A Teen Tale

Dear Three Editors:

I noticed from your masthead that you must be a family run rag since your names end the same way, and I’ll bet that at least two of you are married to each other and the third one is your father or brother or maybe just some third wheel. I like most of your stories, except for the short ones that have no conversation or characters or plot in them. And your poems are pretty nice, except for the ones about cranberry bogs, which I must admit generally don’t excite me, even when the subject comes up during daily interactions—which is hardly ever.

This is my first teen story, as my type of writing has so far been aimed at mature literate types only, like for instance my recent story about an old woman who made it her business to free a sad looking ape from the zoo. It is a gut-retching tale to say the least, but I’m still not finished with the end. In my first try at the story the ape escapes the grasp of the old woman and scoots away, leaving her sitting alone and learning an important lesson, which is either not to try freeing apes in the first place or simply deciding to bring a leash next time. I’m still working on it.

Anyway, without any further to-do, here is my teen story, a subtle tale about the perils of teen life—which I know all about, having barely escaped mine—and I hope you like it and that your mag does leather binding.

“A Teen Tale”

Arnold, a shy sophomore, was a real loser. Everyone hated him, even his guidance counselor; meanwhile, he was crazy for Julie, a senior cheerleader whose father drank and whose mother was having an affair with a dairy farmer. But since Julie was the most popular senior in the school, no one knew about her crummy home life except her best friend Suzie, who everyone in school hated because she was the most popular girl’s best friend and therefore thought she was all that.

Anyway, Julie didn’t know that Arnold, the loser, was even alive. Then one night some of Julie’s friends called her to go out for a ride, but her father beat her before she could get out of the house. The friends, all twelve of them, had decided to drive Suzie’s mom’s Toyota down Bell Hill, which had black ice all over it. Arnold the loser lived near the top of Bell Hill, and he was outside looking up at the stars when the twelve of them stopped to ask if he wanted to ride with them or go on being such a miserable dud. He almost climbed into the car, so he’d stop feeling like such a dud, but his dead grandmother whispered in his ear, “Don’t be an idiot,” and he backed away. All twelve joy riders gave him the finger and then tore down the hill on the black ice.

Julie limped over to the top of the hill where Arnold was, cursing a blue streak because she’d just missed the fun. But then they heard the screeching brakes and some awful laughing and screaming, followed by a distant boom. Julie gave a blood-curdling shriek and started bawling, but when Arnold tried to drape a comforting arm around her shoulder, she shook him off.  “Get lost, creep,” she said.

Later Arnold slumped at the kitchen table, cringing over the memory of Julie’s angry face.

“What the hell’s that?” his father asked, overhearing the many sirens.

I don’t know. A crash,” Arnold answered, annoyed, moping over Julie’s “get lost creep”, which rang in his ears.

All twelve teens, in the hospital with concussions and broken legs and arms, had been bullies who’d picked on kids in their school, so everyone cried a blue streak over them. The teachers cried blue streaks too, but one young female teacher suffered the conniption fits of her students when she said, “Oh well,” to a class, and chuckled. There was a general uproar and some gnashing of teeth that abruptly ended when the bell rang for the next class.

Meanwhile Arnold’s father, who worked as a guard at Riker’s Island, didn’t know why his son was such a scrawny loser. “You should’ve been in that car—like a man,” grumped his father, but Arnold’s dead grandma whispered in his ear, “Don’t listen to him; he’s an ass.”

“All right, Grandma,” Arnold blurted, and his father took it to heart and beat him.

Bruised purple the next day, Arnold went to the library instead of going to math class.  Miss Shrump, the teacher who’d said “Oh well”, told him he looked good with his face all battered like that, and Arnold bowed his head in shame.

“You too, Julie,” Arnold heard her say, and he looked over to find Julie near a stack of century old encyclopedias. Her face was even more beaten up than his face, and so he ached for her; but when she looked over at him she mouthed two words that aren’t appropriate for teen audiences but which all teens probably say to each other every day, at least once.

Still, Arnold knew that he and Julie were meant for each other because of their mutually beaten faces, so he talked to his guidance counselor about her and hoped that she could talk to him and Julie together, but the guidance counselor told him to get the hell out of her office. All day long the guidance counselor felt bad for telling Arnold to get the hell out of her office, so she yelled at the next kid who asked for help and forgot all about feeling bad over Arnold.

More determined than ever to put an end to his anguish once and for all, Arnold walked to Julie’s house after dinner that night to share his feelings with her. But her father answered, and when Arnold asked for Julie, her father said she’d run off with a carnival barker and wasn’t available at the moment. Then he slammed the door in Arnold’s face.

