WATER by Jesse Eagle

I ordered whatever food and sat on the living room floor in my apartment and tried to eat something. There were ghosts in my head. Ghosts with tape recorders, with cameras, with fluid, dead faces, especially when I closed my eyes, inside my eyelids ghosts, ghosts like ice water, like Maggie. I even had the TV off. The apartment was striped down and quiet, perfectly cleaned, with all my clothes, even my ties, hung. A melancholy was definitely creeping though. I dumped enough salt on my rice I thought I’d shrivel to bone. I read some e-mails for work the next day, a wave of advertisements, a logistical question, two complaints from my boss about my monthly credit card sales. In the apartment below me, I heard the mother with the wonderful red hair talk in strange tongues to her toddler, and I wanted to put my ear to the floor and listen forever, but I didn’t. I just ate, did work, and when my eyes started to close, rolled my arms and legs into my body and fell asleep. I never remembered nights, a new shape for hours, and woke to my alarm going off in the morning. I put the leftover food in the fridge and ran my head under some cold water in the kitchen sink, the water dripping from my hair, to my nose, to my chin, to the floor. I wanted to slip on that water, slip back inside dreams, maybe even slip to death, but instead I tied my tie until it was straight and walked to the L for work.

Jesse Eagle edits the online journal DOGZPLOT.

TWISTED UP by Jesse Eagle

I watched my sister brush her teeth with her finger and spit the toothpaste in the sink. Her gums never bled and, unlike mine, her teeth were white. We left the bathroom light on for the next kid and went down to the dining room, where we sat at a table with two other girls and ate breakfast. One of the girls only ate applesauce. She wore the clear kind of nail polish and had a birthmark shaped like a pirate key on her neck. She was new at the home. She told us she’d been living in a sinkhole for three days before anyone good found her. She said everything about her hurt. “I did get to feed some raccoons though,” she said. The other girl at the table folded up her pancakes and shoved them into her wide-open mouth like a dentist would a drill. Her name was Sammy. She had a Walkman with big, fat, earfoam headphones and sometimes she’d let me listen to her music, and she always watched my face as I did. She liked to see what music could do. “That song made you look like a twisted up penguin,” she said. Or, “That one made you look just like a baby again.” Or, “I could tell you weren’t even trying to hear that one.” I told her I liked any song with a piano, so she’d rewind those for me, over and over.

***

Jesse Eagle edits the online journal DOGZPLOT.

 

Editors note: For the next four weeks I’m featuring the short fiction of author Jesse Eagle. Jesse knows solid short fiction, having edited the legendary online journal DOGZPLOT for the past several years. This is the first of four stories that will appear over the next month here at Revolution John. 

THE CORPSE COUNTERS by Berit Ellingsen

 

-from the novel Now We Can See The Moon

 

By the time he sensed them through the paralysis of dreamless sleep, they were already too close, coming up at the side of the punt. Instinctively, he held his breath and remained still. One of them bent over him, a shadow blocking the daylight, and lifted the mesh scarf he had pulled over his face as camouflage and protection against insects.

“Is he alive?” someone, a woman, said close by.

He opened his eyes, clasped the nearest wrist and struck the face above it as hard as he could from his supine position. The man that was bending over him swayed with the punch. He put both feet on the man’s belly and gave him a good kick.

“Ooff!” the stranger said as he fell backwards—disappointingly, not into the flood, but into the vessel he had come from. The whole world rocked with that motion and water splashed up between the punt and the inflatable three-bench rowboat. He pushed forward after the man, but a fan of liquid hit him in the face. It was sudden and cool enough to slow his momentum for a second.

“Stop! Stop!” the woman in the rowboat shouted. “We’re medics, we just want to help!”

He spat and wiped the fluid away from his eyes. It tasted faintly of sewer and rust, but didn’t sting more than clean freshwater did. Now he saw their bright red coveralls with reflective yellow trim on the sleeves and chest, and the surgical gloves on their hands. If they were medical personnel, he couldn’t hurt them.

“Take it easy,” the man breathed, a welt already blooming on his cheek.

He sat down, but kept the man and the woman in view. They looked unarmed.

