Attempting Bamboozlement by Jonathan Persinger

At 8 p.m. or so on Feburary 13th, I flagged down a Stop & Shop stock boy with a bad haircut and asked, “What do you buy on Valentine’s Day for someone who doesn’t love you anymore?”

The hipster-haired young man identified by his name-tacky-tag as Hayden looked at me with sunken-ship eyes, incredulous yet uninterested. “Um,” he said, “that’s a trick question?”

I said, holding a cardboard heart full of truffles in one hand and a terrifying teddy in the other, “Why would I trick you?”

Hayden told me, “I don’t know,” and I believed him in the most implicit way.

“You don’t know what?” I pressed, stepping closer to the grocery boy, catching the questioning eye of a passing-by mid-forties mess and the babbling brook of children radiating around the cart she probably called a buggy. “You don’t know why I would trick you, or you don’t know what I should buy?”

“Neither,” he said, and he beamed, so glad to have gotten something right.

“Why not?” I held up the heart of chocolates, waving the damn thing in Hayden’s direction, attempting bamboozlement. “You’ve got a girlfriend, Hayden? You’ve got someone? You buy them a heart with little chocolates inside and there aren’t enough chocolates inside and she keeps biting into them and not liking the flavor, so you’ve got to eat all of those chocolates, and then you’ve gotta log all those calories, and the next day it snows too much in mid-February and they close the gym? Is that the story, Hayden?”

Hayden said, “Um.”

Beyond Hayden, in the vague store-space where I stared to avoid looking at his vacant-of-emerging-intelligence mouth, a familiar face with unfamiliar hair passed by our shared seasonal aisle and distracted me all over the place. I shoved the bear, Bronson, into Hayden’s chest. With two clumsy hands he clutched the creature to his person. Abandoning my cart, I escaped in warm pursuit of a big-banged platinum blonde from another part of my life.

She crept her way out of Aisle 9 Pet Food, Pet Toys, Pet Supplies, and Laundry Detergent just as I arrived, ever avoiding me, like in the old days, before grocery store visits at 8 p.m. in the snow. No big mess, she moved slow, weighed down by the cart she probably called a cart and perhaps some dog food, though I couldn’t picture her with a dog.

“Hey!” I yelled in the bread aisle. She moved faster.

“Yo!” I shouted in the aisle where they keep the paper products, towels and plates and toilet.

“Gloria!” I bellowed among the frozen food, between the breakfast section and the vegetarian options.

Gloria stopped, turned, didn’t smile, full lips hanging open, that one tooth still somewhat questionable. She wore thick eyeshadow and lipstick and a long, brown coat with big rustic buttons and I couldn’t see the contents of her cart but pictured them to be a divine window into her soul and the three years which intervened between my college graduation and the February 13th during which I screamed wild at a confused youth named Hayden.

“Gloria!” I said at a more civilized volume, crossing the physical gap between us and wishing I hadn’t thrown aside that box of chocolates. “You’re at Stop & Shop! You’re stopping, you’re shopping.”

She nodded, face still less than enthused. “Cyril,” she said with a distinct lack of an exclamation point, “you’re at Stop & Shop. After all these years, the world continues to astound.”

I could’ve kissed the girl, but settled for guessing the flavor of her lipstick. My mind went wondering if lipstick came in flavors at all, and I resolved to ask Anna about it later that night, or during our Valentine’s date.

“There it is,” I told her, pointing upward with my enthusiastic pointer, unsure what the gesture meant or conveyed. “That wit I missed. Gloria, Gloria, viva la Gloria. How’s tricks? How’s life? How are the dogs?”

She relaxed somewhat, but kept a noticeable amount of tension lodged in her hunching shoulders. “Tricks are for children and magicians,” she said, swinging her cart around to put the jangling contraption between us, then leaning on the handlebar. “Life is a theoretical concept, and the dogs are, surely, not owned by me, who owns no dogs.”

“Cat, then,” I said, and leaned on the opposite end of cart with my elbows, hoping she considered this an invasion of personal space. “You have a cat, two cats, three cats, you never really returned my calls and it made me feel bad about the way I am.”

