sex house,” he told Liz, but within the month their home smelled like lilac. Within the month, a flock of male hummingbirds were puffing their chests and inflating their throats and flapping their wings at such immeasurable speeds that the sound saturated their family room. According to Liz’s measurements, it took only four seconds for the birds to reach climax, but by the time they were finished it appeared that they had gone to some sort of war: microscopic feathers exploded across the room, hollow bones were bent against the floor, nectar and blood and bird semen lined the walls and stained the doors and it wasn’t long before her mother’s wedding album stood in the firing zone too. The next morning, the photos looked tarred and feathered. The apartment was still. Liz examined the hummingbirds and how they hovered in space. She listened to the frantic scream of their hearts beating thousands of times a minute. She waited a moment, put a finger to her wrist, and felt the echo of her own four chambers. The veins they spilled into. Garrett Biggs's work is published in CutBank, Necessary Fiction, and Big Lucks, among other journals. He is managing editor of The Adroit Journal and lives in Denver, Colorado. Illustration by Alex Fukui. alex fukui
Late at Night, After He’s Fallen Asleep
Mountain Review, Fiction Southeast, Hobart, and elsewhere. Illustrated by Alex Fukui. alex fukui
On Being a Whiter
Jeff Moscaritolo Did you always want to be a whiter? Not always. But from a young age I did have a “creative spark,” or so my parents tell me. First it was drawing, then I wanted to make video games. In high school I wanted to white fantasy. But then I got older and I went to college and I was introduced to Hemingway and Faulkner and O’Connor and all the greats, and slowly I began to realize: I wanted to white literature. Did your parents white? No. My father was in pharmaceuticals. My mother was an educator. She liked to white, but she never published. She would only white for fun. Or maybe to process the day’s events. You know, just to get her thoughts out. But no, she never considered herself a whiter. When did you think of yourself as a whiter? After publishing? No, actually. Even after publishing I didn’t believe I was a whiter. I still told people I was trying to be a whiter. Or I’d say, I like to white sometimes. Or, I white fiction. I had to make the conscious decision to start saying I’m a whiter when people asked what I did. Do people still ask? Now that you’re what Time magazine calls “The Great American Whiter.” Even if people know my whiting, they don’t know my face. People don’t really care about whiters anymore.   Oh, I’m not that famous. Even if people know my whiting, they don’t know my face. People don’t really care about whiters anymore. They never ask what I’ve whitten. I tell them I’m a whiter and they look confused and they ask if I white science fiction or if I white fantasy, and I have to stifle a sigh and say, No, I just white. Ha ha ha. Ha ha. But I’d like to move into some other areas. Sure. You’re a white whiter. This is true. Although sometimes you white about people who aren’t white. Yes. You’ve been criticized for this. I suppose. What do you have to say to your critics? Any critics? Critics who seem to think you should only white about white people. Well, obviously I can’t only white about white people. Frankly, I wouldn’t be much of a whiter if I did that. The whole point of whiting is to step outside yourself, to enter a vantage point where it doesn’t matter if you’re white. You’re a human being. And human beings white. Anyone can do it. White, black, purple, turquoise, whomever. If you have an imagination, you can white. I wouldn’t ask a person of color not to white about white people, and they shouldn’t ask the same of me. But is it your job to white someone else’s story? As soon as you begin inventing, you’re whiting someone else’s story. The stories are never yours. You white for others, not for yourself. But what if you get things wrong? What if you misrepresent experience in your whiting? Then I’m a bad whiter. It has nothing to do with being white. But what if you get things wrong? What if you misrepresent experience in your whiting?   Do you have any advice for young whiters out there? Keep whiting. White everyday. Get the whiting on the page. Don’t give up. You have to white to be a whiter, so white, white, white. Then delete what doesn’t work. Or, if you white with a pen, use White Out. Ha ha ha. Ha ha. Ha ha. But seriously, you have to develop a steadfastness to your whiting. Fix what doesn’t work, and then white some more. Trust the process. If you keep working at it, if you keep whiting, eventually, you’ll get it white. Jeff Moscaritolo holds an MFA from George Mason University. His fiction and other writings have been published in Indiana Review, Lincoln Journal Star, Carve. This is his third story with Paper Darts. He teaches at Doane College (soon to be Doane University) and lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he is working on a novel. Illustration by Alex Fukui. alex fukui
