Night Picnic_Cover_v2i2.jpg

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 2  

JUNE 2019

2019  •  ISBN# 9781970033052  •  240 pp  •  6" x 9" paperback

Contents: Volume 2, Issue 2
Authors: Volume 2, Issue 2
Authors: Volume 2, Issue 2
1/5

Enjoy a selection of work from this issue below:

POETRY

RACHEL ANNE PARSONS

H a g   S t o n e

 

When I was young, I found a stone

with a hole worn by water

and the slow passage of time.

When I looked through it, I could see

so many hidden things.

 

I could see a beast that followed me,

a hulking, snuffling shadow

that left a residue of sadness

as he traipsed across my mind

and pulled at it like gravity sometimes does.

 

In my pocket, I rubbed the stone

and asked it for protection.

I heard it say that those with sight

are hated by those who would remain hidden.

The beast sat on the edges of my thoughts

 

and grumbled such complaints

at my acquisition of the holey stone,

that it touched my fingertips

and let its power seep into my skin.

Then he moved on, not wishing to be seen.

H u g i n   a n d   M u n i n

 

What is the difference between thought and memory?

I thought that I remembered what you said to me,

but it was some sad ghost, a pale reflection,

and the longer I stared into it,

the more uncertain I became.

 

I would never dare to speak of the distinction.

That would only serve to make it clear,

to the great delight of my enemies.

The one who would set himself up as king

is no more than a giant’s son in prince’s clothing.

It is not true that I presume to know what is best,

merely what is better than what came before me.

Give me some credit, you should know

that it takes a man who is willing to be proven wrong

to build the strongest fortress walls.

 

Memory is a tricky thing, soon swayed

by thought to stray from its true path.

Neither of them will fly straight

when given enough time for deviation.

Yet, they rest on my shoulders,

 

carrion birds with windowless eyes.

S h a p e s h i f t i n g

 

Did you know, if you kiss your elbow

you can change your sex?

I tried it and my lips

only met the crook of my arm,

but in the meantime, I shifted.

 

I was a young man

flying my banner from the ramparts.

I was a prince, a king of the golden halls.

 

When I lowered my arm,

I shifted once more and became a queen,

regal and fair, kind and mothering.

 

Between the two, I could not decide

which form I preferred,

and I could hardly tell the difference between them.

Each held a promise unfulfilled,

but neither could tell me to which I belonged.

 

So, I crossed my arms and stood

halfway between Valhalla and Folkvangr.

LAURA MANUELIDIS

W i t h o u t   M o n e y

I will purchase a dog who will love me

               and bark like the stars, unconditionally

When I return from my squish of sullen sod

To remind me how lucky I am

               to be smelled and recognized by my deepest orifices

               and afterwards, tugged back to city curbs for comparison.

 

 

Dog sits at my feet

               as cat climbs most cunningly on my chair of myths.

Dog asserts itself as a corporation growling,

Challenges intruders surveying its beloved territory—

               while cat, aside, slides between my thighs

               its secret, conditional love.

 

 

Beyond cat and dog, an unpossessable beast I respect

Crawls through my being.

A t   E a s e

 

I go to school at night

Because light

Violates my vision, alters my recall.

 

 

I go to school every night

To relearn the immensity of the universe,

To lie down on the pointed tips of tall cypresses

 

 

To contemplate the clarity of darkness

Until the bottomless bottom quark* escapes

To join the future to its shadow.

 

 

Up and down the ribbons of time that last our pages

Miniature summers reappear, blooming as perpetual petunias

Beside a river shedding silver fish that leap through our blood:

 

 

Imaginary projections of accumulated wisdom.

Over the horizon I go nowhere beyond

Because night becomes itself, self-fulfilling

 

 

As beauty does in the final shade after our sunsets

Where the crickets slow down for autumn, and then lapse,

Evening plaintive, something we call sacred overtaking.

 

____________________________________________

*bottom quark also known as the beauty quark

R e j o i c e   f o r   Q u i n t e s s e n c e

 

It grows from nothing

Visible.

 

 

It snakes between the grasses

Overflowing with blinding might:

 

 

A shadow

Consuming its own silence

 

 

Meandering

Through every crevice of the cell

 

 

Too statistically devious

To be collected

 

 

Or brusquely

Apprehended.

KRISTOPHER  PENDLETON

C a r s

 

Cars used to park in front of my house

Cars filled with 

happy people

People holding birthday presents 

Christmas cookies 

Side dishes for Sunday 

dinner 

Doors would open

Then shut

A beautiful dark-haired woman 

Would smile at me

through 

the window 

As she walked up to my house with hands full of groceries 

 

We used to hold hands in my car

I would drive us to wherever

The heater would be on her feet

Regardless 

Of the 

Time of year 

She would rub my arm and tell 

Me

A funny story about 

Her day 

 

I often look in the back seat  

And imagine 

Our unborn children

 

Eating fries

Yelling for a drink of juice

Making a terrible mess 

 

I don't have 

Anything 

In my car anymore 

Except brown bags holding 

Brown liquor 

They sit where she used to

They sit there waiting to 

Be tasted 

To help me forget

The way she tastes  

 

Cars 

Don't park in front of my

House anymore 

I haven't parked in the driveway

Since she left

Hell

Even the mailman walks

These days  

Days

S e l f   I m m o l a t i o n 

 

Our lips touched

Only to feed me a burning ember 

And somewhere a tree is falling alone in the woods 

I don't hear it, but I can feel it 

You pulled me in 

Like the death of every sparrow that has fallen towards earth 

These blessed heights lead to greater falls 

I'm merely a collection of everything I feel

One day every burning star will sleep in my belly 

 

 

C o l l o q u y 

 

Cold December morning

Wind blowing leaves about

One landed next to me

It kept pace as I walked 

Everything was quiet 

All except for the sound of the leaf bouncing along in rhythm with my steps

It was the first good conversation I've had in months 

 

 

 

C a m u s

 

I wrote this while walking on a broken foot

I remember when I walked in that living room and first met you

I was young and the feeling was fresh as spring

It seems the colors have all faded to gray

I want to feel something new

Perhaps I'm too old

You were the mother I never had

Your arms were like a womb

Safe and warm

French philosophers say the only important

question is whether you should kill yourself or not

Do you remember our long walks in Paris and running in the rain?

Maybe I'll be born a baby again

And learn to crawl first

I wrote this while walking on a broken foot

The sun has set and the fall sky is gray

I'm an old man

I don't have a mother anymore

Everything is dull and nothing is familiar

In some parallel universe, I’m a child having déjà vu while drawing

his family with a blunt gray crayon

I get a paper cut and bleed over what I've created

The color runs wild again

 

 

 

S w a l l o w   M y   T h o u g h t s 

 

A fixed luminous point in the sky 

A borrowed hole in the earth

Which will I become once I die?

What will I find beyond birth?

 

When the darkness swallows my thoughts 

And the wolves taste my flesh

Will I still pray to a God?

Will I be afraid of death?

 

And when I finally leave 

And my body drowns in the day 

Please bury me ‘neath the trees

And visit my grave

 

And if I become nothing 

And if there’s no truth 

At least I once had something 

Becoming nothing with you 

CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS

T h e   M a g i c k   o f   L A

 

There are those of us who seek

the hidden places that lurk

in the corners of this city,

hoping to learn the mysteries

that permeate the air.

We look toward the mages

of the street to guide us on our way.

Sophia riding on her crimson beast

down moonlit avenues and stalking

the backrooms of every after-hours club.

Draped in leather and tattered band shirts.

Bloody red lips that inhale smoke

and breathe out the secrets that only

the select few are privy to.

This madonna of the moon

sees all and knows all that transpires

down here amongst the riff-raff

and hangers-on in the playground

of the setting sun.

At the opposite end of the day

there are the self-appointed sun gods

who point their rigid staffs towards the sea

and with violent intonation

proclaim with unwavering conviction

that the keys to paradise are theirs

to have and to control. 

Beasts of lust who know the game

and ensure their place

amongst the titans of our time.

And even still these mythic guides,

these ceremonial actors

are only harbingers of the true magick

within the city of lost angels.

It’s the people of the earth,

shamans of the higher truths

who keep the energy currents flowing

through every vein and power line.

The old women who break their backs

carrying the weight of our world

on their shoulders.

The alchemists who create sustenance

from scratch and labor in the shadows

of the pageants we all worship at.

The true power of this mega-entity

we call home; those whose lives

go unsung by the mass populous.

