Image by Robert  Zunikoff

VERSIFICATION

march madness
2022

READ WITH CARE

this eclectic mix of art may contain images or text that may be considered disturbing

Image by Sigmund

Woman Whose Useless Husband Played Video Games and Watched Too Much Porn Throughout the Pandemic While She Kept the Household Running and Their Two Kids Paying Attention to Virtual School Testifies on the Stand 

STEPHANIE KING

He said, “choke me.” So I did. 

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Stephanie King writes stories, fights for public schools, and photoshops Gritty into things in Philadelphia. If you're reading this she's probably at an ice rink for her daughter's skating practice right now. You can find her online at stephanieking.net or on Twitter @stephstephking.

SICK DAY

kevin danahy

Gray dawn

trudging to work

a crow glided

from rooftop to rooftop

jeering at my diligence

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Kevin Danahy lives in Burlington VT and has recently found a new job.

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mark danowsky

I AM THE KIND OF PERSON WHO

COLIN GEE

I am the kind of person who

shut the fuck up

come here

take this

put it up to your eye

look through the little hole

do you see those people in there?

You see them?

They are the kinds of people who

You

on the other hand

are not the kind of person who at all

fucking hell

Not at all.

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Colin Gee (@ColinMGee) is founder and editor of The Gorko Gazette (@GorkoThe), a daily that publishes fake news, cartoons, reviews, and poetry. Work in Misery Tourism, Expat Press, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Bear Creek Gazette, Exacting Clam, and elsewhere

POETRY & PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALLISON RENNER

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NIGHT TRAIN of thought

Why have my two Tylenol PM not taken effect?

Are the vitamins I’m taking at night meant to be taken during the day?

Is it an unpopular opinion that I like Michelle Tractenberg as Harriet the Spy

more than I like Mara Wilson as Matilda?

Especially considering how much I love Roald Dahl.

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Allison Renner is an editor for Flash Fiction Magazine and the Publicity & Reviews Manager for Split/Lip Press. Her fiction has appeared in the Daily Drunk, Six Sentences, was shortlisted by Fractured Lit, and is forthcoming from Rejection Letters. She can be found online at allisonrennerwrites.com and on Twitter @AllisonRWrites.

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kip knott

Fine, then. I'll be as sophisticated as

J-T Kelly

A morning Monster, vape, cough, mask, and Lyft. The perfumed driver puts on Taylor Swift
The continental breakfast 6 to 10. They don’t ask if you’re a guest, just walk in
The megabus from Nashville to LA jonesing for a smoke the whole jampacked way
The scrawny scratchy sidewalk wildflowers, their pollen ground into my canvas shoes

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J-T Kelly once hitchhiked from Minneapolis to Spokane. He got stuck in Bismarck for a few weeks, and that's where he learned everything he knows about Indian food.

Image by Patrick Hendry

I'll be your mother

Allihies Melton

A mother whips out her breast

to soothe her screaming baby.

A smile emulates on her lips,

her nipples are utterly raw.

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Allihies Melton (she/her) is a poet who is in a constant state of existential crisis but thinks of herself as being witty as she is wistful. You can find her on Twitter @HeezyBabyxx.

THE APPARITION

salvatore difalco

Light tinkle and warmth across my face, like a passing breath. Like ashes. I opened my eyes—from dreaming of distant wind chimes and feeling homesick, a tangible pang in my breast, my stomach agitating. What is this? Blinking off sleep, catching my breath, gripping my thighs, I perceived a black-winged shadow thing darkening the wall opposite the bed. My heart dipped; I bit my lip and vaguely felt the pressure of my teeth, then tasted blood, and the moment crystallized into a sharp-edged waking reality, not the continuation of a filmy dream, which itself had dissolved into fleeing atoms. The shadow coughed; or rather, I coughed and the shadow fluttered like a windblown sheet—which is not to say I heard this fluttering, but rather I saw it, or thought I saw it. Perhaps I am misremembering. Piecing together the experience is like piecing together a narrative: not exact, never exact. Words always fail to fully represent the events. We lack the proper methodology to understand certain phenomena and make the distinctions needed to reach satisfying and verifiable conclusions. This is my way of saying I could not properly process the experience; its essence escaped me. Or a manner of expressing it escaped me. 

