8/29/14

Michael J Seidlinger

from Miseryhead

What are you working on now?
There's a novel, yeah, and maybe there's more than one. There are plenty of dead novels too. But I'm going to break my own rule by forgoing specifics. Instead, let's talk David Lynch; more specifically, the Twin Peaks Project, spearheaded by Shya Scanlon, the reason this excerpt is being published today, as contribution to the project as well as a capstone, the conclusion to my curating duties for Everyday Genius. Lynch, like JG Ballard (and insane, loud, violent metal music), continues to be one of my biggest influences. If I'm writing a sentence that takes a strange, unexpected turn, or outlining a concept that reveals something darker, less contemporary, more odd and surreal, than expected, I blame Lynch. With this novel, Miseryhead, I went in figuring I should embrace the Lynchian tendencies. Things got real weird. Really fucking weird. Yeah... Anyway, cheers to Lynch. Cheers to Shya Scanlon, and the Twin Peaks Project. Cheers to those that dig this excerpt. Cheers, and keep it, as always: \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/.

[Excerpt]

MY LIFE CAN BE CUT UP

My life can be cut up into a number of layers, but of the half-dozen or so that exist, only two are worth talking about.
There’s the layer involving leisure, and the layer involving a much graver, sinister longing.
With the former, it involves a lot of myself trying to enjoy the minutes and hours of my day on items and events that should be something I enjoy, but 80% of the time, don’t, I simply don’t.
There might be a laugh, a nice buzz, but I’m back to the same pool of what-ifs and worries. 80% of the time.
The other layer, one involving longing, takes over most, if not all, of this existence. It’s this idea that I should be doing something with my existence. It’s this idea that I should put something out there, being someone.
I should be the best that I can be. But no one is there to tell me if I am or if I’m not.

What they don’t know is what I choose not to tell them.

*

Harvey wants to be seen next to me, so I let him take the mannequin for a walk while I retreat to the locker.
I’m anxious and I don’t know why.
In the darkness and warmth of a cramped locker, I am able to relax. I relax, knowing that right about now, everything that’s said and done is ‘said and done.’
Not a single word of it is memorable.
I’m not missing anything.

*

I’m at wit’s end and the worst of all falls at the very end of a school day.
“Oh shit, someone really fucked up your schedule.” Harvey.
“Just… skip.” Laura.
“Petroff’s going to try to kill you!” The facelessnes of a crowd.
Sixth period I find out is none other than Principal Petroff himself, the man that, until now, I had only heard about and hadn’t a clue that he was a man that couldn’t be seen in public without wearing a suit of armor, a man full of honor codes, worry, and blame.
“I’ll try and get you out of class.” Mallory.
“What are you a creeper?” Laura to Mallory.
It’s understandable, given that Mallory shouldn’t really belong to this, the most valuable of social cliques, but as she had said, she’s a bit of a “go-betweener,” and the rest of the group isn’t as hostile to her presence.
Harvey even says “Hey.”
I’m angry and showing it, forcing the mannequin to randomly kick at lockers as we pass by. Say something like, “Fuck this!”
Reassurance from all those around me.
But I still have to go to class.
It’s proof that inevitably it’s all kept among the student body. When it comes to faculty, we are at the whim of dollar signs and seniority.
“Don’t worry,” Mallory the mannequin aside, “I’ll get you out of the class. Okay?”
Say nothing, be doubtful.
Then say “Okay,” all uncertain and despondent. The rest of them disperse for their own sixth period classes.
Laura looks back before turning the corner, eyes twinkling with curiosity. Mallory stands next the mannequin, looking right into its face.
What the hell does she see in it?
I mean to say, what is her type?
Anyway, this is where I walk away, toward the classroom in the back where a bunch of “trouble students” dread being lectured by the armor-suited psychopath himself, Principal Valentin Petroff.
Mallory in the hall by herself, thinking about the mannequin.
Bell rings.