Yet that doesn’t deter them,

these people of the sun

from going about their daily struggle

to keep the frequencies humming

and the gears moving.

t í r    n a   n ó g

 

i do not propose to be descended

from the ancient gods who roamed

the misty fields of eire.

i am simply one of many

who yearns to be something,

something so much bigger than myself.

to live amongst the golden ones

along a weathered shore.

to drink deep of the water of life

and never have to worry again

about the trivial matters

that have weathered our souls

and taken us far away

from the land of youth and beauty.

 

 

s p a c e   c o y o t e ?

 

frightened, hungry eyes

flashing in the passing lights

of cars on the on-ramp.

ducking our heads down

into the dry grass and tainted soil.

we’re starving for connection.

amongst the stone and glass ruins

that are our own making.

a city disguised as a decayed carcass.

we go running through the moonlight

in search of something to sate our desires.

but after the land has been scorched

is there any source left to feed from?

And is there anything of this earth worthy

of our attention?

the only option left is to keep running.

forever searching for that fabled horn of plenty

and laughing at the face of the moon.

FRANK RIVERA

P u r g a t o r y

 

The room spoke with emptiness

A silent song that stung my ears

My toes froze then cracked

Small aches traveled up my shin

A small fiery sphere dimly depressed the room

Silhouettes and dark statues surrounded the space

So small I stood for hours

I stood and stared at the violent inferno   

Nothing but whiteness behind frosted windshields

 

No warmth

No sounds

No feelings

No thoughts

 

I don’t know why I stopped staring at it

I don’t know what pulled me away

I think about it often

As my time on earth will convey

L o o k i n g   a t   t h e   S k y 

W h i l e   D r i v i n g

 

Nightfall rises

Red paint splattered against a dark blue backdrop

The orange flicker of a lighter

The dark ash glows with anger

White smoke against the brown buildings dances skillfully

Headlights tip toe across the street

A cat purrs on the balcony

The stars begin to reveal themselves like shy naked women on stage

Scared and timid they begin to dance with light

until we can see the entire sky

Filled with a beauty only thought of in poems and movies

Skeletons knock on my window at night

Black and white dots glint and sway with bereavement

A possessed shriek echoes

Headlights and streetlamps in my rear-view mirror

A blank face, wearing black glasses appears

 

 

T h e   B l u e   W o m a n

 

My sheets welcome her body

Her hands tickling every thread

Her hair a wildfire uncontained

 

She’s even prettier from atop

 

My eyes close with beatitude

My fingertips graze her flesh

Worshipping the goddess that

Spellbinding me inside her

 

Her skin — blue

 

Her nipples — flowers

Her breast — the vase

 

I stare at her divinity—

 

The galaxy fills her eyes

Her moans, soft hymns

Our bodies collide in erotic warfare

 

Lavender and roses permeate the air

 

Her nails sink into my back

Her legs and stomach quiver

Her hymns shift to a silent opera

Her hands choke the bed sheet

Her garden rises to the heavens

 

Frozen in             trance

A             volcanic               waterfall

Drums in              rhythmic             chorus

We         collapse              enchanted           paralysis

LESLIE DIANNE

T h e   G a m e

 

I live here, yes

in this universe

but I travel every day

into the mysteries of others

whom I create

I move them like pieces

of a game where

I am the winner, the loser

the king and the queen

I watch their lives appear

In wonder and disappear

with the stoke of key

or the slash of a line

deleting what I have put

on the page

I watch them be foolish and silly

and dramatic and pause

when they’re saying something important

that I want people to know

at the end of the day

I leave them alone

and when I dream at night

the game is turned

they call to me

and welcome me home

D a y / B r e a k

 

In this moment

morning

is still

 

a breath is suspended

waiting

for time to move

 

someone I don’t know yet

wakes from the dream

they had where

I am blossoming

into myself

 

I drop my petals

to the floor

emerge

from my bed

and break open the day

 

 

W h i s p e r s o n g

 

Somewhere you sing

 I stop

what I am doing

and listen

 

I  hear your

whispering song

in the walls

 

strengthening the floor

so that my foundation is firm

 

You sigh and

the shimmer in the glass

heats my hand

 

I open my palm and

set you free

again

LUCKY WILLIAMS

F a r e w e l l

20190609_193936 edit.jpg

IGOR V. ZAITSEV

В к у с   з а б в е н и я

Как        страшно              ощутить             себя ничем,

 

И даже не    бессмысленной     крупицей…

 

Всё пусто, даже              сердце не томится.

 

Как странно ощутить себя никем.

 

Не часто, но бывает —                                НЕТУ сил

И кажется, что в мире                                  НЕТУ места.

И ты как                                            неприкаянный во сне,

И день уже не над тобой искрится.

 

Как странно ощутить себя никем.

 

До полного                                      духовного износа

Не видеть                          ничего присущего в себе,

Где        всё  в затмении и без  надежды на вопросы.

 

Исчезнуть, испариться, запропасть, 

Не ощущая ‘Я’,               ‘не зная брода’!

Как страшно оказаться без себя

Вне  области обычного исхода.

M u l t i p l e   C h o i c e

Поэзия — это ____________________ .

а) столкновение звуков              

в) искры от столкновения мысли          

б) крик от столкновения чувств

д) мысли от столкновения прошлого и настоящего 

г) судьба

ж) вызванная инфекцией болезнь

е) None of the above

14 мая 2019 г.

 

***

А?

Что?

Любовь?

Любовь/Обман,

Обман/Любовь.

Вербигерацию в поэзии признаем.

 

Я помню — я обманывал тебя,

И ты обманывал, моею ложью подстрекаем.

***

Зачем всё за́мерло загадочно вокруг?

И даже шага не услышать.

Какая грусть упёрлась в мою грудь?

От этого ль я ничего не вижу?

***

Как хорошо, что сердца не осталось!

Рассудок

Одиноко правит мной.

Спокойно и тепло мне за его стеной.

 

Рассудок одиноко правит мной.

 

Я не в плену своих желаний и страстей,

И стороною обошли меня ненастья.

Рассудок

Одиноко правит мной.

О, как же мне спокойно

За его

Проклятою стеной.

 

 

 

С ч а с т ь е

 

Снежинки счастья кружатся над нами,

Но если тронуть, исчезают от тепла,

С лица, с руки стекают ручейками,

И каждая — как горькая слеза.

 

И потому мы мучаемся с вами,

Ожоги получаем ото льда.

А снежные, но нежные обманы

С людей стекают, как с гусей вода.

 

 

В н е   с в я з и

 

Веток тени сетью пали

Средь скамеек у алей.

 

Веток тени растрепали

Настроенья у людей.

 

На бумаге фотографий

Тени сеткою лежат.

 

Изнурённые войною немцы

В русском парке спят.

 

Автоматы, руки смерти,

Мирно дремлют на плечах.

 

Убаюкивают тени даже

Самый сильный страх.

 

 

Веток тени снова пали

Средь скамеек у алей.

 

Всё равно им, здесь какое

Настроенье у людей.

 

П о э т ы   и   у л и ч н ы е   ф о н а р и

 

Поэты любят фонари —

Они сродни.

Ведь, как поэты, фонари

Живут одни.

 

Но выправка у фонарей —

Как на показ.

От одиночества у фонаря

Огромный глаз.

 

Немые фонари и в стужу, и в зной.

Немые даже в дождик проливной.

И даже если они выстроены в ряд,

Друг с другом не общаются никак.

 

 

Поэты ходят на свиданье к фонарям,

 

От обоюдного молчания скорбя.

 

И в этой тишине

они

мудры

при

наблюдении

вращения

Земли.

 

 

И   м ы *

(П о э м а)

 

И мы.

 

 

2015 г.

___________________________________________________

*Многообъемная поэма «И мы», состоящая из союза «и», местоимения «мы» и одного знака препинания, навеяна  современными реалиями и романами Евгения Замятина «Мы» (1920), Джорджа Оруэлла «1984» (1949) и Энтони Бёрджесс «Семя желания» (1962).

