Idle Hour
Jim Buck

Death is a friend. I see it everyday. It looks rather young, dresses like the other kids.

Nine in the morning, I’m on my way home. My girlfriend cooks breakfast and watches me eat it on the balcony, overlooking the seagulls and the guest rooms below. Sausages drowsing in beans, the mushrooms by themselves like jellyfish beneath the pier. Death smiles at us. I wonder what else it gets up to. Then again, I don't.

It influences me in ways I’m not always aware of. It bursts into my room, forces itself into the newspaper print, and into the light of the low resolution TV. We’re hungry for Death, no matter how many times it’s served up we still want more. Even Christmas seems to be based on someone dying.

I notice I tap my fingers a lot. I wonder if Death is lifting the digits for me, if this is its way of getting beneath my skin.

It doesn’t seem to waste any time to introduce itself. My young boy has already asked me “why do we die?”

I’ve tried to read about it, the permanent end, but then get preoccupied by something else. It’s all to do with biology. Though I’ve also read that the soul endures, it goes on, unceasing. I don’t believe in this stuff, there’s so much of it around that’s all; people who want to believe in something have such a wide choice of what exactly that’s going to be. But I haven’t got time for God or reincarnation. It seems like you’re cheating if you do. Most days, I only have half a mind on the hereafter anyway.

At night, the sky still pale, still toxic from the day, my girlfriend with her back to me, asleep. Death starts to fidget. It clearly has nothing to do. It’s hungry, and in its drunken clumsy grasp it forks a trans fat free meal and pops us both into the microwave with it. Death is lovely. It’s warm and hard like a baked crust. One day I’ll meet it and act as though I’ve never had the pleasure before; when I’m old and depressed, sometime in the future, when I’m in my thirties maybe.

Second Shift
BJ Best

The kind of brutal spring day where the clouds are just beginning to soften. My daughter, still in her thick coat, pretending to be a princess in a tower at the park playground. Me shivering and disinterested on a bench. Two boys playing pirates at the top of a slide in their noisy way.

The fall was no more than five feet, but the back of his neck bent around a ladder rung. I just happened to turn to see it. Then the mother shrieking—is he breathing—yes—but move move why won't he move.

I worked second shift then, which is to say thirty years ago. Now, it's my job—a long drive, or awake at 3 a.m., or a sunset over a still lake—to watch that boy fall again. To wonder if I should have paid more attention.

Pac-Man Dialectic
Peter McMillan

I couldn't tell you exactly where this is going. I'm not even sure how I got to this point. All I think I know for certain is that I'm in the middle of it and I seem to be following a script.

It's all in my head, I'm told. But there’s such a vastness that I can't get out of my mind and my memory is such an awkward and unsteady navigator…. There does appear to be a theme though—conflict.

As far as I can tell, it always ends in some sort of resolution—one side becomes dominant. However, another conflict is never far away. So, this cycle or succession—circular or linear or both—has no end in sight.

Right now I'm aware that I'm thinking and that I'm thinking about my interior head space. I'm also thinking that you are there reading what I'm writing about what I'm thinking. From previous experience, I'm expecting you soon to express your views in a way that puts our head spaces in conflict. It happens more often than not I find.

Obviously, I'm pretty good at this or I wouldn't still be here. I felt I had to be upfront with you about that. I haven’t always done that. I used to be cunning, even sneaky. This forthrightness is recently acquired.

You have to understand that our encounters are especially perilous for me. You have the advantage. You get to see all my moves and react accordingly. I, on the other hand, can’t anticipate yours with anything like the same certitude. I can hint, suggest, direct your attention, or lead you along, but I can't predict or control what you will do.

I can only guess how you got here, what you had to do to get here, how many times you’ve done this before, and what you will do next. You probably number them as conquests—reading them and consuming them. I suspect you must either have an elaborate filing system or a prodigious memory.

Either way, you, reader, are like some kind of monster, ingesting everything you meet with. And, if you continue, you will perpetuate your monstrosities and monstrousness beyond your flightless imagination.

Best let me bear that burden, dear reader. You will forever be in my thoughts. Trust me.

Experiment: Obsolete
Sarah Edwards

It was the spaceman that looked at the boy with one voided stare. The murky gunk dripping from the unkempt sideburns bothered the boy, but not enough, not as much as it should. He knew why, maybe not completely but he could guess, as he tried to match the stare of the secured stillness emitting from the spaceman, sitting as if on a metal plate across the uneven Styrofoam table. The boy couldn’t tell if it had been hours or months, he tried to alert his feet but the legs were missing and the soldered foil rods had no concept of feelings. The spaceman breaking the rusted density of his persona, lifted one evenly enclosed but hard bolted finger, engaging the numbed gaze of the boy. He won’t give in, not till the beryl gunk all melts away, absorbing in the dried canals that used to pump blood to the upper box.

