Control

The sound is faint, like the low grumble of an old man in his sleep, constant and all- pervasive—a unitary oscillating auditory net that suppresses spontaneous impulses and curbs undesirable actions. Holographic images in staggering colors pulse through the atmosphere, supporting auditory control, thus promoting emotional stability and forestalling anti-social impulses. All UniCitizens, like the dwellings they inhabit, the vehicles in which they are transported and the devices with which they communicate, are extensions of a unifying principle, components of the universal network that maintains a functioning society.

Life in the early 21st Century was messy and unpredictable. Terrorism, criminality and personal dysfunction prevailed. A multiplicity of information sources conflicted with one another, contributing to widespread confusion and disturbing behavioral patterns. Fear prevailed in a society riddled with contradictions. That is, until social scientists and engineers developed a panacea for chaos. Intensive Auditory Therapy has provided a comprehensive method to homogenize and control conduct, radically reducing the potential for anarchic and anti-social expression. It has transformed the troubled rumble of pre-UniLife into a unified buzzing hum, like bees at a distance, both a warning and assurance.

Despite Social Credit Scores that now weed out undesirable impulses, the quest for perfect social harmony is still occasionally subverted by expressions of errant desire that even the most precise algorithms often fail to take into account. Controlling human desire is a fragile and febrile thing, subject to resistance by the ambiguous and unruly qualities of the latent human spirit, impulsive emotions that even if rigorously suppressed will occasionally find expression in the side streets and back alleys of the maverick mind and delinquent heart.

Case# 45-41561X:  Two middle-aged men, each assigned to a member of the opposite sex for life, are granted a UniWork break at a virtual eco resort in the Outer Hebrides, otherwise known as “islands of the strangers.” They grow inordinately close to one another and conjoin in sexual union for which they do not have official clearance. Each party desires to continue with this unsanctioned social breach, straying from their UniRole assignments and thus disturbing calibrated societal balance. The transgressors are prescribed multiple treatments of Intensive Sound Aversion Therapy and successfully returned to normative relational function. Case closed.

The social order, codified under the universal doctrine of ‘Each An Assigned Place’ is restored, forestalling any reversion to pre-Uni conditions when individual choice and irrational urges subverted cultural cohesion and threatened human survival.

 

by William Torphy

William Torphy’s poetry, critical reviews and articles have appeared in numerous magazines. Ithuriel’s Spear in San Francisco has published three books. Short stories have appeared in The Fictional Café, ImageOutWrite Volume 5, Main Street Rag, Miracle Monocle, Sun Star Review and Chelsea Station, the story for which was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. He works as an art curator in the San Francisco area.

Nicolas Ridley, Featured Author

Virtually Identical

FICTION

 

‘I shan’t introduce you to my sister,’ said Kate. ‘You’ll fall in love with her. Then I’ll have to hate you.’

‘Fine,’ I said.

(I’m used to Kate’s pronouncements.)

We were driving to Sussex. Having decided to marry me, Kate felt I should meet her parents.

‘You and your sister,’ I said. ‘Are you alike?’

‘We’re virtually identical.’

‘Twins?’

‘Stop the car,’ said Kate. ‘There by those bushes. I need to change.’

 

I find it captivating: Kate’s ability to transform herself. From brisk solicitor to untamed party-animal. From formal dinner guest to fun-runner in baggy shorts and shapeless t-shirt. The Kate, who now appeared in a black skirt and white blouse, was the dutiful daughter.

 

‘I must warn you,’ said Kate. ‘My parents are prudes.’

To me they appeared courteous, welcoming, perfectly charming.

‘Samuel will be sleeping in the guest bedroom,’ said Kate.

(Another of Kate’s pronouncement.)

Did I see Kate’s mother raise an eyebrow?

 

‘Don’t come looking for me in the night,’ said Kate. ‘You’ll end up in someone else’s bedroom.’

Kate’s father’s generous measures of single malt meant that I fell deeply asleep, but I woke up immediately when the bedroom door creaked open.

‘Don’t turn on the light.’

I didn’t.

In the morning, she’d gone.

 

‘Were you alright last night?’ said Kate.

‘Last night?’

‘By yourself in your lonely little bed.’

‘By myself? But didn’t you …?’

‘Didn’t I what?’

‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘I slept fine.’

 

‘Who are you?’

‘Me?’ I said. ‘I’m the bridegroom.’

‘I thought you looked familiar,’ she said. ‘I’m Aunt Astrid. I’m potty as an aspidistra. Did you know there was madness in the family?’