Р ы б о н ь к а

 

Из свежего утра выплыла на кухню стайка рыбоньки. Выплыла к яичнице. Руки матери чистят её. Где она плавала? Чугунная сковородка на газовой плите раскалена. Чистые тёмно-синие глаза пятилетнего мальчика смотрят то на рыбоньку в тазике с водой, то на сковородку. Руки мальчика опускаются в холодную воду и хватают живую упругую рыбоньку. Его руки бросают её на сковородку. Рыбонька на раскалённом металле подпрыгивает высоко-высоко. Вновь и вновь — она не желает сдаваться. Она не желает умирать. Его руки бросили её на сковородку. Мальчик вспомнил, как невыносимо больно этот металл может жечь. Какое злодейство! Его руки совершили убийство. Ничего нельзя изменить. Он немеет. Его ноги подкашиваются. Слёзы сожаления душат его. Он задыхается. Несчастная рыбка! Как же ей было больно! Жизнь, обречённая на мучительную смерть! Какая сила двинула его руки на этот бездушный поступок?  Перед ним рыбонька в яичнице. Плакать —глупо. Нужно кушать. Нельзя маму расстраивать. Ему не хотелось расстраивать маму, ведь изверг — он, а не она. Перед тем, как рыбоньку поместитьна сковородку, ей надо отрезать головуи очистить её от кишок. Кишки горькие. За завтраком у мальчика не было аппетита. Он съел сколько смог без чувства вкуса и с болью в горле. Потом он долго плакал и помнил об этом всю свою жизнь. Детство — опасный возраст. Дети — опасные существа. Детская пора близка к области дьявольских сил. Нужно уметь сохранить себя в этом возрасте. Чистыми руками совершаются грязные дела. Помните: перед тем, как поместить рыбоньку на раскаленную сковородку, ей необходимо отрезать голову.

 

2 Июня 2019 г.

FLASH FICTION

MADS BOHAN

A n t l e r s

 

               “You can’t keep that thing in here.”

               First thing she says, right off the bat, no “Hello”, no “How was your walk?” Not even a simple “What’s that?” An ultimatum. Seems like it is the only way Karen can communicate nowadays. I press my lips together, inhaling through my nose for three seconds, out for five, like the tape says, and close the door behind me.

               “I’m serious, Ollie.” she continues. “It’s gross and weird, and it has God only knows how many diseases. Where did you even find it?”

               “The woods. Where’d you think?” I reply, calm and annoyed, spreading a layer of hand towels and yesterday’s newspaper out on the kitchen counter, placing the mangled deer’s head gently on it.

“Well, it can’t stay here,” she repeats. “I mean honestly, it’s still got skin and, like, goop all over it, and it’s broken anyway. Who would want a thing like that?”

               “Karen...” I sigh, “Just give me a minute, ok? It’ll be fine.” I move over to the sink, washing my hands twice with Dawn, enjoying the hot water scald and the feeling of raw, clean skin while drying up. I open my mouth to speak, but she beats me to it. “So, you’re just gonna leave it on the counter?” She knows I’m not “gonna leave it on the counter,” obviously I’m not “gonna leave it” on the fucking counter, but there are only so many ways to say “I don’t like this,” so she has to get creative and ask some stupid questions, so that it seems like a legitimate conversation. “Baby. No. Not gonna leave it on the counter. Not gonna leave it anywhere. I have a plan. If you sit down, I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.” Still calm; under control. Soft and direct, like the tape says. I pull out a chair, sit down at the table, and gesture to the chair opposite, like a man conducting a job interview. Karen looks annoyed, throws a hand in the air, and takes her seat. The deer head stares at us from the counter, dead eyes fixed on the center of the table. He can’t have been dead very long for the eyes to still be there, but it’s stayed below freezing since the middle of January, so who can really tell? I clasp my hands in front of me, and lean forward. “I brought it here because I thought it deserved better.” She looks at me from across the table, palms flat, head angled like an angry chicken. “You thought… it… deserved better?” She leaves a small pause between each word, extra microseconds for me to understand how absurd it is. “Ollie. It’s fucking dead. It doesn’t deserve anything. Sometimes I really worry... I just don’t get… I mean, what am I supposed to say to you, coming up with shit like that?” She doesn’t look worried—just pissed, and confused. I’m not surprised. I don’t for a minute expect her to truly understand, but if I can just talk to her, convince her of what I see, that what I think is valid—is real.

               “Baby.” I start, remembering to use sweet inclusive language. Always strive to put the other party at ease. Rule four? Five maybe. I start again. “Look at it. Just for a second, try to forget everything else and look at it.” I turn my head to the counter. “It’s broken, you said so yourself. What do you see?” Karen stares at me, and then, seeing that I’m not going to look over to witness her incredulity, turns her head towards the deer. “The antlers.” She says, quietly. Exasperated. “The antlers are broken off.”

               “Sawn off.” I correct gently. “The antlers are sawn off. Somebody went into the woods with a gun, waited for a deer with antlers for who knows how long, happened upon this poor fella, and then shot him. And. Sawed. Off. His. Antlers.” I deliver this last part in a damning courtroom staccato, punctuating each word, stabbing the tabletop with my index finger. Karen looks at me for a moment. Her head sinks. She pushes her chair out, gets up from the table. “Ollie.” She says, sad now, deflated, the fight gone from her. I hate this part; the part where I get to feel helpless. Small. She looks at the deer head, then at me, and sighs again. “Ollie. I’m going out for a while, to see Linda, and the kids. Might stay there tonight. I don’t know yet. I’ll take the phone, and call either way.” She leans down, gives me a kiss on the top of my head. I look up, see pity mixed in with her sadness, then look down again. You are responsible for your own emotions. Rule seven. I breathe in for three, out for five.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.

KAMRAN MUTHLEB

M a g n i f i c e n t   W i n g s

               Deep in a lush forest dwelled a caterpillar; one with an unwholesome appearance. She was a sickly shade of green, had pulsating flesh, and was covered in hideous blue dots. She had no friends, and the other bugs scorned her. Ants made jokes about her swollen body. Dragonflies gave her withering glares. Flies said they laid eggs on things prettier than her. Even the caterpillar would sometimes look back at herself and be disgusted by what she saw.

               But all that changed when one day, the caterpillar felt a peculiar urge. Driven by instincts she didn’t understand, she crawled underneath a branch and dangled by her posterior. Slowly but surely, her ugly exterior peeled off and tumbled to the ground like an unwanted wrapper. All that remained was an emerald chrysalis, bound to the branch like a polished fruit. The forest hardly noticed the caterpillar’s disappearance and, as time passed, the chrysalis’s vibrant sheen faded into a translucent film. The being that was curled up inside flexed its body until the vessel cracked, allowing it to escape. Stretching its spindly legs, the newborn perched on the remains of the chrysalis, waiting for its wings to spread.

               What used to be the caterpillar was now a butterfly, and when she took her first flight through the canopy, the creatures of the forest looked on with awe.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.

SHORT STORIES

ELIZABETH PAXSON

 C r o w   B a b y

 

               If you should walk a long way back where soft mountains lap up on each other like blue tongues, and feathery, tall trees show off their orange and yellow dresses in the fall, you’d have rightly found a solitary woman tucked among them. Her downy white hair was done up like a crown and her eyes shone like two black shoe buttons in a wrinkled peach.

               Her name was Anu, but she had been known as Ya-Ya-Bones ever since her hair turned white. She loved those hills and all the animals that made their homes down in the hollers. She often talked to the trees, just like they were girls dressed up ready for a party. She loved it when silver cloud mist rolled in and made the treetops seem as soft as cotton wool. Then they stopped chattering and she could hear the smallest birds, the careful footsteps of the deer, and the heavy bumbling of Mama Bear and her cubs.

               One of those soft, silent mornings when the new moon hung pale against a peach sky, Ya-Ya Bones stepped out of her one-room cottage to fetch some kindling for her stove as she aimed to cook some applesauce. She heard something crying that sounded like a baby, (at least her memory of a baby crying, since she’d been all alone for some years.) “Waaa, waaa, craaa,” it cried. First she walked around the giant oak, clockwise, then wider shins. She couldn’t see anything, but kept on hearing “Waaa, waaa, craaa!” Following the sound, she went over to the old stone well and peered down where the rope dangled. “Craaaa!” The call echoed against the stones. Dark as it was way down there, she could make out a shape clinging to the end of the rope, just above the bucket. Specks of light reflected off two little eyes.

               Ya-Ya-Bones leaned over the stones and hollered, “Who is it fell down in my well?”

               “Waaa, waaa, Craaaa,” it answered.

               “Nothing for me to do but haul you up and see!”

So she began to pull on the rope, and every time the pulley squealed, the thing cried, “Craaa!”

               About five feet from the top where the sun slanted on the stones, she saw a scruffy bird, black as tar and glistening wet, clinging tight to the rope. Its feathers were all ruffled and it peered at her with those beady black eyes.

               “Why mercy,” she said, “you’re just a baby crow.”

               “Craaaa,” it replied, but softly.

               “Come here now and let old Ya-Ya get you dried off. You must be hungry.” And Ya-Ya-Bones took that young crow inside her cottage and set it by the fire to dry off. She determined he was a boy, from the shape of his beak. First she fed him some apple. He seemed to like that all right, but kept looking around for something more. Next she gave him some bread, and he liked that too. She had some goat cheese, and that crow baby gobbled it down like there was no tomorrow. Then he commenced to cry again, “Waaa, waaa, craaaa,” all the time shivering his wings which had dried out and fluffed up.

