Sarah Orizaga – Nailed Magazine https://nailedmagazine.com Thu, 12 Sep 2019 17:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.11 Lottie by Harford Hopson https://nailedmagazine.com/fiction/lottie-by-harford-hopson/ Wed, 10 Apr 2019 12:00:10 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=fiction&p=17461 Fiction by Harford Hopson + + +           I looked in the mirror, and brushed my hair in a circular motion like my Ma showed me how. Coats of grease all on my hands. The sticky hugged my fingers. I spread the curls, pulled them to the ceiling then let them […]

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Fiction by Harford Hopson

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          I looked in the mirror, and brushed my hair in a circular motion like my Ma showed me how. Coats of grease all on my hands. The sticky hugged my fingers. I spread the curls, pulled them to the ceiling then let them bounce. The petroleum stink sat on top of me while I picked at the dandruff. Flake after flake after flake, the white never went away. The crumbs settled inside the zinc along with the loose curls of hair raked out from combing. My hair was the bomb. But it was never right like the other boys. Ma liked to joke that one day she wouldn’t recognize me anymore.

          Outside, giggles and screams, the good kind like from an amusement park, came through the walls. The patter of shoe soles came after. Miranda. The butterflies scratched my stomach.

          Then the song grew.

          If you got quiet and closed your eyes, you could hear it from almost anywhere.

          It was the ice cream man, singing his song. My favorite song.

          I charged out of the bathroom, raced through the foyer and finally shoved the front door wide open. Into the burning heat I went. The bright rain had just stopped and I was sunned. Hot jumped into my mouth as if I ate Chapstick. I could never stand the sun because it always made people see stuff they couldn’t usually see.

          The ice cream man was parked on our side of the street. He wore shades and was bent out of the window the way ice cream men do, at the waist, waiting for all the kids to come look up at him.

          Then he seemed to notice me. I thought I’d smile to make a good first impression.

          I dug inside my pocket down to my knee for change and squeezed the coins so tight that I ripped my pocket when I pulled what I had from my shorts but alas when I looked up the ice cream man was gone up the street.

          The engine gurgle disappeared fast.

          The jingle faded.

          Out of sight. That wasn’t my ice cream truck and it sure wasn’t my song. Black smoke spread the air and the rubber roast barbecued my face as I dragged myself slowly past Miranda.

          She sat pretzel-style, on top of the electrical box, hammering away at a SpongeBob Popsicle in her fist. I found myself in the patch of grass where the dogs pooed. I stepped in poo here waiting for the bus once. Now I could’ve rolled in it for all I cared.

          Me and Miranda both lived in Deer Run. It was pleasant. I hardly knew anything else. When I first moved here a couple years ago Miranda was the first person I ever met. It happened on the bus, the first day of school. I climbed into the bus when I found her wiggling her fingers inside the ripped upholstery, tickling the cotton under the butt part. It repulsed me. I knew then, that there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t touch. All the other seats were full of eyes, so many eyes from the older kids in the back that my ears started to blaze hot as the bus hummed quietly, so I hesitated where she sat, thinking she would notice me. Miranda looked up, slid to make room and said, “I never sat nexta anybody likou buhfore.”

          The compliment made me feel as though I was the only boy in the whole wide world.

          Of course, she was my friend after that.

          From day one she electrified me.

          Miranda stood there beating the Popsicle to death in her left hand. The wrapper was peeled down banana-style, as if she were puppetting the paper.

          “Ice creamman says I got good form,” she said as she caught a chunk of sponge on her chin and scooped it into her mouth.

          “…What?”

          “Yeor juss jealous,” Miranda said. “He said he was gonna turn my life into ice creamland and gimme all the whipped cream I wanted! His name is Mr. Dingaling. But I’m keepin it secret cus he said to!”

          She was a tattle. A snitch. My dandruff issue became a thing of the past.

          “Well his name can’t really be Mr. Ding-a-Ling. That’s nobody’s name.”

          “How wouldjoo know, you didn getta Popsicle?”

          The words and melted ice cream gargled between her lips as she spoke. I never saw anything so nasty come from anyone’s mouth. SpongeBob’s eye was somehow stuck to Miranda’s cheek. Red and yellow foam slid in globs down her mouth. Gunk drizzled between her butt chin. She’d clearly never eaten ice cream before.

          “I really don’t know why he didn’t wait for me,” I said, lifelessly. “That never ever happened to me before.”

          “Maybe he’s juss jaundiced,” she said, slurping away.

          “What’s that mean?”

          “Like when you dohn’t like somebody cus they got bad skin.”

          “I don’t think that’s right.”

          She stopped for a quick second, daydream like.

          “So when yeor awl jaundiced you see people with bad skin, mhm, my uncle said alotuv people in Blare got it. Arsh Calflicks.”

          Miranda plucked SpongeBob’s eye from her cheek and reached out to give it to me. She waited there. The black dye from the gumball rinsed away to the white like bone and a spit lake huddled in the middle of her palm.

          “You’re a hot mess,” I said.

          “Maybe Mr. Dingaling didn unnerstandjoo were friends with me,” she continued.

          I took the gumball. I never ate off anyone before. I couldn’t help but watch the gunk webbing both corners of her mouth as I chewed slowly, trying not to throw up.

          Miranda’s teeth weren’t great at all. They were jagged to smithereens, sharp and stained red from the Popsicle. She had hobo pearlies and smiled anyway. She was a particular kind of girl.

          Miranda stood up, dragging her bruised neon shoes as they grunted and squealed across the electrical box. She stretched to her tippy toes and her bony ankles cracked. Next thing I knew, she leapt off the box, projecting into the sky like a magenta acrobat. She mashed into a patch of buttercups and when she landed, fat raindrops flew up from the hot puddles, her hair rowdy just like the splashing water. The earth skipped still. The flowers seemed to bloom and curl around her light-up shoes.

          “Wer playin dressup!” she shouted as she whipped around.

          “What’s dress up?”

          “Like when you put onna costume and perten!”

          “Like a dress?”

          “Peraps,” she said, “if we can find one!”

          “I don’t know,” I said, holding a buttercup under my chin. “I don’t know if boys put on dresses.”

          “But yer a man! Arn’t ya?”

          “That’s not—”

          “Smatter with you!” she cried out, rushing up to me and grabbing my neck and chin to inspect. “You dohn’t like butter!”

          “Uh…why not?” I asked, while she planted and peeled her hands all over my face.

          “Cus, cus if you didjer skin would turn yellow, peraps.  And thirdly, yeor chin is still brown.”

          I knew better. She couldn’t count, but Miranda sounded right.

          “I probably just have different genes or something,” I said.

          “Wull duh, yer icky,” she said, wiping her hands on her shorts as if I was some crime she was trying to wipe off. “You icky man.”

          “Now I don’t know if I really like butter anymore. I coulda swore I did.”

          “Let’s godo my house and figer out!”

          “I’m not supposed to go over anybody’s house when my parents are gone,” I whispered to her. “My Ma said there’s always somebody watching.”

          “I got popsicles inna fridgerator, I promise!”

          We travelled up the hill. Me and Miranda both lived on Jeannette Way, on the same side. The parking spaces in front of each house were all empty mostly. All the parents were at work. From the looks of it there were no witnesses.

          We got to Miranda’s house, turning onto her walkway when I hesitated.

          She went ahead to the steps, prancing to just before the door.

          “Cmoooooooooooooon,” she whispered enormously from the top step.

          I stood where I was, shook my head, and simply pointed at a praying mantis at the top step with the pinchers curled. I didn’t like that thing staring at me.

          The thing was, I knew it was probably scared of me. Yeah well it scared me too. That’s how most things were. And now Miranda was going to know I was scared. So much for being a man.

          Miranda bent down and pinched the neck of the mantis. Its limbs stretched out to reach for anything, probably wanting to just die if Miranda wasn’t going to let go. It was a frightening circus act and I could not take my eyes off her. She shrieked but stayed calm as the mantis flapped and buzzed against her hand.

          She tossed it underhand, it dipped for a second, and then it took flight. I watched the mantis fly all the way until I couldn’t see it anymore, then I ran the pathway and jumped up the steps toward Miranda.

          “Hurry!” I cried out.

          “Fraidy cat,” she said, rolling her eyes. “That thing never did nun to you.”

          She spread her fingers around the doorknob. Next to that, a police sticker was glued on the screen door. I peered into the darkness through the fog fingerprints on the glass.

          “Your dad’s a cop?” I asked.

          “Yeah.”

          “In Baltimore?”

          “No. Balmer Cownee pleece.”

          “What if he arrests me for coming in?”

          Before I knew it, Miranda was in the orange haze and shadow of her house.

          “Come on,” she whispered again from the mysterious portal.