 

I wanted to say something. That is, I wanted to say something to the apparition or phantasm—or whatever it was—hovering at the end of my bed. Who’s there? Who is that? What are you? What do you want? And I did ask these questions in my mind, but my mouth, locked in an almost painful rictus, failed to voice them. I touched my lips and thought of my widowed mother, dressed in black, standing in the kitchen by the stove, a strange smile on her face as she stirred a pot, ceaselessly stirred a pot, oblivious to my static presence. I could not pinpoint the day, the exact day when I that moment had transpired, though it may have been an amalgam of many such moments, seated at the kitchen table, watching my mother stir a pot, trying to fathom her enigmatic smile, for she was not happy, she could not have been happy, nor could I recall saying anything at that moment to amuse her. When did it happen? Not long ago. So long ago. To think I had not thought of her for—how long had it been? So much time had passed. And time was passing. I could not excuse my negligence. My negligence could not be forgiven. What a terrible son I had been, what a terrible son I was. And then, gulping deep in my chest, pressing fists to my eyes and shuddering, I recalled that my mother had been dead for years. I wept. Then I wiped away my tears and sat up in the bed.  

 

The black-winged apparition persisted, clinging to the walls like a giant bat. Too frightened to leap from the bed and dash out of the bedroom, I clutched my sheets, drew them to my chin, and tried to assess the situation as quickly and coldly as I could. I did not believe in ghosts as such. Indeed, the supernatural, in all its guises, held no truck for me. The flame of consciousness eventually peters out, full stop. Nothing exists, even at the quantum level, beyond physical fields and particles. When the matter in my brain ceases to be ordered enough to sustain the particular consciousness I enjoy in my waking life, I will cease to be and my atoms will scatter. End of story. And if such was the case, how was it that I now perceived this apparition? Go away, I thought. Just go away. I don’t believe in you.

 

And, as if reading my thoughts, the apparition fluttered but did not depart, perhaps indicating that it had no intention of leaving at that moment, of letting me off the hook as it were. Given that it had not frightened me to death, perhaps it came to deliver a message, a benign message from the other side. Then it dawned on me that it was possible I was still dreaming, that indeed this event was something like a dream within a dream, prompted by my longing for a vanished past, or the narrative of that past wherein my long-deceased mother was a central figure. Did the apparition represent her spirit, darkened, made monstrous by the suffering and grief she had endured during her lifetime? Ma, it is you? Is it you, Ma? The wingéd apparition fluttered and moved across the wall. I thought I heard it whispering, or rustling. I may have been mistaken. A smell of char filled my nostrils. Was something burning? I wanted to scream—a natural reaction to white-knuckled fear—but my vocal chords produced no sound, a peculiarity I have experienced in other dreams. So I was dreaming this thing, this phantasm, which, however menacing in appearance, had yet to directly threaten my physical being, though I could not preclude, even in retrospect, that its mission or purpose did not amount to simply scaring me out of my wits. 

 

Only fools and charlatans advance the idea that each and every visitation from the other side brims with meaning or represents the possibility of meaningful contact and even communication between the two sides. Have these unscrupulous individuals ever considered the possibility that sometimes the phantasm’s raison d'être is merely to give the human subject a good fright, full stop? Was it a prank pulled by a mischievous entity from the other side? Perhaps it would be wrong to ascribe to the entity malevolent motives, though one from this side with cardiac issues might vehemently and justifiably disagree. Is that you, Ma? Dressed in black. Smiling that smile. Give me a sign, Ma. Give me a sign. The apparition fluttered and moved toward the curtained window. Was that a sign? I wanted to jump out of bed and rush it, but of course fear kept me rooted in place, trembling, sighing, sheets at my throat. I did not believe in ghosts, and still scoff at people who tell ghost stories or report encounters with inexplicable entities. But I still felt afraid. Was I dreaming? Even though I pinched my thigh and felt the tweak, the materialist in me said of course I was dreaming. I heard the faint tinkle of wind chimes and suspected that this meant something, though I wasn’t sure exactly what. The apparition fluttered. You’re nothing but a dream, I thought. Nothing but a dream. And as if reading my thoughts, the apparition unleashed a final, silent flurry of its wings and disappeared behind the curtain.