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/ Jess Zimmerman ILLUSTRATORS: Jazzmyn Coker / Andres Guzman / Alex Fukui / Meghan Irwin / Allegra
Contact
| Website | Instagram | Tumblr Alex Fukui Alex is a cartoonist currently residing in Minneapolis. When
When the South Wind Blows, Glass Shatters and Disappears Like Rain
Bailey Lewis A young girl’s body hurtles through a stationery store window at top speed. Head forward, arms tucked to sides, feet pointed neat behind, a human torpedo propelled streamline through the late afternoon haze. The sun on her white hair makes it shine metallic. Her point of origin, how she got from feet on the ground gravity to barreling through mid-air, is unclear. Our girl is eleven or twelve. Anything remarkable that has happened to her so far is because she was there when it happened to someone else. She was there when her mother saw the demon perched on the back of a chair in the guest bedroom. She was there when her brother ate an entire five-pound bag of dry rice and watched with him as his stomach expanded to the point they thought it would burst. Now the weirdness has found her, horizontal and several feet off the ground. Our girl and those watching, we will determine her flight path. A banker is hurrying along, late for a meeting after a bitter fight with his wife. On days like this, he keeps the image of the bank front in his mind as he strides the blocks away, tries not to think about how much concrete is left to cover. When he sees our girl come through the window, he freezes, slim frame anticipating. He doesn’t want to watch, but knows he can’t look away. His subconscious tries to calculate probabilities using rusty physics knowledge from his undergraduate days—with her speed, trajectory, location—what the outcome will likely be. He can only think of one likely result, but his conscious is unaware of the possibilities his subconscious is piling up. Our girl keeps momentum an exhilarating moment longer before a drop in altitude, a warning she can’t fly like this forever. Her heart pounds as the concrete zips below, a line of tape with a definite end. Struggling, she pulls her hand to her chest, but the wind whips it back in place and she falls. With a bounce and a thud, she thinks, she will drive into the dirt leaving furrows behind her, an airplane in a cartoon. Her chin will hit first and her teeth crack together, hard enough for her to imagine them crumbling out of her mouth. A doctor also in the crowd, watching the event. She’s rushing to respond to call when our girl enters the air, almost bowls her down. The doctor watches our girl’s progress forward, runs through the list of vitals she’ll check when our girl inevitably falls back to earth. Pulse, bones, contusions, eye focus, brain function. Next to those thoughts, in the back of her mind, the doctor takes a minute to marvel at the clothespin straightness, the calm forward motion of our girl’s body cutting through the wind. Our girl’s brother stands in front of the stationery store window, where he and his sister had been roughhousing the moment before. The large hole in the display glass is clean, not jagged, like someone shaped it with whatever tool would be right for the job. He traces his finger around the edges, slices skin on a sharp piece. Against the thick glass, his blood looks watered down. He remembers his fists around our girl’s arms, an upward jerk of his muscles, nothing more. No broken fragments scattered out on the street. It’s like the hole was already there and our girl just slipped right through. A disheveled man sees our girl motoring toward him from the other sidewalk and speeds up, tapping something from a case in his torn pocket. He replaces it next to a heavy flask, runs a hand through his grimy hair. He doesn’t want to stay and watch, wants to get far away as fast as possible. He knows about pain. Too much already. He slips into the alley and he’s gone. Our girl soars over the heads in the crowd gathered outside. Keeping arms tight at her sides and feet pointed straight back, she rises steady in a line, past a public school, a church, gaining altitude past skyscrapers, cityscape, hills, mountains, sky. Soon she is grazing the surface of the land, a bird searching for a meal as it skims the water. This is the up and the down, this is our ending ready or not. Our girl will be in the atmosphere, part of the weather. And she will fall. But when she does, it will be with the rain. Illustrations by Alex Fukui All rights reserved to Bailey Lewis
Sloth Complex
