Aug 1 2012

Featured Fiction Writer: August 2012 Vol. 4 # 10

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Teresa Milbrodt


Teresa Milbrodt grew up in Ohio, where she developed an odd affinity for Midwestern flatness and gray skies.  She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Bowling Green State University.  Milbrodt is the author of a short story collection, Bearded Women: Stories, published by ChiZine Publications.  Her stories have appeared in numerous literary journals, and several have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  Milbrodt is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado, where she lives with her husband Tristan and cat Aspen.  She is still adjusting to absurdly sunny January days.  You can read more of her work online at her web site:



Nine Years, Two Months, and Eight Days After Him,

I Order a Pizza in Rosebud, South Dakota


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          The TV in the corner of the pizzeria has the news on.  It's playing the usual things—death, tragedy, and the weather.  There's a story about a drug sentencing, Todd County's largest pot bust ever.  Policemen walk out of the courthouse patting each other on the back.  It's their job, who can blame them, because only people in a few precious states can swear by their medical marijuana.  I have never smoked anything and probably never will, but my cousin claims weed has kept his weird colon disease at bay, so it's a good thing he lives in California.  I know a few people on the reservation who could probably get him hooked up if he were in a pinch, but you didn't hear me say that. 

            I crinkle the straw paper down and blow it to the other end of the table.  My husband hated it when I did that.  I smile, grab another straw, and do it again, then stick both straws in my diet cola.  Sometimes it feels good to be a tiny bit wasteful.


            Consider the pizza.  If you're clever it can encompass all four food groups and you can call it healthy.  I could eat half a large pie at one sitting and no one would care.  There's no one I want to look good for, which is more of a relief than not, but I have to pacify my doctor and a scale so I'll only eat a quarter of the pizza and take the rest home where my cats will be waiting.  I will give them some sausage because I am a bad pet owner, and because I like to think my cats love me. 


            I will have pizza for lunch tomorrow at the dental clinic where I am the receptionist.  I have always loved cold pizza, and it will be pleasant to eat it and nod while my best friend and dental hygienist Lena continues to tell me the saga of how her sister Bernice got sent to jail for check forgery and how could she have ever been so fucking stupid?  I have listened to this rant for a month at least.  I am good at shrugging in a helpful, confused, and ultimately supportive manner.  For lunch, Lena has a cup of yogurt, five cigarettes, and a few good rants.  Combined, these substances compose eighty percent of her body.  If you cut her open, she'd be full of strawberry-flavored smoke and the word “fuck.”


            I know a lot of people on the reservation with family members in prison.  My friend Janine who works at the tribal office sometimes visits our dental clinic on her lunch break so she can chat with me and Lena and give us updates on her nephew.  He was sentenced for theft and drug possession since he wasn't good at lifting TVs from appliance stores or hiding his weed and meth when the cops came for him.  He used to spend half the day on Janine's couch eating her food.  Now he writes her letters from prison asking for money to buy a TV. 

            “He's not mooching off my Nutter-Butters and nacho chips anymore, so he thinks I owe him,” Janine says while rolling her eyes.  She sends him Catholic saint cards, and occasionally a Jesus picture she gets down in Valentine when Mormons happen to wander through, but that's not often.  There aren't enough people out here to convert and make it worth the effort, and when ranchers get mad at you, they tend to spit.  They have good aim.


            My pizza arrives.  It's good.  It's hot.  It burns the roof of my mouth but I don't care.  The TV continues to drone with death, violence, and the weather.  Once on the news I heard a statistic that said Native Americans made up ten percent of the population in South Dakota and twenty-five percent of prison inmates.  That did not make me feel safe.  It made me feel depressed.  But safety is all about illusions, and justice is about being in the right place at the right time with the right skin color.  You hear about people being pulled over for DWI all the time.  Driving While Indian. 

            I have a little red car, a Ford Taurus with reservation plates, and I've been pulled over three times while going the speed limit.  The officers look smug when they walk up to my car, and shocked when they find me, a fifty-five-year-old white lady.  I smile and ask what the problem is.  After some verbal fumbling, they tell me my rear brake light is out.  I thank the officers and tell them to have a nice day.  They stumble back to their cars.  My brake lights have never gone out. 


            My friend back in Ohio was married to a police officer who was verbally abusive, hit her with words instead of fists until she could barely stand.  He was not a racist that I know of, just an asshole.  He also should have been locked up and never will be.  Instead of studying meteors or frog mutations or the metabolic rate of infants, a couple scientists should throw their brains behind trying to calculate the percentage of the population that's locked up and shouldn't be, and the percentage of the population that should be locked up and never will be.

            My friend's police officer ex-husband will cause a lot more harm to people in his lifetime than Janine's weed-smoking TV-snatching nephew.  Janine would say her nephew needs to be locked up for being a whiny sponging bastard, and he's learning a trade.  How to build bookshelves.  The theory is that when he gets out, he can sell bookshelves instead of meth.  Good luck with that, I say, but you still have to ask how much harm would be done if we let the drug dealers out of prison and figured out some other form of punishment.  I vote for probation, closely monitored sobriety, and teaching seventh grade algebra. 

            Some people will hate me for saying that on the larger scale, drugs and drug dealers aren't bad.  Soft drugs lead to hard drugs.  Drug addiction leads to theft.  Drug smuggling leads to guns, and news reports on the death and tragedy that come before the weather.  But if we forgot about drug dealers, maybe we'd think more about the people who should be locked up and never will be. 


            The cheese on my pizza has congealed.  I pick little pieces off.  He hated it when I did that, said I made the food look weird and got my germs on it.  Now I can say who cares, but I couldn't back then.  The lady in that marriage was not me, but if he hadn't found a cute piece of ass to chase and divorced my much larger ass, we would've still been married.  That's what I hate the most.  He changed my circumstance.  I didn't.  That came later. 