*

Valentin Petroff has us standing, not sitting as he wanders around like a drill sergeant talking to us not about how to be better people, better students, or some kind of issue with our student performance. No, he talks to us about what’s going to happen next.
Our story, “the story of our pathetic lives,” is the topic of the lecture.
Everything we hear is exclusively our own.
He addresses us collectively while pointing at us with a cardboard knight’s sword (I guess he couldn’t manage the real blade due to school regulations), exposing something about us that shouldn’t, not ever, be discussed around others.
Even if no one here is giving a shit.
All twelve of us, “You problem students, oh yes, you will learn!”
To one kid, “You will face your father, with mixed results!”
To another kid, “It will take a failed suicide to turn your story into something more than just a bleak and depressing tale of ‘yet-another-emo-kid!’”
And to me, “You will go home and discover that you can’t just forget what didn’t happen throughout the school day.”
I don’t say anything because he’s unpredictable.
Does he see the mannequin or does he see what he wants to see?
I can’t tell behind the mask of his armored suit.
The visor down, his face is his own sort of facsimile.
Whatever prevents him from having to face us, I guess.
“Every damn day, you will regret your decisions.” To the class.
At the front of the classroom, he faces all of us.
“Every damn day is edited out of a life story that has yet to complete its first act!”
One of the kids in the class interrupts, “What the fuck are you talking about?! You’re so crazy!”
Petroff stomps forward, the armor plating clashing loudly.
The kids standing to either side of the one that just said something, who I will come to know as CJ, they inch away as Petroff sends the cardboard sword towards him, stopping an inch from landing.
“This is for your own good!” Petroff.
Eyes rolling, not believing a word.
“You may think you’re fitting in but one day, one day, you will be found out!”
Sure thing Petroff.
None of our stories seem to be functional. Petroff ruins the next couple scenes for us. For me, that means Mallory breaks into Petroff’s office and uses the PA to call me to the office, getting me away from more of my story being spoiled, and then I’m thanking her in a very lax, almost nonexistent way, and then she asks, “How was your first day?”
That one’s not worth answering.
My plan is to head to locker, then to bus stop, then home, to the real safety of my basement, where I’ll be better off.
I feel like I need to shake free of the layers of tension trying to wrap around me, forcing me to stay around after school, hanging out when I should be hungering for freedom.
“A bunch of people go over to Xavier’s after school.” Mallory. Trying hard. Too hard.
I’m trying harder not to let the mannequin return to its place in my locker.
“Maybe some other time. I have to be somewhere.” Me.
“Oh,” disappointment, “well, I’m sure everyone will be looking for you. Maybe tomorrow?”
Let her off easy. “Yeah, tomorrow. That’s a possibility.”
She won’t be walking the mannequin back to the locker.
No.
And like a good girl, she remains near the office as I leave the way I first entered the building –
A few short minutes before everyone poured out into the halls.
I return to my locker, stepping out coughing but I run anyway, right outside into the torturous sunlight and down the sidewalk, running those seven blocks to the bus stop.
Running, sprinting home.

Flicker on, flicker off, so many of them I leave confused. “Where did he go?” And maybe even a little bit of uncertainty, “His name was Blake right?” There’s always tomorrow, yeah.
But so much of me wants nothing to do with the school outside of the school day itself. No pride, no will to get along with these people outside school hours.
I run and flee like part of the day has been stolen from me.
I feel like I need to catch up.
Need to make the most of what little is left.


Michael J Seidlinger is the author of a number of novels, including The Fun We’ve Had, Mother of a Machine Gun, and The Laughter of Strangers. He serves as the Reviews Editor for Electric Literature as well as Publisher-in- Chief of Civil Coping Mechanisms, an indie press specializing in innovative fiction and poetry. Find him on Facebook, Twitter (@mjseidlinger), and at michaeljseidlinger.com.

8/28/14

Sarah Rose Etter

Needle Mouth, from Thigh River

What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a few things, but this is part of a linked short story collection called Thigh River. This one is very new, and I’m not sure if I’ll add it. But you asked what I was working on, and it’s very much this.