          The cool air dragged me in. Pimples rose like a thousand suns all over my shoulders. The carpet was white. Lint lollygagged around the air. The yellow sun honey light beamed in the family room in blocks cut by the windows and Miranda turned to honey, too. Yup, jaundiced, just like she talked about. Something about coming in felt inviting, even though it was forbidden.

          A cross was nailed to the wall near the front door above the console. Ma always told me we were Baptist and I never took it seriously. I never felt very Baptist. For some reason seeing this cross made me believe that God really was here.

          At once Miranda spun around and raced for the kitchen.

          I started to chase her there until I slid on the carpet.

          I stopped.

          I looked down on the ground. Mud bunched the bottom of my shoe. Crooked grass branched out from the brown around the sole, all on this clean carpet.

          Miranda’s parents would kill me.

          I took my shoes off, threw them in the corner near the door and ran toward the kitchen. Miranda wouldn’t tell on me. There was no time to believe she wouldn’t.

          I froze where the carpet turned into kitchen floor. I sunk into the staples, looking in awe. My feet stung. Locked on her tippy toes, Miranda stretched up to the sink to wash her hands, humming while she did it. She scrubbed them dead. The bones in her back moved violently like the devil banging the walls of a blown bubble.

          Maybe she wasn’t a hot mess at all. I looked down at my feet again. Maybe I was the mess.

          Then she was at the fridge, yanking open the freezer with all her weight. Thick tubs of frozen black cherry sherbet jam-packed every shelf inside. She reached in and ripped them all out and they hammered the linoleum around her feet. Had she ever felt pain? I winced. Her toes would’ve purpled from the pails.

          I carried one of them up to the counter, trying to tear the top off with both hands until the plastic dug to bone and I couldn’t take it anymore. A man would’ve been able to do it.

          “Dohn’t opennat!” Miranda cried out. “That’s pig blud silly.”

          Suddenly being here seemed dangerous. More, please.

          “What?” I asked, walking toward her.

          “My pap, he guts dem pig at his farm up Jarrettsville and we take the blud and make sassages from it, blud sassages,” Miranda said impatiently. “Gettin the blud is a whole event and my family all gathers round to see the pig hangin there kilt. Pap lemme get the jugaler once. You juss gotta work it in the heart and pump betweena shoulder and neck.’ Cus affer the neck the pig aingot no more lefta give. The muscles wiggled alot inna beginning. Everyfink stayed quiet wholl it screamed and suffered. It was so scared cus it knew it was gonna die. Then it gave up.”

          The whole thing sounded gross, but then again I had Miranda’s soggy gum in my mouth.

          “Did you feel bad?”

          “It couldna been worse than that piggy had to go through.”

          Would I ever get to kill a pig?

          No.

          Not ever.

          I put the blood down and wiped the frost on my shorts. I went over to the kitchen table, climbing up the wobbly stool.

          A faded, little cream TV sat on the kitchen table. Dust scattered the screen. Some kind of boring news was on. Dried up Old Bay browned the Sun papers laid out all over the table. I wondered how they ate in these conditions.

          “Juss push the noosepapers out the way.” Miranda said. “You want some butter?”

          “No thanks.”

          “I knew it was true,” she said, pausing to shake her head. I twisted back toward the TV.

          “Are there foxes in animal crackers?” I asked.

          “No!” Miranda cried out. “Cus you can’t catcha fox. There special sneaky!”

          “Who’re your parents voting for?”

          “Bushes!” she said, whipping around away from the freezer. She fluttered her eyes. “And how bout yeors?”

          “Kerry.”

          Miranda’s eyes bloomed up fear.

          “If you dohn’t vohte for Bushes you dohn’t got morals! And Kerry dohn’t got morals. Only branch managers and sissies vohte for Kerry, yup. Specially sissies.”

          She swung the freezer shut and her sticky feet tore from the floor. She ran upstairs, leaving me with this mess. If I stayed there eventually it’d be my fault.

          So, I followed her.

          From the hallway I heard drawers shuffling inside Miranda’s room. That dull squeal they like to make. A warm flurry of blood spaghettied all down my insides. My heart was finally beating.

          It would’ve popped if not for Miranda.

          I went in and looked around the blind black. Burgundy curtains spilled down the walls. They made the room seem kind of bloody.

          This wasn’t what I thought Miranda’s room would look like at all. I didn’t know anyone else my age with an ironing board. I guess she was mature.

          Miranda’s arms submerged inside the dresser against the wall, fingers scraping the wood, elbow deep in the mashed potato clothes like she was helping make dinner.

          “What’re you looking for in there,” I whispered.

          She rammed the drawers shut and vanished off into the closet. The black inside took her. All the stuff sitting on the drawer wiggled long after she was gone, until the stampede of miniature horse figurines finally rattled over on their sides.

          I made the right choice to sit them upright, perfectly how they were.

          No way I was getting arrested now.

          The closet light was turned on. I pushed my head through the door cranny. Kerosene smell. I peered around the door to find Miranda buried in clothes up to the hip, head, arms and hands peaking at the top like pus. We weren’t in her room at all.

          She cackled. She ripped shirts off the hangers. Broken plastic flew everywhere. I shouldered the door and shot inside the closet, falling into a sleeve swamp. My fingers swam the silky guts. I realized how serious it was for me to be in her parents’ closet. People’s clothes could tell you a lot.

          “What’s your Ma do?” I asked.

          “She’s a treasure! She holds awl the secret treasures inner offiss buildin!”

          “Whoa,” I whispered. “What’s her name?”

          “Charlotte—Lottie fer short. She said she’s invisible…sometimes I believer.”

          I shook away from the pile of clothes immediately and started to quiver.

          The mud downstairs…the food on the floor.

          Maybe Ms. Charlotte already knew about all of it. I realized I was completely inside the closet. In a trap. I thought about that pig, how it knew it was going to die.

          “Why didn’t you tell me she was invisible before we came all the way up here?!” I whispered. “I could be killed!”

          “Perfick!” Miranda said, sliding two shirts apart on the rack. “The swing set!”

          With a jump and a tug, a rope came dropping down to the floor from the clothesline. All that was left hanging were two towering, spotless robes in the middle, with snow cone hats connected to them.

          And just then I remembered…I’d never gotten my Popsicle.

          I gave up on that promise.

          “My parents got married innese before I was born,” Miranda said. “My mom said the masks was for when people cried so nobody would get embarrassed.”

          “That makes sense,” I said.

          “Wanna get married right now?”

          “I dunno if I’m ready.” I didn’t know I was gonna cry.

          “Boy yeor fraid of everyfink.”

          I was a boy again.

          She lunged at one of the robes and when she yanked it the hanger bent. It finally gave and the robe snapped off, with Miranda falling backward over the hill of clothes, cheesing the whole way.

          I laughed at her.

          She bubbled underneath the robe, giggling. She seemed to be wrestling a marshmallow. Wrestling herself. I followed her lead, pulling the other robe down and the whole thing fell over me too. It was mine now. It moved down my body, brightening me, the static hugging me, electrifying me just like Miranda did the first day we met. I wasn’t terrified anymore. I don’t know if I ever was.

          My Ma definitely wouldn’t recognize me now.

          I exhaled once I got my head through and it was girly to think, but the robe sparkled forever. I’d never seen anything so clean before.

          “We don’t have the church guy,” I whispered. “Or a vest either.”

          “We dohn’t need no church. My parents didit inna barn.”

          “We don’t have rings either,” I said.

          “I got sum for us both.”

          She dug into the mounds of clothes beside us. She removed two Capri Suns. Tropical Blast. We snapped the straws off the juicies. She took my pouch and stabbed the straw in. Then I did hers. We sipped them together.

          “By the power vested in me,” I said, “I protest us husband and wife.”

          In our robes, giant like glaciers, we plopped down next to each other on the pile of clothes. She turned and led with her butt chin, pecking me on the cheek. Miranda dug into my hair and twirled her icy fingers in the greasy loops.

          “Yeor hair is goopy,” she said. “Didjoo even look inna meer this mornin?”

          I hoped she wouldn’t be able to see my white flakes.

          I think she did.

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Header image courtesy of Brett Amory. To view his Artist Feature, go here.

Harford Hopson is a writer from Baltimore, Maryland. In his formative years he was uprooted and displaced to Pennsylvania, where he was force-fed hog maw by Quakers and made to watch Steelers football. He is the author of the crime drama novel, Amusement Only and his other work has appeared in Your Impossible Voice and End of 83.
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Lifeline by Shannon Roberts https://nailedmagazine.com/fiction/lifeline-by-shannon-roberts/ Thu, 14 Mar 2019 12:00:25 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=fiction&p=17425 Fiction by Shannon Roberts + + +           Rose inherited the garden when her mother died. The land spooked most people, but she was used to it. Each morning, she greeted her crops, imitating what her mother had done so many years ago. The tomatoes, onions, corn—when she was done, she […]

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Fiction by Shannon Roberts

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          Rose inherited the garden when her mother died. The land spooked most people, but she was used to it. Each morning, she greeted her crops, imitating what her mother had done so many years ago. The tomatoes, onions, corn—when she was done, she acknowledged the crows, their beady eyes scouting for a free meal.

