Electric Rather

A Literary Magazine
Issue 04 August 2014
Letter from the Editor
Electric Rather is a fedgling literary magazine with a vibrant
spirit. We publish original poetry, prose, art, and photography.
We publish new and innovative writers that challenge the
boundaries of what is considered “good art.” We seek raw, intense,
and emotional pieces that give us hope for the future of art and
literature. We’re passionate about this magazine and want to see
it continue to grow. Our goal is to provide a publishing outlet for
new and unknown authors and artists. Tis issue is divided into
two separate poetry and prose sections.
Tis issue features fction by Nikki Rae, Elizabeth Teriot,
Nicholas Leonetti, Kim Koering, and Kevin Reilly; a nonfction
piece by Bill Vernon; as well as artwork by Anne Bengard,
Aaron Kaminsky, Sean Schemelia, and Jack Savage. Please
visit electricrather.tumblr.com for more information about our
wonderful contributors.

Submissions are always welcome. Please email them to
electricrather@gmail.com. If you wish to contact us, you can also
use this email. Visit our website at electricrather.tumblr.com or
look us up on Duotrope.com. Tank you for reading!
Te stories presented in this issue are of many diferent genres,
including fantasy, sci-f, and nonfction. I believe all of these authors
have distinct voices that motivate the imagination and create emotional
suspense.
I was impressed with how neatly our accepted artwork seemed to ft
in with these stories, but this only points to how creative and well-drawn
these stories really are. Te authors of this issue take elements of realistic
life and paint them surreally. Te art in this issue similarly portrays
realistic emotions like pain and fear in a cold, unique way. Most of the art
in this issue was taken from canvas paintings. Texture and stroke should
be evident. I love that I am able to publish such a variety of work with this
magazine.
As always, I am immensely proud to be able to publish so many
talented writers and artists. I am still in awe that this magazine has become
as successful as it has. I hope that readers are as elated as I am to see this
issue published.
-Barbi Moroz
Table of Contents
Fiction
Nikki Rae: “Silver and Cold” ............................................................................................... P. 2
Elizabeth Teriot: “Te Birthday Candle” ....................................................................... P. 10
Nicholas Leonetti: “Scrappy’s Rocks” ............................................................................... P. 18
Sean Schemelia: Excerpts from “It’s More than Likely” ..................................................P. 28
Kim Koering: “Familiar” ................................................................................................... P. 30
Kevin Reilly: “Epicentropolis” .......................................................................................... P. 34
Photography and Art
Aaron Kaminsky ................................................................................................P. 1, 23, 33, 27
Anne Bengard: “Circus Child” .............................................................................................P. 9
Sean Schemelia ........................................................................................................P. 17, 22, 27
W. Jack Savage: “Temple in the Sky” .................................................................................P. 27
Cover design by Aaron Kaminsky.
Graphic design by Barbi Moroz.
NonFiction
Bill Vernon: “Club Swingers” .............................................................................................P. 24
Silver and Cold
Nikki Rae
People said he came from a chemical spill.
During World War II, Te Pleasant Point Nature Reserve was used to store TNT and supplies
used to make explosives. Te chemicals were kept in huge cylinders called igloos, which the chemicals
eventually ate through, until they slowly leaked into Sandhill Pond. Te water gradually turned red,
like blood. Te grass became brown and crunchy, and the trees dropped all of their leaves, never grow-
ing them back.
Tey called him a few diferent things: Devil with Wings, the American Chupacabra, but as
more and more people came forward, one name began to stick more than the others: Bird Man.
At least thirty people had come forward in the span of two weeks, starting in December of
1945, with some “sighting” or “experience” they attributed to a huge, half-man, half-bird creature. One
story came from a ten-year-old kid who said a tall man came into his backyard while he was swinging,
and when he stretched out his arms, there were grey feathered wings attached to them. When the boy
was asked what the “tall man’s” face looked like, he said he couldn’t remember. Another story came
from a seventy-fve-year-old lady who was driving over Silver Bridge—the only thing connecting Te
Pleasant Point Nature Reserve to the rest of the town. Te lady’s car stalled, seemingly out of nowhere.
But she didn’t live far from the bridge, so she decided to walk. As she reached her front yard, she heard
what she described as the sound a radio gets when it can’t tune into the right frequency. Only this was
incredibly high pitched, and the sound hurt her ears so much that she thought she might be sick. She
ran the rest of the way into her house, locking the doors and windows, where the sound, she said, con-
tinued for only ten minutes. She told the newspapers that it felt like she had been sucked into a black
hole, as if at any time the foor beneath her would open up and drag her down.
Mostly, no one really believed in the stories. Te kid was young and the lady was old, so no one
listened, chalking it up to vivid imaginations and dementia. Te stories faded, like old bed sheets on a
clothesline.
Ten suddenly, in the late 90s, when no one had even talked about Bird man in ffy years, the
eight foot tall bird-guy began to re-surface, not moving, but scaring the shit out of whomever he ap-
peared to. Or the story would change, and Bird Man would chase someone’s car at night for a few miles
before disappearing, or he’d look into their windows at night. Soon, people who didn’t live near the
reserve had stories too. Strange lights started appearing in the woods, people began hearing knocking
in the walls of their houses, like there was something trapped inside, trying to politely tell them that
they wanted out.
Living in a small town is a lot like playing a giant game of telephone. Te person who experi-
ences the craziness tells someone, they tell someone else, and so on. By the time it reaches the newspa-
per or some other source, the story is probably nothing like it was at the beginning.
Most people in Pleasant Point are Catholic or raised to be. So when these things started occur-
ring, the town kind of split down the middle. Half of them believed this fgure was a demon, sent as a
sign of the rapture. Te other half thought he could be some kind of ugly angel that was here to deliver
a message. No one believed what the scientists said: Tat it was most likely some kind of actual bird
that got of of its migratory path.
Supposedly, everyone who saw him developed conjunctivitis a few days later. It was so bad that
their eyes swelled shut. Other people said they lost their hearing for hours or days. Almost everyone
got sunburn-like marks on their faces or any skin that was exposed at the time of the sighting. Every-
one had nightmares. People became afraid of the town they had lived their whole lives in.
2
Whether all of it was made up, exaggerated, or real, I always thought it was weird that no one
ever mentioned the chemical-ridden reserve. Sure, people around town theorized that the thing people
were seeing was either some radioactive animal, or worse. A radioactive person. Hell, maybe everyone
was breathing in fumes and that’s what caused everything. In any case, the reserve was curiously always
lef out of the stories and media. No surprise there. Our town was the picture of “quaint”, and the once-
storage unit for explosives took away from its charm. It was a scab no one wanted to pick.
By the time I was a teenager, Te Pleasant Point Nature Reserve was a hangout for teenagers to
get drunk, and the people who were too afraid to hang out there at night were just chicken. Our par-
ents forbid us from going anywhere near the reserve. Tey wouldn’t say if they believed in the giant
bird, only that it was a rundown place where there could be potentially harmful chemicals and some-
one could get hurt. So of course we wanted to go there even more. Teenagers are reckless that way,
always wanting to put themselves in danger.
Daphne and I usually went on a Monday or Tuesday night, when my parents thought I was
sleeping over her house for a “study-slumber-party” or whatever girls our age did.
Te reserve wasn’t far from her house, so we had no problem walking to the bridge, stolen al-
cohol and snacks in our backpacks, of course. On Mondays, there weren’t any other kids in the reserve.
Parents in Pleasant Point didn’t let their kids out on school nights.
“You hear about the dog collar they found in Mr. Somerfeld’s yard?” Daphne asked as we
climbed over the fence that had a faded black and orange sign reading: Keep Out.
“Yeah.” I took of my sweatshirt and tied it around my waist. It was September, but still hot at
night, especially if you were sneaking around in the dark. “His dog went missing a month ago and then
all of a sudden, BOOM. Baxter’s collar is on his lawn.”
“Freaky, right?”
I shrugged. “I guess.”
“Maybe Bird Man did it, Vye.” Daphne made some ominous sound efect that she must have
heard in a horror movie and then laughed as we made our way toward the pond. Our fashlights shone
on the water when we reached it and the rusty red didn’t hold a ripple. Not one.
Tis was our usual spot. Even if there were other kids in the reserve, everyone else was too
scared to sit near the supposedly radio-active pond. Not us. We weren’t afraid of anything. We were
stupid.
I didn’t exactly believe in Moth Man. I wanted to, of course. Daphne did. Tat’s why we went
there almost every week, just in case the eight foot man decided to show. She had this theory that the
reason he had suddenly reappeared was because the bridge was being reconstructed. Te goal was to
frst repair the bridge, then the reserve, but construction only happened when the workers could be
paid, and that wasn’t ofen. So far they had replaced one beam before “taking a break” for a month.
Daphne still thought the work—no matter how little—was “disturbing the restless spirit of the chem-
ical-ridden-bird-man” or something. She always explained stuf like this as if it were fact. I envied
her. Who wouldn’t want to say that something cool like that was happening in their boring town in
the middle of nowhere? But I believed more in things that were real: cutting school, dating, and lying
about how good I was at both of those things.
Daphne and I sat down in the grass with our fashlights between our knees, only illuminating
our faces so we could see each other. She wasted no time cracking the seal on her mom’s Birthday cake
favored vodka. She took a huge gulp of it. She was gagging, but she tried to hide it from me. “You
want some?” she asked. “It’s good.”
I took a sip and that was enough for me. Truth was, I didn’t really like drinking. I just liked
Daphne.
“Tink we’ll see any lights out here tonight?” she asked afer another gag-gulp.
I shrugged. “I don’t care,” I said. “Lights are cool and all, but…” I wasn’t sure what else to say to
keep the conversation going so I just said, “Whatever.”
A branch snapped behind us and made us jump.
“What the fuck?” I said as Daphne fashed her light in the direction the sound came from.
A boy around our age stepped out from behind a tree. He was wearing dirt-stained jeans, a
plain T-shirt, and sunglasses. And he was smiling at us.
Tis was a normal thing. People hid out there and tried scaring kids like us because it was easy.
But we weren’t scared anymore, just annoyed.
“Who the hell are you?” Daphne asked, sounding almost disappointed that he wasn’t a gigantic
bird.
“My name is Cold,” he said, stepping forward.
His smile stuck to his face like putty. It looked like he had never smiled before in his life. His
lips were stretched so far over his teeth that I was afraid they would swallow up the rest of his skull.
“Toad?” Daphne asked.
“No, Cold.” Te boy stuck his hands into his pockets, and I watched Daphne’s expression turn
into a deeper disappointment as he came to stand in front of us, the rusty pond behind him. He wasn’t
even tall, I could imagine her complaining later. He could have at least been tall like Bird Man.
“Cold?” I asked.
He nodded vigorously, like a puppy.
“Tat’s a weird name,” Daphne said. I heard the liquid in the bottle slosh around as she took
another gulp. It started to smell like vanilla soaked in rubbing alcohol when she spoke and it was mak-
ing me nauseous. Last time I was hung-over, it smelled a lot like that. “Well, Cold,” she continued. “We
kind of have plans...so, beat it.”
I nudged my tipsy friend. “Don’t be mean.”
Te boy was still smiling. I’d never been afraid of a smile before that night, but his was making
me shiver. “I just needed to give you a message,” he directed at me. “Ten I’ll be on my way.”
Daphne rolled her eyes.
“I don’t even know you,” I said. “How could you have a message for me?”
Te boy ignored my question. “Go home.”
A snort let loose deep in my nose and throat. “No, you go home.”
He didn’t answer. Te man named Cold walked slowly away from the pond, looking into it
briefy, before he disappeared into the trees.
Shortly afer the strange boy vanished, Daphne got trashed, as she usually did when she stole
alcohol from her house and had the opportunity to drink it without any chance of an adult walking in
on her. She used me as a crutch to hold herself up the short walk home and once we were inside, she
promptly passed out on her bed, backpack still on.
At frst, I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about the boy in the woods. I didn’t want to be-
lieve he was anything more than some weirdo trying to freak us out—they were everywhere when you
went to the reserve—but I still couldn’t get his face, and the smile pasted onto it, out of my head.
And I was so itchy. First my face, then my arms and my fngers. Finally, I went into Daphne’s
bathroom and ficked on the light. Tere was nothing there besides the faint, pink marks my fngernails
made in my skin. I tossed, turned, and scratched until the next morning, periodically wondering what
the boy named Cold’s message meant.
As soon as I got home the next day, I took a shower, scrubbing my face and arms over and over
again until I was faintly less-itchy. Although that could have been because my skin was raw and the
throbbing in it distracted me.
I took a Benadryl I found in the medicine cabinet and fell asleep. I was thankful, and always
was, that my parents went to work before I had school and got home a few hours afer I was back. It
made skipping class a lot easier.
I’d like to say that I had some foreshadowing dream here, but that Benadryl kicked my ass. I
pretty much blacked out for the next four hours, so if I had any dreams, I didn’t remember them.
4
Ten the phone was ringing and my head was hurting, especially around my eyes, which took
me forever to open. I picked up the phone from the cofee table, moving as little as I could for fear that
the itching would return if I became too aware of my skin. “Hello?”
Tere was silence on the other end.
“Hello?”