Needle Mouth

Your bodies were pressed together again. It wasn’t a dream, it was a nightmare. It was May or it was June. My body was only pressed against sheets, only pressed against its own sweat.

I stumbled away from your bodies which had morphed into more than bodies, had become one large mass, the way a galaxy devours a nearby spiral, stars collapsing, dust wild.

Out on the street, there was no one – it was only me and my mouth full of needles, metal jutting out of my face. I wasn’t sure who had put the needles there, only that they were part of me now. A panic rose in my chest. With every breath, the needles jostled in my skin. My eyes welled. This couldn’t be forever.

It was dusk. Somewhere, your bodies were still a mass I was sure of it. There was a privacy to your bodies. I was always being excluded.

The needles in my mouth began to throb with their hard heat, some of their metal through the cheeks, some up through the chin, some sewing needles, some syringes leaking an unknown juice into me. The needles brushed against my teeth and gums, the metal on all the worst places, all the softest places.

Meanwhile, your bodies elsewhere throbbing, light from eons ago only reaching me now.

It was May or it was June, there was a mist coming down on me. I stopped on the asphalt. I’d have to do the hard work myself.

“I’ll do the hard work myself,” I said through the needles, and the hurt tore through me worse but I deserved that for thinking I would be part of a specific, flesh-toned universe imploding.

Suddenly, there was a small crowd. Suddenly, there were three people around me. I wasn’t part of a circus, but it felt that way, the world’s smallest center ring.

They wanted something grand, I could feel it, these three people in their work clothes looking tired, bags under their eyes and arms and all, everyone a bit rumpled.

“We want something grand,” one of the rumpled people said, a man who had eyes that looked like hers, as if she had put on another face just to watch the suffering up close.

Seeing those eyes was really what pushed me over the edge. My blood escalated, a way of saying a new level of insanity had entered the veins.

I’ll give them a show, I thought. I felt dared.

I looked right into his eyes which were her eyes. My hands stopped shaking. I could show grace in the face of this.

I began sliding the needles from my mouth flesh, slowly, the pain arching through my face. The first needle slid from my cheek, making the skin pucker, grazing my tongue as it exited, the first taste of blood swirling.

“Well, that’s more like it,” he said, and her eyes glittered. She was waiting for me to mess up, egging me on. The street was a tightrope, all of this was in the air.

I kept pulling, next the needle from below my lip, then the needles throughout my cheeks, I kept going, grasping that metal and pulling it from my skin, reversing the damage, reversing the damage.

Tears rushed out of my eyes, but your bodies were still together, and her eyes were still watching. I continued. I pulled and pulled and pulled. With each needle, more blood.

The final syringe extended up through my chin, plastic and metal dangling against my body. This was the biggest. My hands trembled again.

For courage, I thought of our bodies pressed together, how beautiful it was when that happened, our specific colliding. If there was stardust then, I didn’t know. We were in the center of it.

I pulled at the plastic and it broke off in my hand, the needle still moving in my chin, in the bottom of my mouth, beneath my tongue, scraping off cells and revealing blood.

I let the plastic shatter to the ground and thought of you again, this time you alone, singular, before her, you standing with your own bones and flesh, distinct and alive and throbbing with the possibility of being free or even mine.

I thought of you and brought my hand back to the broken syringe, back to the thickness of that bare needle between my fingers and I pulled, the worst pulling, I let out a howl, the feeling making me sick even as I did it, the thick blood spurting harder than any other removal, that final hurt.

I could feel each pain prick throbbing in my face and chin, blood streaming down my cheeks and neck, finally clear of metal, skin slick and red.

The crowd let out a sprinkle of bored applause. Each clap was a small sound, each clap was your body slamming against her body, each clap was your bodies pressed together.

The crowd moved away, those three rumpled bodies gone. Her eyes were gone. The mist kept coming down.

All of the pinprick holes made their small aches. All around me, galaxies made of skin were combining, never mine. It was May or it was June. I stood alone in the street, blood constellating from stars in my face.


Sarah Rose Etter is the author of Tongue Party (Caketrain Press). She co-hosts the TireFire Reading Series in Philadelphia & is a contributing editor at The Fanzine. 

