A HOUSE OF VLAD PRODUCTION
© 2023 by House of Vlad Press
All rights reserved. No part of this content may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher, with the exception of excerpts used for critical essays and reviews.
These are mostly works of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Release Date: August 9, 2023
Cover design: Percy Hearst
Cover photo: Andrew Chadwick
Author photos © the authors
Founder and editor: Brian Alan Ellis
Contributors: Steve Anwyll, Noah Cicero, Benjamin Drevlow, Charlene Elsby, Tex Gresham, Barracuda Guarisco, Jillian Luft, Joshua Mohr, Jennifer Robin, Troy James Weaver
Special shout-out to Jillian Luft for coming up with this issue’s title: “Sweet Trash”
Thanks for reading.
Where’s the boss? he says in a voice I don’t like. There’s something about his smile too, the way it stretches across his face, unsettling. So I don’t give him the time of day. Instead I let the kid from Bangladesh take care of it. He’s eager.
Or he wants a promotion.
Micheal’s only been in the country a few months. He looks lost eating lunch. English is a mystery. He’s too kind, unsure of local customs. He doesn’t know our rights and the natural indignation that accompanies them. An air of superiority wafts from North America like cologne does Europe.
I can’t hear what they say, but Micheal comes back quick with a please help look on his face. It’s hard to say no to someone with the balls to sell everything they own, leave their family and friends and culture behind for a chance at a new life.
The woman Dad married after Mom died never went anywhere. She knew nothing more than what she’d always known. Embracing her fear, she rarely crossed the village boundaries. No guts. My wanderlust made her uneasy. She wanted to squash me. I wanted to live.
The boss ain’t here I say without looking up from where I am at the back of the small print shop. I put a shirt on the board in front of me, drop the screen and push white ink through with a squeegee. When I’m finished it reads Église du Notre Dame des Anges around a set of praying hands. Typical shit.
The client asks when the boss’ll be back.
Oh damn…I’m not sure…his basement flooded…his children are trapped…it could take hours. A first rate lie I come up with on the spot. I figure it’s enough for him to say I’ll be back another time.
Instead he holds his ground. Looks straight through Micheal at me like I never uttered a word. He jerks his thumb at a man standing beside him I’d noticed but chose to be oblivious of. I want them to know they’re not important.
I pluck the shirt off the board in front of me by the shoulders. I’m delicate so the wet ink doesn’t touch where it shouldn’t. With the grace of years at the press I twist my torso, drop the shirt on the conveyor belt behind me. It gets pulled into the dryer to cure. The process begins anew. Always continuing. Never stopping.
But I’m forced to. With a hand on my hip I eye up the second man like you do an adversary. I have to admit he’s handsome. Bright blue eyes and a sparkling smile. Well-built for his age, white hair. Excellent posture. He makes me feel small.
A ten gallon hat and he’d look like a television Texan.
An oil rig tycoon.
A total fucking asshole.
I came by to show my friend the operation the shorter man says with thumb still pointed towards the TV Texan. I don’t understand. What does he mean? What does he expect from us? A presentation on how a t-shirt is born? A tour? Here’s some boxes, a pile of trash, a dead mouse.
Who are you?
It’s Louie…Louie from Top Notch Uniforms. I shake my head, furrow my brow. Never heard of you…can’t help. My ignorance is bliss. He pleads with me. Call the boss…it’s Louie…Louie from Top Notch Uniforms.
Micheal pulls his phone from his pocket.
Put it away I say looking at Louie while speaking to Micheal. My voice is harsh.
A few weeks back a woman I like told me I’m quick to get defensive. Often without reason. I lied, said I didn’t know why, but I do, I can’t forget. Memories of her bright red face, teeth glistening like a beast’s. The way Dad’s wife would speak to me was cruel.
You’re fucking useless will always ring in my ears.
Louie and the TV Texan aren’t happy. They both waltzed in with high expectations. A big welcome, fanfare, someone doting on them like visiting dignitaries. Unacceptable. I might be a member of the proletariat, but I have self-esteem. We’re not performers, and the reasons I’m not in customer service are endless.
But…I brought my friend by…to see the operation Louie stutters.
So…you want to watch us work? I ask, staring harder, offended. Does he go into fast food joints, grocery stores, the mall saying he’d like to see how things tick? What would the manager say? A canned response. This violates our company policy…not to mention the insurance.
Without any training I handle it my way.
I lower my brow, look out from under it. My eyes are cold steel and make contact from across the room. My voice is calm when I speak. But my aggression is loud and clear.
This isn’t a zoo.
Louie takes a step back. And from the corner of my eye I see Micheal. A grin on his face. He’s getting it now. I’m doing my part to help him acclimate. I’m showing him the customs of my people, those of us born in the land of the free.
But…I brought my friend along…to see the operation Louie says, hurt, disappointed, unsure. I laugh. It’s unstoppable. A grown man acting like a little boy. The TV Texan finally speaks.
Hey…Louie…fuck this guy he says like a mobster in a movie waving his hand in the air, like brushing dandruff from your shoulder. I’m no better to him. A peasant. I’ve heard his voice and seen his face before. Men like him were high school football stars and have been used to getting their dicks sucked ever since.
I refuse to bow.
Same as why I left home before any of my friends. Dad’s wife wanted me to admit it was her house. I wouldn’t. She pressed harder. I walked out giving her what she wanted, not seeing what I’d lose. What was it like for Micheal to leave? Hugs and tears and long goodbyes I bet.
The TV Texan taps Louie on the shoulder. He’s had enough of my attitude this morning. It’s more than he’s able to stomach before lunch. His frustration produces in me a joy you see in movies, advertisements for holidays. I feel at one with everything around me.
It’s impossible to stifle my giggling.