          Seldom did her harvest respond when she said, “Good morning,” but the crows always squawked their disapproval when her eyes met theirs. They always ended up getting their share when Rose looked away, giving them the opportunity to dive in and peck at the produce. She couldn’t tell them apart, but she knew that no crow ever returned after they fed. They didn’t live to make it to seconds.

          Mud stuck in webs between Rose’s toes. As she left the garden, leaving footprints behind in the earth, she heard the birds swoop down to devour the tomatoes. Most of the birds grew bored after feeding and went along their way, but one always remained, gawking at her as though there was a challenge that it intended to win. Rose cackled at the thought of the crow’s fate, revealing her rotten gums.

          Her breath had the tendency to offend people, but her greenery didn’t mind. Sometimes she’d catch them leaning toward her when she turned her back. They were a bashful bunch.

          The last crow had wings and could spread them whenever it chose, but it remained still, staring at her. Rose’s feet seemed to sink deeper into the muck. She wasn’t going anywhere. Her mother’s house sequestered her to the quiet suburb. There was nothing of interest in the town. No landmarks or famous people dwelled there. Even if she were to use her gift and stir up trouble in the small town, no one would care or even notice.

          Across the country people were losing their homes to a hurricane, but she was there talking to vegetables and killing crows. Her eldest cousin, Harper, was the storm’s heart. Surely her step-cousin, Theo, would join the bandwagon when Harper tired out and make a twister.

          “Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six.” The crow croaked one final squawk before it dropped from the fence and returned itself to the earth. She shook her head as the soil conformed to its body before acting as quicksand, pulling the departed down. Crows made wonderful fertilizer.

          Rose continued making her rounds through the garden. The apple tree at the furthest perimeter of the yard had a different glow to it. It was the garden’s newest addition, but it didn’t belong. It was wise and had secrets.

          It took only days to rise to its full height—absolutely reckless. It had a bad habit of hovering over the neighbor’s property, reaching a single green apple down as an offering. Rose pressed a firm hand to its trunk.

          “That is off limits. You will not do anything without my say.” The apple tree slowly moved its limb away so that the apple was out of the neighbor’s reach, but not without a smart remark. Rose may have been in over her head with this tree, but it was right. She hadn’t made a move in ages. She didn’t have the same mighty power of earthquakes and tsunamis like her cousins did, but she could do something. Otherwise, she’d pass on undetected and astray, the same way her mother had.

          The only thing worse than death would be the next family gathering. There were two more years until she’d have to face them. She pivoted on her heel and returned to her back porch, feeling as though the tree’s roots wrapped around her ankle. Perhaps they had. She walked faster.

          She sat in her rocking chair, swaying slowly. Its wooden frame warped to her shape with the years they’d spent together. It creaked as she swayed, begging to be put out of its misery, and she commiserated.

          “Did you lose it yet?” Rose heard a girl ask on the neighbor’s side. That wasn’t the Mason’s daughter. A trespasser.

          “Not yet. Just waiting for the right one,” another girl answered. Rose relaxed. The second girl was the Mason’s daughter. The daughter hadn’t had a friend over since her bike had training wheels. Perhaps a school project?

          The intruder laughed and Rose recognized what menace hid behind it.

          “Well if you sit around all day, it’ll never happen. Your life isn’t a Disney movie.”

          Whenever her cousin Ezra passed through with an earthquake, Rose would hear his laugh beneath the rumble. He never laid a hand on her, or her crops, but his laugh told her he could if he ever chose to. The option to destroy her was always there.

          The white picket fence hindered Rose’s immediate vision of the girls, but the wind carried their scent and told her all about the pair. She could smell too much makeup on the newcomer, paired with fruitful perfume that was too wild to be considered sweet. On the Mason’s daughter, Rose could smell grass and sweat that no amount of body spray could cover. It was late afternoon, so the girl was returning from soccer practice.

          “What’s your address again? Davian is going to get me at eight.” Rose heard them walking up the back-door steps and she caught the sight of the crowns of their heads.

          The Mason’s family lived there for 13 years. The daughter was accustomed to Rose’s presence and that of her crops, and she must have felt an unequal balance in the air and the apple tree’s eye lock on her. She turned her head as she jiggled the key in the door, finally meeting the apple tree’s gaze.

          The intruder also looked at the tree.

          “Do your neighbors always steal your space? If the fruit falls on your side, it’s yours, you know.” Again, the branch hovered on the other side, the apple too bright and inviting.

          “That wasn’t there yesterday,” the Mason’s daughter said and Rose could sense fright building within the girl.

          “Carla, it’s a tree. You think it went for a stroll around town? C’mon, we gotta do my hair and that math homework…”

          The door clicked shut.

          Rose stopped rocking and stared into the eye of the tree, the roots that shackled her to it began to pulse.

          “Here’s what we will do,” she said, feeling that she was no longer in charge.

          Among the white, gentle clouds, a storm cloud imposed its presence, moving past them, as if to say, “Excuse me.” Rain burst from its heavy bottom, watering her crops briefly before the rain abruptly ceased and the cloud hovered stationary above her home like a car parked in front of the driveway of a house.

          Rose walked inside to greet her guest.

          “Florence, I haven’t seen you in years.” Her cousin’s long, stringy hair dripped moisture on the floor as she gazed at photos on the wall. Most of them were of Rose’s mother and past plants. There were a few that included Rose’s cousins.

          “I’d die out here, Rose. Too many hills for me to make a real flood.” She laughed. “I’d only make the town newspaper here.”

          “Well, thanks for watering my children. They were delighted for more water.” Any more and they would drown.

          Florence grinned at her sheepishly. It’s seemed she was counting in her head the years that had separated them. Just a runt and she’d accomplished so much already. The flooding in the country was a very popular topic among the people.

          “I could’ve sworn one of them was cursing me. What’s up with that tree?”

          With her back to her cousin, Rose watched the apple tree through the window.

          “What brings you here? We haven’t spoken since the last gathering.” Florence trailed water behind her as she went to Rose’s side, placing a hand on her cousin’s shoulder, demanding eye contact.

          “You can go anywhere. Come with me to the city. Together, we’d be-” Rose shook the girl’s hand off as she turned to face her.

          “This land served my mother—your aunt—just fine. Besides, I already have a plan in motion.”

          “There’s all kinds of people out there, Rose.” The young woman paced, dancing in her own puddles, her daydreams seeping out of her mind into the room. “Politicians, doctors, musicians, you name it. I wish I had your powers. There’s so much you can to do.” With a sneaky gaze, she looked at Rose as she stood at the door, about to take her leave. “But! If you say you have a plan…I just didn’t want you to look silly at the gathering again. See you in two years!” With that, she disappeared into the sky.

          Florence enjoyed making people suffer. For her, the more well-known they were, the better. Rose wondered if she still had a book of names of all the famous people she had brought misfortune to. Rose imagined her cousin reading the names to herself as a bedtime story, lulling herself to sleep with a smile.

          Rose didn’t care for that kind of thing, but with her vegetation and this new apple tree, bringing that type of misery to politicians, singers, even reality stars would cause panic across the country. If the country’s most beloved people were poisoned, no one would have a sense of security. They would never take a day for granted again.

          The tree was still watching her. Florence was right about one thing. Rose could leave if she chose to. In fact, the apple tree dared her to. Rose stood taller, ensuring that the tree knew she wasn’t going anywhere until she was six feet under the crops.

          Her mother was buried beneath the onions, so Rose would be buried next to her, beneath the corn. The anniversary of her mother’s death was approaching. It had almost been twelve years. She used to sit in the rocking chair where the apple tree was for hours, talking to her children and listening to them.

          Her mother used to tell them all about her childhood days, family members—especially the ones she wished she could kill, but of course couldn’t. There was a family code that was never broken, and she wasn’t going to be the first idiot. Before Rose built the fence, the town folk watched and listened.

          “Dementia,” they had said. “She’ll croak soon,” they assured each other. Sometimes passersby would check on her when they felt sorry enough. She’d give them an apple no matter what, but the type depended on who they were. The old tree that had passed with her mother gave fruit that could extend your life five more years or bring you right to your death bed. One day, her mother was reciting her hit list to her children, and a neighbor walking her snappy dog listened, too.

          The neighbor said her mother was “disturbing the peace.” Ridding the earth of a nosy neighbor was too simple for Rose’s mother to care for. She made sure to leave the dog a real nice treat the next time. That was the last time she saw that dog or the woman.