8/27/14

J David Osborne

from Black Gum Godless Heathen

What are you working on right now?
I'm currently working on finishing up BLACK GUM GODLESS HEATHEN, volume 2 of my weird crime saga GOD$ FARE NO BETTER, a novel about the so-called "acquatic squatters" of Portland called KING CRAYFISH, and a novella about a prostitute who finds the bodies of two dead detectives in the woods and launches her own investigation called THE CLEARING.

Jack Elkhoury and Nora Gonzalez ducked under the yellow tape and adjusted to the stench fogging the windows of the apartment. The neighbors had called about the smell but the maintenance man knew better and phoned the cops. Elkhoury and Gonzalez got the call ten minutes prior. They finished their paninis in the car.
            Gonzalez asked the officer, “What do we have, here?”
            Elkhoury answered for the kid. Pointed at the couch, the woman there staring blankly at the floor, throat cut. “That is Molly Richardson. And that,” pointing at the man sitting in the computer chair, his head tilted back, torso a mass of red stains, “is Rafe Cooper.” The back of Cooper’s skull was blown open, the pillow used to muffle the blast lying against the sliding glass door.
            Gonzalez crouched by the floor, rifling through Chinese takeout boxes and empty beer cans. “You think it was him?”
            “Yep.”
            “You want to check on Rick?”
            Elkhoury shrugged. “Maybe.” He moved quickly through the hall. Bathroom: curling iron on the sink/hair around the tub and toilet/dried toothpaste on the porcelain. Bedroom: California king with posts, almost too big for the room/TV on the wall/box of tissues on the nightstand. Closet packed with clothes. Stained carpet. Back in the living room: “Where’s the kid?”
            The rookie cleared his throat. “At her grandmother’s.”
            Gonzalez looked pale.
            Forensics walked in, two small men. Behind them, a photographer.
            Digital cameras beeped. Latex gloves tilted Molly’s head and made notes on clipboards.
            Gonzalez sighed. “Neighbors?”
            Elkhoury pulled on gloves and leaned over the computer desk. Moved the mouse. A computer game was still running, a knight bouncing back and forth, waiting. He exited the program and opened the internet browser. “In a second.”
            A uniform stepped through the door. Little baggie with a .22 inside in his hand. “It was in the trashcan.”
            Gonzalez frowned. “Doesn’t sound like Beck.”
            Elkhoury turned from the computer screen. “Maybe not.”

Pretty Rick peeked from behind the crack in the door. Smiled big cartoon piano teeth. “What’s up, Jack?”
            Door swung wide. Two corgis sniffed the detective’s shoes. Elkhoury hugged the small pimp. “Rick.”
            Gonzalez stepped inside behind her partner. Two girls sat on the couch and screamed into headsets, Xbox controllers in their laps. Anime posters on the walls. Ferrets worming through a cage by a bookshelf.
            Pretty Rick buttoned up his bowling shirt. A robot held a flaming samurai sword aloft on the breast pocket. “You want some Mountain Dew?”
            Elkhoury nodded. Gonzalez said, “No, thank you.”
            One of the girls on the couch looked up at them. “How are you, officer?”
            “I’m fine, thank you.”
            “That’s good.”
            Rick brought both of the cops a plastic cup full of sugar water. To the girls: “Bothering our guests?”
“No, daddy.”
“I should hope not.” His eyes went wide and he hopped over to the couch and stuffed a giant Ziploc bag of weed between the cushions. Looked back at Elkhoury all bashful. The detective shrugged and said, “Got some bad news.”
            Rick pulled the scrunchie from his ponytail and shook out a stiff Sideshow Bob. “You’re here with a plus one, so yeah, I figured.” He gestured to a couple chairs. “Have a seat, please.”
            Elkhoury sat and rested his elbows on his knees. “Molly’s dead.”
            The girls kept playing the game. Rick put his head in his hands.
            The cops waited.
            The pimp blinked a few tears back. The corgis jumped up on him. Licked his face. Elkhoury said, “Seen her lately?”
            Nod. “Yeah. She kicked it with the hoes a few nights ago.”
            “Did she seem nervous? Scared?”
            Rick thought on it. “Not really, no.”
            “Not really?”
            “Bitches always have the fear.”
            Sound of ferrets in the sawdust. Wet thumbs on plastic buttons.
            “She say anything about anyone being after her?”
            “No.”
            “You can tell me, Rick. I need to know.”
            Pretty Rick chewed his bottom lip. “No. Not that I know of. No.”
            Elkhoury stood up. “Thanks for your time.”
            Gonzalez already at the door, hand on the knob. Rick held up a finger. “Wait,” he disappeared into a back room and came out with a plastic bag stretched translucent with DVD boxes.
            Elkhoury thanked him and left with his partner. Gonzalez started the car and blasted the heat. “I’m gonna smell like that place, now.”
            “Yeah.”
            Chin tilted toward the present on Elkhoury’s lap. “What’s that?”
            Rustle of plastic. He showed her one of the boxes. Cartoon woman wrapped in tentacles, one in her mouth, one in her vagina. Big teardrop sweatbead on her forehead. “It appears to be a giant bag of animated porn.”

