Sales Call by James Gapinski

I arrive bright and too-early for my new sales gig. Turns out I’m selling cubes. Slick, black cubes that are warm to the touch. I think they have something to do with next-gen technology. Something cutting edge. Brand new. Everybody in the call center has the latest smartphones. Post-iPhone prototype stuff, with peripherals and floating screens like in a sci-fi flick. There is a training seminar set up. But there are no other new employees, so it’s just me and Training-Guy in a large conference room. He says business-jargon things like synergize and innovate. He smiles at me with these big fake teeth the whole time. Super white teeth. Practically glowing. He probably goes to the dentist twice a month.

I ask a few questions, but each reply includes inter-dynamic-matrix-accessory-code or some shit like that. It’s all gibberish, and I worry that any follow-up might cost me the gig. I need money. The mortgage is past-due.

Training-Guy brings out a product sample. He touches the slick cube, and it turns blue for a second. He plays a confusing video that shows people laughing and drinking Coca Cola around a cube, and I still have no idea what the cube does. The company also sells black spheres. I think the spheres are premium products, because Training-Guy makes a point of telling me that I won’t be selling spheres for at least six months.

Training-Guy points toward my workstation and sends me a call list. The list is an attachment that my flip-phone cannot open. I ask Training-Guy to e-mail it to me. “Old school! I love it. No worries,” he says. My workstation makes a high-pitched chime. It takes me a minute to figure out that the computer activates via voice command. Training-Guy’s e-mail contains a few dozen names, a few dozen phone numbers, and one sexually explicit gif—at least I know that I can count on a hostile workplace lawsuit if my commissions don’t add up.

I call the first number. “Hello, is Mr. Gavin available?”

“Speaking.”

“I’d like to tell you about an exciting new product.” I stare at the sample cube on my desk, wondering how I’ll sell something that I don’t understand. Mr. Gavin hangs up before my anti-knowledge becomes an issue. I slide my finger along the edge of my cube. Red lines shoot across the black surface.

I dial the second number. There is no answer this time. The third number connects me to a police dispatch center. I think that this number is intentionally near the top of my list, and maybe the cube is something that local law enforcement could use. The cube could be for surveillance. High-tech stuff is often used for surveillance, I think. I check my yellowed teeth in my computer monitor’s reflective surface, making sure there is no spinach and my gums aren’t bleeding—I want to look good for the Big Brother onlookers. A few minutes into the conversation and the dispatcher says “So this isn’t an emergency?”

“Not unless you consider missing out on the best deal of the century an emergency,” I say. I smile in the general direction of the sample cube, hoping that the police/F.B.I./C.I.A. can see me even though they haven’t purchased the cube yet.

“This line is for official police business only.” She hangs up.

I call the fourth number, and my daughter answers. “Dad? It’s early here. Why are you calling? Is Mom okay?”

“Yeah, Mom’s fine.”

“Well, what’s up?”

“I was just wondering if you needed a cube.”

“What? You’re not making any sense.”

“I mean money. Do you need money? How are you doing in L.A.? Are your classes difficult?”

“Dad, I’ve been done with school for almost a year now. And this isn’t a good time.”

I want to say It’s never a good time anymore, but I don’t. Instead, I declare “I’ll send you a check tomorrow.”

“Sure, whatever Dad. But I really don’t need it. You know that, right? I have a full-time job.”

“Okay, goodnight sweetie,” I say, but the line is already dead.

I take off my headset and wander the office. I find Training-Guy, and I say “Hey, where did you get this call list?”

“It’s all personalized to your unique sales profile. Trust me, the algorithm knows what it’s doing,” Training-Guy pats an oversized sphere sitting near a sleek, expensive-looking copy machine breezing through something like a hundred copies.

“Okay, thanks,” I say.

“Wait,” Training-Guy says. “Before you go, check this out.” He hands me one of the photocopies. It’s somebody’s ass cheeks pressed against the copy machine.