            On the news last week I heard a story about a judge who sentenced a men accused of domestic violence to take his wife out to dinner.  He was also supposed to buy her flowers and take her to a movie.  In court she said she was no longer scared of him, even though he'd shoved her and put her hands around her throat.  But they're always sweet before they shove you again, and the second time is harder. 


            I get a box for my pizza.  In the parking lot I watch the evening traffic, which is not much.  When we were married, sometimes I would stand at the edge of the curb while crossing Main Street, scanning the oncoming cars and squeezing my toes together so I didn't step into the street at just the right moment.  What kept me curbside was knowing that the driver would be haunted for life, even though it wouldn't be her fault.  She'd just have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I never wanted to take anyone with me.  That saved my life. 


            In my best dreams, he is abducted by aliens and spends the rest of his helpless life in an alien lab.  He is never in pain, just not in control.  I don't want pain to distract him from that fact.  He is well-fed and cared for and his mental capacities are kept at a high-functioning level so the aliens can study his brain waves.  Janine would probably like to send her nephew to the alien lab, too, but I want my ex to be alone and spend all day with his perfect brain dwelling on the fact that his only food source is stuff that is nutritionally superior to anything we have on Earth, but tastes like rotten kelp.  He will live forever on rotten kelp and the kind aliens will be happy.   

            On the drive home my car smells like cold pizza.  I love the odor.  It means abundance.  It means my cats will be pleased.  We no longer have to share the couch with anyone else, and I've found that one fifty-five-year-old woman and three cats fit there perfectly. 



Sep 1 2011

Featured Fiction Writer: September 2011 Vol. 3 # 5

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Teague von Bohlen


Teague von Bohlen is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Colorado, Denver, where he also serves as Faculty Advisor for the student newspaper The Advocate. His writing has been seen nationally in Village Voice Media outlets, including the Denver alternative weekly Westword, and his first novel "The Pull of the Earth" won the Colorado Book Award for Fiction in 2006. He's currently finishing a collection of flash fiction/photography called Flatland, including the two pieces featured here.





Someone’s washed out their tie-dye in the sink again, leaving me a pink ring to clean up. This is my job, scrubbing out someone’s mess on a Saturday night, making change for the washers and dryers, ensuring that some frat boys don’t stuff one of their plebes into a machine and hit “spin.” Working at an all-night Laundromat near campus isn’t a great gig, but I’ve been here for almost two years now, so it must be good enough. Nu-Life Cleaners. Or, as Christie likes to call it, No-Life.

            Christie is the girl I want to be. I don’t say that out loud. If she wasn’t my best friend, I’d hate her, with her shampoo-commercial hair and her cleavage, especially in that red dress she wears when we go out. My ex-boyfriend, the one I finally had the guts to dump a few weeks ago, once bragged about a dream he’d had about Christie coming on to him, said that he’d turned her away. He told me this like it was something I’d be happy about. He was a guitar player, and that’s all he ever was. He strummed, skipped classes, and slept with me because I let him, because I said yes. But he really wanted Christie. I know that he did. And now he’s gone, moved to Arizona or somewhere ridiculous like that, so good riddance to him, I guess. I was the one that told him to go.

            I decide to scrub the sink later. I grab the box full of little detergents that I was refilling the coin-op with, and sit down on the end chair in the row, lay the box next to me. The TV mounted in the corner is showing an infomercial for stain-remover.

            It’s not like I’m not pretty. Guys hit on me. Just happened last week, when Christie was sitting here at the counter trying to make me feel better, telling me that this bass player she knows thought I was cute. I told her that there was no way I was going out with another guitar player, and she told me to stop being a Dorothy, like from the Wizard of Oz, all wide-eyed innocence. So this guy comes over, just to have something to do during his rinse cycle, and says, “Man, I always wanted to bang Dorothy.”  Christie breaks him down with a look hotter than the speed dryers and says, “Jesus, was that line supposed to work?” I didn’t want to tell Christie that it might have. He had good hair.

            I don’t know what I’m going to do about school. I wish I had a plan. Christie’s always got one. She’s a Poly Sci major, says that nothing’s going to get in her way. She’s going to go to law school, maybe go into politics. I can see her doing that, too. I hope she does.  Would be cool to have a friend of yours be a Congresswoman or whatever, with all that power. Me, I’m an art history major. Once I get my degree, it will qualify me to work right here at Nu-Life Cleaners. I usually say that like its funny, but it’s really not.

            I should do something. Do anything. Go someplace. Find someone. Ask them what I can do, what they would do, why there aren’t more options than yes or no. But I’m alone at Nu-Life Cleaners, and the irony of that name is not lost on me, sitting in a row of hard plastic chairs, each connected to the other with a steel bar umbilicus. I’m watching someone else’s delicates spin around in the front loader before me. People do this, throw their stuff in and leave to get a beer. There’s too much detergent, despite the signs everywhere that explain that front-loaders only need a third of what you’d put in a top-loader, but people don’t care. And they don’t listen. They just think about themselves, and what their next move is. And they leave, they all leave, and even if you told them to leave, it still sucks.

            I watch the suds escape from the front-loader. I’m going to have to clean this up, too. I can feel the suds tickling my toes, and I wonder how much will emerge, how much it could cover me. It hits the rinse cycle, and starts to drain. It’s suddenly important to me that the bubbles don’t stop, so I grab a stack of tiny boxes of soap, dump them into the three front-loaders in front of me, and start them up. Washers hum this rhythm that’s almost like sex. Christie said this once, and now it’s all I can think about when I hear them running, which of course is most of the time. Okay, so it’s not all I can think about. I also think about what the world will look like in a hundred tomorrows, my ex, my Mother, the fact that I know that I’ve heard you can have a false positive, that I’m glad for having to work tonight so I don’t have to make up an excuse not to go out drinking with Christie and her red dress.

