from “Radiance” by Jonathan Mack

September 7, 2010


I should not have looked.

If only!

I should never have looked, not peeked.  It was too much for me.  Not that I am such a weak man.  (Well, only in this way.)  I should have covered it up soon as I saw it, the crack in the wall, the crack I found in the back of the closet while I was in there rearranging my collections.  I could have filled it up with quick drying cement, a few coats of paint.  I could have simply ignored it.  Most people would.  Many people must live, day after day, with cracks in the walls of the rooms where they live and never once yield to this magnetic itch: the urge to turn off all the lights, crouch down, put an eye to the crack in the wall and peep.

I am, overall, a reasonable, respectable man.  You’d like me if we met, I think.  Well.  To be likeable requires charm and also force, a visibility I don’t possess.

Some people make themselves seen; they shine their shoes and rush up to shake your hand.  Some of us do not.  I’m too dim, too drab, but I am confident nonetheless that if you met me at work (credit authorizations) or on the street you would find me, at very least, inoffensive.  I’m a restrained man.  I have never once struck anyone, never kicked anyone in the crotch, kneecaps or elsewhere.  My voice in public is courteous and subdued.  I am, overall, a very reasonable and sane person except for my eyes which are two mad dogs always straining forward, pulling me ahead, two big dogs jumping up, snuffing about.  Crotch dogs.

The rest of my organs are very subdued, very sane.  All except for my eyes.  My eyes and, I suppose, my mind.

On the other side of the wall is a man.  Alone, as I am, but seeming not to mind.  He lives, as I do, in a bachelor’s studio with a sliver of a kitchen and a splinter of a bath.  His door opens into another hall, another staircase in this labyrinthine ramshackle low-rent complex, so that I have never met him while struggling with the groceries or going out for the mail.  He looks like a friendly sort of person, the kind who’d give you a nod, at least, even in a city like this one.  He might even volunteer to carry a bag if he noticed you struggling.  He has very sturdy arms; all his limbs, in fact, look very amiable.

The crack in the wall is, I estimate, slightly above and to the right of the man’s television.  So that I often saw him sitting turned toward me, gazing off to the side.  He was very fond of television, content to sprawl his long arms and legs over a chair and abide there for hours.  Personally I loathe television.  It is dull to watch.  Nonetheless, I admire the feckless courage of TV viewers.  How can they imagine they have time to waste?

As for me, I am a theorist.  A collector.  I was rearranging my collections when I found the crack in the wall.  I’m someone who has big ideas.  (More about this later.)  The man on the other side of the wall is only my latest, and most compelling, object of study.  In my closet I have gathered a number of popular astronomy texts, a life of Edison and the Pocket Upanishads, as well as a number of photos culled from newspapers and magazines in which the subject appears strangely illuminated, pictures that might prove something or might not, like photographs of ghosts.

The man liked to talk to his television–always in a very sensible and amiable manner.  He said, ‘Good Morning’ to the morning show, yawned at comedians, and did not seem to take anything personally, no matter how awful the nightly news became, as if everything he saw were happening in a country not his own, which he was only visiting.  At no point, of course, was he aware that he was, himself, a thousand times more interesting than anything he was watching.

I saw–and I knew.  Crouched in the dark, my nose tickled by the crumbling plaster, I watched him hour after hour.  The empyrean mysteries are introduced with simple questions: will he rub his taut belly now?  Will he stretch?  Will he yawn?  Is it time for dinner yet?  Is the world a concern?  Do his balls itch?

I watched him for hours, night after night, because–because I am a lonely pervert?  No.  Because it is my work.  My duty on earth.  I am a theorist, you understand, of the order most rarefied.  I am the student of a theory and I’ve spent all my life in its tracking and pursuit.  It’s a very tricky theory, a theory of consummate delicacy.  As soon as you look at it, it vanishes.

Yet it is there.  I’m sure of it.

from “Foreign Parts” by Colin Meldrum

August 31, 2010


The next day, playing swimsuit one-sided tennis against the backside of the house, I realized all of a sudden that I was alone.

I kicked off my last article of clothing. I even tiptoed to the kiwifruit orchard and found a fresh hen-egg-sized kiwi. I cupped it in my hands like a delicate hamster, not yet plucking it from its nest. It was no more than a silhouette thanks to the glare of the sun. With warmth parading in my eyes and baking my nude skin, I was in paradise and favorably blind to the impending adventure in my palms. I plucked it from its branch and bit into it like a forbidden apple, tore a morsel before I could get away.

