Monthly Archives: January 2016

‘Pictures from a Family Album Used as a Tarot Deck’ by Art Metzger

Take down the album. No one will see. No one comes up here, only us. Slide it out from the shelf. Handle it carefully, beware of fragility. It’s a heavy album, it goes back a long time. Sit down on the floor, right here in front of the mirror and open the album. We both need to see. Now choose pictures for the deck. Choose with care – twenty-one – seven times three. Seven for luck (good or bad?). Twenty-one cards, the Major Arcana. We don’t need the Minor. There’s no future to be read here. Shuffle the twenty-one and lay them out (though some already have been). Twenty-one cards for the deck. And the Fool.

Four is the Emperor’s number – Father, husband, cripple, drunk. He reigns from his wheeled chair, lungs shot, leg gone. His only love, his beer, at his side. Always there. Always.

Card of the Oracle, Card Seven. Seven for luck (again), luck for the Emperor, his wheeled chair a guarantee of servitude. Service at the ring of a bell, always at his left hand, bottle at his right. His chair a chariot to end his journeying, no more back and forth -refrigerator, table; refrigerator, table – all done for him now when the bell rings. Others must listen, others must fetch, others must serve.

The Tower of Destruction is a bottle of beer. It’s in every picture of Dear Old Dad. The Emperor. It is bottomless, infinite, ever-present. But it would be, it is his first and only love.

Mother of the Emperor, seated at the head of her dining room table with her sons – four of them. She rules with an iron hand and they obey without question. At least three of them do. I heard her say once, “I hope I outlive them all, otherwise who will take care of them?” As usual, she got her wish, one by one went into the ground, all save the Emperor, who never listened to anyone. Too bad. I took care of it.

This card shows a bedroom fit for deposed royalty. Not much light in the room, the windows are heavily curtained. There are two separate beds, plenty of room between. They were together once, certainly, but no more. Two beds, neatly made, but dusty, disused. A few cobwebs hang overhead. The Emperor drowses in his Chariot while his wife is asleep on the sofa where she can hear his bell and answer.

Let the mother be the Sun. Let her bring light to hide the darkness for a little while. Let her hide the pain. For a little while. She will let it return. She will let it fill everything, do anything. She serves the darkness, called by the bell. My mother, nursemaid to the Emperor.

Justice is blind. Glass eyes staring from a life-size doll. She looks to be six or seven, prettily dressed. “I always wanted a little girl, but all I got was you. Now this is all I have.” How real is she? You raise her dress, curious and disappointed. You wonder if she bleeds, one or two tiny cuts under the dress. No one will know. Lips don’t move when she cries “Mommy”. Eyes don’t cry when silence answers.

Here’s a kitchen shot, done in black and white. A family kitchen. In the background, to one side, is a kitchen sink into which beer can be poured to anger the Emperor. Hurry, grab it when he’s not looking. He moves too slowly, he can’t stop you. Pour it sweetly swirling foaming down the drain while he shouts and cusses, but can’t get up.

Whose picture is this? There’s more than one face here. Fallen angel. Angel of ambition. Angel of subtlety. Angel of lies. Many faces and Our Father. Our Father who art Our Father. He does bad things. I do things.

Look, it’s my birthday party! Five years old. Our tiny kitchen is full of relatives: mother, aunts, and cousins who have been given no choice. You were there, do you remember? There was the birthday cake that we never understood, a three-tiered cake with two tiny dolls on top – a man and a woman. We weren’t sure if it was a wedding cake left at the bakery or just something mom thought was cute (she had odd taste). After the party the dolls disappeared till a few years later when I found them in a drawer in Mom’s dresser, hidden under panties and bras. Remember how we took the man-doll, tied a cord tight around its neck and hung it on the wall of our bedroom, behind the bed where no one could see. No one saw us dress it in bits of the Emperor’s clothing. No one heard us smash its legs with a hammer. Just to see if it worked.