            It’s growing now, this bright cloud of foam, climbing me. It feels good, like a bath of small kisses. It’s clean, I know that, because I did this, I did this and no one else. I want it to take me now, to envelop me in this white brilliance that sparkles like the fairies that I believed in when I was a kid, when I really was a Dorothy, before I’d ever heard of Nu-Life Cleaners, or art history, or sex, or Christie, or this new world coming that I don’t know.  I can feel my skin relax into it, dropping into the rhythm of the wash cycles.

I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.







In the Cut Grass

Originally appeared in Six Sentences


This will be the last time I’ll mow this lawn.  New owners take possession on the first, and even though my friends say I owe them nothing, that I shouldn’t even still be here, I can’t stand to leave the grass uncut.  My wife wouldn’t have wanted it that way, wouldn’t let me leave it ragged and uneven—she liked the grass best when it was freshly mowed, and so I cut it for her often, though it’s now clear that it wasn’t often enough.  Our eighteen-month-old daughter is crying inside, I can hear her in her bedroom—she cries a lot, doesn’t understand where her mother is, and what’s worse is the fact that I can’t tell her anything, can’t even cry anymore, can’t even show her that she’s not crazy for missing her mother, that she’s right in feeling lost and alone since the car accident that blasted our golden lab right out of the way-back part of the hatchback and into the back of my wife’s head. They found the dog lying on my wife’s lap, his tongue out, her head bowed unnaturally over his, my daughter crying like she was a newborn all over again.  I sold the house because my wife is everywhere here—I smell her in the cut grass, and in the gardens too, amongst the flowers whose names I don’t know, and she’s in my daughter, who’s all I have and all I’ve lost, and I keep thinking that I have to get away, get away and start again, but I’m afraid that I can’t, because there’s grass everywhere, and besides, no matter where I go, no matter how I begin again, I know that she’s the place I’ll start.



Aug 1 2011

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.

Jul 1 2011

Featured Fiction Writer: July 2011 Vol. 3 # 3

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Chris Castle

Chris Castle


Chris Castle is English, but he works as a teacher in Greece. Castle has been featured in various end of year and Best Of anthologies that include Absent Willow, Freedom Fiction Journal, and The Toucan. You can reach him at this email address







The old lady across the street died without any fanfare. The postman finally reported the smell and we all gathered in small flocks when the ambulance came to take her away. One teenage kid shouted ‘Ambo’ like he was in the ghetto, and immediately his friends jeered him into blushing defeat. I watched from my bedroom window, adjacent the old girl’s. I searched my mind trying to think if I’d ever seen her—getting ready for her day, or reading by a bedside lamp—but I couldn’t recall a single thing. The ambulance pulled out into the street and it was over. The ghetto kid started a fist fight with one of the gang and the crowds gave them their attention as they threw awkward, girlish punches.

The house was neglected for a while. No relatives appeared and no yellow police tape was drawn around the timid looking lawn. I’d started working from home and spent at least an hour a day looking out the window. Initially, it was to try to catch a woman dressing or in some state of undress, but that fizzled quickly, and instead I set my schedule by the patterns of the strangers living on my street. Gone were the days of community; we were all determined strangers on this block and oddly proud of the fact. Twenty-first century living demanded we knew each other by sight and suspicion only.

I was pretty sure no one even knew the old woman by name, or by one or two pointless scraps of knowledge. My own was that she still had milk delivered to her door. I liked that about her, the fact that she held onto old routines, things of quality, like drinking fresh milk out of clear glass bottles. I suggested it to Marie one night, hoping she might fall into the same flight of fancy I was feeling about the whole thing. She told me how much it cost to get milk delivered and told me to get my head out of my ass.

Marie says things like that with a smile on her face. She’s cheerfully cynical in a way that makes her incapable of being truly spiteful. I met her a year after my last girlfriend, Natalie, left. The circumstances were peculiar as they were vivid. On the day of our regular Saturday night meet-up she bombarded me with text messages about bringing the paperwork concerning her car’s tax disc. I remember immediately feeling that something was rotten, and a cool, clear realization that she was going to dump me poured through and pooled in my stomach. It was the oddest sensation, knowing something devastating was going to happen, and simply killing time until being proven right. I even spent the afternoon drinking with my housemate, joking about it. Two hours later, I met back up with him, cradling a bottle of vodka and looking for a shoulder to cry on.

Natalie wanted to go out with a bad boy, someone who would treat her poorly; my money was on a bouncer or a smooth talking businessman, anything that was the polar opposite of a teacher-sap like me. I harboured fantasies of her meeting with someone who slapped her around, but then realized that that was probably what she was after. It was a confusing type of bitterness; I couldn’t get the pieces to fit. In the end, I thought about her for a month and then felt nothing at all.

And then came Marie. We were in love, and like any couple in love, we’d fallen into a rut. It’s a funny thing about sex—you spend most of your free time when you’re single thinking about it and then when you actually hit the Holy Grail it becomes just another compartment of your life. Thinking that way, I wasn’t sure if it made me less of a man or too much of one. Marie, too, blew hot and cold. She would scorch the sheets on weekends and then go days, even weeks, stricken and tense, as if on the verge of being told some ominous test result. But it wasn’t just the sex. It was our lives, our friends, and the fact that we lived in the days and ages that we did; we were lucky enough to be too self-absorbed to realize a lot of the world around us was totally screwed.