          Music blasted and vibrated through Rose’s bones. A car pulled in front of the Mason’s house. “Michael’s here! Davian’s a flake. Later, loser!” Rose heard the intruder say with a smile. If the Mason’s daughter was a loser, why would the intruder accompany her? The intruder walked down the backstairs and the tree called out to her, holding out an apple.

          Rose wasn’t as gifted as her mother was. She didn’t always understand what the plants were saying, but the tree was loud and clear. Suffer.

          Rose used to resent being in the garden with her mother. She had to take her mother’s word for what the plants said, and she always sensed the plants were taunting her. One day, her mother had shared something that she didn’t understand back then. “You get a bad apple now and then, but they usually mean well.” Her mother laughed, her teeth were nearly all charcoal by then. “Your cousins miss out. They destroy all day, and never make any friends.”

          The girl took the apple, biting into it immediately. Laughter pealed from the apple tree, and other plants shifted away as far as they could. He wasn’t anyone’s friend.

          The girl’s entire being shifted and the apple tree’s wicked resolve spread through her veins. Still, she continued to eat, ravenously taking bites. The boy parked in front honked the horn, but she ignored it. The apple tree taunted her. Yes, eat it all. Even the core! And she did. Soon your insides will be your outside. The tree cackled and its branches shook as if a great wind passed through.

          Rose fled inside to the attic. When she was old enough to utter words, her mother had made her swear to never use it, no matter what happened. She had sworn. It was hidden behind the old furniture and framed photos of all the women before her mother who she had never met. They guarded it, and none of them dared to use it when they were alive.

          Rose gripped the glass bottle. The clear concoction could be mistaken for water, but it was poison. Her plan had been to make the girl appear as ugly as her soul. A wart covered face, a crooked nose, and a hunch in her back. By now, the apple had probably killed the girl, pulling her organs outside of her body.

          Rose’s cousins would have commended her. “Great start! Now poison the town! Then the next one.” The tree was her trump card. It had also been hidden in the attic—no one before her had had the guts to plant it. She had thought she was different, so she planted it.

          When Rose went to the gatherings, her family had always laughed and snorted whenever it was her mother’s turn to speak. Her eyes were always focused on someone, but her mind was far away, and her smile was of a long-ago romance. “The garden has doubled in size in the past year. Now, they all have thought patterns past the elementary level,” Rose’s mother had said once.

          Reina, Rose’s eldest cousin, had hushed the laughter and replied. “That’s a lovely pastime, but what have you done?”

          Her mother had looked at Reina in alarm, just noticing her presence. “Why, I just told you. What were you expecting, a massacre?”

          “Marienne, we’ve discussed this. The humans need us. Their fear and loss allow them to thrive, and even love. We’re doing them the greatest service of all.”

          One tentative knock came to the door, and then two more, just as shy. No doorbell rang—there was none. With the vile close to her body, and her intentions battling each other, Rose went to the door, gazing through the peephole. Years of neglect and lack of usage hindered her view of who was on the other side. She gave in and cracked the door ever so slightly. It was the Mason’s daughter. The same girl who had dressed as a witch three years in a row. She’d tried to cast spells on stray cats to make them become human and be her friends. Then she settled for them simply being her friends. She still spoke to them when she thought no one could hear.

          Tears covered the girl’s face. “I was always jealous. She’s pretty, confident, and everyone always wants to talk to her! I know I wished bad on her, but I didn’t mean it!”

          “Why are you telling me this?” Rose opened the door wider to see if the tree had done anything to the girl.

          She looked down and hugged her arms. “Your tree. He told me a lot. That it’s all my fault.”

          Rose almost slammed the door, grateful the shadows hid her shaking hands. “Child, have you gone mad? Trees don’t speak.”

          “But he said you’ll never have the guts to do what needs to be done. What does that mean?”

          Rose slammed the door. No other plant in the garden had the power to speak to humans. How long had it been talking to the girl? She could feel the apple tree growing more new apples. If she didn’t stop it now, there was no going back.

          When she entered the garden with the poison, she hoped the tree would cower like everyone else. Instead, it laughed.

          You think just like a human. You forgot why you summoned me. The tree held an apple to her. It was red. You are thinking about what Reina said. You know she’s right. They need us, and you need me.

          She picked the apple and saw her reflection on its smooth surface. Just one bite and you’ll know what I know. She felt the tree’s roots send chills up her spine and shoot its roots through her body.

          The tree shared its vision with Rose of cities across the country poisoned with diseases in the mind and body that science couldn’t explain. News anchors on the verge of tears as they covered the stories on the epidemic—musicians selling out arenas as they played shows to benefit the victims. Alive, the tree’s power was unstoppable. It didn’t have time to focus on bringing tragedy to actors and movie stars—it had a mission to fulfill.

          “When they latch on, you may fall in love or feel the exact opposite,” her mother had told her when the old apple tree started to sprout.

          Rose imagined the next family gathering. If she ate the apple, maybe they would respect her. Perhaps she’d truly become one of them and make her contribution to the human race. She pictured them all clapping as she arrived, begging her to share her exploits first.

          The tree heard her wish, and its roots finally reached her hand and raised the apple to her mouth. She didn’t resist and gave in to the tree’s demand. Rose bit the apple, sweet juice trickling down her chin. The tree cackled and howled as she chewed. One bite was all it took, but she found herself famished. She bit again, greedy for all of its knowledge. Soon, the core was in her stomach and there was nothing left.

          She stepped close to the tree and put a hand to its trunk. Now she, too, understood.

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Header image courtesy of Bill Dunlap. To view his Artist Feature, go here.


Shannon Roberts is a social media volunteer for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She received her Bachelor’s from Manhattanville College where she was also a student athlete. She works in the creative writing field and loves running, lifting, and yoga.

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It’s Time by Samm Saxby https://nailedmagazine.com/fiction/its-time-by-samm-saxby/ Thu, 28 Feb 2019 13:00:23 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=fiction&p=17382 Fiction by Samm Saxby + + +             Nilo overheard the faint ringing of the phone inside the house. The dusty digital clock on his work bench read 6:21 PM. I hope it’s Youssef’s last call for the night. Nilo’s fingers traced the smooth surface of his wooden boat’s faired […]

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Fiction by Samm Saxby

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            Nilo overheard the faint ringing of the phone inside the house. The dusty digital clock on his work bench read 6:21 PM. I hope it’s Youssef’s last call for the night. Nilo’s fingers traced the smooth surface of his wooden boat’s faired frame. He savored the tangibility of his labor.

            “Nilo!” Eric shouted from the side porch of the house, his irritation reducing Nilo’s name into one quick syllable. “Your sister’s translator is on the line…third time!”

            Nilo dropped his bony arms to his sides and looked up at his boyfriend through the dingy side window of the garage. Eric’s eyes were wider than usual, and his jaw hung down as he stood behind the screen door, waving the phone in the air, the orange receiver cupped in the palm of his hand.

            “Take a message,” Nilo replied. “I’m still busy.” He turned away from the window and removed his black sports coat from the nearby stool.

            Reaching into the front pocket, he removed his light blue pill box and dumped Wednesday’s drug cocktail into his left palm. I’m tired of this. He shot the pills and capsules into the back of his throat, then chased them down with a glass of stale water mixed with dust and wood shavings and sat hunched over with his arms across his stomach, praying the burning pain would soon subside.

            “Three times under an hour.” Eric said, walking up the driveway, shaking his head as he approached the workbench and took a seat on the stool next to Nilo. “It’s like he’s watching the clock—the persistent little bastard. Here are the messages, at least what I could make out.” He placed the scraps of paper next to the open toolbox then threw his arm over Nilo’s shoulders and squeezed. “Gonna make it babe?”

            Nilo glanced down at his forearms and hardly recognized them. His brown skin was now pasty, the blue of his veins palpable— I’m disgusting. Shifting his weight and wiping the sweat from his palms, he straightened himself out under the weight of Eric’s arm and turned toward him, struggling to suppress his abdominal pain. “Yeah,” his voice cracked. “Thanks, really.”

            “Well, aren’t you gonna read ’em?” Eric asked in his usual suggestive tone.

            “I have a pretty good idea of what they say.”

            “Then call ’em back. You didn’t spend all that money to move ’em here only to not see them, right?”

            Nilo stood up and languidly made his way around the boat to the cutting table for a sheet of plywood, refusing to let his metabolic condition continue to limit his momentum. “Will you go check on them for me?” Nilo asked subtly.

            “What?” Eric squinted as the corner of his nostril curled. “Why do you want me to check on ’em? They’re your sisters.”

            Nilo closed his eyes and envisioned Fatimah and Lahley as the delicate little girls he left in Morocco twenty years ago. He took a deep breath and held it. He replied behind pursed lips, “I know, Eric,” and exhaled. “It’s just not a good time, you know.” Again and again you weigh others down. Shameful. You burden your lover with heavy requests? You’re no good. The girls will see. Weakness. “They can’t…” Nilo began as his voice escaped him. He fell silent then shook the thought away.