Katie Sisneros “Fear me, lowly sloths!” Gary says, though the words sound more like “aroohhroagoaruurrr.” You see, Gary is a sloth. Well, actually he’s a God, having rejected his inherent slothiness for loftier pursuits. Don’t ask him how he knows; he’s not sure. And you probably don't speak sloth. Few people do. But Gary knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he is destined to lord over his fellow sloths with infallible omnipotence, Quetzalcoatl reborn. However, Gary is unfamiliar with Mesoamerican mythology, so it is probably more accurate to say that Gary shall be the most powerful sloth to ever live in this particular tree. His name isn’t actually Gary, of course. It’s Weeyoo, like his father, and his father’s father. Besides, Gary is a ridiculous name for a sloth. But the humans call him Gary. At least that’s what the plaque says that’s nailed to the low-set railing that surrounds the Cecropia tree tucked in the corner of what Gary suspects might be a much larger building. Gary can only guess at this fact, since he can’t read or even see that far. But many people have pointed at it, then pointed at him, then said “Gary.” So, you know. Two and two. Gary spends his time dangling lazily among branches of waxy sweet-smelling leaves, curling his bottom lip up and pressing his tongue against the roof of his mouth to produce the hard guh sound that starts his name. Sloths have a difficult time with hard consonants. But if Gary is going to systematically eradicate his sloth brethren, he’s going to need a more intimidating name than Weeyoo. Like Gary. Gary reaches a curled hand above his head. A few minutes later he plucks a leaf from a branch, and buries it in his wiry fur where his thigh meets his belly. He flicks absentmindedly at his tiny sloth penis, since he’s in the neighborhood anyway. He unrolls his tongue downward like a party favor, but it’s too short. Gary wills it—wills both of them—to be longer. His eyes scan side to side to see if anyone noticed; it appears not. One by one, Gary takes leaves and hides them, or eats them, or just drops them and watches them flutter to the ground. His soul burns with the fires of a thousand supernovae, singeing his heart black as pitch. “Soon all the leaves will be gone, and you all shall wither and starve. Famine will wreak havoc on this tree—but probably not that one over there—and Gary your God will accept your sacrifices.” He smiles wide, his eyes droop. “My bloodlust cannot be satiated!” Gary screeches, then yawns. Two girls on the other side of the railing clap and giggle and point at him. He pays them no notice. “There will be no survivors to tell of my glorious reckoning!” He slowly lifts his arm and hopes the small children will still be watching when he eventually produces a full fist pump. Gary won’t mourn the deaths of the other sloths; nothing exhibits one’s divinity quite like remorselessly wiping out an entire localized population. It will be a few months before the leaves in his victims’ bellies digest, a few months before they realize no leaves remain on the tree. But Gary is patient. He digs out his pilfered leaf and nibbles on it, even though he hasn’t been hungry for days. I will consume your subsistence, and then I will consume you. Gary burps. From above, a fluorescent light flickers. Gary watches as one human shimmies across ceiling beams to replace the bulb, while another unclasps Gary’s hands and feet from his branch and repositions him in a new tree, with new sloths, just to the left. Gary lifts his face toward the light. “Ask not for me to save you, for there is no salvation,” Gary says to these slightly browner sloths who smell different. They turn their heads slowly toward him from their huddled mass on the other side of the tree, and then turn again and nestle back into each other’s arms. Gary’s eyes close as he imagines this tree, but not that other tree, alight with a raging hellfire while he dangles victoriously from the rafters and awaits his ascension to Valhalla. He chews his leaf. Katie Sisneros is a PhD candidate in English literature at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. She is a co-founder of The Tangential, a Minneapolis-based humor blog whose motto is "Don't be boring. Don't suck." but whose unofficial motto is "More whiskey, please." You can read her work in Future Cities, a short story collection published by The Tangential, as well as MPLSzine. All rights reserved to Katie Sisneros. Illustrated by Alex Fukui.
Where It Happened
NONFICTION Nichole Rued The woods behind his house, past the gray barn with a dirt floor. Inside there might have been an old basketball hoop. I only went in once or twice, because I remember thinking, this thing is going to collapse any second. Those woods in winter, next to water, a stream, maybe, or something large enough to freeze over. I wondered if it would crack, if we walked on it. He might have fallen through, once, his black snow pants blacker and freezing water around his ankles. The water wasn’t deep enough that you’d drown. Grandma and grandpa’s, downstairs, next to the closet and in the bathtub. Once in the woods there, past the sandpit and somewhere behind the chicken coop that’s now a deer stand. I wonder sometimes if the blood stump is still there, where my grandpa chopped chicken heads. We buried our dog Princess just nearby, with a simple cross marker that my father made. She had jumped out of the pickup bed and paralyzed her legs. Underwater, next to the paddle boat. We stood on the edge with our brothers to see how far we could tip the boat before we slid into the