Don’t you just hate clowns? The obscene face paint. The colored wigs. The baggy costumes. What are they hiding from? Who do they think we are?
My mother was a clown. She did birthday parties for kids. I had to come along, even though I didn’t know anybody there. People would ask me who I was.
“Well, where’s your grown-up?”
“I don’t have one.”
“How did you get here then?”
“I hid in one of the cars. They didn’t even see me.”
Even if my mother overheard the questions, she couldn’t interfere, limited to squeaking her bicycle horn.
Clowns live by rigid codes of behavior.
Seriously. If my mother had ever talked while in character, the matter would not have been taken lightly. She’d have been exiled by the clown community. Left to die.
She couldn’t explain me. Couldn’t apologize to her customer. Couldn’t yell at me for threatening her livelihood. Not at the birthday party, anyway.
Home was a different story. That’s where I’d experience the rage behind the impassive face.
But then today, on our way up the stairwell, she must have tripped on her oversized shoes and because I heard her tumbling until she hit the bottom.
I pressed my ear against her lips to hear her ragged breath, getting some of her makeup on me. I could feel it, the oily sealant that turned me into a clown.
I touched my face. As a clown, I had the power to become silent at will.
“Sorry, Mom, but I can’t call 911 if I can’t speak. What do you think would happen if I just honked, honked?
“Why, they’d just laugh!”
The Drunken Draculas are from San Diego, California.
By. Roland Dodds
Once there was a machine….
and it loved a little girl.
And every day the girl would come and she would switch on the machine
and make it spin and chirp
the melody to her favorite songs.
She would ask it questions
and have put stickers on its case
while she laughed the way only a child can.
They would play videogames. And when she was tired,
it would soothe her to sleep with sounds from its MIDI soundcard.
And the girl loved the machine very much.
And the machine was happy.
But time went by.
And the girl grew older.
And the machine was often alone. Then one day the girl came to the machine and the machine said, “Come, Girl, come and press my buttons and spin with me and I will sing you a song.”
“I am too big to play those games,” said the girl.
“I want to buy clothes and have fun. I want some money.”
“I’m sorry,” said the machine, “but I have no money. I have only plastic and metal. Take my case, Girl, and sell them at school. Then you will have money and you will be happy.”
And so the girl grabbed the
machine and pulled off its case
and carried it away.
And the machine was happy.
But the girl stayed away for a long time…. and the machine was sad.
And then one day the girl came back and the machine trembled with delight
and it said, “Come, Girl, play a game. Listen to my MIDI songs.”
“I am too busy to play with you,” said the Girl. “I want internet notoriety,” she said. “I want followers and accolades. Can you give me these things?”
“No, I can not,” said the machine.
“But my RAM may be useful. It will help you upgrade to a new life. Then you will be happy.” And so the girl ripped out its RAM and carried it away to use in another device.
And the machine was happy.
But the Girl stayed away for a long time. And when she came back,
the machine was so happy but could hardly speak due to insufficient memory.
“Come……. Giiiiiiirrrrlllll…..,” it whispered, “come an000d play.”
“I am too old and sad to play,” said the girl.
“I want to wipe my internet past from the face of the earth. I have embarrassed my family.
Can you erase my digital past?”
“….Wha—aatt is digital paaaasssttt…?,” said the machine. “Play…be ha**appy.”
And so the girl grabbed the lagging device and carried it with her into town. And the machine was happy
… but did not know why.
The girl brought the device to Google.
She had strapped it to an explosive.
“Giiirrrlll…..what yooouu doinnng?,”
said the machine.
“I haaaave ….nothing…
leeeeft to giiiive you –
“I have ruined my career,” said the girl.
” I haaaave ….nothing…
leeeeft to giiiive you –
“I am sorry,” sighed the girl.
The girl threw the device through the window and it exploded.
She was arrested and the site was gutted.
The machines tattered parts were strewn throughout the site.
It was swept together and sorted; the machine was placed in a bag.
“We can sell these parts to Chinese manufactures for scrap,” said the excavation crew. They put the machine on a ship to sail across the sea.
The machine would live again,
And the machine was happy.
Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father just north of San Francisco who writes about politics, culture and education.
Lee Noble is from Los Angeles, California.