‘Really?’ I said, looking round the marquee. ‘Tell me. I haven’t met Kate’s sister yet. Is she here somewhere?

‘Sister? Kate has no sister. Kate’s an only child.’

 

by Nicolas Ridley

 

Unarmed Combat

NONFICTION

 

It’s a pleasant day in early April. Winter is no more than a memory and today we are learning how to kill people. Or maim them. Maybe both. I’m not sure yet.

Together we chant the sergeant’s mantra:

One-two-three-four,

Step-on-his-jaw,

Just-to-make-sure.

‘Next!’

Last January we slept in our boots on Dartmoor. We learnt the lesson on the first morning. If you leave your boots outside the tent, they freeze like solid blocks of ice. The answer is to keep them on all night. This means lying on your back in your sleeping-bag with your feet pointing upwards. It’s awkward at first but you get used to it. When you’re fourteen-years-old, sleeping isn’t usually terribly difficult.

One-two-three-four,

Step-on-his-jaw,

Just-to-make-sure.

‘Next!’

This spring the school’s Combined Cadet Force is camping in the Thetford battle area. We have spent much of the week crawling through damp bracken and sheep’s droppings but we’ve camped in many worse places and will do again.

This afternoon a group of us has volunteered to undergo training in unarmed combat. It sounded more fun than signals, mortars or map-reading. We are in the care of our instructor: square, unhurried, amiable, Sergeant Jones.

Methodically, almost languorously, Sergeant Jones disarms, disables and dispatches us by numbers.

‘You take the arm. You break the arm. You twist the wrist. And over he goes.’

Perhaps it’s a little chilling but it’s also oddly hypnotic.

‘You take the arm. You break the arm. You twist the wrist. And over he goes.’

One at a time, we rush at Sergeant Jones with wooden weapons. Step-by-step — cool and unflurried — he goes about his business.

‘You take the arm. You break the arm. You twist the wrist. And over he goes.’

I’m not certain what we’re learning except that Sergeant Jones is the master of his craft. If we have to watch him very much longer, we may become bored and rather restless but, for the present, it passes the time.

One-two-three-four,

Step-on-his-jaw,

Just-to-make-sure.

‘Next!’

All afternoon the sun shines down on us benignly. Tonight the damp bracken and sheep’s droppings will remain unfrozen and we will sleep peacefully in our socks.

 

by Nicolas Ridley

Nicolas Ridley has lived and worked in Tokyo, Casablanca, Barcelona, Hong Kong and Paris and now lives in London & Bath (UK) where he writes fiction, non-fiction, scripts and stage plays. A prize-winner and Pushcart Prize nominee, his short stories have been read at Liars’ League (London), Rattle Tales (Brighton), The Speakeasy (Bath), The Squat Pen Rests (Swindon), Story Friday (Bath), The Story Tales (London), Storytails (London) and Talking Tales (Bristol). Others have been published in London Lies, Lovers’ Lies & Weird Lies by Arachne Press (UK), Ariadne’s Thread (UK), Barbaric Yawp (USA), The Linnet’s Wings (Ireland), Litro Magazine (UK), O:JA&L (USA), Rattle Tales 3 (UK), Sleet Magazine (USA), The Summerset Review (USA), Tales from a Small Planet (USA), Tears in the Fence (UK) and Black is the New Black & True Love by Wordland (UK). Godfrey’s Ghost, his biographical memoir, is published by Mogzilla Life.

 

 

More

I’ll admit it. I have an insatiable appetite for THINGS. All the beautiful stuff of life: Meissen china, Georgian silver, Aubusson carpets, the whole kit & kaboodle. As Coco Chanel once advised, “The best things in life are free, Chérie. The second best are very, very expensive.”

It is a passion that never leaves me. At the end of a long day of shopping, after I have gotten into bed, slipping in between my freshly pressed Wamsutta Dream Zone 1000 Thread Count PimaCott sheets, I might sit up for hour and read. Oh, not reading as you think of it. I don’t enjoy reading BOOKS. Staring at a lot of black marks on a page and trying to make sense of them. Not my idea of fun. No, I’m a visual person. What I like best before sleeping is paging through mail-order catalogs. Hammacher-Schlemmer is a favorite. Hammacher-Schlemmer is a wonder world of gadgets—that’s where, as a young married woman, I found my first cordless telephone and Mr. Coffee machine—and Neiman-Marcus, with their solid dark chocolate Monopoly set or a dirigible, yes, you can have that, too, flying high above the world in a great silvery gas balloon! To think that in this world of so many things, they are still making and selling MORE fantastic things! I think it’s a good thing, don’t you? Because no matter how much you have, it still gives you a reason to WANT MORE. And wanting more is a reason to go on living, isn’t it? The great golden carrot that keeps you dancing and grasping ahead until the Maker draws your ping pong ball in the Great Mortality Lottery.

