FOR H by Rehan Qayoom

 

Years of research and a line of verse
The paper detritus is left behind
My pipe is full of butt-ends from the grate
Fit them all in anywhere

How much do you want of me? How much can you take?
What do I have to do to win your emotions, or am I beyond redemption?
אם אין אני לי, מי לי; וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני; ואם לא עכשיו, אימת*

This city fell a long time ago
Taken (not by impercipiently asking octogenarians)
By Blairian barbarians
Search now in vain for her lime green bowers
Try to convince yourself they do not know
Try not to cough in case it notices

This city is too big for you
Its current crop is rotten to the core
Its streets are being cleared of the remains
So then why this constant need for companionship?
I cannot say
But if you had stuck out your thumb, yes
You would have stopped any of the 3 trains to Paris that have just passed you by

Hold my hand
“Where are we going?”
I do not know whether to bask in the delight of these magic circles you form so much
Or the inclement weatherful trees or you
And yes, that also explains the twitch
He wants you to hold his hands too
My élan vital, timeless, true
Precambrian remembrancer, alphabetic osmosis

Come gentle sleep to wile my woes away
Severely swaying, saying

“Where are you staying?”
“I’m coming over” and the rest of it
I do not seek my image in the mist of eternal burning

 

* ‘If not me, who? If not now, when?’ Rabbi Hillel. Pirkei Avot 1.

 

 

REHAN QAYOOM is a poet of English and Urdu, editor, translator and archivist, educated at Birkbeck College, University of London. He has featured in numerous literary publications and performed his work internationally.  He is the author of About Time and other books.

HOW I GOT THROUGH by Matthew Borczon

 

How I got through
I remember
the chest
wounds small
in front
but with
huge exit
sites
I remember
a marine
scolding his
crying wife
when he
told her
his foot
was blown
off on
a phone
I had to
take him
outside
to use
I remember
the manic
soldier asking
gleefully
for coffee
the night
he was
set to
leave for
Germany
and a
psych hospital
I remember
angry marines
sitting guard
at the
foot of
detainees
who would
spit and
swear they
would see
us all
die
and then
eventually cry
real tears
and swear
they were
innocent
or forced
or just
tired of
all the
fighting
I remember
the texture
of skin
grafts
and bloody
stumps that
needed
re wrapped
and infiltrated
IV lines
and pain pumps
on marines
who never
woke up
long enough
to say
anything
I remember
sandstorms
and dysentery
and doxycycline
pills and
the smell
of flesh
burning
and human
feces and
sweat
and bleach
and death
and near
death
and lives
ripped into
pieces
and sewn
back together
but I
do not
remember
any patients
name
and that
is how
I survived.

 

 

MATTHEW BORCZON is a nurse and navy sailor from Erie, Pa. He writes about his time in Afghanistan from 2010-11 and all he saw there. His work has been in many small press journals including Big Hammer, Busted Dharma, Dissident Voice, and Dead Snakes, as well as others. His chapbook A clock of human bones will be published by the Yellow Chair Review in early 2016.

RUNNING by Sloan Thomas

My uncle was a high school track star. Around here that makes him a reservation legend. I go to the same high school as my uncle did, as my mother did, and all my cousins do, but I’m no track star and I don’t fool myself into thinking I’ll ever be one.

We still have a track team here, but it’s nothing to brag about. Basketball is our new tradition—not just for the school—but for the whole town. We see those athletes on the court and we pray that maybe someday one of them will make it out of here and show the world that we are here.

People still talk about my uncle. They say things like, “Remember Bobby Riley? Man he could run!” They talk about him like he is dead or not quiet like he is dead, but like the Bobby Riley who ran track and the Bobby Riley up the hill selling deer jerky and over-priced beer from his porch ain’t the same person. Maybe it’s easier that way, easier for everyone including my uncle. Better to pretend that the boy who ran track is gone.

The first time I remember seeing my uncle run the whole tribe was there, bleachers over-flowing. There were so many of us we formed a solid wall.

Then the race began and everyone had his or her eyes on my uncle or on the idea of my uncle, because he ran so fast he was just a blur. He ran so fast he crossed the finish line even before the sound of the starting shot stopped resonating in the air.