By. Maria L. Berg
“I completely trust him,” McKenzie said, slamming the car door and banging her back against the seat while folding her arms across her chest with a hmph. “Why can’t you trust my judgment for once?”
“Honey, I just want what’s best for you and you don’t know anything about this guy. It’s all a bit sudden. And I hate to say it, but you don’t have the best track record. Buckle your seatbelt.”
McKenzie turned toward her mother as she latched the buckle. “He’s not like Christian, or Terence, or Brian–”
“Or Alfons, or Derek, or T. J., or Jason, or–”
“Okay, that’s enough. You know you haven’t always made the best choices either. I mean Dick isn’t exactly a keeper.” McKenzie’s brow furrowed deeper as she scowled, but she had an impish gleam in her eye.
“First of all, young lady, you know your dad hates it when you call him that and after twenty-five years, I’d call him a keeper.”
McKenzie couldn’t stifle a laugh. “I guess so,” she said, “but Tharen is way hotter than Dad. He smells like gardenias and orange blossoms, but subtle, you know, not like perfume, and he sounds like the ocean.” Her voice became dreamy like she was on another planet.
McKenzie’s mother raised an eyebrow and took her eyes off the road long enough to take in her daughter’s blissful gaze out the window. “Yes. I get it. You’re a young woman in love, but that’s a strange description even for you. Have you joined a cult? Is Tharen your guru or spiritual father or something?”
“No, Mom. But you’d be okay with that, wouldn’t you? Would it be better if I was joining a cult? Is that better than moving in with the man I love? Then fine. I’m joining a cult.”
“No. I didn’t mean that. I’m happy for you, but why don’t you just date for a while like a normal couple?”
“We are a normal couple, Mom. We love each other. Can’t you be supportive this one time? This might be the last time you and I see each other. I want to say goodbye on a happy note.”
“Do you really think you’ll be happy so far away from your family and friends? You’ll be a foreigner. Everything will be so strange. I mean the food, the culture, the landscape, everything.”
“It’s okay, Mom, Tharen has a big family and from what he tells me, I’m going to love it there. Hey, the exit’s up ahead on the right. Here. Take a right.”
“Now turn left.”
“That’ll take us to the middle of nowhere.”
“Why are we meeting him way out here? Are you sure he’s not planning on killing us and dumping us in the woods?”
“I told you, Mom, I completely trust him. Okay, we’re here. Stop the car.”
“What are you talking about? All I see is trees.”
“Come on, Mom. Pop the trunk. I need to grab my stuff.”
“So where is this wonderful man of yours? Get cold feet?”
“He’s here and please don’t be rude. He can probably hear you.”
“What do you mean–?”
Suddenly the trees in front of them wrinkled like heat coming off pavement and a tall creature appeared in front of a large mirrored sphere. His “skin” was so black it was like looking into the vastness of space, but when sunlight hit any part of him, it split into the colors of the rainbow like he was made of tiny prisms.
“Isn’t he beautiful?” McKenzie said. “Mom? Are you okay?”
McKenzie’s mom felt queasy and lost the ability to blink and close her mouth.
“McKenzie, when you said he was an alien, I thought you meant an illegal. You know, like a Mexican or a Canadian even. But. . . .”
“I told you he was from outer space. I told you I might never see you again.”
“I thought the space thing was a metaphor for your whirlwind romance and you were just being overly dramatic. You do tend to get excited about these things.”
“Oh, Mom. Please don’t. Come meet him. It’ll be okay.” McKenzie pushed her mom toward Tharen’s outstretched appendage.
“It is nice to meet you Mrs.–”
“Jacobs,” McKenzie offered.
“Mrs. Jacobs. I apologize for our rushed departure. I would have liked to offer McKenzie a more traditional courtship, but the mothership has been detected. We must join them immediately and begin the return voyage. I do hope you understand.”
“Well, he is definitely more polite than your previous pursuits, McKenzie. And you’re right– flowers and the ocean. Is that a suit or your skin? It’s rough like tiny stones and yet soft like peach fuzz.” McKenzie’s mom wiped her hands against the back of her pants trying to be subtle.
“It is a protective flight suit. A similar covering has been prepared for McKenzie. It awaits her aboard the transport,” Tharen said.