Gloria’s shape, too, took the form of a lean-forward over the cart, and more and more the two of us became the kind of people all shoppers and retail workers and humans hate, those who take up half an aisle for the purposes of an unmoving, banal conversation. “A teacher’s assistant is not required to return personal calls, only those related to academic matters, and, even then, only during the semester. And perhaps, Cyril, you should feel bad about the way you are, though I doubt you do, considering.”

“Considering?” I said, narrowing my eyes for no reason, scrunching up my face. “Considering my shirt? My shoes? My lack of cologne or my audacity to call you out, I’m pretty sure we could’ve been in love, Gloria, or my haircut, because I think that looks pretty much okay?”

She picked at one fingernail with another, an old habit. “As I’ve told you in multiple Christmas cards, I do not think we were ever, nor will we ever be, in love.” She crossed one leg behind another, legs to die or kill or do extra credit for, and I regretted wearing a jacket, because grocery stores can never maintain a reasonable temperature for a place so entrenched in the business of walking around.

“Yeah,” I said, and tried my best to be chalant but with the common prefix, “well, I threw those cards away, and then I took out the garbage and I think they ended up at a dump somewhere, so, hey, when did you dye your hair, I liked it black, and talk to you next Christmas.”

“My boyfriend likes blondes,” she said, and grinned in a manner most imperfect. “He’s seven feet tall, teaches martial arts, rescues stray cats and repairs elevators for a living.”

“Good,” I said, wondering what Hansel—no, Hayden—was up to, “great, grand, wonderful. Are you giving him a Nobel Peace Prize for Valentine’s Day? Because, clearly, he’s very deserving of one.”

Gloria leaned closer still. “Cyril, seriously, all jokes aside,” she said, but let the sentence hang.

“Like I said,” I told her, “never mistake my refuge in audacity for mere jest.” I couldn’t quite remember if I had said any such thing.

“Are you doing alright?” Gloria asked, and put a hand on one of mine, and looked like a teacher. “Is there some I should call? What do they have you on these days?”

“Ah, Gloria,” I said, jerking my hand back, full of regret and hunger and a loneliness deep. “I’m sorry. I have to go. I’ve got to buy flowers for the girl who’s going to break up with me, but maybe, after all that, we can go out to dinner.”

“Whatever you say,” Gloria told me, turning to look at the TV dinners, and I doubt I ever saw the woman again.

The bear and chocolates together cost less than twenty dollars, so I used my debit card and forgot the PIN number on purpose a few times and clogged up the cash register real good and embarrassed the hell out of Jayden, my cashier, and his nice haircut. In the parking lot, I presented the unbeating organ full of chocolates to a pretty young thing walking to her car. Her boyfriend, after some provocation, dislodged one of my teeth. At home, I gave the bear to Anna and forgot its name. She said, “Oh, thanks,” and I fell asleep watching Netflix, my evening of audacity, as always, exhausting.

Jonathan Persinger is the editor of Remarkable Doorways (@RemarkDoorways). His work has appeared in Cracked, The Avalon Literary Review, Twilight Times, Quail Bell Magazine, and Wild Violet.

The Forest At Night by S. Kay

Dark Forest
Mist floats through the forest while flashlights bob in the distance, tiny alien craft, jiggling stars, until they extinguish, not at camp.

Shelter
A pile of shivering skinny angles hides under a wet tarp in the bramble, fearing forest predators less than the men in the city.

Hypervigilant
Sounds from the trees, with a whiff of salty wind. Insomniac birds. Disturbed burrowers. The crack of branches, rhythmically breaking.

Dread
Leaves and feathers fall from fog. Icy rain coats her, while she expects the last crimson pounce will fall from heavy steps.

S. Kay’s book of sci-fi microfiction is forthcoming from theNewerYork Press in 2015. You can follow her work on Twitter or Tumblr.