The two exchanged glances. Their hair was as greasy and ruffled as he felt and their coveralls were smeared with stains.

“Are you hurt?” the woman said while looking at his face and body, not just him, but his physical and mental status, in a way he recognized from other medics. “Are you in need of assistance?”

“I am,” the man said behind her, but she ignored him.

“Are there more people further in?” he asked.

“No,” the woman replied.

“Yes,” the man said. The two looked at each another again. The man had a scruff of dark blond hair with paler streaks in it and looked to be in his early thirties. The woman seemed to be a few years younger than the man and had straight light-brown hair tied into a long ponytail at the nape of her neck.

“We’re the last ones here,” the woman said.

“Excluding the dead, of course,” the man said.

“Just the two of you?”

“No,” the woman said. “We’re a team, a small one.”

The man grimaced like she was betraying a secret, but didn’t say anything. He still couldn’t see any bulges of weapons or ammunition clips under their clothes, not even protective vests. Next to them sat a steel case with a handle on the lid. Their craft was so glaringly yellow it would be impossible to hide. It reminded him of the vessels his family sometimes rented at the beach he was headed towards, tiny rubber rowboats that were easy to paddle, but hardly more solid than a beach mattress and just a fraction safer to use.

“Who are you working for?” he asked.

The woman mentioned the name of one of the largest aid organizations, not only on the continent, but in the world. Were things so bad they needed help from other countries?

“What about you, then?” the man said. “Why are you here?”

“I live here,” he said. “Or I used to.”

“We’d better talk at the camp,” the woman said. “All right?”

“All right,” he said.

“Good.” She leaned forward and pushed a neon-yellow rope through the rusted ring at the stern of the punt, tying it in a clumsy but tight knot. Then the strangers brought two white plastic paddles up from the bottom of their rowboat and pushed the blades deep into the water.

#

At a grass-covered mound that rose like a thatched dome out of the floodwater, they disembarked and tied the rowboat to a lamp post. He climbed out of the punt and pulled it up the muddy bank as far as it would go. On top of the low hillock stood a large open tent, its pointed roof and octagonal shape resembling the structures he had seen in the park on the way to the city. The breeze wafted through the space, lifting the ends of the open flaps. He had expected other stragglers, people who were injured or waiting to be evacuated, like in the town he had passed. But inside the lawn-scented shade of the tent, there were only stacks of plastic crates and cardboard boxes of various shapes and sizes. In the back, a large collapsible table held an array of smaller containers and caches, paper maps, toolboxes, and an orange plastic case that looked like it might protect a laptop computer for field use or a satellite phone.

Someone in a red coverall and neon yellow vest pushed a foldable canvas cot over to him and he sat down on the navy blue fabric. As soon as he did, he was overcome by such a sudden, overwhelming tiredness that he took the chance of not resisting. No one seemed to be in a hurry to talk to him, and he was soon lying on the cot, gazing up into the puckered zenith of the tent. A little later someone approached and handed him a white plastic cup with transparent, clean-looking water, which he sat up and drank before he lay down again.

A broad-shouldered, middle-aged woman with dark hair and skin leaned over him and touched his clothes. When he swatted at her, she put a hand on his chest and said: “I just need to check that you’re not a danger to my colleagues.” He let her search him since he had nothing to hide. She took something out of the inner chest pocket of his jacket, leaving a scent of disinfectant and sweat behind.

“Wallet but no identification, a few notes and coins,” the woman said to a tall, solid-framed man in his fifties with thinning, silver-gray hair, slightly watery, but gentle-looking eyes, and a generous gut hanging over the belt. They were both dressed in light-colored slacks and jackets, with thick boots that had seen much use. He wanted to eavesdrop on them further, but a brightness flared up in him and engulfed the world.

#

When he woke it was dark outside, while a wide-brimmed steel lamp glowed in the interior of the tent. The woman who had searched him and the man she had addressed were sitting further inside, together with the man and the woman in the rubber vessel, as well as two young men he hadn’t seen before. Ceramic bowls were perched in their laps and they had cups or cutlery in their hands. He watched them and listened to their voices.

“Found a few more to the east.”