Tere was another long stretch of silence, and just when I was about to hang up, the person on
the other line spoke. “Violet?”
“Yeah.” I was getting irritated now.
“Have you gone to the bridge yet?”
I rubbed my eyes with the back of my hand. “What?”
Tat was it. I didn’t hear the person on the other line hang up, but there was no other response,
so I slammed the phone down myself, turned over, and went back to sleep.
“Dude, you look horrible,” Daphne said to me on Saturday. By then, I’d developed a fever and
the stuf I was coughing up wasn’t exactly attractive. I had hives around my neck and down my arms,
but I didn’t really pay attention to how itchy it was because I couldn’t see too much of it through my
swollen eyes.
“You go to the doctor, Vye?” She plopped down on the bed next to my legs and turned on my
TV to some show about rich housewives complaining about some rich housewife problems.
“Yeah,” I said, though I had to stop and blow my nose before I could continue. “Tey said it’s
some kind of allergic reaction. I must have touched something at the reserve and rubbed my face or
something.” I paused so I could cough for a little while. “My parents are pissed that I’m missing so
much school, but…whatever.”
“Are you stupid?” Daphne said suddenly. “Tis is shit that happens to Bird Man people.”
“Come on,” I said. I wanted to roll my eyes, but it wasn’t possible. “Not now. My head hurts.”
“No. Seriously.” What I could see of her jumped up and turned of the TV. “And you said some
weirdo called you and asked if you’d gone to the bridge?”
“Yeah,” I said. “But that doesn’t mean—”
“We need to go to the bridge,” Daphne interrupted.
“Right,” I said. “I can barely see or walk straight, but let’s go to the bridge.”
Afer ten minutes of fghting an argument I knew I would lose, Daphne drove us to Silver
Bridge.
We had walked across it dozens of times in order to get to the reserve, but it looked diferent
during the day. Tough it was named Silver, it was made out of wood that had turned a dark greenish
color, somehow making it look wet, even though it hadn’t rained in a while.
Daphne wrapped her arm around my waist so I wouldn’t trip when we got out of the car, which
she had parked in the grass near some trees. “God,” she said. “Can you like, walk? You’re kind of heavy,
leaning on me and shit.”
“No,” I said, not bothering to conceal the sigh that soon followed. “I told you I was sick.”
I had to sit down so I wouldn’t fall over. I didn’t know how close to the bridge we were, but we
hadn’t stepped across it, and we defnitely weren’t on it. I hoped that was good enough for Daphne
because I didn’t want to move anymore.
“I don’t get it,” she said, fnally sitting next to me in the grass. “Why would they want us to come
here?”
I snorted. “Who’s ‘they’?”
“I don’t know.” Daphne’s voice raised in defense. “Just…they.”
I sighed. “How long do we have to stay here? I want to lie down.” I closed my eyes and rested
my head on her shoulder.
Daphne sighed too. “I don’t know. I guess—” She didn’t fnish her sentence. “What are you do-
ing here?”
I had to blink multiple times before I could see what she was talking about. Tere was the same
boy with the creepy, stretched out smile on his face. He was still wearing the same sunglasses and dirty
jeans. I saw him clearly, as if my vision wasn’t blocked by my pufy eyes.
“Who the hell are you?” I asked, trying desperately not to be afraid, but my voice was shaking.
I couldn’t place it, but something about this kid made the hair on my arms stand up and my stomach
hurt. Or maybe that was part of the allergic reaction. Whatever, he was still creepy.
He stood in front of us, unmoving, unspeaking.
“Okay,” Daphne said in an annoyed tone. “Time to leave, Vye.” Only her voice had more of an
edge of fear added to it. She stood up and grabbed my hand, but I couldn’t move.
I couldn’t look away from that kid and I couldn’t move.
“Come on, Vye.” Now Daphne sounded panicked as she tugged on my arm.
All I saw was the boy, Cold, as he walked past us and onto the bridge. He walked backwards,
staring at me the entire time.
You have my eyes now. You’ll be able to see. Cold was staring right at me, through me.
I couldn’t concentrate on the words as they bounced around in my head. I wanted to ask all
kinds of questions. How was this kid talking to me like that? Who he was talking about? Why was he
talking to me?
But there was a high pitched screech that broke of my thoughts before I could say them out
loud. It was like someone was dragging a metal chair across a metal foor, and that foor was inside of
me. Tat foor was my head and I had to hold it so it wouldn’t explode.
Tat’s probably why I didn’t hear or see the bridge fall.
Daphne told me that once the noise started, I collapsed. She said it was bad for her too, but
she managed to throw me into the car and drive of. She said she hadn’t seen Cold fall, although he
was clearly standing on the bridge when it went down, and there was no way he would have had time
to turn back. She said when she heard the crashing and banging, she pulled over, too afraid to drive
any further. Tat’s when she saw the wood falling, piece by piece, until the entire bridge was gone. Te
whole time, she was searching for the six foot tall man with wings, but he never showed.
Te noise stopped as soon as the bridge was gone, and my head stopped hurting soon afer. She
made me wait in the car, still unconscious, as she got back out, searching for the boy that was standing
on the bridge only minutes before. But he wasn’t in the woods, and he wasn’t in the water.
Te next day, my rash and eyes began to clear up and I wasn’t coughing anymore. Te doctors
said it was thanks to antibiotics, which made sense.
Daphne and I told the police about the bridge. Te high pitched screech, and the missing boy.
For a week, they sent out missing persons reports, then dredged the lake. He wasn’t there or anywhere,
alive or dead.
In the weeks that followed, all the people in town talked about was the bridge falling, not real-
izing we were the ones who saw it because that wasn’t the part of the story they wanted. Tey wanted
danger. Tragedy. Not two stupid teenagers who only saw it happen. I couldn’t blame them.
Stories are only fun to tell when they seem less real. When they’re fction. Daphne and I didn’t
even talk about it to each other.
Also lef unmentioned was the fact that from three pm, when the screeching sound began, and
four pm, when the noise fnally stopped, that the entire town shut down. Appliances and cars stopped
working. All that the residents of Pleasant Point couldn’t think of anything else but that all-consuming
sound. People curled up on the ground at work, church, or wherever else they stood.
Ten their own stories formed. A school flled with kids hunched under their desks said
they saw a fock of hundreds of birds fy into the windows and writhe on the ground until the sound
stopped, and they simply took fight again in the opposite direction. Mr. Somerfeld swore that he
heard his dog, Baxter, barking in the backyard through the hour long screech, but he couldn’t move to
6
open the door. Once the sound ended, so did the barking, and Baxter was nowhere to be found.
Tough he told the newspaper that the collar he found had once again disappeared. And the most
talked about story came from a gas attendant who said they saw a boy matching Cold’s description as
the screeching consumed the town. He said he could have sworn he saw feathers dangling from the
boy’s arm as he waved, unafected by the noise, a smile stuck to his lips.
Te bridge was never rebuilt. Te town said it was because of the missing boy and they didn’t
want anyone else to get hurt. It only took a month for people to stop telling the stories. News and
reporters disappeared. Cold was a mystery no one wanted to talk about anymore. Another scab that
made others uncomfortable to watch being pulled of. And no one talked about Bird Man anymore
because there was nothing to tell. Like the bridge, the sightings fell away too.
But sometimes when I go to sleep, I can hear this faint sound, like someone knocking. Not on
the walls or on the doors of my house, but somewhere inside of me. Like something is asking to come
in.
8
The Birthday Candle
Elizabeth Theriot
Te curtains were drawn and a red, difused light wavered slow and haltingly through
the room. Myra knew that she was not allowed unsupervised in her father’s library, but also knew that
he wouldn’t be returning home until afer supper. Her fngers grazed the book spines as she moved
towards her father’s desk, and she imagined them shaking and trembling beneath her skin. Once so
meticulously neat, the large mahogany desk was now piled with crumpled notes, browning documents,
dusty books, and old cups of cofee. Its size at least had not changed; it was still daunting, still hunched
in the corner of the room like a large, waiting beast. When Myra was younger and her father still
smiled, the desk had seemed big as a house to her and she would play beneath it while he worked, mak-
ing China dolls climb his legs like trees. But now this desk, this library, had grown dark as her father’s
eyes. Myra pulled herself into the rolling chair, smoothing her dress over the cracked green leather.
Instead of risking discovery by upsetting the mess, she scanned her eyes over the pages, the smudged
and frantic ink, the lines and circles and strange illustrations that leered and looked ready to crawl
from the page. Myra hurriedly shook away this thought and fnally noticed the envelope, a brighter
and cleaner white than most of the paper on the desk. She gingerly slid it from under a heavy red book
and breathed a sigh of relief to see it had already been opened. Te envelope was heavy with thick and
slightly ridged paper, her father’s name written on it in blue ink. Te return address was typed. St. Au-
gusta’s School for Girls.
Myra breathed deeply and slipped out the frst page. Te salutation began under a strange logo
comprised of two swans with their necks intertwined over a basket of apples. Dear Mr. Bienville…we
are pleased to inform you…the term beginning September 26th…Myra dropped the envelope in her lap,
not in surprise but pained resignation. She made herself look at the calendar hanging on the wall. A
red circle surrounded September 25th, her twelfh birthday, the day her father would be sending her
away to New England. He had spoken of it months ago but Myra had held onto hope that he would
forget, or change his mind, or she would be declined entry. She had imagined the place for weeks in
the space between waking and sleeping, a vision clear and cold as ice: dreary grey skies and dreary
grey dresses, rote recitations and sewing, playing piano hymns until her fngers ached, and plates of
bland, overcooked food. As she saw these things a great empty feeling stole over her bones and her
skin felt dry as infertile earth. But there was still a chance that this was just a possibility, just one option
amongst many others rubbing against this reality like a hungry cat. Except now...accepted.
With trembling fngers Myra placed the envelope back under the book, wishing its weight
would crush the thing into ash. She slid from the desk chair and hurried from the room, touching no
books, lingering over no detail. Her footsteps smacked the marble stairs like a growing storm, and she
careened blindly down them until something solid caught her around the shoulders. Zoria’s hands
were old and gnarled, but frm, and Myra sighed deeply with the knowledge that escape would not yet
be possible.
“Where are you going in such a hurry, child?” Zoria asked, the once thick accent somewhat
smoothed and sofened by decades far away from home. She had returned to the United States with
Myra’s mother and father afer their wedding and remained afer the fatal illness, indispensable and
wise. She would ofen say that she did not miss her home, that her old bones preferred the Southern
heat. Certainly she ft right in with some of the city’s traditions, leaving small satchels in the drawers
and lining the windowsills with salt. But Myra knew that at night, when the supper was fnished and
everything cleaned and put away, Zoria would sit by the fre and rock slowly, singing songs of home.
10
Myra pressed her fngers to her temples, hard. Te aching that sometimes overtook her head
was beginning to build, like an egg slowly cracking. Zoria smoothed Myra’s hair and gently removed
her hands from her head, folding them between hers.
“Come. I will make you a cup of chocolate. Let us talk.”
“Papa doesn’t allow chocolate before supper,” Myra said in half-seriousness. Zoria only smiled
and tapped the side of her nose.
Te kitchen was already flled with spicy smoke in preparation for the evening meal. Large
bronze pots bubbled and hissed while Daisy and Claudine laughed together as they chopped okra and
potatoes. Te gramophone in the corner played the warbling, otherworldly tones of a woman who
sounded in distress, singing in a language Myra didn’t understand. One of Zoria’s choices, surely.
“Hey there, Miss Myra,” Daisy said over her shoulder. Myra smiled in response. Daisy was like
a younger, prettier version of her aunt, with smooth skin and lively eyes. Tough she wore her hair
wrapped up in a colorful scarf, the pieces that escaped were dark, bouncing curls. Claudine was also
jovial but her eyes were harder, more tired, her skin rough like old leather and hands almost as knobby
as Zoria’s. It hurt Myra sometimes to see them—what Claudine once was, and what Daisy would even-
tually become.
“Te girl has had a shock and needs some chocolate,” Zoria said, taking down tins and prepping
the kettle.
“How did you know I had a shock?” Myra asked this question already anticipating the answer.
“Because I always know.”
“You have a birthday coming up, don’t you Miss Myra?” Daisy asked. Myra felt her face fush.
Claudine nudged Daisy, who smacked her lips and continued chopping the okra. Zoria set down the
kettle.
“On September 25th. Te equinox.”
Daisy and Claudine exchanged another look, less amused. Myra wondered if they knew about
the school. Zoria beckoned her close with one crooked fnger.
In a low voice she asked, “So you have seen the letter, girl?” Myra shrugged, then nodded. Zoria
sighed, a slight wheeze in the sound.
“You should not be snooping in your papa’s study. People keep their secrets for a reason. As for
the school…I shall see what I can do.”
Myra felt very hesitant about allowing herself to hope for a more positive outcome but forced a
smile for Zoria’s sake, mostly wondering what she had meant about secrets.
“What’s going on in here?”
Myra jumped and turned from the stove.
“I am teaching the child how to make a roux,” Zoria explained, inching her large frame to the
side to block the tin of chocolate powder.
Myra’s father looked at them with eyes momentarily suspicious, then cold.
“My daughter will never have to cook for herself. Myra, come with me.”
