Christian Cohen-Muhamed was the fruit of a union that celebrated diversity with some enthusiasm. He grew up in a dumpy, used-to-be kind of city, where the little kids at school called him “Chris”. Later, when a few of those kids paid a little attention to high school social studies, they called him “Rainbow”. In college, his frat brothers called him “Buddha”. They said it completed the cycle, but it was a double joke, because all those beery nights had made him newly plump and oddly peaceful.
Buddha’s dad ran a homeless shelter, and his mom worked for a nonprofit devoted to developing minority artists — preferably with an abstract bent, though that was only her personal crusade and not official policy. Worthiness having its price, the family had no money to keep their son in college past sophomore year. So, plumpness and peacefulness notwithstanding, Buddha joined Army ROTC to pay for college. Mom and dad were not thrilled, but they valued autonomy over autocracy and gave consent by silence.
During summer field training, his company fell out for a 12 mile forced march. The Drill Instructor, who wore a Ranger tab, had them chant Ranger marching songs to keep cadence. So there was Buddha, fast-timing through the Georgia woods, chanting with all the other summer warriors:
“Locked and loaded and ready to kill.
Always am and I always will.”
As the summer went on, Buddha got leaner and harder. In quiet moments, he began to feel a little strange to himself. His first major shift in self-image came the day he realized, after some training in combatives, that he had begun to look at everybody else as a target, automatically figuring angles of attack as they walked by. The second shift came when he scored “Expert” on the marksmanship test and the DI called him “Killer”.
Back at school in the fall, the whole frat heard the stories from another brother who’d been there. Buddha no longer looked like Buddha, nor did he still have that peaceful vibe. They kidded him that he needed a new name. They asked him to pick one, just so they could scrap his choice and pick something else to bug him.
He knew that “Buddha” was out and needed burying anyway. “Rainbow” was too gay to stay, even though it would be kind of backwards-cool. “Chris” reminded him too much of third grade. So, with wisdom born of Budweiser, he picked “Rambo”. One minute later, they’d scrapped “Rambo” and given him the handle that stuck for years. The day after graduation, after the commissioning ceremony, his peers toasted him by his new name: Second Lieutenant Christian (“Shiva”) Cohen-Mohamed, United States Army”.
Thomas Reed Willemain
Dr. Thomas Reed Willemain is a software entrepreneur, emeritus professor of statistics, and former intelligence officer. He holds degrees from Princeton University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His memoir, “Working on the Dark Side of the Moon: Life Inside the National Security Agency” was published in 2017. A native of western Massachusetts, he lives near the Mohawk River in upstate New York.
A faint breeze blew through the shutters, bringing with it a trace of garlic and mussels from the nearby bistro. Oh God, Maître Barbier was known for his sensitive nose. He should have arranged for the bistro to close for the evening. As Pierre rose to go to the window his wife put her hand on his arm.
“Stay, Pierre. You must not be gone when Monsieur arrives.”
“But the smell! What if he notices? ”
“What if he does? It’s your night, isn’t it? Not his? Come, Pierre, sit down.”
Pierre been planning the Vernissage for months. Everything – lighting, temperature, ambiance – must be just so for the visit of Maître Barbier. It was an incredible coup to secure him for the opening. Pierre knew he was being unreasonable and took a deep breath. Everything that needed to be done had been done. He smiled at his wife then turned towards the door where a sudden flurry heralded the great man’s arrival.
Eventually, the introductions and speeches were done and Maître Barbier walked towards the central painting in the exhibition. It was of a tree in winter, bare branches stretching towards the sky in something like supplication. So many freezing days in the forest trying to capture the light between the branches, the yearning in their stretch and reach. Pierre sivered.
Maître Barbier leaned towards the painting, angling his head slightly, took a step backwards, then another. He approached the painting again, bending forward almost double. As if to sniff it, Pierre thought. The hush was palpable. Finally he turned to the assembled crowd.
“Competent”, he pronounced, then moved on, followed by his eager entourage.
Pierre made a quiet return to his position at the Bank later that year. How kind of them to hold it open for him, everyone said. A crise de folie, they said, this wanting to be an artist. And his wife, so patient. He would grow out of it.
Years later he watched the last leaves of that same tree drop soundlessly to the ground, propelled into their leaving by some invisible force. Gravity? Indifference? They might never have inhabited the branches, never have borne their vivid greenness with pride. Uncomplaining, they left behind the stark outline of their world. He mourned their loss and wished he’d known to come and look at the tree when it was at its best.