All that year we prayed; little prayers sent up to the sky when everyday tragedies occurred. When Nellie Crow went brain dead at the age of 17 after huffing gasoline, we prayed my uncle would make it to the Olympics. When Edgar Timmons got arrested in the next town over for robbing the mini mart—even though all they found on him was a candy bar—we prayed that my uncle would make it to the Olympics. When the salmon ran that year and there was less than the year before, with hungry stomachs we prayed that Bobby Riley would make it to the Olympics. And when the lumber company continued to log our land illegally and we were so angry we could hardly speak we sent up silent prayers that Bobby Riley would make it to the Olympics.

One late summer day Uncle took me to the city, about an hour’s drive from our reservation. When we got there, we went to the movies and got ice cream. He also bought me a pair of running shoes: dark blue with a yellow stripe. I wore my new running shoes on the way home. I curled my feet inside them and felt my legs tingling.

I asked my uncle, “How come you can run so fast?”

He was silent for a minute. I thought maybe he wasn’t going to answer.

Then he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Maybe if I run fast enough, run long enough maybe none of us will ever have to run again.”

I didn’t say anything after that. I didn’t really understand what he had told me.

As we got about halfway home we caught up to a car ahead of us swerving in and out of its lane. My Uncle nudged his head at the car. “Drunk.”

He pulled back a little, keeping a safe distance between us and the car until we could pass, but as we rounded a curve the car went off the side of the road. My uncle pulled over and told me to wait, then got out and ran off toward the car.

Later the police would come with looks and questions for my uncle that sounded more like accusations. Later the drunk man would say he thought the Indian was trying to rob him and he had a permit for his gun. Later the doctors would save my uncle’s life, but not his knee. Later, I would get home, take off my new running shoes, with some of my uncle’s blood still on them, put them back in the box and put the box onto shelf deep in my closet.

I never tried out for track. I haven’t given anyone hope I ever will, but sometimes late at night my legs wake me up. They talk to me. They tell me they want to run. They tell me they talk to the muscles of my ancestors and they are jealous. They tell me my ancestor’s muscles are warriors and they want to be warriors too. I tell them to be quiet. I roll over and try to go back to sleep, but they say they will never be quiet, never shut-up until I am running.

One night they will wake me and I will listen to them. I will get out of bed, put on my shoes and walk outside. I will step off my porch and run. I will run so fast my feet will never touch the ground. I will run so fast the wind won’t be able to catch me. I will run so fast I’ll make the earth reverse, go back in time to before my uncle was shot, to before my tribe gave up hope, to before the salmon stopped running. I will run back into the arms of my ancestors, taking my whole tribe with me, and then maybe we will never have to run again.

 

 

SLOAN THOMAS writes some and reads a lot. Some of her favorite stories are in SmokeLong Quarterly, Word Riot, Revolution John, and Jersey Devil Press. She has stories in some of those publications as well.

ADVICE FOR SHERMAN ALEXIE by Barrett Warner

I am pretty sure I will never be asked to write a book about Sherman Alexie.

It isn’t that I wouldn’t want to write a book about him, or that I have nothing to say about “despair, poverty, violence, and alcoholism lightened by wit and humor.”

He made me laugh once. Surely, I could get a book out of that.

Not to mention the yellow face controversy last fall.

And maybe if we swabbed our spit we’d find out we were cousins. Worth a movie maybe, but not a book: “Separated by a thousand years / Two writers / One language.”

My feeling about Alexie was that if I wasn’t going to write a book about him, or if we weren’t going to have sex, why consider him at all?

I guess you could say he gets under my skin.

“The problem with mid-career poets and writers,” I once wrote inside a bathroom stall in a Truck’n America bathroom in Fredericksburg. “Number One: the battle between irony and careerism.”

I added more numbers for other Interstate-95 crappers to add their opinions.

This was in response to Alexie’s “top ten list for writers,” first published in 2010 and which shows up in my news feed every time a new MFA semester begins. It was odd because Alexie, who has written more books than there are miles in a marathon, seems to eschew the internet and yet he created the sort of listical the internet devours.

Near the top, he chastens writers who Google themselves. Well, sorry Sherman, but the rest of us don’t have admin assistants and agents and book marketing departments to do this for us. Just because you may have consultants doing it for you doesn’t mean you’re not Googling yourself.

spinach teethAnd what’s wrong with having a glance in the mirror from time to time? It’s not always about vanity. It can be that you’re worried some spinach is caught in your teeth, or that you’re interested in what the college administrator who might hire you will be finding. Isn’t it kind of like checking your credit rating a few times a year?

What if you were a user and had some trubs keeping up with your publishing record? Every time I Google myself I find some forgotten poem from the Eighties and Nineties that a print journal finally got around to uploading. That was how I learned I’d been anthologized in 1994 and how my first published story was about a guy who made sausages (sorry I so totally forgot about you, Walter).