I don’t respond. Instead, I fold the photocopy neatly and go to the supply closet. I grab an empty manila folder. At least I think it’s a folder. But given the other next-gen items in the supply closet, it could just as easily be manila-colored LCD film. I write Lawsuit on the folder in big bold letters. I put the photocopy inside.

Training-Guy relocates to the watercooler area. He polishes his Rolex and eats a heap of caviar from a Tupperware container. He winks at me. In reply, I offer a slight wave.

Back at my workstation, a woman hovers over my desk. She’s doing something with the black cube.

“Excuse me,” I say.

She turns around. She’s beautiful. She looks like my wife, except different. There’s just something about her that’s wife-like without quite being my wife. As if my wife’s face has been copied, then run through some Photoshop filters and repurposed on this woman’s face. “Sorry, I was just doing some calibrations.”

“What does the cube do?” I ask. Perhaps her similarity to my wife has disarmed me. I don’t feel as sheepish about exposing my ignorance.

She laughs and says, “You’re funny.” She touches my arm like my wife used to. She writes a phone number on an LED tablet the size of a sticky note.

“I’m married,” I say.

“So am I,” she says. “This is for your call list.” She saunters over to Training-Guy and kisses him. He gives me a thumbs up and then makes a gesture that I do not recognize. I make a mental note of it because I’m sure the gesture is obscene—I must remember to research it for my lawsuit folder.

I call the number. I recognize the voice, but I can’t place it. “Hello?” the person repeats, over and over. “Is somebody there?” I touch the cube again. It’s no longer warm.

“Yeah, it’s me,” I say. I can hear the person crying on the other end.

“Really? It’s really you?” the person says through sniffles.

“Yeah,” I say. “I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.”

“Don’t bother. I’ll buy whatever you’re selling.”

 

James R. Gapinski is the author of the novella Edge of the Known Bus Line (Etchings Press, 2018) and the flash collection Messiah Tortoise (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2018). His short fiction has appeared in The Collapsar, Hobart, Juked, Monkeybicycle, Paper Darts, and other publications. James is managing editor of The Conium Review and an instructional specialist at Chemeketa Community College. He lives with his partner in Portland, Oregon.

The Pseudomorph by Amy Alexander

What is this me you see
in the waves,
from ink so deep?

Swimmers with spears
or driving rain
bring her on.

She seeps from my center,
blossom minded,
mottled,
lacks maps
and swallows night shrieks.

She slips in, nutrient-dense, saying:

You are not what
you say you are.
You made a mess.
You should eat garbage,
you cheap
rubber
thing.

 

Amy Alexander is a poet, visual artist, and homeschooling mother living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, not far from the Mississippi River, which is very far from her hometown on the Colorado River, but still familiar, because of moving water. Her work has appeared most recently in The Coil, Cease, Cows, Anti-Heroin Chic, the Mojave Heart Review, Mooky Chick, The Remembered Arts, and RKVRY. Follow her on Twitter @iriemom.

 

 

Segmented Moments by Hannah Gordon

The day they announce the draft, Mom starts humming again.

She used to do that a lot—a lingering habit from her musical theatre days. Soft, almost imperceptible tunes and melodies through pursed lips. A low vibration that followed her through the halls, into the kitchen, out the front door, like a perfume or a shadow.

I used to love to hear her hum; now, I hate it.

I know it means she’s entering the draft.

It’s unlikely she’ll be chosen, Dad reminds her. A lot of people are entering, volunteering, to be sent away—wherever they want. Whenever they want.

“Crazier things have happened,” she reminds him. As if we need to be reminded. As if our life isn’t a constant reminder. As if the sudden reappearance of her humming hasn’t already segmented our lives into before and after.

Before: when he was gone.

After: when—if—her name is chosen. He’ll be back with us as soon as she gets the chance to go through.

The announcement of the machine—the flurry of news articles declaring MAJOR SCIENTIFIC BREAKTHROUGH – MONUMENTAL LEAP FOR MANKIND, the ribbon cutting ceremony, the human trials, the inevitable backlash from the religious groups—had stirred something within her that we were all sure had died long ago. Yet, there it was—a spark, a smile, and a simple melody lingering behind.