brisk, brown water. I wonder sometimes if the blood stump is still there, where my grandpa chopped chicken heads. Under the tree. The leaves were wet from the fall soil. The oranges, yellows, and reds bled together, covered the browning grass underneath. Under blankets. At night, on the floor, next to his brother. In the daytime, when his mother almost caught us. Always, in his room. One dry winter morning I woke up with caked, crunching blood under my nose. The pillow and white blanket, wet with it. I rolled over to the dry side and went back to sleep. In my closet that was really the attic, where I kept accessories for my American Girl doll and boxes of Beanie Babies. The roof slanted down in there—you could hit your head if you stood too tall. In the same closet, where, when we moved in, we found pictures of people in caskets. They were old, young, babies, even. I turned up music at night because it made me afraid the house was haunted. Outside that house, where we were chasing what must have been a weasel. His family was helping us move in and the ground was just beginning to thaw. The remaining clumps of snow bled outward as they shrank. In grandma’s rowboat on the lake, behind tall, green weeds. From there, you could only see the lake. He had caught a Northern that bit his finger when he took it off the hook and I had accidentally snagged his foot. He wore sandals, so it hooked and bled easy. Later, he would feel sad for a turtle he snagged. He thought it was a fish—it put up a good fight—but when he pulled it up to the boat it dangled in the air, legs flailing. Behind the camper, up at the lake. We overturned logs looking for bait. The worms wriggled away from us, back into the dirt and under the logs, where they thought they were safe. Inside that camper, in the morning, when everyone was sleeping, under the sleeping bag. Later, we sat next to the campfire with jackknives, sharpening sticks. I whittled one to a sharp point and pressed it to my finger, bled. I lampooned the stick into the water and started on another. His brother tripped and fell into the fire, and his mother ran to him, pulled him out, and yelled at him, as if it was his fault. Nichole Rued is an English Composition instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and Lakeland College. She recently completed her M.A. in Literary and Textual Studies from Bowling Green State University. Her works have been featured in Verse Wisconsin, Sheepshead Review, and other journals. Illustrations by Alex Fukui.
Where Are They Now
Harmony Neal King Adam—how boring, how nothing. Cringer has forgotten what it’s like not to feel fear. His hair comes out in mossy tufts when I try to comfort him during rainstorms. His body shakes, as it has since he was a kitten, but now his brittle bones are likely to fracture if I don’t calm him. My hands tremble now too. Once my father was gone and my own hair graying, the Sorceress compelled me to give the Power Sword to Prince Randor. I’ve not much left to do but putter around the grounds and listen to the complaints of peasants about the neighbor’s pig who digs up the acacia bushes. When news arrives that Skeletor is at it again, I reach for the sword that isn’t on my hip. Why is it that villains always outlive the hero? This is the ultimate triumph of evil over good. Evil never grows soft around the middle from too many bread puddings. Evil is a consuming passion. Evil does not cultivate the flowerbed or bounce a baby on its knee. Evil performs evil until the grave. Good passes on the responsibility of righteousness to the next generation, hands over the sword, and rests its bad knee, knowing the fight is eternal and must go on without him. I watch the storm with Cringer huddled beneath my knees. I could still do so much. If only I’d thought to ask my father how he gave it all up, how he contented himself with being an administrator when before he’d been a hero. I scratch Cringer, scattering clouds of green fur that alight on the rug. When the storm ends, I must tend to the calla lilies for Teela, who cannot bend like she used to (how she used to bend!). In such small ways, I make myself useful still. No child has been to Care-a-lot in two decades. We thought Kevin and Donna would be back, that they’d send their children, but no. The new children clamber in the aisles. They don’t notice us, high on the shelf, nostalgia for mothers who sometimes reach a tired arm and squeeze our bellies. We are gifts for Christmas, hugged then stuck in the bottoms of boxes, under beds, in the backs of closets by blackened banana peels and softball gloves. We no longer watch them ride bikes and play foursquare. They are much harder to see inside, lights flickering across their blue faces. The children are frozen in place. Professor Coldheart has won. We tried to save Kevin and Donna’s children who, for a moment, paused in the sun, eyes stuck to blue screens in their palms. We geared up our belly beams for an urgent Caring Mission. The children looked up when our loving stare enveloped them, but instead of embracing our fuzzy bellies, they