I look about this room. So many clocks. Tiffany clocks, Cartier clocks. I lie here motionless, but Time keeps marching on. And everything I know and love moves into the past, second by second—Tick. Tick. Tick. Everything piling up behind me. Like a huge cluttered warehouse of furniture kept in the back of my mind. Remember that marvelous old movie Citizen Kane and the absolute crates and crates of statuary and furniture and art Kane had stacked up? I know the feeling—“ROSEBUD.”

Feeling sleepy now, as I am about to drift into a dreamland of merchandise, I think of that adorable little blonde-haired orphan Oliver pleading, “I’d like some more, please.” Yes, please, God—I’d like some more.

 

by Charles Leipart

Charles Leipart was a finalist for the 2017 Tennessee Williams Fiction Prize for What Wolfman Knew, Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival; What Wolfman Knew is published in the Summer 2017 issue of the Jabberwock Review. His work has appeared in the Bayou Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal, Panolpy Literary Zine, the Eastern Iowa Review, the Scene and Heard Journal, QU Literary Magazine, and Projector Magazine of the University of Greenwich, London UK. Charles is a graduate of Northwestern University, a former fellow of the Edward Albee Foundation. He lives and writes in New York City.

Martha Catherine Brenckle

Phantom Limbs

When you burn your life down

to nothing

 

it takes a long time to rise

years of reaching out

 

With or without feathers, the sifting

through ashes, burnt bone, table legs

 

is difficult work: a shoe lace, a blue button, scraps of leaf colored silk

you don’t remember wearing

 

Memories you can’t recover, sing and itch like phantom limbs

you feel but cannot see

 

The eggs you crack for breakfast

held promise once

 

Home on Your Back

Every horizon is an invitation to start over

you remember this line as you make coffee

in the French press you unpacked earlier

you can’t remember who told you this

or if at the time it helped.

 

From the back porch, you look east

to the yet unopened sky

partially blocked with shrill green needles

huge pale gray clouds hover overhead

a hint of pale yellow showing through

you will see morning before light sparkles across the marsh

with its smells of sawgrass, earth, decay

 

not what your roots know.

Anxiously your toes curl

origins thin and pale under the balls of your feet

crimped inside your soul, not ready to dig down

to connect the familiar

with the unfamiliar

 

Behind you, boxes sit unopened

full of kitchen things wrapped in newspapers

furniture pushed into empty spaces

you will trip over chairs for weeks

until muscle memory takes over

and you make what you have carried here

home, another home

 

The only familiar sound is your breathing

orange brushes of words from other mornings

trapped in warm coffee, you hold

your youngest daughter balanced

on your hip, head buried in your neck and shoulder

her sticky sweet drool mixes with new smells

 

you try to imagine this is the place you live

your baby child oblivious of the world outside

her immediate view

encased in the husk of half sleep

her scent as known as your own

love me how big she mumbles into to your cheek.

 

A Cooper’s hawk flies over head, named for you

by the long sweep of its wings, the white tips of feathers

a predator you have seen before

you take refuge in its shadow

stretch your left arm wide like a bridge

girded between before and now

“This big,” you tell your daughter, “this big”

 

by Martha Catherine Brenckle

Martha Brenckle teaches writing and rhetoric at the University of Central Florida. Publishing both poetry and fiction, sha has published most recently in Driftwood, The Sea Journal, Broken Bridge Review, Lost Coast Review, and New Guard Literary Review among others. In October 2000, she won the Central Florida United Arts Award for poetry. Her first novel, Street Angel, published in 2006 was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award and a Triangle Award and was a Finalist for Fence Magazine’s Best GLBT Novel for 2006. Her short story, “Nesting Dolls” has been nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize.

The Prison Forecast

“Welcome, Tim!”

“Great to be on the show, Jill!”

“So—what’s your outlook on today’s prison market?”

“Well, I’ve been bullish for a long time, and the private sector has done well by any metric. All is solid on the fundamentals. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. More than China, more than Russia. Belarus isn’t even close. Cuba and Saudi Arabia can’t touch us. The numbers don’t lie. The smart investor can still hope to see a good return.”

“But can growth continue? Some people say that opioids have created a bubble.”