               “I only have one thing left to give you,” she said, “a bit of meat left over from last night.”

His eyes got a low gleam and he was shaking all over. “Craaaaa!” He gulped the meat so fast she hardly saw it.

               “You’ve got a mighty big appetite, Crow Baby.” She decided that was what she was going to call him. Crow Baby finally settled down on the back of the chair by the fire glow, closed his beady little eyes, and fell asleep. Ya-Ya-Bones got herself ready for bed after eating the rest of the cheese and some bread, and drinking some cider. She didn’t have the heart to put Crow Baby out in the brisk night air, so she let him doze by the fire. She could figure out what to do tomorrow.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.

ROBIN VIGFUSSON

V e r m i l i o n   H a i r

 

               It was exactly five to two in Algebra class, when Kathy Malloy screamed, “There’s a goddamned bug in my hair!”

               She started fanning her shoulders and chest as if she’d caught fire, and our teacher, Mrs. Hazlett, dragged her out of the classroom like a lassoed calf. Immediately after that, mass hysteria ensued when Sue Morelli touched her own head and felt something writhing which triggered in her what seemed to be a seizure.

               “It’s lice!” someone shrieked, and we all ran to the nurse’s office which was already teeming with frenzied girls.

               “Some of you need to do something about your hygiene! And I don’t mean just lice!” Nurse Huber scolded us.

               This was a constant complaint of hers, and today her office reeked of acrid young sweat as much as the gym did.

               “Just go home! All of you go home!” She was a harsh, bony hag who couldn’t handle more than a skinned knee, and she pushed us out of her office with the help of a secretary, then slammed the door.

In the hallway, the principal’s voice boomed over the intercom like the Wizard of Oz, telling us to collect our books and leave the building.

               Our mothers had already been called and instructed that each child’s head must be inspected and all bedding in the house should be thoroughly washed with special cleaning agents, since any afflicted kid would not be permitted back to school without a doctor’s note. My mother went through our scalps with a magnifying glass, and even though she found no lice or eggs, she doused our heads with rubbing alcohol. The whole procedure took place in her enameled steel kitchen which she kept as sterile as an operating room.

               I was one of four children and I took the rinse stoically, but my older sister, Eleanor, was screaming. Eleanor’s hair was bleached blonde and she was afraid the alcohol would turn it green the way swimming pool chlorine did.

               “You said there was no frigging lice so why are you doing this?” she demanded, as though my mother was being sadistic—and maybe she was, not to mention that she was a germaphobe who gave us enemas to keep our insides clean.

               She’d had a hysterectomy at thirty-five, lapsed into menopause and emerged a cleanliness fanatic. She and my father still slept in the same bed, but I doubted they were having sex anymore.

I should mention this was happening in February, when winter is as bleak as a terminal disease, and the alcohol felt like embalming fluid in that frigid kitchen. My mother wanted to top it off with a dose of vinegar ”for good measure.”

               “Don’t frigging come near me!” Eleanor threatened, and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that she would have clocked Mom.

               “If anyone has lice, it’s you!” My mother yelled back at her. “You’re the one who shares combs with her!”

               The her she was referring to was Harriet Lusher.  Whether Harriet was dirty or not, she appeared dirty. Her skin was riddled with blackheads and it was so pale it seemed to attract grime the way white dresses do.  People looked at her and said, “You don’t have to be rich to be clean,” though for all we knew, she bathed three times a day.

               Harriet was a “river rat,” so named because the poorest and most unsightly residents in town lived right next to the Passaic River, as if ugliness and poverty were intertwined.

               Harriet was not exactly ugly, but she was definitely peculiar, as if one of her chromosomes hadn’t split right when she was conceived. She was a couple of inches under five feet, weighed no more than 80 pounds, and her small, boneless nose resembled a rabbit’s. But she had a remarkable head of hair; it was the color of a feral sunset—vermilion red, to be exact—and thick enough for two heads.

               Those were the days when girls wore their hair bouffant as if it had been woven on looms, the kind of high, ornate hair that hadn’t been seen since ancient Greece. The styles were inspired by the First Lady, who was trying to evoke a golden age, and the trend had helped to boost the economy, since women became servile to beauticians, not able to achieve these creations themselves. Some girls like Harriet had mastered techniques that could whip the limpest hair into lustrous beehives and meringue peaks. She had a part-time job bagging at the Shop-Rite, and whatever money she earned went into lacquer, combs, and curlers. At that time, she was the only person I knew who owned a Mason Pearson, which she said was the Rolls Royce of hairbrushes.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.

IGOR V. ZAITSEV

D i s a p p e a r a n c e   o f   T i m e

 

               Vezilo sat at the kitchen table on an uncomfortable red cushion tied to a dark wooden chair. The cushion’s buttons caused pain in his buttocks and he constantly shifted his weight slightly one way or the other. He’d wanted to throw away these terrible cushions for a long time; however, their red color matched perfectly the red armchairs and curtains in his apartment on the thirty-fourth floor. So he put off replacing the cushions because, quite frankly, he didn’t care and couldn’t be bothered. Possessions interested him least of all lately.

               He slowly chewed on a piece of fresh bread. His white, round-as-a-dial face frowned, the furrows between his brows became deeper, and his lips tightened, which made them much thinner than usual—until they seemingly disappeared altogether. He thought, Time does not exist in nature. Nope. It does not exist. It can’t be. I understood this a long time ago. I clearly realized that it was not real. Time is made-up fiction; the concept of time was invented by people. It is so amazingly clear. Everything went so well, so correctly, so logically—until that big baby Konstantin Grigorievich jumped out like a jack-in-the-box. Bald, pot-bellied idiot! He had to meddle with my beliefs! Now everything is wrong. All wrong. Damn him, this Konstantin Grigorievich! Who would have thought how bad it would be for me because of this big baby!

               Vezilo’s thoughts flowed on in this vein. He thought of the man whom he had closely watched for two months. Vezilo was neither a detective nor a private investigator. No. He simply followed Konstantin Grigorievich for personal reasons, for his own pleasure. He studied him. He tried to understand the essence of things, the essence of life, and therefore watched the diversity of the human species. As an impassionate researcher, he chose Konstantin Grigorievich not for his good-natured character—which he did possess—not for his unusually frequent intercourse with his wife, with whom he lived for fifteen years, not for his appearance—he was unremarkable and nothing stood out except that glossy bald head. Instead, Vezilo chose him arbitrarily, as a researcher would choose a cockroach in an experiment.

               He was a passionate observer who also had the talent to penetrate other people's apartments, climb on ceilings, hide under beds and in closets and sit there for hours, quieter than water below the grass, to listen and watch. Of course, recently developed technology, like listening devices and minuscule video cameras, made it much easier for him to conduct initial observation of his targets. But in the case of Konstantin Grigorievich, at a certain stage of observation these tools became obsolete. Instead, Vezilo, as in the good old days, began to do everything personally. Here and there he hid in his subject’s apartment. But after a few days he could trust neither his eyes nor his ears. Once he even thought that he was going insane; he was almost consumed by the world of this seemingly inconspicuous man with his plump, rosy-cheeked wife.

               This incident began with the fact that the video in the surveillance camera, which Vezilo set, suddenly began to shorten. He was taken aback by such a discovery. The days of Konstantin Grigorievich and his wife gradually became shorter. We’ve all heard the expression “the longer you live the days seem shorter,” but this is only our subjective assessment of the physical course of the day. In this case, Vezilo had objective evidence. The first time, when Vezilo noticed this phenomenon, the videotape was short by almost two hours! He then looked through all his recordings and discovered that at first the days of Konstantin Grigorievich were shortened by minutes, then by tens of minutes, and then by hours. The first thing that occurred to him was that the subject had discovered the equipment he installed and was playing a trick on him but, looking closer, Vezilo became convinced that this was not the case. After that, he began to hide himself in Konstantin’s apartment. And my God, the time there was really disappearing.

               But how can that which does not exist disappear? thought Vezilo. Does time really exist? Was I wrong?

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.

BRYAN EDWARD HELTON

T h e   M i r r o r

 

1

               He leaned into his reflection to watch the razor glide over the foamy stubble. He was late. Time thumped in his ribcage. He rinsed his face, brushed his hair, and leaned in again. His image looked out at him, frowning. He had forgotten the meeting. He had missed a patch of hair. He rode over it roughshod with the electric trimmer. His winked at himself in the mirror. He blinked and rushed out.