It was in this type of mindset that I hatched the plan, and before I even had the chance to second-guess it was already picking the lock of the old lady’s door and stepping into her house. At first I rushed round, not taking any of it in. I forced myself to steady, to take a deep breath. I retraced my steps back to the front door and made myself walk slowly. The house didn’t smell of death, but it didn’t smell the way a house did when people bustled around it. Instead, it almost crackled with emptiness, like it was in a state of limbo that kept the air from growing stale.

I felt my phone going and smiled as I picked it up. I even said something before answering. My voice filled the edges of the room and played back to me in tiny echoes. It didn’t sound like myself and I was saddened at how good that made me feel. I let it ring up to the ninth bell—I knew Marie went as far as ten before putting down—and then answered it. By then I was standing near the bedroom window looking back at our rented house, wondering where she could be. My bet was on the kitchen, until I saw her strobe by our bedroom window.

“Look out the window,” I said, trying to keep the joy from my voice. At first she looked out to the street and I saw her face moving; imagined her frowning. I was too far away to see any of the details. “Look over to the house opposite, the bedroom.”

I watched as she looked over and grinned at her. Her hands did two things: her left dropped the phone, and the right covered her mouth. I waved to her and instinctively she waved back before catching herself and pulling the phone back to her ear.

“Kale, what the hell?” she said, her voice somewhere between shock and anger. I stopped waving and put my hand to the glass hoping she would do the same, that we could make the moment beautiful somehow in a really simple way. But instead she kept on talking until I had to calm her down.

Over the following month, I went back to the house once, sometimes twice, a week. It started out as sexual—Marie and I took turns flashing and exposing ourselves, giggling the way lovers do when they’re on the verge of discovering something new. But it sometimes got to be too much and I would remember I was standing in the house of a dead woman, the feeling quickly replaced by a reluctant kind of shame. Some nights it led to a passionate lovemaking like how it used to be, and other times it led us to lie too far apart in the bed we shared, aware, looking at each other from a distance. I wondered if I would look at Marie as a stranger and feel the same hunger as I did when we first went together and worried I wouldn’t. I knew that if I was thinking this, Marie had thought about it, too. Still, our silences hung over us, neither of us wanting to break the fragile life we had together.

It changed after the initial fortnight. Instead of me telling her I was going, I rushed through the evening’s business in order to spend some illicit time in the house without Marie knowing. Sometimes I caught her looking over to the place, searching for me, but I was too well buried in the shadows for her see. The shift from being her lover to her peeping tom left me feeling used and cratered. All the sexual feeling had gone out of it for me by then and instead I was thinking about our life and the things we did together. Once, I dozed and when I came to, I couldn’t place where I was. I should have been scared, disorientated, but instead I felt a peaceful kind of relief I hadn’t felt since I was young.

What had the old lady thought, watching us? She must have done it on some level—we weren’t careful with curtains and happenstance dictates that at some point you chance upon your neighbors—it’s simply a case of whether you choose to stare or look away. After a while, I wondered how her own life must have been reflected in ours, if she had been married and lived like the two of us or if she’d always been alone, either by choice or fate. Now that she was no longer around, I found myself missing her. Now that she was gone, I wanted to know about her life. Sure, I could have hustled up some records or some such, but that would have been vague and incomplete. I hungered for her voice—the way she held her coffee cup at night.

One evening, Marie stayed at her friend Chloe’s house and I spent the night at the old lady’s. I’d almost found out her name by then but stopped at the last minute, feeling an irrational fear I can’t explain. I brought along my sleeping bag and a full thermos. The day before, Marie and I had had an almighty argument, only our second, and the timing with Chloe was either spot-on or devastatingly bad. I didn’t think she would get hammered and sleep with a stranger, but if she did, I don’t know if I would have blamed her all that much.

I’m not good at fury. I’m either placid or a coward; the jury’s still out. In my classes I avoid confrontation because I think shouting at a kid is something like defeat. Once, a year after my father died, my next-door neighbor complained over his fence about our overgrown tree and the fallout had made my mother cry. I wasn’t sure of the words, but the guy had somehow inferred my dad was either very good at working or very lazy, but by-the-by it wasn’t right. I had seen my ma trying to talk herself out of crying but not quite managing it, so I grabbed my jacket and stormed out after him.

Bristling, I slammed on the door and was greeted by a harmless middle aged woman whom I knew my mum was friends with—I had chosen the wrong door. Feeling the heat leaving me, I went to the next one, and damned if the fat asshole didn’t keep his wheelchair bound wife between us as we spoke. I said my piece, my words and face bubbling, and waited. I didn’t know if it was fear or rage inside me, but I stood my ground. In between bites of his sandwich he threatened to kick my ass and instructed me get off his property without any trouble. Flustered and vaguely unaware of what to do, I stormed off feeling like I had said my piece and done nothing at all. Ever since then I’ve wondered if true rage was in me or not. So when Marie shouted, I relented, and a day later found myself in a sleeping bag thinking about my fat ex-neighbor.

Outside, a couple screamed in the street and I checked my watch: it was three a.m. and seemed like the right time for arguments to be dealt with; thick with booze and drugs and love swaying against insecurity and doubt. I listened, rooting for one and then the other until it calmed down. I noticed a crack in the bedroom ceiling and wondered if the old girl had meant to fix it at any time, if it had kept her awake the same way it did with me.

