Saturday, September 26, 2009


by Elizabeth O’Hara

Every section of his surface was reefseed to a calciferous garden of ill-feeling and papery negative assessments of his person. Exposed and clothed areas alike were festooned with insults flyposted by unseen hands. In the less accessible precipices and crevices of his external anatomy - the crevasse formed between the shoulder blades, for instance - the many layers of character assassinations had fused into papier-mâché scales. He was a bulbous baobab braced with plate fungus hatred, an upright stegosaurus abused by the fortifications of his own exterior.

He had become some form of living pasquino, his flanks bristling with scraps of paper spidered over with satirical verses and erudite mockeries of his foibles, morality, appearance, and general worth as a human being. There were long tracts written in various Englishes high and low, Latin scholarly and schoolboy, and a few in sneering French or snarling Finnish, some barbed with German adverbs so nuggety and gnarled that single words enjambed over several lines of the page. A notable example, written in the very choicest Italian, evaluated his roles as an unnecessary consumer of resources and vital atmospheric gases and postulated on the exact circle of hell to which he would be consigned.

He never let it get him down, however; he was determined to maintain a reasonable opinion of himself and an aspect of congenial bonhomie, despite the paper condemnations and assertions to the contrary flaking from his exterior like old birch bark.

“Your face is merely a hive for your many teeth, the least shocking aspect of which is their incredible number. No man; not you.
A lamprey mocking human form is nearer to the mark. Maybe one at the helm of some manner of man-sized mecha.”

“No, no; not at all.” His replies would echo through the cabbage-scented corridors of his interior, in a voice only slightly louder and more shrill than he intended, “Homo sapiens all the way, this one. Down beyond the bones.” He tapped a nobbly ganglion in his wrist; a redundant demonstration, as it was conducted purely within his mind.

“That which you call a home is, when viewed by an eye wired to a brain unassailed by the malfunctions plaguing your own, nothing more than a shallow concavity barely perceptible in a medium-sized chunk of moor-weathered granite. A party of such reputable citizens bore witness to the activity you designate as “going home” and shakily describe the creepy rubbing action to which you devoted many hours, your cheek achieving friction against the bare rock. Just the boulder and you; naked, windswept, apparently coated head-to-foot in a clear gelatinous substance, and vigorously mashing the right side of your features into the rocky dip. “Nuzzling” was the word many of them used, and that sickened my wife and I more than any of it. We sincerely hope that you find no comfort in its rigid crevice, unappealing character that you are.”

“It’s a mock Tudor semi, I’ll assure you.” As his refutations remained unvoiced, they remained unheeded.

“Snuggling up to outcrops is not an activity for your sort,” came another missive, along with “Die, igneous reprobate!”

“You make tea as an act of passion and make love as a normal person makes tea. Up to and including the half-hearted reading of cereal boxes while waiting until all that’s necessary comes up to the boil.”

“I’ve received no complaints on either count,” he attempted, but even his internal voice lacked the animation for wit.

“Your knuckles are repugnant and you enjoy the general reputation of a stinky winkle. The smell emanating from your manifold creases irritates my mucus membranes over long distances, and I bet your coat is filthy. Your umbrella suffers two broken spokes, a rip in the canvas and a dense profusion of tiny bristling legs across the entirety of its inner surface. This is all the information I need to pass the gravest judgement.”

“I suspect your immune system of being overly sensitive to allergens,” would be the only defence even half offered-up.

“Pitiful man; you are a sourpuss and a receptacle for welts. Your face is provided for our sport, your lips for smacking with wooden planks. You are a nugatory animal, unworthy of genes and animus, and even of the feeble matter at their disposal.”

“No, no, sir; I must protest…”

But he didn‘t. Not for a very long time. Not before the weight of insults built up, slowing his progress and adhering him to the surface. He survived barnacle-like in his cyst of ridicule, using the last reserves of his self-buoying bonhomie and eventually having to take in material via the filter of external judgement. It was this that compelled him in his quest to communicate.

It hit him like static. A letter of his own. His own judgement, the counteract all those from outside. Wild-eyed, he scrawled on the backs of messages pulled from his body. He continued into margins, forming weird palimpsests with the original texts. Where there was no room at all, he resorted to amending what already existed, removing or adding a “not” as necessary.

For many days he worked, neglecting the maintenance of his façade for this new higher priority. By the time his work was one done, only the right hand where it clutched the pen and an oval surrounding his muzzle emerged from the growing ludibrious mass. Here was the record set straight, a true account of his person, whatever any unseen other might judge. It was time for the membrane separating his interior and exterior to bulge outwards, a convexity in his favour.

His mouth formed a faint smile over which he promptly plastered the papery wads of his own self-assessment, shutting out the air and quietly dying within the newly-sealed cyst of his isolation. Soon after that the pasquinades stopped. By which I mean no more came; unfortunately and as they are wont to do, the old ones stuck fast.