               The day was grey. Filthy drear hung in the forgotten green of trees, and fog followed the lines of lighted automobiles. The old town square floated past him. A bench where he had sat with her years ago gaped vacantly. The world contracted and he turned his mind towards a few hours in the future when he would be home again. He arrived, stumbling inwardly through doors and hallways into a conference room chair. There were other beings in the room who moved and made sounds with their mouths. He was a wakeful-looking somnambulant. Time slowed. Necessity bound him tyrannically. He thought of distant continents where life actually happened. They were filled with beaches, blue water, and beautiful creatures who hungered for him. The man with importance written on his forehead spoke to him. He responded with a goatish grin. He slid a finger across his nostrils. Nothing hanging. The minute hand on the clock (the same clock that had followed him throughout his life into every room that he had not wanted to be in) finally moved. The important man made a particular sound with his mouth. Our man of no importance smiled down to his gut. Door. Hall. Door. Sidewalk. Car-door. Seat. Car-door. Grass. Door. He crashed into a chair. He drank a beer. He giggled joyously. The clock broke the speed of sound.

               The clock screamed and demanded obedience to the dictates of responsibly. He urinated. He washed his hands. He brushed his teeth. The man in the mirror stared at him curiously. They put down their toothbrushes and spat at the same time. The man outside the mirror smiled. The man inside the mirror said                “What are you smiling about?”

               “I, uh, don’t know.”

               “You hate your life.”

               “That’s not true.”

               “Yes it is.”

               “No it’s not.”

               “Don’t you think I, of all people, would know your true feelings?"

               “Why? Because you watch me brush my teeth and shave?”

               “I do more than that.”

               “You imitate me.”

               “No I am you.”

               “No you’re not.”

               “Yes I am.”

               “You’re only an image.”

               “No I am...”

               “But you’re right, I do hate my life. I admit I once even said it out loud.”

               “I know. I heard you.”

               “But I thought you knew because you were me or are me.”

               “What?”

               The man outside the mirror shrugged.

               “Listen” said the man inside the mirror, “Let me give you some advice.”

               “Alright.”

               “Kill yourself.”

               “No.”

               “Why not?”

               “Because I don’t want to.”

               “I’m only trying to help.”

               The man outside the mirror left the room.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.

ERIC MCLAUGHLIN

F o r m e r   H u m a n   B e i n g

 

               Bill stared out of his picture window at three former human beings. The moon beamed on their putrefied flesh, its light enough to eliminate the need for candle or flashlight. Electricity died five days ago. With it went the phone lines and power to charge his cell.

               In one of Bill’s hands was an old bandana—he often wore one under his hard hat at work. In his other hand he held several short lengths of rope. Behind him on the coffee table was a folded gray wool blanket. Bill wore all black: sweatshirt, sweatpants, running shoes. On his head was a black Celtics baseball cap. On his back was a black backpack, in which were several granola bars, two cans of corned beef hash, a flashlight, a lighter, a rusty hatchet Bill had silently laughed at when his grandfather gave it to him years ago, two Thermos flasks full of cold water, a can opener, a map of most of the area that he had managed to print before the power went dead, and a toy compass that an unaware relative whom Bill couldn’t name at that moment had given to his son, Jack. Bill wasn’t sure the black would help, but he wasn’t sure it wouldn’t either.

               Bill pressed the rectangular cigarette box stowed away in his pocket into his thigh. He wanted to smoke one but didn’t dare risk the spectacle or the smell.

               He was sure that his father had never found himself in a similar situation. Gary Martinek was also a tile man. He worked his thirty years, earned the points on his pension, and moved to Sarasota, Florida for the additional five years he lived after retirement. When Gary Martinek died there was still a decent President. There was still government and order. There was normalcy.

               Bill was supposed to leave six days ago. Theresa had called on what should have been a trivial day. Bill picked Jack up from school, got him all buckled in, gave him his favorite toys, and put on his favorite Neil Diamond song. He didn’t think anything of the ambulance that zoomed past him, or the one after that. The third one caught his attention. The fourth one had him turning on his radio to check the news for a local disaster. His phone was ringing itself off the hook when they got in. Jack covered his ears screaming and stomping up and down until Bill picked it up.

               “Bill! Where the hell were you? I’ve been calling the house for an hour!”

               “What’s the problem, Theresa?”

               “Why don’t you ever bring your cell phone?”

               “What did you call me for?”

               “They’re taking us all to a safe house. They won’t tell us where it is. Mr. Garfield doesn’t even know. They won’t tell us how long we’re staying there. They won’t let us leave.”

               “Jesus, what is going on? Four ambulances flew by me today on 3-A.”

               “No one will tell us anything. I’m scared, Bill. Please, please keep your cell on you. One of the guys on Mr. Garfield’s detail is Eddie Alvarez. Do you remember him? He said that he can still get messages out. He said once everything quiets down, he will send you a text message with the address.”

               It was all moving too fast for Bill. Safe houses and secret messages.

               Then the line went dead.

               Later there was a newscast explaining what to do before the television went black. Stay in basements. Avoid roadways. Wait for help. The anchor looked frazzled. His quiff was messy. His eyes were red-rimmed and glassy. They cut him off before he was finished and rushed him from the room—hurried young men with small microphones attached to single ear buds.

               The road from Bill and Theresa’s house to the Zubov's across the street was made impassable by the three former human beings swaying in the moonlight. Their heads were down as though they were sleeping. Bill wondered who they had been before. Neighbors? The distance made it difficult to tell. There were two males and a female, he could tell by the style of their clothing. Was one of them Mrs. Kastelein who liked to jog before the sun was up, offering a smile and thumbs up to passersby? Was one of them Carlos? He always invited Bill and Theresa to the raucous parties he and his wife held, and there were a lot of them, but Bill and Theresa felt too old, too much like being outside of some exclusive, youthful club.

               Bill imagined Mrs. Kastelein’s smile turned into a bloody sneer. He saw Carlos’s party become an orgy of death.

               Bill didn’t like his house. It was covered in breakable windows. It didn’t have a basement. Basements limited noise. They usually sported two doors to the outside, a bulkhead and an exterior door. They could have stores of cans or full refrigerators. They could have firepower and ammunition. If Charlie Zubov hadn’t raided his own basement already and left town, he might have had all of these things just across the street. He might have had a generator with which Bill could charge his phone and find out if Theresa had contacted him. Bill had been in Charlie’s basement once at Charlie’s recent Christmas party. He knew there was food and security. Firepower, Bill wasn’t sure about, he couldn’t recall now if Charlie was a gun guy.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.

JAMES M. LINDSAY

T h e   F a m i l y

               Mr. Fate, you stand accused of illegal gambling, illegal possession of a firearm, and first degree murder of a state official. How do you plead?

 

               Time led him through to the back of the bar, her diamond-decked hand wrapped firmly around his wrist, ticking urgent increments like disappointed tuts. Every movement from Time seemed to hurry him; Fate acquiesced to her insistent pull, in lust with her as he was. His leather shoes suddenly beat counter staccato in the hallway as the plush carpet gave way to industrial concrete. He slowed his approach, well aware of assumptions that would be made by the pin-striped sharks that swam through the halls, should the heavy swing doors burst open unexpectedly. Instead Time led him through the doors softly, her elegant hourglass frame sashaying into the room as if her presence should be expected and adored.

               In the room, an ever-present harbor haze was maintained by flickering ember sprites. The hulks and the ghouls hunched over tables and counted their gold, hot plastic chips and cold steel. The gargoyles and grotesques were drifting in and out of the shadowy corners, growling and prowling, murmuring private businesses and shaking gnarled, tree bark hands. The giants stood at the doors, vigilant.

               As Time casually explored the room, stroking a gentle hand across broad shoulders every now and then in passing, fleeting and affectionate Mr. Fate found his place at the table and waited patiently, envisioning the feast. Eventually, the other spirits and demons began to relieve themselves of their money, jewelry and souls—all went into the central pot. It was time to ante up. His palms sweating, he struggled slightly with the clasp on his wristwatch at first, but Time helped him before graciously relinquishing her grip.

               Once the avarice of the matter was mopped away and all dues had been paid, Mr. Fate found he had lost track of Time but gained a new companion in her younger sister. The good Lady Luck danced tantalizingly around the room, delivering kisses and winks to the enraptured crowd, moving to the beat of the card dealer’s flicks and drums. She was fluid as silk and fickle as charm. Her movement never stopped. Cautiously Mr. Fate observed her, never staring obviously so as to obscure his desire, and so as not to be hypnotized by her flowing veils as she slalomed through the room. Once or twice through the first hour she seemed to be focused on him alone, her dance slowing to tempting turns, rivers of sweat running over her body. Throughout the second hour she evaded his gaze entirely barring a flick of fabric here, a flash of flesh there. He was careful to avoid frustration. He had witnessed the madness that way led. Two of the room had fallen to her fickle hand already, one claiming her as his bride only for her to abandon him at the altar; the other had explosively declared her a solicitous whore and was swiftly ejected from the premises by monsters in sadistic suits wearing black smiles. Antithesis to her. The shadow to her light. Her garb was threaded with dreams and hope. She swiftly shed veil after veil, gold chiffon shimmering and dancing until it mixed with the filth and became rags once more. And her smile. Her smile showed that she knew the world was a promise for others to make, for others to keep. All she had to do was keep dancing.