Judgment can be several pictures: A three-swing set where only one child plays, a table with only one place, a single bed. A final chat, just you and I, alone.

The World is in four notebooks hidden in a behind the chair where Death will lie. Four notebooks filled with the cramped scratchings of madness punctuated with paranoia. Hundreds of pages filled with Fool’s words, Fool’s thoughts, Fool’s life. Four notebooks, opened by no one but us, read by no one but us, at least not yet. Four volumes of a closed world – self-perpetuating. They contain everything, all the answers to questions yet to be asked. Everything included save a final note.

Death is a note and a bottle of pills. They’re not in the picture yet, you have to imagine them even as I dream of them. They will be right there on the floor, next to the chair, surrounded by three walls of books and a closed door, mirrored so we can watch. When the picture changes the bottle will be open, empty, lying on its side in a pool of broken glass and spilled water. But the note will be dry, written neatly at first, then sloppy, pen catching the slur of words. But not yet. Only the empty chair, the books, and the Fool rushing in.

Hey, here I am again! I’m coming in the front door with my first report card of the fifth grade. I’m ten years old. Old enough to hate school. Old enough to hate. Mom is waiting by the door, smiling, happy until she opens the card. She grabs me then and pushes me in to the front closet. “Just stay there until your father gets home, we’ll see what he thinks of this.” She slams the door, leaving me in the dark, buried in the stifling heat of stored winter coats. F’s! F for Fool! F for Fuck-up! F is for Father.

Mom took this picture, and several more, of the next-door neighbor’s whelp, clicking away whenever she could. Leaving for school, coming home, playing, riding his bike. He was her hero. Why couldn’t I be more like him – a question she plagued me with every day. She would grab me, shake me, and demand to know why she was cursed with me. Look at his grades, she would say. Look at his friends. Look at his life. I have to admit, she had a point.

There is no sparkle of satin and velvet here. No magic wand. Only a black and white picture of a girl. The photo is wallet-size, often handled – an obvious favorite. The girl herself means little now, though she was nice to us once, it was quick and over long ago. But her name – her name stays in my mind. Her name is a mantra, a name to conjure with.

Here’s a photo of Cousin Bob! Remember him? Big, loud, not real bright. Strong. He was always coming to visit, always staying overnight. Mom used to watch him for extra pennies here and there always spent for beer. Beer to keep things calm, keep things quiet. She made me share everything with Bob – my toys, my comics, and more. Everything. She let him do whatever he wanted, take whatever he wanted. More than she knew. Bob was bigger, Bob was stronger. What could I do? I couldn’t tell what he did in the garage, in the basement, other places. All he had to do was deny it and she’d take his side, she always did. So I never told. I waited. No one knows where Bob is now. He was my teacher. He was surprised.

An old picture, eight by ten, black and white. Taken in a church. It’s the priest who married Mom and Dad, gave them his blessing. And they say I’m the Fool.

Ah, a picture of the Moon. How romantic. Who took it, I wonder? What special night was it, long ago? The picture is so old it’s yellowed. Even in the protection of the album it’s beginning to curl at the corners. A black and white picture, and yet the Moon is yellow. Does the Moon have a gender? There’s a Man in the Moon, but what about the Moon? If the Moon is a woman is she maid or madam? Madam is mad either way. Moon of madness. Moon of tides, bleeding. How romantic.

We’ve seen this girl before, you and I. She is The Magician. She’s in a new pose in this picture, and she’s nameless. Just a body in a different shot – a newer picture – color. It’s still glossy, less handled. She made it clear I couldn’t have her, but she let me get the camera while she mocked me. That’s all I’d ever have, she said. See the look of surprise on her face. She was the second, after Bob. This picture is meant to be worshiped, to sacrifice to. Her picture, her beauty. Her panic. The Priestess.