“Where?”

“Out by the roundabout.”

“Are you checking them tomorrow?”

“Yes, as early as possible.”

“Found data on the female, added her to the list.”

“We’re down to the dental records on most now.”

“Sometimes that’s all we need.”

“But most of the time it isn’t. Not by far.”

“Yes, I know.”

“I’m so damn sick of this place. Heard from anyone yet?”

“No. We have wait till the end of the month.”

“Come on!”

“First survivor in two and a half weeks, congratulations.”

“Three weeks.”

“Not a survivor, a traveler.”

“How did he get in?”

“Ignored the roadblocks, probably.”

“Any records?”

“Not yet.”

“By the way, don’t expect to get more supplies. Sorry that I haven’t told you before.”

“What?”

“No?”

“No.”

“Can you at least ask them about it?”

“I knew you’d say that, so I did.”

“And?”

“The answer was no.”

“Jesus.”

“There are other sites, with people who need help.”

“What do they think we’re doing here?”

“You know how it is.”

“We’re the ones sitting here, you’re out and about.”

“Yes, but . . . “

“We’ve got some bags left, it’ll be fine.” Silence, but not too tense, still relatively relaxed.

“Well, I’m going further west tomorrow, have a feeling there will be more there.”

“Be careful.”

“We’ll be ready for it.”

“Could be difficult if there’s more than ten.”

“One by one, as always.”

“I’ll see what I can do with the ice.”

“Yes, thank you.” More silence, the sound of cutlery against bowls, and running water.

“Good night then.”

“Good night.”

They stood and dispersed into the unlit parts of the tent where he could still hear their voices, but not see them.

#

A little later the tall, solid-looking man with the light-colored clothing and silver hair stepped over the crates and approached him. He sat up, trying to clear his mind, chase the sleepiness away. The man took a bottle from the table behind them, squeaked the cork open, poured water into a cup, and held it out to him.

“Thank you,” he said. He drank and the man disappeared for a moment. When he returned he held a bowl of food in front of him. Canned meat and vegetables, soft and warm, not just reconstituted freeze-dried powder. He took the bowl. “Thanks,” he said again.

“You’re free to leave when you wish,” the man said, “but we’d be very happy if you gave us a name first so we can delete you from our lists of missing persons.”

He considered giving the man Michael or Katsuhiro’s name to check if they were missing, but what if his own name was on those lists and wasn’t crossed off so his family could know he was still alive? He gave the man his real name.

“Thank you,” the man said, writing on a small pad he took out from one of the front pockets of his jacket. Other notes had been scribbled in blue ballpoint ink there, with a spindly, curling hand. The stranger rose and turned towards the table, but did not open the orange plastic case there, or anything else.

He ate the moist, canned meal and drank the clean, mild water. The dish tasted of beef, potato, carrot, onion, and turnip. The water was gently flavored from minerals, probably calcium, potassium, and sodium. It was so good he felt a little faint. He could almost sense how the dissolved nutrients rushed to the parts of his body that needed them the most. The tension which the moderate but near-constant hunger and thirst, as well as the journey itself, had created in him eased, making him shiver, despite the relative warmth in the tent.

The solid-framed man took a bottle of water, broke the sealed cap, then leaned back against the table.

“I’m sorry that my colleagues startled you.”

He glanced up at the stranger. “My apologies for attacking them,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting anyone.”

“Neither did we,” the man said. “Not after all this time. I’m Raymond, by the way. I’m a pathologist, and like the others, I’m working to collect and identify the dead that may still be here.”

He took the man’s hand. “Are there a lot of dead around?”

Raymond looked at him. “There are still some left, yes.”

“They were killed by the hurricane and the flood?”

Raymond’s face contracted and he felt the tip of an unease that wasn’t directed at him. “Most of them,” Raymond said. “Others had been unable to evacuate and starved to death before the emergency teams could reach them. Some drank water that was contaminated with chemicals, because there was nothing else to drink. Some had illnesses that were exacerbated or precipitated by the stress of the disaster, such as heart disease, asthma, or depression.”

Hearing that, he felt heavy, listless.

“Did you perhaps see any bodies on your way in?”