She guiltily followed her father from the kitchen into the den, standing by while he fxed a tum-
bler of brandy and ice. His white suit hung limply from once-broad shoulders, and it had been many
years since his hair had been either dark or full; it receded sparsely from his forehead in swatches of
black and grey. His loafers badly needed a polish and swollen bags protruded beneath his eyes like rot-
ting fruit. It pained Myra to look at him, so she stared at her feet instead.
“I’m going on a trip, just for a few days. Tere are items I need to procure from some associates
in London.” Myra looked up and realized that he was not seeing her either, but instead gazed at the
clock on the mantle while he spoke. “I expect you’ll behave while I’m gone and work on your lessons.
You need more practice with French. Monsieur Jean will be here to tutor you three times a week now,
instead of two.”
“Yes, Papa.”
“And you’re not to leave the house,” he reminded her, as he reminded her without fail before
every business excursion.
“Yes Papa.”
“Good,” he said. He looked at her then, briefy, and she thought she detected a momentary sug-
gestion of warmth in his dark eyes. She was sure they had once been a nice, comforting shade of some-
thing other than burning tar, but that seemed lifetimes ago. He looked about to say something else but
turned abruptly away and headed up the stairs.
Myra once would have cried at this treatment and had, ofen, but it was simply a matter of
course now, so many years since her mother’s death. She instead leaned against the wallpaper and
stared without seeing its dark green and golden whorls, pondering her father’s words. Some associ-
ates in London. Myra knew they came from old money and wondered why her father worked in the
frst place; she had never been told what his economic pursuits entailed. Business is for men, he would
say, not for girls, but Myra suspected her sex was only part of why she was kept from any knowledge of
her father’s activities. Something had changed over the past few years and if the strange papers on her
father’s desk were any indication—or the gaunt men with hard faces who arrived holding dark bundles,
or the unpleasant smells that would waf through the house some nights, keeping her from sleep—
something more was happening.
***
Te three days her father was gone moved slow and thick like the summer heat that stubbornly
refused to dissipate, even this close to autumn. Myra completed her lessons, recited French with the
heavy-jowled tutor, and tried to distract herself from the dwindling calendar pages by reading, but
most of her time was spent in her bedroom’s window seat. Te humid air hung heavy with the smell of
magnolias, cooking smoke, and garbage waiting to be collected, rotting in the heat. Myra felt despon-
dently similar to a princess in one of her stories and wished that she could don a feathered headband
and join the constant procession of bodies that moved on the sidewalk below. Maybe it was her dis-
tance, but they all seemed colorful and full of joy, while her own life felt unfairly dismal.
Myra was feeling vacant and slow, picking at some lint that had attached itself to her stockings,
when the car pulled up. Her father exited the backseat carrying a heavy-looking black satchel, his face
drawn and lips thinly pursed. Myra stifed the desire to run downstairs, knowing it would just irritate
him, and waited in her room until dinner. But her father was not at the table. She stirred her spoon
back and forth through the shrimp stew and watched Zoria tear at a piece of bread, feeling the slight
throbbing in her head that threatened a migraine. Her father joined them when the melted remnants of
dessert were being cleared away.
“I’ll take a plate in the drawing room,” he told Zoria in an exhausted voice. When he turned to
leave the dining room, Myra followed, feeling slightly emboldened by a good supper and her father’s
tired countenance, almost mild. He was sitting in his large leather chair by the empty hearth when
she entered, and upon noticing her, patted his knee. On these very rare occasions when the heat was
drained from his eyes, leaving only harmless ash, her father would welcome her company. Feeling both
uncomfortable and pleased, Myra joined him in the chair. Her father groaned slightly.
“You’re getting too big to sit with me like this,” he said, but did not further encourage her to
move, so Myra haltingly settled against his chest. He drew an arm across her and she closed her eyes,
trying to pretend this was how it always was—she and her father together afer dinner, he smelling like
shaving soap and tobacco and asking about her day. But he didn’t ask anything, and afer a few minutes
Myra wondered if he’d fallen asleep.
“Papa?”
“Hmm?”
But she had nothing to ask. Eventually Zoria came in with a bowl of stew and Myra slipped from
her father’s lap so he would have room to eat. Afer a few spoonfuls he pushed the bowl away, then no-
ticed his daughter watching. He cleared his throat.
“Your birthday is tomorrow. Would you like anything special for dinner? Or maybe breakfast,
before the train leaves in the morning?”
Myra clenched her jaw tightly against the threatening tears. A small part of her had still hoped
12
that the acceptance letter would mean nothing, disappear into the endless piles of paper on he father’s
desk.
“Whatever is easiest,” she whispered.
***
Myra’s attention was split between the pile of luggage in the corridor and the pile of melting va-
nilla ice cream on her place. Its sloping mound-shape reminded her of Monkey Hill, which she used to
visit with her family before her mother fell ill. Te banana foster sauce met the melting ice-cream and
mixed to create something resembling muddy food run-of. Myra pushed the plate away and turned
her attention to the dining room clock, ticking with a hollow sound. Mumbling in Romanian, Zoria
picked up the plate and disappeared into the kitchen, returning momentarily with a new dish of des-
sert.
“Never mind waiting. Eat,” she said with irritation that Myra knew was not directed to her. To
satisfy Zoria she ate about half, barely tasting it. Her mouth felt dry and deadened. Te two sat together
at the table in silence until the clock struck eight thirty. Zoria cleared her throat.
“Wash up, then bed. Do you need anything from me?”
Myra shook her head. Zoria brushed back her hair and kissed her. “Micuţa mea,” she whis-
pered, then took the dishes into the kitchen. Myra climbed up the stairs with slow feet and a heavy
heart, feeling that her hands had once gripped on to something tightly but were now hanging by the
fngertips. She washed her face with the tepid water in her ceramic rose bowl, changed into a clean
nightgown, and laid in bed until Zoria peeked in on her way to settle down for the evening. By the time
Myra climbed back down onto the chilly pine foor it was almost ten. Her eyes ached so she splashed
some more water on her face and waited by the window. By the time the black car pulled up in front of
the house another hour had gone by; Myra was nodding of when she heard the engine. She watched
her father stumble out of the car, his arms full with something in a burlap bag, and climb unsteadily
onto the porch. Te front door opened and shut. Myra saw the driver disappear towards his lodgings
behind the house, and afer a few more minutes her father reappeared in the yard, hurrying towards
the sidewalk.
Without thinking Myra tore from her bedroom, fying silently down the stairs in bare feet. Her
white nightgown practically glowed in the dark, so she grabbed one of Zoria’s dark shawls hanging by
the door and wrapped herself in it, then slipped outside and followed her father. She was scared that he
would hear her footsteps or the frightened thudding of her heart, but he was far enough away and too
determined to notice. Myra struggled to keep up; at one point she had to crouch behind a parked car
when a stray dog began barking, and her father stopped and looked over his shoulders. Te streets they
took were empty besides a few strays but Myra could hear the distant wail of a trumpet and a mufed
cacophony of chattering, laughing voices. Tey seemed to be part of another universe; a sane place
where people attended parties instead of stalking their fathers through dimly lit streets.
Finally they reached the iron gates of a cemetery. Te streetlight was not lit so Myra couldn’t
read the inscription, but the place felt familiar. Her father fumbled at the lock until it snapped open
then, looking around him once more, hurried inside the gates. Myra ran from her hiding place behind
a large tree and followed. It was like being in a completely diferent city, a city comprised of the dead
and their white houses. She followed her father for what felt like miles, past empty eyed cherubs and
brown fowers, until fnally he stopped before a large sepulcher and dropped onto his knees in the
grass. Myra hid behind a nearby tomb and peeked around its side. She stifed a scream with a hand-
ful of shawl when her father pulled a long bone-handled dagger from his bag and sliced his forearm.
Te blood that fowed from the wound looked black. He dipped his fngers into it and began writing
strange symbols on the stone door, muttering words to himself that reminded Myra of their priest; but
this was no Holy Sacrament. Her father began unloading the bag and arranging a frightening collec-
tion of items before him—a skull, a chalice adorned with rubies that looked like evil eyes, piles of small
bones. He lit a candle dark as the blood staining his arm and the tomb, and in the wavering fame Myra
could read the name inscribed above him. She should have known, should have known, but the sight of
her mother’s name painted with blood sent a wave of hot, sickening pain through her body. Her energy
disappeared and her knees dropped hard onto the steps of the sepulcher. Her father began pouring liq-
uids from stoppered glass bottles in a small copper bowl, sprinkling herbs into the mixture. His voice
that had so ofen lately been tired and weak was rising without a waver, each syllable dropping into
Myra’s chest like the heaviest of stones.
“Sed non incorpore, en spiritum lemurs de mortuis, decretum espugnare…de angelus Katarina…
Katarina…sed non incorpore…”
Myra grasped the shawl around her in fear, waiting for the winds to rise, the tombs to break
open, the dead to crawl out with rotted fesh and gaping, bloody mouths. But there was only silence,
the slightest whisper of leaves. Her father nearly screamed the incantation again, then waited. She saw
him rife through some papers with shaking hands, mumbling to himself again, but this time in Eng-
lish.
“No…no…I did everything right…what has happened? Where are you?”
Te papers tumbled to the ground, joining the leaves. Myra wondered what she should do—go
to her father? Zoria? Te police? Te moans that now gathered in his throat sounded like the cries of a
dying animal and they frightened her more than the knife and the chanting. He sobbed brokenly and
beat at the tomb with his fsts, which quickly began producing more blood.
“Katarina! Katarina! Why don’t you come?”
Myra broke through her paralysis, scared that her father would completely crush his knuckles
against the tomb and be lef with nothing but bloody stumps. Feeling that she would collapse in fear at
any moment she forced herself to run to him.
“Papa! Stop! Stop this!” She clutched at his shoulders, shaking them frantically, scared that
though he had never hit her in her life, the fsts would turn to her next in his anguish. But fnally the
pounding slowed, then stopped, and he collapsed against the tomb. His sobs belonged to something
broken and lost, a sound Myra would never have expected to hear from her father. He did not even cry
at her mother’s funeral.
Why would you do this? Myra wanted to ask, but she knew the answer would be nothing coher-
ent, satisfactory, or anything she would want to hear. She barely could fathom what this was, but knew
it had something to do with the sallow men, the business trips, the old papers on his desk; something
entirely diferent from the pouches Zoria lef beneath their pillows, or the cards Claudine would read
afer Saturday mass.
Her father fnally stopped sobbing, perhaps from exhaustion, and seemed to notice Myra for
the frst time. He clutched at her hands. She expected him to question her, but instead said, “I missed
your birthday dinner.”
“Papa, it’s all right. It’s all right.”
More tears gathered in his eyes and he placed a hand on her cheek. If this gesture had been
more commonplace, she would have shrunk from the smell of blood and dirt, but instead, she held his
fngers to her cheek, somewhere in the darkness and fear welcoming this foreign gesture of afection.
“How can I make it up to you? Tomorrow, what shall we do? For your birthday? Twelve now, so
fast, and so much like her…”
He trailed of, the tears coating his cheeks silver in the moonlight. Myra was surprised to see
that her father’s eyes looked almost blue; bloodshot, frantic, and heavy with grief, but almost blue
again.
“I want to see the jazz players in the square,” she said fnally, resisting the urge to cry out with
glee because her father had not mentioned the train, or the dreary New England school. He nodded
and smiled as if it hurt to do so, then with half closed eyes, opened his arms to her. She let him hold her
against his chest and wondered what they would look like to a passing ofcer, or a couple of teenagers
sneaking around the cemetery on a dare. Like ghosts probably, maybe ghouls or vampires. Her father’s
heaving chest began to settle and his breath sounded almost like a child’s falling asleep. Myra wondered
what being a vampire would be like, how it would feel to live forever. Probably lonely. Even though
14
there was dirt on her nightgown and blood on her face and her heart was still pounding with residual
fear, she at least, for the frst time since her mother died, did not feel lonely. Myra allowed her aching
head to rest against her father and watched the black candle gradually melt.
16
Scrappy’s Rocks
Nicholas Leonetti
A bell rang over head as Jay opened the door and stepped inside Scrappy’s Antiques. Like all
the times before, the smell of dust and mildew hit him immediately along with the comforting feeling
that only air-conditioning can give you on a summer day as sweltering as this.
Te old man that owned the shop sat behind the register facing the door, surrounded by the
oddities collected over the years. Te old man – Jay didn’t know his name – momentarily taking his
eyes from the beaten up paperback he’d been reading, nodded at Jay, and Jay nodded back.
Tere were porcelain dolls, baseball cards, records and cassette tapes, VHS tapes and DVDs,
dog-eared paperback books, train sets, vintage lunch boxes, Nintendo NES games and Super Nintendo
games… a nostalgic twilight zone that took Jay, if only for a short time, away from the chaotic and hec-
tic world that was now his newly sanctioned adult life.
Figurines placed in various positions inside a glass-case – Darth Vador, Mr. Spock, Wolver-
ine – wore small price tags wrapped around their necks like slack nooses. Jay looked at these, seeing
some that he may or may not have owned as a child, smirked and walked on. Further back, a short
staircase led up to another room where larger, more precarious items – Big Kids’ Toys a sign scrawled in
half-assed cursive read – were showcased: a crossbow hanging from a nail in the wall, and BB guns of
various sizes in a glass case much larger than the one holding the fgurines sitting below it. Tere was
a defunct counterfeiting machine from the 1930s in one corner and an old-time shoe-shining kit below
it. Various other items scattered the room, but none of it interested Jay very much.