It’s like reading old newspapers for minor things you might have missed, like a box score from September 11, 2001.

Here’s another gem: “Read 1,000 pages for every page you write.” By my math, that comes out to Alexie having read 50 million pages.

Wasn’t it Teddy Roosevelt who said, “You go into a poem with the words you have, not necessarily the words you want.” I say, make your hay when the sun is shining and read when it’s raining and forget about the numbers.

To be truthful, a lot of Alexie’s top ten advice is just about decency, and good manners. Well, okay, we should all be good literary citizens and support literary magazines, and write thank you notes to authors and also understand that authors are not just authors but people too and all people are fallible, including smart asses.

goon squadHe says, “In fiction, research is overrated.” I don’t agree or disagree with this, except that a writer has two things in her five gallon bucket of tools—imagination and experience. If you’re weak with one it helps to be strong in the other. And if you can’t experience what you can’t imagine, research is all you got so be like Jennifer Egan and make the most of it.

Near as I can tell, Alexie has written two dozen books about being Native American. Maybe if he were writing about Darfur he’d have to crack open his Webster.

Alexie also addresses the writing process. He says, “Don’t have any writing ceremonies. They’re just a way to stop you from writing.” I suppose Sherman practices Yoga on a couch rather than a yoga mat. Awesome doing those salutations while March Madness flickers on the sports channel.

But this doesn’t jibe well with what he says about blogs, how “every word in your blog is a word not in your book.” I mean, isn’t a blog just a book without ceremony? Why avoid writing ceremonies if reading is a ceremony?

For every blog post that should have been a book there are probably ten books that should have been blog posts.

Alexie, who once admitted to Bill Moyers, that his art was all about some kind of memoir, probably has a thing or two to say about whether or not a personal investment in the art is transferrable. I think 60 years of excellent confessional and personal poetry have settled that question. But personal investment that comes from experience is one thing, personal investment that is merely what Jack Spicer calls “personal rhetoric” is another.

That is why I blog. I want to make a space for my personal rhetoric to live so that it doesn’t have to live in my art.

As for the words in this essay, well, so much for the idea of writing a book about Sherman Alexie.

 

 

BARRETT WARNER is the author of Why Is It So Hard to Kill You? (2016, Somondoco) and My Friend Ken Harvey (2014, Publishing Genius).

 

THIEVES AT NIGHT by Al Ortolani

 

Last night the wind came up out of the south. I could hear it lifting the trees in the yard and banging against the aluminum storm window. I pulled the blanket higher after punching the pillow into its original thickness. The house rested in stillness, dark rooms spilling into the darker hallway. My wife, sunken in an Ambien oblivion, didn’t stir. Rain followed, splattering in gusts against the thin glass. A baseball bat leaned against the bedroom doorjamb. In tonight’s dim light it appeared small, even foolish against a formidable intruder. A good roof, caulked windows, a serviced furnace—the digital clock cuts the darkness.

mom’s bud vases
yellowed greetings tied
with florist ribbon

 

 

AL ORTOLANI‘s poetry and reviews have appeared, or are forthcoming, in journals such as Rattle, Prairie Schooner, New Letters, and the New York Quarterly. He has published six collections of poetry. His Waving Mustard in Surrender (NYQ Books) was short-listed for the Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award from Binghamton University. A seventh collection, Paper Birds Don’t Fly, will be released by New York Quarterly Books in April of 2016. His poems been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.

ME AND MY TIME MACHINE, fiction by Thomas O’ Connell

I suppose for most people, when they first get a time machine, their inclination is to go backwards.

The instruction manual came, as most instruction manuals do, with a series of warnings. But instead of warning me to not use any electrical device in the bathtub, these were more philosophical warnings about time travel itself. Warnings not to change epic events or leave anything brought into the past (lest someone in the 1840s learns how to make a ballpoint pen) and not to bring anything more than a stick of chewing gum back to the present. Online some other owners had posted reviews and recommendations for certain events, rating them and commenting: Cleopatra really was hot and Disappointed meeting Jesus. There weren’t any warnings about going into the future.

Never too interested in history, I concentrated on events from my own life. I returned to the afternoon I lost my virginity, but we looked so young and timid that it just made me uncomfortable and more than a little sad. I went back to the night the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994, but I was too nervous about inadvertently making a change to the event that I couldn’t really enjoy it. I have a DVD of the whole series, which has better picture quality anyway.