Back at the office, Elkhoury took his glasses off and set his pen down on a stack of paperwork. He stood and stretched and went out front to smoke. North wind cut through fabric and he only finished half before sniping it on his shoe and shivering back through the big glass door.
            Poured some coffee in the breakroom. Sergeant Nieyhuis dropped quarters in the vending machine. Elkhoury sidled up next to him. Nieyhuis just staring, tapping his foot. Pressing his finger to the glass, then pulling it back and snapping, then pressing again.
            Elkhoury reached over him and pressed the buttons for Cheetos. The ring swirled and the bag dropped. Nieyhuis took his snack and left.
            The coffee scalded Elkhoury’s tongue so he set it on the table and took a bag of ice from the fridge and beat it on the floor. Shouting in the office. Handful of ice in the cup. He picked a dollar from his wallet and put it in the vending machine. Running his eyes over the treats. Pressing his finger to the glass, pulling it away, snapping, pressing his finger to another point.
            Suspended in that moment. The humming of the fridge and the commotion from the office.
            Gonzalez hunched into the break room. Poured coffee, grabbed ice from the bag in the sink. She came up behind Elkhoury and reached over him and pressed two buttons.
The ring swirled.

            Fucking donuts.

J David Osborne is the author of BY THE TIME WE LEAVE HERE, WE'LL BE FRIENDS, LOW DOWN DEATH RIGHT EASY, and OUR BLOOD IN ITS BLIND CIRCUIT. He runs the indie press Broken River Books, and lives in Portland with his wife and dog.

8/26/14

Sasha Fletcher

from Bandits! Bandits!

What are you working on right now?
I just drafted and am currently editing a real long novel that we could call a weird western if we were the kinds of people what like to place things in boxes with labels on them.

