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In the sequel, things get bloody. Suspense mutates to horror; body counts escalate. The start of Halloween II recaps the climax of Halloween I: Jamie Lee Curtis stabbing her brother Michael Myers with a knitting needle in the neck, wire hanger through the eye. Donald Pleasence, playing the psychiatrist Sam Loomis, shoots Michael six times. He falls backwards off the second story balcony,only for the camera to reveal the imprint of his body on the flattened grass.

Once it starts moving forward, the sequel allows us to witness the illusion of change over time. Despite the promise of closure, events rarely decloud. The neighbors, hearing gunshots, emerge from their suburban homes; terrycloth bathrobes, cordless phone. The father says: “It sounds like the death out here.” Gravely, without a hint of kitsch, Loomis replies: “You don’t know what death is.”

The conclusion of the previous story: my father, desperate for his mother’s whispery absolution, had forcibly removed me from her deathbed. I was furious (on my way out, I ripped a healthy leaf off the ficus in the foyer), but something in me had softened. My father was, for once, human, vulnerable. Despite his conviction that each of life’s mysteries would, if discovered, submit to structuring principles, his heart still held. As grandma died, I sat in the back of Dad’s car, my knees folded up against the passenger seat’s magazine pocket. I popped honeyed peanuts, kept myself busy with a graduate seminar paper due the next week: why, in Night of the Living Dead, George Romero placed so much weight on the zombies’ orgiastic consumption of the flesh they tore from the living.

At some point, I noticed that one of Dad’s onyx cufflinks lay on the floor mat; probably he didn’t know it had fallen. This resparked my resentment. I hated his mad professor routine. Even then, the man ran into doors.

Whatever benediction he received from my grandma didn’t open him. To his credit, he didn’t videotape grandma’s funeral (as he had taped my twin brother’s funeral). Otherwise, he made no further effort to close the gap between us. When I married Yukiko, our gift came right off the registry. He was skeptical, he said, of inter-species relationships. He sneezed at her relatives from Osaka without covering his nose.

As this sequel gets going, some fifteen years after the original, I am resetting the rubber seal inside my coffee maker, which this morning had leaked sizzling black drops onto the stove coils.

My father, I would guess, is sitting on the rollout couch in my sister Linci’s home office, pouring reduced-fat milk out of his tennis shoe.

The behaviors we once called neurotic or flighty now alchemized into disease.

I take my Gaia Organic Blend coffee onto the front porch. I pick up a snail, set it on my palm. It moves a millimeter forward, then stops. It’s dead, killed by the salt of my sweat. Wait: its slimy head just popped out. Thank goodness it’s still alive.

I set it on the ground. Then I step on it.

In the sequel, I am an associate professor at UC Berkeley. Tenured. I am also, until this afternoon, the pre-eminent zombie specialist on the planet. The one who, at the café, substitutes the word “brains” for “beans” in photo-journalistic captions describing the coffee production process. “Once the brains are checked in and graded, they are spread by hand onto drying patios. The brains are baked periodically to ensure even and complete drying.”

And my father? He’s the man who, mealy-eyed, holds court with some form of invasive and irreversible dementia. He’s the one in the McDonald’s, cutting open and emptying packets of mustard onto the tray while I order for him a Diet Fanta and a Quarter Pounder. Which he doesn’t know to unwrap, and, once unwrapped, can’t bring to his mouth.

 

Robert Glick is Assistant Professor of English at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Senior Prose Editor of Versal. His work can be found in The Gettysburg Review, Denver Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, and The Normal School. In 2013-14, he has won the Summer Literary Seminars Center for Fiction Prize, the New Ohio Review Fiction contest and the Diagram Essay Contest.
The story this excerpt comes from, “Hotel Grand Abyss,” has been previously published in Copper Nickel 15.

 

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marina blitshteyn is the author of Russian for Lovers (Argos Books) and the chapbook $kill$, forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. She works as an adjunct instructor and occasionally curates the la perruque performance series.

This poem, “Gender is Body,” has previously appeared in El Aleph Magazine Volume One, published by El Aleph Press.

Jeanne

Every night before bed Clara sat in her nightclothes in front of the old clouded mirror of her dressing table, while her friend, Gussie, stood behind her and brushed Clara’s hair. While Gussie brushed her hair, a velvet drape fell around her, closing out the room, the children, the neighing of wagon horses passing on the street—like the raising of a bridge, with no crossing over. Inside this sheltered space, the brush warmed across Clara’s head and down across her neck, and down. Back and forth, the breath of the brush, warm as the bed on winter mornings, warm with sleep and dreams, warmer like melting chocolate, then hot, hot as steam, but pleasant. Pleasant heat. Heat like running.