            Eric leaned up against the cutting table next to Nilo and folded his arms across his chest. “Not following— you went to all the trouble of getting ’em to the US. Now you’re refusing to see ‘em?” Eric kissed the side of Nilo’s damp head, “What’s up with you, babe?”

            Nilo felt the tips of his ears warm. His eyebrows arched and his jaw clenched. He grabbed the hammer off the table and walked past Eric, careful not to make eye contact. Nilo placed the fitted plywood against the frame of the boat and maintained a dead gaze at the grooves of the wood. “They can’t see me like this,” he said aloud, almost as if to the plywood while he drove the nail through. Nilo could feel Eric watch his every move as he went about constructing his boat. Please help me.

            “It’s been long enough, Ni. You need to see them and I bet they need to see you too.”

            Nilo looked up at Eric. Beads of sweat clung to the spaces between the black hair outlining Nilo’s face and above his upper lip. His face was flushed and his nostrils flared.

            “I need them to be proud of me, can you understand that? My sunken face will remind them of the death they had to see every day. Every fu—” Nilo slammed his hands onto the table. Drafting pencils hit the ground and rolled away, filling the silence as he recollected himself. “I just…I need them to forget, okay?”

            Eric stared back at Nilo and said nothing.

            “I’m sorry,” Nilo brought himself to say. “I didn’t mean to yell. I just…I just need you to help me make sure they’re settled, that’s all.”

            Eric looked away from Nilo and shook his head. “No, babe, I’m sorry. I gave the translator our address. He’ll be here with your sisters around eight, dependin’ on traffic.”

            Nilo’s heart rattled his ribcage and he felt a persistent, heavy throbbing begin in both his temples. “No, no, no,” he repeated. “You didn’t.”

            “You wouldn’t even come to the phone, Ni, what else was I supposed to do? They’ve been here all week and all you’ve done is avoid their calls. You don’t hear it in the translator’s voice, but I do. He’s concerned for them and for you—it’s time.”

            “Call him back and, and, tell him you made a mistake,” Nilo stuttered as
he paced around the garage, holding his slender fingers to his temples.

            Eric folded his thick hands over the back of his neck and turned away from Nilo, shaking his head. “His number’s on every one of those messages I took for you.” Eric walked over to the workbench and snatched up a piece of paper then shoved it into Nilo’s chest. “Here. You call ’em.”

            Nilo looked down at the message then back up at Eric. “You know I can’t,” he said in a whisper, running his hand through his curly, black hair. “I’ll shame them.” Nilo threw his head back and took a deep breath. What do I do? His instincts were telling him to jump in his car and run, but he knew fleeing was not an option. He sat back down on the stool, elbows propped up on the workbench, the mild scent of glue that coated his hands near his face.

            “I get why it’s a big deal, Nilo. I mean, twenty years is a hell of a long time. But why do you think you’ll shame ’em if they see that you’re sick? You sure you just don’t want them to know you’re gay?”

            Nilo raised his head from his hands and turned around to face his lover. “The last time we saw our Papa he looked as decrepit as me. Men with guns kicked down our door after supper and grabbed my mother by the hair, throwing her into the wall. Papa tried to save her, but a man hit him across the face with the butt of his gun and they all began to kick him. He cried out in pain. There was so much blood. I grabbed my sisters and we ran.”

            Eric grabbed the stool next to Nilo and slowly lowered his body onto it. “You’ve never told me this before…who were they?”

            “Bad men my father owed money to. He brought shame upon our family.”

            “And that’s why you came to the States?”

            “Yeah,” Nilo nodded, “or they would have killed me too.”

            “Did you really think you wouldn’t see your sisters once you got ’em here?”

            “I hoped, but realistically? No, I didn’t. Not looking like this. Some things just belong in the past.”

            Nilo watched Eric try and make sense of this new information. He was wide eyed with his mouth slightly open again. He blinked a few times then reached over for Nilo’s glass of water and finished it off. Eric began to cough, “There’s—” He beat his fist against his chest. “There was shit in it.”  Wiping the excess water from his mustache, Eric looked back at Nilo. “They won’t be ashamed, babe, just happy to see you I bet. They prob’ly just want to thank you for getting them outta there and all, trust me.”

            Tears began to well up in Nilo’s eyes. He quickly looked away from Eric, refusing to let him see any tears roll down his cheeks. He rose to his feet and let out a deep groan in an effort to pull himself together. “When will they be here?” Nilo asked in a confident tone.

            Eric’s lips curled into a smirk, “Eight, dependin’ on traffic. So…’bout thirty, maybe thirty-five minutes from now. I think you should show ’em the boat when they get here. Let ’em see what you’ve been workin’ so hard on.”

            Nilo gazed at the boat’s wooden frame and over at the fitted sheets of plywood waiting to be attached. The throbbing in his temples became dull. He took a long, slow breath. “I guess. I wonder what they’ll think about their older brother sailing his own boat down the Mississippi River.” Nilo chuckled to himself reflecting on the usual doubtful expressions he received from his customers at the bank when he told them his big plan.

            The familiar, faint ringing of the house phone carried over to the garage. Nilo and Eric exchanged looks. The phone rang two more times before Nilo answered. “Hello?”

            “Yes, hello Eric?”

            “No sir, this is Nilo. Who may I ask is calling?”

            “Oh good! Nilo! This is Youssef, your sisters’ translator. Is this a good time? Your friend, Eric, gave me your address. We planned to bring your sisters to your home this evening, did he tell you?”

            Nilo’s stomach tightened. “Yes.”

            “Unfortunately, Nilo, we will not be able to make it to that part of town this evening. Any chance we can reschedule for tomorrow afternoon instead?”

            “Oh?” Nilo responded without any hint of relief. “Why not tonight?”

            “The poor things, they’re terrified to be in an enclosed vehicle at night. They won’t make the distance in the dark. The afternoon will be more kind to their nerves. Will this be okay with you?”

            “Yes sir, I’ll move some appointments around to be available.”

            “Great! Does one o’clock work for you?”

            Nilo looked over to the digital clock on the microwave and calculated about seventeen hours until then. “Yeah. I mean, yes sir, that’ll work for me.”

            “Thank you for being so patient with me, Nilo. They really do look forward to seeing you, I’m sure of it. Good night!”

            Nilo hung up the telephone and returned to the garage. Eric was holding the last sheet of plywood needing to be attached to the left side of the boat. “Who was it?” Eric asked.

            “Youssef, the translator.”

            “He need better directions? I told ’em to GPS it.”

            “No, no, my sisters are afraid to travel at night.”

            “Oh, so they’re not comin’ at all?”

            “They’ll be here tomorrow at one.” Nilo said as he walked back to the stool and took a seat.

            “You okay with that, babe?”

            Nilo stared at the floor for a few minutes and mulled over Eric’s question in his head. You okay with that? You? Okay with that? You okay—

            Eric interrupted, tapping Nilo’s shoulder. “Ya hear me? I said, are you okay with that?”

            Nilo snapped out of his trance and looked up at Eric, a smile filling out his sunken face.

            “Lahley and Fatimah are safe now.”

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Header image courtesy of Constantinos Chaidalis. To view his Artist Feature, go here.

Samm moved to Oregon from the east coast in 2010. She attended Portland Community College and graduated as an honors student with her AAOT and the Creative Writing Focus Award. Samm transferred to Portland State University where she earned her BFA Creative Writing Fiction, graduated with honors, and received the Duncan Carter Writing Award. Samm is the sole intern for Forest Avenue Press, Assistant Editor for The Gravity of the Thing, development and copy editor for the graphic novel series—WaterShed—with Miss Anthology Comics, a part-time bookseller at Green Bean Books, and a new intern for Catapult. She received the Attic Institute’s 2018 Charlotte Herrick Udziela Memorial Scholarship for Women and PubWest’s 2019 Jack W. Swanson scholarship. Samm participates in local writing workshops and reading series, speaks on literary panels, volunteers for literary events, and is writing her first novel.
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Dead Clown by Robb Piggot https://nailedmagazine.com/fiction/dead-clown-by-robb-piggot/ Thu, 14 Feb 2019 13:00:06 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=fiction&p=17359 Fiction by Robb Piggot + + + There is a dead clown on my couch. It has been there for about two months. I came home late Sunday afternoon, unlocked the door to my apartment, walked in, closed the door behind me, locked it, put my keys up on the dresser, turned around, and there […]

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Fiction by Robb Piggot

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There is a dead clown on my couch.

It has been there for about two months.

I came home late Sunday afternoon, unlocked the door to my apartment, walked in, closed the door behind me, locked it, put my keys up on the dresser, turned around, and there it was.