down by the tracks, or, we all make a certain kind of sound in the dark


He was walking past some train tracks when suddenly there was a lady tied to them, and so he reached for his knife and slit the knot as tenderly as he could muster and fell to the side and grabbed her with his mouth to better pull her to an area resembling safety. He dusted off his pants. She asked him if he had put her there and he told her that he did not believe that he had.
She told him that that made sense. She told him how generally it was men that did this. She told him how they generally twirled their mustaches and had a general air in general of fear and of panic manifesting itself as a sort of abuse of power to compensate for their total lack of understanding of how to deal with their fear and panic, which they assumed they alone felt, and that, additionally, this made them weak in the eyes of others, and unlikely to receive their long past due and much-deserved compensation and/or blowjobs. She told him how anyone who didn’t go around experiencing a general air of fear and panic at the world as it presented itself to them was either not looking at the world at all, or somehow they were some sort of total aberration, untouched by doubt and worry, and wholly unable to empathize with their fellow humans. She said Like a mountain. Or a bandit. He said How are bandits not an act of fear and panic? She said They just aren’t. She told him how she wasn’t sure they were really all that human anyway. She said What kind of human would go around like that, would rob a body blind like that of all it held dear like that? He said There are points being made here that are hard to argue. She said Try me. He pulled out a long gun and shot her arguments in the face, severing their jaws, making it difficult for them to argue. The arguments told him and his long gun that if this was their idea of a counter-argument Then there wouldn’t be much point in having any sort of dialog now would there. His bullets told the arguments to shut up unless they wanted more of the same, and then he shot his bullets in the face and apologized for behaving in such a manner as to preclude discussion and promote bloodshed.
Are you married she asked and he said No as though it was not the answer he’d have preferred to give and so she said Do you have a woman and he said No and she said Does a woman have you and he pointed to the stars which spelled out No in the kind of way that could make you weep if you’d ever seen what a heart looks like when it is beating outside of a chest and so she said Well did you have a woman or Did a woman have you and he said Yes and took the subject and buried it in the ground and then built a fire over the subject to keep them warm at night. He said It is a complicated issue that I am not sure how to yet speak upon. He said If you don’t mind I am going to build a fire. She said If I told you that I did mind would that even make a difference? and he pointed to the stars, which were trying to spell out several sentences at once.
In the middle of the night she was stoking the fire and his pants went up in it. There were flies everywhere. It was hot. She began to cry and as she cried the flies ate the tears right out of her eyes. There probably wasn’t another reason for them to be there. People seem to cry an awful lot in this desert he thought. It made him very uncomfortable. So did his pants being on fire. She tried to spit on the fire but the flies ate it. The flies ate the fire too. It looked wet and alive with the way it was dancing and licking like that at that dried up air.
She says Can I tell you a thing or two and he says Alright. She says For about five years or so, since I was seventeen or so and ripe was I think the word men have used to describe it like some sort of fruit they could not wait to tear into the flesh of and just stick their fingers right into the meat of me, and anyway for about five years there was this man who’d come by with a waxed mustache and tie me to those tracks and then, in a different outfit entirely, come and rescue me. It took me maybe a few times to realize that he was the same man who was tying me there. Some nights, after things had sorted themselves out into some new and terrible life, we’d draw lines on my body where the train would have cut my limbs free and clear from what it is that binds us so, and he’d kiss these almost-missed parts of me as tenderly as he could, like it was a kind of forgiveness, and for a while it was this weird and terrible thrill, and then one day it wasn’t. He would look at me and wait for a scream I just couldn’t muster, day after day, until I guess today he wanted to see what would happen. I would bet my dress, which is by the way a very fine one, that he is off there somewhere waiting until the first hint of dawn to pick up what parts of me he can find and carry them around to kiss on as a sort of absolution until I don’t know. I can’t guess or bet that far away from what I have felt in my life. What about you? she asks. What do you have to tell me? At the moment he says I cannot think of much to say that would mean much of anything. She says Bullshit, and spits on the ground. He spits in return. She spits again. She picks up an iced cream from a box buried in the ground and smashes it on his face, and turns to sit and stare at the fire as though she was above all of this, which she was, there was no as though she was about it. He laughed. Serves you right she says. Served me right indeed he says. He cries a bit. He says I do not know what’s come over me. She says That’s all right. He knows it is all right, though What he wants forgiveness for is wherefore the tears, not for the tears. He says Thank you, though, and she tells him he’s welcome, and then they both say Well, goodnight I guess, and make their camps up as best they can.
And anyway, have you seen how lonely and cold the desert gets at night? Have you seen the way that body of hers looked naked and pressed tight against you? This isn’t a story where love is heroic, and it isn’t a story where we sit around waiting for everything to work out. In this story the heart is at times a tender sort of mistake.
Before dawn broke over the desert he was up and gone from a place where nobody was anyway and he buried his head in the sand until such a time as he could understand what it was he was doing out here anyway. Meanwhile she was walking along the desert tracing a route trains would take one day whenever it was that trains made their way out here, she was seeing already as if they were there the men shirtless and muscled with arms coiled and heaving and hulking and they were strapped to the front of the trains and laying out the tracks in front of it inch by inch. This was how it would happen because this is what progress was is how she felt. She closed her eyes and saw the sun rising up into a glass ball she could carry around with her in times of darkness or strife. She saw a death and placed it in a box that she set on fire and strapped to a train, to be drawn out into the great wide plains of America, for the ghosts to finally settle a land worth haunting, ghosts being an idea whose time has not yet passed, gripping onto the parts of our thoughts that don’t yet make a lick of sense. And wrapped in a sheet. And singing.