One night, a slight bead of sweat slipped between Clara’s breasts from this pleasant heat, enough heat to want to slip off her heavy robe, and pull up the cotton night dress, up and up, sliding out the right arm, and then the left, and then pulling it, in a flutter of fabric, over the hair. Enough to want the brush to hold its breath while Gussie stepped out of her skirt leaving it in a pattern on the floor matching the circle of her waist. Enough to want to stand there unaware of time, looking at Gussie clothed in skin the color of the candle flame, drinking in the shape of her, noting how smooth her revealed skin was compared to her weathered face, loving that weathered face, observing her left breast slightly smaller than the right, remarking how her nipples stood, shiny as if already wet, and then Clara, bending her head to suck, finding the taste of peaches in her mouth.

But wanting wasn’t doing.

Wanting wasn’t doing.

So Clara, shocked by her thoughts, said nothing to Gussie and the brush kept brushing the same, brushing Clara’s hair. When she finished, like every night before, Gussie set the brush on the dresser and went away alone to her room.

When Gussie left and the door thumped into its frame, the latch clicked into the jam, and the flame smothered out, its smoke slithering up into the night air, Clara shook off her night dress and went to bed with the brush. Lying in the dark, she touched the brush to her naked skin, sliding its soft hairs across her breasts, pressing the side of the ivory handle into her belly. Then she moved the brush down and crushed the brush between her legs. She rubbed the brush against her again and again. She bit her lip bloody, holding in her scream.

Afterward, she drew the brush up toward her mouth and put her lips on the brush—as if the brush were a living thing, someone to fold your hand around, make love to, love.

“Snow Jewel [5:1] 2014.”

Jeanne Althouse lives in Palo Alto, California. Her flash fiction and longer stories have appeared in various literary journals, including Shenandoah, Pif Magazine, Pindeldyboz , Flash, The International Short Story Magazine, Madison Review, Redlands Review, So to Speak, Porter Gulch Review, Red Rock Review, The MacGuffin, and others. Her story, “Goran Holds his Breath” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. “Children Left Breathing” is her first novel.

Townley Photo

One beautiful spring afternoon full of sunshine and pollen, we had Shawn and Deb over. We barbecued out on the patio, burgers and sausages and whatever the women were having. Plenty of potato salad and baked beans. We drank beers and watched some of the Giants game. We told stories and joked at each other’s expense. While Supreme Leader was distracted, we laughed and laughed and laughed.

We hadn’t thought to run our little shindig by him. He was still only seven or eight years old, going on forty-five.  Some days, today included, he seemed perfectly content to play with his toy soldiers by himself down in the rec room.  (He had hundreds of them; maybe it wasn’t just play.) Still, he eventually heard us clanking dessert plates and clinking beer bottles. He marched outside, glaring at us, each in turn. He wore tiny, black jackboots polished to a high gloss.

Jon-Davis! he screamed.

I took a long drink of beer and said, Yes, son?

He balled his fists. His face went stony.

No son, Jon-Davis! You call Supreme Leader!

Shawn chuckled. He sure is a feisty bugger.

And cute as a cupcake! said Deb.

Supreme Leader fumed but said nothing. I thought his fat little head might pop off.

Honey? said Maggie. Would you like a cheeseburger? Daddy made one for you on the grill. Come sit down. I’ll get a bun and fix it just the way you like it.

Silence! yelled Supreme Leader.

We all sat up straight in our chairs, holding our breath.

No bugger, no cupcake, no honey! You call Supreme Leader!

Always fidgety, Maggie shifted in her chair, fingering up cake crumbs.

Imperialist pigs! he hollered. Stuffing faces!

Don’t get excited, I ventured. It’s just a little Sunday cookout among friends.

It’s a family tradition, said Shawn.

So know-it-all! Supreme Leader shrieked. Yet know nothing!

He paused to catch his breath. He was more worked up than I’d ever seen him, sweat beading on his fat upper lip.  He was starting to worry me. Maggie, too. I could see it in her eyes.

Soon you learn, he said.  Supreme Leader will teach.

He waited for his words to sink in, though none of us had a clue what he was talking about. We wouldn’t have taken him seriously anyway. No one said a word.  We listened to the happy chirp of kids playing in the park. Across the street, the neighbor was washing his Corvette in the driveway. The awkward silence grew like a throat cancer.

Does he talk like that all the time? Deb asked when she couldn’t stand it any longer. It’s adorable!

We laughed our nervous laughs.

We can’t figure out where he picked it up, said Maggie.

Shawn finished his beer and cracked another, gazing at Supreme Leader the entire time.

Know who he reminds me of? he asked. That what’s-his-name over there.

Could you be a little more specific, sweetie?

Hold your horses, he said. I’m getting to it.  It’ll come to me.

We waited. Supreme Leader looked dour.