ran screaming indoors. Donna took them to the doctor, and now when they come outside, they stumble as if dazed. Oh, the sweet children, how we miss them. We don’t know the lessons they learn now. Strumpets! Strumpets who already smell of glitter and sex, though smooth up top like little boys. They flaunt their training bras under low-cut shirts with phrases like “boy toy” etched across or intricately patterned silver butterflies, like tattoos, drawing the eyes to the nonexistent bosoms and up and across tiny necks, to rest on shoulders one could almost squeeze in a single palm. Already they’re leery of pies, wishing their wrists and waists to stay narrow. They will not touch dirt, cultivate a garden. They perch in front of mirrors, heating and combing their hair. They wind their ways through malls. I cannot tempt innocence from someone born knowing, a woman already, who in the womb considered her body a chunk of wood to whittle, a temple of desire where hungry-eyed men would bow and burn offerings. Whether it started with Brainy or Jokey is hard to smurf. Brainy had the bright idea that the Smurfs weren’t producing enough goods for export, which was smurfing us from being a contender in the global marketplace. He smurfed a treatise for how we should be more like the Americans, or at least the Chinese. Jokey’s mistake was to smurf Brainy’s rambling on the internet. The next thing we smurfed, the Americans came to smurf us from the totalitarian rule of Papa. They smurfed his hut, killing Papa, Smokey, and Philosopher Smurf. We had no weapons, so we didn’t smurf back. We could barely smurf what was happening, and without Papa there to guide us, we were seriously smurfed. They insisted we smurf free elections, but no one besides Brainy wanted to rule, so they talked Vanity into smurfing. We really smurfed Brainy by then, but Vanity was also not a smurfy candidate. With no real choice, we smurfed Vanity, hoping he would tell the Americans to smurf and stop smurfing Smurfette every night because we couldn’t smurf her anguished smurfs anymore. When Vanity won, Brainy declared the elections had been smurfed. Then the Americans smurfed that Gargamel was most fit to rule, as the only person in a thousand smurfmiles with any smurf of money and how to smurf it. Smurfs came up missing by the dozen until the UN smurfed an investigation. By then, Gargamel had already smurfed that living Smurfs who could grow and harvest and package Smurfberries were worth much more than a hundred Smurfs turned to gold. Satisfied that we were now smurfing the Americans with a steady stream of Smurfberries, the troops left, smurfing us with Gargamel as oversmurf. Azrael smurfs our ranks, slicing the face of any Smurf who doesn’t pluck berries fast enough. They took Harmony’s trumpet. They took Vanity’s mirror, but since he’d been scratched for stopping to smurf his reflection in a drop of dew, that was probably for the best. Brainy smurfs Gargamel’s army. He has a whip he smurfs on our backs when he smurfs the fields. He has smurfed Smurfette for his wife. Her hair is falling out in patches. She has smurfed three sons already. All of them smurf in the castle with Gargamel. The sons drink Smurfberry juice and occasionally smurf to the fields to smurf how capital is smurfed. Harmony Neal is the 2011-2013 fiction fellow at Emory University. Her work is forthcoming or has recently been published in Grist, Yemassee, New Letters, Ninth Letter, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Cold Mountain Review. She spends her spare time playing with her dog, Milkshake, and growing poets in her home. All rights reserved to Harmony Neal. Illustrations by Alex Fukui.
B-Movie
W. Todd Kaneko We can be teenagers again in 1985. You are a beautiful computer hacker riding her moped and infectious laugh to my house in Arlington, where I am a champion Ms. Pac-Man player with a pocketful of quarters. We will use my Tandy 1000 to dial into the Pentagon because we don’t know the difference between binary fission and love. I’ll accidentally launch a cluster of missiles at the USSR because we don’t fully understand that there is no difference between Inky, Blinky, and thermonuclear war. The FBI will take us into custody and call in the army to destroy everything. We’ll be saved when you persuade the President to let me have one last crack at a kill screen. As everyone watches those bombs spread their hot brand of death across the globe, we’ll make out while everyone remembers to forget we are in the room. B-Movie Weeks after the rest of the human race has been turned into zombies by fallout from biological warfare, I’m an army scientist holed up and running out of antivirus just outside Iowa City. You can be a sexy bowhunter whose body has built up an immunity to zombie disease. We will be exhausted after forty-five minutes of being pursued by ravenous monsters, after we witness your shitty ex-boyfriend get split like a wishbone by the undead. We’ll hightail it out to the cornfields where we’ll discover an abandoned army laboratory. We can try to radio for