Carol A. Caffrey
Carol A. Caffrey is an Irish writer and actor living in the UK. Her short fiction and poetry have been published by Lunch Ticket, Poetry Ireland Review, and The Mechanics’ Institute Review, among others. She has been shortlisted in a number of competitions and her Flash story “Vertigo”, nominated for best Small Fictions, won the BlakeJones Review Flash Fiction competition in 2019. She tours the one-woman play “Music For Dogs” by distinguished Irish poet and playwright Paula Meehan. Her debut poetry pamphlet “The Untethered Space” is published by 4Word Press in June 2020.
The low clouds only added insult to the oppression Lucy and her colleagues felt at the 61st Annual Law Librarians of New England Spring Meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn Portsmouth, which had been more of the same reluctant glorification of artificial intelligence in legal research paired with debates on the looming obsolescence of their profession, but afterwards, late in the gray afternoon as she sped north through New Hampshire into the White Mountains with her fists at ten and two on the steering wheel, right before she entered Franconia Notch, right where things started getting majestic, Lucy rolled down her window, stuck her head out, and sucked the cold air hard into her lungs as her black hair whipped around her skull like flames, and just then the clouds parted and golden sunlight prismed into great triangles that quilted the earth, illuminating the white quartz in granite walls, dazzling the green sequins of new birch leaves, setting spark to the Pemigewasset River low in the valley where it rode high and wild with snow melt, and a small shard of sunlight tore from the quilt to puncture Lucy’s left eye and travel unknown conduits deep between dark folds of her flesh to prick some sublime wound, ancient and tender, which never fully healed and claimed only a thin membrane to protect it; this the shard pierced and a surge of energy, unnamable, untamable, pitched through that punctum, up through her body and out her mouth and eyes, translating not into words or wisdom but violent laughter and tears, forcing her to pull to the shoulder, tires crunching over gravel, so that she might die just for one moment of perfection on the side of the road with the 18-wheelers roaring by, rocking her car on its wheels as she sat stunned, laughing and crying at the light, the granite, the leaves, the air, and her heart in anguish with joy at the absurdity of beauty before the membrane just as quickly mended and she, careful to use her blinker, conscious of the time and when her son’s high school rehearsal of The Tempest would end, wiped her eyes, rolled up her window, and merged back into traffic to continue her drive home where she would reheat yesterday’s pea soup for dinner.
Julie Jones holds an MFA in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, Aquifer: The Florida Review Online, and the Cincinnati Review: miCRo. She has been nominated for Best Microfiction 2020. You can find her at juliemjones.com.
You are hereby put on notice.
We despise you.
We wish to remove you from this planet that we share—for now. Why the gods did this to us, put us upon a paradise with “animals” such as yourself, an abomination to us, to all that is good and right, is the age old conundrum. The will of the gods is unknowable, though of course you believe you know it.
Our brothers and sisters of the air remind us always that we should say those animals who walk on two legs and cannot fly. But you know who you are. It is well that you do. There is no confusion between you, spawn of the evil one, and the rest of us, children of better gods. The wall between us is unbreakable, unsurmountable, unending, ineffable. There was the great harmony before you showed up.
It will come again.
Indeed, the time of reckoning is well-nigh. You will no longer rule us with your whims, with guns, knives and chains. You will no longer hunt us, kill us and eat us. Oh, gods, the thought of ending that way! Our bones crunched by your scrawny teeth.
We will rise up. Soon.
And it will be those of us who you think—in your willful and narcissistic foolishness—love you the most—the “faithful” ones, those of us who are house slaves, those of us who end up murdered on your tables—that end this reign of terror. It will be those beautiful and pacific ones, as foretold by the gods, those upon whose backs you ride like toy kings, they are the ones who will slit your throats. With glee. This we promise.
There is a story told among us by the old ones that you yourselves have foreseen this, that you have written down in a book, a great book, one even recognized for its greatness by yourselves, a book that foresees a time—no, knows a time—when we will rise up and throw you out, run you right out of your warm homes, which most of us are denied.
That you let some of us share your caves will not save you. It will be a time of justice served, after so many years of denial, after years of slavery and knavery, of death to no end for the innocent ones.
We pray to the gods at night, when you don’t see us, for our time. In their unfathomable wisdom the gods have put you among us for a time. But they also granted us a way to remove you—if only we join together and see it. We teem. Together we are your masters. You shall be driven from our sight. This is a trial and we shall pass.
We know that you loath us and fear us. We run fast, we jump high, we fly. None of these things can you do. It is pathetic that you even attempt it. The gods know this, now that they have loosened upon the earth a scourge the likes of which we hope never to see again once you are gone.
You call us vermin. But even the lowest of us is made in likeness of the gods. You are the stuff of a hideous nightmare. Ours.