One time recently, when I was late with the rent while waiting for a check to clear, I went back to the 28th and proceeded to pay the rent a little early. I received a warm, appreciative smile from the woman at the management company.

Lately, usually on tedious afternoons, I will make myself a sandwich and pay a few bills and then climb into the time machine. I leave the date set to the current date and set the time for 9:30pm. There is the usual high-pitched whine that occurs during transmission, though I don’t know why there must be this racket. Maybe there is always an annoying whine present while we are passing time but only when time is sped up- compressed- is it noticeable. When my journey is finished, I step out of my time machine in my pajamas with a fresh, minty taste in my mouth and I climb into bed.

 

 

THOMAS O’ CONNELL is a librarian living on the banks of the Hudson River in Beacon, NY, where he happens to be the 2015-2016 poet laureate. His poetry and short fiction has appeared in Elm Leaves Journal, Caketrain, NANO Fiction, The Broken Plate, and The Los Angeles Review, as well as other print and online journals.

LIFE/HACK, fiction by Nick Gregorio

Parker Chandler wrote himself into the sequel of his first novel. He broke the news on his Twitter feed. “I decided it was time that I met my monsters. Fuck Mary Shelley.”

Two thousand miles away, in a Hactivate bunker, Stanley “H-100” Marks got an H-Mail message from H-0 telling him to activate the Last Straw Protocol.

Stanley did what he was told.

His message hit every H-Directorate device in the continental United States.

Stanley’s black computer screen displayed H-Squad’s response in green letters. “Thy will be done.”

He said, “Fucking-A right, it will.”

Then he signed into Netflix to finish Daredevil before spoilers hit the fan sites.

***

Parker Chandler was a no-show for his reading at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

His agent, Cornelius Maxwell, made the announcement on the library’s front steps.

The riot made the ten o’clock news. Fans in full Hactivate cosplay fatigues were caught on camera throwing Molotov cocktails through windows, flipping cars, screaming the Motto into bullhorns.

Reporters were terrified relaying the scene into their foam-tipped microphones. They said, “Fans of controversial novelist, Parker Chandler, have taken to the streets,” and “All I can say is this is a scene straight out of a Chandler novel,” and, “Holy fucking shit, run.”

That one went viral.

Stanley had the message boards on ParkerChandlerWrites.com on autorefresh. He read posts about Chandler turning to chickenshit because of the impending release of Hactivate 2 and the vitriolic fan reactions regarding his artistic choices. About Chandler killing himself because if he’d gone nuts enough to write himself into a sequel of the best book in history he was crazy enough to eat a bullet. About how it was all reminiscent of the time he just up and disappeared, let rumors of his death billow up for a while, and came back with a new book ready for the printers.

There was nothing about possible kidnapping. About Chandler being chloroformed and tossed into a van. About being blindfolded and interrogated about why he’d found himself in such a situation.

Stanley was given point on this one. He would be the only one to disseminate that information. And he’d do it the right way. The Hactivate way.

He logged into the Hactivate server, keyed in, ETA? Waited.

Green letters. 1930.

He smiled, typed, Whose will be done? Waited.

He loved this part. Got hard thinking about the power he’d been given. Thought of his fan fiction. His hacks. The amount of content he’d pushed onto the internet.

His fingers hovered over his keyboard shaking.

Thy will be done in green.

Stanley logged off the server and left the room.

He had to take three capfuls of ZzzQuil to fall asleep.

***

The new recruits were named Nobody, Anonymous, and Nothing. H-110 introduced them all to Stanley, slapped them each across the face.

Stanley never had Greenies sent to his bunker before. Newbs, sure. But Greenies?

He sure as shit wasn’t going to question why they were there. Not out loud, anyway. He’d do some reading. Study the Greenie Gun Policy. Practice the ceremony in his quarters. He’d do everything right.

He stared a while, had to force his face slack underneath the single hanging lightbulb.

Dressed in gray jumpsuits cinched at the waist with rope, the Greenies stood and stared back, their hands at their sides, balaclavas pulled up to show their faces.

Anonymous shifted his weight from his right foot to his left, the concrete scuffing a bit under his shoes.

Stanley pointed.

H-110 flicked Nobody in the balls with the back of his hand.

Nobody let go of the air in his lungs, closed his lips and let the raspberry fart across the concrete room.

“Confused?” Stanley said, staring at Anonymous.

Anonymous said, “Yes, sir.”

H-110 moved to Nothing, readied his hand.