Now, out of respect for Barnum and out of respect for Bailey, I would ask that you please do not ask how long it has been – because I really just do not want to go into it. Not now. Not until I undo the suspenders and let the pants fall down around the ankles, take off the wig and the hat and the oversized bowtie that spins round and round.  Only after that last rosy amber spotlight has been switched off and we can see things for who and what they are—when the last of the spilled popcorn has been swept and disposed of, those last few hangers-on have finally begun to usher out of the big top, wiping final threads of cotton candy from blue-stained lips, now climbing back down those steep narrow stairs and out across the darkened crosswalk  – with only cheap plastic souvenirs to light the way and distract from empty promises made – their twinkling rainbow lights already starting to flicker and lose their novelty—as the exhausted grab the younger by the arm, now hurrying them into the emptying parking lot.

The dead clown is starting to stink.

I tried opening the windows but they are laying the foundation for a fourteen-story office building directly across the street from me from very early in the morning to very late at night and the noise and the sounds and the smoke and the dust is just something that I can’t handle right now so I pull the curtains shut and sit there in the dark on my couch next to the dead clown and breathe only when I need to.

I hate this.

“Why don’t you just get rid of it? That’s what I would do!” says my next-door neighbor, as I hold the door open for her into the room where the big blue and green recycle containers are kept.

“I know – I should – I will”, my eyes wandering to the Help-Yourself shelf of knickknacks and unloved trinkets, thumb-worn romance novels, and self-help books.

“Take it back to the circus.  That’s what I would do,” she coughs, flicking her cigarette ash into the bin marked cardboard and throwing yet another shopping bag of empty wine bottles in the one marked glass.

Yes.  Take it back to the circus.

And so, I pull the dead clown off the couch, take my keys from the dresser, open the door to my apartment, carry it out into the hall, close the door behind me, lock it and drag it down six flights of stairs to the garage where I load it into my two-door coupe.

I should stop here and say two things before I go any further:

  • The thing about clowns? It’s all fun and games. A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.  An oversized mallet or frying pan are traditional gifts of courtship.  How do you like your eggs?  Over hard!    I mean sure, they all knock each other around a little, while you’re waiting for that man in the silk top-hat and dazzling crystal brooch to take center stage, but the audience knows that no one’s really going to get hurt—at least not in the beginning.   But then, there’s a loud bang and a big puff of smoke and that little car door opens and out they all tumble. The one with the floppy necktie, the one with the polka-dot shorts, the one with the flowered hat and big gap in their teeth. The one with the long face and sad eyes even the one with the short face and even shorter coat. Out and out they pour, each more colorful and stranger than the last. “Where will it end?” you whisper, mouth agape as you sit on the edge of your seat, there in the dark, until when at last you think there can be no more, the tallest of all with eight colored balloons appears there on the sawdust as you leap to your feet in thunderous applause. His little white dog in its little ruffled collar and tiny pink parasol barking happily behind him, and you think to yourself as if he seems to smile right back at you, where were you hiding all that time?

and

  • The thing about clowns? You never see them get back into the car.  You always forget about that part until it’s just you, alone in an empty garage, shoving a dead clown into the empty passenger seat.

So, with only a half tank of gas, hastily written directions, and a deep breath, I back out of my garage. I pull up to the stoplight. A brightly-colored Volkswagen Bug pulls up into the lane next to me as sixteen pairs of hands wave joyfully out of the window. I force a smile as I reach over and take a hold of the dead clown’s wrist, happily slapping its limp hand against the window. They all make silly faces and throw a bucket of silver glitter onto my windshield before toot-tooting off.

I ask myself while squinting through clear open patches of silver—how it sparkles even now in the late afternoon sun—if going forward is the best idea. It is not. Not for me. Not for the safety of those around me. Not even for the dead clown, as it smiles up at me, having slipped out of its seatbelt and slid down further into the passenger seat, its knees now pressed against the glove compartment. Damn it. And so pull over to the side of the road, stop the car, take yet another breath, get out and try to wipe as much of the glitter off the glass that I can. It’s never going to be gone, no matter how hard I scrape—that’s the thing about glitter—once it’s there, it’s never really gone. But I do the best I can. That’s all I can really do at this moment and with the windshield clear enough, I get back into my car, take a deeper breath and start again.

I roll down the windows. Let some air in. The dead clown’s head rolls clockwise to the right and then slumps against the door with a dull thud. Its tongue now sticking out like a dog, that same little white dog with its same little ruffled collar and tiny pink parasol who was so happy to be wanted on that afternoon as he stood up on his hind legs and leaned out the window as far out as he could—on that lazy Sunday afternoon when we drove out into the country, as far away as time would allow, away from the bears and the seals and the spectacle and the crowds—just the three of us, for no other reason but to spend the day alone together—you, me and the little white dog between us, dozing quietly on your lap, so happy to be wanted.

Beep-beep! The car behind me leans on its horn. Green. Go. I raise my hand, making a halfhearted attempt to apologize into the rear-view mirror as I take the foot off the brake and move forward into the intersection, not sure of which way I should be turning but knowing that for the moment a choice must be made: left or right. I look over at the dead clown, its head now hanging lower out the window, smearing greasepaint along the door, red nose bobbing somberly. That’s okay. I’ve been needing an excuse to get my car properly detailed. Little extra money and time, yes—but so worth the effort to have everything shined back up almost like new again. Right. Onward.

And as I drive through the city, past the supermarket that had that special flavor of fizzy water you like, past the restaurant that night I almost fell asleep in your lap and you dabbed whipped cream on my nose, past where you said goodbye as I boarded the streetcar and looked back to see if you would turn back around and watch me go—it seems like so long ago but only a short walk across the bridge that divides us. No matter. Head up. Another quarter of a mile and I can be rid of you. Not my monkeys. Not this circus. But when I reach the fairgrounds, it’s what I suspected—or worse, what I might have secretly known all along even before I started the car. There is nothing left for us here.

Just an empty field. The wooden pegs that anchored have been pulled up and the tent folded. The man-eating lions have been put back away into their cages, as have the tigers and fat grey elephants and the sideshow. There will be no high-wire acts this evening. No man on the flying trapeze.

And no ring at its center.

And it’s getting late and I’m getting hungry and there is a dead clown in the passenger seat of my car and I can’t just leave him here, so I turn around and begin to slowly drive back. Back to the noise and to the smoke and to the sounds and to the dust. The ride home is always quieter. You always forget about that part. And now the sun is going down as I turn into my garage. Button pushed. Metal gate slowly opens. Inch forward. Wait for the clang. I pull back on the collar of the dead clown’s little gold jacket to roll up the window and he falls forward onto me, his painted smile leaving a red streak across my cheek and it is then and only then that I catch sight of myself in the rear-view mirror and see that I have wasted, given, spent—no—made that choice and I want to get angry and I want to cry and I want to scream and I want to break each and every last memory that we made into tiny little silver bits that can be blown off the windshield and scattered never to be seen again as I drive with full speed into the next intersection. Only it’s never really that easy is it? Once it’s there, it’s never really gone, is it?

What are you going to do? You need to eat something.

And so, with that, I squeeze back into my space—looking behind me and so careful not to cross that white line as I park for the night.  I pull the dead clown out of my car, drag it to the elevator. The heels of its over-sized shoes leaving black scuff marks across the floor. Door opens, dead clown goes in, button pushed, and up I go.

And as I get out on my floor and begin to drag it back to my apartment, I pass by the trash chute and I wonder as I peer down into the black smell of decay and things that are no longer wanted—if one day soon—but no, not now.

You’re still much too big to fit.

 

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Header image courtesy of Erik Jones. To view his Artist Feature, go here.

A Washington, D.C. native,  Robb Piggot is an award-winning playwright, essayist and storyteller, whose work has been produced on the stages of New York, Boston, Denver and South Florida.  He now lives with his ungrateful cat, Slugworth in Portland, Oregon, writing for and performing regularly at local theatres, spoken-word events and other dens of ill-repute .  His newest piece, “Bed, Bath and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls – A Nightmarish Parody of Sex, Drugs and Kitchenware”, will be terrifying audiences later this summer.

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re(mix) by Seneca Basoalto https://nailedmagazine.com/fiction/remix-by-seneca-basoalso/ Thu, 13 Dec 2018 13:00:06 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=fiction&p=17223 Fiction by Seneca Basoalto + + + Cherry lollipop lips stained like a mess of Crayola marker—there’s an art in sulking behind heart-shaped Mylar balloons floating in a tinsel mess of sparkling, pink metallic. It’s a flashback to a preteen 80’s birthday party, bubblegum burst leaving a gummy crust against the chin. Someone spiked the […]

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Fiction by Seneca Basoalto

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Cherry lollipop lips stained like a mess of Crayola marker—there’s an art in sulking behind heart-shaped Mylar balloons floating in a tinsel mess of sparkling, pink metallic. It’s a flashback to a preteen 80’s birthday party, bubblegum burst leaving a gummy crust against the chin. Someone spiked the cake with amphetamines and the dust was left crawling down her throat.