And here’s one of you. I bet you didn’t know I still had this, did you? My semblable, mon frere. It’s like a mirror. Just like me, but better. You stand there, you do what I do, but better, always better. Too good for me, really. You keep always to yourself except when you whisper to me, telling me things. And now here you are. You must be wondering why I’m letting you see all this as I finish it. Have I made you my confessor? Or are you in trouble? Serious trouble, I’d say. Bad luck. Seven years. Now you know. It’s smash for you and pills for me and ever the twain shall meet. Are you ready? It’s time. To go.

Copyright 2016 by Art Metzger. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Perfect Day’ by Andrew Bradford

It was the last gig you played before the Day of Quitting. Realized later that the sound of that was reminiscent of the time three months before when you said the same damn thing, but this can be different. Can. Be. Different.

Out there wailing like a cornered bobcat, the lights making sweat ooze off you like a baby’s hurting tears. Out there in the glow of it all, man it feels like you can live about a billion years. But what did the doc tell you just a month ago? How he shook his head as he looked at your arms and legs, then filled the script because you slipped him a few hundred extra. Not to worry, doctor, you ain’t seen the real me. The real me is stronger than any fucking drug. Gonna show you who has willpower! This guy! Yeah, this guy.

Not many know just how lonely you are. Put on a good face, don’t you? Say the right things and give a wink when someone asks a question; like you know a joke but you ain’t gonna share it with anyone else. All just a fucking slo-mo tango kinda ritual you weave among the usual spells that follow the famous. Step aside, all, there’s a star coming through, and he has no time for chitchat. Hell, most of time this one can hardly speak anyway.

It’s just past three in the morning and you’re sitting in a candlelit room with guns and knives on the coffee table opposite the sofa where you pull up another fix and pound that spike deep. Feel it groove…feel it leave you cool and so damn perfect. Till the world starts to melt away and the weight of all responsibility rolls off you and out the door. Gotta rehearse the set for the show tomorrow, but that’s light years away now. Now is just us. Now is what it feels like in your spine as every molecule finally relaxes and you learn how to really let go.

Cancel the show, you mumble to your manager. Show is off! Show is off! Repeat it a few million times to yourself like it’s some mantra that is gonna stave off the hunger building in you. Grab the bottle, get some relief with a few tablets. Might just make it to the next show. Never know what kinda comeback this one has in him. He’s proved them all wrong before.

Just look at you! Making that new day shine bright in the dark of the hotel room. Not gonna need anything for a long time but you and your friends there on the table: Little thin rubber strap, thin hypo, bottle cap, glassine envelope. Got the whole world right fucking here! Who needs more than this? Not this guy! Not. This. Guy.

Manager on the line, shrieking about it all going to hell. Saying he quits. Man, shit! You quit years ago. Haven’t been able to protect me since I signed that contract years back. I care if you quit? Nope. Not at all. Go! Be gone!

Not a whit of worry for weeks until she drops by and you let her in. Listen when she says the thing in her belly is yours. Oh, fuck! You need this about as much as you need a hammer against your temple. Just kill me already! A baby! Shit, man. Babies don’t need to try and raise babies. You are looking at a very very bad potential daddy, you tell her. She just starts crying, so you make the promises and send her off with a few folded bills.

It’s all gonna work out somehow. Fill that thing up and find that right spot just between your toes. All gonna be peachy keen in a minute or two. Doesn’t matter what they say, long as you don’t have to face all their stares, their words, their horrible feelings.

Don’t have to feel a damn thing except what you choose to.

What. You. Choose.

Laughing as you sit back and the warm pulls you into a blanket of skin. This is one perfect day. Best day yet. Proved them all wrong again.