help, but all we’ll get are some test tubes and an old biology textbook. We’ll make out in the supply closet because we are still alive, and then we’ll create an antivirus from your blood because there is no army to come and destroy anything. We will be in love in the end, because it will be just you with arrows dipped in medicine, and me hacking at zombies with a machete. B-Movie It will be 1977 in Oregon, and we will be on a blind date at the county fair. It will be late May and you are a newspaper reporter working on a story about runaway teens. I am an amateur stand-up comedian trying to win a giant stuffed beaver for you at the Monkey Darts. You won’t laugh at my jokes and no one believes in your theory about disappearing homeless kids in the Portland area until I see that fat clown swallow a raggedy boy whole, wispy sideburns and all. We run to find a security guard but are intercepted by a mob of hungry clowns pouring out of a dusty Volkswagen Beetle. They chase us past the Moon Skate, through the Haunted Barnyard, and around the Food Circus, chomping on unwary families as they go. There won’t be time to call the army in to obliterate anything. We can hide in the House of Broken Mirrors where I will tell you jokes to settle your nerves. You still won’t laugh, and then a heavy clown cackles until he explodes, a blossom of white face paint and guts. I tell every joke I know, and you stab every red bulbous nose with your #2 pencil. There will be plenty of time for us to make out after the last of those painted cannibals have been ruptured, after we are safe outside the fairground gates. You’ll say knock knock. I’ll say who’s there? We’ll hold that kiss until the credits roll. B-Movie That summer, I will be a recently fired airline pilot looking for a job in Los Angeles, and you will be a hot amateur meteorologist wearing a tight leather jacket. The rest of the world will refuse to believe your peculiar forecasts until that lady on roller skates gets vaporized by a flying saucer. The governor will distract the Martians with mobs of homeless people, sacrifices to save movie stars, but when those giant robots attack Universal Studios, when the orphanages are turned into Martian cafeterias, the army will be called in to destroy everything. Heavy artillery is no match for aircraft blooming like jellyfish. When I witness a platoon of Martians shy away from a busted fire hydrant, you’ll get the idea to seed the clouds with dry ice. We’ll steal an airplane and load the sky with rain. We’ll make out after the fire department opens hose on the invaders. We’ll survive, you with my jacket over your shoulder, me with your lipstick on my collar, and all that slime left to drain into the sewers and out to sea. B-Movie Your father is a politician and amateur astronomer living in Scottsdale and you are a police detective who never looks at the sky. It will be Autumn in the desert and when horse corpses are found scattered by the dozen throughout Maricopa County, I am a Mexican wrestler with a silver mask and a hot convertible. We’ll investigate those massive cadavers left whole and drained of blood on the outskirts of Phoenix. Your father blames bad immigration laws until those aliens swarm your stable—then he blames the Democrats. When his neighbors call the cops, I am mistaken for an illegal so we fight our way to the Superstition Mountains where the creatures prowl for javelinas and stray hikers. Your father would insist that someone should call in the army to destroy everything, but you notice that we can see Mars tonight. They descend upon us in their glittery body suits and teeth like razors, a battle royale to save all our necks. In the end, it will be me holding the leader in a full nelson and you piercing his heart with a stake. We stand together at the top of a mountain while the saguaros struggle to bloom. Your father hates the way that I hold you close to my bare chest, the way that you call me hombre and run your fingers along the features of my mask. You call me conquistador of the galaxy, world champion of el corazon. Speak louder now, because your father still calls me other things—an exotic invader, a monster strayed too far from home. All rights reserved to W. Todd Kaneko. Illustration by Alex Fukui.
The Tenant
Lara Ehrlich He rifles through my garbage. He steals my newspaper and dozes in my Magnolia tree. He helps himself to the cat’s food, dipping his paws into the dish, his ears twitching. Last night, he stood off with a raccoon. When it dug its fingers into the food, the bear popped its head off. It was only that once, though. He was staking his claim. I keep still on my inflatable raft as he performs laps in the above-ground pool. He sprawls in my lounge chair with his belly to the sun. We sunbathe in companionable silence. When the pool is covered, he comes to my door. I keep the screen locked now that Frank is gone. The bear looks at me with heavy-lidded eyes shadowed with soft, damp fur. I unlock the screen and let him in. The bear looks at me with heavy-lidded eyes shadowed with soft, damp fur. He follows