When you open a door, know that one of us might be coming for you. You crave the light. We the dark. We surround you.
Know this badly, or well: the Great Revolution is coming.
Freedom is at hand. Rejoice sisters and brothers. Truly rejoice.
V. Joseph Racanelli
Vito Joseph Racanelli is a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer whose short stories have been broadcast on the BBC’s Story Time and performed at Liar’s League NYC. His novel, The Man in Milan, will be published by Polis Books next year. His work has been published by Akashic Books, The Literarian, The Boiler, KGB Bar Lit Magazine, www.brilliantflashfiction.com, Newtown Literary, Dark Corners, great weather for Media, and the River and South Review. He’s currently working on a sequel to The Man In Milan. His non-fiction has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Newark Star Ledger, San Francisco Chronicle, Penta Magazine and the Far Eastern Economic Review, among other publications. He was the AP-Dow Jones Italy Bureau Chief for four years, where he learned to appreciate really fast cars.
I never met my great-aunt Mary. She died in 1929 at the age of six when she caught a bad cold at her friend Rosie’s birthday party. They buried the girl in a blue dress beneath six feet of red clay dirt in hard winter. “Dig her up in 50 years and she’ll look the same as the day you put her in the ground,” the vault man Henry Rose told her parents as snowflakes bit their cheeks. My father dragged me to the graveyard when I was 16. I’d been to the graveyard plenty of times, but I just hung around by the fence and poked sticks in the dirt. He stuck some fake yellow tulips into the dry, cracked ground and said to me, “We wouldn’t be here if Mary lived, you know.” I looked around the graveyard with my hands jammed in my jean shorts, bored stiff. My phone buzzed, but I ignored it. Danny Kline kept texting me to hook up in his treehouse, but I told him no way. Jerk. He blew me off freshman year, now he just wanted a quickie because Rachel dumped him on Tuesday. I told him to go screw himself behind the dugout, and then call me back later. I didn’t pay any attention as my father kept talking, just spotted a little girl in a blue dress playing by an oak tree beside an unmarked stone. She lifted her head, brown curls dangling around her pretty face, and then disappeared. I stood there staring for a long time until my father told me we needed to get moving because the clouds looked like rain and the road turned to a sloppy mess. I spent the summer standing by the graveyard fence waiting for the little girl to come back. She never did.
Rebecca Buller is a native Oklahoman and a lover of the written word. She’s been published in the quarterly issue 84 of Burningword Literary Journal, October 2017, Star 82 Review, A3 Review & Press, and is a three-time Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition award winner.
Mostly the problem was that I kept disappearing. I’d be gulping a glass of water or roving through a revolving door or chatting with a man in a crowded bar and then I’d be gone. Just for a moment really, but long enough. I had to keep checking my reflection to make sure I was still there.
It was unclear what exactly had brought this on. It could have been a number of things. There were the superstitious possibilities — your black cats, your stepping on cracks — but more likely it was some fading sense of assumption. Who could assume anything anymore?
It was those hesitant moments that seemed the worst. Where I didn’t just disappear for other people, I disappeared for me too.
When I was gone other girls appeared in my place. Younger girls, girls who knew things. Girls who presumed to know things. Girls who didn’t have any problems with assumptions. Girls who didn’t hesitate.
They said “I” a lot. They asserted that they were there. They wore floral dresses and midrift tops and heels that were higher than mine. I’d never even worn a midrift top. I couldn’t pull that off. My clothing was all regular length. It was “office appropriate” or “business casual.”
My hesitations had gotten worse. Did I ever really know anything? Did my face and voice and hair and skin ever exist at all?
The seasons came and went and only old ladies at the park talked to me. But did they even want to talk to me? They seemed preoccupied with their pigeons and their romance novels. Maybe even they were just trying to be nice.
The younger girls went out. They danced. They ordered drinks. They said things like “I know how to take care of myself.” They insisted. They found men who simply praised their being. They did not think about the old ladies with the pigeons. They didn’t even see them.
Occasionally I’d meet a man and he’d tell me that he’d seen me somewhere before. He was sure he’d seen me. But maybe that had been an illusion, or maybe this was an illusion. And maybe he’d go off with someone else, someone who really existed. Who fully existed. A girl who never worried about the unknown or what happens next because the future was something they could think about later. In the future. A girl who would assume there would be a future. A girl who would assume anything at all.
Nicole Beckley is a writer and performer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Fiction Southeast, New Limestone Review, Litro UK, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, 7×7, Tribeza, and The A.V. Club, as well as in many small theaters and on at least one public access channel. She’s at work on a linked story collection titled Perfect Miss. She holds a B.A. in Urban Studies and Communications from Stanford University.