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Salvatore Difalco resides in Toronto, Canada. Recent work has appeared in Cafe Irreal, Brilliant Flash Fiction and Everyday Fiction.

family photo

MATT MCGUIRK

He took the photo off the wall and stared at the screw--the only reminder of that life. The screw driver turned, but the screw was stripped.

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Matt McGuirk scribbles somewhat coherent lines nightly. He's a BOTN 2021 nominee and his collection with Alien Buddha Press called Daydreams, Obsessions, Realities is available on Amazon and linked on his website. 

Website: http://linktr.ee/McGuirkMatthew Twitter: @McguirkMatthew Instagram: @mcguirk_matthew.

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mark danowsky

TWO POEMS BY
JOSH SHEPARD

rats


you won’t be able to
there’s too many rats
you’ll have to cut them out

             i can do that

Disc   Media   Behind   Register

 

I don’t know if they’s used or if they’s new, but they got some good ones: Lord of the Rings. Flash Gordon? Jesus! Fiddler On the Roof—that was my first date. I’m lookin for some Rascal Flatt music—

maybe they’ll have a new Rascal Flatts CD. They gotta lotta Willie Nelson. Don’t Rodney like him? Here’s a Johnny Cash. I wonder if they got a Rascal Flatts CD.

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Josh Shepard's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Waxwing, Bureau of Complaint, The Daily Drunk, Hooligan Magazine, HAD and elsewhere. He lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He tweets about poetry and professional wrestling @JoshShepard.

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mark danowsky

I just saved a letter on my desktop named READ ONLY IF I DIE

m.e. west

It’s not that big a deal, really -

It’s just to let my husband know 

of two subscriptions I have 

       that he doesn’t know about  

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M.E. West is a life long voracious reader who writes about dark topics such as loneliness,
depression, death, trauma, and motherhood. She is an astrologer who does birth chart readings
and spends time with her family and two children with autism. She enjoys travel, bookstores,
cozy spaces, coffee, podcasts, and has an odd sense of humor.

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mark danowsky

Hitmen Aren't Cheap (but what the heck, it's Christmas)

DOUG JACQUIER

Every Christmas

Dad would throw a drunken tantrum

over some imagined slight,

ruining the day for all, 

especially Mum.

This year, I gave 

the whole family

a present.

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Doug Jacquier is an Australian legend in his own lunchtime. He’s an incurable punster, an occasional stand-up comedian and a former rock band roadie (which explains a lot).

Disco Ball

procedure sheet one

INEZ SANTIAGO

[Enter something relatable],
[Now a sad feeling with a pinch of salt].
[A phrase with no real meaning...to anyone but you].
[TOSS IN SOMETHING ANGRY WITH A BITTER CONNOTATION]!
[Grin and bear it, tight-lipped, harmless head tilt].

 Inez Santiago is a young Mexican writer from Southern California. She likes long walks by the cliffside and roaring waters. Beware. Find her staring off into space on Twitter @InezSantiagoFic

Cupcake with Heart Sprinkles

HURRICANE OF SORTS

MONIQUE HOLTON

Mother Nature’s baking herself a disaster souffle, beating our town like egg whites. 

The air is dank all sheltered together, too many cooks in this kitchen. 

When our parents aren’t watching I let you touch my left breast. 

It feels like a cupcake you say. 

Mother Nature’s dessert I reply. 

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Monique Holton is an 80s child living down under in the sunburnt land of Oz (South Australia to be exact). When she is not embarrassing her tween girls, she is busy sketching and scribing or adding to her unhealthy lipstick obsession. You can read her works at https://moniqueholton.com

poetry & art by

JOE HAWARD

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My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?

I saw Jesus wearing bright red lipstick,

smeared across his beard from where we kissed.

He told me that he loved me, but I was too much trouble.

“Better the devil you know,” he said, wiping the tears from my eyes.

He took the briefcase full of money, and I never saw him again.

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Rev Joe Haward is an author, poet, and heretic. His freelance journalism challenges religious and political corruption, calling out hypocrisy and injustice. His debut poetry collection, Heresy, will drop in 2022 with Uncle B. Publications. Find him at joehaward.co.uk or on Twitter @RevJoeHaward.

Image by Pelly Benassi

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF KING MIDAS

KIP KNOTT

When I finally sit down to write my lonely story,
the pages become too heavy to turn.