Stanley cleared his throat, stopped H-110.

“Have you read the novel, Anonymous?” Stanley said, forcing the quiver from his voice by increasing the volume at the end of his sentence.

“Yes, sir. I did, sir.”

“Mmhm. Are you sure?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then what is there to be confused about?”

Under the pale light of the bulb, Stanley stepped forward. Kept stepping forward. Then he pressed the tip of his nose to Anonymous’, felt a drop of sweat slide onto his skin, curl under his nostril, fall to the floor, uncertain whose it was.

He almost blinked, almost averted his eyes.

Then Anonymous said, “I saw the movie, sir.”

“Get his ass out of here.”

Stanley backed away.

H-110 punched Anonymous in the face. The crackle of shattering nose forced Stanley to turn, gag. He counted to ten trying to ignore the whimpering. He waited until H-110 dragged Anonymous up the wooden steps, opened and closed the door.

Stanley took a breath, waited until his lunch slid back down to his stomach.

He turned, said, “The Moto.”

Together, Nothing and Nobody said, “We hack because the world must be hacked. The world must be hacked because no one will hack it for us. Once the world has been hacked we will be free.”

“Again.”

“We hack because—”

Stanley’s phone rang. Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica saying frak me over and over. “Excuse me,” he said.

Over the phone HS-1 said, “We’re here, sir. We’re bringing the package to you now.”

Stanley swallowed. Hard. Said, “Excellent.”

Then he pulled on his balaclava, turned, said, “Well?”

Nothing and Nobody scrambled to pull their masks down.

The basement door opened. A series of sentences echoed down the steps. “Fucking lift,” and “I’m going to fall down the goddamn steps, man,” and “His shoe came off.”

When Stanley cleared his throat, said gentlemen, the guys on the stairs shut up right quick.

He let his smile take him under his mask.

It was grunts and heavy breathing after that until the H-Squad placed the package at Stanley’s feet.

Stanley’s voice cracked when he said, “Greenies.” But it held up during, “You guys are in for a real treat.”

He knelt down, pulled the black bag from Parker Chandler’s head.

Then he cursed.

Chandler’s mouth was duct-taped, his eyes were shut, face sick-white.

Stanley said, “Is he dead?” breathing in through his nose, out through his mouth, trying not to vomit into his mask.

HS-3 said, “No, sir. We had to chloroform him pretty much every time he woke up because he wouldn’t stop screaming.”

Stanley covered his mouth with his hand.

He went upstairs.

Then up to the second floor bathroom.

He was on his knees in front of the toilet. Had to convince his guts that Chandler only looked dead, that Chandler being in the basement was no big deal, that the reasons for Stanley’s bunker being chosen for this were because of his hard work, his incredible fan fiction, his hacks. That he deserved it.

He tried to keep quiet, puking.

But there was just so much.

***

Stanley wanted to recreate the scene from the novel where H-1 confronted the naïve narrator for the first time. Not the way it was in the movie, the movie was shit. But the way it was supposed to have been done.

But Chandler came to before Stanley finished gargling the taste of the stomach acid and lunch from the back of his throat.

Nervous, shaking, but empty, Stanley decided he should walk down the steps on the creakiest parts of the wooden planks. Slow. Deliberate. For effect. So Chandler would be fucking crying by the time he got down there.

But the stairs didn’t groan. Not once.

Stanley, sweating under his mask, slumped his shoulders and took his seat in front of the man he’d once idolized.

Groggy, bleary-eyed, Chandler said, “Where am I?”

Deep breath. Then, “You are in a Hactivate bunker at a classified location.”

“Holy shit, you can’t be serious. You’re not serious, are you?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Because Hactivate was a novel, you moron. Fiction. It’s all fake.”

Stanley slapped Chandler across the face. Had to stop himself from shaking off the sting in his hand. “It’s more than that and you know it.”

“No, it’s not. It’s—”

“A manifesto disguised as a work of fiction to keep the idiotic powers-that-be at bay.”

Chandler rolled his eyes, laughed, sat back in his chair.

Stanley said, “You were a hero, Parker. And you’re going to throw it away.”

“This is about Hactivate 2, then? Look, I know how real this feels. But I was just like you. This is all an act, man. I’m under contract so I can’t say much more, but the stupid stunts Maxwell puts me up to haven’t worked all that well lately, my sales have been tapering off a bit, so I wrote a sequel.”

“That you decided to bastardize by injecting yourself into it? Metafiction blows, man.”

“That’s what Hactivate would be if I actually meant a word that was written in there, you nut.”