Meanwhile, Julie, eavesdropping from upstairs, heard the whole exchange and watched out her bedroom window while Arnold stood outside listening to his dead grandmother tell him not to believe the father, that he was an ass. Julie saw Arnold’s bruised face in the moonlight, and was so moved by his loser-like passion, and the fact that he had no chance with her, that she began to kind of like the guy a little bit. Later, when her father asked who the loser at the door was, she screamed a blue streak at him and he thrashed her to within an inch of her life, stopping just short of killing her because he didn’t want to get in trouble with the law or anything.

Julie saw Arnold at school the next day, and she tried to talk to him, but he avoided her, which was easy because she limped badly, bent way over to one side because of broken ribs, and her face was even puffier and yet more smashed in than it was before. She looked more beautiful to Arnold than ever.

Arnold felt the urge to hurt someone, or hurt himself—or better yet hurt something inanimate, if he could only get hold of an easily breakable item; but he was too much of a wuss to do anything about his sorrow. Miss Shrump saw him sulking in the hallway between classes and told him to relax, that this was only the beginning of his troubles. That cheered Arnold up.  He thought of his future, of maybe becoming a forest ranger or something and disappearing into forests, and the rest of the day he wondered what forest rangers even did, so his mind was off Julie for a while.

Weeks went by. It was spring, and Arnold still wouldn’t let Julie come near him, but she kept trying anyway. Soon all the unmaimed popular kids left in the school were calling Julie a loser for chasing after some stupid sophomore. She didn’t care, though, and finally ran away from home after her father conked her over the head with a shovel. The same night, Arnold ran away when his father stuffed him into the clothes dryer after overhearing Arnold sigh.

“You goddamn sissy,” his father seethed, slamming the dryer door closed on him. Arnold’s grandmother’s ghost opened the door for Arnold, though, after his father had gone upstairs to clean his taser, and Arnold squeezed himself out just as his dad came back down the stairs.

“Thanks, Grandma,” Arnold said aloud and luckily beat it out of the house before his father got to him.

So Julie and Arnold had both run away overnight and then skipped school the next day. They roamed through town, turning corners and going into and out of stores at exactly the wrong moments and just missing each other.  Back at school, some other losers had been planning to stink bomb the hallways; but they lived in the country and could only think of using cow dung. They did succeed in stinking up the place, much to the student body’s delight, but were later caught with some of it still on them and were arrested for assault.

Julie walked into a coffee shop in town and saw Arnold sitting at a table, preoccupied with picking lint out of his hair. She took a deep breath and sat across from him and they had breakfast together. Arnold wouldn’t say much at first but when she felt at his bruises he loosened up and felt at her bruises too. Pretty soon they were getting along okay, and she told him that even though he was a creep and a loser, she thought that maybe they could be friends.

Arnold smiled a little, and his dead grandmother whispered in his ear, “Kiss her, right now.”

“No, Grandma,” he said aloud.

This caused a serious misunderstanding between him and Julie for a while, but outside, after he told her all about his dead grandmother, she kind of understood. Their squabble had brought them closer, and much to their mutual relief, and mindful of their bruises, they gingerly kissed a blue streak.

————————

Lou Gaglia’s short story collection, Poor Advice, is forthcoming from Aqueous Books (2014). His work has appeared in JMWW, The Cortland Review, Untoward Magazine, Toasted Cheese, Blue Lake Review, and other publications. He lives in upstate New York.

You Are Actually A Baby Deer And I’m Not Going To Let That Get In The Way Of Our Potential Future Relationship

YOU ARE ACTUALLY A BABY DEER AND I’M NOT GOING TO LET THAT GET IN THE WAY OF OUR POTENTIAL FUTURE RELATIONSHIP

There is seriously an island in the south pacific that is entirely covered in fragments of human teeth and all of these teeth are from people whose parents took them from underneath their children’s pillows. Spoiler alert the tooth fairy is parents. Anyway the teeth are in fragments because i have walked over every inch of this island looking for a secret code that was placed there by the incas that was placed there by tibetan monks that was placed there by george clooney’s hidden twin that was placed there by an animate meteor with a bad childhood who now places secret codes on tooth-islands. This secret code will let me into a room in a broom closet at the pentagon and i know after i duck all the security lasers and put lead sand in my pockets until i weigh exactly 203.4 pounds and use my hidden clooney twin retinal replicating glasses i can gain access to this pentagon-room where they are doing top secret research on the unpredictable physiological effects of your hair-smell. I read about this on wikileaks and I need to get in this room because you left your phone at my apartment i want to make sure you have your phone.

NO SKIN

Christopher was born without skin. He slid from his mother all organs barely held in with muscle and sinew. Naked at 35 he is still covered in a wide net of scars from the unconventional, patchwork grafting the doctors did. Like a skin quilt they sewed onto him. Like Edward Scissorhands. Like Herman Munster. Christopher loves it. It makes him feel like a superhero who could at any minute discover his powers. He has seriously considered getting tattoos at all the scars’ intersections. Little points of black ink all over his body emphasizing the thin white lines. Maybe cryptic symbols. Something badass. Maybe he should shave his head.