Enh…fuck you you pissant little piece a shit…have a nice life being a fucking retard the TV Texan says in a voice almost too low to hear over the sound of the dryer, and the slowly dying exhaust fan, rumbling in my ear.
I mutter pussy as he walks out the door.
Looking at Micheal I wink. He smiles and chuckles. Same as I do when someone is speaking French in the local accent, I’m clueless. What does he think just happened? What does he say when he calls home? Mom…it’s true…white people are rotten. I take a finished shirt from the board.
STEVE ANWYLL is the author of Welfare (Tyrant, 2019).
AN OCCURRENCE AT SUNRISE HOSPITAL
Louisa Jenkins was soon to die. Diagnosed with glioblastoma cancer, an aggressive brain tumor quickly taking over her body. There was no hope she would survive this terminal tragedy. She felt a sense of relief though, one last thing to do.
The nurses at Sunrise Hospital liked Ms. Jenkins. She never complained, even though it was obvious she was in immense pain. Ms. Jenkins was always polite and told the nurses that they worked hard, had nice hair, and she asked questions about their personal life, and remembered their responses. The nurses liked how Ms. Jenkins never watched television but had a small Bluetooth speaker that her daughter Adriana gave as a present one Christmas. Ms. Jenkins would listen to jazz and classical while playing solitaire on her phone. She couldn’t concentrate enough to read or watch a movie with any sense of understanding.
Adriana and her son Keith sat in chairs in the hospital room. She looked at her children, knowing this would most likely be the last time. She looked at Adriana, a physical therapist who was an easy child to raise—she always did her homework without being told, received near perfect grades, played sports, went to college at UNLV, did track and field, and gained a Doctor of Physical Therapy, then went on to have a beautiful house and kid. As the troubles of adulthood permeated her life, she developed an anxiety disorder from all that perfection and had to be medicated. She’s forty-three and has more problems now than she did when she was thirteen. Never married, but her kid seems okay. Her cat is cute. She is confident all day at work, then gets into her car and cries, stumbles into her house, plops onto the couch and streams shows until she passes out.
Keith was nothing but problems growing up, never wanted to do his homework, never wanted to study—it was hard just getting him to wash the dishes. He played sports like his sister, and still works out four times a week. He flunked out of college after two semesters, did a bunch of drugs for several years, but eventually decided to become a security guard at a local casino, where he met his wife. They have been married for over twenty years. He has two children and he spends a lot of time with them. He watches podcasts where men with no expertise in anything debate who would win in a fight—a tiger or a bear. He indulges in conspiracy theories and has no interest in realism of any kind. His wife is the same way—they are perfect for each other.
Louisa looked at them one last time and said, “You had to watch your father die, and now you will watch me die. I’ve had to watch you triumph in life… and make mistakes. I’ve watched you become as twisted and pained as all adults. You are now messy, living out your unique and often boring lives. But this is the reason I gave birth to you… to experience what it means to be human. This is the experience. I’m looking at you, those who will outlive me, and you are looking at me, soon to be done. Thank you for believing in the Jenkins family dream. Thank you for being my kids. Thank you for outliving me.”
Keith and Adriana looked at their mother’s old, frail body. Keith said, “Mom, I watched a video once saying that life is a computer simulation created by a master coder, and when we die we go back to our true selves in a better place.”
Louisa said, “That sounds wonderful Keith, tell me more about it.”
NOAH CICERO grew up in a small town near Youngstown, Ohio, but currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada. The movie made from his first book, The Human War (Fugue State, 2003), won the 2014 Beloit Film Festival award for Best Screenplay. His debut poetry collection, Bipolar Cowboy (Lazy Fascist, 2015/Girl Noise Press, 2022), was voted one of the best books on Goodreads in 2015. His latest novel, Las Vegas Bootlegger: Empire of Self-Importance (Trident, 2020) is out now, as well as his latest poetry collection, Noah Cicero’s Wild Kingdom (House of Vlad, 2021).
MAN’S SEARCH FOR FAITH AND MEANING: A LITERARY EXPLICATION OF ROAD HOUSE IN 4 PARTS
Patrick Swayze whose name is Dalton (we never do get a last name) is the best cooler in the business.
It’s never really established what the difference is between a cooler and a bouncer other than Dalton/Swayze is the best cooler in the business while everybody else is a bouncer at best.
For murky reasons he decides to quit his job at a swanky bar in NYC to take his cooling talents to Jasper, Missouri.
The bar is named The Double Deuce (but not The Deuce Deuce).
It’s owned by Frank Tilghman whose last name seems unnecessarily complicated (it’s pronounced Tillman) until you realize that the actor who plays him is Kevin Tighe.
From the time Dalton/Swayze takes the job in Jasper, Missouri, at least four different people crack the following joke: I thought you’d be… bigger.
Including the blind lead singer/blues lap guitar player of the bar band played by actual blind lead singer/blues lap guitar player Jeff Healy.
Which makes one question: Did they have to write that in after they cast Patrick Swayze (5'10", 160 pounds) to play the best cooler in the business or did they write the whole movie for Patrick Swayze (5'10", 160 pounds) to be the diminutive-yet-kickass cooler (like the Rudy Ruettiger of coolers)?
The bad guy isn’t much more intimidating.
His name is Brad Wesley.
He’s a local business magnate that runs Jasper, Missouri.
His bad guy resume includes:
1. Blowing up an auto parts store.
2. Having a henchman drive a monster truck through an auto dealership.
3. Bringing in his stripper girlfriend to the Double Deuce to sing a song and do a strip show just to sully the reputation of The Double Deuce that Dalton/Swayze has worked so hard to rebuild since he’s been there.
Brad Wesley whose name sounds like the kid who used to steal your Magic: The Gathering cards in middle school.