Sasha Fletcher is the author of it is going to be a good year (Big Lucks Books, 2015), one novella, and several chapbooks of poetry. 

8/25/14

Daniel Bailey

from New God Party Anthems

What are you working on right now?
I am working on a book called NEW GOD PARTY ANTHEMS and these words are a part of that. I won't describe the contents of the book because I'm longing for a day when all books contain a uniform meaninglessness and exact likeness of symbols so that, at last, it will be appropriate to judge a book by its goddamned cover, thank you for asking.

[Excerpt]

OLD TESTAMENT

The disciples have become tired of parables. They want their stories to mean nothing. Jesus says, "I know what you mean," so he turns water to wine so he and his disciples can "just have some wine. We could all use some wine right about now." The disciples are tired of miracle wine. They want real wine, the kind that has to sit in a jar for awhile and ferment, the kind made with grapes, maybe not even cleaned before they were crushed, the kind where you can feel little bits of sand when you swish it around in your mouth. They miss the challenge of fishing without Jesus casting out his wide net and walking across the water to draw it gently back to the boat, the net frothing with caught fish. They say, "Jesus, no more stories tonight. We're tired of healed lepers and virgin whores. If anything, tell us about David killing the giant, or something with a pack of lions. No one tells stories like that anymore." Jesus bends over and picks up a handful of dirt. He says, “What do you guys know about it?” In the distance a bush ignites. “Look guys, he set another bush on fire. Let’s worship him,” sneers one of the disciples. “And look up at the sky, he’s making the stars come out in the middle of the day. Big whoop.” Jesus says, “I didn’t do that. The sky, I mean. The burning bush was totally me, but—” “Well, we’re not impressed. Catching that bush on fire would be easy for anyone with just a tad of the lord’s spirit in them. It hasn’t rained here in months.” One of the weary disciples begins to rub the sandal wounds on his feet, “Heal the lepers, will you.” A pack of desert lions descend upon Jesus and his men. They appear hungry and strong. Jesus walks out to meet them. He puts his hand upon the first lion’s head and it rolls over to show its belly, which Jesus rubs. The other lions follow the lead lion’s example, looking at the disciples as if they expect belly rubs. The disciples ignore the lions. “I’m not wasting my time petting no damn lion. Have you seen what my sandals have done to my feet?” One of the lions crumbles into a pile of new sandals. The man begrudgingly picks up a left sandal and a right sandal, and he puts them on his feet. “Thanks a lot, Jesus,” he moans. Jesus conjures a tiny rainstorm to extinguish the burning bush. The lions stand up and walk on into the desert, visible for the next half-hour before disappearing naturally over a beige horizon. They spend the next few hours in silence, snacking on crackers after rejecting rocks that Jesus had made into bread and a pile of camel droppings that Jesus made into a blueberry pie. The men are sleeping now. They are all dreaming about their lives before they met Jesus. They were hard-working men of all trades. Some of them even had drinking problems. Some of them still do. They dream of maybe their wives and kids. Jesus is able to move from one disciple’s head to the next, comforting them, believing that their uppity-ness is due only to exhaustion. One of the disciples moans in his sleep, mutters, “Gi-ou-a-m’hea-Jesus.” The stars that came out in the day remain out in this night. Jesus does not look at them. He stares into the dirt, willing the dirt to speak to him, and of course, it does. “What’s going on Jesus?” Jesus does not respond to the dirt mouth, wiping it away with his sandal that used to be part of a lion. Jesus stands up and walks over to the pile of extra sandals, which is much smaller than it was several hours ago. Some of the disciples have hung sandals from their robes to bring them back to town and sell them. One of the disciples sleeps atop the pile of sandals, a position which he had to fight off another disciple to earn. Jesus imagines himself shoving the disciple off the sandal pile, of bringing the lions back and summoning a giant to snap the bones of his disciples, of scorching the entire desert from here to all-surrounding horizon, of making the disciples sandals turn to thorns. He imagines all of this, confident that if he really wanted to, he could do it, he could make it all happen. The stars above him have dimmed. Jesus wonders about his mother back home in Nazareth, about how stupid he was to leave home, how humanity will be fine without him, how his feet are so sore from wearing sandals, that even the sandals he makes from lions leave red ruts in his feet, how if he just walked away tonight no one would ever know what happened to him. He could erase himself from the disciples’ memories. He could keep them asleep long enough that they will not wake until he has put so much distance between himself and his former disciples that they would never be able to catch up with him even if they did remember. He imagines staring into the sun for so long that his eyes grow scales, wandering blindly into the nothingness of the Judaean desert, to sleep at the foot of a dune, let it cover him completely.