I gave up trying to sleep and went back to the window. I looked back at my place, looking tired this time of day, as if the bricks themselves were aching from all they saw, and chose to look at the sky instead. Staring at the stars makes me feel young, the same way looking at old shopkeepers makes me feel impossibly sad. I watched them, cursing myself for the thousandth time for not knowing the names of each one. I shook my head, thinking it was a crime to be so ignorant about something so beautiful. I thought about my dad and wondered if he knew the name of the constellations. I like to think he did, but I would be lying to say that I knew either way. I missed him as much now, twelve years on, as ever, and knew the pain would only swell and not recede given more time. I thought about what I had and what I would never find and I found myself thinking of Marie so much I chose to look away from the stars and down to our bedroom window to will her there, looking back to me, by the power of my imagination.

By the time I had emptied the thermos of coffee, I was almost done papering the crack in the ceiling. I had found the tools in the broom cupboard, along with the ladder and felt buzzed from not having slept. I started to think about what else I had seen in the place, what other small slights the old lady might have missed or never quite managed to correct. I thought about how Marie wouldn’t get home until late afternoon and saw a day of repair work unfold in-front of me.

It was then that I heard the front door open.

There was no time to act; no comedic moment where I hid in the closet until the danger passed. No, I was bang to rights. I took a breath and an eerie sense of calm came over me. I didn’t even stop working, I just kept smoothing the paper, sanding over the last few flecks. I felt a weightlessness move over me as the voices grew louder and their footsteps skipped up the stairs. I had guessed by then at an estate agent and prospective clients, but for all I knew it might have been relatives catching up after a few years apart. Finally, the bedroom door came open.

“Oh!” the agent squealed, her clipboard flying away from he chest and onto the floor. The couple behind them took me in with a good-natured smile, a mock-comedy shrug of the shoulders. “I’m sorry, who—”

“I’m doing some repair work on the place. Just smoothing over the cracks and creases, you know?” I had no idea what I was talking about. I didn’t continue. Instead, I waited for the flustered woman to say something else to which I could respond. 

“I’m sorry, are you here at the families request or the council’s? I’m afraid I’m at a loss…” her cheeks flared and I could see she was trying to get angry, but bloomed instead into uncertainty and borderline embarrassment. She could have been my soul-mate.

“I was given keys and told to fix everything up, spick and span.” I didn’t commit to anymore than that. From what she had blurted out, I could guess the old woman had been co-sharing with the council, and her family was eyeing up the profits. I didn’t want to chance a guess.

“And it looks like you’ve done a great job,” the woman piped up. Her man nodded along. I could see they didn’t want any hassle and that secretly they were delighted at this odd turn of events. I gave them a thumbs-up and winked, feeling the lunacy of what I was doing wash over me like a cool breeze.

“Well, I’m afraid I wasn’t informed about this on my paperwork. What do you plan to do with the keys?” the agent said quickly, trying to maintain order. She reminded me of myself in a class that was slipping away from me, piping up long after control was lost.

“I was planning to return them to my boss, or I could drop them at your agency, if you think that would be more appropriate,” I said. “Or I could just slip ‘em under the welcome mat.”

“There’s no mat,” she muttered, and I saw the couple trying to hold it together for the poor girl’s sake, as I dusted down my clothes.  

The couple was gone a few minutes later and the girl, sufficiently calmed to be able to talk down to me again, handed me a timesheet of her viewings for the day. She left in a bluster, not shaking my hand. She stumbled to her car and was gone. I closed the door and counted to one hundred, the way I did when I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, half-speaking, half-miming. I got to eighty seven before I dissolved into laughter and slumped howling against the door.

I high-tailed it out a half hour later, replaced the tools and jammed my sleeping bag, which by fool’s luck had been tucked behind the ladder when the others had entered. I left by the back door, the last residue of bravado having gone about five minutes after my laughing jag. It felt strange being around the house in the sunlight; for the first time I actually felt like an intruder. I scrambled into the hedges and out into the communal park alleyway and back to the main street.

I sat in my bedroom and looked back to the other place. I knew I would need a back story if that couple took the house, and settled on telling them I knew the old dear and just wanted to help out. My mind, almost feverish without sleep, was capable of coming up with these ideas now, but I knew in an hour all this rapid-thought would drain away and be gone for good. I tried to smile again and laugh about it, but nothing came. Instead, I waited for Marie to get home so I could share it with her—and if she loved me the way I realized I loved her, she would accept it. If not, then it was out of my hands.

I kept looking at the window, choosing to fall asleep in the chair rather than take the bed. I stared at the glass until my own handprint became visible to me in the distance. It began to glow almost and when that happened, I finally closed my eyes, satisfied; knowing before long it would be smeared away and the last part of me, of all of this small, warped adventure, would be gone.

Jun 3 2011

Featured Fiction Writer: June 2011 Vol. 3 #2


Justin Zinck


Justin Zinck is a young writer from the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. Among other places, he has lived in Granada, Spain and Aspen, Colorado, and now spends most of the year in Illinois, where he is seeking his MFA in Fiction. 





Jenny Finds a New Man


            Jenny stepped out of the rain and into the golden glow of one of Boston’s finest restaurants.  The air smelt of garlic and olives in Magioni’s, of hot-sanded coasts and cities hard to pronounce.  Jenny closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, ushering the restaurant’s scent deeper into her nose with a rising palm.  She looked up and admired the chandeliers, the smiling hostess at the dining room’s entrance.  The young woman wore a dress so black and so elegantly conforming to the curves of her body that it seemed painted on, tailored in ink.  Jenny nodded in approval.  This is nice, she thought.  Sexy.  Chic. 

The fact that Magioni’s was probably the nicest restaurant Jenny had ever stepped foot in seemed right to her at that moment: after all, she had waited a long time to be on this date.  She had purposely precluded it by too much moral wrestling, weighing the considerable mass of this question:  After your husband dies in a zombie apocalypse, how long is long enough before you can go to bed with another man? 