WOLF RAIN

It was the day after the first wolf rain of the year and I hadn’t been planting yet. I was worried the second sun would dry up the crops if I started this late in the season, but it was now or never, and the sigourney-weaver seeds were yellow, almost white, so I knew they would take root right away if I put down enough water. Sigourney-weaver needs a lot of water to grow. I was going to be spending all day in the fields. The first sun set around 3 that day so I had a few hours of cool dark to plant in before the second one came up. I hadn’t seen Celia in fifteen years, but I still thought about her. I remember in the fall, when she used to help me harvest, just her and me out in the sigourney-weaver all day long, her hair, her smile. It was really hard not to think about Celia these days, now that there wasn’t anyone else around to take my mind off her. It’s amazing that she still held such a spell over me after all these years. She probably wouldn’t even look the same now. Lovely, lovely Celia.

————————

Sara June Woods lives in Toronto. Her first collection, Wolf Doctors, was published by Artifice Books. Her poetry is published or forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Diagram, NAP, Another Chicago Magazine, Pear Noir!, JMWW, >kill author, LIES/ISLE, Mudluscious, [PANK], and iO

The Horse Head Earrings

Venetia Favaloro’s old maid sister, Luisa, was furious when her mother died in 1925 and left the horse head earrings to Venetia.

Venetia was relieved when Luisa stopped speaking to her. Venetia, with many children and few lira, lacked energy for Luisa’s nattering. Venetia envisioned easier lives for her children. As her two prettiest daughters came of age, she mailed them to bridegrooms in shining America.

Upon Venetia’s death in 1946, each daughter received an envelope from Sicily. Nothing fancy, just keepsakes  that Venetia’s own mother had left to her. The onyx bracelet  went to Antonietta in New York. The horse head earrings, to Annuzziata in St. Louis.

When Luisa heard, she had a nephew drive her, at top speed, to the village telephone. She dialed Annuzziata in America. “I command you to send me those earrings. Mamma had promised them to me,” she said in Italian, crossing her fingers to excuse the bugia (fib).

“You shan’t have them,” Annuzziata replied.

Upon Annuzziata’s death in 1968, her daughter, Carlina, moved into the house. The phone rang right away.

“I want those horse head earrings with the garnet eyes,” someone warbled on the phone in broken English. “I simply must have them.”

“You mayn’t have them,” Carlina said, having been warned that Luisa would call. “Absolutely not.”

Carlina died in 1987. Carlina’s daughter, Samantha, and her family, moved into the house. The phone rang as she carried boxes in.

“I want those earrings,” someone at the other end hissed.  “I require them immediately.”

“Nope.  Ain’t happening, Luisa.” Samantha hung up.

In 2011, Samantha passed away. Her daughter, Amber, was clearing out the house when the phone rang.

“Horse head earrings,” the voice croaked. “Gimme.”

Amber had often repeated the horse head earring story in bars, causing everyone to howl with laughter. “Sure. Okay,” she said.

A nurse named Nina got on the phone and gave the address of a rest home near Sicily. Amber wrapped them and dropped them off at the post office the next day.

Three weeks later, Nurse Nina delivered the package to Luisa. She helped her tear off the brown parcel paper. Underneath, the box was beautifully gift-wrapped and tied with bright ribbons.

“Grazie! Grazie Dio! Finalmente!” Luisa snatched the package away, and began thanking the saints individually, in between wild whoops. When she progressed to wailing and pounding her wheelchair tray, Nurse Nina had to give her a sedative. Luisa was quite frail, as expected at 146 years old.

The old woman slipped into a deep sleep and from there into the next life, clutching the colorfully covered prize.

That’s what she was waiting for. The nurses agreed. After some deliberation, they decided to unwrap the package.

The earrings were ugly. Enormous dangling jackass heads with embellished nostrils and seedy red eyes.

They didn’t laugh until they cried yet.  Not next to the body.

————————

Carly Berg’s stories appear or are forthcoming in PANK, Word Riot, Scissors and Spackle, and elsewhere. This story is based on a friend’s real life story about a horse head earrings dispute that has just completed its fourth generation. The real life earrings are just as ugly but the wantee has not yet been granted them.