………………………………………An hour earlier, she was alone in the shed guzzling oral morphine and sniffing the raw unshaved lumber from the walls. Now,

SHE was sucking on her teeth and neglecting the ability to remember what skin was meant to feel like. Something about the stars and moon? Something about black lights and dry humping when she was thirteen. Something about her grandmother’s old furniture and the smell of pudgy girls in the summer. Something simulating nostalgia under the lens of unambiguous downtempo remixes meddling with her eardrums.

There was a lightning bolt stuck to her lashes, and they dropped like a crow’s feathers onto the rug—where she bent, in beads, bracelets, and baby doll dress—to collect them back one by one. With mirages and a lisp, she made wishes one by one as she blew them up towards the ceiling fan.

  1. I wish for all the buttons to fit between my fingers
  2. I wish gold liked the way I said its name
  3. I wish Tennessee

That was it. I wish Tennessee. There were question marks that didn’t know how to organize a proper thought. A silence that overcomes the unmitigated created from noxious cake and coral frosting.

  1. I wish in pictures
  2. I feel like a telecaster
  3. Bambino sombrero
  4. I think I can speak Spanish!
  5. Rotary cake. Camilla. Corset.
  6. I need to buy Chips Ahoy tomorrow
  7. There was that place in Tennessee…
  8. Who is that? Wait…who was…what is that. My tongue likes words.
  9. I love buttons. I wish for all the buttons to fit between my fingers. Pink. Ink. Danny Pink.

 

Up or down? Up. Or down. Warm Prosecco or Mr. Pibb? Both taste like the phallic jizz of a thirteen-year-old boy in the bathroom at a military bowling alley. Bi-curious girls see something Floridian in the way she moves; cubed art deco spider monkey, pastel pink with green trim.

The shadow of a cactus left stranded on the sidewalk, the miniature palm tree tattoo on the back of her knee. Silver lining. Fleshy schoolgirl, screams like superglue on maple leaves—a sticky way to leap from one veranda to the next—following the party and a ten- dollar bill lost in the air. These trees thicken with age and adequacy, the left molar seizing as the roller coaster dropped its hands to take notes.

Whirl away.

Smoke me to death. The Girl she loves times seven. The Girl –lipstick vest—carries a black label gun as a handbag and hides plastered perfume in her hair. You can’t see her behind her eyelids. James Dean shades and a copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s last typed word stitched to the membrane of her metacarpal. There could be a death in France and she’d know about it. The Girl challenges taste buds and list making like licking a matte finish lunch off puckered lips. A literal Halloween day, 3:54 EST before the sun sets, while the clouds are budding, the personification of knowing everything light will be dark and the winged eyeliner will be a clandestine pop in plain sight.

SHE lost her voice box in a veil of smog. Smoke me to death.

….Set fire to my youth.

 

SHE and The Girl slither on the Keanu Mood Scale—the example of a nude dusk and exhaustive sighs replacing dialogue. The difference between a pill and prosecco.

…………..“Consider what life has delivered. Then forget those things. They arrived too late to be useful, and I’m too poor to be this kind,” said The Girl.

“This kind of what?” SHE provoked her tonsils out of stillness.

The Girl swallowed her glass of bubbles and caught the reflection of torches with her frosted husk.

“I always wanted to be understood without words.”

“Yet we’re all words without being understood.”

Seconds are a scenic route,

…..Beautiful things are meant to disappear.

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Header image courtesy of Ryota Matsumoto. To view more of his work, visit his website here.

Seneca Basoalto is a student of psychology with two decades of involvement in published creative writing. Having a background in the backstage music/movie scene – she’s adapted her unusual experiences to fuel her insightful writings. Seneca’s Iberian lineage can be seen influencing the attitude and magnetism of her diverse range of work.

Some of her works include poetry collections published through Terror House Magazine, Glasgow Review of Books, Words Dance, Breadcrumbs Magazine, North of Oxford, and Pamplemousse.
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The Cretaceous Period by Kellye McBride https://nailedmagazine.com/fiction/the-cretaceous-period-by-kellye-mcbride/ Thu, 22 Nov 2018 13:00:53 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=fiction&p=17168 Fiction by Kellye McBride  + + + The year we moved into our new building was the same year that wild parrots appeared all over Los Angeles. Speculations arose, some said it was climate change or rougher conditions down south, but I wonder if they didn’t just simply appear like the many other scavengers that […]

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Fiction by Kellye McBride 

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The year we moved into our new building was the same year that wild parrots appeared all over Los Angeles. Speculations arose, some said it was climate change or rougher conditions down south, but I wonder if they didn’t just simply appear like the many other scavengers that flocked to the city. The most vibrant of these parrots we called Petunia. She had many colorful names for us, which escalated when we refused her cigarettes. “Eat shit, cocksucking whore!” was a favorite expression of hers, hurled at adults and children alike. When she wasn’t harassing passersby, she could be found by What Goes Around, Comes Around, a local thrift store. They bought clothes by the pound for cash, Petunia’s main source of income no doubt. The more outrageous things Petunia found she kept for herself, including a puke-green feather boa.

“I like your boa, Petunia,” I said after my daily shakedown for cigarettes or cash for the vending machines outside the 7-11.

“Stupid bitch,” came the reply, a soft growl from under her malt liquor-soaked breath. I liked to think I was special, that she saved that one just for me, but I confess I heard her say it once to Janet, who owned What Goes Around.

That same year we witnessed the foreclosure of the adult video store on Broadway. With streaming services doing so well, even our neighbor Franklin, the orthodox pervert, could enjoy pornography in the comfort of his own home without crossing the street to sit in one of the stained turnstile booths. There was talk of a bakery moving in after the storefront stood vacant for several months. What we hadn’t anticipated, when the bakery finally opened, is how it would set Petunia off even more than the yuppie joggers who hurried away when she accosted them for change.

All I knew about the bakery owners was that they were a nice couple from Minnesota, a detail gleaned from Janet when she walked outside for her cigarette break. “Poor kids,” Janet said, her face partially obscured by a thick cloud of smoke. “Should have stayed there.” Apparently, they threw Petunia out when she started harassing customers, which had been their first mistake. Petunia, like other scavengers, wasn’t afraid of a little biological warfare when her livelihood had been threatened. Petunia stumbled into the alley and Janet went inside, having observed most of the interaction on her break. But she returned once the screaming had started. I had to hand it to Petunia, she had managed to cake both windows with shit before the cops showed up and she disappeared back into the wilds of the city. I wondered what became of her after that. Even after we moved to a different building as the rents staggered, even after Janet was forced to close, I always looked down the alley, hoping to see a puke green feather or hear a low voice whisper “stupid bitch” with a faint whiff of malt liquor.

Did you know that birds are distant cousins of dinosaurs? That if you take away their feathers their bodies are roughly the same shape as those towering monsters that once walked the Earth? Even as they lay extinct and the world gave way to us featherless bipeds, it comforts me to know that some survive, even if they are forced to migrate during the winter.

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Photo courtesy of Cayan Ashley Photography.

Kellye McBride lives in Portland, OR where she teaches philosophy and works freelance as an academic editor. Her work as previously appeared in 1001 at the Independent Publishing Resource Center, and online at Folded Word. Find on Twitter @kellyemmcbride or online at www.kellyemcbrideediting.com.

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L’Appel Du Vide (The Call of the Void) by Flint https://nailedmagazine.com/fiction/lappel-du-vide-the-call-of-the-void-by-flint/ Thu, 08 Nov 2018 13:00:30 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=fiction&p=17116 Fiction by Flint + + + It didn’t seem like a bad idea at the time. Not that I was thinking about the relative merits of the proposal. If I’m honest, it wasn’t about thinking at all. A tiny voice resonated up, up, up through my skin and slipped past the barriers of blood and […]

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Fiction by Flint

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It didn’t seem like a bad idea at the time. Not that I was thinking about the relative merits of the proposal. If I’m honest, it wasn’t about thinking at all. A tiny voice resonated up, up, up through my skin and slipped past the barriers of blood and bone to echo in my blind spot. It was a seduction without roses or romance, his teeth sharp, my curiosity feverish.

 

I don’t pretend to know what he wanted, other than me, turned inside out, seams showing, his fingers threaded through puffy tufts of stuffing, the sound of ripping, followed by an unraveling as quiet as my throat-caught moans filling his mouth. I wanted his wanting, and if the price was this turning, this tearing, I would empty my pockets to him, loose change jangling like the chain around my throat.

 

Bad or good, the idea was mine. I courted the danger, hair spiraling down to my waist, thighs flashing beneath a skirt tight as a hand on my hip, and those boots he’d commented on in his office, after class, years before anything would happen between us. That was the thrill, the hairpin turn on the seaside cliff, the held breath and his hand on my cheek, wind-slapped and stinging.