Brad Wesley is played by Ben Gazzara, who looks like the kid who used to steal your Magic: The Gathering cards in middle school—if that kid who stole your Magic: The Gathering cards was the disappointing son of a low-level mob accountant.
Dalton/Swayze’s three rules for cooling it with guys like Brad Wesley and his riffraff:
1. Never underestimate your opponent.
2. Take it outside.
3. Be nice (to which Dalton/Swayze later qualifies: Be nice until I tell you not to be nice).
The real drama starts when Dalton/Patrick Swayze spurns Brad Wesley’s offer to come work for him, so Brad Wesley sends one henchman after another to fuck with The Double Deuce and/or Dalton/Swayze.
1. Swayze doesn’t underestimate his opponent; he expects the unexpected.
2. Swayze tries to take it outside (they just keep coming back in).
3. Swayze tries to be nice (until it’s time to not be nice).
At which point he proceeds to kick ass and kick ass and kick ass, one henchman after another after another after another, all leading up to the big fight scene with Brad Wesley’s head henchman, Jimmy Reno, who tells Dalton/Swayze: I used to fuck guys like you in prison.
Dalton/Swayze then rips Jimmy Reno’s throat out (which we later learn is Dalton/Swayze’s go-to finishing move; it seems unnecessarily violent and arbitrary for a movie about a bouncer—or rather, a cooler).
In an oral history of the throat rip, the fight coordinator explains:
We call the throat rip a “Cobra Strike.” It’s usually going right to the collarbone or the larynx, where you sort of take the collarbone and let it spread apart. But instead of pulling the collarbone, he actually pulled the throat and ripped it out. It’s not how the move really goes, but for the shot, that’s how they made it work.
In an oral history of the throat rip, movie critic Sean T. Collins explains:
The throat rip… is a really gripping act of violence, no pun intended. But you know, in America’s Next Top Model, they always talk about having a “signature walk.” And this is Dalton’s signature walk, ripping people’s throats out.
In the end, however, Dalton/Swayze only fakes like he’s going to rip Brad Wesley’s throat out, instead allowing various minor characters, including Frank Tilghman/Kevin Tighe. to shoot him about eighty times.
This is the plot of Road House.
The scene in which we get a close-up of Swayze’s ass is not actually a love scene, and it doesn’t even involve the main love story.
The scene in which we get a close-up of Swayze’s ass is toward the end of the first act in which the head waitress at the Double Deuce walks into Dalton/Swayze’s swanky second-story barn apartment to personally welcome him to town/give the lay of the land for working at The Double Deuce. Dalton/Swayze having rented an apartment in the swanky second story of a barn (because that’s how barns in Jasper, Missouri, work). Said head waitress (who’s played by an actress you immediately recognize though you can’t place her—not even after looking her up on IMDB) leers at Dalton/Swayze sleeping, and because Dalton/Swayze naturally sleeps in the nude and is unashamed of his nudity, she continues to leer as Dalton/Swayze wakes up. He soon realizes she’s leering at him, then proceeds to slowly, seductively get dressed.
If you rewind and slow down the scene in which we see Swayze’s ass, you can see clearly at one point Swayze clenching his right ass cheek for reasons that are both obvious and not obvious.
For the camera.
For the ladies.
For art and humanity.
Which begs the question: Was there a clenching discussion? Was there a note from the director?
It’s a good shot and all, Patrick, but what if you clenched just for a split second before pulling on your underwear?
Or was Swayze like: I don’t know, Rowdy [the director], I don’t think we got it. It feels like there’s something missing.
Actors make choices.
Directors give notes.
Swayze’s ass has a mind of its own.
And it may be the nicest ass shot to ever be shown on the non-pornographic big screen.
Before Dalton/Swayze became the best cooler in the business, he got a degree in philosophy from NYU.
The focus of his degree: Man’s search for faith.
Between kicking much ass and clenching much ass cheek, Dalton reads Jim Harrison’s Legends of the Fall.
He does shirtless tai chi.
He carries a briefcase with his medical records for those times he has to go to the hospital for all the stabbings he gets as part of his job.
Do you enjoy pain? the emergency doctor asks.
Pain don’t hurt, Dalton/Swayze says.
The emergency doctor turns out to be the love of Dalton/Swayze’s life: Kelly Lynch.
He calls her Doc.
Even as he makes love to her against the stone wall in his swanky second-story barn apartment.
Kelly Lynch is married to the director of Scrooged who happens to be good friends with Bill Murray who every time he sees Road House on TV calls his best friend to tell him that he’s watching his wife fuck Patrick Swayze.
This is mentioned multiple times on IMDB’s trivia page.
At one point, Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) legend Terry Funk says to Dalton/Swayze: What’s a matter, chicken dick?
This apparently was adlibbed, which leaves one to conclude that at one point Terry Funk has said to a wrestling opponent: What’s a matter, chicken dick?
At one point an actor who resembles Jaws from that one James Bond movie who also played the scary freak from Happy Gilmore but isn’t actually said actor says to Sam Elliott: Wanna fight, dickless?
To which Sam Elliott, who plays Dalton/Swayze’s best friend, quips: I sure ain’t gonna show you my dick.
Between fight scenes, Sam Elliot quips to Dalton/Swayze: Does a hobby horse have a wooden dick?
This is Sam Elliot’s big pep talk between fight scenes: When a guy sticks a gun in your face, you got two choices: You can die or you can kill the motherfucker.
And Dalton/Swayze takes his advice.
He doesn’t die. He kills the motherfucker.
By ripping out his throat.
In his review of Road House, Roger Ebert (RIP) wrote: Road House is the kind of movie that leaves reality so far behind that you have to accept it on its own terms.
Which is exactly true but not the whole story.
The whole story is that it’s all about man’s search for meaning.
As it relates to cooling.