Once I got past the fur and realized it wouldn’t wriggle, the experience was near thrilling, and I indulged.

It was then, upon opening my eyes, that I spotted the golden garden cage: opened. It was gaping at the middle with the whole cylinder bottom hanging like a hysterical jaw. I had never seen it opened before and the new shape of it was disruptively asymmetrical. Suddenly, I was not so alone. I was naked.

Before I could think, I leapt into the tree

Though tree never seems to be the best word for a kiwi plant. The orchard was more of a vineyard: the first level was a confusion of poles and twisted wooden lightning bolt trunks, and the top level was an unbroken cloud of brush at head-height.

And I was wearing it. Sitting with my legs tangled and dangled among the vines, the leaves were my loin cloth and bubble bath, and I was Zeus looking down from above the world—or perhaps I was Odysseus and only rented my time among the gods.

My heart had begun a rapid cello-strum. I sensed the invading eyes upon me but scanning the yard, I found no trespasser. From my seat, however temporary—or precarious, as the wind and whining vines suggested, I saw many things and the last few minutes of my life flashed before my eyes: the lone tennis racket, my clothes heap, the mocking cage. I’d chuck the tennis ball into its teeth if I could find it.

Bonk! There it was against my head and into my hands, and I dropped the kiwi.

I looked to see who had thrown it and was surprised to find a creature perched atop my jungle cloud, not five yards from where I sat. It slouched tightly cross-kneed, raising and bobbing her chin like a pretty monkey fishing for a sweetie, chewing with an occasional underbite on something from an hour ago. She—I was sure it was a she—acted as though she hadn’t noticed me, but I knew she was the culprit launcher of my own tennis ball.

There’s a queer feeling you get when you realize there’s an animate being in your presence where you expected none. That’s when my heart and lungs mixed up and I became an amateur at breathing, but in the end, it was my heart that won out and I decided: I would fall in love with her. I wondered if she was kiwi-green beneath her brown hair. The more I watched, the more difficult seemed the task. I lolled back in my throne and attempted a few head bobs of my own. She glanced my way and offered an oxygen mask. I wasn’t sure where to go from there.

The vine gave at that moment anyway, and I rolled head over heels through the cloud into the dust.

On the way down, I saw that someone had stirred my clothes heap. I pushed my head up quickly and caught sight of him at last: white and bulky in astronaut garb and making a zero-gravity dash across the lawn at one-bound-per-three-seconds. With my shorts dangling from his boot ankle, he stabbed the planet with a flagpole. He made to salute—but saw me coming.

He stumbled slowly over swim trunks, but nothing serviced his escape. I caught up in less than a sprint and wrestled his floating body to the ground, taking full advantage of his otherworldly gravity. I loomed over him like a god, raised my fists, and bashed in his tinted visor ape-style. His eyes squinted under the unshielded sunlight—his face was green—green was envy—his mouth gasping like the cage. I crammed the tennis ball into his jaws. I cast him blinded and silenced into the sky, and he was lost.

I turned to pick up the flag, but the pretty creature was gone.

from “When the Village is Already Taken” by Nathan Sims

June 14, 2010


Dyson was once again aware of the crowded streets, and his boyfriend’s hand still in his, and now his hot breath on his neck.  He pulled away.

“Why are you so nervous?” Avery asked. “I think you can handle a bunch of drag queens, Wain.  I mean, you’ve slain dragons after all.”

“Just the one.”

“And that’s still one more dragon than most people have even seen.”

“Keep it down, please?” Dyson whispered, eyeing the others standing nearby waiting for the light to change. “I don’t want the entire city knowing what I do.”

“I think it’s cool.”

“Well, most people don’t feel the same.  They would freak if they found out fairies existed.”

“Yeah, well, being imprisoned by a witch with a penchant for human sacrifice tends to put things in perspective.” Avery winked then added, “Not to mention the dwarves.”

Dyson glared at Avery trying to quiet him.

“What’s got you so worked up?” his boyfriend asked.  “Is this because of the drag show?  You act like you’ve never been to one before.”

Dyson didn’t reply but stood silently waiting for the light to turn.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Avery studying him.

The reporter’s eyes grew wide. “Wain, you have been to a drag show before, haven’t you?”