For months, Jenny’s informational pamphlet for Boston Singles: New England’s Premier Dating Service had sat neglected.  A friend had ordered it on Jenny’s behalf in the winter following Sachs’s death, when, after a bottle of wine at the Boston Physical Therapists Annual Christmas Banquet, Jenny had coaxed herself into hysterics in front of hundreds, laid face down on the parquet dance floor and exonerated her grief in whale-like bursts.

Cynthia, Jenny’s office mate and a joint specialist, had peeled her off of the lacquered wood and brought her into the bathroom.  There she sat Jenny on a toilet.  “You need a man, Jenny.  You hear me?  It’s crazy out there.  You need a man.” 

Jenny nodded her head yes.  Mascara ran in tendrils onto the pads of her cheeks, and Jenny watched Cynthia pull her own copy of the Boston Singles pamphlet from her purse and hold it two handed, like a trophy, for her to see.  

“He’s dead, Jenny!” Cynthia yelled—he referring to Sachs.  Cynthia motioned toward the dance floor on the other side of the wall.  She spoke solemnly and began to cry.  “A lot of the good ones are.” 

Hastily, Jenny agreed to sign up.  The following Tuesday, however, when her copy of the brochure arrived, it was immediately exiled to the stainless steel refrigerator, where its pages collected the leaky freezer’s chill.  While Jenny would flip through the catalog without conviction from time to time in the months thereafter, when she really considered the information – Boston’s finest young human bachelors!…Average salary $70,000+ – she immediately reminded herself to be appalled, and forced forward thoughts of Sachs and matrimonial duty.

For two years Jenny kept up her self imposed asexual grief, and it wasn’t until the fifteenth month after Sachs got eaten, in a Quiznos, that Jenny failed to keep up appearances.  The man, who wore a corduroy sport coat and had broad shoulders, caught her interest while ordering. 

Upon seeing this man – who was a total stranger—Sachs’s memory plummeted out of Jenny with frightening speed.  She ran her tongue across the back of her teeth to avoid yelling, and she carried this new fire, the refusal to deny herself, where it grew and grew from months sixteen and twenty three. 

Finally, she awoke on the two-year anniversary of her husband’s failed heroics and couldn’t take it any longer.  Jenny admitted what she always suspected: Sachs was an asshole.  The charade was over, and she felt on this morning an overwhelming desire to be fucked.  She wanted to be used like a bowl of water, drank from and lapped by a human tongue, and also, to do the same to another. 

Without deliberation, Jenny leapt from her mattress, ran into the kitchen and called Boston Singles.  She told the operator to make a date, and to do so quickly.  The operator told Jenny to show up at Magioni’s a week from then, 9 p.m., and to dress nicely.

“What will his name be?” Jenny asked.

“Francis Blinkeley,” the operator replied.  Without bothering to imagine what this Francis Blinkeley might look like, Jenny imagined him wonderful, exactly what she needed.


*     *     *


 The hostess handed Jenny a hanger for her coat, but Jenny refused.  “Your reservation, ma’am?”

 Jenny hesitated.  “Jenny Hadsonn.  Jenny Hadsonn- Wheeler.”  She watched the pretty girl drag a pen down her date book.  The pages were gold lined, heavy gauge papyrus.

“Good evening, Ms. Hadsonn.  For two, now?”

Jenny tried on a seductive voice for practice, but it felt thick and cold, like a block of ice lodged in her throat.  “Yes.” 

As the hostess led Jenny into the bar, she spoke over her shoulder.  “Mr. Blinkley just called, Ms. Hadsonn.  He’s running a bit late.  Please, do let him buy you a drink.”

Jenny hadn’t been sitting for thirty seconds when a man beside her started coughing intentionally.  She and the man met eyes, and when he spoke his voice was high-pitched, nearly identical to Sachs’s.  The sound of the man’s voice made the bar spin; Jenny was angered by the coincidence, and Sachs’s death, which was like a bad movie, came into focus against Jenny’s will: she saw her muscular husband running onto the porch with a pitchfork; Sachs trying to stab the full-blown zombie in the face; the family dog hanging from the zombie’s lips (he was a tall one); Sachs slipping; Sachs falling down; Sachs getting his brains eaten.

Jenny chugged her Long Island and fought to keep the alcohol down.  After two years, Jenny still hated Sachs for dying like that.

“You know why they call it Long Island Ice Tea?” the man asked, firing up a lamentable joke.  “You know what else is long?”

Jenny tired to ignore the man.  She took twenty deep breaths – a habit  — and looked around Magioni’s.  She ordered another Long Island, and Jenny formed Blinkeley’s name on her tongue for what must have been the thousandth time that week.  “Mr. Blinkeley,” she muttered.  “B-L-I-N-K-E-L-E-Y.”

The man beside her shifted his weight, soliciting a groan from the bar stool.  He was confused.  “Excuse me?” he asked.

Jenny blinked.  “A cigarette.”

The man reached into his pocket and produced a cigar.  “This is all I have.”

“Thanks,” Jenny said, reaching for the tube.  She slid it into her purse, saving it for later.  She showed the bartender two fingers, signaling another drink.  She concentrated on drinking faster.


*     *     *


            Before he had realized that he had mistaken the date and was late for his Boston Singles engagement, and before he’d gotten into the front seat of his very expensive sports coupe, Francis Blinkley, a former executive vice president at the hedge fund management firm Bart and Styles, and bonified half-zombie, was chewing the liver out of a human carcass in Jamaica Plain’s Arnold Arboretum.

            The kill wasn’t his.  Blinkeley had ridden his bike out of the Back Bay and into Jamaica Plain to get some fresh air, to clear his head and rehearse his words for what he supposed was the following night.