TESTAMENT

Twelve men awake in a stupor, one on top of a pile of sandals, others discover their robes to be stuffed with sandals. It is morning and the sun has begun its ascent over the ridges in the Judaean distance. The men rise and depart separately, with no words spoken by any of them. The intervals with which they depart reflect a somber unknowing, a haze that must be allowed to clear enough for their minds to decide upon what to do now. The first man rises and departs with his gaze fixed upon the distance, staggering. The second man collects himself slowly, opens his robe and searches for a flask of water, walking in the direction of distance his body faces. Others survey all directions before departing. One man climbs atop the pile of sandals, creating a minor landslide of leather, sways atop the pile, shields his eyes with his curved hand, slowly rotates around to survey. A few men twirl when faced with the task of deciding upon a path. One supplicates and cries briefly and unnoticeably to those who, at the time, remained. One man laughs as if responding to internal stimuli, before shaking his loose head like a globe playing the orbit of an hour in forward and in reverse and then forward once more. None of the men have any semblance of selves left among them. They will wander out into the Judaean Desert, all separately, wordless, and in all directions, none of them able to maintain a straight line as they move outward from the collective point of origin. Some will wander back toward the sandal pile. Some will create loops in the sand. Others will cross paths, noticing the mutual passer, not speaking to the other, as if they each know there is nothing left to speak about. The aerial pattern of footprints left in the desert will resemble a flower designed by chance, a disassembled atom, the paths run by all the individual fighters in a squirt gun fight. When the wind moves it will rasp at the men’s feet, filling the gap between skin and sandal. The burned bush will shed small amounts of ash. Everything reeking of an empty womb. The sky an open palm. One man will wander into a gorge he has never entered and escape his future into a cave. Another man will dehydrate and perish within half a mile of the point of origin, his vulture-tattered rags discovered months later by a thirsty gazelle. One man will fall into an unknowing, his still-living body ushered into town, deemed demon-possessed, and abandoned in the streets, left to eat grass and trash with the asses. A few men will wander into villages in which they will be recognized by acquaintances and word will be sent to their home villages with travellers who intend to pass through the mens’ home villages that “they are here and they are safe but you had better come see.” Loved ones will visit nearby villages and far villages in search of the men who had left all of their lives to follow a belief and who now, they will discover, seem to be anchored against the current of their own lives. The loved ones will do their best to care for the men, providing them with food and a bed, trying to teach them old skills, spark motivation, remind them of who they are, growing spiteful of the blankness in the mens’ eyes, growing old and dying as loved ones do, either before or after the deaths of the men, which will go unnoticed except in the way that it rained somewhere in the world or a sandal rubbed into a heel.



my name is daniel bailey. i just moved to athens, georgia, where i live a life of luxury with my wife and 17 dogs, all named elaine. i have a new book of poetry out from Scrambler Books. it is called Gather Me and it can be purchased here.