And there was also the lingering question of her, if only he could put a name to the flickering, meshed body of that face, face that has had a constant shelter under his clotted inner eyelids since a retained life time. But who was he kidding. There was no hope offered or even on the menu. There was just a scalded beam, invisible and apparent, coated in sticky balls of yeast. It was too much, even in his streaked comatose state, even though shifting was a dreamlike notion, it was just too much.

He was aware enough that the spaceman can do this with limited physical exertion, his remaining limbs will became powdered straws and the spaceman will still keep the beam oblique, losing not even one eyelash in the process. So the boy lifted a green claw, convulsing as if placidity had been exiled. The spaceman pushed over the metal seat with an unsound screech as he stood up. After an indefinite period the boy had finally matched his sign, the boy’s will had arched. With a passive nod of the circular shell, there were two more spacemen wheeling the angled boy away from the rectangle container. With the movement the boy realized that his elbows were a hollow vessel for the curdled gunk, somber olive in it’s facade.

The boy closed his bridged lids as the jagged lashes rested on the sunken space. There was nothing more he needed to do, no fight left as the severed will was the imprecise defeat. Now he just wanted to glide with the indented dusk below his veined eyes. As the boy made friends with the vacant fog, his head boxed and titling side to side as if a filled balloon, the two spacemen wheeled him down a narrow passage. The boy soundly unaware to the passing room with an open door.

The girl couldn’t see through the slimed strings covering her lead stained retinas, the spaceman a few feet from her across the bent table. He was fixed in his prime state on an iron plate. She will not concede, she observed the surroundings and could make out that the door was open. The gunk below her feet was not the giving of her sewed eyes. It was fresh but just, as if only an eternity had passed since this olive was in it’s beryl form, evolving in some being as unfortunate as her own knotted flesh. As distant squeaks of some orbiting reel became faint, she failed to see the spaceman lift one heavily shielded finger to her ruptured gaze.

The Defenestration of James T. Everett
Keith Frady

At noon on Tuesdays James T. Everett usually eats lunch at the sandwich shop around the corner instead of being thrown out of windows. Yet here he hangs, surrounded by shards of glass, facing the cloudless sky.

I’ll miss lunch, James thinks. How inconvenient.

The sandwich artisan will be worried. James is his best customer; orders, like a hungry clock, the same turkey-on-wheat sandwich at the same time every week. The artisan is a nice fellow, he and James exchange pleasant small talk and they have developed a slightly-greater-than-acquaintance camaraderie.

It is a shame, James thinks, that I won’t have one more turkey sandwich before my death. I’d have enjoyed the last one more, if I had known.

Actually, if he had known of his coming demise, James isn’t quite sure he’d have gotten the same turkey sandwich. Maybe he’d have tried it with mayonnaise instead of mustard. Peppers instead of tomatoes, crazy as that sounds. And what was this obsession with wheat? Plummeting to certain death, James can’t help feeling that white bread might not have been such a major decision after all. Since he was on the subject, he might have tried something besides turkey. It was a little bland, if he’s being honest with himself. Ham now seems like ambrosia. He has disregarded so many flavors, so many sandwich combinations.

Tuesdays were actually a little inconvenient, James thinks. Wednesdays might have been better.

James realizes he’s only eaten sandwiches at lunchtime. Certainly nothing had prevented him from eating a sandwich for dinner. He did have to rush to grab a sandwich at lunch so that he could return to work on time. But if he waited until he left the office, grabbed an order on his way home, he’d have had all the time in the world to eat! James’ stomach lurches with the weightlessness of the fall.

When was the last time James got a sandwich somewhere besides that corner store? When had he last tried making his own sandwich? The ingredients weren’t esoteric or expensive. Maybe he was a better sandwich artisan than that fool running the store. Maybe James missed his calling in life because he never once thought to make his own sandwich. He could have been a renowned sandwich chef!

Paris! James thinks. I should have gone to Paris to become the greatest sandwich chef in the world!

First he’d tour Paris, sampling every sandwich shop in the city. He’d study with the masters, and then travel all over Europe, learning the minutia of local breads and cheeses and meats and trying combinations never before dreamed by man! Europe? No, the world! He would have no borders, no physical or creative limits. Poets would write sonnets to his sandwiches, pundits would declare a new Everett sandwich too conservative or liberal, artists would weep and women would throw themselves at him. Everett, the world would chant. Everett, Everett, Everett.

If only, James thinks, I weren’t about to die. I’d have started living.

The instant before he hits the ground, James remembers he was thrown out of a first-floor window. He lands, quite safely, in a bundle of lilies, which receive significantly more damage than James. James stands up, brushes himself off, and checks his watch. The entire ordeal had lasted no more than a few seconds.

He walks a little faster than normal and arrives at the sandwich shop around the corner on time to order his turkey-on-wheat.

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