“Wow. Um. How Nice.”
“Thanks for the ride, Mom.” McKenzie hugged her mother and kissed her on the cheek. “Tell Dad I love him and that Tharen will take good care of me. Okay?”
“Yes, darling. Now, you’re sure about this. I mean completely sure?”
McKenzie looked up at Tharen and smiled. “Oh, I’m sure.”
“Then I guess this is goodbye. Safe travels, darling.”
McKenzie took Tharen’s arm. They walked up the ramp and entered the craft. The moment the door closed, it silently lifted straight up into the air and was gone.
McKenzie’s mom wobbled back to her car. “What am I going to tell Richard?” she murmured to herself. “Tharen does seem nice, but maybe I’ll tell him she joined a cult. That should explain things. I’ll tell him she joined a cult.”
Maria L. Berg enjoys brisk swims in the Pacific Northwest. Her flash fiction has been published in Five on the Fifth and Waking Writer. When not writing adult fiction, she writes and photo-illustrates Gator McBumpypants adventure stories.
Second Still is a band from Los Angeles, California.
By. Irene Meklin
Lynda Willerson, the reports said, suicided on the edge of a cliff. But my heart? What did it say? My heart said that Lyn was murdered. How do I know, you ask? Well that’s simple: because she’s sitting right next to me.
Lynda Willerson, the reports said, had a knife found in her heart. But it was the heart of the assailant that truly was broken. He even took the time to write his name in her blood on her forehead. How considerate of him. How considerate of him.
Lynda Willerson had been said to love Luke, but he did not love her back. The truth is, it was the other way around.
Lynda Willerson, the rumors stated, had tried to show her devotion to Luke by scrawling his name as she lay dying. But it was Luke who truly wanted to show his affection. I guess that was the only way he knew how.
Lynda Willerson, her mother said, had been quiet for weeks before, contemplating. But Lyn was only at the cliffs to meet the rising sun. I should know. I witnessed it all.
Lynda Willerson, her friends said, had been an amazing person. I guess that was the best compliment they had ever given.
Lynda Willerson, the police said, had been alone. But how could she have been alone when I was right next to her?
Lynda Willerson, her teacher said, had never talked to Luke. I guess telling him he should back off didn’t count as talking.
Lynda Willerson, the investigators said, had no fingerprints on her body. I guess crazed psychopaths left no fingerprints.
Lynda Willerson, her brother said, never thought things through and realized the consequences of what she was doing. I guess to a six-year-old, ice cream flavors are very important choices.
Lynda Willerson, the judges said, had no one present to witness her murder. I guess a witness has to be an adult.
Lynda Willerson, I said, had been murdered. I guess now she’s joined me.
Luke Caters, we said, had murdered us all. I guess he had a taste for pretty girls.
Luke Caters, we said, would be shown what it was like. I guess it will be his first -and last- time.
Luke Caters, we said, would be gone by midnight. I guess he’ll hope he’d never met us.
Luke Caters, we said, deserves what he’ll get. I guess we’ll deserve so too. But who can touch us here?
Luke Caters, we say, is dead. I guess we are too. I guess psychopaths don’t leave fingerprints.
Winner of the RAVSAK Hebrew Poetry Contest (2016), I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. My prose was previously published in SmokeLong Quarterly.
Thymme Jones is a musician from Chicago, Illinois.
By. Joshua Scully
The cable ladder twisted violently in a ripping burst of wind. Distracted by some distant irregularity not yet observed by the others, Zane Graham lost his precarious hold onto a rung some fifty-five kilometers above the Venusian surface. Falling backward, he yelped a panicked but indiscernible vocalization over his transmitter.
Graham fell for several meters before striking the support housing over the third habitation module with an audible resonance. He limply rolled off this metallic surface, becoming lost in the swirling atmospheric cream below the habitation.
Villavicencio and Hays, several rungs below from where Graham had fallen, desperately clung to the ladder. Both silently hoped that Graham was killed by his collision with the habitation. Otherwise, their friend would endure an agonizing plummet toward Venus. If he was alive, he would most likely survive the first few minutes of his fall before increasing heat and pressure simultaneously baked and crushed him.