 

I’d like to blame it on the wind, gusting, me, teetering on the edge.

 

For years and years, my ear had been cocked to the siren song of women, gorgeous and wrecked in their sea-washed coves, calling me over, calling me deep inside. They called, and I came.

 

Then came my obedient desire. My bruised knees and my begging. The pleasure of putting my mouth around the words, yes, and Sir. The fathomless bliss of flying, and falling, from such a great and terrible height, his tongue raking the coals into a trickle of sweat sliding down between my breasts, down like the milk I would soon spill over my heavy lip, a rivulet cold as his white-blue eyes now warm and pooling between my legs, the ground rushing up in a shattering gasp, his fingers pressed against my parted lips, hushing my cries.

 

I’d like to blame it on his hand at the small of my back, my footing a battle long lost.

 

I can’t even blame myself, or the crook-toothed smile of the abyss, beckoning. My Alice in Wonderland tumble down, down, down into that bottomless wanton lust is dearer to me than I dare say, and if truth be told, were I to find myself up there again, up there on the edge with him, I would look, and I would leap, faithful as a dog.

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Header image courtesy of Fiona Roberts. To view her Artist Feature, go here.

Flint a is queer writer, activist and performance artist with an abiding interest in hybridity, performativity and generative genre-tampering, and an MFA in Writing from the School of Critical Studies at CalArts. Her work has been published and performed here, there and elsewhere—including the theatre arts anthology Staging Social Justice and the introductory issue of Two Hawks Quarterly, where her poem, ‘In Praise of Two Hawks Fucking,’ inspired the journal’s name. Her memoir, Blood, was a finalist for the University of New Orleans’ 2017 Press LAB Award.

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100-Word Stories by Heather Bourbeau https://nailedmagazine.com/fiction/100-word-stories-by-heather-bourbeau/ Mon, 29 Oct 2018 12:00:21 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=fiction&p=17101 Flash fiction by Heather Bourbeau + + + LEVERAGE Somewhere near the shallow end, she saw his Band-Aid float to the bottom. She knew then that he was endemic, hiding. Above his exposed right elbow there was no mark of the colonies. No beaver, wombat, or lemur—only a mole, beautiful in its imperfection.   She […]

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Flash fiction by Heather Bourbeau

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LEVERAGE

Somewhere near the shallow end, she saw his Band-Aid float to the bottom. She knew then that he was endemic, hiding. Above his exposed right elbow there was no mark of the colonies. No beaver, wombat, or lemur—only a mole, beautiful in its imperfection.

 

She swam to stop his exit. Silently, smiling, she grabbed his elbow, searched his eyes, and embraced him. “My towel is nearby,” she whispered as she took in his chlorine-soaked skin that had recently seemed so much like her own. Now with his trust won, she could, without suspicion, report him and buy her freedom.

 

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THE KNITTER

He knit carefully the wool and linen, blending textures for the man who did not yet know the knitter’s plans to quietly leave, taking the salty heat of his body. The knitter hummed French lullabies and Russian shipyard songs while he purled. These were the songs of his parents, and their powers to soothe and inspire body-testing labor were gathered into each deftly wrought row, creating a legacy of luxurious longing. The knitter knew that, in time, with this blanket, the once-young man would see the knitter’s leaving with the first snow as the serendipitous raveling of their life together.

 

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PIGEONS

His room was a shit-filled oasis. Coops were strewn in a maze that he navigated silent, aware of the birds’ individual breaths and flutters—his treasures from another life doing life. He would tuck treats of sweet grass and dry twigs when he wandered the city late, when the moon nearly peaked and he could savor the freedom of open sky alone as his former cellmates lay six feet under or asleep encaged. He had first asked for an extension of his sentence, unwilling to leave these birds that, unlike most always-free men, did not demand to be understood.

 

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Header image courtesy of Justin Hopkins. To see his Artist Feature, go here.

Heather Bourbeau’s fiction and poetry have been published in Alaska Quarterly ReviewCleaverEleven Eleven, Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s Chalkboard, The Stockholm Review of Literature, and the anthologies Nothing Short Of 100: Selected Tales from 100 Word Story and America, We Call Your Name: Poems of Resistance and Resilience (Sixteen Rivers Press). She is finishing a collection of 100 100-word stories called “Tart Juice.”

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The Strange Fauna of the Suburban Pacific by Amy Stuber https://nailedmagazine.com/fiction/the-strange-fauna-of-the-suburban-pacific-by-amy-stuber/ Thu, 11 Oct 2018 12:00:38 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=fiction&p=17034 Fiction by Amy Stuber + + + Bre was a plain girl. She did not stand out, and she did not try to stand out. Her black hair hung in a low ponytail every day. She was sixteen, still without breasts, played the clarinet, was fascinated by birds, and walked her younger brother to and […]

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Fiction by Amy Stuber

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Bre was a plain girl. She did not stand out, and she did not try to stand out. Her black hair hung in a low ponytail every day. She was sixteen, still without breasts, played the clarinet, was fascinated by birds, and walked her younger brother to and from the school parking lot every day refusing to make eye contact with anyone. She could not have been gloriously made over in a romantic comedy version of her life.

Yet a small group of seventeen-year-old boys had made her the focal point of their harassment. The boys were exactly what you’d expect. Man-sized but with little limb control and absent of reason. They smoked weed in the back parking lot. They wore vintage t-shirts and drove their parents’ VW vans. They surfed sometimes but weren’t particularly good at it. Nearly all of them had first names that had been surnames a generation before.

When just after New Year’s they’d started with Instagram comments—Bre’s page was entirely nature photos, and the ringleader’s first comment beside her photo of a dolphin off Zuma had been, “An animal documenting animals. Classic”—Bre had only for one second wondered “why me?” Though her parents were both lapsed Jews and though they declared themselves atheists, Bre had heard the stories of great great uncles who’d emerged from Bergen-Belsen staggering through the end stages of typhus. She knew that one need not be deserving of cruelty to receive it.

*

Planting a pipe bomb in a mailbox, even one detached from a residence, was a federal offense. Bre’s younger brother Max often professed that this punishment was overly harsh, but admitted that it was somewhat difficult to trace if you followed the appropriate precautions, which he, of course, did.

Max was 14 but his own kind of genius. He read Stephen Hawking and lectured people about astrophysics whether they wanted to hear it or not. He had sandy hair that hung in his eyes, and somehow commanded enough respect to have gathered together a small tribe of boys with whom he played Fortnite and ate potato chips and recorded YouTube videos and watched Twitch.

When the ongoing harassment of his sister culminated in a dead bird hanging in her locker, he saw no other plausible course forward.

And so, he found himself at 2 AM walking down Baxter, down to the home of the ringleader.  He’d heard a radio story about a mapping app that had inadvertently made Baxter – the steepest street in the city—a recommended route, the result of which had been a series of airborne vehicles crashing into fences and front yards and even through the front walls of houses in the way of meteorites flung through the black drape of a dark galaxy.

The mailbox rested on a post by the sidewalk in a front yard someone had transformed into a Japanese garden with paths made of small rocks and trees molded into the shapes of animals. Nighttime birds called to each other, and it sounded like actual human laughter. He was breathing so hard it felt like his own breath might kill him. The bomb was timed to go off in the middle of the night when the house would be full of the stagnant bodies of the dreaming. The idea was not to hurt but to startle.

Days before, he and his sister had sat in a donut shop in Santa Monica next to a wall of hanging succulents and eating blackberry glazed cake donuts made by self-proclaimed donut artisans. They’d taken the bus and planned to walk down to the ocean after, even if the whole thing meant five hours on the bus. It was a Saturday, and neither of them had plans. Their conversations often involved the sharing of factoids: he told her about dents in space time fabric, she said cool, and then she told him that peacocks had been spotted in Echo Park and pulled up a picture on her phone of a male walking across the street, stopping traffic in both directions, his long tail of feathers dusting the asphalt.

So it shouldn’t have surprised him after he planted the small device, wrapped carefully in brown paper, into the yellow-painted mailbox, when as he was walking back up Baxter to his house, through the cedar fence, past the refrigerator-sized cacti, and the ancient gurgling hot tub, into his room where he would try to sleep but be awakened by the thought of sparks and sounds, when he looked up from the dark night street to see a peacock fanning out its plumage as it balanced on a utility pole, as if telling him: anything at all, really anything, can happen.

 

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Header image courtesy of Megumi Toyosawa. To view her Artist Feature, go here.

Amy Stuber’s short fiction has appeared in many national journals, including The New England Review, Ploughshares, and The Antioch Review. She has new work coming out this year and next in Faultline, Hobart, Copper Nickel, Pithead Chapel, West Branch, The South Carolina Review, and Split Lip. Find her on Twitter @amy_moss_ or online at www.amystuber.com

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