BENJAMIN DREVLOW is the author of Bend with the Knees and Other Love Advice from My Father (New Rivers Press, 2008), which won the 2006 Many Voices Project, as well as Ina-Baby: A Love Story in Reverse (Cowboy Jamboree, 2019) and The Book of Rusty (Cowboy Jamboree, 2022). He serves as the Managing Editor of BULL Magazine, and is a lecturer at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia.
I hear whispers through the bathroom wall.
Do you remember?
We heard the same ones coming through the tiles in that cheap room on the highway where you had to pay a $25 deposit for the TV remote control.
They said, “Kill me, kill me,” but we didn’t.
We had our own deaths to do on the polyester floral quilt run through with other people’s rubbing.
Until all that was left between us was forgive me.
I didn’t mean it.
It’s just that he reminded me of how you were before you knew me.
All those blanks in consciousness filled in with hopes and not bad dreams.
The voice is saying, “Should we?”
And the other one says, “Why haven’t you already?”
I bought my way back into this room for $65 and the fulfillment of the threat that once I crossed the threshold, I’d remember it different next time.
But then I heard those voices again.
She said, “Why is there only one of them this time?”
And he said, “That’s what happens.”
I wanted to yell at them, Speak up! I can’t hear you on the bathroom floor with the shower on.
Like last time.
You said that if you didn’t love me a little you wouldn’t have spent the night.
Whispers in the next room until dawn.
Shhhh shh shhh shhh shhh shh shhhhhh through the wall.
The lighting so bad in the bathroom I looked good.
Fake pink granite countertops.
Bent over for a closer look.
Your hand holding the hair that hadn’t fallen in my mouth.
Bruises on my upper arms to save my clavicles.
A long black hair woven through the single towel.
Your face in the mirror.
They saw it.
I wasn’t good enough.
Not good enough for fake granite and thin tiles. Not good enough for patterned sheets that couldn’t tell on you if they wanted. Not good enough for dripping faucets, rust around the drain.
You didn’t know that when you brought me here instead of home that night.
I just think you should have been better to me—at least till you found out, you know?
They told you.
Sometime between the shower and when you let go of my hair. A light tap on the shoulder. We’re done. It’s over.
Quiet in the tiny room.
You could have heard my heart break.
Blood breaking out of compartments where it shouldn’t.
The pause in everything.
The worst part that after you left, I was still there.
The pitiless voices unceasing.
“Why couldn’t you just leave us alone?” I echoed at them through the wall.
I could have lied to you forever.
We could have been two of a kind.
There would have been nothing for anyone.
To fuck and leave behind.
God damn tell me when it’s over.
I can’t live with the things that I’ve done.
Why couldn’t you do that for me?
I thought you could have been the one.
They’re laughing again.
Why did I come back?
Because you wouldn’t.
And someone had to lose that deposit on the remote control.
CHARLENE ELSBY has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from McMaster University and was recently a tenure-track professor. She is the author of Hexis (Clash Books, 2020), Affect (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2020), Letters to Jenny Just After She Died (Filthy Loot, 2022), Bedlam (Apocalypse Party, 2023), and Violent Faculties (Clash Books, 2024).
THE LADY WITH THE BUGS
This happened on the night the bombs went off.
After work, Ted Prot stopped at The Hop Bucket so he could drink too many beers. It was here he met the lady with the bugs.
She came in like a Styrofoam cup blown by a semi-truck’s passing wind. Legs all wonky, but up they went—to an ass he thought was begging for his mouth. A part of him remembered what his therapist used to say: “You need to work on your objectification of women.”
She sat next to him at the bar, the seat cushion letting out a dying gasp as her ass smashed into it. She asked for a stout and a scotch. Her voice was like hot sauce. Ted paid for her drinks.
The bar thinned, but Ted and the lady kept the bartender busy cleaning mugs caked with stout foam.
Ted wanted to touch her earrings—gaudy, gold-plated roaches that dangled to her shoulders. But he was afraid she’d bite off his prodding finger.
She didn’t ask what Ted did for a living, which was a day job as an assembly line structuralist at a bubble wrap company.
When she offered to go back to her place, Ted didn’t think about work in the morning. He thought about that ass, how it would feel between his teeth.
Ted drove too fast. He hit a curb and his car bounced a couple feet off the pavement. She cackled in the passenger seat. She had a smoker’s laugh. It sounded like a straw sucking up the last of a milkshake. When he got the car going again, he made sure to keep it between the lines.
But she said, “This is boring,” and reached over and pulled Ted’s cock out of his pants. A tiny little Vienna sausage surrounded by a bird’s nest of wiry hair. She shook the little thing around, blew on it, put her lips around the tip. Her earrings jingled as her head moved. She cackled with her mouth full.
Humiliation burned raw in Ted’s cheeks. The feeling brought back the same shame he felt when he lived on a commune, as a member of an escapist cult. They would strip him naked, tie him up at the center of the commune, and laugh at his body—something they tried to convince him was a shell to be molted like an exoskeleton. They would whip his tiny cock with poison ivy and laugh.
She lived in a house on the edge of a cliff. As she guided him up to her room, Ted felt like he was floating in the smell of her.
There were cases on her walls, displays of pinned bugs—butterflies, walking sticks, praying mantises. All dead specimens. But Ted kept hearing the electric sound of living insects. A trick of the mind or something.
He said, “You like bugs.”
“More than people.”
Ted sat on her bed and took off his shoes. She poured two drinks. She hummed as she slipped off her tights. Her ass kind of just fell out and bounced. She whispered in his ear, “No man has ever made me orgasm.”
“That’s not my problem. I’ve come every time. I’m sorry you can’t.”
“Who said I can’t? Do you even know where the clitoris is?”
The only blowjob Ted could remember being any better than the one she gave him right there on her bed was his first, and that was only because it was his first. He finished quick.