With the promise of the draft looming in front of her, she becomes the mom I knew from years ago. Before the swirl of police lights lulled me to sleep, before the MISSING posters, before the kids at school all knew my name and whispered it like a curse word in the hallways. Before the endless onslaught of nightly news stories about us—about the family left in the wake of tragedy, about a missing boy.

She’d only gone inside for a minute.

That’s what she swore to the police. She never left us outside alone, especially not him—the youngest, only three-years-old. But she’d heard the phone ring, and, thinking it to be my school, or maybe her mother, she ran inside to answer it. She couldn’t have been gone more than a minute. She was sure. She hadn’t wanted to disturb his play. She hadn’t wanted to drag him inside, on such a beautiful day, for nothing.

Life is segmented by moments. Some small. Some not so small.

All—since the invention of this machine—changeable.

When she came back outside, he was gone. Vanished. I’m so fucking sick of hearing the words into thin air.

“When I get chosen,” she tells me late one night, brushing wet hair away from my face. “I won’t go inside. I won’t answer that fucking phone.”

I wonder what it will be like: one moment he won’t be here, the next he will. I wonder if I’ll remember the before.

We will be a family unscarred by the side effects of time, of moments. Of before and after.

But we will be a family again because of time. Because of the mutability of it.

Mom begins to hum again. She drags her fingers through my hair. It hurts, but I don’t tell her. I imagine her nails drawing blood from my scalp. I imagine her tearing me apart.

 

Hannah Gordon is a writer and editor living in Chicago. Her work has appeared in Hypertrophic Literary, Jellyfish Review, WhiskeyPaper, and more. She is the managing editor of CHEAP POP. When she’s not writing, she’s reading or hanging out with her two cats, Luna and Neville. If she could time travel, she’d go back and warn herself about the consequences of waxing your own eyebrows.

Bingo by Josh Denslow

My future wife and I sit in adjacent booths in a coffee shop when the internet crashes and we look up from our dating apps like groundhogs discovering our shadows. She lifts her delicate hand, her arched finger like a stamen, and pushes an imaginary button between us. “Bingo,” she says.

Behind her, two people jump up and hurry through the front door, their coffee forgotten on the table.

“I’m Lily,” she says from the seat across from me. In all the commotion, I hadn’t seen her move. She has a face so beautiful it seems almost impossible for her to exist. After the way things ended with my ex, it’s easy to feel like I’d never be able to hold on to that kind of beauty again.

“Tell me something that isn’t on your Bingo profile,” she says.

“I’m not as funny as I think I am,” I say.

“No one is.”

“I guess I’m pretty lonely.”

“The human condition.”

I suddenly want to tell her something she can’t render mundane. “I got a boner once when I was petting a cat.”

She laughs so hard that her dark eyes narrow and her nose wrinkles, and I want to be the only person in the world to ever cause that to happen again.

“Will you marry me?” I ask.

“Let’s start smaller,” she says.

“How about a scone?”

“Deal.”

I go to the counter, but it appears all the employees have walked away. The coffee machine gurgles and the refrigerator whirrs. Then they both stop at the same time. The electricity has gone out.

I turn and watch the ceiling fan above Lily slowly come to a rest. The small group sitting at the back booth begin stuffing croissants and bagels into their bags and then push out into the street.

Lily and I are alone.

“Everyone’s gone,” I say. A dozen people run past the front window, car horns blaring at them. “Should we go?”

Lily glances around the empty coffee shop. “I want to finish my coffee first. I’m tired of running away.”

I return to my chair. “I don’t want this moment to end either,” I say.

She laughs again, but this one is different. It’s a defense mechanism. “Here’s something I don’t write on my profile,” she says. “I’m uncomfortable outside the noise of the world. If I’m seen in any way, I run.”

And in that moment, I feel I can truly see her in a way I hadn’t before. She’s a bird, wings extending, testing the wind before launching into the air.

“If it makes you feel any better, no one ever notices me,” I say.

