Featured Fiction Writer: August 2011 Vol. 3 # 4

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Alexander Lumans



Alexander Lumans is originally from Aiken, SC. His fiction has been published in or is forthcoming from Story Quarterly, American Short Fiction, Black Warrior Review, Cincinnati Review, Surreal South 2011, and The Book of Villains, among other magazines. He was a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the 2010 Sewanee Writers’ Conference and he won the 2011 Barry Hannah Fiction Prize from The Yalobusha Review. Recently, he was awarded a MacDowell Colony Fellowship for Fall 2011.





The Doll Sleeper


2 AM, I get a call for “The Doll Sleeper”—the town’s nickname for me in that I can only catch wind-up dolls on the blink, never Zs. They say I think like one of them.

While I’m gone, day or night, the wife worries about my safety. She’ll sob in bed until she passes out—sometimes I tease her that she’s the doll, the way she waits to run dry like batteries. She needs me.

Tonight, the rogue doll is eating unripe plums in strangers’ yards while the large silver key turns in her back. My job is my job—sometimes I hold my breath to do it well. So I wait; I never draw my gun.

At first light she begins to slow. Today, I sense, won’t know when to stop.


The last wind-up doll that went rogue worked as a skating waitress at our drive-in. Like most, she was reliable—until she malfunctioned. She started serving cups of mustard and burgers of broken glass.

I drove her back to the borderlands. “Stick with your kind.”

            The key, still turning, forced her to lean forward in the seat. “That—That some kind of joke?”

            “You mistake me for having a funny bone.”

            “That makes two of us,” she said. “Did you hear the one about the wind-up doll’s wind-up doll?” A perfunctory pause. “It kept—” but her head struck the dash. She looked fast asleep except for her open eyes. The motionless key, I realized, was a heavy load.


10 AM, at the drive-in, I order two fries, coffees.

As the waitress skates over, I’m taken by the graceful clockwork of her legs. Left, glide; right, glide. The wife was once a waitress here, too, just as striking. Only, when this one turns, that flash of silver.

I don’t wait. I don’t holster my gun. Hit the chest? The key? My knees shake under all this weight. I’m not cut out for this anymore. I’m tired.

So go for the legs. One, two, crash down face-first. The legs stop gliding. The key stops turning. As I approach the body, dreading another borderlands drive, the brightest blood pools underneath her.


Once home, instead of sobbing or driving me away or taking out my legs, the wife comes up behind me in the hallway, phone in hand. “Long day?”

“Goes by in a blink,” I say, “the longest blink ever.” Anytime now, the thumps of cruiser doors outside. “Time to retire.”

“But you’re ‘The Doll Sleeper.’”

“Was,” I say. “Was.”

She holds the phone like it’s dead weight, I hold my breath. Wait. Wait for the longest minute of my life to pass.

“Ketchup,” she interrupts. “It was a ketchup bottle, in the girl’s apron.”

Drained, not relieved. In the hall mirror, bags under my lifeless eyes as purple-veined as plum flesh. “Shouldn’t it stop here, now?”

She peeks over my shoulder. “Every tomorrow,” she reminds me, “winds up being just like today.” In the mirror, at my back, her elbows rotating, working around and around.

I know, without me, this woman is as good as broken.

The phone rings. Tell me I will outlast them all.

The phone is ringing.








The Newest God of Weather


From the hardware store he bought the weather machine half price. The tag said it could only do “Snow.” Still, a good deal, a good Christmas gift. His sister was flying in that night from Barbados. The radio weatherman said it was clear, cold skies for the weekend. It sounded very boring, and boredom was the one thing he knew his sister would not tolerate.

“It’s been years since I’ve had a White Christmas. Isn’t that weird?” This was the phone call a month ago. “I had one,” he said, “last year,” just like every year before, but she’d already moved on in her conversation. When the call was over, the important things had gone unsaid, as always. I have lived in the same house my whole life. I have touched millions of legal tender. I have no progeny which to tell, “Do not be a tollbooth operator” and no parents from whom I receive congratulations upon telling my progeny this. I have separated the world into two distinct types: those who pay in exact change and those who do not. He left the radio on so he didn’t have to say these things.