Ted laid back and noticed a box hanging above the bed. It was made of black glass, shaped like an aquarium. Louder now, the electric fury of insects distracted him from the good feeling of having just come.
She said, “My turn.”
“You want me to just stand here like an asshole?”
She tore off the rest of her clothes and dove onto the bed. On her back, she used her feet to kick Ted off the mattress. She reached up and grabbed a frayed rope Ted hadn’t yet noticed. He followed its length up to where it connected with the glass box. She tugged the rope.
The bottom fell open and that electric buzz became a deafening vibration. Roaches by the thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, poured out of the box and piled all over the lady.
They didn’t scatter. They gathered all over her naked warmth. She started shaking and humming. A human-shaped mass of movement, of serrated legs and antennae.
Ted was too drunk to know if he’d pissed his pants out of fear.
She lifted her legs and dropped them, the roaches adapting to her changes. Her arms raised, a moment of prayer to the goddess of pleasure.
The roaches moved away from her pussy and Ted could see a little fleshy pip at the top. The clit. These things were showing it to him. Laughing. All they needed were some switches of poison ivy.
She screamed, “I’m there.”
Her back arched so hard it was like she’d just been electrocuted. And then she went limp. The buzzing stopped. The woman whimpered softly under the mass of now-still roaches.
Ted grabbed his pants and shoes and left. Realizing he was too drunk to drive, he walked the twelve miles back to his apartment, kicking an empty can of mushroom soup in an aw-shucks kind of way that lasted most of the way. He’d never been more humiliated in his life.
And then the sky went bright white and the bombs went off and nuclear war broke out and everyone on Earth died and all that was left were the roaches and the women who love them. That’s all.
TEX GRESHAM is the author of Violent Candy, Sunflower, Easy Rider 2: Sleazy Driver(s) [with KKUURRTT], This Is Strange June, and Heck, Texas. He is an award-winning screenwriter, and his debut feature, MUSTARD, is available for free on his web site. He lives in Los Angeles.
All of my partners have called me “trash,” “ditch boy,” or “frumpy gremlin” because I grew up in a broken, low-income household and earned my PHD in Partying by the time I was 21. Because I’ve embarrassed myself shamelessly. Because I’ve had a lot of sex and tell stories that make us both cringe and withdraw into ourselves.
Because I’ve done cocaine. Because I smoke menthol cigarettes. Because I have a dark sense of humor. Because I’m always late and I don’t care about things most people care about.
Because I’m selfish. Because I don’t have self-control. Because I wasn’t “raised right” and decided there was no such thing as a “right way” to be. Because I refuse to drive at my age. Because I either rebel against or am incapable of change.
One can enter a room any way they choose if it can get them through the door and not thrown out of it.
Sure, I can go from Oscar the Grouch to Animal in two shots or less—a limited-edition collectible chaos muppet collaged together by Michael Sikkema, waiting for anyone who’ll have me after the picture’s been taken.
I’m sweet trash. A hot mess. Hot garbage. Whisky on the rocks with literal, feral rocks that bite.
There’s another side of me, too.
The neurotic, pretentious poet and cut-up laboratory scientist who sits at a computer all day handling billing disputes. Who dresses up in blazers and sprays Old Spice up his ass. Who isn’t hungover.
The insurance broker.
The abstract artist.
The mover and shaker.
The event booker.
The man who wants to run his own gallery.
The man who cuddles himself to sleep.
The man who wants a horny silver fox/financial sponsor who will cater to his daddy issues.
The man who wants a big tiddy goth gf.
The man who soaks his ginger.
Too gay for the straights, too straight for the queers.
I suppose I’m trash because I’m chronically inconsistent. Terminally contradictory. An unintentionally perplexing toady who speaks in riddles and antiquated code.
Trash for the dishes I don’t do on time. Trash for the toilet paper roll I didn’t put back onto the spinner. Trash for having a different threshold for cleanliness. Trash for not recycling. Trash for not taking out the trash. Trash for almost dying a number of times. Trash for being literal trash.
If you, too, are sweet trash; don’t worry, it only gets sour when the trash isn’t your own.
BARRACUDA GUARISCO (C. C. Hannett / Kris Hall) is a cheesesteak-obsessed, bisexual crybaby who enjoys absurdity at varying levels. Barry is the author of several books in the Spuyten Duyvil Publishing universe, as well as It’s Not A Lie If You Believe It (Voice Lux Press), Uncomfortable Music (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2021), and The Gold Boys are back in Gold Town (Really Serious Literature, 2020; co-authored with Joshua Robert Long). Nominated for Best Microfiction, he was the founder and editor-in-chief of Really Serious Literature, and has had work placed with Maudlin House, giallo lit, Silent Auctions, Meow Meow Pow Pow, and various other outlets. He doesn’t know what day it is.
HEARD “ANGST IN MY PANTS” THIS MORNING WHILE GETTING READY FOR A FUNERAL AND THOUGHT OF YOU
I face my naked self, moisturize my high-hanging tits, and think about how you won’t cum for me anymore. No room I’m in will ever smell like you again. Like your lungs burning bright and Whopper grease and skin slowly simmering under soiled sheets. A revolting odor I can’t live without. Don’t make me.
The night we met it got dark without us noticing. Sitting on a bench at that dum-dum bar, our drinks turned as flat, and as weak, as the ocean nearby. Strung-up Christmas lights in March tangled up in my hair while you made up a song about that dead ringer for Dee Snider trying his hand at cornhole. We couldn’t see anything but Dee and the bean bags sailing and the far-off shine of the stage lights. The stage was emptied of its soft rock cover band. A lonely place with no sound, just a halfhearted promise of it.