After a pause, Dyson replied, “It’s not that big a –”

“Oh my god!” Avery exclaimed. “You’ve been sucking dick how long now and you’ve never been to a drag show?”

“Sh!” Dyson snapped.

A loud cackling startled him.  Standing behind them was a gaggle of young men dressed for a night out clubbing.  They looked at Dyson, laughing.

“Please!” he pleaded with Avery between gritted teeth. “Don’t make a big deal out of this.”

“How is it not a big deal?  Drag shows are a rite of passage for gay men.”

“That’s right, guuurl!” one member of the group commented. “It’s time you pop that cherry!”  His friends chortled as the light turned and they crossed the street.

Dyson glared at Avery.  “Thanks.  A lot,” he said as he stepped off the curb and followed behind the boys.

“Wain, wait up!” Avery chased after him. “So some twinks laugh at you, what’s the big deal?”

Dyson didn’t reply but groaned as he watched the group of “twinks” pull out their IDs and cover charge, offering them to the bouncer at the club’s door.  He moved into line behind them.

As the final one’s hand was stamped, he flashed a smile in Dyson’s direction and announced to the bouncer, “Be sure to check this one’s ID reeeeal good.  He may not look it, but word is:  he’s young enough to be a virgin!”  Gales of laughter from his friends welcomed the young man inside.  Dyson felt a rush of heat flood his face as snickers sounded from the line behind him.

“Uh, here you go,” Avery said, pulling the cover charge from his wallet along with his ID.  He took Dyson’s ID and offered it to the smirking bouncer.

The man’s smile brightened as he read Avery’s driver’s license.  “Mr. Cooper, they’ve been waiting for you.”  He handed the cover charge back along with their IDs and said, “Tyrone should be at the bar.”

“See, isn’t it nice having V.I.P. status?” Avery commented, doing his best to ease the tension between them.

Dyson considered telling Avery exactly where he could shove his V.I.P. status.  Even if he had, though, it wouldn’t have been heard above the noise bombarding them as they stepped inside the club.  The music was deafening.

They stopped in front of the dance floor splashed in roving colored lights.  Twin lit glass bars stood on either side of the club.  Avery studied the crowd for a moment then signaled Dyson to the bar on the right.  He approached a middle-aged bald man dressed in a black shirt and slacks talking to the bartender.  Dyson guessed this must be Tyrone.  Before there was a chance for introductions however the man kissed Avery on either cheek and whisked him away to meet the other judges.  Dyson watched in horror as his boyfriend abandoned him, casually promising he’d return soon.

“What’ll it be?” the bartender asked.  His t-shirt was tight enough to display his areolas.  His cut-off shorts dared Dyson to guess his heritage.

Dyson ordered a beer and drank off half of it as he scanned the room nervously, watching the crowd form.  He hadn’t been entirely truthful with Avery.  This wasn’t just Dyson’s first drag show.  This was his first time in a gay club.  Ever.

from “Rabbits” by Matthew Jordan Schmidt

June 8, 2010


When Nevil came back from the lake that day I waited for him. I waited for three hours, not knowing that he had already disappeared in the darkness somewhere between the water’s edge and the wooden cabin we’d been living in for ten years. The night had been a still one, unbroken by word or rustle, and I’d sat by the window and watched, waited, tried to remember his face as I always did when we were apart, having no idea that this idle game of mine was to become a permanent way of life, this game of imagining him as he had been, as we had been. Even now, were I still able to, I would go to that mirror and search out his face inside of it, or place my hand upon the railing leading up to the bedroom—our bedroom—to feel the vanished warmth of his hand.

But I, too, am gone, and now someone else will feel the fading warmth of Nevil’s hand. Someone else will stare in the mirror and catch a glimpse of his face. What they will see will be confusing, probably nothing more than that blurred haze that memory engenders when it is at its most feverish and fluid. It flickers like a candle and then vanishes. But there are cinders. Always ashes that we crunch through as we come back down the stairs and see where he left his sneakers, in the nook by the door; or when we open an umbrella to step out into the rain and see the stains where his own black umbrella once dripped, pellet by pellet, into the sandy wood that we varnished ourselves in the back shed.

I combed the entire property for five days before calling the police. And then another five after the police had left. I took the dogs and tried to sniff him out. I took a flashlight and shone my beam on the places where we had laughed together. I cried in the bough of the tree where he’d come to tell me his mother had died. I sat on the swing and remembered Carrie’s visit all those years ago. Carrie with the pigtails and the ideals. Carrie with the dreams. I had never wanted Nevil’s children to be a part of our lives. I wish now that I had thought differently.