“Hi, I’m Fran,” he was saying into the base of a Norwegian Fir.  Blinkeley pointed toward his chin and gave a few seconds of faux pause to allow the reality of the situation to settle in on the poor woman he would be meeting.  “Oh yeah, well let me explain this…” he continued, referring to the engorged cherry red lips; the opaque, vein riddled skin; the yellow teeth and the sunken, jaundiced eyes that made up his face.

As Blinkeley fidgeted, even in rehearsal, he picked up the carcass’s scent: meat, spoiled eggs, and the sulfurous chalk of bird shit.  The more human side of Blinkeley – the side repulsed by the idea of eating a human, the side that was supremely deft with numbers – lost out to his zombie id, which compelled him into the nearby bushes, where the body sat.

As he ate the liver, bile beaded onto Blinkeley’s fluorescent, Road Safe!Ò windbreaker. The liquid was the same color as a deep bruise, and Blinkeley was halfway through the rubbery organ – which had the texture of a Converse All Star – when his cell phone rang. 

Blinkeley frowned.  His wife and children were dead.  His parents and brothers had stopped calling him once they learned of his half-zombie state; he had been fired by Bart and Styles for logistics and safety concerns; who, Blinkeley thought, could possibly be calling me?

Blinkeley put the liver onto the cement and dragged his finger across the touch screen of his Iphone, leaving a wake of slime on the glass.  “Hello?” he asked.  His voice was still deep, human and intelligible.  The vaccine had saved that, at least.

A woman’s voice responded.  “Mr. Francis Blinkeley.  We are calling to remind you of your Boston Singles engagement on-” a robotic voice interrupted, “Today.  Saturday.  March Fifth. At. Nine P.M Eastern Time. –” the woman recommenced, “if you have questions, or need to cancel, please call your date, or the establishment at which you are meeting.  Thank you.”

  Blinkeley hung up the phone and swore.  He looked at the clock on the phone, and then the liver.  Blinkeley began to run to his bike, then stopped and retreated, picked up the liver and took one last bite.  It hurt half of him to leave the organ, and as he rode into the street, he couldn’t help but look back.  Atop of the corpse’s chest, Blinkeley saw a single pigeon prancing about, the bird nearly blending into the gray dusk behind it, cooing hello to the impening night.


*     *     *


            Jenny was already drunk – really drunk – when Blinkeley crept up to the bar and tapped her on the shoulder.  The finger’s action was heavy but quick on her bone, dropping like urgent pecks on a telegraph pad.  Beside Jenny, the man who’d told her the joke grimaced and recoiled at whatever was touching Jenny.  He then gagged and ran from the bar screaming. 

Perplexed and mildly alarmed, Jenny turned around and stared into Blinkeley’s pale, somewhat decaying complexion.  He was tall, Jenny realized, with lips like a clown and eyes like puddles of piss.  She teetered sideways when she realized what had touched her, and she barked loudly, causing a few of the tuxedoed wait staff to rush forward.  Together, they formed a tentative semi-circle around Blinkeley, each conspicuously shocked that a zombie, or half-zombie, would dare step foot in Magioni’s.

            Blinkeley raised his arms before a knife-wielding cook and tried to explain himself.  The velvety tone of Blinkeley’s voice – the voice that had talked so many investors into portfolios – surprised them.  He extended his hand diagonally above his head toward Jenny, a compromise between a surrender and a handshake.  “I’m safe.  Don’t worry.  Are you Jenny?”

            Jenny nodded.  She had heard about half-zombies before – those who got bitten but had received the vaccine – victims, unlike Sachs, who had managed to keep their brains off the back deck.  “Uhhhhh-” she drawled incoherently.  Her body began to tremble.

            The bartender looked at Jenny; he was grasping a long vodka bottle by the neck, pointing the butt at Blinkeley.  “You need me to get him out of here, maam?”

            Jenny’s heart was running too fast in her chest, melting.  “The brochure said human bachelors,” she aired to nobody in particular.

            Blinkeley wiped a line of sweat from his forehead.  His underarms were shadowed with perspiration.  His thin hair was still wet from the shower, and he felt amphibious, like a seal.  “I’m a half; I’m safe,” he repeated to the people around him.  He fumbled in his pockets, and then produced his vaccine for proof.

            Gradually, the staff in Magioni’s dropped their guard and went back to work.  Together, Blinkeley and Jenny stood in the bar.  The entire restaurant feigned interest in other things, but Jenny could tell people were staring.

            Blinkeley stuck out his hand.  “Hi, I’m Fran,” he said.

            Breathing heavily, Jenny stared at the pale hand.  Dark black hairs grew sparsely from the backside and on the knuckles, delicate, like new blades of grass.  “Should we sit?” Blinkeley continued.  This was the third date he’d arranged through Boston Singles.  It was going as catastrophically as the previous two, and he swiveled around looking for menus, panic building inside him. 

            “Uhhh—” Jenny replied.

            Blinkeley patted down the front of his suit.  He couldn’t help but think, standing embarrassed in this restaurant, that he had once closed a massive deal with Vueling Airlines in this suit – that his kids used to run to the door when he arrived home from work as a human, jump on his chest and slide down the slippery silk like drops of rain on a pane of glass. 

The light in the bar was quixotic, but uncomforting.  He balled his hands into fists and looked at Jenny with sorrow.  She was pretty: tall and skinny, like a distance runner, but slightly fuller – more dough on her cheeks.  Tears were forming at the creases of her eyes.  She reached for her glass and finished what was left of her third Long Island Ice Tea.

            Jenny cringed, then spoke to Blinkeley softly.  “I was going to sleep with you.”

            Blinkeley shuffled his feet.  He hadn’t anticipated this.  “I-.”