my tour with polite interest and particularly likes the den, where Frank used to watch football and read the paper. He climbs into Frank’s easy chair, and when I show him how it reclines, he snuffles with pleasure. It’s good to hear the game downstairs again while I make supper. I prepare salmon fillets with lemon and dill and serve them on TV trays so we can eat together in the den. He sniffs the fish, his claws clinking against the plate, and polishes it off in two bites. As I clear his tray, he roars. I drop to the carpet and play dead. When nothing happens, I look up to find him watching me with a quizzical expression. His team lost, is all. As I clear his tray, he roars. I drop to the carpet and play dead. I sleep well now. If a thief or a rapist broke in, the bear would pop his head off. We try all kinds of fish. He likes the bottom-feeders best. They taste a bit like dirt, but I defer to his preference. Frank didn’t like fish. He had a meat and potato palate. The bear will eat anything I make with relish. I learn to bake, poach, fry, batter, sear, and soufflé. My bear’s coat is getting nice and glossy. We eat by candlelight. New magazines arrive: Field & Stream, Ranger Rick, seed catalogues, The New Yorker. He keeps the room tidy. I’ve never seen him do his business, though I’ve heard the den toilet flush. He sleeps in the easy chair rolled up in my grandmother’s afghan with his nose sticking out. Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I lie on the couch that still smells like Frank, and talk to my bear. I tell him what I’m reading these days. I tell him what’s happening in the Middle East. I tell him how Frank and I met in college, when I’d planned to be a journalist. How I followed Frank here and never went to the Middle East, and now I struggle to make small talk at the grocery store. People’s eyes glaze over when I talk. Frank was the only one who listened. Sometimes, when I look over, my bear has fallen asleep. He sleeps in the easy chair rolled up in my grandmother’s afghan with his nose sticking out. The snow rises against the windows. It rises so high it covers the above-ground pool. We have everything we need right here. The den is dark and full of bear breath. The meaty smell is comforting in its way. Sometimes, I sit on the floor at my bear’s paws, and he rests his chin on my head. Heat rolls off him in wooly waves. His ears twitch in his sleep. The trees sparkle as the snow slips off, leaving their branches raw. I dip my feet into a puddle of sunlight spreading across the bedroom floor. Warm breath nuzzles the back of my neck, and claws curve along my clavicles. The bed sags under his weight. He looks at me with a hungry gleam in his eyes. The meaty smell is comforting in its way. I make pancakes, eggs, bacon, hash browns, and coffee. When my bear is finished, he lumbers outside. I do the dishes, a little resentful that he doesn’t help. It’s still cold for the pool, but I fill it anyway and watch as he performs laps in the ice blue water. He reads the paper in the lounge chair and trims out articles with his claws. He dozes in my Magnolia tree and rifles through my garbage. He steals a jacket from my neighbor’s laundry line and helps himself to the cat’s food. He does not come back inside. I leave the screen door unlocked, just in case. He reads the paper in the lounge chair and trims out articles with his claws. There’s a knock, but it’s not my bear. The man on the porch asks about this spring we’re having, and when I ask him if he’s been following the refugee crisis, he says he’ll just get to the point. The bear has listed me as a reference. He seems like a quiet and respectful bear, and he has passed the credit check. In my experience, would I recommend him as a tenant? My bear could have stayed with me as long as he wanted. But maybe he’s tired of my company. Maybe he’d prefer stainless steel appliances. Or room for a family. The idea that he might have a family makes me lonely. I could say the bear is untidy and has a temper, and maybe then he’ll come home. Maybe he’s tired of my company. Maybe he’d prefer stainless steel appliances. His snout pokes around the pool, and he looks at me with damp eyes. He is wearing Frank’s tie. The bear is pleasant enough, I say. He has never eaten anyone or upset my garbage cans. He is careful not to puncture the pool with his claws, so I think he would be respectful of hardwood floors. I do not tell the man about the raccoon. I keep the screen door locked now, but I stock up on bottom-feeders just in case. As the snow rises past my windows again, I watch television wrapped in my grandmother’s afghan that still smells like bear. When I lose power, I pile all the blankets and towels onto the bed and sleep under them. It’s warm, but I can’t breathe. Lara Ehrlich’s writing appears or is forthcoming in The Normal School, River Styx, Boston Literary Magazine, and The Hairpin, among others. She is working on a short story collection entitled News From a Country Never Visited, and by day she is an editor at Boston University. Illustrated by Alex Fukui.