Copyright 2016 by Andrew Bradford. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Along Some Final Edge’ by Andrew Bradford

She moves slowly, her steps silent as muffled cries

It wasn’t a promising moment for the Kid; he could see a future failing

Whatever you feel comfortable doing,

is the thing you will not be asked to do

Over yonder in the roomy corner of the mindful awakeness of late afternoon,

one might share a moment of tenderness that flees like a scared insect

Shows her his magic move and wonders how he will ever explain,

the lack of mystery in who he truly is

Beliefs like that take hold in the fetid imagination that festers in the dark silence

Until the most littered tracks of what once was real,

fade to decaying rap sheets of crimes committed out of bloody whimpers

Line creeps forward until it can clearly be seen

That the calling has been nothing more than parroted chatter from a distant eon

Off it all glides

The night reforms around the fading embers of life

Copyright 2016 by Andrew Bradford. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Music Is Forbidden’ by Marty Townsend

She sat on the edge of the bed, cradling the flute she was unable to play, longing to hear the sweet sounds of its music once again. But she couldn’t…

Music is forbidden.

She could barely remember how long she had been in this place. Each day blending together as they went about their assigned chores, did their studies, and then had their quiet time before supper. Every day she spent her quiet time sitting on her bed cradling her flute, wishing that she could remember her life before the day of the bombs.

She remembered the day of the bombs.

She had been outside when the explosions rumbled through. She remembered seeing the wind, blowing across the fields like a wall, as she dived into the ditch to avoid it. She felt the heat, but the water in the ditch cooled her and kept her skin from searing off in the fiery blast.

She remembered climbing slowly out of the ditch and seeing everything flattened. The trees were all toppled, as if they had just decided to take a nap in the middle of the day. THE HOUSE! She saw the house – or what was left of it – and immediately realized that her parents had been inside the house. She ran the quarter mile across the field, crying, clutching her flute with white-knuckled fear as she ran.

She remembered looking for her parents in the crumpled remains of their farmhouse. She remembered finding them, clutching one another as they were crushed under the debris from the shattered building. She remembered trying to pull them free of the remains of their home. The weight was too much for her small 12-year-old body. Her tiny hands could not grip the large pieces to make them move. They wouldn’t answer her, though she cried their names and pleaded with them to awaken.

She was alone. She remembers, as nightfall came, realizing that her parents were dead and she was alone.

That first night was the worst. She managed to find some blankets and pull them free of the ruined house. She curled up on the ground near what had been the back porch and cried herself to sleep hugging her flute. An exhausted sleep that thankfully kept her from dreaming – or having nightmares of the day she wished was not real.

The flute was the only thing from her life that remained whole. The shattered remnants of everything she held near and dear lay strewn about her in a flattened pile. More tears came to her eyes as she tried to figure out what to do. She was alone. She had nothing but her flute.

She had to move. She knew that. She gathered her blankets, dragging them along behind her as she started off down the road toward the nearest neighbor. It was a long walk. She finally arrived, only to find the house in the same flattened condition as her own home. There were no living people around.

She continued walking down the road, knowing that eventually she would come to the town where they used to shop and where she was in the fourth grade at school. She walked and walked. She lost track of the time. Her flute kept her company and she talked to it as if it were alive, pretending that it answered her. The entire landscape was flat. The trees were flat. The fences were flat. The houses and barns were flat. The crops were flat. Everything. Was. Just. Flat.

She walked for days, sleeping each night curled in her blankets and hugging her flute.

She remembers him waking her gently as she curled into her blankets hiding her flute. He spoke gently, asking her if she was alone. He asked if she was hungry and offered her something brown and wrinkly. He called it jerky, but she had never seen such a thing. He showed her how to take a bite of the hard substance and chew it. She slowly reached out and took a small piece. It was salty, but tasted good and she had been really hungry.

His name was Paul and he was all alone too. He offered to help her. She wasn’t sure, but she knew it was probably better than being alone. He helped her fold her blankets into little packs they could carry on their backs. And so together they walked. She doesn’t remember exactly when, but at some point her little hand found its way into his big, strong hand and they walked.

At night they slept, curled up together under her blankets and she felt safe for the first time since the day of the bombs.

They walked. They talked. They were always moving. Always seeking but never finding other people.