Keeping Time

Being the keepers of time is no trivial task, but the National Institute of Standards, comprised of charlatans and confidence men, has managed to fleece the population. The NIS predates the Illuminati and has mostly flown under the radar of the conspiracy theorists. They paid off a bona fide programmer to design a website befitting such an esteemed organization. If you visit the NIS on the web, you’ll find a clear navigational hierarchy, muted fonts, and abundant educational resources. When questioned about their timekeeping, representatives of the NIS will peddle you a story about atomic clocks and bouncing bits of caesium. This isn’t pseudoscience; it’s passable, but relayed with nary a shred of understanding. The official NIS guide for dealing with such inbound inquiries was cobbled together from Wikipedia articles and information slyly extracted from real experts in the field. The NIS takes no visitors at its headquarters, claiming national security concerns. Nobody is much inclined to argue, as they enjoy the childish science lessons. I reveal the following information to you knowing that the NIS grunts won’t be combing this journal for mentions of their disgraceful organization. The NIS does not keep time by any respectable scientific standard. Their office is a building in suburban Chicago whose most prominent feature is a central pit, like an indoor quarry, that houses one hundred rusted-out hulking semis. There’s no pattern to the way the trucks are arranged, though the conspiracy theorists will attempt to ascribe some larger significance to it if they ever get ahold of this knowledge. The trucks groan in time with, well, true time, and this is what serves as the foundation of our modern world. Every last slow Indiglo burn, every last tick in the countdown to blastoff, every last precious moment spent waiting in gravity—is owed to a bunch of dead trucks. Some things are just made to be broken.

————————–

Rachel Hyman lives in Chicago and edits Banango Lit and Banango Street. Her work has been published/is forthcoming in Pangur Ban Party, Red Lightbulbs, and HOUSEFIRE. She went to poetry camp when she was 13. Find her HERE.

Only The Gods Know What Steve Buscemi Is Capable Of

I think Steve Buscemi is creeping around on my roof but I can’t be sure. Oh it’s him, my wife promises me. She can tell by the adorable footfalls.

What is he doing now? I ask her when the precious footfalls stop. Building a birdhouse. Doing his taxes. Making sushi. Only the gods know what Steve Buscemi is capable of.

We’ve been having problems with our roof lately. It leaks. Whether it’s owed to the heavy storms or Steve Buscemi is unknown to us.

We tape a mirror to a broom, hang it out the window & angle it up.

Whatdoyouseewhatdoyousee? my wife pinches me.

He’s…asleep. For now.

While he’s out, we brainstorm. Soon it’s very clear what must be done. After ten minutes, we have everything in a neat pile in the living room. Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season. Ghost World. The Big Lebowski. Fargo. Con-Air. Desperado. Billy Madison. Reservoir Dogs. Even Airheads.

Don’t you fucking scratch those, my wife warns me.

After taping the DVDs to my bare chest, I prop the ladder & my wife gives me a military salute.

Climbing up, I hear those darling petite footfalls. Right away, I notice he’s not where he once was. Following a trail of pink glitter to the other side of the roof, I find him clutching a wound. He’s tired-looking, his suit tattered.

Steve Buscemi, I say in a friendly tone, showing him my hands. I come in peace.

Like a wounded animal, he has a feral look about him. Bleeding glitter badly, he steps closer toward the precipice. Flings a paranoid glance skyward.

Steve Buscemi, all I want is an autograph. See here? I point out the Steve Buscemi collection I’m wearing. The sun catches it just right, making me semi-sparkle.

He steps closer, smelling my arm.

Steve Buscemi, I am your biggest fan.

When he grins, I feel as though I’m seeing the unseen anatomy of a unicorn. Those teeth, those perfectly imperfect teeth! Seeing them up close warms every inch of me.

I offer him the Sharpie.

Sign any of them, for they are all my favorite, Steve Buscemi.

I have never in all my life stood so close to a living miracle. As though a rainbow had been bottled & placed before me. But so blinded by the blessing of his smile—the Sistine Chapel of smiles!—I have forgotten the plan, & as he’s autographing the last of his greatest hits on my torso I see it too late: my wife standing below us, spreading a net & flinging away.

Before I can warn the Steve Buscemi he is already leaping, sprouting retractable wings like a giant hummingbird’s & floating away at eighty-flaps-per-second. Treading cloud climbing toward the sun, raining glitter from the hip.

I swallow my shame seeing his gift to us: where he exploded into the sky, our roof now magically patched. All disrepair repaired.

Down on the ground again, my wife & I watch the dot of Steve Buscemi shrink away.

What do you think was wrong with him? my wife asks.

Looked like a centaur bite to me, I tell her, carefully peeling off my shiny shirt of souvenirs. Let’s go watch some Airheads.

What do you think he’ll do now?

I ponder her question for a moment, pinching glitter between my fingers: the blood of no mere mortal. Only the gods know what Steve Buscemi is capable of, I say, then wipe glitter in my hair.

————————

Matthew Burnside’s work has appeared most recently or is forthcoming in ______, ___ _______, _______, ______, and ______, among others. He’s managing editor of _________, an online literary magazine. He’s currently an MFA fiction candidate at __________________.