The water was still after Nevil disappeared. It refused to give me what it had given before. When I put my feet into it, I shivered with discomfort. When I took the boat out, I seemed to get nowhere; the far shore was an ocean away. Even when the leaves twirled down and got snuggled up in my swirling strokes, their crimson spirals offered me no solace. They only bled into the sediments below and lay still.

I have done the same.

I wonder if Nevil ever understood my eyes: the way they carried fog in them like an hourglass does coloured sand. I wonder if he knew about my pills, or the violence I executed in secret. That summer when we found the rabbit strung up in the tree, our eyes met in silence and the last grains tumbled down through the bauble’s glass neck. I blinked and flipped the hourglass over. Nevil did too. We buried the rabbit and stuck a cross made of poplar stems into the earth above its eyeless head. One of the dogs barked and tried to dig up the sad little victim. We ignored her, lit a fire and got drunk.

from “The Badge” by Jeremy Garrett

June 1, 2010


Scouts in rain slicked ponchos lined up on the hill.  As the bugle played the stars and stripes were folded into a tight triangle.  The chaplain spoke, and a few of the boys wrung their hands through his prayer.

Inside the mess hall a troop of scouts claimed the table in the shadows of stuffed deer heads.  Untouched food steamed on their trays as they regaled each other with hunting stories earned with their fathers.  Sam was the head boy at the table, and as a Life Scout going on Eagle he was full of the experience the younger scouts admired.  At one scout’s request he unfolded a photo from his wallet to show off his trophy kill of an elk’s head and antlers mounted above his bed.  His grin lessened with every telling of the story.  “Dad had taken his shot and missed,” Sam said.  “The elk came straight at me.  I stood and I faced him and I shot a bullet through his neck.”

After dinner the boys waited out the rain on the porch of the lodge.  Relaxed in his rocking chair, Sam was surrounded by scouts with stories less bloody than his.  A scrawny kid boasted of a wrestling win over a Goliath outside of his weight class, and another boy claimed to have survived for weeks alone in the woods.  There was one scout, however, who told stories that were not his own.

Andy McClure sat in the rocker to Sam’s right, and each day after dinner he would read the scouts passages from the horror novels he’d brought with him to camp.  Pale, precocious, and respected for his intimidating silences, Andy McClure lured all the boys in with his monotone drawl.  Today’s reading was of a Louisiana swamp cult’s deadly bacchanal.  The boys cringed at Andy’s depictions of breasts and blood, and in the time it took to read the passage the bookish kid was the most popular of the scouts.

Sam welcomed those moments when the spotlight was off him, when he was saved from retelling the story of the time he’d shot the deer.  Last night Andy had paced around the campfire recounting the tale of an escaped gorilla stalking a woman through a dark city alley.  At the climax of the story Andy had startled them all by taking hold of a younger scout and shaking the boy by his shoulders.  Sam was almost jealous of the contact.  He didn’t really know what it was to be scared.

Andy’s tale of swamp cannibals went unheard by the group of scoutmasters smoking in the corner of the porch.  Sam listened beyond Andy’s reading to catch pieces of their conversation.  “There’s nothing we can do about it,” said one scoutmaster, taking a languid drag from his cigarette.  “The land’s their property and they can do what they want.  But I dare one of them to step into this camp.”

The breeze sent tendrils of smoke spiraling towards the boys.  Though cigarettes were forbidden to them, the adults’ example placed the unhealthy practice in high esteem.  Scouts smuggled cigarettes into the camp, and each summer more and more boys were initiated into the cult of tobacco.  Sam had a pack of American Spirits in his tent.  He craved their feel in his lungs, and the contentment of holding one in his fingers.  He stood

from the rocker and pulled on his poncho.  “I’m braving the rain,” he told the boys.

Andy marked his place in his book.  “If you’re going back to camp I’ll join you.”

Camp Crooked Creak was shaped like a horseshoe around the dead end tributary of a river.  The rain lessened as the boys walked, and the camp spread out before them in all of its rain soaked glory.  On the three-mile trail to Campsite 12 they passed the craft hut, canteen, sports field, and archery range.  They stripped away their ponchos when the sun poked out from the clouds.  Closer to camp there were boys fishing from a peer, where the lake gave off the steam of a quenched inferno.