               She moved unfailingly and unstoppably as the night bled out, and the aggregate steadily thinned in protest to her cold, dancing indifference. Luck had not been owned, nor had she been flirtatious, nor fickle, or punishing. The small hardcore of loyal observers now saw she had been independent all along, merely following a routine—a practiced and careful ballet relying entirely on muscle memory to define her space. It had to be so, as it was clear now that she was entirely blind and dancing for no one but herself. Her eyes, cloudy with grey-blue cataracts, gazed into the sparkling eternities as she spun and twirled and beamed. As she danced, the mood around the tables grew serious and sullen, the cards becoming more serious and the stakes becoming higher. The focus was on the cards when Luck suddenly arrested herself mid pirouette and her head snapped up, a deer in headlights. She turned and fled, leaving the remaining revelers for dead just as her older sister arrived.

               Ms. Mayhem burst through the door in rapturous wroth, clothed in threads of thin blue lines, threads of fire, threads of lead. Fate reached for the gun strapped to his hip as she tore through the room, a hurricane of whistle blasts and blood spray. The surroundings imploded and peeled away into the void as he raised his pistol. A stray fist of mahogany swinging capriciously in the crosswinds delivered a glancing blow to the peak of his spine, and the last sound he heard was a gunshot. Ms. Mayhem continued to fly through the room, loud and fierce and beautiful. Fate lay immobile, a witness to the artistry of Mayhem’s disruption—the fear, the panic, the madness of it all.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.

JOSIAH OLSON

T h e   K i n g   o f   t h e   S e a

 

               She was shivering beneath the thin polyester raincoat, drenched by the persistent drizzle that had hidden the horizon in its misty grey for the past three days. Beneath them the cruise ship swayed, a movement that still brought bile to Jeremiah’s mouth.

               “Lou, come inside,” he pleaded. “They’re having a dance soon—a waltz, can you believe that? For all of us oldies here.” He laughed, but Louise still stared into the grey canvas before her, searching for something that wasn’t there.

               “Come see whales,” she sighed.

               “Huh?”

               “Come see whales,” she repeated bitterly. “That’s what the advertisement said. It should have said a week of misty grey skies, soggy salads, and more bird shit than you’ve ever seen.”

               “Yeah, I think this whole whale thing might be a hoax,” joked Jeremiah.

               “I’m being serious.”

               “Me too. How about we go waltz and then come back and watch together? It’d be good for you to dry off.”

               Louise finally turned to him, blue-faced and teeth chattering. “No, not right now. What if a whale comes while we’re waltzing?”

               “Then a whale comes while we’re waltzing,” said Jeremiah, throwing an arm around her and leading her back to the door. “It’s better to enjoy what’s left of our trip than fret over that animal. They just don’t like the rain I guess.”

               Louise stopped. “I’m staying out here Jer. I want to see a whale.”

               You’re acting like a child. You’re being selfish. You are so difficult sometimes. Thirty-two years of marriage had taught him to breathe those voices in and breathe them right out, but they still spoke. With his thumb, he traced his favourite wrinkle of hers, from the corner of her lip down. He looked into her eyes and remembered each wonderful year in which they had grown and nourished each other. He weighed every ounce of their love. All this he did before speaking.

               “Okay,” He pulled her close and kissed her on the forehead. “But I’m going to dance for a bit, I’ll be back soon. Find a big one, okay?” He felt her head nod beneath his own.

               Back inside, the dance had begun. Jeremiah still danced with youthful energy, although now he had to rest every other song to catch his breath and cool down. Every woman wanted to dance with him, and Jeremiah did his best to dance with every woman. The one woman he wanted to dance with wasn’t there, however, and nothing could make up for that.

               Deb and Jane both asked for Louise. “Whale watching,” he told them.

               When his feet ached and he had drunk more than his fair share of punch, he sat down, promising himself that he wouldn’t dance another no matter how hard someone begged him. He chugged one last glass of punch and wiped the sweat from his forehead.

               “You’re quite the dancer,” said a woman’s voice. She wore a lovely emerald green dress, and kept her deep black hair in a bob cut that made her head look like that of an arrow.

               “Thank you,” panted Jeremiah. “I’d dance with you, but—”

               “Do you mind if I sit down?” she asked.

               “Please do.” He scooted over to make room for her on the bench.

               “I’m Kate,” she said. “You’re—”

               “Jeremiah.”

               “Jeremiah, so you’re a full name kind of guy. Well then I’m Katelyn.” She laughed—something between the fluttering of a hummingbird’s wings and a child’s heartbeat—an almost silent laugh that one felt rather than heard. “So what do you do, Jeremiah?”

               “I’m an English teacher, fourth grade. I’m retiring soon though.” That wasn’t entirely true. He was being fired. The parents complained that he gave too much work to their kids, the school district complained that he didn’t make his students take tests, and everyone complained that he mostly taught poetry instead of “real” literature. The principal had tried to keep him, but Jeremiah left him no choice when he still refused to give his students tests. “They have the rest of their lives to be assessed and judged for their abilities. In fourth grade, I want them to be excited about learning,” he had said. The next day he was asked to resign.

               Kate must have read at least part of that from his expression. “You’re going to miss it?”

               He nodded. “I love kids, and Lou and I haven’t had much luck in that department, so my students… they uh, they mean a lot to me.”

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.

A.C. BOHLEBER

H o h e n w a l d

 

               She woke up still drunk in the backseat of her car. Mud was caked on her back. The night had been hell, but she’d seen heaven. Through the window she could see cows grazing in an otherwise empty field. Wait—one glass jar of yellow moonshine sat on a stump. When she got out she could see her own boot prints, one either side of the door—her struggling boot prints where they had forced her the night before.

She got in the car and drove up to the house, then took a shower upstairs. There were people sleeping everywhere. She woke one of them up. He looked surprised when she woke him. He was still drunk, too.

               “What the hell happened?” she asked.

               “I put you in the car. You passed out in the mud, screaming about seeing God or something. You were crazy,” he answered, eyes half shut.

               “Damn.”

               She was sixteen, too young to be smoking weed and drinking so much and messing around with an eighteen-year-old. She didn’t know anything about God except what her grandma had told her. And all that was from TV preachers.

               She went home, away from him, the booze, and the odd creeping feeling she had. The car needed gas so she stopped. She couldn’t make the forty-five-minute drive home otherwise. She was way out in the boonies. Out on backroads.

               Then she got lost in town. Her house was by the city’s airport. The area around it was rough. She’d gone backwards, made a wrong turn. She didn’t know what she would tell her mother. Her clothes were cracked with mud and her eyes were bloodshot. She could envision her mother on the couch, large waist and bust, small legs, and one front tooth longer than the other. It wasn’t right to lie, but she would do it anyway. She would do it because she was scared.

               She turned the car around for the fourth time and started to cry. She could call her mom on her flip phone but then there might be questions. She wiped at her cheeks and prayed she could detach.

               When she made it home, her mother sat on the couch watching her TV programs—exactly as she had envisioned. The round woman with the odd teeth never said a word about the mud or the hour. The scene was wasted on her. She took her red eyes upstairs and she slept. There was nothing to do but sleep.

When she awoke it was seven at night. She’d been asleep for four hours or so. The room smelled stale, and she thought someone was lying next to her. She thought she wasn’t alone.

               He’d called her five times. He thought he was her man. He left one message—something about a still and a cabin out in the country. She drove two hours to meet him there. Told her mom she was staying at a friend’s. When she drove up, hens scattered about the yard. A big green and brown one approached her slowly when she got out. It was beautiful, she thought, for a chicken. Red-brown feathers mingled with a deep shiny green.

               “Hello, chicken,” she said, and the boy came out from the cabin. His buddy was with him.

               “Caroline,” said the one who wanted to be her man. “Caroline, you actually came.”

               “You asked me to.”

               “You know Paul,” he motioned to his friend.

               Paul was disheveled, red haired, red skinned, and built like a wrestler.

               “Yeah, we’ve met a million times,” she said.

               The one who wanted to be her man was named Mick.

               “Whose chickens are these?”

               “My dad manages a farm. His boss owns all this. He lets us come hunting out here,” Mick answered.