The world beyond the chain-link perimeter could’ve been crawling with monsters we’d created to keep us safe from ourselves or ghosts we wished wouldn’t abandon us or better lovers we hoped would hold us for good. But we would never know. Everything outside of us was deaf and black. It did not exist. The night was getting away with us in our corner of the garbage universe like it meant something.
I wish my mom had warned me—when a man tells you who he is, believe him. Especially when he tells you he’s not a man. But she warned me of nothing. Not even the fatal state of her rotting body, contaminated by itself. There was no time. Death doesn’t give notice. It’s rude and unapologetic. No wonder you’re obsessed with it.
My best friend’s mom is dead. She’ll be at the funeral. My best friend, not her mom. Well, her mom will be there, too. Depending on what you believe. I’m not sure if you believe in anything, if you even place faith in endings, whether slow or abrupt, whether devastating or godsent.
My mom’s dead. Your mom’s dead. Both corroded to finality by disease. I thought that meant that maybe they were watching out for us, bringing us together. Generously shielding us from their fate. Offering the largesse of optimal time for our bodies to make use of themselves. Our mothers knew we were occupying the same void. Figured we might as well share it. Guess it’s hard for you to share anything though. Even when it’s nothing at all.
On the way to the service, I steady my eyes on roadside sights, chillingly familiar yet capable of assuaging my enduring ache. The grief of not being enough. Arby’s is next to the Popeyes is next to the Dollar General. But you’re next to someone else. Out of reach. Every day you kill me. Every single day, I’m put to a restless rest. Barely breathing. Inert and invisible. Death has always been relative.
At the service, I sit primly with my hands in my lap while the pastor extols the banal virtues of my best friend’s “God-fearing” mother like this is a good thing to be. He speaks of better places and I think about you plunging my mouth, thrusting hard against my tonsils. I think about how it was me being consumed and not you. I think about your moans and how they made me quiver, moans of satisfaction like you’d devoured a delectable meal. I hope you hunger still.
I keep a photo of you buried in my phone. You’re standing upright in a fake coffin lined with red velvet as if inviting undead romance. You stand with your arms crossed, smirking with your sunglasses on. Afraid to be seen even then. In the womb of your grave.
When will you figure out, I’m the only one to take you on, to take away the pain? It’s not that I want to be the one. It just is, like anything else. Like my mom dying at 40 while never having lived. Like your mom dying in agony when hospice promised a peaceful end. Not everything is harmonious or serene. Most things aren’t. It’s all senseless junk. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be gorgeous and worthwhile and just what we’re seeking.
Do you believe me? you asked me that first night at the dum-dum bar. I can’t remember of what I needed convincing or why. I should’ve told you then I not only believed you, I believed in you. I’d converted to the dubious but exquisite force of you with the first flick of your tongue across my salty neck. The heft of your hand on my thigh waking me to the idea that there was nothing else. And never would be.
But I answered the only way I knew how: Yes. Unless you’re lying. My naughty outfit wrapped in plastic remains untouched. A cheaply made cheerleader uniform emblazoned with “DADDY” across its skimpy top. An entreaty, an invocation, an ecstatic cry meant to stretch across my high-hanging tits and inspire you to do what you do best. Now, it’s a tossed-off relic. A moldy corpse of eroticism. Primed for burning, for forgetting. Still, I keep it in the bottom of my weekend bag just in case. Just in case you decide you’d rather try to feel alive once more than kill me again.
JILLIAN LUFT is a writer and Florida apologist. Her work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Expat, Hobart, Rejection Letters and many other publications. She’s currently finishing up her novel on Sunshine State dirt-bag romance.
AN EXCERPT FROM FARSICKNESS (HOUSE OF VLAD PRESS)
What are we without access to our story? Our mythologies, our comings-of-age. Our trauma temples. Our self-righteous mausoleums. The whole scroll of blunders and aches. Sleeves of tattoos that tell our tragedies.
And if all those tales are lost, turning into negative space, then we’re left in the dark.
An eclipse of mistakes.
It feels like a good day, though maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is a bad day. I can’t remember. That’s the strangest thing I’ve ever admitted. I can’t cite specifics from the stash of yesterdays that can be sorted in batches of good or bad. But I can imagine—and I’d like to—that when you are in the middle of a good day, there is at least a moment when you shut your eyes and tilt your face toward the sun.
Even without Fern speaking, the noise in my mind is a monster. My head has the chaos of battle, a constant shelling, somebody always bleeding out from a gut shot. And yet the only way to get what I want, to learn what I need to know, is to follow the trail through the war, go deeper, go beyond my limits. That’s where the answers are, as far back in the dark as we can reach.
The girl and I walk slowly.
The ground is black brick. The walls and ceiling are packed dirt, have that great alive smell. A flashlight leads us deeper down the throat.
“This is how we get to Dalloway Castle?” I ask.
“Don’t you want to know my name?”
“I’m sorry. I’ve been under a lot of stress. Will you please tell me your name?”
“Daffodil—but people call me Dil.”
Then I hear it.
A growl off in the tunnel’s blackness in front of us.
The tunnel feels like it’s shrunk to the size of a doll house. That’s how the growl rips through me. I’ve never been this small.
The growl sounds low. Mean.
Dil’s flashlight shows outer space in front of us, but there’s something there. We can’t see it, but its menace punctures the air.
Claws clatter on the bricks.
Walking. Toward us.
“What do we do?” I say.
Dil turns toward me. “Put out your hand.”
“Put out your hand.”
And I splay my palm toward her, and here is my reward: I’m holding the grenade now.
“Oh, no thank you,” I say to her, trying to give it back.
But the growls get more intense, the claws click on the bricks like rifle shots.
A flash in my brain!
From my old life!
A rifle. Yes. I had a rifle.
“I remember something about myself,” I say to Dil.
“Remember later,” she says, “because right now, you need to feed that grenade to her.”
“The Lacerated Queen.”
“She has to eat the grenade.”