Stanley heard his teeth grinding in his head. Felt the heat in his jaw.

Chandler said, “The book’s not even that good. Defamation by Proxy, A World Made Sallow, and Filmmaker, Filmmaker are way better.”

“Oh, come on. Filmmaker, Filmmaker sucks.”

“It was my most honest work. Swear to God.”

“We in Hactivate do not bow to false deities.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

“You wrote that. Those are your words.”

“I made them up. They don’t mean anything. Wait, did Maxwell put you up to this? This is all just a joke, right? A publicity stunt? I’ve got to admit, it’s a new one. Bold. But fucked up.”

Stanley stood, said, “No, Parker. It’s not a joke.” He held out a hand, said, “H-111,” closed his eyes, and concentrated on stopping his hand from shaking until he felt metal weigh down his palm.

Chandler said, “Holy fuck. Look, man. You can’t do this. You’ve got the wrong fucking—”

Stanley said, “Shut up,” pressed the gun barrel to Chandler’s forehead. He said, “Your De-Education begins at oh-four-hundred hours.”

H-111 cleared his throat, said, “That’s four in the morning, sir.”

“Oh-six-hundred hours.” Stanley cocked the gun, said, “Now. Mr. Chandler. The Moto.”

Sobbing, slobbering, Parker Chandler said the words he wrote two decades ago.

***

The De-Education of Parker Chandler came word for word from the novel. Duct-taped mouth, zip-tied hands, blacked eyes—every detail counted.

Stanley even had the honor of giving Chandler his new name.

Void.

Stanley forced Void to watch the destruction of his former self.

A burn barrel was set up in the backyard. Void’s driver’s license, debit card, credit cards, social security card, everything in his wallet went in first. Then his clothes. Then it was clumps of his hair as Stanley sheered it off.

But the stink made Stanley hand over the rest of the initial duties to H-110.

Void was locked in one of the basement closets. The only thing Stanley left for him inside was an old boom box loaded with a cassette tape that played the Motto over and over again in various tones of voice. The volume was up so high it was heard seeping up through the floorboards from the second story. Every forty minutes for twenty-four hours Stanley had Nothing or Nobody flip the tape over.

Stanley asked H-107 to do the honors of force-feeding Void wet Alpo for dinner on the third evening.

Gun in his shaky hand, barrel at Void’s temple, Stanley said, “Why do we eat that which was meant for animals?”

Slurping, chomping, Void gagged through his response, “We are animals ourselves.”

“How can we become more than animals?”

Void didn’t make it through the next answer. Everything he swallowed was slopping down the front of him.

Stanley handed the gun over to 107, breathed deep, said, “Start again.”

Then he went upstairs to lay down a while.

Despite his queasy stomach, he forced himself to settle his nerves. He had to do everything right. He was given this responsibility because of everything he’d done for Hactivate, because the right people had taken notice, because he was a valuable asset to the cause.

So he went back to work.

He gave Void the choice between washing out his honeybucket with his daily ration of water or having something to drink. Made him to watch the most violent films H-104 had in his DVD collection in lieu of the actual Desensitization Tapes that hadn’t yet been delivered from Amazon. Had him sleep sitting up, made sure he was scared awake at random intervals.

On the fifth day, Dylan sent an H-Mail alerting H-0 that Void had given in, that he had nothing else to say but the Motto when the duct-tape was off. And would say it over and over and over.

Stanley was then ordered to Disseminate.

He used the Hactivate Server to reveal to the world that unless Hactivate 2 was pulled from the presses, Parker Chandler would be dead before the first copy was sold.

Then he posted a pic of Void tied up in the basement so the idiotic powers-that-be would know that Stanley was not fucking around.

***

Void’s Hactivation ceremony was held in the backyard.

In the center of the grass square, H-101 through H-114 stood in front of the tall bushes that lined the picket fence in their pressed Hactivate fatigues, polished boots, and balaclavas.

Stanley designated Numbers to Nobody and Nothing, asked them to pull their standard issue Hactivate pistol that had been tucked into the back of their pants.

Nobody opened his mouth, wrapped his lips around the barrel, pulled the trigger. With the click he was named H-115. Stanley said, “Nobody no more.”

Nothing hesitated, took a breath, put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Another click. He was H-116. Stanley said, “Nothing no more.”

Stanley stood in front of Void, pulled the duct tape from his cracked, bloody lips, asked if he was ready.

Sitting, tied to his chair, Void said, “Yes, sir.”