Mary Faces Reality by Steven Stam

At sixteen, Mary’s butcher knife sought to spew a potential assailant’s blood, her cellphone to announce and capture her sexuality one photo at a time. When she turned eighteen, her twelve year old silver Accord served as an escape pod from parental torment, plowing through imaginary municipal barriers, over hills, and down red clay roads. No matter how far Mary drove, no matter how often, she failed to evade the ear worms of her father’s voice, his grating commands. At twenty and drunk, she wanted to trim roadside wild flowers with a stolen nine iron. Each swing slow and lopping, like her dad hitting a drive after his tenth Saturday morning beer while uttering misogynistic blabber, Happier than a two dicked dog, he’d say, and so did she as she tried to smack the petals into cars. Now, at twenty-six and pregnant, she only wanted to seem sane enough to nurture her child.

 

Steven Stam is English Teacher, Writer, and Track/Cross Country coach from Jacksonville, Florida. Steven has a MA in English Literature from the University of North Florida and a BA in English from the University of Florida. He writes primarily flash fiction, believing the model fits modern society’s desire for instant gratification. His work can be found in Fiction Southeast, Gravel Magazine, the East Jasmine Review, and the Rappahannock Review, among others. You can Follow Steven on Twitter HERE.

Another Mall Shooting by Angela Maracle

It had been five minutes since the last round of gun fire. Tambra breathed shallowly, concentrating to slow her heartbeat. Any noise she made might incite detection, any movement – death. She opened her eyes, lashes brushing against the carpet. From her position behind the counter, she had a partial view of the shoe store. Beyond, the stretch of visible mall appeared empty, but she wouldn’t risk getting up yet; it was safer to wait until police came.

A woman’s hefty legs sprawled a few feet away. One foot modeled a glittery red sandal….the other was bare. A sneaker display hid her upper body. Tambra had been handing her the second shoe when chaos erupted outside the store…running, screaming, a hail of bullets. She’d thrown the sandal and dove behind the counter. The customer hadn’t been as lucky.

Her phone vibrated with a text alert and she gingerly pulled it from her pocket. Slowly, slowly, she brought it to her face. It was her boss, Pauline, who had gone to the food court for coffees just before the incident. She was alive!

Are you okay Tam?

She texted back with trembling fingers. Yes. You? Is it bad out there?

Pretty bad. Any dead people in the store?

Tambra flinched at Pauline’s word choice. One customer, I think.

Shit. Blood on the rug?

Tambra didn’t reply. It sounded like Pauline was in shock. Footsteps echoed in the mall, coming closer, and she curled up tight, hiding her face. If she never saw her husband again she hoped he knew how much she loved him.

“Is anyone here?” a woman’s voice called.

The shooter had definitely been male, so Tambra raised her head and waved. She didn’t dare speak.

The woman hurried in, joining her behind the counter. “You’ve got a dead fat woman in your store.”

“What?”

“A customer down, like a beached porpoise.”

“Uh….that’s…”

“Haven’t heard any shots for a while, not sure what’s going on. I work at the hair salon three stores down. It’s a mess in there, so looks like we’ll have the weekend off. Thank God, I need a break.”

Tambra inched away until her feet touched the wall. “There are victims in the salon?”

“Yeah, staff and customers. All dead, or on their way. Hell of a way to get a mini vacation, but I’ll take it.”

“Are….are you all right?”

“Yeah, I dropped the hair dryer and ran like a rat shot in the ass…completely around the mall and back here. Can’t believe how many people got ripped up…it’s crazy. Feel sorry for the custodians.”

She wanted to tell the woman to go away. Her stomach knotted uncomfortably. Maybe shock was a common reaction after witnessing excessive violence. “Is there anyone injured out there that needs help?”

“Probably. Saw a few squirming. Not my problem though, right?”

Tambra sat up and squeezed back against the wall, putting as much distance between her and the woman as possible. She dialed 911 on her phone.

“Who are you calling?”

“Police.”

“I’m sure someone else has already done that. Damn, it’s quiet. Wonder where the shooter is? Hope he gets someone else instead of us.”

The phone slipped from her fingers and she fought back nausea. “What’s wrong with you?”

The woman stood up. “Nothing, why? I’m going back to the salon, get my car keys and get out of here.”

“What about the police? They’ll want to ask you questions. And the shooter…he could be out there….”

