Jeff Burt

As cooling water poured from the crude faucet outside the Arizona cabin, I pulled up my jeans and examined the cuts on the bottom of my feet from an extended walk through the Painted Desert.

They looked more like orange slices than feet. When I applied the water, pain ran up to my ankles and accelerated around my knees, shooting into my brain like arrows. Never again would I take off my boots around my horse Pilot. He had picked up the worn leather and run off, leaving me with no canteen, as well.

I had first believed I could walk eleven miles back in three hours, and the first several miles I made in less than an hour. But I cut my foot avoiding a phantasm of a sidewinder, and my paced slowed considerably. In the next three hours, I managed five miles, landing near Fall Creek just twenty minutes from the Bitby cabin.

Unfortunately, the Bitbys were not home. I looked around for their two horses, but they were not in the shack or corral. I was able to find some rags to wrap my feet in, and started to make good time again.

That's when the dust devil hit.

It started as a slow swirl but within seconds was a full-blown buck. The dust began light as sand and quickly became dark as an eye-patch. The dust devil threw me to the ground, then ripped my shirt from my chest, tore the hat from my hands, and blew the rags from my feet leaving me with just my jeans. After the devil had contorted its way northeast of the ranch I was able to make my way again. It is only one mile from the Bitby border to my cabin, with a shale outcropping to cross.

With boots on, some of the sentinels of shale serve as signposts and lean-tos. Without boots on, the shale, nearly vertical, like jagged panes of glass stuck in the earth, brought a knife of stone entering into my soles with each step. I had anticipated the pain from the searing sand, but little did I know the shale would burn like a griddle under my feet. I had only taken forty or so steps, but they took nearly as long as the previous mile. Frequently I stood like a flamingo, with one foot crossed over to the other leg’s knee, or lifting the pads of my feet one by one like a lizard does on a hot surface to prevent overheating.

The last part of the trip was crossing Turtle Creek, which I thought aptly named considering my condition. Fortunately, the creek was dry, and I chose the flattest stones to cross. When I had washed and dressed my feet with the water and hobbled over to the door of the cabin, I found the door open, boots on the floor, and inside, much to my amazement, stood Pilot, fully saddled, asleep on his feet, my Cheerios box empty and not one on the floor.

Sagar Patel

My name is Rock and I’ve been dead, lying flat on the side of a busy US highway for over a week. You start to lose track of time once you die. It’s odd. I don’t have to scavenge for food anymore or even worry about what the others think of me. But I am aware, hyperaware of everything around me since nothing is expected of me now. I can’t move my body, which is unfortunate because I’m next to a raccoon with its guts splattered all over my chest. My olfactory bulbs are alive and as good as ever. I wish they’d died instead. At night you can see all the Jackals, piss drunk, pull over to the side of the road, jump out of their cars, and find bushes to urinate on. You’d think after they’d peed they would notice the raccoon or me. Instead, they hopped back in their cars and drove off only to drive over the remnants of a blood filled, left for dead, deer a couple hundred feet ahead.

I wasn’t always lying on the side of the road. I was dragged here after being flattened by passing cars for three days. Three days – that’s seventy-two hours – that’s how long I continued to count time as if it still meant something to my torn-up, filthy self. I was dragged to the side of the road by a construction worker with an orange vest on and with baby soft hands. I’m dead now so I can’t play the fool. He dragged me to not inconvenience the other labor workers paving the road and to allow drivers to be safe so they didn’t end up like me. He didn’t give a shit about me. I was just road-kill to slide over to prevent any accidents. Anything could’ve happened to me and it would’ve been to the dismay of nobody; the deceased can no longer provide input.

It is now morning after a long night of being ignored. If you think life is lonely, wait until you see what death will offer you. I remember my first lonely moment in life. A neighbor was having his seventh birthday party and hundreds of people showed up. There were three massive cakes, all of different colors and themes, burnt-out clowns that entertained to make a living, and family members that made an appearance for obligatory reasons or inheritance reminders. I didn’t compute the absurdity of hundreds of people showing up to a seventh-birthday party until I was double that age. What made me lonely and fed me feelings of jealousy was that my birthday was just a week earlier and was greeted with a couple “happy birthday’s” from my parents and a couple of licks to the side of my face by our Mini Schnauzer at the time. I didn’t have the extravagance of sharing my timeline moments with a large group of people. Neither did I have the understanding at the time of how important maintaining friends was.