They scavenged through rubble, eventually finding a back pack, some socks, and other clothing that Paul said would come in handy. They found dry food mixes and canned stuff Paul said was food.

The days blended together as they walked. Paul always managed to find food for them somehow. He kept his word and took care of her. They had each other and both knew they would be okay as long as they stayed together.

Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. They stopped counting the days. They laughed together and cried together. They walked. Each time they came to a town or city they searched in vain for other people, but found none. They scavenged and stocked up on what they could carry. The world seemed deserted. The smell of rotting bodies had long since disappeared and they only found skeletons on their forays.

Paul thought they had travelled for about two years when they finally found live people. It was a settlement, surrounded by a huge fence, with a locked gate. They banged on the gate, not really expecting an answer.

She remembered the day they got there.

They were brought into the compound and were sent to talk with the Elders. This is where they learned what had happened on the day of the bombs. The Elders explained that music had caused a chain reaction that exploded the nuclear warheads of bombs stored underground throughout the country. The resultant explosions had flattened everything, turning the country into the barren wasteland that they had walked through. Most of the people had died during the explosions. Some had died of radiation sickness afterward. No one knew why some had survived with no signs of sickness. The one thing they did know was that music had caused the devastation.

Music is forbidden.

She was allowed to keep her flute, but she had to promise never to raise it to her lips. She promised to never play a note.

She kept her flute in her room and held it any time she was in the safety of her room. She kept her promise not to lift the instrument to her lips. She would try to remember her life before the day of the bombs. She would get small snippets of memories. The music – she always had her music. She could no longer remember what her parents had looked like alive. She only remembered their dead, lifeless bodies, trapped in the rubble of their house on the day of the bombs.

As the years passed, she tried to remember the music. She thought if she could only remember the music, she would remember her life before the day of the bombs. She sat quietly in her dorm before supper each day concentrating hard on the music, trying to remember. But she couldn’t play her flute.

Music is forbidden.

She concentrated each day, trying to remember her life before the day of the bombs. One day she hesitantly raised the flute to her lips for the first time in years. Feeling the cool metal against her chin brought her a flicker of a memory. She did not play the flute, but she held it there against her chin as memories slowly crept back into her head.

She saw a younger version of herself dancing through a field, playing the flute and happy. She saw trees, and birds, and flowers. Finally! After all these years, she had unlocked the memories she had sought. The memories flickered across the walls of her dorm like a movie. She smiled as the memories played around her room. Birds landed on her desk and a bee buzzed playfully around her head. She moved the flute away from her chin and the memories faded, replaced by the stark whiteness of her room.

Each day after that she held the flute against her chin and remembered. She saw her parents, alive in her mind, laughing and tapping their feet as she played the flute and danced for them. She saw them, sitting on the back porch of their house, rocking in their matching chairs. But she dared not play a note.

Music is forbidden.

She raised the flute to her chin. She imagined herself playing the flute. The walls of her dorm began melting away. This was a new sensation. The walls peeled away and were replaced by trees and flowers and the fields of her youth. She heard the beautiful music of her past. She began to dance around the room. The bed and desk melted away, replaced with her childhood home. She danced and played her flute as her parents once again watched from the back porch. They sat, alive in her mind, in their matching rocking chairs, tapping their feet and smiling at her silly dancing.

Music is forbidden.

Suddenly a door materialized in the landscape and several men rushed across the field of her dream, grabbing at her. They grabbed her flute as she stood, bewildered, trying to find her parents. But the house was gone. The fields and trees were gone. The walls of her dorm were back. And she was surrounded by angry men. They had something in their hands.

Was it some kind of coat? It was white. But the sleeves – the sleeves were too long. And there were belts on it. She was confused. What had happened? Why were they attacking her? Why had they taken her flute? It was hers. The beautiful music was hers. She needed her flute to get back to her past.