“A few, maybe four or five, close by,” he said. “Some in the vehicles on the motorway to the north. Then a whole column right outside the town limits.” He saw no point in not telling the stranger.  

“Do you recall approximately where?”

He nodded.

“Can show me on a map tomorrow?”

He nodded again and spooned up the last of the food in the bowl.

“Why are you here, then?” Raymond met his eyes directly.

“I’m looking for my family,” he said. “We live here.” He braced for the “No, where are you really from? The Eastern continent?”

“Are you local?” Raymond perked up.

He nodded.

“I am too!” Raymond said. “At least I was, a long time ago. My son grew up here, we had a lovely apartment near the city center. Always good to come home to. When he moved out we rented it to two students. But I . . .  I don’t know what happened to them in the flood.”

His pulse quickened, but he realized the source of the sudden emotion was not himself, but Raymond. Something sat like a barb in the man’s flesh as well as his mind, kept away with just the thickness of a paper sheet. The pathologist seemed sturdy enough, but there was something brittle in him, not his body or his external persona, but further in. He recognized the sensation from officers he had served with during his time of service, and in friends there, and shrank from it. But that didn’t work; he couldn’t get away. He could only sit and feel the emotions that churned inside the other man, and pity him.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, not knowing how else to address the troubles in the other man.

Raymond swallowed. “I’m certain they evacuated with the others.”

He nodded.

The pathologist seemed to pull himself free from whatever was bothering him, and stood. “Let’s not keep the others awake any longer. We can talk more in the morning. I hope you can get some rest.”

“Thank you,” he said quietly. “You too.” He sat on the cot for a while, digesting the food and the water. When someone turned the lamp in the tent off, he lay back on the curving canvas and listened to the people around him fall asleep and start dreaming. It was a long time since he had shared sleeping space with so many people, yet it remained strangely familiar, as if he had never left that life.

Beyond the tent’s sheltering fabric the evening breeze rustled in the vegetation. He felt his body’s weight against the fabric and the heft of the cot against the grass and the soil. It was as if the night and the sky and the grass wrapped themselves around him and cradled him to sleep.

 

-RJ-

BERIT ELLINGSEN is the author of three novels, Now We Can See The Moon (Snuggly Books), Not Dark Yet (Two Dollar Radio), and Une ville vide (PublieMonde), a collection of short stories, Beneath the Liquid Skin (Queen’s Ferry Press), and a mini-collection of dark fairy-tales, Vessel and Solsvart (Snuggly Books).  Her work has been published in W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International, SmokeLong Quarterly, Unstuck, Litro, Lightspeed Magazine, and other places, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the British Science Fiction Association Award. Berit is a member of the Norwegian Authors’ Union. http://beritellingsen.com.

ALABAMA FIRES by Fin Sorrel

ALABAMA FIRES

When I wake up, I notice the Velour tablet resembling chalk (half-life) behind my swollen tongue. I had been dreaming I was a lost child in the Moyne age. In my dream I had strapped on my jaw a tightened mouthpiece.

A litter of pigs surround me, follow at my feet, the farrow do not leave my side, And I fear now I may trample the poor things.

Rubbing my eyes, I swallow the small Velvet dose of Velour, and my heart beat is heard as the decimal of sounds in my bedroom raise to a size of the voluptuous female giant –

The skin acts as a hollow for tall blonde waves, between folded cloth sunset and thin felt tsunami’s.

The air acts as a filter for the eyes to roam across the room to the table where the papers and picture frames make up conversations from satellite television

Down along the straw into juice and sewing kits, and stone cigarette smoke

Amber rose concentric gold pine needle blanket seat that I arch upon, my fleeting mood drifts in a southern wind through Virginia, I’m carried on the ants that crawl through the pine needles down this road.

 

I come across a double headed baby tiger, half deer in the dessert, crossing the street deserted-

Transsexual girl with a shaved head, we meet up in the deserted town, off to her house. I try to offer driving Molly’s sisters car. Almost wreck it somewhere at night, behind an alleyway.

I’m drawing in the girl’s bathroom; someone’s in there, looking at me in horror, as I draw a heart so Misc. might see it.