Right now, as I lay flattened on the side of the road by my human lonesome, with fleeting cars and a dead raccoon next to me, there is a funeral taking place over the curb and across the wet green grass filled with tombstones and American flags. There is a black hearse followed by eight black Lincoln Towncar’s that are pulling into the funeral home, just twenty feet away from where the raccoon and I lay. I’m dead. It’s been this way for over a week now, and not one person has commemorated my life or celebrated the mistakes and failures I endured that led up to this moment of death. If I’m dead then why the fuck am I feeling emotional turmoil right now? At least nobody can notice, but my feelings from childhood are creeping up past adulthood and into my death. Those same feelings of worthlessness and isolation that are with us in life are all the more inescapable after life. I guess funerals are just the final birthday party; the death day extravaganza. The celebration of life filled with tears, sadness, and remorse. A diligently planned event with eulogies delivered by people who have caused psychological distress to the deceased, but are now praising and honoring the lives they had led. I can analyze these gatherings any which way I’d like, but the truth of the matter is that I’m alone, lying flattened on the side of the road while the man dead, lying comfortably in his casket, is surrounded by people whom are there to see him; regardless of their motives. I know he sees the raccoon and me just over the glossy green grass and next to the curb. He can’t do anything about it. He must feel terrible. I feel for him as he feels for me. We both look at the living as such foolish creatures for having selective celebratory standards but it is in death where we have come to an understanding. It is in death where we finally let go of our egos and recognize the inanity of maintaining differences.

Kyle Hemmings

It will take him only a few hours to do what he must. About the time it takes to knock down a wall without a partner, with one hand that cannot completely wrap around anything, to install a fireplace with a leaky bladder. Less time than becoming a refugee in someone else's house, to become still as a candle and burn out. To mistake the sun as eye level from a hospital window on the 14th floor and believe you are a just god. Less time to cross borders and become no one. To accept the fact that you now love a man who does not knock down walls, a man who lives unprotected under the stars, that you're never coming home.

Short Piece
Charlie Keys Bohem

His childhood precociousness was not but that malformed barrier of lengthy, misused words, erected ahead of the comprehension of its components,

His friends the ADHD cases too abrasive for the word "disorder" to produce any excess pity,

Surrounded in his teens by a sea of the stably platonic without a single pursuit requited to stave off frustration,

And taking a pleasure in the construction of elaborate, proper sentences, and their implementation in conversations, which he drove, nose first, into the open hardness of the ground,

His only respite from the ensuing silence in the images of stick molecules flashing always through his head,

Bound to find his own place, in his own far off time,

The place from which he can no longer see the lights of the world he never knew.

I Threw it Away
Paula Ray James

The small and homeless, the nameless proof that love had nothing to do with it--the it of coITis, commITment, quIT, vomIT, and idoIT. 

The storefront window of the thrift shop is coated with algae. I scrape a heart onto the glass with my thumbnail and ignore the odor of raw sewage seeping from a grate in the sidewalk two feet away. I squint at this heart amidst slime, as artistic as an electric chair upholstered in chintz and as ludicrous as a chocolate covered cyanide pill. Coming to my senses, I wipe the heart away with a soggy newspaper. The wedding announcements disintegrate as easily as the obituaries. A patch of clear replaces the heart, and I gaze beyond the surface of the pane. The shop holds abandoned memories all too relatable. In a terrarium, a baby’s skeleton rests on a bed of potpourri made from discarded petals. The remains of a wedding bouquet, perhaps? Something as blue as loss in a jar, no preservatives added. 

Borrowed DNA that had to be returned, never to belong to me, never to play nicely with mine or braid with my strands to form an unbreakable bond.

 A noose disguised as a wedding ring, fake, used, for sale, cheap—its glass eye peers out of its tiny black velvet coffin. It triggers a memory: tiny coffin, too little to hold death, no larger than a box of long stemmed roses. 
I scoured the catalog of tombstones, but they were all too heavy, too big. In the end, I chose to carve her name into my own stone heart, and I buried it without telling anyone.

By my feet, I find a broken brick that has come loose from the foundation. I pick it up and write her name on it with a mixture of my blood and the sidewalk sludge. I throw the brick through the shop window and wait for the alarm to sound, for someone to come, for the cops to arrest me, or for the ransom to be paid.

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