She nods. “Not until all the distractions are gone. And then…”

We lapse into a perfect silence where we drink coffee and spiritually lean into each other. The coffee shop is so quiet now that I can hear my nervous system buzzing in my ears.

“Why did your last girlfriend leave you?” she asks.

“Who said she left me?”

“You did. When you said you were lonely and you weren’t funny. Like you’d been spending a lot of time wondering what went wrong.”

I can’t argue. “My ex left me because she said I didn’t fight for her. Which I didn’t. But I would’ve also had to fight this really huge guy from her work.”

“You have to choose your battles.”

Plates rattle in the kitchen and silverware clatters to the floor. I look to the counter hoping an employee has returned, and maybe I’ll be able to order more coffee and drag this moment out for as long as possible. No one is there.

“I haven’t given a Bingo to anyone in the app for weeks,” she says. “But I keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. And I never look up.”

“I Bingo everyone,” I say.

She shakes her head with a smile. “Sounds pathetic.”

“Didn’t I mention that? I’m pathetic too.”

We lock eyes as she takes her last sip of coffee. “Yes,” she says.

“What?”

“I’ll marry you.”

“I don’t think I was kidding,” I say.

Her eyes close and her lips part enough for me to catch a glimpse of her top teeth. “I don’t think I am either. Life is a risk, and I stopped taking risks for some reason.”

Then someone rams into my back and I lunge forward, my coffee spilling across the table. A guy moves toward Lily in a shirt that says DON’T HAVE A COW across the back.

The guy staggers and then falls onto her lap. She tries to push him away, but he clutches her around the waist. I grab a fistful of his hair and it peels off, scalp and all, and ends up as a clump of goo in my hand.

The man lifts himself up until he and Lily are face to face and takes a hold of the back of her chair with both hands.

“That’s my fiancée!” I yell and it feels good to say it. Then the man gurgles a wet inhuman sound and Lily punches him in the forehead.

That’s when it becomes clear. Something has shut down the internet and all the power, and with it, the zombie alarm must have been disabled too. Here I am with most interesting girl I’ve ever met, probably will ever meet, and she is about to be eaten right in front of me while my ex and her massive bald protector are still alive and well somewhere across town.

I leap forward and grab the zombie’s shoulders. His flesh bunches in my hands like slices of bologna, but I hold tight as Lily lifts her knees and pushes against his chest with her feet. He has an iron grip on the back of her chair, his mouth spitting and spraying as he snaps at her face. I widen my stance and yank, but even combined with the pressure Lily is exerting, we are all locked in this position.

I look over the zombie’s shoulder and there is Lily looking back at me.

“Bingo!” I yell.

“Bingo!” she yells back.

I have chosen my battle.

 

Josh Denslow’s debut collection NOT EVERYONE IS SPECIAL will be published in 2019 by 7.13 Books. He plays the drums in the band Borrisokane and edits at SmokeLong Quarterly.

Tennessee Warbler by Emily Banks

The bird is brave to stop
in Atlanta. Her name is Tennessee.

She only wants to taste the big city.
From my balcony, she tries to see

the skyline through the trees,
but it’s so hard to hold her eyes open.

I think she’s dying.
I don’t know whether to give her water

or poke her with a stick.
Sometimes a girl just needs a little rest,

I tell myself. Too pretty—
how her yellow feathers accent neutral tones.

I worry that she ate a poisoned wasp.
If she dies here, it must mean

the worst for me. At a highway rest stop once,
I used a bathroom with the sign “omen.”

I was migrating too. I offer water
in a bottle cap. I tell her she has to fly away,

that if you stay in one place too long
you’ll be taken for dead.

 

Emily Banks lives in Atlanta, where she is a Ph.D. candidate at Emory University. She holds an M.F.A. from the University of Maryland and a B.A. from UNC-Chapel Hill. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals including storySouth, Cimarron Review, Free State Review, Muse/A Journal, and Yemassee.