 

Woke up by my dad, who leaves for work in the morning, he sees me in the road, walking to a restaurant, his face is confused but he doesn’t have time to stop.

At the restaurant, I meet the transsexual girl, and her three punk friends, who offer I come to their house, mentioning something about Misha. So, excited I walk with them through the deserted town, passing abandoned hotels, across the old train tracks since out of commission. We all see the two headed baby deer crossing the abandoned streets. The deer’s one head bobs down and lifts a little after camouflaging behind its body, to reveal another head, a baby bobcat, and then a tiger cub.

Sadness of gods shows up on televisions nearby, lingering clouds and lies for sale.

God comes, bending around a corner in the words that are hooked to a boat, in sunrise. On this boat God is carrying a box of keys.

A siren makes heat patterns on my shoulder and neck, devouring any recognizable sound other, the ears are devoured, and the siren hunts the deserted land for secrets. Land that once served as a booming industry for the working class, now infested with half breads, only shadows, wandering through a priceless interstate, of wastelands, threatening extinction, replaced by our calm gestures of gallons of booze and dozens of cigarette packages littering the back alleys.

That super market, forty years ago, a memory runs its fingers through my mind, through my hair, through the air above me, a dusty hand grabs the shelf and objects, a form now folded away and boarded up the cellophane removed and rotting meat beneath caked in maggots. Memories sewn deeply into the fabric of my long sleeve shirt I am now viewing within a trance, not allowed to look away. Bats above my head watch me, waiting for a reaction, or so I will feed the paranoia grapes.

They shave the yard away, the orange dead that creates dust; I put on my handkerchief over my neck and press it over my face, as a simple sawing away of clovers, and shivering of machine blades clumsy, cuts at the nasty heart and stones fly.

We grow infinite embers and chambers in this moment as I wait in my squat, boarded up three story house along the old train yard in East County. Every house on the block is empty or used mainly for drug use, or a flop house. Less Rosemary grows these days along the tracks.

Terry Lumbers past the window drinking his 40 oz., he spits violently, like blood, like he was hit hard, and spits with a violent gesture to say, I am stronger than you. He and I met at the local soup kitchen; we’ve been hanging out for years.

Coins drop out of my pocket, and he turns to the squat. My heart is black and white houndstooth; a falling of brown grass slowly crosses the street from the yard, and lands on Terry.

Soft, intricate, he handles the flakes of grass, wiping them off, and walking up to the front door of the squat. I read the lexicon in the living room in my mask, he bangs the door.

Come in, I shout. He stumbles over the tress, and puts his hand out with the beer.

Here, he foils and stumbles at the nail poking sideways at the entrance. I laugh. He releases violence, but keeps the beer stable through it.

His is a very carnage individual. He has symptoms I will have to process later.

I feel like I’m losing breath, so I take off the mask and chug some beer.

Goodness threads over me, like vines, through me like passageways of the red light rolled gently into a dryer full of shoes and boots and clogs.

I burp.

And the ace, Terry is dancing now, his hair feeling flies, helping infinity by twisting his knotted jaded body into ladders sideways, and adhering mirror to his chest from the wall in my living quarters, and aiming the light of the sun out the door.

This leather boots with no souls left, he spins, and I hand him back the beer half finished, half full. He pours alcoholic license plates into his giant mouth, singing through the gargled liquid out of a small orange cat, and the cat comes by, landing from the balcony, on the steps, and wanders inside.

We act like were having a shootout in a western, our blond hair swimming through the room, and blending into the cat, in a purple blur of silk




ALABAMA SMOKE RINGS

The three of us turn our bodies into a shaped fire, our feet are bent in the fusion, above a list of looping belt buckles that are our water stilettos, where in cigarette smoke (with the cat) we cross beaver dams of hat, dimension to the front of my morning with the Velour tabs, I sit up in the couch, and see Terry is turning his body into the cats. The sun burns out into grey skies – a shape of fire I’ve somehow forgotten about has ignited in the old fire place. I’m petting the cat “Terry” drinking my 40 oz. I first started feeding Terry a year ago in the backyard, when he was skittish, now floating under clouds in my three story house.