Stanley waved, and H-109 untied Void.

Stanley told Void to stand.

Void said, “Yes, sir.”

Face to face, Stanley and Void said the Motto together.

Then Void head-butted Stanley in the face.

The sound Stanley’s nose made was worse than the pain. But the pain came in heavy waves. When it was most intense, Stanley started with the opening letter of a curse, then screamed the remaining syllable. When the pain ebbed a bit, he opened his eyes.

His men were chasing Void around the yard.

Void was screaming. “Where’s the fucking door,” and, “Someone fucking help me,” and, “I’m not Parker fucking Chandler.”

Stanley stood, ordered his men to make Void shut his mouth before the neighbors on the other side of the woods heard him.

Void screamed louder.

Stanley bled all over his hands, his fatigues.

He was gagging, watching as his men tackled Void and beat him into the grass.

***

The surgical tape holding the splint to Stanley’s nose made him claw at his face. The itch wouldn’t go away. He’d have to re-tape it after he dealt with Void.

Tied up and passed out, Void snored in his chloroformed sleep. Stanley sat in a wooden chair feet away.

He wasn’t going to fuck this up. Couldn’t fuck this up.

He snapped his fingers. He couldn’t see H-115 and 116 moving, only heard them shuffling across the floor, grunting while carrying the bucket every Hactivate member was asked to piss into over the past couple hours.

Stanley had to keep telling himself it was just water, that’s all, just water.

He took a breath, said, “Do it.”

The new Hactivatists lifted the bucket over Void’s head, drenched him in stinking liquid.
Void screamed himself awake.

Then he wept.

He must have remembered this scene from his novel. He said no, no, no over and over until Stanley told him to shut his mewling trap.

“Why are you doing this to me,” Void said.

Stanley leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms. He waited for Void to stop crying.

Void spat on the floor, stared Stanley in the eye, said, “I’m going to fucking kill you. No, first I’ll find your family and skin them alive. Then I’ll cook them into a stew and force-feed them to you until you die from gorging yourself.”

There was a gasp behind Stanley. Whether it was H-115 or 116 he couldn’t tell. But it didn’t matter. He clapped his hands, stood up, said, “That’s the spirit, Void. That’s the true Hactivate spirit running through you.”

Void said, “There is no Hactivate spirit, you psycho. There’s not even a Parker Chandler. Not for a long time. It’s all bullshit.” Then he spat into Stanley’s face, sprayed snot and urine onto his lips.

Stanley leaned to the side, let go of his lunch all over the floor.

Then he asked for H-116’s gun.

H-116 said, “But, sir—”

Hand out, Stanley said, “Shut it.”

H-116’s gun in his hand, he stood, kicked his seat over, and told Void to open his mouth.

“Fuck you. Let me go. I’m not Parker Chandler. Parker Chandler is dead.”

Stanley said, “Not yet,” and snapped his fingers.

H-115 and 116 moved behind Void, grabbed his head, pulled his mouth open.

There was a scream, a snap of bone, a spritz of blood.

H-116 fell to the floor screaming.

Void spit the first inch of a finger to the floor.

That’s when Stanley stood up, cocked the pistol, and put a bullet through Void’s eye.

Skull bits, globs of brain, and blood slapped against the wall.

Nothing happened for one, two, three seconds, until Stanley began screaming. High-pitched, shrill, and prolonged, he shrieked until he used up all the air in his lungs. Then swallowed a deep breath and started again.

Most of the Hactivatists were gone before Stanley stopped screaming.

H-116, writhing on the floor, said, “I didn’t sign up for this bullshit.”

Stanley grabbed H-116 by the front of his shirt, dragged him into a sitting position, said, “You loaded your fucking gun?”

“What else are you supposed to do with a gun?”

“You never read the fucking book, did you? That movie was shit.”

“I tried to tell you the gun was—”

“Fuck you. That fucking movie was fuck—”

Stanley threw up what little was left in his stomach onto H-116’s chest.

Together on the floor they listened to the sirens get louder and louder.

***

Stanley’s trial was quick. Books were thrown. Kidnapping and murder were proverbial cherries on top of stacks of criminal charges that included—but were not limited to—the dissemination of multitudinous government secrets that lead to the losses of billions of dollars worldwide over the span of a decade.

But Stanley knew all that. It was his job.

He was called a monster by the media.

A traitor by the President.

A shitty writer by the internet—they’d found his fan fiction, made memes out of the stuff.

General population proved to be problematic.