Kip Knott

Back in the 1980s, Kip worked for five years in the Department of Zoology at The Ohio State University. His desk sat between two rooms: "The Live Room," which was filled with aquariums full of live leeches and terrariums full of hissing cockroaches; and "The Dead Room," which was filled with buckets of preserved fetal pigs and hairless cats for students to dissect. He is a writer, photographer,  teacher, and part time art dealer living in Ohio. His debut collection of stories, Some Birds Nest in Broken Branches (Alien Buddha Press), is available on Amazon. His most recent book of poetry, Clean Coal Burn, is available from Kelsay Books. / Website: kipknott.com / Twitter: @kip_knott / Instagram: @kip.knott

Image by Jen Theodore

Porn for the Terminally Undead:

ADDISON WALTON

Porn on undeadhead.com, watch dead lovers bumping uglies. 

Page 15 centerfold offers a peek into rotted insides.

Carmilla traces the script of dead languages on her lover’s neck. Last will and testament left 

between each other's legs. For 9.99 a month, you can pretend 

orgasming is easier than dying

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Addison Walton is an undergraduate student at Michigan State University double majoring in Arts and Humanities and English-Creative Writing. Her work has been seen in Versification Zine and Black Feminist Collective. When she’s not busy debating the meaning of life with her friends she’s reworking a single line in a poem or taking naps to avoid the existential dread that fills her up when she’s sat alone in a quiet room. She also likes video games and food. Find her on Twitter @mockturtleneck_

flash and photography by

STUART WILSON

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HELEN

Mornings after tea, Helen drives her fears to the parking lot at the west end of the old
railbed, grabs her walking poles, and sets out. She walks two miles out, two miles back, always
on the right, her terrors on the left.
One day, heading up a slight grade (railbeds are basically level), she encounters a man
who has been running. Running from what? she thinks.
He is shiny with sweat. His arms suggest that he has been to the gym. As he approaches,
he says “Lovely day, isn’t it?”
“Wouldn’t know,” she replies.
“Curious,” he says.
“Curious?”
“That you wouldn’t know. It is, or it isn’t.”
Argumentative, she thinks. Aggressively so. Just shy of threatening.
“Just starting out,” she says. “After a bit, I might form an impression.”

He smiles. “I see,” he says. “Not to drive a point, but the air is much cooler than it has
been. Slight breeze. A bit of cloud cover. And we’ve got the place to ourselves. None of the
weekend traffic. My definition of lovely.”
Alone, she thinks. Drive a point? He did say that, didn’t he?
She ignores him, starts to walk on.
“How do you enjoy your walking poles?”
“I wouldn’t say I enjoy them,” she says. “I use them. I suppose they help.”
“Aren’t they for hilly terrain, for stability?”
“I wouldn’t know. They were a gift.”
“Have you ever taken them to the hills?”
“No. Just here.”
“Isn’t this a bit flat to need poles? You could leave them, and just walk.”
“Is it any of your business?”
“What if someone gave you a machete? Would you take that with you on your walks?”
“No one has. Why … would they?”
“Would you like one? I’ve got one in my car.”
“I don’t want a machete,” she says. “I don’t need a machete.”
“I’ll be right back,” he says, and rushes off toward his car, a short distance off. She
continues her walk, relieved to be rid of this intrusive stranger and his overtures.
Even so, she fears for her safety. Is she about to become a headline in the local paper,
missing until searchers find her mutilated remains?
This is how it happens, she thinks. Insufficient caution, inappropriate suspicion.

The runner retrieves the machete and runs it back toward where he thinks he might find
her. She is nowhere to be seen.
It’s frustrating. He has been hauling this machete around in his car for months now,
trying to find someone to whom he could give it. He is shocked at how little most people want or
care about machetes, a useful agricultural tool and popular with roving mobs of irate villagers
intent on eradicating their neighbors.
From behind the trunk of a large Douglas fir slightly uphill from the railbed, Helen
watches the man as he nervously scans the trail, the hills.
In frustration or irritation or just for practice, he swings the machete so its blade imbeds
itself in the trunk of a maple tree.
Uncontrolled rage, Helen thinks. Wise to hide.
After he extracts the blade, he turns back toward the parking lot.
Helen descends softly from her seclusion, and starts to walk after him, as briskly as she
can. The Machete Killer is facing away from her. This is the perfect opportunity for her to
eliminate the threat, to drive one of her hiking poles into his back. It will emerge from his chest
in a fountain of blood, before he falls to the trail.
She reminds herself to send a “thank you” note to the friend who gave her the poles.
Thank you for saving my life, she will write. I was almost hacked to pieces by a machete-
wielding maniac. Lucky for me, I had sharpened the tips of my hiking poles on my bench grinder
and practiced plunging them through a sack of potatoes hanging from the roof of my garage.
You must know how your thoughtful gift saved me from an untimely end. Sincerely, Helen.