In the sky, in my sandwich of Terry human, and Terry kitty cat, alley cat, what’s the difference if I really walked to the store for the 40, and imagined Terry human?

In my head are white statues, they are silent figures, marble quail.

The rain starts tapping at the roof while I pet the cat. I roll up a cigarette and light it.

I think I’m hearing Honking trains at a floating station, somewhere, southern drawl turning down the tracks, but those lines have been abandoned for years.

Bicycles, reaching math, spin a hand, riding around in my living room, drunk as a skunk. The 40 is gone.

The cat plays with string on the couch. White aluminum wood American flag, pink native string, collecting string, nesting statues deeper in my mind, silent figures.

( II. )

I ride around the squat, sipping the 40. My bike has a loose chain. The smell reminds me of a geometry lesson, it is three forty p.m. The sawing of the grass, they are attempting to clean up the neighborhood, the sawing enters my mind, buzzes the statues, the instructions lying on a sheet of paper, next to the statues:  

“Prior to pencils, postmarked, four with compass, and battery, mirror thermos, camera

braided my Izzy belle necklaces.

Think feast.”

Sudden quiet full of stars, the zodiac nest, believed, and gathered, undressed and blanketed.

No insistent sawing.

I peek out the window, watch him in his orange hat, carrying branches away.

I sit back on the couch. My 40 oz. Is full again, and capped. The cat releases Terry, spitting up a hairball mixed with him onto the wood floor.

I have an Epiphany, via sound waves

One:

“~ Ships are drifting ghosts.

I lie in my bed in the middle of the sea. Towns pass, full of toy radios at the harbor. Glass rains down into the cats eyes. I cry bottles of pinot noir from above this, watching castles on the horizon. There, whales bloom”

Two:

“ I have a flavored bruise,  my coat is in periphery within the eye – form loses black Spanish radio broadcast- from now on I will live gargantuan, and ministry gypsies, so says the liner, string hides away icebergs all after image the scarlet fur coats.

Timepiece importance is Arnica for the spine. The air is parsnip, echoing elegance, the forlorn come pleased, and foam. Radio waves dangle hats over the Cadillac Deville.”

Terry coughs up a small two headed deer that lands in puss on the wood floor, and nurtures it, shivering in the hairball of slime, and the cat’s hair. I give the baby deer a blessing, saying:

“Instruments along your legs, merging you into the winding Latticework and gypsy vines entangle flutes, wind! I run my bloated, drunk fingers through the gypsy curtain for a stinging nettle tongue, hair-of-the-dog-beer, just waking tablecloth hair, and staring at the monitor polka dot ~”

The shivering deer wobbles to life, and wanders around the squat, one head decides one way, the other head decides opposite.

Terry collapses from the traumatic birth to the floor. The cat sneaks into my bedroom. I crack my fresh 40, and guzzle it.

The

Sawing

    Starts

Back

Up

                Out

There.

 

– RJ-

 

FIN SORREL is the author of CARAMEL FLOODS (pski porch, 2017) and SAND LIBRARY (abp, 2018) he runs mannequin haus (infii2.weebly.com).

BOOK REVIEW: Hoopty Time Machines by Christopher DeWan

by SHELDON LEE COMPTON

 

Atticus Books

133 pgs.

Buy a copy at Amazon

 

Christopher DeWan’s short story collection Hoopty Time Machines promises, via subtitle, to be “fairy tales for grown ups” and it doesn’t let the reader down. In a tradition that has grown more popular in the past five years or so, DeWan takes on a variety of fairy tale characters or fairy tale-like characters and aims them at the adult reader.

There are more hits than misses with the collection. DeWan knows what he’s after as a writer and gets there most of the time. The instances in which he falls only slightly short are few and can be pointed out easily. The stories that feel less thought out are the much smaller micro-stories. Some have the multi-layer power one looks for in micro, but some do not. And all seem to serve more as small breaks from the actual reading of the book rather than seasoning that adds to the overall idea behind the collection.

But when DeWan is on, he’s on. Some of the stories do what modern fairy tales should do best and marry matters of the heart with the fantastic.