Trough another door that led to another room, the local fnds area, one could come across any
number of strange and weird items that Scrappy’s claimed to have found in the surrounding Pine Bar-
rens. Carefully preserved animal bones, some with an excess number of heads, arms and legs posed on
shelves, along with exceptionally odd-looking plants and rocks and other things of dubious nature.
Showcased in the center of all this was a small chestnut table, lacquered and shined, with a sign
scotch-taped to it. Te sign read in that same deplorable cursive AUTHENTIC SPACE ROCKS FOUND
IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD. Jay approached the table and saw fragments of what looked like alabas-
ter marble, some bigger than others. He picked one up. Te feeling was not what he expected it to be.
He expected a hard, cold sensation, but he found a sof and warm one. He squeezed the fragment in
his hand, expecting it to give, but was surprised to see that it was very much solid.
It was the strangest thing he had ever felt before.
Te price for the space rocks was $10.00 for one and two for $15.00. Jay picked two of the larg-
est ones he could fnd, deciding that he would give one to Amanda, and took them to the counter to
pay.
***
“Weird,” Amanda said, wrapping her fngers around Jay’s gif. “It’s so warm.”
“Yeah,” Jay said, holding his own. “I found them over at Scrappy’s. Te old man is claiming
they’re from outer space or something. Not sure about that. He said he found them just this morning.
Tey’re pretty cool, anyway, right?”
“Yeah,” Amanda said, opening and closing her fst. “You sure they’re safe?”
“Why not?”
“Well, you don’t think they, like, maybe harmful to people or anything do you?”
Jay laughed. “No! Not at all. I’ve never heard of a rock being harmful.”
18
“What do you know about rocks?”
“Not much,” Jay said. “I’m sure they’re fne, though. You don’t have to keep it if you don’t want
it. I just fgured you’d like it.”
Amanda shook her head. “No, I love it. I’m sorry. Tat was rude of me.”
Jay smiled and kissed her.
***
Tat night, while Jay and Amanda slept, the rocks began to glow in the moonlight.
***
Te next morning, Jay woke up with a headache. He went to the bathroom to fnd a pain reliev-
er. Amanda still slept soundly. He made cofee and breakfast and then took a shower. It was 7:00am.
Jay was straightening his tie when Amanda started to stir.
She placed her hand over her head and rose from the bed. “Oh,” she said, “I have a headache.”
“I did too,” Jay said, tucking in his shirt. “Too much wine last night.”
“I didn’t drink any wine.”
“I did. I drank enough for both of us. I took some Advil. It helped. Take some. Tere’s some
cofee, too. I feel fne now.”
“I’m tired,” she said, falling dramatically back into bed and stretching like a cat.
Jay smiled. “Ten go back to sleep, mama.” He went over to her and sat beside her warm body.
He kissed her forehead and walked his fngers down to her protruding, hard belly and rubbed it.
“I guess I could.”
“Ten you should.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll see you later.”
Jay kissed her again and lef for work.
***
Around noon, while Jay was in the lunchroom eating a slice of pizza, his headache came back.
It was worse this time: a hot, searing pain that pulsed behind his eyes. He finched at the suddenness of
the onset and rubbed at his forehead.
“You all right?” Pat, his co-worker said, picking at a piece of pepperoni.
“Headache,” Jay said. “Hang over, I guess. Jesus, I thought it went away.”
“Came back for one last bite, huh?”
“I guess.”
Jay rose from the table. “I’m gonna go wet my face.”
Te bathroom was empty. Jay ran the water, felt it with the tips of his fngers, and then splashed
it in his face. He looked at himself in the mirror and saw the frst strands of blood crawling out of his
nose.
“What the–” He wiped at his face, and almost immediately, two more thin strands of blood ran
out of his nostrils. Jay pulled a handful of paper towels from the dispenser and put them to his face.
Te whiteness of the towels quickly went red. He took the mass away from his face and saw that now
his nose was literally pumping out blood, as if someone turned on a faucet in his head. Crimson lines
of gore ran from either side of his chin in a quick staccato that eventually led to a consistent fow. Te
water running turned pink as it hit the sink and washed Jay’s blood down the drain.
More blood came rapidly, and Jay started to panic. He yanked another wad of paper towels and
put it to his nose. He slowly walked away from the sink, starting to feel lightheaded and made his way
to the door. Tere was so much blood coming out of his nose that a puddle of it formed under his feet,
and he slipped in it, landing hard on the tile foor. With the paper towels still clenched at his face, Jay
managed in a mufed yell, “HELP!”
And then he blacked out.
***


He woke up in a hospital bed a few hours later.
It took him a few minutes to realize where he was and why he was there. A blood bag with a
long IV running into his arm read “O+” on its white label. He was wearing a blue hospital gown, and
his bare feet protruded from a thin, white sheet at the end of the bed.
Te television was on.
It was the fve o’clock news.
Five o’clock? Jay thought. I’ve been here for almost fve hours? Amanda has to be worried sick!
His attention was caught by the warbling television screen in front of him. Scrappy’s took up
the whole picture. At the bottom a caption read: Breaking News: Local antique shop is currently in quar-
antine. Death toll at 3.
Jay could feel his forehead begin to perspire. Cold sweat formed underneath both of his arms,
and his eyes felt heavy. “Amanda,” he said, over and over again.
Ripping the IV from his arm, Jay slowly got out of bed. Te minute he stood up, he had to sit
back down again. His head was swimming, still dully aching from the hours before. His clothes sat in
a neatly folded pile on a chair at the other side of the room. He glanced at the hallway to make sure no
one was around before he changed into his clothes. A doctor walked past, his head in a folder, but that
was all.
Jay quickly got changed and lef the hospital.
Realizing that his car would still be at the ofce, Jay hopped into one of the idling cabs outside
of the hospital and gave the driver his address.
It took about ffeen minutes to get home. When the cab rolled into Jay’s driveway, the sun had
already gone down. Amanda’s car was in the driveway, but the house was completely dark.
He paid the driver and made his way as quickly as he could to the front door. His hands shook
as he placed the house key into the lock and turned it.
“Amanda!” he yelled, walking into the house, not even bothering to close the front door.
He turned on the hallway light and felt the absolute silence of the house closing in on him.
Tere was something wrong, terribly wrong, and he was horrifed at what would be beyond the bed-
room door when he opened it.
He was at the door now. His hand was around the knob, squeezing it tightly, hot and damp
with sweat. Te frame of the door was glowing blue from whatever lay behind it. In a hoarse whisper
he said her name, hoping to God that she would answer back.
No answer.
He turned the knob, and the door creaked open, and the glow grew brighter. His head hurt,
and he could feel the frst trickle of blood start to leave his nostrils.
Jay took a deep breath and went inside the bedroom.
20
22
Club Swingers
Bill Vernon
I parked my bike and entered the Harmon Golf Course Clubhouse where, supposedly, the
town’s big shots hung out. Te lure of their money took me to the counter and I met someone who I
guessed was a college man working there for the summer.
I said, “Hello. I’d like to be a caddie.”
He looked me up and down. “You live around here?”
“Over on South West Street.”
“Caddied before?”
I shook my head. “Never golfed either, but I’m a fast learner. I can do it.”
“You got half an hour to kill?”
I nodded. Why was he asking that?
He lef the counter and led me back to the door. “I need a break. Come on. I’ll play the last four
holes and teach you how to caddie as we go.”
He handed me a bag of clubs, closed and locked the door, and led me around the clubhouse.
“Basically, your job is to stay out of the way, fnd the golfer’s ball, which means keeping an eye
on it, present him the bag so he can select a club, and be quiet. Te golfer should neither see nor hear
his caddie until he needs him.”
Te job was in fact a snap. Tirty-fve minutes later, the man wrote my name down, said he was
the manager, and told me to be there early Saturday, Sunday, and holiday mornings. Tat’s when they
were busy.
“Act like the other caddies and you’ll be fne.”
I arrived the next Saturday morning at 7:00, my idea of early, but already people were milling
around on the putting green and the frst tee. Farther of on two of the fairways I could see, golfers
were playing. I hurried to the caddies’ dock, set up my bike on its kick stand, and walked toward three
boys sitting on a bench. “Hi. When’s this place open anyway?”
“Soon as you can see,” the nearest kid said.
Te boy beside him said, “You a caddie?” He was out of uniform, but I recognized him as Tom
Preston. His baseball team had played mine last week.
I nodded. “It’s my frst day.”
Just then, a man yelled for Tom and the silent kid. Tey both lef, and the remaining boy said,
“Tey’re regulars for those two golfers.”
“You have to know a golfer to caddie?”
“Not really. You’ll probably get asked.” Te kid walked over to drink at the fountain, and while
there, a man came by and took him.
Two golfers at the putting green were looking my way, but neither approached. I waited restless-
ly. A few minutes passed and two caddies showed up in the caddies’ area afer fnishing hole nine, but
instead of sitting on a bench, they stood between me and the clubhouse. Immediately, the two golfers
I’d noticed hired them. Ahead of me. Te men called them by frst names so maybe they were regulars
too. Still, I checked the ninth green. Tere were four golfers on it and two caddies. Would those two
come over and get hired ahead of me as well? I was resentful just thinking of it.
“Hey, if you’re a caddie, I need one. Come on.”
A man leaving the clubhouse wanted me. I gratefully shouldered his bag of clubs, and on the
frst hole discovered that he was perfect: a short, straight hitter, so no problem fnding his ball. Te two
men with him, additionally, carried their own bags so I didn’t have to carry two bags on this, my frst
24
go-around. My threesome fnished the frst nine and without a break, played the nine holes a second
time. Te man paid and thanked me. My performance had apparently been okay, good enough by my
standards.
Fingering the four dollar bills in my pocket, congratulating myself, I headed for my bike and
stepped on something. I looked down. An infated bicycle tire. Beyond it was another in the grass. Be-
yond that were handlebars, a seat, pedals, a kick stand, a frame and chrome bumpers. God, it was my
week-old Schwinn Phantom lying in pieces. I was paying its $82.65 cost myself at $5 per week, but now
it looked ruined.
Ten laughter. Five caddies were on the benches watching me, Lebanon public school students.
Te truth was obvious. I attended an out-of-town Catholic school and so I was an outsider to them.
Tom, the baseball player, the one caddie I knew, was among them so I approached him. He
turned away, drank at the fountain, then faced me. I asked him who’d taken my bike apart, and his
answer was to spit a mouthful of water in my face. Tat was such a terrible insult, I leaped on him in a
frenzy and wrestled him to the ground.
Several hands dragged me of and broke us apart. I yelled, “Who did it? Which one of you?”
Te biggest one, James Douglas, said, “It was me. What’re you going to do about it?”
I attacked without even considering that he was heavy and muscular, a football star, two years
older than me. He slapped my hands aside, grabbed my wrists, spun me around and threw me aside
like a sack. I ran at him again, but it was like wrestling a building. I couldn’t even get my arms com-
pletely around his waist. My hands unclenched, my arms dropped, and I stepped away. Fighting him
and all fve of them was impossible. Amid hoots and gufaws, I rinsed of at the fountain, ignored the
caddies, and inspected what was lef of my bike.
“Put it back together, you little baby,” James Douglas said. “It’s all there.”
And they lef, their fun over.
What a mess. Should I call Mom to come with the car? She was busy, but I couldn’t leave my bike
lying here.
“Hey, what’s up?” Te manager who’d hired me was on the nearby putting green.
I pointed. “Te caddies tore my bike apart. It’s brand new.”
Twirling his putter in one hand like a baton, he came over, and the rest of my tale poured out.
“James Douglas said he did it.” I took a deep breath. “I guess I’ll pay Cutler’s Bike Shop to put it
back together. Douglas said all the parts are there.”
Te man said, “You can do it yourself. Wait here a minute.”
He went into the clubhouse, returned with a metal tool kit that looked like a tackle box, and
basically reassembled the bike himself. I handed him things and held the bike steady while he worked.
When fnished, he set the bike upright on its kick stand.
“See if it’s okay.”
I pedaled around in a circle. “Everything works fne.” I was elated.
Te man stood with the tool kit in his hand.
“Jimmy was just having fun.”
“Yeah?”
“He didn’t hurt you and he could have, right?”
I shrugged.
“I’m Richard Douglas.” He smiled. “Jim and I are cousins.”
“Oh.” I thanked him again and pedaled of.
For a few laughs, the caddies had put me in my place. I was still angry, but the manager’s kind-
ness made me feel better. About halfway home, still mulling over the experience, I realized, though,
that the manager hadn’t apologized. In fact he’d sort of excused his cousin. He also hadn’t promised to
do anything to stop the caddies from acting that way again. I was nobody to him. My career as a caddie
ended my frst day.
26
Sean Schemelia
I am asking too much. Sleep now, mére.