“We’d hear him.” She skirted around the counter and Tambra waited to hear her heels clicking on the mall floor. A loud popping sound erupted, followed by a triumphant shout.

“Who else wants a piece of this?” a man yelled.

The phone vibrated and she reached for it, shaking. It was Pauline again.

Crap. How am I supposed to get a coffee when the cashier’s dead? Lol. Hiding in the washroom now. Got someone’s blood on my new skirt.

It couldn’t be Pauline. It had to be someone else with her phone.

Are you there Tam? I should’ve stolen some donuts before I took off. Lol Check my Tweets.

Silence, dense and tactile, weighed down on her. Twenty minutes passed and her muscles protested their immobility.

More gunfire exploded, far off, like fireworks in a neighboring city. How many people would die in this act of violence? Cautious footsteps sounded outside the store and then softened as someone stepped in on the carpet. She strained, listening, and a man stepped around the counter, gun drawn.

“Police.”

She screamed, covering her face with her hands.

“Ma’am, it’s all right. It’s law enforcement. Get up, and put your hands on your head please.”

She stood, legs quivering, and the officer patted her down.

“Did you catch the guy?” Her voice wavered.

“We took the shooter down, and believe he was acting alone. We’re looking for witnesses.

“There must be a lot of people wounded.”

“Yeah, we’ll get to them. First things first. Come with me please.”

She followed him out of the store, sparing a quick glance at the customer she’d been selling red sandals to. “Are ambulances coming?”

“Probably. Had to happen at lunch time, right? Should’ve at least brought my sandwich with me, I’m starving.”

‘I must be dead,’ Tambra thought. ‘Or seriously injured and in a coma. No one would really act like this.’ She pinched the back of her wrist, and it stung. A curious smell of smoke and copper filled her nostrils and she wrinkled her nose in protest.

The woman from the hair salon hung face first over a bench, her feet dangling a few inches from the floor. A small, scarlet puddle darkened the tile beneath her head.

“Oh my God.”

The officer laughed. “Get used to it, there’s lots more.”

And there was. She started straight ahead, but horrors lurked in her peripheral vision…families, elderly couples, employees, all strewn on the floor in frightening montages. A man crawled out of a clothing store dragging his legs behind him, seemingly unaware that one side of his face flapped against his shoulder.

“Help me.”

The cop kept walking. “Ambulance is on its way buddy.”

Tambra rushed toward the man, but the officer grabbed her arm. “Sorry, all survivors are being taken to the restaurant. “

“But that man needs help…”

“He’ll get it.”

She swiped at tears and followed him to the restaurant where a waitress unlocked the sliding door to let them in. Cheers erupted from a small group of people at the bar.

“You made it,” a girl shouted. “Good job.”

“My…..my boss Pauline is out there, in the washroom by the food court.”

“She’ll be fine,” a guy behind the bar said. “Gunman’s dead now. What’ll it be? Drinks are on the house today.”

“Selfie!” the waitress announced, holding up her camera. “Hey, I should make a Facebook group for us. We can call it ‘Living Legends’ or something.”

Tambra studied the animated faces. Didn’t they realize what was going on? “There are dead kids out there. Are you all crazy?”

The cop touched her shoulder. “Calm down. Have a drink. Everyone needs to chill here for a while until we get a chance to ask questions.”

The waitress let him out, and Tambra turned back to face the survivors. Sirens escalated in the distance and she hoped to God it was ambulances.

The bartender set a glass of ice water on the bar and indicated she should take it. “It’s a good day to be alive,” he said. “The guy behind me in the bank got shot square in head and pinned me under him when he fell. Not cool. Yeah, I don’t actually work here, but what the heck right? I’ll give it a go. Now we just need a volunteer to fry up some burgers in the kitchen.”

‘Don’t go back there,” the waitress said. “Blood everywhere. I slipped in it. It took me five minutes to get it off my hands.”

Tambra found a table in the corner farthest from the bar. Everyone ignored her and proceeded to behave as though they were celebrating someone’s birthday.

She texted Pauline. Police are here. Gunman is down. Survivors are at the restaurant.

