Miriam, sandwich? The man waves one. You want?
She doesn’t. Miriam expects him to see that she is busy, and doesn’t want. She is talking to my wife. My wife is looking out the window. I know the look on her face, having to be polite.
We are polite on holiday. We don’t take drugs, on holiday. It’s like we want time out from our bad habits, but the reason is that we don’t risk bringing drugs with us on cross-border trains – only in our heads, a last glorious ingestion in the station toilets. We also don’t risk buying drugs on holiday. Our experience of this has led to a crushing disappointment in our fellow men, loss of money, and, once, loss of blood (mine). I’m not a fighter, and in any case we are too old to squabble with strangers over the price or the alleged purity, or lack of it, of various powders. So we are more polite to strangers, but more edgy if they overstep the boundaries.
It’s us and them in the minibus. As it was early in the morning, and we were bleary-eyed, that wasn’t apparent when we boarded. It was only on the road that they revealed themselves as a group, and, as collateral, us as outsiders.
Gradually, they shout merrily at one another. It is a small minibus. They extract sandwiches from Tupperware, examine them, and pass them around. It is a confined space. We are hungover. The sandwiches contain salami with a discernible garlic content. There is coleslaw. I know because, in the act of being passed, some of it, reverting to liquid in the heat, drops on my bare knee. I examine it. My instinct is mean, to wipe it on the nearest garment belonging to one of the group, but instead I use the underside of the seat.
Miriam talks to my wife about where we are going on our sightseeing mission. She finally refuses the sandwich, which stops the man we suppose is her husband from offering it. Instead, he says, well don’t ask me later for one, and adds endless variations of this warning.
Miriam’s older relatives, and those of the whole group, and those of my wife, went to where we are going, some of them leaving it, luckily, to tell the world about it. This leaves me as the only true outsider. The minibus driver delivers us to Auschwitz, the museum on the site of the notorious Nazi death camp. In the snack bar there, Miriam buys a Snickers, with me behind her in the line, dehydrated and in search of fizzy water. I say to her, you should have had the sandwich, and she snorts and nods and grimaces and says, yah – who knew, right? She rejoins the group, my wife holding on to my sleeve to make sure we let them get far enough away to be out of earshot, to be miserable on our own terms, and in silence.
Nick Sweeney’s stories are scattered around the web and in print. Laikonik Express, his novel about friendship, Poland, and getting the train for the hell of it, is out with UK independent publisher Unthank Books. His 20K-word ‘novelette’ The Exploding Elephant was published by Bards and Sages in 2016. He is a freelance writer and musician, and lives on the English coast
Jasmine sat in the chair in the counselor’s office, pressing buttons on her cellphone. “He’s gettin’ executed today.”
“Really? I would have thought it was going to take a bit longer, you know, with all the stays and appeals,” Ms. Freeman said.
“Naww,” Jasmine said, unperturbed. “This is it. Six o’clock this evening.”
“Yeah. I heard he wants a cheeseburger and fries for his last meal.”
“And a bowl of butter pecan ice cream. He used to like that a lot.” Jasmine glanced at the counselor’s black shoes. They were small on her feet and clean. Every time Jasmine saw Ms. Freeman, she had on those same clean, dainty black shoes. Ms. Freeman sat a few feet away on the outside of her desk; her round, pleasant face oozed with empathy and curiosity.
“How do you feel about it?”
Jasmine shrugged her shoulders. “Nothin’, I guess.” Her fingers worked across the cellphone with slow purpose.
“Well, you have to feel something … he is your brother.” Ms. Freeman couldn’t discern if Jasmine was scrolling through Facebook on her phone or just looking for something to divert her consumed mind. She thought to ask her to put the phone away but decided otherwise.
“Mama said I had another brother that died when he was two days old. Mike gonna be buried next to him.”
“I see. Are you worried for his soul?”
“No more than I am for my own.”
“But you didn’t murder two people.”
“I could’ve stopped him.” Jasmine glanced at Ms. Freeman’s poised hands crossed on her lap. She looked away and stared at a picture of Ms. Freeman and a man. She wondered if Ms. Freeman was married but really didn’t care.
“You were just a child then. What could you have done? I’m sure you felt paralyzed when you saw him raging in the house.”
“I felt like, like the sky opened up and a big dog jumped out of it. Are you worried about your own soul, since you askin’?”
“I do but not like that. I haven’t killed anyone.” Ms. Freeman’s round, pleasant face was nearly pinched with smugness.
“Lucky you. You know, God kills and orders hits every day… He orderin’ them now to kill my brother.”
“No. Mike brought death on his own head. He didn’t have to kill his girlfriend and her lover. He could’ve let it go.”
“How do you know that? Maybe God told him to do it.”
“I know you don’t really believe that. God would never tell us to kill anyone.”