            Jenny peeled her coat from the back of the bar chair before he could finish.  “I’m going to go,” she slurred.

            “Okay. Alright.”  Blinkeley’s feet were jittering, as if he were standing on coals, trying to keep his heels up.  He reached into his pocket and produced what was once his business card, his information crossed out and modified.  “If you change your mind,” he said.

            Jenny looked at the card for a long moment, then put it into her purse before slipping by Blinkeley.  “I wanted to sleep with you,” she said again.

            Blinkeley noticed the disappointment in Jenny’s voice.  He saw how Magioni’s chandeliers put shards of yellow light, a broken mirror, across her face and neck.  He thought of his dead wife, and swallowing sorrow, went into the bathroom and dabbed his armpits with paper towels.


*     *     *


            When Jenny got home, she undressed and went into the kitchen naked, took the Boston’s Singles pamphlet from the counter and examined it for many minutes.  The paper spun in and out of focus; the smiling man on its cover wavered back and forth, nodding his head yes and no.  Jenny opened a bottle of wine that had been sitting in her pantry for as long as she could remember, and spilt some on the counter before going upstairs to shower.

            After she’d washed, Jenny sat on her bed, her emotions ambiguous.  It was quarter past nine.  She certainly didn’t want to cry despite the night’s disappointment and irony; she wasn’t hurt, but she was lonely, tired of the quiet house.  She replayed the series of events in Magioni’s over and over again inside her head, trying to get something accurate through the fog of her liquor: she remembered the velvet baritone of Blinkeley’s voice; he was tall; but certainly he was a half-zombie, Jenny remembered.  Certainly.

            Jenny thought about this for a while, and then went into her purse and took out his card.  In a childish script, Blinkeley had crossed everything out: Executive V.P.; Wharton M.B.A; and written a single telephone number at a bizarre slant across the bottom, the letters thin and slim, written in a fine point.

            Jenny picked up the phone.  There was a pressure in her chest that she needed to release – a congestion, like a whole donut sitting halfway down between her larynx and stomach.  She dialed Blinkeley’s number and waited, and when the call connected she heard Blinkeley’s heavy breathing.  He sounded confused and hesitant, surprised that somebody would be calling him.


            “This is Jenny.  We just met”

            “Oh- oh –” shocked, Blinkeley stammered.  “What can I do for you?”

            Jenny apologized and gave Blinkeley her address.  “Come over,” she said.  “Come over.”


*     *     *


            Blinkeley drove quickly into the western suburbs, his headlights sweeping across roads that still looked the same as before the apocalypse, but that now felt different somehow, wrong even.  On his lap he had the address that Jenny had given him, and he stopped before the graded driveway, stared up the hill and through the woods, toward the squares of light that meant windows, a woman, and an occupied home.

            When he rang the doorbell, Jenny opened the door, swaying in front of him.  She wore only a bathrobe.  “Come in,” she said.  “Please.” 

Blinkeley stepped through the door and was immediately handed a jar full of wine.  He saw that the counter in the kitchen was covered in a burgundy pool, and he handed the jar back.  “The vaccine.  I’m sorry, but I can’t-”

Jenny laughed.  “Well can you fuck?”  Blinkeley started bumbling in response, “Well contact-” and Jenny laughed again.  “Calm down,” she said, motioning him toward the back deck.  “I’m sort of joking.”

Once on the deck, they sat in awkward silence.  Jenny asked what it was like to be a half zombie.  When Blinkeley had finished explaining the ins and outs, she pointed to a spot at Blinkeley’s feet.  “A zombie killed my husband,” she said.

Blinkeley nodded knowingly.  “A zombie killed my family. ”

“I think I hated my husband.”

Blinkeley itched his nose and looked into the woods.  He heard a zombie moaning, struggling to sleep in the bush.  “We were at my daughter’s soccer game when they came.”

“I was here.”

Jenny got up and stood before Blinkeley.  She unstrung her robe, and before he could protest, sat on his lap.  Blinkeley did his best to avoid seeing Jenny’s breasts, was afraid to touch her.

“Will you be one -.”


            Blinkeley stood up and went to the banister.  Reluctantly he let Jenny follow, wrap her arms around him.  Far off he could smell meat, carried in on the wind.  His skin began to prickle.  Blinkeley looked up, and tried to ignore the scent.  Up in the sky there was no moon, the darkness satin, opaque.  He took deep draws from this sky and tried to think of the other thing, but the meat was getting closer by the second; whatever it was was wounded, weak and trampling through the woods toward the house. 

As Blinkeley judged the kill, he vascillated between bouts of disgust and salivation.  He saw in memory his own son crawling across the soccer pitch, digging his fingers into the earth as a zombie pinned him down and ate all his brains.  In the next moment he could taste blood – sweet and metallic – feel the joy of tough muscle ripping from bone.

Whispering into his ear, Jenny tried to undo his belt buckle with clumsy fingers.  What he felt at the moment was familiar: a home and a woman – something like affection – but as badly as he wanted to wade in the moment, the visceral want for flesh exploded inside of him, and against his will, Blinkeley let a savage groan and lurched forward to the stairs. 

Behind him, Jenny fell.  She watched Blinkeley run into the woods, pants sagging.  Over his shoulder he pleaded with her, his figure indistinct in the darkness.  “I’m sorry,” he yelled, crashing into the brush.  “I’m so, so sorry.  Don’t wait up.”

Jenny got to her feet.  She started down the stairs, making for the brush, but then covered her chest and went back inside.  Observing the spilt wine on the counter, she put her finger into the liquid and began to draw triangles.  It took her a moment to notice Blinkeley’s car keys, and before she went upstairs to sleep, she turned on the gas fireplace, opened the grill and threw the keys inside.