Thanks. Will head up there. Can’t believe all the people asking for help. Wow. Help yourself, right?

The waitress let Pauline in when she knocked, and Tambra scrunched down in her seat, trying to be invisible. A few minutes later several policemen arrived.

“Okay, people, we need to take statements quickly. I think I can speak for all my men when I say we just want to wrap this up and go home.”

She slipped over to the bar, and Pauline turned, drink in hand. “There you are girl! Sorry I couldn’t bring you back a coffee.” She laughed, and ran a crimson hand through her hair.

“Are…are the paramedics here?” Tambra asked.

“Yeah,” one of the cops said. “Poor bastards. Would’ve been easier if people had just died, but now they gotta deal with all these screaming, torn up victims. Not fun.”

“What is wrong with you? With everybody? There has just been a massive mall shooting. Are you on drugs or something? Do you even care? You are the most selfish, heartless people I have ever met in my life.”

They stared at her, eyes dull, and she realized she would say no more. She was afraid. After giving her statement an officer escorted her from the restaurant, and then outside. Reporters pushed their mics over police barriers. A hoard of people milled behind them, snapping photos on their phones.

“Did you see anyone actually get shot?” a reporter asked. “What’s the aftermath like? Can you detail the scene inside?”

“How soon do you think the public will be allowed in to shop?”

“Did you witness any looting? I would think that would be the first thing on everyone’s mind…what can we grab and get away with?”

One reporter shoved her mic directly under Tambra’s nose. “Were there dead children?”

She ran to her car, fumbled the key in the lock and fell in. More survivors emerged from the mall, and her pursuers scrambled back to the entrance. The phone vibrated….her husband. Finally, someone sane in the midst of insanity.

“Hello?”

“Honey, are you okay? I just heard the news.”

She exhaled, clinging to the safe familiarity of his voice. “Yes. In shock though. It was terrifying…”

He cut her off. “Okay, great. Hey, there’s nothing to eat here. Can you stop and pick something up for dinner on the way home?”

Angela Maracle is a dance studio owner and mother of two. She was placed second in the flash fiction Chest Writing Contest, sponsored by Mike C. Paulu and is currently one of six finalists shortlisted for the 2014 short story contest at defenestration.net. She has been published in Microfiction Monday and will be appearing in the September issue of The Rejected Writer. You can follow Angela on Twitter.

man with eyes like a robbed liquor store by Scherezade Siobhan

he will always try to touch you
like he is 8 and pawing
his busted toy soldiers
peeking from a silverfish-scuttle
inside a shoe-box sitting terrified
behind a stack of wrapping
paper and forgotten family albums
he will always dream of you
in shapes smaller than
the tiniest airplanes he crashed
under the tepee of his bedsheets
he will draw your face out from a crowd
– you are his bittersweet, flashlight sun,
when he pulls you close you bruise
your ears against his heartdrum
it sounds akin to a chorus of trashcans
played softly at the hands of early
morning homeless shoveling
dregs of false steps for a loaf
of bread that still crackles a little
his happiness is a piece of cinnamon
toast, a bicycle ride to a lake draped in a poncho of the last snow
he tells you how he thinks his
whole life has been two dogs
breathless in a barking spell
he tells you of the graves he dug
beneath the clay of his own wrists
he looks at you and remembers
a childhood he never had
this is why every night you lie
next to him and watch the phantoms
of those two dogs slowly disappear
inside an unstirred sleep
this is why when he puts his hand
on your chest, you learn that love
is a moment of inflection at which
the vastness of air turns
into smallness of breath
and how much you need to live
and how quickly you could die

and desire is more than a waiting room

between departures

Scherezade Siobhan is a Pushcart Prize nominee for poetry and her work has been published in over two dozen magazines including The Newer York, Danse Macabre, Whalesound, Looseleaf Tea, Mixedfruit, Bluestem Magazine and Gutter Eloquence etcetra.