Her claws get this thing right to the edge of the flashlight’s beam, and the Lacerated Queen holds there, right out of sight. She is a suggestion, a shape, then we watch her emerge from the black, blossom like a horrible flower, and now she stands in a spotlight.
She walks on two legs, but they are striped like a zebra’s. Her body is scarred, pale, with some jailhouse tattoos. She wears a crown on her head, old and broken, over black hair.
“And why would she eat a grenade?” I ask Dil.
Growling at us.
Clenching and unclenching her furry fists.
Slobbering down her chin.
She is so unconcerned about us, knows that if she wants to, we’d be dead in seconds.
“Because grenades are her favorite food,” says Dil.
The Lacerated Queen takes a few fast steps toward us, opens her mouth, pointing into it—like she’s some demented baby bird that I must feed, and, well, I guess that’s exactly the place we find ourselves.
I slowly move the grenade toward her mouth.
“Pull the pin,” says Dil.
I stare at her for a few seconds. “You’re saying pull the pin and she eats it?” I ask.
Queen shrieks another open-mouthed bird call. It’s so primal, unpleasant. And now I need to put a grenade in her maw.
“I’ll die,” I say.
“How do I know you’re not lying to me?”
“I’ll stand next to you. We’ll all be fine.”
So that’s what we do. Dil and I are very close to Queen, who is still pointing into her growling and shrieking bird mouth.
Pulling this pin is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
I can fight a pterodactyl.
I can do the backstroke in lava.
I can surf on the roof of the space shuttle while it orbits the moon, God watching the show from his motel in the sky.
I can do all these things because I’m holding a live grenade.
I place it on Queen’s tongue, and she shuts her mouth and swallows hard, and I can see the shape of the grenade moving down her esophagus, like an elevator descending under the skin.
And the grenade goes off.
Its energy jolts all around Queen’s body, under her pale skin—and her lower legs glow, and it travels up her thighs, waist, torso, chest, and right as the glow gets to her neck, The Lacerated Queen’s entire head explodes.
One second she has a head, then she doesn’t.
Chunks of her fly everywhere, and because Dil and me are right in front of Queen, we get painted in bone, blood, and cartilage. One of her eyes ends up in my hair. I pluck it from the tangle, hold it right in front of my face, inspecting the thing. I have to give her this: she has a beautiful blue eye.
Strangely, the remainder of Queen’s body stands there nonchalantly. The body has its typical functions, seems no worse, post-decapitation.
Headless and happy, Queen shrugs her shoulders at Dil and me, not a care in the world.
We are three alive people and two heads.
“Didn’t you say we’d all be fine?” I ask Dil.
“I’m holding her eye.”
“Just wait a minute,” she says.
“You don’t really understand how insane it is to hold an eye until you hold an eye.”
“Here she comes.”
“What should I do with it?” I say, meaning the eye, but Dil is rapt watching Queen’s body, saying to me, “You won’t wanna miss this.”
Then this blubbering white paste begins pushing up from Queen’s exposed neck. The paste builds itself into a skull, then tissue sprouts from the skull, growing like pink moss, then all her facial features, and soon Queen’s head grows back into its original shape.
I drop her old eye on the ground.
Queen flexes her new mouth, tests the muscles, the lips, the jaw. Once she’s warmed up, she says to us, “It’s such a tragedy that humans will never know how good it feels to explode.”
Once she’s done talking, she about-faces and walks back in the dark direction from which she’d first emerged and had approached us growling like a guard dog. She’s no longer that animal, and whatever she is now disappears down the tunnel.
Dil points the flashlight at Queen, the sound of her claws clicking on the bricks leading the way, firing rifle shots in my brain.
“Oi,” Queen says back to us, “shall we get a move on then?”
JOSHUA MOHR is the author of the memoirs Model Citizen and Sirens, as well as five novels including Damascus, which The New York Times called “Beat-poet cool.” He’s also written Fight Song and Some Things that Meant the World to Me, one of O Magazine’s Top 10 reads of 2009 and a San Francisco Chronicle best-seller, as well as Termite Parade, an Editors’ Choice in The New York Times. His novel All This Life won the Northern California Book Award. He is the founder of Decant Editorial, and his novel, Farsickness (illustrated by his daughter, Ava), is forthcoming from House of Vlad Press.
Illustration: AVA MOHR
EVERY ORGAN ERECT
The deadpan comedy of someone dying and their last social media post is something like “I hate Elon Musk’s balloon head” or “rutabagas give me runny poop” or even something ignominious like that one stripper passed out by a kiddie pool with twenties stuck in a sweaty g-string as a man who resembles a gnawed carrot is passed out by her side, five men who resemble gnawed carrots in a semicircle, Limp Bizkit t-shirts, wine coolers, freebase pipes and glassy smiles but someone was awake to take the pictures, some abstinent mislaid and possibly sinister biped, you can’t stop scrolling through her photos to feel the age progression of the night before all goes black, or is it white, this page is intentionally left blank, this icon-flesh abandoned to the path of sudden pregnancy or fist-sized tumor. Final social media words: “I’m at the station need a ride NOW” “Amsterdam makes me sneeze” “ngl I find Adam Driver sexy” “6 mg risperdol with watermelon don’t want to be found” reminded of the one who dies with an unfinished meal or unflushed toilet; the currant bun cooled and the urine outlived him; a fine line to fondle between paucity and glamour; spyglass dissolution means we need to see the bones emerge from the pocked promise of youthful fat; our myths can only arise in finite zones; homunculus crucibles, small and alchemically incomplete bodies treading water, nostrils and mute eyes as captured between overdose and squalor; and we swear we care to our creations as we stand above the rim, gaze with every organ erect
You’re too skinny. You’re too fucked up. At least you enjoy eating, he said, and browsed online for women with Bettie Page hair, mouths like meat hooks, breasts like cement bags. I was twenty-six, could attach on a dime. Men with investment portfolios? Are you joking? Men who asked permission to touch my “rose petals,” offering speeches of gratitude for access to sacred holes were cast out, too. What was I? A cave in Yosemite? A Vuitton bag? Men who took elaborate self-portraits with scimitars and offered me trips to exotic locales like Miami and Prague seemed too nice, too stable, too vain. So who was left? I wanted to be sliced by a mental razor into a nub of gristle, mute bone, wedged under a shoe, shoved in a drawer. I wanted nothingness to fuck me because nothing was the only thing that doesn’t fail. Let’s be lovers in nothing, comrades in nothing! I would pick myself up later. My time, after the men spun down, passed out, sleep-lines crossing bloated flesh, resembling corpses. Lovers in nothing, coke-fueled thrusts that feel like latex obliteration. Don’t get your pants in a tizzy, you utter like a prayer. Your dealer meets me and says you are wrong. You need a body in your sights. Your tomb needs one more vase. My lungs lift you higher as you lay waste to a cabinet of three-dollar wine. You leave fingerprints, Tang orange, on my windows, my thighs.