Elizabeth O’Hara weaves churrigueresque nonsense and hebephrenic vitriol into a form of literature. Intercept her brainspurts at

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


by Rachel Theofanis

Adults have thirty-two teeth, give or take. When she smiled I could see eight of them. She lived in the apartment above mine. I liked to go to sleep early, so I could turn off the lights and listen to her steps sifting back and forth across the hardwood floors. I liked it when she was alone. It was much easier to see her that way. Stretched out on the couch in mismatched clothes. Her long white fingers raking through her dark unkempt hair. Reading a book, too. I know she had to have been a reader because I never heard a TV. I should have gone up there. I should have talked to her.

When she died I had nothing to listen to anymore. The sound of her footsteps was the music that filled my head and when she left that was all I could hear. I rarely slept, and when I did I dreamt about the teeth I couldn’t see and the girl I never met.

I didn’t know right away, of course. After a few days of smothering silence my intestines gained a life of their own and I could feel them writhing within me. No, I didn’t know for sure until Officer Argo called on me. I had been lying on the floor for three days, feeling the cool planks of wood against my cheek. I was on another planet but Argo’s heavy hand against the door brought me back to Earth.

His stocky frame filled the doorway and with the combination of that and his ashen skin I had the feeling I was dealing more with a wall and less with a man. He seemed friendly enough, but his wan smile never reached his tired eyes and I wasn’t sure what to make of him.

“Hi, my name is Detective Argo,” he said as he coolly flashed a badge. “Can I ask you a few questions?”

“Uh… Sure.” I hadn’t been doing anything terribly important.

Argo started to flip through a small, tattered notebook. “Mitchell Gedman, am I right? Lived here three years?”

My face involuntarily broke into a grin, and I replied. “So far so good.”

Argo returned the same slow smile and muttered, “Good, good…” as he slowly flipped through the worn pages of his notebook. “So what you been up to for the last couple of nights, Mitch? You don’t mind if I call you Mitch, do you?’

“I don’t mind, but I doubt you’d be very interested. I like my nights to myself.”

“Yeah, a few of your neighbors mentioned that they didn’t see you around much.” He ran one of his thick hands through his thinning, graying hair. The bitter stench of cigarette smoke clinging to his coat caused my face to contort in muted disgust as I stood waiting for some kind of explanation. I had not been doing anything very pressing but the interruption was unwelcome.

Argo’s smile fell as he slowly, deliberately looked up, the red notebook bending in his sweaty grip. “Were you familiar with a Olivia Hollis? Apartment right above yours?”

In ways he couldn’t imagine. “We were never introduced, but I’ve seen her around.”

For a brief moment a flash of fierce suspicion shone brightly through his dull features, then subsided. “Well… Well Mitch, I’m sorry to say Miss Hollis died the other night. Neighbor called when she noticed the door forced open and the place a mess.” He glanced down. “It wasn’t a pretty sight, let me tell ya.”

I couldn’t breathe. Olivia. Olivia, who only smiled with twenty-five percent of her teeth; who I could feel in every single pore of my body even though I didn’t know her, even though she was dead. My blood, electrically charged with this information, began to move as fast as it could in all directions at once. “Fuck.”

“Fuck’s right, Mitch. Now we need to know, did you notice anything strange the last couple of days? She lived right above you, I take it there’s a pretty good chance you might’ve heard something.”

I explained to Argo that I didn’t know anything, that I barely knew her. He didn’t put up much of a fuss but I could tell that he wasn’t that kind of a guy. I slowly shut the door and felt isolation put her smooth arms around me once more, but her embrace was colder after the lingering presence of Argo began to slowly dissipate. I went to the bathroom to take a look at myself in the mirror. I had recently lost my job over an unfortunate misunderstanding, and I felt no inclination to find something else to occupy my time. I picked up a hairbrush and pulled out one long, dark hair. I looked at it for a second before flicking it into the trash.

I lay face down on my couch, breathing in the musty fabric. I pressed myself in, deeper and deeper, and let the darkness surround me in miserable finality. I lay there for hours, days, maybe weeks; I’m not sure. I felt as if I was a bottom feeder in the deepest part of the sea, feeling the steady pressure pushing me further into myself. I thought about her long legs. I wondered if she chewed her nails. I didn’t know if she was messy or tidy. I wondered if she had a job, a boyfriend. I breathed into the cushion and let my hot breath warm my face.

I woke up to a phone ringing. I started feeling around under the cushions to see if it was there. Nobody ever called. I didn’t think I had to keep tabs on a cordless phone. I couldn’t find it but it just kept ringing. I had no answering machine, and the high-pitched trill never stopped. I stumbled into the bedroom and found the phone tucked neatly beneath the pillows of the bed I never found time to use.

“Hey Mitch.” Argo. “I spoke with you the other day regarding Olivia Hollis, the woman upstairs?”

I started to nod as I picked up a small charm that had been lying right next to the phone. “I remember,” I said, suddenly realizing I was on a phone and Argo might not be able to see me, wherever he was. The charm was tiny. It was a tiny silver dolphin, and it glittered as I turned it in the sliver of light available. I wasn’t sure where it had come from, but I guess if you have a bed as cold as this one all sorts of garbage might find its way in.

“Mitch, I was just wondering. Are you sure you didn’t know Olivia? I need to know. Was there anything going on between the two of you?” His voice was steady, soothing. “Your younger neighbors seem to suggest that the two of you had some sort of excessively private relationship. Or are they mistaken?”