Cantaloupe by Greg Letellier

Years after ol’ Georgie boy finally went through with it, you find yourself roaming around his house with a soft-footed step so as not to scare yourself by the wheezing floors as you penetrate the rooms with a kind of feline steadiness you never possessed when you and George were seven and you used to dash down the halls into the parlor because the bulb in your room gave out and your father left John Carpenter’s Halloween II playing in his bedroom while he left to check on the pastrami and sautéed onions in pans on the stove and all you saw, the image that stuck with you, was Michael Myers’ bone-white face taking over the whole screen like a close-up photo of the moon. That face stayed with you for a long time. When you first masturbated, tiny pearls of your own come nestled in the dark blue shower mat, you saw his pale, prosthetic skin staring up at you. When you graduated, and Grandma L came to see you, you saw his knife glinting in the May sun. You were once too drunk in the haze of a college Halloween party, and across the room, Michael Myers in a short dress tilted his beer bottle at you and said, “You’re in my Chem class, right?” Memories are assholes in the way that they haunt and give hope and scare and repair then scare again just as you think you have forgotten about how when your parents found ol’ Georgie dangling and bloated like fleshy chandelier your mother dropped the paper bag of groceries and cried and your father cried and scrambled into the kitchen to find a note, but only found the grocery list that they left behind, remembering that the one item they forgot (because he knew they forgot something) was the cantaloupe. Can’t: the inability to do. Ah: a sigh of breath after a gulp of lemonade. Lope: to run in long, bounding strides. Those three syllables are murderous in how they remind you of George: how he never liked to eat that glossy dusk-toned melon and how he never had a sudden marriage because he never really fell in love because he was always too paralyzed with anxiety while you left home for a life of roaming which didn’t stop even at the white door as you make your way through into his house and realize that it is you not him that haunts and the realtor follows you and makes a [click click click] sound with his pen and tells you about the house although you aren’t listening because you know it is a house heavy with absence and silence and dread and the only thing that makes it alive is the [thump thump thump] of your boots against the wooden stairs as you make your way back down through the house to the white door and out onto the lawn where the realtor like a shadow follows you to your car and smiles at you and asks you the final question he will ever ask you and you turn and look at his skull and whisper, “I’m not interested.”

Greg Letellier is the author of the short story collection Vacationland. His stories, essays, and poems are featured or forthcoming in DUM DUM ZINE, Bartleby Snopes, Extract(s), Poydras Review, Luna Luna, and elsewhere. 

Follow Greg on Twitter.

Meditations of an Aging Whore by Shannon Barber

“Call me a pig.”

I hate this guy.

He is just like every other shit fuck dudebro I see.

“You are a filthy fucking pig.”

At least the dirty panties he has on are cute.

“I hate your pink porcine shit fuck face honkey.”

I boot him in his lace covered ass. Now I’m on autopilot, a few more swats, epithets and he’ll jizz in his drawers and I will be 700 bucks in the pink.

Later, after he’s gone, I have the hotel room to myself. I’ll order some Chinese food, balance the books and zone out on cable TV.

Two servings of extra spicy pepper beef, one beer and two reality shows later I’m ready.

Two more White guilt fueled domme sessions, one sissy, three more Bad Mommy scenes and I’ll be able to breathe for a couple of months.

I’m so close.

With my rent paid up for another few months by Daddy Moneybags I’ll be golden and in new shoes.

When I was just a little hard scrabble ho, I wish I hadn’t been so afraid of the weirdos with deep pockets.

Oh well, shit in one hand wish in the other.

Sometimes when I clock my ever downward heading tits and the start of crow’s feet around my eyes I worry.

Am I too old?

Or, am I just getting to be perfect?

Before I can drown in self-pity my phone chirps.

Daddy Moneybags texts me begging for titty pictures and letting me know he dropped a hefty deposit into my account to “help with my lady problems” – his code for PMS and my need for meat and new shoes.

My worries about aging and my own marketability dissolve away as I peel off my jammies to reward my patron.

For right now, I’m okay. I’m safe. I’m perfect.

Shannon Barber is an author from Seattle, Washington where she lives with her partner and a small collection of oddities. She is an avid writer, reader and blogger. She has a new self care book out and can also be spotted at Luna Luna Magazine, on Facebook and Twitter.