Te voices are back like back from some secret business. I thought I knew once, but I never knew
where it’s at. Lady origami, she unfolds herself disgustedly. Must muster again my eyes. I know
they once were mine, at least. I’ve been seemingly long told otherwise. Riptide torrent and the
jackals won’t fucking nip it. Te time, the time has passed to count blessings.
Sera toned rustic city hall all malenky piss poor. A place dyed itself chrome all at once. Tat’s
when the important questions get asked. (Exothermic demise, desirous head. Dining in plastic
places and burning incense into the moon for comfort.) Who touched that knob? Why do some
people dislike themselves, serve others? Where’s that fucked up Bang I ordered hours ago. Some-
body will never know.
It was like watching a man deeply fry an egg. She cried into a well into nightfall at him. Filled
it. What a sick fuck of a planet I lie my head! Tumultuos syrup was then exercising his right to
embolism. Atrophic trophy, the last man standing. Signed “Love, Old Scratch” with an older still
insignia.
Tere was a hint in the sad toolshed. We toasted our spines and told ghost stories about it on
endless, distant frst like Henry Miller hit David Sedaris in the tit. Sun was settling I should be
so lucky. Te stone chief decides to rest his bones, bested again. Protesting tome (over the inter-
com), - don’t Touch me!
Well I’ll be a bastard’s father! It speaks! Te tome preaches on mumbling humble martyrdom at
what they Do to a body in a bad way.
What I want to know who taught the book to read? Same broad what bit red delicious into one
hundred million fractal shards. Bzzt - ffh world to ffh world; come in, ffh world - bzzt.
Te mob ignites in hungry conquest. Tere were no survivors. Tey didn’t know who was who
halfway through. It’s said justice is blind. I can’t help but wonder what happened to the last one.
Did he fnd him a refective body of water or was there cues taken amiss?
Incognito dream man lands him a gig castrating caviar. Good for him. Canned laughter canned
everything. Somewhere in London, eight years ago goddamnit. We was one ten at rest. Some the
lads reach four. I clutched my heart with both hands on a sheetless bed and tried to make the
shadows go home, all private Vector3 spawn;
Where’s the water I once wanted to wear has too gone away? It’s important you know why I put
my foot down. I’ve been lying my whole life.
It’s More than Likely
Excerpts from
28
Familiar
Kim Koering
Drops of blood catch in its whiskers, and it licks them up. Bits of fesh and fur catch between
its teeth. It scrapes fecks of organ meat from its palate with a sandpaper tongue. At its paws, only tiny
bones – so thin it snaps them beneath its pads with a little pressure, just to hear the small sounds of
destruction – and the corrugated tail remains. It never eats the tail. With all its sections and bare, pale
fesh, it looks like a worm. Worms remind the cat of death, so it buries the tail with the bones beneath
the soil.
It thinks a lot about death lately. Mostly when a witch dies, her familiar leaves with her. It thinks
of the mummifed mice found in Egyptian tombs, presents for the feline gods as they pass over into the
next realm. Te cat cannot understand why an ofering of death ought to comfort the dead. It raises a
paw to its mouth and cleans away the traces of its kill from its claws.
Perhaps it is a loyalty thing, the cat thinks as it moves among the shadows of the graves. Te
familiar accompanies its mistress into the beyond, ready to search out the mysteries of the next life
together. Whatever they say about curiosity and cats, it has no interest in the next life.
It is fascinated by the dead, though. As its paws move over the dirt of the churchyard, it can
sense what is beneath. Each tombstone names each bone pile as if naming a thing can keep it from
turning back to dust. It is no diferent than the photographs the cat has seen hanging on the walls of
the houses in the village down the hill. Tey try to freeze time, keep it from becoming past. Tey hang
pictures on the walls as if a house was made of memory instead of wood and plaster.
Te ground by the graves is slightly warmer than the cold earth all around, imbued with the
essence of what is as the soil is rejuvenated by what was. In the moonlight, in the shadows of the oak
trees, the churchyard looks bare. In a few weeks the air will become warm, the sun will have regained
its vitality, bright shades of green grass will blanket the sloping lawn. Bees will dip their feet into golden
baths of pollen. Te churchyard will be reformed. Something of the life and nowness of the place will
speak to the hearts of man. Lovers will walk hand in hand through the gardens, forgetting the graves,
as children pedal down the paths, their training wheels scratching cryptic signs into the earth. Tey
cannot understand how life obscures the essence of this place. If the cat were religious, he might think
it sacrilege.
Te manor house where the cat lived with its mistress was made of stronger stuf: stone and
magic. Spirits walked among the halls and through the walls. Te grounds, full of tangled vines with
thorn teeth to keep the neighborhood children out, were always imbued with fog, the ambiance of
ghosts. Here there was no death and life, only a perpetual now. Stardust settled over everything, the
byproduct of endless years of alchemical experiments. Instead of mice, the cat snifed out bits of magic
its mistress had not yet swept up.
Tere was a certain Chancellor whose spirit haunted the witch’s house when she was still alive.
He was rather ego-centric and full of wisdom the living were simply too busy to heed, as he ofen
lamented to the cat. But the cat enjoyed long discussions of philosophy and found the dead were ofen
better company in this regard because they had time and little else to fll it with. Death, the Chancellor
told the cat, is not an ending but a realization of one’s own timelessness. Timelessness, the cat respond-
ed, is immortality and immortality is a life too full to admit death’s intrusion.
As it bats a tuf of grass with its paw, the cat wonders whether it seeks out graveyards for their
presence, for the comfort of the familiar.
30
Te cat claws its way up into a tree, dislodging fecks of bark like dead skin cells. Tere is com-
fort here, too, in the arms of the dead. Te branches reach toward the sky, as if supplicating the moon
or whatever mysterious power will bring it back to life when the penance of winter is over. A crow sits
in the branches above. Te cat casts its eyes up at the bird. With its belly warm and full of blood, the cat
does not think of another killing, another death, though it has killed crows before. And once, a raven.
Instead, it admires the way the moonlight shines on the bird’s glossy feathers, the somber doppelganger
of a phoenix the cat once knew.

Te witch fell in love with a wizard who kept a phoenix. Or rather, as the wizard explained, the
phoenix kept him. It was their mutual respect for immortality which bound the two. Te wizard had
spent centuries of his youth searching for the right logarithms, the precise ingredients, to create an
elixir of life. He was so passionate about the endless cycle of death and rebirth that the witch eventually
ended their relationship. Te cat was sorry to leave the wizard’s castle, the kind of stone mammoth only
found nowadays in fairytales and in children’s imaginations. It was sorry, too, to leave the phoenix with
whom it had developed a sort of friendship afer the disastrous attempt to make the phoenix its dinner.
Te cat had assumed it would taste like the scraps of roasted chicken villagers sometimes tossed
to it, thinking it a stray. It tasted instead of ash and coal and had scorched the cat’s throat and stomach
so much that its mistress was distraught she could not save its life. When it awoke from its enchanted
sleep, the cat was one life older and, it assumed, much wiser. Uncertain aferimages swam around in
the cat’s head afer this loss of life. Tese dreams of the dead, where nothing happened because it had
all happened already, disturbed it. It sought the phoenix’s expertise.
When the relationship ended and the witch found a nice, haunted manor of her own, she would
stroke the cat and coo in its ear about the foolishness, the vanity, of immortality.
“Where’s the urgency in a life that lasts forever?” she would ask as if she expected the cat to an-
swer. It would purr and think of the phoenix and the limitless potential of those who conquered death.
When the raven frst tapped at the window of the witch’s bedchamber, a chill rose up the cat’s
spine. Te fur on its back stood straight up and it bared its teeth at the evil bird. Unfazed, the raven
stayed until the frst light of dawn broke over the dark trees of the forest. Te cat’s mistress awoke, as
vitally magic as ever, and the cat forgot about the omen until the raven returned that night. Slowly, as if
it carried death instead of just announcing it, the witch began to languish in the raven’s presence. Te
bird took up the post, day and night, tapping on the latticed window when the cat’s mistress was asleep.
If she ever noticed the raven, the witch never mentioned it. She awoke each morning, a little sicker
than the day before. Her pale skin lost its shimmer of stardust and turned the color of ash. Her knuck-
les became knobby so it was hard for her to unscrew the caps on her bottle of powered rhino hide, her
vial of newt bile.
Te cat tried to scare the raven of. It pounced from the gables one morning early in the raven’s
tenure as its mistress bustled around her cauldron and snifed incessantly. As if the bird were made of
smoke, the cat fell through and splattered itself on the fagstones three stories below.
Te cat lost another life when it snuck up behind the bird on its branch outside the bedcham-
ber. Te bird’s eyes were fxed on the kitchen window where the witch was bent nearly double, cough-
ing up phlegm and worse things into an empty cauldron. Black bits of soured magic dribbled from her
lower lip. (Te cat does not like to think about it. Even now the memory stabs at its heart and it feels
anew its hatred for the raven. Te crow takes fight, angling over the tiny church, frightened perhaps by
some sense of the cat’s murderous musings.) Te cat swiped at the bird’s neck. It was a powerful stroke
which should have severed the artery, but the cat might as well have struck air. Te bird spun its head
around to look at the cat with one fathomless, black eye. It was like looking into an abyss, into the un-
known. Ten the bird struck out with its wings. Startled, the cat lost its balance and tumbled through
the branches. It was spared the hard contact of the fagstones and was eviscerated on a thorn bush.
It sought advice from the spirits of the manor.
“Don’t you know what a raven is?” asked the Chancellor one night in the study. In life he had
been a distinguished intellectual. Te cat always found him in the study, staring at the bookshelves
with the corners of his mouth drawn down into a bullfrog’s gloomy expression, wondering just how
he might take up a book so he could feed his starving mind. Te cat thought his question was rather
stupid.
“It’s a bird,” it said.
Te Chancellor looked away from the dusty shelves and turned his frown on the cat. “It is not a
bird of fesh and bone,” he intoned. “It is made of darkness and cold.”
Te cat’s moonlit eyes stared at the pearlescent fgure, waiting for an explanation.
Te Chancellor sighed and rolled his eyes. “Scare it of with fre.”
By way of thanks the cat pawed a book of one of the lower shelves. It crashed to the study foor
and fell open. His translucent eyes popping open like a man about to have a heart attack, the Chancel-
lor crouched on the foor before the tome. It was a book on ornithology.
A couple of weeks afer the raven appeared, the witch was too weak to make it to the kitchen.
Te brew in her cauldron sat unattended and began to spoil. Whatever failed magic she had been
working on was lef to the greedy hands of the spirits. Tey fought over the cauldron’s contents and the
rows of potions lining the shelves in the dungeon. As its mistress lay dying, the magic which held the
house together, which shielded the grounds from the elements, began to crack and crumble as if it had
simply been a fgment of her powerful imagination.
Stashed away in a mouse hole was a cache of magic the cat had collected over the years. It wasn’t
sure if its mistress would be upset to fnd all the shavings and lefovers of her magic hoarded away. It
was enough, the cat believed, to start a fre which would never burn out. Guided by its inexpert knowl-
edge of magical law, by the time the cat had prodded the specks of stardust into fame, it was too late.
Te raven’s curse stuck and the witch died.
Jumping down from the tree, the cat lands impossibly light on its feet. Te moon is sinking
behind the church steeple. Te frst few rays of dawn will soon come over the hill. Te cat stretches –
not because it is stif; it never gets stif anymore. Tere is no satisfaction in stretching muscles which
are already loose, so it trots toward the church where the mice emerge from the cellar, noses aquiver to
snif out danger. Tey never sense the cat.
Te bird took fright at the fames. With its concentration broken, the magic which made it
intangible dispersed. Tough the cat knew its mistress was a lost cause, it pounced once more at the
raven. Tis time, it sunk its teeth into the feathered belly and pulled its entrails out as the bird’s scaly
feet kicked and clawed at the cat’s muzzle. Te blue and green fames can still be seen from time to time
in the dark forest. Scientists try to explain it as phosphorous escaping from the rock or earth.
As it nestles into the grass beside the church, the cat wonders what the Chancellor knew of the
curse. It cannot believe that a man of such intellect would not have guessed the result of the cat’s task.
When its bloodlust was sated, the cat fell into torpor. It sat curled by its mistress’s cold body
through the night hoping its own vitality could somehow undue this fnal spell, the one where life is
turned to death with the speed of a magician’s fngers. When the body began to decay, the cat moved
into the parlor where the witch had once stroked its fur as she comforted herself over the loss of her
love.
In the weeks and months which followed, the cat discovered the raven who supplied its mis-
tress with death had given it eternal life. Te thought thrilled the cat. Its heart was full of the joy it had
known in the company of the phoenix, its sleep no longer troubled by the dreams of the dead. Te cat
conquered the raven, conquered death, took hold of immortality.

32
Tere was a time, when they were young and in love, when they lived in a castle overlooking a
grand meadow, when the sun was always strong in the day and the stars always glorious at night, when
the cat had liked to fnd a sunny patch of grass to stretch out on. Te rays would warm its fur and chase
away the haunted dreams. Te cycle of day and night and day again cheered its heart. Every day was a
new beginning, a new opportunity to recreate the self.
Now the warmth brings unbearable pain to the cat’s fesh, the light burns it eyes. Perhaps there
is some truth to its mistress’s words about urgency of life, but the cat is still puzzling it out. To its right
is a ficker of movement. Silent as smoke, the cat stalks the mouse in the last minutes of the night.