“Don’t believe the doomsayers! You hear lots of sensational things in the media, but I don’t think the market has peaked. Here’s an inconvenient truth for the hand-wringers, Jill: opioids bring repeat customers. It’s a very loyal base. We’re seeing growth in rural America that folks wouldn’t have dreamed of a few years ago. And that puts a premium on our product. Law enforcement needs us. And so do hard-working, law-abiding citizens. We’re renewing a vital infrastructure and we’re big job creators. Construction and security contractors, laundry services and independent catering—you name it. Forget the fancy talk. The hotel industry isn’t seeing this kind of growth. Theme parks are saturated. But we’re still expanding.”

“How’s that look from the inside? Break it down for me. What’s hot and what’s not?”

“It’s a question of vision, of keeping up with changes in today’s world. Some people hear the word “prison” and they think: rapists and murderers. Armed robbery. Arson. To their mind, that’s the brand. OK, that’s our legacy, sure, but in reality there’s so much more—for instance, we’re seeing an uptick in incarcerations of undocumented people. For a long time it was a sleeper sector, but lately we’ve been tapping an unrealized potential. There’s less red tape involved, compared to regular prisoners, which brings a promising margin for the savvy provider. I’m bullish on the undocumented.”

“How about juveniles?”

“Depends. Investors need to do their homework. Different states have different codes. Overall, though, progress is being made, because we’re getting some leadership from the top. Nobody with skin in the game really wants bureaucratic meddling.”

“Terrorism? Where does it fit into this cycle?”

“We’re growing partnerships internationally, and domestically, we’re probably going to see some movement. I don’t have a crystal ball, but indicators suggest that we can expect more activity in this area. Nobody wants to think about it, but professionals in the field are rolling up their sleeves and they’ll be ready. A big part of our value added is being poised so that the rest of America doesn’t have to think about it. People sleep better at night knowing that the invisible hand has long arms. Count on us, Jill. We’ll be there!”

“Thanks, Tim. We’ll take a commercial break, and next we’ll hear from Micah Stevens about a controversial new pet food. The kitty kibble wars are heating up! Come back and learn all about it.”

 

by Charles Holdefer

Charles Holdefer is an American writer currently based in Brussels. His work has appeared in the New England Review, North American Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, Slice and in the 2017 Pushcart Prize anthology. His recent books include DICK CHENEY IN SHORTS (stories) and GEORGE SAUNDERS’ PASTORALIA: BOOKMARKED (nonfiction). Visit Charles at www.charlesholdefer.com

Salt

So this bartender starts telling me about a story he’s writing. You know how back in the old days when salt was worth its weight in gold. When you could buy anything you wanted with a little pinch of salt. This newlywed couple decides to go back to those days on their honeymoon. There’s a Time Machine that will take them—on the installment plan, of course. They can pay when they get back. But they can afford the trip because they know all about the salt and will bring along a couple of boxes of Morton Salt. The dark blue round boxes with the little girl on it with the umbrella. So they go back. They are having the time of their lives at the Coliseum watching the Christians getting mauled and eaten by the lions. They dine in the finest restaurants in Rome and rent a villa by the sea. On Capri maybe. They have the time of their lives and pay for everything in salt. Or maybe they forgot the salt. The newlywed husband left it on the kitchen table. Or maybe the newlywed bride did. Oh god, they say. They can’t pay their debts and end up getting thrown to the lions themselves. I haven’t figured that part out yet, the bartender says. The ending. The twist. What do you think. I get up from my stool to pay my tab and slide a tiny glassine packet of white crystals across the bar. Half a gram ought to cover it, don’t you think. The bartender looks around the room with panic in his eyes. I can’t take this, he says. Don’t worry, man, I tell him. It’s good. Kickass shit. And legal. Hell, you people back here in the twenty-first century haven’t even figured out how to synthesize it yet.

 

by Robert Perchan

Robert Perchan’s poetry chapbooks are Mythic Instinct Afternoon (2005 Poetry West Prize) and Overdressed to Kill (Backwaters Press, 2005 Weldon Kees Award). His poetry collection Fluid in Darkness, Frozen in Light won the 1999 Pearl Poetry Prize and was published by Pearl Editions in 2000. His avant-la-lettre flash novel Perchan’s Chorea: Eros and Exile (Watermark Press, Wichita, 1991) was translated into French and published by Quidam Editeurs (Meudon) in 2002. In 2007 his short short story “The Neoplastic Surgeon” won the on-line Entelechy: Mind and Culture Bio-fiction Prize. He currently resides in Pusan, South Korea. You can see some of his stuff on robertperchan.com.