Hurriedly adjusting a satchel strap across her chest, Villavicencio worried the sack of equipment would conspire with the wind and threaten her balance. The relentlessly boisterous gale managed to find every crevice in her protective suit. The suit material was created to protect against the acidic content of the Venusian atmosphere, but the crew had taken to not donning the suits as carefully or completely as intended. With the pressure and temperatures in this stretch of the atmosphere so similar to those of Earth, goosebumps prompted by the chill or shrill of extraterrestrial wind were possible, and some of the crew enjoyed such an experience.
Villavicencio looked upward along suspension cables and toward the torus. The massive hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen-filled balloon seemed perfectly intact from this vantage.
However, *Concordia*, the marvelous, floating habitation and the haven of over two dozen crewmembers, was slowly descending toward the hellish surface of Venus.
That descent would continue if Villavicencio and Hays were unable to locate and patch whatever hole had appeared in the torus. The *Concordia* presently floated over the *Trotula Corona*, one of the bizarre arachnoid structures that are chaotically scattered around the Venusian surface.
Allegedly an extinct and strange kin of the familiar volcano, arachnoids were named such for their uncanny resemblance to spider webs.
Some two hundred hours earlier, while the torus and habitation sailed over the same region of the surface, another seepage had developed. Both the previous and present holes appeared suddenly and in unusual places that were beyond the range of the automatic seal generator. Thankfully, Graham and Villavicencio were able to repair the initial puncture.
Hays was brought along on this second occasion because a need for a third set of hands had existed during the previous repair effort.
Of course, the lives of the remaining *Concordia* crew now rested solely in the hands of Abril Villavicencio. She certainly hadn’t traveled forty million kilometers between worlds to allow *Concordia* to meet such a dire fate.
Different thoughts rambled through Villavicencio’s brain when she reached the rung from which Graham had slipped. She briefly imaged his scorched, deformed remains ensnared in a silky trap of an earthly arachnid. The image was vivid in her mind.
“Another ten rungs!” Villavicencio called out.
After a few more upward steps, Villavicencio reached out for the support lattice underneath the torus. She pulled herself onto the platform and sighed in relief before twisting herself in a position to offer Hays a hand.
Once both were securely on the lattice, Villavicencio and Hays crawled far beyond the outline of the habitation suspended below. Only a menacing swirl of opaque clouds was visible between the intertwined cables that constituted the lattice.
Hays ambled behind his partner. He refused to look down into the tormented atmosphere. He kept his eyes up at the colossal, beige form of the torus.
That’s when he noticed an anomaly.
“What the hell?”
There was a black cylinder protruding from the torus. Hays suspected the bizarre shape was the roughly the size of his forearm.
Villavicencio had also noticed the foreign object. She positioned the satchel beside her, carefully removing various tools and several canisters of sealant.
Villavicencio reached up with a gloved hand and pulled the metallic cylinder free of the torus. The rush of gasses escaping the enormous balloon intensified, but Villavicencio remained focused on the obvious point at one end of the cylinder.
“Definitely a projectile,” she offered. “Intelligent design. Maybe metal, but it’s sticky.”
Hays hurriedly switched the channel on his transmitter and relayed these observations to the bridge.
Villavicencio was well aware that there was a possibility some form of life existed within this zone of the Venusian atmosphere. She placed the bizarre discovery on the lattice, trying her hardest to momentarily flush the implications of this find from her mind. She selected a new canister of sealant and a particular clamp to begin the repair.
“And oily,” she added, noticing a residue left on her gloves after handling the object. “Make sure you let them know that I can’t tell if that thing is manufactured or organic.”
She turned to Hays, as she needed his help to manipulate the heavy clamp.
However, Hays didn’t communicate this final observation.
He became quiet for a brief second before erupting in a pained scream. Another sticky, slimy cylinder had slipped through the lattice and ripped through his thigh.
Villavicencio switched her transmitter to the bridge and was shouting that assistance was needed when she noticed a countless number of pointed, black cylinders rocket upward from the hazy patchwork of clouds below the habitation.
Just before the torus was speared by several dozen of these projectiles, Villavicencio remembered a very detailed image of the *Trotula Corona* she and the other crewmembers had studied before the mission.