34
Epicentropolis
Kevin Reilly
April 4, 2034
Highlands Quarter, Epicentropolis, NJ, USA
Felix Etcher had made up his mind. He was going to get out of this place. He was lying face
down in his bed; the lights were out in his room. He couldn’t even guess what time it was. He had been
in this exact position for hours, weighing out his options. First of, everyone he cared about lived in
this city. His sister Penny was here, the only family he had lef. Obviously, it wasn’t as if he could come
back to visit if he actually decided to leave. Once somebody lef Epicentropolis, they were never al-
lowed to return, in order to keep the purity of the experiment intact. When Felix’s mother ofcially
registered him to become part of the emerging city, he had to swear that he would never attempt to
contact anyone from outside the dome at any time. Tis was inconvenient, but it was the one rule that
everyone needed to abide by in order for their basic needs to be fnanced by the local government. Te
carefree system within Epicentropolis was only possible when it was fully contained. Even now, Felix
could understand that.
He rolled over and stared at the ceiling. He thought he heard birds chirping outside, then
remembered that was impossible. Te songbird track wasn’t played over the city loudspeaker until
quarter to six each morning, and by then his curtains would be glowing with the frst hints of morning
light. Tis was all part of the problem. Epicentropolis was a study in predictability. Without the risks of
normal life, everything took on a stale, artifcial air. He could map out tomorrow as easily as yesterday.
Perhaps leaving would be for the best. Penny was an adult now; she could look afer herself.
Felix groaned and checked his watch. Tree thirty eight. It was always this time of night that
found him at his most introspective. When you’re the last conscious person on your entire block, the
world seems to pause for a moment, and allow you to collect yourself; nothing is happening around
you, so you aren’t missing anything. Tere are no distractions lef. If you’re still in your right mind, an
unlimited amount of progress can be made in just a few short hours. Doubtless whoever came up with
the idea for this godforsaken city thought of it in the dead of night, when anything was possible.
***
Across town in the Metropolitan Quarter, Penny Etcher walked aimlessly along the infnite
sidewalk, her hands in her pockets. She was lost in thought, and far away from home. She had been
sauntering forward for more than an hour already, and had taken Kramer Ave all the way to 54th
Street, where she hung a lef. She would take Clinton Boulevard all the way back to the Suburban
Quarter, and afer a quick fve blocks on 4th Street she would be home. It was a four mile walk, the
exact path she took whenever she had some serious thinking to do, which was pretty ofen these days.
Te route never varied. As spontaneous as the young girl seemed, those who knew her well could see
that every aspect of her life had a hidden routine. She was chaos, controlled.
Penny sighed. Her brother was unhappy with Epicentropolis. Tat much was clear to nearly
everyone that met him. He had never loved it here, but lately it was starting to get worse. He barely
did anything but talk about how terrible the city was. So, Penny thought, what should I do? Tell him
to leave? Tat I would be all right without him? It wouldn’t be true. She was eighteen now, sure-footed
and resourceful, but she was still a child in many ways. She needed Felix more than anyone else in the
world.
36
Penny took a lef turn down Clinton Boulevard. Although it was a major road that cut through
the entire city, the street was desolate at nearly four in the morning. Automated buses—the only ve-
hicles in Epicentropolis—perpetually lurched along the roadway, empty. Nothing else Penny could see
was even moving. Tis was her favorite time to wander around. She was completely alone in a city of
ten million people. Solitude made it easier for her to concentrate. She had to fnd a way to make Felix
feel important while keeping him close to her. Tere must be something here he could take charge of,
she thought as she kicked a holographic can down the street. Epicentropolis was spotless—the janito-
rial robots worked night and day to clean up litter—but studies showed that kicking trash down the
street was benefcial to the thought process, so artifcial cans were placed along the curb every few
blocks, balancing precariously, just begging for a swif punt. Penny smiled in spite of herself. How
could he not love this?
As Penny walked past an alley in the center of the block, a pair of strong male hands emerged
from the darkness and grabbed her by the shoulders. She was yanked backwards into the alley so fast
she heard her neck crack from whiplash. Penny began to scream, but one of the hands covered her
open mouth. She bit down, hard.
“OW!” Te hand let go.
She could see blood already surfacing on the fngers as they quickly withdrew. Now it was her
turn. She spun around in her best self-defense form—just like Felix had taught her—and swung at the
attacker’s face. Penny was a skinny little thing, but she had a wicked right hook.
“SHIT! PENNY, STOP!” Te attacker stepped forward into the streetlight, clutching his wound-
ed eye with his good hand. Tis obscured his face, but his voice was unmistakably familiar.
“…Stephen?” Te adrenaline-blurred world was collapsing around her. “Stephen, what the hell
are you doing?!”
“Jesus, Pen, your teeth are sharp.”
***
March 27, 2034
Highlands Quarter, Epicentropolis, NJ, USA
Felix Etcher and Stephen Slowe were killing time on the roof of Stephen’s apartment build-
ing. Felix sat with his legs dangling over the edge, ffy feet above a spotless alley. He looked up at the
quickly moving clouds through the gigantic glass dome and shivered, an old refex he couldn’t seem
to eliminate. It was the middle of spring. It would still be chilly, back home in the mountains, even at
noon. Not here. Epicentropolis had citywide climate control. Outdoors—so to speak—was always a
comfortable seventy-eight degrees with low humidity, regardless of the time of day or season. Felix
hadn’t worn a jacket in years. His sister Penny, who was born in the city, had never even owned one.
Eighteen years ago, their pregnant mother had entered the gates with a ten-year-old Felix. Teir
father opted to move to Pennsylvania when the experiment started. At the time, Felix was angry with
him, but when Millie Etcher died during childbirth, he understood why his dad stayed behind. Felix
snifed, and shifed his weight. Well, he thought, when you let anyone who walks into a hospital deliver
babies, that’s what happens.
Stephen paced around a small pipe jutting up from the center of the building, smoking. Stephen
was smoking, of course, not the pipe. Felix detested the habit. In an efort to curb his friend’s constant
pestering, Stephen had taken to always moving while smoking. He argued that with the exercise, he
was practically breaking even, health-wise. At the end of each week, he lef two packs and fourteen
miles behind him. At least half of this walking took place in a tight circle around this pipe.
Felix leaned on his elbows and tilted his head back, watching an upside-down Stephen pace.
Tis made him feel slightly motion sick, but he supposed that was better than feeling nothing. “Do you
remember the river?”
Stephen glanced over at Felix, then resumed his course. “Sure. I think about it all the time.
Tere was nothing like it, watching millions of gallons of water move south every second. I always used
to wonder where it all came from.”
“You think it’s still there?” Felix asked. “I hardly think that place still exists, afer all this time.”
Stephen chuckled. “Of course it’s still there, man. Town’s long gone, but rivers don’t give a shit if
there are people around to watch them. Tey don’t need upkeep. Tey keep right on moving. Tat river
is better of without us.”
Stephen tripped over himself, his tennis shoes squeaking under foot. He looked down. As a
result of his constant shufe, there was a slight ovular depression in the cement, crosshatched by scuf
marks, as if someone had spent an afernoon half-heartedly power washing the roof, opting instead to
make a weird pattern for the next handyman to fnd. Similar markings could be found on the porch
in Penny’s tiny backyard in the Suburban Quarter, but hers were more erratic, forming a rough fgure
eight around a couple old lawn chairs. Her marks were evidence of compulsion, not routine.
Felix sighed. “You’re probably right, but I don’t think I’m better of without the river.”
“No,” Stephen said, “I wouldn’t think so. We could take a bus to the Shore Points Quarter if you
want. Check out Leisure Ave, have a look at some fountains—”
Felix rolled his eyes. “I’m so sick of those fountains, Steve. More proof of our battle with na-
ture, that’s all they are. Another example of man taking something pure and just…ruining it. Making it
more complicated than it has to be. And they have the nerve to put them in there, and say ‘Look, water!
Epicentropolis is like the real world, but better! Forget about the past, let’s move forward!’ Into what?
Tis place is like living on a carousel. It’s nice for a little while, but eventually you have to either get of
or throw up.”
Stephen ficked his cigarette butt of the roof, down into the alley. He squinted and watched a
janitorial robot roll swifly over and sweep it up.
Te robot looked up. “Tanks!”
Stephen resisted the urge to spit onto the defenseless machine’s head. Instead, he gave it a curt nod,
and walked back over to Felix. He stood next to his friend on the edge of the roof with his hands on his
knees, panting slightly. “Well, you can hop of whenever you want. Te carousel, I mean, not the—”
Felix glowered. “You say that like it’s crazy to even consider it. We don’t need this place to sur-
vive. We didn’t before and we don’t now.”
“Maybe not, but surviving is a lot easier here, don’t you think?” Stephen scratched at his chin.
“Food, water, shelter, all paid for by the government. And they ask us for nothing in return but to hang
out in here and let the rest of Jersey grow back for a couple generations. Plus there’s pretty much no
crime, no struggle—”
Felix grimaced. “Save it, I’ve heard it one too many times.” He hopped up onto his feet with a
start. “No, you know what? Tat’s the problem right there. Struggle! Life is about struggle, more than
anything else. Right now, we don’t have any. We’re complacent, we’re stupid. When nothing goes wrong,
there’s no reason to think, or to afect change. Tere’s no drive to improve the world we live in. Every-
one shrugs, says ‘Close enough.’ I swear, this is the frst time in human history that we are at risk of
losing our sentience. We’re like farm animals now.”
“Maybe,” Stephen grinned, “but on a nice, organic farm. We’re given enough space—”
“Just enough to keep from sufocating one another.”
“Te weather is perfect.”
Felix scofed. “I haven’t felt snow in a decade.”
Stephen raised his eyebrows. “Aha! I’ve caught you! It still snows every year out there.”
“Oh please,” Felix said, rolling his eyes, “the entire dome being covered and blocking out all
natural light while I bump into shit wearing a t-shirt and shorts hardly counts as snow.”
38
“Fair enough,” Stephen said. “Well, at least we don’t have to work.”
“We’re parasites. We don’t produce anything. Don’t you see that?” Felix’s right eye began to
twitch so slightly that it was barely noticeable.
Stephen’s eyes lit up. He had seen that twitch many times. It was the sign that he should stop
antagonizing Felix immediately. Still, he thought, what are best friends for? “What do you mean, noth-
ing? We have all these great conversations, that has to be worth something.”
Felix shot Stephen a blank stare, punctuated with the slowest, most sarcastic blink he could
manage. “Tat’s just not enough, and you know it. If all I get out of life is sitting up here arguing with
you, I might as well just take a quick jog of the side of this roof.”
“You know, Felix, you’re right. You’re absolutely right, as always.” Stephen sighed, and looked up
at the clouds. “But it doesn’t matter. Tings are just…better here. Tey are. Tere’s almost no disease,
zero starvation. Our survival is all but guaranteed.” He patted Felix on the back. “Granted, you make a
lot of good points. Tis is a bland life at times, a little too easy. I’m not disputing that. I’m just saying,
my folks sit around their apartment all day, happy. My old man used to lie on the kitchen foor just to
get his spine in line. Every night, for two hours. He didn’t own one shirt without splinters and dust all
down the back. He doesn’t have to do any of that shit anymore.”
Felix nodded. “I know, I know. And they deserve it. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I just…
I don’t think I can live like this anymore. I need a change. Some confict, some excitement. I can feel
myself starting to shut down, and I really don’t like it.”
***
March 29, 2034
Suburban Quarter, Epicentropolis, NJ, USA
Penny Etcher sat on the foor of her little duplex, cross-legged. She lived a mile away from her
brother, on the edge of the Suburban Quarter, in a neighborhood populated by young people that were
born in Epicentropolis. Since all the housing in the city was equally nice for diferent reasons, people
moved around as they pleased, and tended to fock to those that they saw as peers. Tis far into the
experiment, the city was separated by hobbies and interests more than ethnicity or social status, which
suited Penny just fne.
Penny sat so still it hurt. She was a kinetic being to the core, a chronic leg-wobbler, and a caf-
feine junkie. She was always moving, treating every moment with complete enthusiasm and determina-
tion. Tis was her greatest asset, but ofen her lack of control and poise manifested itself in inconvenient
ways, hindering her. So she spent an hour each day doing as little as she possibly could. Some people
saw meditation as a relaxing. Penny saw it as penance, a daily sacrifce to keep her capricious nature in
check.
Tere was a knock at the door. Penny finched and opened her eyes, then shot up onto her feet.
“Tank God!” Penny ran over to the door and fung it open to reveal Stephen Slowe balancing
on one foot on her front porch, with his arms stretched toward the sky. Penny smiled.
“Meditating, were we?” Stephen brushed past Penny into her living room. “Wouldn’t dream of
interrupting.”
“Nonsense,” said Penny, “I was just about to scream anyway.” Penny gestured to the couch and
walked over into her kitchen. “What can I do for you, Master Slowe? Drink?”
“Sure. Cola, if you have it.” Stephen took two running steps and dove onto Penny’s couch, land-
ing face down with such force that it slid along the wood foor. “By next year,” Stephen said, his voice
mufed deep in the cushions, “this couch will be against that wall.”