Song of the Dart Frogs by Diana Clark

Zarina was as gold as the Colombian sun and intended on staying that way. Her body like wax, shining hot beneath the heat. Beetles and ants trembled in her wake, long tongue unsheathed at her command. Princess. Warrior. Black eyes like the moon at totality. The floor of the rainforest damp and sweet beneath her toes.

When it was announced that King Midas was in search of his true love, taken from him by the curse of some Warlock, the amphibians of the forest gathered in panicked whispers. They always think it’s us, one said, black speckled body shimmering with moisture, blue skin sharp against the deep brown of the rainforest’s earth. I am not waiting to be changed. There is no better body to be had. The red-bodied frog with blue limbs raised herself in agreement. I do not want to be handled, she said. I do not want to be kissed by human men.

Zarina sat inside her new flesh. Listened. The most poisonous of all the dart frogs, the Warlock had told her. He had not hesitated when she called for him, came quickly without question to her aid. Your new body will have enough toxins to kill up to twenty men. She had not intended on putting that power to use, planned only to stay deep within the rainforest, surrounded by her new people. But it was time, that much had made itself clear. It was her duty. It was justice. It was the only way she knew how to end it. If and when King Midas arrives, Zarina said, let him think I am his lost lover. I will handle it from there. They argued for a while. Protested. They didn’t want to see Zarina hurt. But she reminded them of her poison, the toxins flowing inside her like small rivers, and so they eventually agreed.

When King Midas came, it was all show. Charm. Thick blonde hair combed back in waves. White pants, white jacket, white cape, white steed: gold harness, gold belt, gold buttons, gold hungry. Zarina felt her tongue curl back inside her throat at the sight of him, felt his open palm cover her once human mouth, his teeth clenched together in anger as he thrust forcefully inside of her, hissing, Be quiet, someone will hear. Zarina’s cries not of pleasure but of pleading, of her wanting him off her, of his refusal. The cold and the dark. The immediate end to everything Zarina thought she knew.

Now, Zarina sat at six centimeters in length. Waited. King Midas noticed her almost immediately, a nugget of gold in the forest. “Zarina?” he asked. He propelled himself off his horse with a flourish so practiced it almost made her laugh. “Zarina my angel, my porcelain dove. What has he done to you? That Warlock. There were rumors, Zarina, horrible rumors in the castle, rumors that you asked for this, rumors that you summoned him. But I told them, I told them my perfect girl wouldn’t do that, not to me.” Then his eyes dripped from panicked to dark, simmering cauldrons beneath the surface. “I told them Zarina knows better, knows what would happen if she ever tried to leave me again.”

King Midas moved forward. Reached down. Pushed Zarina onto his open palm. It took everything in her not to turn away, but she could feel it—sweet, sweet poison, the curdling of her new flesh—knew that she would never find another moment of peace if she didn’t do this now.

Zarina sat, landlocked on his skin, as his lips came crashing into hers. “In order to save you,” he said, and, “You’ll respect me now, won’t you, Zarina?” When his lips pulled away—puckered and chapped—Zarina felt herself smile, could hear only the Warlock’s voice in the back of her head: They will die, those who touch you. They will die in three minutes flat.

Zarina watched, eyes black and unmoving, as the body of King Midas began to tremble, turned cold, dropped Zarina when the shaking became too much. She landed perfectly on padded feet, stayed quiet in the cool earth as King Midas thrashed and kicked, his skin pale then blue then pale again. He reached out to her, fingernails scraping and clawing the dirt, until finally he exhaled one last time. Zarina had been counting: two minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Oh, Warlock, she thought. The only human being I will miss.

Around her, the soft hum of her sisters, the song of the dart frogs. Zarina’s body shimmered. The only gold she ever wanted. The only gold she’d ever need.

 

Diana Clark is an elephant enthusiast and an MFA fiction candidate at UNCW, with a special love for LGBTQIA+ literature, magical realism, and sci-fi. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Fat Magazine, Peach Mag, The Passed Note, Heavy Feather Review, Longleaf Review, and more. In 2015, her piece “Singed” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. You can find her reading about pirates in Wilmington, North Carolina with her cat, Emily D.