The weather machine had no dials, no switches. Just an iron box with a microphone. Into this he said, “Make it snow.”

December, on the outskirts of Omaha, and the flakes came down perfectly in that land of big flat nothing.

“Make it snow. With lightning behind it.”

The lightning lit up the snow exactly as he thought it should.


The next morning, anxious and proud, he told the machine again: “Make it snow. With lightning behind it.”

            When his sister came downstairs into the kitchen, a bit jet-lagged, he couldn’t hold back: “Weird weather we’re having.”


            “Yeah. Look. An electric blizzard is currently razing the Nebraska plains.” He tried to impersonate the radioman’s familiar earnestness.

            She finally looked. “Snow. Lightning. These things happen. It’d be weird if Nebraska didn’t have weird weather.” She had grown up in this house, too, and yet had been able to survive, on her own, out in the exciting world: an island villa, a spidersilk purse, a successful line of canine conditioners.

“Let me guess—you pay for truffles with fifties.” He put up a finger. He leaned toward the microphone. “Make it snow puppies.” He wanted her eyes to light up. “Happy now?”

“Why does everything have to be a laser light show with you?”

“Isn’t it exciting?”

“If our parents could only see you now.”

            The puppies fell from the sky. White and frozen and by the hundreds of thousands. But not an encyclopedia of dogs as he’d imagined. Rather, they were all Chihuahuas. All his first and only puppy. On the radio callers complained that the weekend was ruined.

            The radioman: This’ll all blow over by Friday.

            It was Friday.

The sight of his puppies outside his kitchen window kept making him gag.

Into the microphone: “Make it snow down pillows. Then janitors—friendly, unfrozen janitors”—the Latvian one from his elementary school that always smelled of lemons and sawdust—“Throw in some bags of ginger snaps, too.”

            The pillows worked. The janitors survived the 30,000-foot plummet. So did the ginger snaps, just like his mother used to bake. He ate a whole bag while he watched the janitors—all Baltic, all citrusy and woodsy—sweep up the Chihuahuas with those clunky black shovels.

More eyewitness accounts: Janitors I can handle, even Latvians. But pillows? It’s like driving through my bed.

His sister: “This is supposed to make me smile?”


Saturday, the janitors rallied. “We want compensation for our hard works.”

It sounds like they’re saying they want compassion for their hard warts.

            He was about to command the weather machine to make it snow money, but the terribleness of this idea struck him almost as hard as the pickup truck had the front of their mini-van twenty-one years ago. Though its details seemed to come slowly into focus, like a radio station with the dial tweaked incrementally in one direction, it hit hard and fast with a burst of static and fire.

He made temperatures drop way below zero.

The janitors froze.

            Runs on necessary commodities—Beer, Cigarettes, Pop-Tarts. Hundreds ready for next Ice Age. Pagan vigilantes take to streets with limbs of frozen Chihuahuas.

He said aloud, to himself, “Gross exaggerations made by nightly newscaster.” The radioman was getting bored. He, too, felt the boredom creeping back inside. So he made it snow Stradivariuses in gale-force winds. He made it snow Wade Boggs rookie cards because that’s all he could think of. He’d long run out of good ideas.

            His sister announced from the kitchen doorway, “New weather-god crowned by new weather-god.”

            He slumped down at the table, defeated. “I didn’t want this.”

            “What, snow? Wade Boggs?”


“Who’s bored?”

He said she was.

“Boredom is drinking Singapore Slings in a hammock every night. Boredom is putting your signature on everything with a pen that squirts pure squid ink. It’s nothing like this. Nothing at all.”

“Then why come here? What is it you want from me?” This he asked when this he wanted her to know.

            She sat down across from him. “I want flat nothing.” She pointed out the window. “Give me the plainest, most forgettable day ever and I will be happy.”


Yet, Christmas morning, a better idea hit him. Into the machine’s microphone he commanded, “Make it snow parents.” He looked out the window anxiously, hesitantly, suddenly and totally afraid of what might fall from the sky.

            Temperatures rose just above freezing. The rookie cards and violins and janitors and pillows and puppies all soon thawed. The radioman had nothing new to say. The skies returned to the blue of map-water. Then the clouds began to part.

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