“And you’ll be dead.” Penny placed two sodas on coasters on her chestnut cofee table and
kicked the couch back into place. “Tis space has been arranged, quite meticulously I might add, to
streamline the creative process and inhibit procrastination.”
“So I’ve heard.” Stephen took a deep swig of his soda and punctuated it with a crisp audible
exhale. “How exactly does the position of the couch efect the…qi? Flow? What do you hippies call it?”
“Don’t patronize me, it’s irritating. And there isn’t really much canon for what we hippies call
things.” Penny squinted at Stephen and plopped back onto the foor, Indian-style. “Besides, I don’t bug
you about your weird pacing, or the frankly shocking amount of stufed animals that reside in your
home.”
“My mother gave me those and you know it,” Stephen said with an indignant huf.
“Exactly. So you have your baggage and I have mine. Now then, out with it.” Penny cocked her
head from side to side in a futile attempt to crack her neck, a sure sign that she was paying attention.
“You must have had a reason for dropping by.”
“All right then,” Stephen said, “you caught me.” Stephen took another swig of soda, sliding his
thumb down the side of the can until he felt the cool liquid inside, keeping track of the level, an old
habit he picked up from his father. “It’s Felix. I’m…a little worried about him. He seems a bit detached
lately.”
“Sounds about right,” Penny said, drumming her fngers on the foor. “He never was one for
grand displays of emotion. I remember—”
Stephen brushed her anecdote aside with a decisive wave of his hand. “No, I’ve known him for
a long time, practically his entire life, and this is diferent. It’s this place, I don’t think he wants to try to
make it work anymore. I think he wants out of the bubble, for real.”
Penny choked on her soda, her eyes widened. “Are you sure? Did he say that to you?” She start-
ed to jostle a leg, making her look like she was meditating on top of a washing machine. She couldn’t
keep still when she was nervous, something that Stephen could understand well.
“No, no, not exactly. But that’s what he’s thinking, I’m sure of it.” Stephen picked at the dirt
underneath his fngernails. “We have to do something, quick. Find him some way to see that he makes
a diference here. Or else we’re never going to see him again.”
Penny sighed. “I mean, he’s always had the idea in the back of his mind, I think. But if you’re
sure that he’s serious, then I’ll do anything. We have to keep him around here.”
Stephen nodded. “I’m with you there. I just don’t really know how to go about it. He’s so pessi-
mistic it’d be hard to get him to try something new.”
“Yeah,” Penny chuckled, “I’m pretty sure that’s not an option. Hmm…What if…what if instead
of something positive, we do something negative?”
Stephen furrowed his eyebrows. “I’m not sure if I know what you mean.”
“Like…what if we create a situation where he’s the only one that can fx it? Show him that with-
out him, we wouldn’t have someone to help us when stuf goes wrong.”
Stephen jumped to his feet. “Tat’s great, Pen! Yeah, something bad…I hadn’t thought of that.
It might just work. I knew you were the right one to ask. Do me a favor, and think about what we could
do.” He began to walk toward the door. “Listen, I’ve gotta run, I’m late for dinner. Just thought I would
pop my head in on the way home. I’ll mull it over too, and we’ll meet back up in a couple of days, all
right? Whatever it is, we have to do it quick.”
Penny nodded. “I’ll give it some thought. See you later, Stephen. Say hi to the folks.”
“Will do.” Stephen waved goodbye and closed the front door gently behind him.
Penny straightened her back and took a deep breath. She closed her eyes, trying to clear her
mind. “Something bad…something bad has to happen.”
***
40
April 4, 2034
Highlands Quarter, Epicentropolis, NJ, USA
Felix sat on a polished silver bench in Backstreet Park, three blocks away from his apartment.
He had given up on sleep for the night. It was just afer dawn, the sun was beginning to rise overhead.
Sunrises were still nice here, but the light refracted through the dome was somehow…of. It was colder,
a little farther away, like always looking at the sky through a window. Felix shivered and rubbed his
hands together. He had come to this bench for the same reason he went anywhere, to watch the people.
Felix was so tired that there was an audible whir within his skull. Still, the sleeplessness was
starting to numb over, the sight of the sun gave him some encouragement. He stood up and walked
over to the amenities area of the park. Several stands with little vending machines and robotic baristas
surrounded a fountain shaped like fve young men dancing in unison. Water shot out of the micro-
phones they each held at jaunty angles.
Felix shook his head. He grabbed a fresh cofee from the robot barista, then turned around and
blew steam from the piping hot cup.
“What, no thank you?” quipped the machine.
Felix glared over his shoulder. “Tey made you things way too realistic.” He shufed back to his
bench and sat down. Te early risers were just starting to surface and scavenge for food. Felix sipped
his cofee. It was perfect, as always.
Epicentropolis was built from scratch, in what was once a rural area of Southwestern New Jer-
sey. Everything that used to exist within the current city limits—a couple unexceptional towns, a little
wooded area, some strip malls—had been completely bought of and leveled, and the entire project
was executed according to an incredibly detailed master plan. Te idea was to move the entire popu-
lace of New Jersey to a single city, so that the barren, depleted natural environment could slowly revive
itself. Since the experiment efectively shifed all state and federal funding directly to Epicentropolis, an
inconceivable amount of money was available to those with innovative city planning ideas. In the end,
almost all menial, uninteresting jobs that people used to do to survive had become automated. Techno-
logically, this was possible years earlier, but companies did not want to have to deal with the expense,
which was astronomical compared to conventional human labor, not to mention the inevitable back-
lash from a newly unemployed workforce that could not survive without meager compensation for
unskilled labor. Te shif to automation needed to be seamless and all encompassing if it was ever go-
ing to work. Epicentropolis was the perfect opportunity. As a reward for sacrifcing their previous lives
and joining the experiment, new residents of Epicentropolis were told that their living expenses would
be fully subsidized. Everything within the city was complementary. Employment opportunities were
all but nonexistent, and the few essential services were performed on a volunteer basis by whoever was
interested. No one had to work to survive. As a result, everyone in the city had way, way too much time
on their hands.
Tis is what Felix found so interesting. Instead of watching boring Americans doing the only
thing they were familiar with—working themselves to death—he could now observe an entire popula-
tion of people forced to do whatever they want. Some took full advantage of the freedom. Others didn’t
have the frst idea of what to do with themselves. Felix was defnitely in the latter group. He glanced at
the bench beneath him. Even two decades into the experiment, it was painfully, unnaturally new, so
bright and scratch-free that it gave of a migraine-inducing glare. Te same could be said about most of
Epicentropolis, Felix thought. It seemed more like a really elaborate movie set than a city.
As a child, he had visited New York and Philadelphia, the cities of the past. Tese were dingy,
old places, with history, and palpable scars. Tese cities made Felix feel insignifcant. It was impossible
to look at them without realizing that they had existed long before everyone he had ever met was alive.
Sure, they weren’t in perfect condition, but entire lives had taken place within their boundaries. Tey
had character. Epicentropolis had no character. One day it might, but for now, it was much too pristine.
Te city was domed in and exactly the size it needed to be for all of the citizens to be comfortable, with
plenty of room for population expansion. Everything was just a little too neat to be believable. Except
the people, Felix thought. He smiled. When you drop ten million humans into a perfect little doll-
house, they’re afraid to touch the furniture. It was fascinating.
Today was a morning like any other. Felix peered into the steady stream of people in business
attire, hurrying this way and that. Eighty percent of them were going to breakfast, he thought, but they
all seemed late. Tey bumped into one another, jaywalked across intersections between automated
buses, and checked their watches compulsively. Te morning commute to nowhere, he thought. Tese
early risers had the most difcult time transitioning into their new lives of leisure. Something about
it made him feel better, like he wasn’t the only one who was unhappy with the way things were. Tese
people, they were embarrassed to have nothing to do. Tey wanted to pretend that they still had jobs
and commitments to blame for their lack of ambition and free time. Tey were lost in the maze of the
permanent vacation. Felix felt that he could relate to them better than a lot of his peers, who didn’t re-
ally see the problem with doing absolutely nothing all the time. He liked this time of day best because
he almost never saw anyone he knew. Scarcely any young person woke before noon.
Felix never had the opportunity to become an overworked young professional, but he thought
he would have ft in great. He needed structure, somewhere to be, some infnitesimal task to accom-
plish in order to help a bigger picture. Tere wasn’t any of that here, and they called it progress. Felix
called it the self-destruction of society. He sighed. I might just go back to bed, he thought, as he took
another sip of his cofee.
“Felix!”
Felix glanced toward the source of the voice, just in time to see Stephen run across the intersec-
tion, narrowly avoiding being struck by a bus. He was a mess. He was covered in dirt, and his lef eye
was swollen almost completely shut. His hands were coated in dried blood. Felix jumped up, dropping
his cofee on the ground in front of him. Te crowd parted to allow Stephen a path toward his friend.
Nobody acknowledged his presence, or even the act of avoiding him. Tey brushed past in a practiced
apathy that was once reserved for dodging the more aggressive homeless of the old cities. Stephen came
to a stop next to Felix and collapsed onto the bench.
“Stephen! What the hell happened, man? Are you okay?” Felix was frozen in place, hovering,
not sure what to do next.
“Yeah, I’m fne, don’t worry about me.” Stephen was breathing in deep, heaving gulps.
“It’s just…oh man. It’s Penny. He…he took her.”
Felix felt his heart stop for a moment. His mind raced for a logical explanation. It didn’t fnd
one. Penny. He fell back onto the bench in a slump, partially on top of Stephen’s legs. Te two stayed
sprawled out for a full minute in silence. Middle-aged men and women passed by a few feet away, ig-
noring them. Finally, Felix found the energy to speak. “Who? What? What are you talking about? Shit,
Penny! What happened? Is she okay?”
Stephen propped himself up to a normal seated position. He was still panting. “She’s okay, I
think. I hope. I was…I went over to her place late last night. I couldn’t sleep and I fgured she’d be up. I
kept knocking at her door and no one answered. Something didn’t feel right, in my gut, you know, so I
hopped in through the window. I checked everywhere, but no one was there.”
Felix felt nauseous. “So then what? Why are you all beat up? Maybe she was on her walk—”
“Exactly, that’s exactly what I thought.” Stephen had caught his breath. “So I thought I’d try to
fnd her. Normally I would have just come back later, but like I said something wasn’t right. So I started
along the path backwards, hoping I’d catch her on her way home—”
42
“And? Come on, out with it! What happened?”
Stephen held up a bloody hand. “Hold on, I’m getting there. I jogged as far as Clinton and 53rd
without any sign of her. I was starting to think I was crazy, that she must be of doing something else. I
was about to turn around and go home, when I heard someone yelling down the next alley. It was Pen-
ny, I was sure of it. I sprinted down there, just in time to see some gigantic dude carrying her of down
the street. She was kicking and biting and screaming, but he was just too much for her. I shouted ‘Hey,
put her down!’ but he just walked around the corner. I ran afer them, but as I turned the corner, the
guy clocked me.” Stephen pointed at his swollen eye. “I was knocked out cold. When I woke up, they
were gone, and this was right next to me.” Stephen pulled out the boot he had tucked into his waistline.
It was a small black women’s boot, with the toe worn almost completely down from too much shufing.
Penny’s. “I got up and ran here to fnd you. I don’t know what to do, man!”
Felix stared, more past Stephen than at him. He felt like he was going to explode, but he didn’t
have time. His sister was in trouble, he had to focus. He stood up and began to walk toward the Metro-
politan Quarter. “Come on.”
Stephen jumped up and followed on Felix’s heels. “Where are we going?”
Felix kept right on walking. “Show me. Show me where it happened. We’re going to fnd her.”
***
Felix and Stephen took the bus to the Metropolitan Quarter and hopped of at the corner of
Clinton Ave and 50th Street. Only a few blocks remained between them and the last place Penny was
seen. A smattering of people walked along the sidewalk; it was only seven thirty in the morning. Felix
pushed forward at a blistering pace, clutching his sister’s boot, jogging more than walking. Stephen
trailed behind him, gasping.
Stephen unsuccessfully tried to grab his friend’s shoulder to slow him down. “Hey…Felix…can
you…go a bit…”
Felix turned on his heels and ran in place, glaring. “It’s only been three blocks, suck it up.
Penny’s missing, man! You gotta quit smoking, it’s really getting pathetic.”
“I know…but…running won’t…make her…any less…” Stephen was exaggerating, a little. He
needed as much time as he could to fgure this thing out.
“You think I don’t know that? I just—”
“Stop! We’re here!” Stephen doubled over, sucking air. He nodded his head in the direction of
the nearby alley.
Felix dug his heels into the sidewalk and skidded to a stop. He looked all around the entrance to
the alley, but didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. Tere was one of those idiotic holographic cans
a few feet away, but you could fnd those anywhere. He wondered if Penny had been kicking it. She
loved those things; she could hardly pass one without sending it fying. Maybe that’s what distracted
her.
Stephen was watching his friend poke around, still pretending to catch his breath. Tis is a good
plan, he thought, it makes sense. Now it was show time. “Okay, I’m good. It all went down in here.” He
walked into the entrance of the alley.