The campground was empty.  Inside Sam’s tent they sat cross-legged on opposite cots.  Rainwater dripped from the trees onto the tent, and the vibrations sent daddy long-legs scurrying across the canvas ceiling.  Sam stretched out his legs and lit them both a cigarette.  “There’s something the adults aren’t telling us,” he said.

“I know what it is,” said Andy, choking on his first drag.  “I can show you.”

from “Ursa Major Swims” by Garrett Harriman

May 24, 2010


The hill was steep and she was swimming.  Swimming with B and laughing.




“Ursa, keep up!”






The other tone died off.  Fallen to her knees thirty steps down, Ursa broke from the surge.  A hillside replaced her foggy drifting with the old itch infecting her veins.  Only it was worse than that now.  Ursa gasped in dust and nettles, called back, “I can’t make it!”

“You have to, Ur!  We can’t miss this!”

“I don’t feel so great, B…”

“Ursa you whiner, come on!

“I can’t, B!  It hurts!

B rolled her eyes, but Ursa couldn’t discern that in the dark.  She was hunched on the path under a nocturnal tarp of stars, breathing hard, listening to another girl’s sandals kick pebbles down toward her.  Just gargoyled there, hating and pouting.  What sort of teacher forced his students to wake up at three in the morning?  And then tells them to reach a peak an hour away?  And then expects them to report for actual class later that morning?  B stopped at Ursa’s side, patted her shoulder.

“It’s just a little more, Ursa.”

“I don’t care.  I’m itching everywhere.”

B sighed.  “It’s not that dry up here, Ur.  No bugs on your clothes, either.  I don’t believe you.”

But Ursa meant it.  This was worse than all of last month, a staunch intuition of Not Right.  When it had started it was a minor annoyance: just an odd prod, ants in her pants and nibbling her blood.  Now its undertones made her feel not just freakish, but vulnerable.  It was flash evolving into a raw sensation so inverted that she could only describe it as a deep, fiery gumming.  And she thought it wasn’t fair–wasn’t her swimming enough?  The limit of “different?”  The ants had only tickled before–they hadn’t dared bite.  And now that Ursa wasn’t sure she could endure them much longer, stifle their portending surf, she waited for consumption.  It made her abundantly tense.

 “This feels bad, B.”

“Ursa, we can’t miss this.  I don’t even care about the grade.  I just wanna see it happen.  Don’t you?”

An easy enough thing to say.  The whole world wanted to see it.  Which meant she could read about it later.  Ursa righted herself with an effort.  When she stood straight, the itch seemed to migrate up from her diaphragm to a Purgatory of Pain.   “I did.  But now I don’t.”

“It won’t happen again, Ur!” rebuked B.  “How can you not wanna see it?”

“They don’t know that.  It could come back.”

Ursa wanted to force her itch into B, then.  Have her share its urchin-bristled feet.  She wanted to grab B by her ponytail and make her give her a piggyback ride back down to the waiting car.  “And I do wanna see it.  Happy?  This is just–”  Ursa stopped to close her eyes, to wade through her vocabulary and lightly land on a shoal.  “It’s insatiable!”

B’s hand left Ursa’s shoulder to click at her wrist.  Even at three in the morning, in the dull glow of a Velcro wristwatch, B looked how B looked.  No makeup either, Ursa noticed.  B was for beautiful–that’s the ABCs.  Ursa massaged her marching gut.  Nothing nullified.

“Ursa, we need to see this.  We just have to.”

Ursa blinked at the glitter above, letting the night distract her.  It wasn’t working.

“Do I have to carry you?”

Ursa needed to say yes, the idea flaring through her head like a Navy Seals floodlight.  Until she looked back at B, hands on her hips, a silver Nikon camera wrapping her neck.  No–no, not now.

“No.  I guess I’ll try walking, though.  If it means so much to you.”

B beamed a lighthouse.  “There ya go.  We don’t have to watch all of it.  Just enough.”

2010 Contests Canceled

March 11, 2010

The Calamus Prize for Queer Speculative Poetry, announced in the Vol.2 No. 1 (January 2010), is canceled this year.   The second Delfino Prize for Queer Genre Fiction, scheduled to run later this year, is also canceled.  These contests may run in the future.

Those of you who were interested in these contests should feel free to send us your work for general submission.