Jasmine’s fingers paused momentarily over her phone. She eyed Ms. Freeman with incredulity. “I guess it was the devil, then.” She returned her gaze to her phone. “Hmmph. My brother sent two bad dogs to heaven. They couldn’t’ve gotten there without him.”
Alifah Omar has been writing since a very young age. She has poetry and prose published in Z-composition, The Fable Online and will be featured in Plainsongs’s July 2019 edition.
The mole traps haven’t sprung. The wishbone handles of grey metal stick up from the ground like tuning forks. If I’d caught, the handles would be angled wide apart – V for victory, or fuck off, depending which way you look. I seldom trap one, but it makes me look busy.
Another Sunday, another Sunday roast. A ceremonial carve up. Do you take these legs and breasts as your lawfully stuffed lunch? Soon she’ll start banging the saucepans on the hob and peeling vegetables. The needle will start after breakfast. Could be anything. How long to cook the meat is our Sunday family favourite. Last week I did the cooking.
“It’s running with blood,” she said and didn’t touch it.
We used to yell but it skidded out of control. Rattled the kids. A bit of pushing that’s all, a slammed door, a smashed plate.
Yesterday she said, “Don’t roll your eyes at me. You’re beginning to look like your father.”
I said, “Control your temper. You’re beginning to sound like your mother.”
My father’s got his anxiety. Her mother’s dead.
To find the mole runs I prod the grass with a screwdriver then dig round holes into them with a trowel. I set the traps on a hair-trigger and lower them in. Lay on a lid of turf, plug the gaps with dead leaves to stop daylight or draughts. The moles sense both. Noses like radar dishes.
“Mum says lunch is ready. Can you come and cut the meat.” Our youngest enjoys running errands for his mother. I follow him as he runs back up the path from the toolshed.
Chicken’s on the table. The sharpening steel, carving knife and fork laid out like an amputation.
“This bird doesn’t smell right,” I say.
“In what way?” she says.
“Smells like shit. Literally like shit. Excrement.” I prize apart its back end and bring out a smear of brown on the knife.
“Smell that,” I say.
“I can smell it from here.” She takes the carving fork from my hand, spears the meat and dumps it in the bin.
“Just roast potatoes and veg today. The chicken is shit,” she says to the kids.
Back outside a trap’s been sprung. I pull the dead animal from the earth, its neck broken, a lick of blood oozes from its mouth. I take the mole to the fence and spike its corpse onto the barbed wire. By morning all trace of it will be gone.
Steven John’s writing has appeared in Riggwelter, Spelk, Fictive Dream, Cabinet of Heed, EllipsisZine, Ghost Parachute and Best Microfiction 2019. He’s won Bath Ad Hoc Fiction a record six times and has been nominated for BIFFY 2019. He lives in The Cotswolds, England. Steven is Fiction & Special Features Editor at www.newflashfictionreview.com @StevenJohnWrite www.stevenjohnwriter.com
“Yes, well, here at Ventura Capital, we pride ourselves on our work environment, and I think you’ll fit in perfectly, John. Thank you for coming in today.”
“Of course, my pleasure, Alex. I look forward to hearing from you.”
The two men get up from their chairs. They shake hands solidly, just as their dads had taught them when they were four.
John opens the door and starts to walk out –
“ – oh John I have to ask you one last question.”
“Yes I can accept the job right now,” John replies wittily, “but seriously, ask me anything, Alex.”
“It’s just this question that HR wants me to ask all interviewees. I forgot to ask you because we were having such a pleasant conversation, in spite of the fact that you’re a Yankees fan!” a hearty laugh comes with the joke. “An employee a few years back had a bit of a drinking problem and turned the 2013 Christmas party into the most unforgettable party this office park has ever seen.”
“Do you mind if I ask what happened?”
“Perhaps when you start here, John, I’ll tell you more.”
“I’ll hold you to that, Alex”
“Anyway, I now have to ask all interviewees whether you have, or have ever had, a problem with alcohol or any other form of controlled substance?”
“Never. I enjoy a drink every now and then, but that’s it.”
“Excellent. That’s what I thought. I’ll mark down just a social drinker.”
“Well . . .”
“Well . . . I wouldn’t say I’m a social drinker.”
“What type of drinker would you say you are then?”
“More of an individual drinker, an alone drinker, I like to . . . just, you know, drink alone.”
“Of course, we all enjoy a beer every now and then just by ourselves. Completely understandable.”
“Well . . .”
“It’s just that I only drink alone. I never drink with other people.”
“Right but just like a beer or a glass of wine right?”
“Oh yes to start, definitely.”
“And then you have more . . . while you’re alone?”
“How much do you drink?”
“You know just as much as anyone else.”
“Yes, alone only.”
“There is just something more rewarding about drinking alone.”