On Earth, spiders made use of webs, bolas, and pheromones to capture prey.
Villavicencio wondered if, perhaps, an extraterrestrial variety had learned a new trick.
Joshua Scully is an American History teacher from Pennsylvania. He writes whenever possible.
Tristan Barton is a composer from Australia.
I was driving home from work. Another overtime. Another night I need to make up to my wife. I imagined her turning up the television volume just to drown out the silence in our small flat that I could already barely afford. I felt like there was a noose around my neck – tightening with each snide remark from my boss and tightening more with each dissatisfied comment from my wife.
She couldn’t work. Not with her belly getting larger every term. I told her she could work from home but she didn’t want to. Her qualifications would be wasted, she said. Your life is already wasting, I wanted to say.
Then I saw her. I’ve been seeing her for a long time already but the sight of her never failed to make my heart beat faster. She was standing by the road, signaling for a ride. I didn’t know what I was really thinking. I could have ignored her but instead, I slowed down my Nissan amidst the irritated honking of the cars behind me. I lowered my window.
“Seriously? I never thought I’d see you looking for a ride,” I said and I saw my breath form a small fog as if I’d been smoking again. It was cold outside.
She gave me the crooked smile I had been trying not to think of when I made love to my wife. “Well, here you are. Didn’t think you’d be the one to give me a ride either. You are going to give me a ride, aren’t you?”
I grunted and unlocked the other door. She got in beside me and I began driving again.
“Where you going?” I asked, trying not to look at her hypnotizing long white legs from the short black dress she was wearing.
“Wherever you’re going,” she said and I didn’t have to look to hear the smile in her voice.
“I’m going home,” I said, trying to summon up my old anger for her but failing.
“Really now? But you still picked me up. I’m beginning to think you’ve become confused, darling,” she laughed. Her laugh was so beautiful, so unlike the mocking laugh of my wife whenever she’d look at my salary – or what’s left of it.
“I don’t know why I picked you up, okay? I’ve been having a hard day and I’m tired. You looked like you needed a ride so I gave you one,” I said.
“You’ve been avoiding me for years. What changed?” She rested her hand on my shoulder and I fought the urge to turn my head to her and see her beautiful face up close. Damn her.
“I’m just tired,” I told her.
“I’m here. I’ve been giving you space because I like you and I don’t like to be hated by the only person who really sees me for who I am,” she said softly.
“I . . . like you too,” I said. Despite for what she was, I couldn’t fight the feeling of liking her. She was like a drug. Dangerous and addicting.
“I was starting to think you hate me,” she said, her hand like a burning furnace on my shoulder. I wanted to touch her.
“Are you really telling the truth? About liking me? No one likes me. My co-workers talk shit about me. My wife hates me. Hell, my own mother doesn’t even want to talk to me. Do you really like me or are you just buttering me up?” I asked her, breathing heavily.
“I really like you. You try to be a decent person but the world just keeps giving you a hard time. I like your honesty. I like how you talk to me like I’m just anyone else. It’s rare to find someone like you. So, yes, I really like you,” she said.
My vision blurred. My cheeks were wet. “You shouldn’t be allowed to say things like that. It’s not fair,” I sobbed.
“There, there. Darling, you know I’m here for you. Anyway, I can get off at the next gas station. I understand that you have a wife. You still have someone to get back home to,” she said.
I shook my head. “You’re being nice. You’re doing this reverse psychology thing to me and it’s working. Damn you.”
I took her hand from my shoulder and firmly held it. “I’m not letting you go this time.”
“Really?” She was surprised.
“I’m tired. We’ve been circling each other for years and I think it’s time,” I said.
“Are you absolutely sure?” She was being nice again. I tightened my grip on her.
“Damn hell, I am. Don’t make me change my mind,” I said and I felt myself smile a little. It had been so long. When was the last time I felt proud about my decision? When was the last time I smiled about it?
“Darling, I’m touched that you’ve finally chosen me,” she said.
I turned my head to look at her, taking in her kind face and eyes that seemed to see only me. I leaned in.
Death’s kiss was wickedly good.
Mary Claire is taking up B.S. Development Communication at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. She likes watching anime, reading mangas, and painting in her spare time.
Sundays & Cybele is a band from Tokyo, Japan.