Once the other inmates had discovered his squeamishness, Stanley was puking more than he was eating. And after his third hospitalization from dehydration and the beginnings of starvation, he was placed in solitary.

But even the guards were fucking with him.

He found the loogie before taking a bite of his meatloaf. The guard on duty had been suffering from a sinus infection.

Stanley gagged, placed his tray onto the cell floor, took a breath, said, “Very funny.”

But no one was listening. His voice echoed down the concrete hall.

His stomach was shaky. His palms were sweaty. His lips were glommed together with white goo. And he stared at his feet, counting his breaths, trying to hold onto his lunch—which was more than likely also soiled.

Then there were footsteps. Two sets.

They grew louder and louder until one stopped in front of his cell.

Someone said his name. His real name. H-100.

Stanley said, “Who are you?”

“I am H-0,” a man said, stepping into view. “But you know my birth name, surely.”

The last time Stanley had seen this man was on television just before the Philadelphia Riots. His birth name could be found on the acknowledgements page of every Parker Chandler novel. Cornelius Maxwell, literary agent.

Stanley said, “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to get you out of this place.”

“Who sent you?”

“I sent myself.”

Stanley stood, wrapped his hands around the bars of his cell, said, “It was you.” He pressed his forehead to the cool metal, said, “The whole time?”

Maxwell laughed, said, “Surprised you hadn’t figured that out already. Regardless, Hactivate must always have a leader. You allegedly killed that leader.”

“Parker Chandler was a charlatan. He was nothing. Said so himself.”

Maxwell laughed, hard this time. “You don’t know what you’re a part of, do you?”

“I’m not a part of anything. This whole thing was nothing. Just a handful of hackers with no lives.”

“Was Hemingway the one who came up with the iceberg thing? Doesn’t matter.” Maxwell snapped his fingers. Another man, the other set of footsteps, came forward.

Dylan didn’t want to gasp—people only gasped in shit fiction—but he did it anyway.

The man standing to Maxwell’s left was a perfect copy of Stanley.

Maxwell said, “This is H-10K986, surgically transformed and prepared to rot in a cell for the rest of his life for Hactivate.”

Stanley said nothing.

There was a buzz, the sound of the cell door unlocking.

Maxwell pulled the door open, waved for Stanley to step outside.

H-10K986 took Stanley’s place, recited the Motto, then said, “Thy will be done, sir.”

Stanley followed Maxwell down the hall asking every question he could think of, spitting them in rapid succession.

Maxwell said, “Men on the inside,” and, “You’ll understand soon enough.” Then he asked a question of his own, said, “Are you ready?”

“To get out of here? Fucking-A right, I am.”

Laughing again, Maxwell said, “No, no. I mean, are you ready to become the new Parker Chandler?”

Dylan stopped, said what.

“I love your fan fiction, H-100. Our second iteration’s work got all pretentious and weird. Who writes themselves in their own stories? Regardless, the world needs a proper Chandler.”

“But he’s dead.”

“No he’s not. The man you killed kidnapped Chandler, paid a fortune for dozens of plastic surgeries, stole his identity, kept him locked up in his basement. Or, maybe Chandler’s long-lost twin showed up to his house unannounced and was bagged instead of the actual Chandler.”

“Are you fucking with me?”

“Come with me and whatever we want to be the truth becomes the official story. Now, I’ll ask again. Are you ready?”

Stanley smiled, followed Maxwell down the hall, up several flights of stairs, onto the roof and into a waiting helicopter.

In his seat, buckled up, he was told about the medical procedures he would need to go through. The contract he would need to sign to keep his trap shut should one of Chandler’s “stunts” become a major situation. Again.

And before Maxwell could get through discussing the ins and outs of the responsibilities of being Parker Chandler, Stanley said, “Was the second Chandler the one who wrote Filmmaker, Filmmaker?”

Maxwell, yelling over the sound of the starting propellers, said, “We like not to think about that piece of shit. Hopefully you’ve got some better ideas.”

Dylan smiled, said, “Fucking-A right I do.”

 

 

NICK GREGORIO lives, writes, and teaches in Philadelphia. His fiction has appeared in Crack the Spine, Yellow Chair Review, The Bitchin’ Kitsch and more. He is a contributing writer and assistant editor for the arts and culture blog, Spectrum Culture, and currently serves as fiction editor for Driftwood Press. He earned his MFA from Arcadia University in May 2015 and has fiction forthcoming in Zeit|Haus, Down in the Dirt, and Hypertrophic Literary.