               “So I get to shoot a gun?”

               “If you want to.”

               Paul looked on stoned and silent.

               The cabin sat in the middle of a clearing. The kudzu was high on the trees and there were snakes in the undergrowth. The cabin was connected to the world by a single gravel path that led out to a road, and from there to the highway. She thought she might be frightened, but it wasn’t really there.

               She looked in on the two-room cabin before they took her down to the creek on their ATVs. The sound and heat of the four-wheeler bloomed beneath her as she gripped Mick’s waist. He was driving too fast and she laughed wildly, a laugh that jutted out of her. Those laughs were the reason why Mick wanted to be her man.

She squatted next to the creek and put her hand in the water, feeling the sand and the mud. Coarse grains in a thick ooze. The mixture worked its way into the crevices of her palm.

               “You were crazy the other night,” Mick told her.

               Caroline shrugged, looked up, and smiled. She was wearing the same shorts as the night before. They still had mud on them in places. She liked how they hugged her hips. The dirt had finally given and wasn’t as hard as it had been.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.

BRILEY DEWAYNE JONES

M i n n i e

               Those boulders had a redness to them and moss ran over their callused faces. Minnie, as young as she was, always expressed wonder dat the moss always stayed there, even in the winter time with the snow fallin' onto the ground, makin' a white carpet dat one could fall onto and feel comfort, which we both did, until the native boy saw us. Dat boy must've saw how hungry I was, even under my fur coat, with its collar dat erupted from 'round my neck like a lion's mane. As thick as it was, I sure did look slim. It was worse in my hands: shakin', blue, and bloody. I hadn't killed anything, ’cept foe a few hares dat I trapped the night befoe, but it was the bitter cold dat dried out my skin, dat cracked my flesh with every movement of my hands. Or maybe it was my face dat caught his attention, even if it was a white man's face, even if it was the first time he saw a white man. My face, a rotten pomegranate, bought in New Orleans and, weeks later, thrown on the side of the trail upon the first sight of mold; left there foe days, nibbled on by rodents, until the peel was thin and wrapped 'round a jagged core. There was the cheeks dat fell inwards, instead of outwards, and there was the purple underneath the eyelids. Dat's how I imagined it looked like after Minnie told me. We didn't have a mirr'r. I foegot to grab one foe shavin' when we left Clara, or maybe I just decided not to grab one. I never really wanted Minnie to see what she looked like anyways. She'd always get all beat up ’bout it. And she did, when dat native boy pulled a few pieces of dried fruit out of his satchel, holdin' it out to me, between those boulders, barren tree branches framin' the boy dat was ’bout to save our lives. He smiled a little, until Minnie stepped out from behind me. He looked scared when her saw her. Minnie's head, apple shaped, the top mo' like a dome than anything, larger than the rest. She had trouble sometimes holdin' it up. Veins dat ran up 'long her foehead. Her big eyes, narrow nose, and her hair only growin' halfway back from the front of her head. Just like her sister. His mouth opened wide and he clenched dat dried fruit, lookin' like he just saw whatever hides deep in the trees. Hands shakin'. At first, I thought it was 'cause he never saw a white man befoe. Then I realized his gaze. It was locked, not on me but on Minnie. Oh, dat tore her up, just like her starvin' stomach dat night, when we had no food left and I came back empty handed after an afternoon of huntin'.

               I had to explain to her dat dat native boy didn't know what he was lookin' at. He didn't know how to handle beauty. But she saw through the lie. She told me how no man thinks a woman is beautiful when dey're four-foot-tall, fifteen years old, and look fifty-five. It upset me and I lashed out, said dat God made her like dat and nothin' she can do ’bout it. Told her dat native boy didn't know nothin' bout her and she don't need to worry ’bout what he thinks. Dat upset her even mo', me admittin' the Indian was scared of her and not me. Things just got complicated and I couldn't deal with dat.

               She said she was goin' to take a quick walk 'round the campsite. We were camped below a small alcove on the side of a mountain, surrounded by prairie grass dat brushed against our cold bodies with every swift of the wind, so I wasn't worried ’bout her. It was dense, but we were in the valley. I could see her little white head wherever she wandered off to. She was tall ’nough dat she would just barely reach above the prairie grass, which wasn't as thick as it was durin' the summer.

               "Fine," I told her. "Go have a walk and get yoself together, but don't go down there, over dat embankment. I cain't see you very well and I think there's a frozen pond over it. I don't want you to fall through the ice between those rocks."

               It really beat her up thinkin' bout how she looked. Part of it was ’cause her sister, four years younger than she was, two months befoe we took off foe Indian territory, died of a faint heart, or so the doctor said. The only one with a faint heart was Clara, even though the doctor said Minnie prob'bly had one too. Clara never could get over dat girl's death. She didn't even want to bury her; kept her in the house a full week, in dat tin bathtub, going to town every single day, buyin' ice to keep the body from smellin', even though the ice was always melted halfway through by the time she got home. And everyone in town started gossipin' bout her. The newspaper talked ’bout her. Dey had no one else to talk ’bout, ’cept foe maybe Jesse James, who'd died months befoe, whose ghost still kept people talkin' bout him. It was the same way with the sister. Even when dey buried her, everyone kept talkin'. The newspaper kept printin'. The po’ man on the street corner kept writing those poems ’bout her. He said she'd been buried in a wooden casket, her head cradled in a bouquet of lilacs. Purple lilacs. None of dat was true. He just romanticized dat. He prob'bly thought she was a grown woman and found some kind of beauty to her, with her childlike features and her shortness. I told him one day dat she was just a child and didn't need no romanticizin' and he threw a fit. After dat, his poems got worse.

 

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.

ALEX STEARNS                                              (Note: contains strong language)

 A   S h o o t e r   o f   O u r   T i m e

                                                                   

               Today would be different. Oh yes, very different. Today would be the day that Colin Johnson, thirty-four years old with little to show for it, would finally murder his boss. Why not shoot the stupid bastard? Johnson had no wife, no girlfriend, and no kids. There was nothing to leave behind should he be put away for murder, just his shitty nine-to-five job that he often dreamed of shooting up. And that god damn boss of his was such a fucking douche bag! A condescending, egotistical anal bead, always wearing his fluorescent shirts and bow ties. I mean, who the fuck wears a bow tie to work? James fucking Bond, that’s who. If you weren’t James Bond, and you wore a bow tie to work, you were an ass wipe. Oh, how he wished he could pummel that fucking tool. Hit him with a quick jab that would knock his front teeth out and, as he held his mouth in pain, take his head and bounce it off the wall. God, that would be glorious. God, that would—speak of the devil, here comes Mr. Anal Bead himself.

               “Hey there, you catch the game last night?” Mr. Anal Bead asked.

               “Yeah, it was a good one.”

               “Well I’m actually a Pats fan, so it wasn’t so good for me, but we’ll see if your Titans even make the playoffs. I’m sure we’ll be in the Super Bowl… again,” he said as walked away, his face covered with a smug shit grin.

               A fucking Pats fan? Some day he would stand over that cock sucker’s dead body and piss into the open wound that was once his neck; but until then, thoughts of his boss’s house burning to the ground, with his wife and kids trapped inside, screaming for their dead-beat father to save them, would have to do.

               It was always a different fantasy that occupied his mind during work. One time, in his deranged head, Johnson followed the mother fucker home, tackled him as he got out of his piece-of-shit Subaru, cut his face off in broad daylight, put it over his own, entered his two-story shit-stained house, hugged the kids and kissed his wife. Something about these dreams always put Johnson in a good mood.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.

SAMUEL J. ALLEN

Н е   в ы п у с к а й   в е д ь м у

С а м у и л   Д ж.   А л л е н

 

1

               Последнее, что я хорошо помню о том дне, — это как я ела арбуз, а за окном всё сильнее шёл снег и темнело. В декабре солнце в Оскуе садилось в четыре часа дня. Я пришла домой из школы, когда в сумрачном сером небе лениво закружились первые белые хлопья. Как и в любой другой вечер рабочего дня, дома никого не было. Кому-то может показаться странным, что десятилетняя девочка одна возвращается домой из школы суровыми зимними вечерами, но в сёлах на диком севере России конца 90-х годов всё было по-другому.

               Моей семье было проще, чем тем, кто жил в самых отдалённых районах нашей области. У нас всегда была еда и чистая вода, и ещё нам повезло — у нас в доме был водопровод. Не сказать, что мы жили в достатке. И уже через месяц после рождения моего брата Георгия, которого я любовно звала Гошей, нашему отцу пришлось отправиться на стареньком автобусе в аэропорт с другими мужчинами из нашего города. Им предстояло ехать на восток и преодолеть девять тысяч километров, чтобы добраться до вахты на алмазном руднике «Мир» в Якутске.