I let the charm tumble through my fingers and didn’t look to see where it might have landed. I had no clue what this man was talking about. “There must be some sort of mistake. I didn’t know her. I never met her.”

“Now, I’m not one to judge Mitch, but if you had anything goin’ on with this woman you need to let me know.” His voice became louder, commanding the situation.

“I didn’t know her, trust me,” I said, right before I hung up and threw the phone across the room, watching it smash into little pieces. I wasn’t angry, far from it. There was just something in his voice that I didn’t like. I didn’t need a phone anyway.

I had fallen asleep again, and was woken by the sound of Argo’s voice. This time he was outside the door. It was nighttime, but I wasn’t sure how many days might have passed since I threw the phone against the wall. I slowly got up, my brain rattling along with Argo’s incessant pounding against the door. It would be better just to pretend I wasn’t there. Walking to the kitchen, I reached deep into the freezer to see if I could find something to eat. My head began to ache worse as I listened to Argo’s heavy fist crash into the groaning wood of the door. I continued to ignore him as my hands brushed against something cold, hard and unfamiliar. It definitely was not food, so I took a firm grip and yanked at it, pulling it out of the freezer.

I stared at what I held in my hands. The pounding grew louder and louder until I lost myself in it almost entirely. It was just me now. Just me and this grotesque thing I held with unfamiliar hands. I had to wonder, what on earth would I be doing with a pair of pliers caked in a thick layer of blood?

I sit up in this cold room, my eyes squinting against the harsh light coming in from the window. I think about her white teeth, her dark hair, and the pale softness of her white skin. Argo’s the only one who ever visits me here. But I guess nobody ever visited me before, anyway. He only asks me one question:

“We need to know Mitch, what did you do with her teeth?”

Monday, September 14, 2009

Vantage Point

By Louise Norlie

She observed their strange rituals in silence, taking careful notes. To escape she needed knowledge. The workers sported waxed mustaches. They trotted ladders through the halls and wove them through the doors. From a vantage point on the tenth stair she saw each and every door on the second floor and the door on the first floor she called the final door. This she guessed to be an exit door but she could not reach it. A huge baby guarded it with fierce brandishes of a syrupy fist. She called the baby Cerberus though it had just one head.

The workers hosed down the rugs and sprayed the potted plants with glaze. They boxed vases and unpacked crates of fine china. Minor collisions prompted an excuse me muttered with averted eyes. Whenever the clock struck a new hour the baby cried. In the evening, the workers reposed and she sat among them. They gazed out the one and only window with gasps of admiration. Apparently, the light show was for their benefit, the handiwork of some distant god. She traced the arcs of distant flames and fires for signs and symbols. The result was that she saw herself from a vantage point high above. The window was a shrinking yellow square and she was distinctly alien, the odd one out. She felt the eyes of the workers upon her and hid behind the curtains. They insisted with mute gestures that she rejoin them. It was not generosity, she felt, but joy in seeing her so conspicuous. Their eyes became huge terracotta orbs. From their vantage point she was a puny and helpless thing, destined to drown, bailing water from a sinking ship.

The night pressed close with hammering. The house grew larger beneath the auspices of hidden violence. The workers argued in the secret whisperings of an unknown tongue. Their mustaches moved stiffly due to liplong scars. Sounds of shattering plates and crashing metal were the backdrop of their stoic faces. Her feet crunched on tiny shards in dark corners. Red fluid oozed from slits beneath the doors. This she pretended to ignore while ladders slid past longer than freight trains.

She recorded her hypothesis faithfully. With the longest telescope the stars were words of it. She now believed the workers were not moving, only building. From time to time the walls bleached translucent. The light shows came more often, the windows grew in size. The yellow-brown eyes of the workers pressed against them like butterfly wings. People in glass houses, she repeated, not remembering the rest.

Giving up on the exit door, she took a nail to a wall and began to hammer. Fizzures spread as the edifice let out a protracted groan. She heard footsteps behind her, many moving as one. The workers had ganged up at last. Unprecedented, the baby rose to its heels, stomping heavy as a marauder.

It was too late for a furtive escape; the cracked wall was impenetrable. She sought refuge between the potted plants as the baby drew near. She swung wildly and found its flesh to be soft, pillowy. She punched it to deflation. It shrank letting lose a piercing howl from its wrinkled face. The workers encircled them both. The baby wriggled with rage. She was to blame for it being forever stunted. Its chubby fingers pointed toward her in condemnation, first the right hand then the left. Traitor! Spy! the workers chanted.

The new walls flapped and shredded. They became arms that grabbed her, imprisoned her. The workers were the building blocks of this strange place, she realized, their motions a charade. Her lips were the only part left free. Held aloft she screamed, Cerberus soaring by her side, while the light show flared its spectacle above.

Bio:Louise Norlie’s publications have appeared in Mad Hatter’s Review, Unlikely Stories, Behind the Wainscot, and elsewhere. She has contributed to Sein und Werden in both its print and online manifestations. Her writing has been anthologized by Dead Letter Press and Bettany Press. Visit her apathetically maintained blog at