Felix followed, his eyes fxed on the ground, scanning. “Tere!”
“What?”
Felix indicated a pair of thin parallel scuf marks. Tey were identical to the marks that covered
Penny’s back porch. “Tat was her, I’d know those scuf marks anywhere. You were right.” His heart
began to beat faster. He didn’t know what to do. Still, he had to press forward. He had to fgure this out,
for Penny.
Stephen kept walking down the alley. Te scufmarks continued for a few feet, then stopped
abruptly. “Okay, so she must have been dragged to right here, then…something happened. I couldn’t
see all this earlier, it was still too dark.”
Felix bent over the spot where the scufmarks stopped. He saw a few small circular stains, so
deeply red that they looked black from farther away. “Blood. She must have hit him, or bit him, or
something.”
Stephen held his throbbing hand behind his back. “Well, I don’t want to be…morbid or any-
thing, but couldn’t it be…hers?”
Felix was looking at the scufmarks a little closer to the alley’s entrance. He was screaming on
the inside, but he had to keep it together. He shook his head. “Nah, if it was hers, it would have started
up there, I think. Like if he bopped her over the head on the street back there. No, he must have just
grabbed her and dragged her.”
Stephen nodded. “Yeah, okay, that makes sense. Tis musta all happened before I showed up.”
Felix was looking at the walls of the buildings on either side of the alley. His head was on a
swivel. “Hmm. Right, so this guy must have grabbed her, put his hand over her mouth—”
Stephen took a step back and began inspecting the area beyond the end of the scufmarks. It
was seventy-eight degrees as always, but he was sweating heavily. “Why do you say that?”
“Otherwise,” Felix said, “you would have heard Penny yelling from farther away, don’t you
think? Big alley like this, that late at night? Te sound would have carried for at least a full block. Didn’t
you say you were right around the corner before you heard anything?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Stephen nodded his head vigorously. “Right, that makes sense. You’re good at this,
dude. Seriously.”
Felix walked past Stephen, toward the end of the alley. “So let’s see…we’re looking for an in-
jured guy, one big enough to drag Penny without much resistance, but still small enough for her to
put up a fght against, at least for a moment. Look at these little lines here…” Felix pantomimed the
motions, frst standing at the end of the dragging marks, then taking a step back and sliding his foot
back and forth along a faint arcing scuf mark. He stopped for a moment, lost in thought. “Okay, okay,
so Penny was dragged until the end of these lines, a hand over her mouth. Ten, she must have bit his
fngers or wrist, something like that. Which accounts for the blood.”
“Right.” Stephen shoved his hands into his pockets. “But what do you mean, she put up a fght?
When I got in here I saw her getting carried like a sack of four. Te guy looked massive.”
“Maybe,” Felix said, “but hear me out. She bit his hand, right? He’s caught of guard. He stops
dragging, maybe grabs his hand, defnitely loosens his grip at least. But then look. Penny swings
around…” Felix spun quickly, his outside foot following the arcing lines. “Ten, she must have hit him,
probably right in the face.”
“Yeah, okay, but the dude’s a brick wall. He shakes it right of and just picks her up like nothing,
and walks down that way. She starts screaming around then, and I come around the corner just in time
to see them leave.”
Felix scratched his chin. He walked the rest of the way down the alley. Something was of.
“Yeah…yeah that must have been it, because nothing else looks disturbed afer that…picked
her right up over his head. Hmmm. Where’d you get hit again?”
Stephen nodded toward the very end of the alley. “Right there at the corner. He was waiting for
me. Te boot was right there in the middle when I came to.”
Felix walked over to the alley’s exit. “So this guy was so big that he ran around the corner, held
my full grown thrashing sister under one arm, waited a few seconds, then knocked you out in one
punch with his free hand?”
“Yeah, pretty much.” Stephen began to rock on his heels.
Felix shook his head. “Tat’s the craziest thing I ever heard…So we need to fnd the most gigan-
tic guy in the Metropolitan Quarter, with a black lef eye, and messed up…say, Stephen?”
44
“…Yeah?”
“How’d your fngers get so bloody?” Felix pointed down at the dried blood caked on Stephen’s
wrists, visible even with his hands in his pockets.
Stephen froze. He had to think quickly. “Tese? Tey, ah, I was holding my nose with them
when I woke back up. Te punch busted it up a little, had a nosebleed for a bit, you know.”
Felix blinked. “Your nose looks okay to me, man.”
“Yeah, I know, I think it was a weird, glancing sorta thing. My eye took most of it.”
Felix looked at Stephen, then at the foor of the alley, then back at Stephen. “But…there isn’t any
blood on the ground here.”
Stephen laughed uneasily. “Well, I did a great job containing it, as you can see.” He held up his
bloodstained hands, with his palms facing him.
Felix shrugged. “Guess so. Well, that’s a pretty decent description to work with. I’m gonna can-
vas the neighborhood. Why don’t you go home and get cleaned up, you’re in no shape to talk to strang-
ers.”
Stephen nodded. “Sounds good. I’ll head over to Penny’s when I’m straightened out. Meet me
there, maybe we’ll fnd some clues. Hey, Felix?”
“Yeah?”
“She’s gonna be fne, I’m sure of it.”
Felix smiled weakly. “I hope so, man. She’s all I’ve got.”
***
A half hour later, Stephen shut the door to his Highlands Quarter apartment, careful not to
slam it. He had gotten so much grief for slamming doors as a kid that it even irritated him when other
people let doors slam. Stephen kicked his shoes of, next to the twin of Penny’s boot that Felix had
taken as evidence. He shufed over toward the bathroom, rubbing his wounded eye. Penny was sitting
on his couch, reading and jostling her leg. She snapped the book shut.
“How’d it go?” Penny looked worried. “I don’t think this was such a great plan.”
“Relax,” Stephen said with a smile, “It went fne. He bought it, and he was doing some seriously
awesome detective work.”
“Really?” Penny smiled. “I always thought he’d be a good detective.”
“He was unbelievable. A natural. He really almost caught us, just based on the evidence. It’s a
good thing I was there.”
“Awesome. What next?”
Stephen walked into the bathroom. “A shower. I’m covered in blood, thanks to you. Ten, the
next installment of our dastardly plan. I told Felix to meet me at your house.” He shut the door, and the
water began running.
Penny lay down on the couch with a thud. She was worried about Felix. Suddenly, this whole
thing didn’t seem like a great idea. She went along with it because she had almost knocked Stephen out,
but if he had told her about the plan beforehand, instead of springing the kidnapping idea on her by
actually kidnapping her, she would have never agreed. When she said something negative should hap-
pen, she was thinking more along the lines of pretending to have the fu. Penny sighed. Stephen never
was one to do things halfway. Oh well, she thought, maybe it could work.
Tere was a knock at the door. Penny ran over. She always loved visitors. She swung the door
open to reveal Felix, standing there with his arms folded.
“Penny!” He wrapped his sister in a huge bear hug. “Tank God, I thought I lost you!”
Penny smiled and hugged her brother back. “I know, I’m so, so sorry. It was Stephen’s idea—”
“Oh, I bet it was.” Felix looked around the apartment. “Where is he? I’m gonna give him anoth-
er black eye to match the frst one.”
Penny laughed. “I think he has it coming. He’s in the shower though, leave him his dignity.
How’d you fnd out?”
Felix shook his head. “Stephen’s a terrible liar, it was obvious once I got to that alley. I just had
to be sure, I had to make sure you were okay.”
“Awww, thanks big brother.” Penny went back to the couch and sat down. “Still, I want you to
know that I was going to fnd you and tell you the frst chance I got.”
“I know you were, kid.” Felix sat down next to his sister. “One thing, though. Why? Why the hell
did you two fake a kidnapping?”
“Well, we both thought you were depressed and wanted to leave the city, so Stephen said, ‘Let’s
do something to make him feel good and important.’ And I thought that something negative would
make you want to leave less, but then last night—”
Felix held up a hand. “Okay, I get it.”
Penny cocked her head to the side. “So…you aren’t mad at me?”
Felix shook his head. “No, not at you. I’m absolutely furious with Stephen, but you just got
caught up in a stupid plan. I know you meant well.”
Penny smiled. “Tanks…and you aren’t going to leave?”
Felix sighed. “Oh, I’m defnitely going to leave. Now more than ever. It just isn’t your fault.”
Penny’s jaw dropped. “But…but…I need you…”
Felix tussled his little sister’s hair. “No, you don’t. You’re an adult now. You have this place more
fgured out than anyone I know. Plus, you almost hospitalized a grown man last night. Remember that.
Now, I’m going home to pack before Stephen gets out of the shower. He means well, but I think I might
kill him if I see him right now. You two come over my place tomorrow to say goodbye, okay?”
Penny nodded, but her bottom lip was starting to quiver. “Are you sure this is what you want?”
Felix smiled. “I’m positive.”
***
April 5, 2034
Highlands Quarter, Epicentropolis, NJ, USA
` Felix, Penny, and Stephen stood outside what used to be Felix’s apartment building. Felix
looked up at the cloudless sky. It was a beautiful day. He was ready to say goodbye. All of his posses-
sions were packed into a backpack and two suitcases. He stacked them up in a little pile between him-
self and the two most important people in his life. Tis was going to be it, he thought, the last time he
ever saw them.
“So, again, I’m really sorry about kidnapping your sister, man.” Stephen scratched at his chin.
“Any chance that you’ll reconsider this?”
“Nope. And I forgive you.” Felix smiled at his best friend. “I get what you were trying to do, it
was just a terrible, terrible plan.”
“Yeah…I see that now.” Stephen looked down at his feet. “But…you were great at being a detec-
tive, didn’t that make you feel a little better about this place?”
“Nope, it made me think my sister might be dead. But it showed me that you two would be all
right without me. I was going to do this one way or another, and I think it was sweet of you guys to try
to change my mind.” Felix smiled. “I’ll never forget this place.”
Stephen and Felix hugged. “Well, maybe things will change and one day we’ll see each other
again.” Stephen was trying his best not to get too emotional.
46
“Maybe,” Felix said, “but I wouldn’t count on it. Take care of Penny for me, okay?”
“Absolutely.”
Penny was sobbing. “Fe….lix…I’ll…miss…you…”
Felix frowned. “I wish it didn’t have to be this way, Penny. I’m gonna miss you so much. You’ve
grown up into an amazing human being. Just keep your wits about you, and don’t listen to a word Ste-
phen says.”
Penny latched onto her brother. “Okay…I…won’t…”
Felix picked up his luggage with a wry smile. “Well, this is it, guys. I love you both and I always
will. Goodbye.”
“Bye, buddy.”
“Bye, Felix.”
Felix turned around and began to walk toward the main entrance to Epicentropolis. Tis part of
his life was over. Te future held something truly unpredictable.
***
April 5, 2034
New Jersey, USA
Felix walked out the front gate of Epicentropolis for the frst time in almost two decades. Te
wind felt strange and foreign against his skin. He took a deep breath of the fresh air, and bent down to
feel the soil beneath him. Everything was so new, authentic, and wonderful. He was sure that this was
the right move. Felix picked his suitcases back up and began walking through the trees in the direction
of the Delaware River. It was a ten mile walk, and then he had to fnd a way across. Tere were no guar-
antees, but if he could manage that, he would be in Pennsylvania, back in the real world. Last he heard,
his father was somewhere in Philadelphia. Maybe he could fnd him, if he was lucky. Felix smiled to
himself. Life was getting harder already.
48
About the Contributors
• Nikki Rae: “Silver and Cold”
- Tuckerton, NJ
• Elizabeth Teriot: “Te Birthday Candle”
- New Orleans, LA
• Nicholas Leonetti: “Scrappy’s Rocks”
- Galloway, NJ
• Kim Koering: “Familiar”
- Vineland, NJ
• Kevin Reilly: “Epicentropolis”
- Milford, NJ
• Bill Vernon: “Club Swingers”
- Dayton, OH
• Aaron Kaminsky: Untitled Pieces
- Philadelphia, PA
• Sean Schemelia: Untitled Pieces
- Philadelphia, PA
• Anne Bengard: “Circus Child”
- London, UK
• W. Jack Savage: “Temple in the Sky”
- Monrovia, CA
About the Editor
Barbi Moroz was the recipient of the 2014 James Baldwin
Fiction Award, as well as both the 2013 Joseph Courter Fiction
Award and the 2013 Stephen Dunn Poetry Award, which are frst
place literary awards at Te Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
Her poetry has been published in the online magazines Untitled
Publications, Misfts’ Miscellany and Leaves of Ink. Her poetry has
also been published in the print magazines Creepy Gnome Magazine
and Stockpot, Stockton’s literary magazine, and Bank Heavy Press.
50
Special Thanks
Electric Rather would like to thank the talented writers and
artists that contributed to this issue. We are very proud of the
diversity of this issue and are honored to publish it. We received
more than seventy submissions of fction, poetry, and art. Sifing
through these submissions was a labor of love and we can’t wait to
start the process all over again. We would like to thank everyone
that submitted to our magazine and our wonderful readers.
Submissions are always welcome!
We would like to cite two sources that created some of the
textures and patterns used in this issue: cgtextures.com and
subtlepatterns.com.
For more information about our contributors, please visit our
website: electricrather.tumblr.com.

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