               Хотя работа моего отца и не считалась престижной, для её выполнения требовались определённые знания, и платили за неё намного больше, чем за любой неквалифицированный труд на фермах вблизи нашего городка. Благодаря этому, наша семья могла время от времени позволить себе немного роскоши, которой не знали большинство наших соседей. Например, цветной телевизор, который я включала сразу, как только заходила домой, чтобы заглушить скрип и гул, раздававшиеся в пустом доме, пока снаружи завывал и бесился ветер. Или газовая горелка, у которой я грелась, пока ждала возвращения мамы с шестимесячным Гошей домой из тесного магазинчика, в котором продавали местные продукты, какие-то дорогие фирменные изделия из Санкт-Петербурга и даже немного импортных товаров из Европы. Поскольку в нашей семье случилось прибавление, маме пришлось начать подрабатывать продавцом и няней для детей, чьи родители продолжали работать на улице, даже несмотря на приближающуюся зиму. В это время года покупателей было немного, так что ей удавалось приглядывать и за Гошей, и за магазином, хотя зачастую была единственным работником в смене.

               Из этого тесного, обшарпанного магазинчика, который к тому же был единственным в городе, за день до случившегося мама принесла арбуз — очередную небольшую роскошь, которую мы могли себе позволить. Только я увидела, как мама пытается пройти с арбузом в дверной проём, сразу же попросила отрезать мне кусочек. Мне не терпелось впервые попробовать что-то настолько экзотичное. Но мама сильно устала после непривычно беспокойного дня в магазине, а Гоше надо было сменить подгузник. Она пообещала, что мы разрежем и вместе съедим его за ужином на следующий день.

               Сидя у тёплой «буржуйки» перед телевизором, я решила помечтать об огромном необычном фрукте, который так сильно отличался от маленьких простых ягодок, к которым я привыкла. До возвращения мамы оставалось ещё несколько часов, особенно если учитывать снегопад. Я больше не могла ждать.

Ножки расшатанного стула, который я решила подвинуть поближе к кухонным шкафчикам, заскрежетали о бетонный пол. Я вскарабкалась на него и потянулась за арбузом. Мне удалось перекатить его в свои руки и, дрожа, спуститься вниз, едва справляясь с тяжестью. Оказавшись на полу, я попыталась вонзить зубы в арбуз, но получилось не очень. Я и понятия не имела, что кожура окажется твёрдой настолько, что её не прокусить.

               Я снова взобралась на стул, чтобы схватить один из ножей, висевших над раковиной. Мне удалось дотянуться до тупого ножа с толстой деревянной ручкой, которым мама обычно резала замороженную морковку и картошку с нашего огорода. Я осторожно спустилась со стула, держа нож в вытянутой руке подальше от себя. Присев рядом с фруктом и крепко прижав его к земле, слишком поспешила, и нож соскользнул, полоснув по кончикам пальцев руки, которой я держала арбуз.

Мои губы задрожали, но я сжала руку в кулак и попыталась сдержать слезы, навернувшиеся на глаза. Решив не обращать внимания на боль и маленькие струйки крови, стекающие по пальцам, я продолжила орудовать ножом, пока не отпилила от арбуза большой кусок. Я с удовольствием его проглотила, на мгновение совершенно забыв про свою ранку.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.

ROBERT CIESLA

С а т о р и

 

Р о б е р т   Ц и с л а

 

Посвящается Кайле Элизабет

 

1

                Я просыпаюсь от знакомых кошмаров онемевший, но довольный. Каждое утро — это переход от незыблемой реальности в иллюзорный мир, где всё может потерять своё значение, когда стрелки часов находятся в промежутке от половины десятого утра до четырёх дня. Всё хорошо, если не считать нервирующего мигания моего мобильника. Проклятый кофе остыл, но у меня нет времени на то, чтобы заварить свежий. «Тебе предстоит испытание и злом, и добром, — как говорила Кайла. —  Дух дарит жизнь, плоть бесполезна».

                До вершины осталась лишь пара ступеней. Преодолеть их могут лишь немногие. Я был избран, чтобы достичь цели, и на то была своя причина, которую я чтил во все времена. Они не обращают внимания на моё асоциальное поведение, потому что я могу управлять временем. Я сторонюсь людей, и лучше всего мне работается по ночам. Я знаю тенденции ещё до того, как им суждено случиться. В отличие от большинства, я никогда не звоню по своим делам, когда я на работе. В любом случае, руководство лишит тебя повышения, если уличит в том, что строчишь сообщения своей девушке. Вот уже пять лет я работаю в этой фирме, и у меня ни разу не поинтересовались наличием диплома магистра. Только окончив Бизнес-школу в Фоксе, в возрасте двадцати трёх лет я получил стажировку в фирме на Уолл-стрит. Вот что значит «быть бесценным». Вот что значит «быть Человеком-мотыльком».

               Человек-мотылёк знает не только предстоящие тенденции, но и собственное будущее. Сокол, плотоядный паразит, собирался предложить федералам мотылькового супа. А мне предстояло стать его единственным жертвенным ингредиентом, но в команде нас всего пятеро. Первый — Коала, эмигрант-австралиец, юрист. Получил диплом магистра в Мельбурне. Ворона — принцесса-сорвиголова из гетто, плотно подсевшая на арбитражные сделки. Получила диплом магистра в Друкере. Ещё есть Кардинал, пугающе молчаливый зверюга, который в основном занимается уклонением от Федеральной комиссии по связи. Получил диплом магистра в Чапмене. Последний — Рембо, единственный профан на Уолл-стрит, которого держат только потому, что Сокол получает благодаря ему наркоту. Кто-то настучал на них всех. А козлом отпущения сделают меня. Хищение — это такое грязное, неприличное слово. Поэтому на Уолл-стрит его не услышишь. Никогда, ни за что не сквернословь при них. Даже не думай. Любителям логики эти ребята покажутся чересчур суеверными. Мы строим изысканные соборы из стекла, но нам не приходится иметь дело с последствиями.

               Стоило мне заметить, как они смотрят друг на друга утром в понедельник, я понял, что надо держать усики востро — в их глазах читался ужас. Впервые с тех пор, как мы начали работать вместе, я почувствовал себя чужим среди этого представления на языке тела. Следующей подсказкой стал разговор Сокола с глазу на глаз с парнем, который дружил со следователями. Я занимался их кейлоггингом уже не одну неделю.

               Я отключил алгоритмы, но Сокол раскрыл контакты. Без его руководства остальные звери за собой подчистили бы.  За это Соколу должно грозить от пяти до десяти лет в тюряге. Но так не бывает. Хищник всегда остаётся на плаву. Моё единственное преимущество — умение путешествовать.

               Сокол мешался с хиппи в дни Захвата Уолл-стрит. У него была пластмассовая улыбка, дорогое шампанское и две запущенные дочки. Он их не понимал. Когда паришь высоко в небесах, понятия не имеешь, чем кормятся личинки. Сокол мог и должен был упечь за это Коалу за решётку. Австралиец бы не заметил, что что-то намечается. Всё, что мне нужно — одна-единственная ошибка противника. На суде шутов волшебника не подставляют.

               Наша банда занимается довольно безобидным делом. Любой бездомный мог бы себе такое позволить. Государству ни к чему вмешиваться. 3,4 миллиарда долларов отправятся к федералам. А кто упустит тридцатку миллионов долларов? Но всё это так ладно сработано. Если время от времени скармливать нас волкам, великий американский народ на время успокаивается. Они только поэтому нас и сажают. Вся финансовая сторона дела, в лучшем случае, смехотворна.

               Старик Гарнер был моим крёстным отцом на Уолл-стрит. Перед моей стажировкой мне сказали, что ему нужно меньше пяти секунд, чтобы понять, нравишься ты ему или нет. Через двадцать минут после начала собеседования я всё также нервничал. Ещё через четыре минуты я понял, что получил работу. Мне не нужно было ждать звонка с ответом. Он потратил пять секунд на то, чтобы изучить моё резюме, а всё оставшееся время смотрел мне прямо в глаза. Он хотел узнать, что я думаю о «Чёрном понедельнике» и будущем среднего класса в Америке. Гарнеру нужно, чтобы у тебя было своё собственное мнение насчёт прошлого, настоящего и будущего. Однажды он сказал мне следующее: «Ты для меня ничто, если не можешь предсказать будущее с семидесятипятипроцентной точностью». Эта цифра иногда менялась, но всё равно все понимали, что к чему. Гарнер изменил моё понимание мира. У него не было детей, но он обеспечил себе бессмертие.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 2, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.

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