They wrestled her to the floor and they placed her in the jacket with the long sleeves. They wrapped the belts around her back and buckled them. She had no use of her hands. She needed her hands to play her flute. She needed her hands to play the music that took her to her past, to a happier time…

Music is forbidden.

Copyright 2016 by Marty Townsend. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Elementary Particles’ by Andrew Bradford

Toward the end of the day, they set off

Shrugging off the weight of a night’s painful torment

Maybe it was Noon, or maybe it was midnight somewhere in the world

Lost control of it all many eons ago, now all I know for sure is uncertainty and logic

Just after writing this, I found a critical error,

in the way of longing after years of feeling only stone

Such a disgusting story, they said, then proceeded to repeat it verbatim

When it was all done, he sighed and mumbled,

Hope there was enough love there to make a mark

Opened the letter and took a deep breath before daring to read

Envelope ripped the sun into gashing wounds that moaned with horrible pain

Accordingly, we were all late for the final leg of the daily due

No more evidence to collect, case has been sealed forever

Some like to say the civilized are so damn modern

Strange how it all winds up being for nothing when you count the change

Copyright 2015 by Andrew Bradford. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘The Ghost Of An Autumn Long Past’ by Gloria Christie

I dreaded passing anywhere near it. But of course, I must, because it stood between me and my one-room school. It was The Tree That Would Never Die. The dreaded tree was a lone charred guard, a recalcitrant survivor of lightning that stood silent in the center of a field.

My dad tried to burn the deadened tree down – twice. Planting and harvesting hay would have been easier. But The Tree seemed to feed on the fire. And come summer when the field surrounded it with purple alfalfa blossoms, The Tree always shot up sparse green starts.

Other than that, this school thing was panning out. The day before Halloween, I wore a black dress with little witches and ghosts on it to school, one my Aunt Mary had sewn. And on Halloween everyone would dress up in costumes created with clothes on hand and creativity, for we had never heard of ready-made ones.

But first I had to take my little sister down to The Tree That Wouldn’t Die and collect some fungus that grew freely on limbs it cast off. My sister was visiting school with me for Halloween, and we were going to do a special crafts project that involved fungus.

I dreaded going down to The Tree, especially because the day was already fading by the time I got home from school. And twilight had hit by the time we finished and were back at the house. Unfortunately I left my mother’s kitchen scissors at the tree. She made us go back, for surely the melting morning frost would do them no good.

We raced across the field before night claimed us. And just as my hand reached for the scissors, an eerie sound froze us in place. I was so terrified, I couldn’t move – for the first and only time in my life. Paused in place, we were easy prey for The Tree. Suddenly adrenaline kicked in. I grabbed the scissors with one hand and my little sister with the other and we flew home.

The next day in full costume, we bobbed for apples and drank homemade cider. And during crafts, my little sister managed to spill a can of varnish in her hair. I have no idea how we ever got it out.

Halloween night came, and we piled into a hay-filled wagon. It was the night where monsters hid in the shadows and zombies stirred in mausoleums. At each farmhouse we all shouted, “Trick or treat!” And smiling neighbors filled our paper bags with popcorn balls, made-from-scratch cookies and more apples.

It was so cold I could see my breath, but we were bundled warm. And as we headed back to the school, as few magical snowflakes floated down upon our cherry-red cheeks.

These days, I do the haunting. I haunt a store that has returned from the dead this past August. I Love A Mystery, a niche bookstore with blood dripping down its awnings, was starving to death financially. The big box stores have sucked the life out of independently owned stores of all sorts. And E-books have done their damage.

We patrons of I Love A Mystery were grieving her passing after over 11 years of life, cringing as she sold off pieces of herself at fire sale prices. A bookshelf here. An antiquated game of “Clue” there.

Then at the last minute, like The Tree That Wouldn’t Die, the store resuscitated herself with a new business strategy and the support of many dedicated patrons. Just in time for Halloween.

Copyright 2015 by Gloria Christie. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.