You know, that Kim Something Whatever?

Where we had the war all those years back? said Deb.

Exactly.

Maggie sipped her lemonade. That’s what we were going to name him, she said. If he was a girl.

What? said Shawn.

Kim, I said.

Deb smiled and said, That’s a beautiful name.

I’m telling you, said Shawn, he’s a dead ringer.

Supreme Leader’s expression softened. He flashed his pointy teeth and said:

I so happy you notice!

We looked on, nonplussed. It didn’t faze Supreme Leader.

Now we ready, he said.

For what? asked Shawn.

Supreme Leader snapped a salute.

You see, he said.

Yet for almost a week, nothing changed. Not really. We went about our daily routine. I filed stories, Maggie cleaned teeth. We only got one call from Mrs. Wallace and none at all from Principal Vernon. Supreme Leader still gave orders and demanded strict discipline, but he seemed less edgy in his drill sergeant routine, his screaming softer, his grimaces less disparaging.

Maybe we weren’t paying close enough attention.

Because Saturday morning a cargo plane landed on our front lawn. We usually would’ve mustered for PT at dawn, awakened by Supreme Leader’s bullhorn screech. We would’ve run eight miles, then sipped bad coffee after cold showers.  Today Supreme Leader let us sleep in. But the roar of jet engines outside our bedroom window was disconcerting.  The panes rattled, the four-poster shook, Maggie’s collection of ceramic elephants clattered to the floor. We thought it was an earthquake and hunkered in the bathroom, adrenaline pumping though we were still half-asleep. Then we heard Supreme Leader shrieking through his bullhorn:

Wake, capitalist dogs!

Soldiers in drab green uniforms with scarlet collars hustled us down the hall and out the door. They shouldered AK-47s and gripped M68 pistols and screamed at us in a language we didn’t understand. Supreme Leader gave orders the soldiers followed.

Where did he learn to speak that? Maggie wondered.

Our boy is a genius! I said, glowing.

It was a beautiful morning, clear and cool. Fingers of fog stretched over the mountains. The blooming azaleas smelled sweet and heavy. We stepped across the decimated lawn, rutted with landing gear tracks. In the driveway, my Ford and Maggie’s Chrysler had been crushed like aluminum beer cans. So had the neighbor’s Corvette. We trudged up the cargo ramp. The soldiers followed us, and Supreme Leader followed them, still shrieking through his bullhorn.

Once we were airborne, I asked, Where are we going?

On Supreme Leader’s signal, the soldiers broke into an anthem of sorts. Not the most melodic in the world. Maybe it was the singers.

Where you think? said Supreme Leader when they’d finished. He grinned his pointy-toothed grin. The Fatherland!

J. T. Townley has published in Collier’s, Harvard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Istanbul Review, Prairie Schooner, The Threepenny Review, and other places.  He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and an MPhil in English from Oxford University, and he spent time at Fundación Valparaíso, Spain as a fiction fellow.  A Pushcart Prize nominee and Fulbright Scholar, he teaches at the University of Virginia.

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Photo by Nicolas Amara

Almost5Q is the finalist blog of Five Quarterly, an online literary journal that publishes five pieces of fiction and poetry each month, with each issue edited by a new editorial board composed of five guest editors. The finalist blog showcases those pieces which reached the final editorial reading. Our assistant editor, Nicolas Amara, was recently featured there. Check out his poem, “River,” over at Almost5Q!

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Thomas Cook lives in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, where he’s completing a dissertation on the novels of David Foster Wallace and editing the latest issue of Tammy.

 

The preppy hombre
ferried the sunlight on his shoulder
but didn’t speak to it
trotting through the wrestling
signatures of such and such
I have been his age
legible in the rorschach
insensible to the provenance
of flourish or giant
absence of giant Nightingale
with a tweed lid in a cedar
closet The dollar
vans are singing of home
on the Fulton Mall
The world has been resurrected
through its furnishings
I will have added
dogwoods leaning over the fence
with some foolishness and the sycamores
in the sky in their rapture

 

Ben Gantcher’s recently completed manuscript of poems, Snow Farmer, was a finalist in the 2014 Omnidawn Open book contest. His first chapbook, Strings of Math and Custom, was published in 2013 by Beard of Bees Press. If a Lettuce, his first manuscript of poems, was a finalist in the National Poetry Series and Bright Hill Press contests. His poems have appeared in many journals, including Tin House, Slate, Guernica and The Brooklyn Rail. He is a 2014-15 fellow at LABA. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, a resident at Ucross and Omi, a correspondent with the Hyde Park Review of Books and a poetry editor of the online journal failbetter. He teaches math, Language Structures and an interdisciplinary writing and visual art studio course at Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn, NY, where he lives with his wife and three children.

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