Dead Bird by Todd Dillard

You swung the chainsaw through the rosebush,
lopped off its top, and found,
tucked in fang and bramble,
a nest of juniper twigs. Inside it,
I waited, dead since last season,
curled like a dropped dishcloth.

You worried you were a terrible father.
You worried your sunblock-slathered daughter,
splashing at the water table across the yard,
would totter over and thump you
with a question shaped like me.

You worried too, briefly,
if I was a blunt omen
when you didn’t believe in omens.

You placed my nest and I in a grocery bag
as if you’d just come back from the store,
a quick errand to pick up a little death
because you’d run out
and who knows when you’ll need some more
to sprinkle on your pillow or morning cereal?

You knotted the bag,
and gentle as laying a babe in her crib
you placed it in the garbage,
unhitched another worry from your throat.

In the dark I listened to the chainsaw growl.
I imagined you holding it over your head.
I imagined you thinking: I am trying to be a good father,
bringing the chainsaw down.

 

Todd Dillard’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including Crab Creek Review, Longleaf Review, Nimrod, Superstition Review, and The Boiler Journal. He was a finalist for the 2018 Best Small Fictions anthology, and has been nominated for Best of the Net 2018. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter, and can be found on Twitter via @toddedillard.

Big Bad by Mary Hamilton

There’s this wolf outside my house. He’s tearing up trees. Throwing them over his shoulder. Making a mess.

He’s banging on the door. When I don’t answer, he pulls the sidewalk up like it’s tape on a cardboard box. He uses the mailbox post like a toothpick. He’s tearing this house apart piece by piece. From the right angle, it still has the façade of something whole, but there are holes. The roof is collapsing, the stairs are gone, rubble where there used to be flowers, music, a home. And now, I don’t know where I’d even begin rebuilding. My neighbors have all moved away. He ate their roofs, their lawns, their porches. It’s just the two of us now. Me and him.

He’s pressed up against the front door, his tongue licking the lock. I’m pressed up against the other side, holding everything together. I listen to him breathe. Listen to his dripping teeth and gums. The slurping saliva. The wheezing breath. I can smell it. Then he starts the scraping. That one claw at the door. Scraping in the same space over and over. Going deeper. Never speeding up, never slowing down. Just a consistent, slow scrape at the wood between us. I can hear his breath, his hair, his tongue lolling out of his mouth. I manage enough breath to say, “What do you want?”

“I just want you to be okay,” he says, as that one claw breaks through the last of it.

 

Mary Hamilton’s work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and the Indiana Review. She lives in Minnesota.

 

 

Prey by Christine Taylor

He bounds down the back steps:
my dog has caught
the scent of prey.
From under a lawn chair,
a bunny sprints
for her life,
dashes in sharp S-turns to thwart
the husky on her trail.
She reaches the fence
unforgivably low,
and when she can’t slip underneath,
she leaps into the air–
a valiant attempt
to escape
into the rest of her years.

The dog leaps too
catches her struggling body
just as it falls from the apex
of her last grasp at life.
Her bones crunch
between the strength of his jaws,
and he savors every bit of her–
head, belly, limbs.
The ravenous moment passed,
he lies down in the grass
satiated
panting
his head raised to bask in the sun.

I want to say I’m horrified, but
I have, after all, witnessed
the event as a bystander
who hasn’t moved
from her spot
on these steps
who hasn’t rushed to wrest
the dog away
to save
hasn’t at least called out Stop!

I stumble down the steps
fall into one of the Adirondack chairs
watch finches escape the feeder.
Thunder comes to sit
at my feet
a drop of saliva
lands on my shoe,
and I can’t help but pet him
bury my fingers
in that downy sable fur.

 

Christine Taylor, a multiracial English teacher and librarian, resides in her hometown Plainfield, New Jersey. She serves as a reader and contributing editor at OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters. Her work appears in Modern Haiku, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Rumpus, wildness, and The Paterson Literary Review among others. She can be found at christinetayloronline.com.