her crotch smells like mcdonalds
her breath smells like a chlorine pool
her pantyline could be seen by Helen Keller
I can smell your pheromones, he said
as she drank his whiskey and sat in his room,
nibbling kroger cheese and speculating on the dinner guests
he praised her yogurt thighs and the condom got lost
their hearts weren’t in it, but her hand went wrist-deep
it’s got to be in there somewhere she thought
trying to keep herself from a panic
suppose she died of a lost condom turned into a tumor, a deadly infection
it was nestled against her cervix
a homing instinct of latex to eggs
what a fantastical beast she’d birth
made of depression and elbows
it would never grow taller than a rubber glove
guinness record-holder, fucked-up and nearing forty
and when they broke up or rather drifted apart
she made a last visit to fetch her necklace
a pendant in the shape of a fang
JENNIFER ROBIN is the author of Death Confetti (Feral House, 2016), Earthquakes in Candyland (Fungasm, 2019), and the chapbook Even Snowflakes Heal and You Can Download Skin (Ladybox, 2016). Robin’s July 2022 release on Far West, You Only Bend Once with a Spoonful of Mercury, is a collection of dreams written for a live audience on social media. Her book of vignettes about American barbarism, selling boots to foot fetishists, and the joyless chewing of Thanksgiving turkey, DESTROY NOTHING (the most important thing) will be released by Future Tense in 2023.
Mike messaged me a picture of a package with my address on it.
He said, “That’s your address, right?”
I messaged back, “Yeah, that’s it.”
He said the Post Office was telling him my address did not exist.
“You wrote it perfectly,” I typed. “Your handwriting is so clear.”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “They are saying your house doesn’t exist. I’ll go back later and tell them to mail it anyway.”
I put my phone into my pocket, wiped, and washed my hands. A loud noise droned overhead, a plane taking off from the small airstrip hobbyists use across the street from work.
I punched out and went to the van. I was nauseous. How could my house not be in their system? The United States Postal Service, for crying out loud! Why are they saying my address doesn’t exist? Surely there’s a glitch or something and this will all get cleared up soon enough, I thought.
When I went home to let my dogs out, I thought, “Okay. I’m in the house. It exists.” But for extra reassurance I took out my phone and started snapping photos. I started out front, taking a shot of the metal numbers nailed to the house. Then the numbers on the mailbox. Then I moved to the porch, the front door. I went throughout the house, every bedroom, the bathroom, upstairs, down, not a single angle left undocumented.
I let the dogs in, locked up, and went back to work, apologizing to my co-workers for my late return.
Throughout the day, paranoia set in. I couldn’t stop thinking about not having an address. I was waiting for Mike to get back to me. I wanted him to say there was a mistake and my package was on its way. I wanted him to say that my address was real, that my home existed, even though I’d just been there and had documentation of it and knew it to be real, but, later, when he got back to me, he said, “No go, man. They’re pretty sure your address doesn’t exist, has never been in the system at all. Sorry. I’ll keep trying.”
I fumbled through the pictures, clicking on them, sending them to him, one by one by one, rapidly, for several minutes, but after every batch, I kept getting Message Not Sent alerts. I kept trying, refreshing, re-sending, sending anew. For hours I did this. Nothing went through. I couldn’t prove to Mike I wasn’t crazy, which made me feel insane.
Toward the end of the day, I was so sick with worry about my address not existing I went to the bathroom and puked into the sink. Puked until there was nothing left, until the nothing made my sternum crack. After I’d cleaned up, I threw some paper towels into the trashcan and noticed something. The corner of a package was sticking up from under some tissue papers. It had my address on it. But when I opened it, it was empty. Nothing. Just a manila envelope filled with air. I felt numb to everything around me. Even when it was time to clock out, I felt nothing.
When I went home, I couldn’t find it. I pulled out my phone. The GPS must’ve been broken because it didn’t register my address. So I just kept driving. Drove on and on in a straight line until I was out of the city and into the country. I forgot my name and felt a wholeness inside me. I let the wind rush over my non-existence as I sped along the horizon. Even still, as good as it felt in the moment, I had this nagging feeling that that wild, wide-open space would eventually build new walls around me, number me, and give me back my name. That’s the problem. Somebody would remember.
Just then, somebody messaged, “It’s on its way.”
How could I have known what it meant?
TROY JAMES WEAVER is the author of Visions (Broken River, 2015), Witchita Stories (Future Tense, 2015), Marigold (King Shot, 2016), Temporal (Disorder Press, 2018), and Selected Stories (Apocalypse Party, 2020). He lives in Wichita, Kansas, with his wife and dogs.