“ . . . ”
“Alone, I drink sip by sip with my attention focused solely on me, my surroundings, and the effects of the alcohol. With each sip, the alcohol’s effect changes and compounds on the previous sip. Only when I am alone can I truly experience each increment of intoxication. When I drink with others, conversation carries the night and, next thing I know, I’m drunk. That’s not necessarily bad. But alone, I have a deeper understanding of how alcohol impacts my body and how joyful and different each little sip can be.”
“So you really like drinking then?”
“Oh I wouldn’t say like.”
“ . . .”
“I’d say love.”
“Okay well. Thank you for this information, and . . . we . . . we’ll be in touch with you.”
Randall Weber-Levine holds a J.D. from Columbia Law School and a B.A. in philosophy and economics from Colgate University. He is an aspiring writer who has been published in and served as the editor of, Columbia Law School’s literary magazine, the Morningside Monocle.
We pack into a mover, driven by men we never see. (It is always men.) We bump along the clouds, no windows, trusting in the dark. The mover groans and shakes before landing. It’s too soon. The door lifts, and we hear waves but see only greenhouses, sun blacks, scrub brush. A voice bawls: “Walk!” So we walk, wandering the maze of humming buildings. On a beach, they scan us as we board an aluminum and blue-glass skiff, population 32. This isn’t in the plan but there’s nothing to argue, nowhere to go.
My brother whispers: “Remember to say you’re my wife.”
As if it unlocks an unseen door. As if he could get a woman like me. But I nod.
On the deck, we choke on hydrenated diesel. Below the glass, it’s like sick in a kettle. A sense memory: my mother, drifting to an alcoholic sleep, repeating, I’m sorry, baby. A man watches me and I move seats, offering to hold a child on my lap, his pee filling my shoes. The pilot is locked behind a door, immune to our pounding. Four days, two deaths, and the baby starts kicking. A gunship appears, guiding us into a bay. Someone translates: “We can go back or go to detention.”
“No,” I tell my brother. “This time we stay.”
Joel Wayne is a writer and producer from Boise, Idaho. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Chattahoochee Review, The Moth, and Salon, among other places. He has won the Silver Creek Writer’s Residency, the Lamar York Prize, and is a Pushcart nominee. Wayne produces the NPR-affiliate programs “Reader’s Corner” and “You Know The Place” for Boise State Public Radio, and serves as a judge for the annual Scholastic Writing Awards.
He was caught, with loads of cash, trying to cross the border to avoid our invasion. His brown, wrinkled skin resembled bark. Fear glinted in his wide eyes. He hunched his shoulders, anticipating violence, hands tied behind his back. His dark-brown skin indicated he belonged in the hot place we had conquered. I saw him hunched over between two of our soldiers who were bone-white with red noses. His irises resembled freaked mahogany in their tanned surrounds. He was accused of being the head of a clan–with using his money to incite rebellion. No legal process had occurred.
Sipping soup in the kitchen, I heard: “Narahhhhh…..”
The spoon stopped before my mouth.
That high shrieking of horrified disbelief conveyed the amazement of shocked innocence.
My head shot around to look down the corridor.
I carried a chair down the corridor. Standing on the chair, I looked through a window above the door into the room where the seated suspected clan leader’s ankles and wrists were tied. His head fell forward. Blood dripped onto his lap. His puffed-up eyes were hardly visible in a face that now resembled putty.
Big, blonde Aaron released a flurry of fists, cracking the man’s head. The man howled like a wounded dog when a burning cigarette got stubbed out on his nose by Ariel whose smile resembled a malevolent spotlight in the room’s gloom. The man’s money was scattered across a table. Horror waves smacked my skull.
I bashed on the door while hearing: “Arhhhhhhhh…”
“Go away,” Ariel screamed.
“What did he do?” I yelled.
Aaron opened the door and said: “You’ve got work to do on the trucks. Do it.”
The tortured man’s wincing was high-pitched with disbelief.
I lingered in the doorway. Aaron was my commanding officer. His penetrating, blue eyes, like cut glass shimmering with anger, glared as he jolted his head and hissed: “Well?”
The blood on his green shirt contrasted vividly with his snowy hair. The tortured man wheezed like a punctured lung. Aaron and I stared at each other in a slow moment of both realising that we could never be friends. A savage brilliance filled his electric-blue eyes.
“Is this going to help us?” I asked.
“Go,” Aaron said, pointing down the grey corridor.
His attitude towards the man he was torturing seemed unnaturally personal.
“You don’t know what animals they are,” he said, slamming the door in my face.
The man’s body, dumped onto one of the trucks I had been working on, got taken to a mass grave for people massacred in the villages we had destroyed, its legs flying up and crashing down as the truck hit a bump when leaving the compound.
Terrorism started about ten years later.
Kim has worked for aid agencies in three conflicts: Kosovo, Iraq and Palestine. He takes risks to get the experience required for writing. He likes fine wine, art, photography and bullfighting, which probably explains why this Australian lives in Madrid; although he wouldn’t say no to living in a French château or a Swiss ski resort. 154 of his stories have been accepted by 91 different magazines.