Grandma Kat in Outer Space
Jeffrey Henebury Grandma Kat had recently taken to sliding down the handrails of our family’s staircases. She’d clutch a photo of our late beloved Grandpa Carl, hike up her favorite black dress to avoid getting caught on the railing, and shout “Weeeeee!” as she picked up speed and shot down to earth. This was dangerous enough behavior in the family’s small children, who bounced back from injuries with scraped knees and lessons learned; in an eighty-seven-year-old woman, it was a one-sided courtship with death. She had seven daughters, all working single mothers taking care of her twelve granddaughters; the men in our family tended to die young or slink away in the night. We didn’t have time to watch her ourselves and we didn’t have money to pay others of our human disposition. So, when they opened the first nursing home on the moon and asked for volunteer residents, we signed our matriarch up. She’d be a golden year’s guinea pig in exchange for free rent, helping prove to the world that since Florida had fallen into the ocean, the moon was a perfectly acceptable place for a retirement community. “We’re not signing her up, we’re signing her away,” Aunt Dory said. But Aunt Dory is prone to dramatics and had no better ideas to offer. The flight from Minnesota to the moon took ten hours; Grandma Kat had never left the state before. She cried the whole way and threw peanuts at the retreating butts of her stewards. The nuts floated up to the ceiling as they left earth’s gravity behind. What’s the sound of guilt when life becomes easier with a loved one gone? Our homes used to be loud. Grandma Kat had caused more sleepless nights than the family could count. She drank, she sang, she twirled across the attic to Fred Astaire records at midnight, cursing her feet for slowing down with age as she tap-danced in moonlight and fuzzy slippers. Her one-woman parties had been a major factor in us shipping her off to live amongst the robot caretakers, or “companionbots,” in the lunar home’s parlance; but now that she was gone the family’s houses were too quiet, and guilt wormed its way into our ears during the night, a soft buzzing somehow louder than she’d ever been. We texted each other that it couldn’t be helped, it was all for the best. But at night, alone and sleepless, we’d whisper, “What have we done?” “What have we done?” “How are you doing?” Aunt Christine asked, but instead of answering, Grandma would walk over to the nearest male resident and flirt outrageously. The men would just mumble for Help and Home and Family, too depressed or far gone to enjoy her comely presence, but Grandma laughed like their moans were playful come-ons. She’d sit in the lap of their wheelchairs and point out the thousands of stars visible above their giant dome. They’d almost seem like teenagers. But her paramours kept drifting off into snores, and the homesick weeping of other residents ruined the mood. “How’s the food?” Cousin Mary asked, only to get ignored; Grandma Kat would grab a stick, nod to her robot, and say, “Let’s go alligator poking.” Her robot would advise against this but dutifully follow along. She’d suit up and moonwalk over to the golf dome: three holes ringed by murky swamp, installed to give residents an authentic pre-flood Florida feel. She’d enter and find the biggest, meanest-looking gator the shallows had to offer. Then she’d poke it between the eyes with her stick. Her companionbot would waddle up to protect her from the alligator’s wrath. For a four-foot-tall penguin it was unbelievably strong, and many were the space gator we watched fly through the air, wrestled down by the robot and thrown back into the swampy depths. Grandma always applauded after the nastiest fights. “How can you just abandon us?” I asked her, after a month of one-sided video chats. I was seven at the time and angry with everyone, certain that all of this could have somehow been avoided—if only my mother and aunts had been more patient or we had all lived together in one big house instead of scattered across shit towns forty miles distant. These things just happen, my mother always said whenever she found me watching Grandma Kat on the phone and crying onto the screen. But these things seemed to happen just because we let them happen, over and over. We let the distances grow. We were like astronauts watching a crewmate fall untethered off her ship, and even before she’d floated out of sight, we’d all started talking about how much we missed her, what a great woman she’d been. It wasn’t over yet, I thought. We just needed to reach out our hands, pull her back. I saw Grandma Kat’s mouth twitch in high resolution. She turned to her companionbot and said, “They abandon me up here, and now they want to know why I abandon them.” She gave her robot a kick. “Only thing that’s stuck by me is this guy. Too stupid to ditch.” Our family told her that this wasn’t true, just because she was very far away didn’t mean we’d abandoned her, we loved her and wanted to remain part of her life. “How’d you expect this to end?” Grandma asked. She didn’t seem to know where the camera was; instead of talking to the robot’s head she was yelling at its belly, and all we could see from our angle was the top of her head, the long, graying ringlets we’d all nestled into at some time or another when grandmotherly hugs were needed. “You want me to say everything’s great? That the food’s inventive, the companionship superb? You want everything to be great so you don’t have to feel guilty for shipping me off?” We took this in. Finally, Aunt Mae offered, “We just want you to be happy?” Grandma snorted. She grabbed her gator-poking stick and told her companionbot to get ready. We watched as she suited up and stepped out. Nothing moved out there, just a sea of gray, lifeless rock. Hers was the only colony for thousands of miles, as far away from us as I could possibly imagine her to be.   Jeff Henebury is a fiction writer currently pursuing an MFA at the Helen Zell Writers' Program at the University of Michigan. A Massachusetts native and Minnesotan transplant, he hopes to visit every M-state at least once. Illustrated by Alex Fukui.
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