To her great frustration, the maniac walks faster than she. The gap widens.

She stops. A sadness descends. She realizes she will never pull her pole from his lifeless
body.
His brisk gait has thwarted her.
She turns and resumes her walk, alone, silent, somber, the tips of her poles tick ... tick …
ticking her path down the pavement, every step enumerating a horrific crime that she, in her
ineptitude, has failed to prevent.

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Stuart Watson wrote for newspapers in Anchorage, Seattle and Portland. His work earned a "Best Writing" award from Oregon's publishers. During those years, he also wrote lyrics for a regional punk band. To earn even less money, he helped his wife start and run two restaurants before giving it all up to focus on his writing. His work is in more than forty lit mags, including yolk.literary, Barzakh, Two Hawks Quarterly, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Mystery Tribune, Bending Genres, Flash Boulevard, Revolution John, Montana Mouthful, Sledgehammer Lit, Five South, The Writing Disorder, Grey Sparrow Journal, Reckon Review and Pulp Modern Flash. He lives in Oregon, with his wife and their amazing dog. Find him at chiselchips.com and @StuartWatson50

Too Broke to Live, Too Afraid to Die

BOB CARLTON

crash the car

and walk away--

where were you

when I needed

that kind of advice?

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Bob Carlton (Twitter @bobcarlton3) lives and works in Leander, TX. Living a life of no outward incidents worthy of note may be why he writes. Or not. At any rate, his meager publication record and two Pushcart nominations have turned him into an insufferable bore to those who must listen to him, especially unwary editors attempting to solicit interesting and exciting bio notes.

The Art of Reading my Poetry

Please clap.

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Lucas Burkett is trying to vibe with the apocalypse, but the powers that be are making it quite difficult for him to do so. He lives in Goshen, Indiana, with his wife and their dog.

Image by BP Miller

Sadists who graduated high school all become dentists

CHRIS BUTLER

Fistfuls of crushed glass candy leads to cavernous cavities,

chewed cud gums and contagious gingivitis hiding behind

caged braces and chrome molars, extracted without

novocain from a doctor huffing laughing gas, never

hiding his smile.

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Chris Butler is an anorexic starving artist and illiterate poet howling from the Quiet Corner of Connecticut. His last chapbook, "DOOMER", was published by Ethel. He is also the co-editor of The Beatnik Cowboy.

OUR GRAND FINALE PIECE CRAFTED BY Paul Rousseau 

Act III Scene 8 from The Short Straw: An American Tragedy

 

Written, Directed, Produced and (now) Starring:

Caleb Dargus

 

An ordinary airplane circa 2010.

Caleb and Woman Who Seems Wealthy but Always Looks Sad #3 are waiting in line for the bathroom. 

 

Pilot

Over the intercom: Attention everyone. Now would be a good time to pray if you happen to practice any sort of organized religion. To the agnostics and the rest of you, smoke em’ if you got em’. This bird is going down.

 

Emergency lights start flashing everywhere. 

Some people buckle up and strap in, adjusting the tightness of their own oxygen masks before assisting others, that is, their kids who can’t reach. 

Some people stand up and panic, not knowing what to do with their hands. 

Caleb turns his attention to Woman Who Seems Wealthy but Always Looks Sad #3.

She gives him a despondent look. 

They hear a flush.

Some dude stumbles out having just puked. He navigates back to his seat through the chaos, buckles up and straps in, then adjusts the tightness of his own oxygen mask before assisting his twin girls.

A spotlight shines on Caleb. Everyone else freezes, triggering Interior Thought to the Crowd #56.

 

Caleb

Wow, what a life I’ve lived. I guess it just goes to show you can do everything right and still draw… 

            

Caleb cuffs his hands behind his ears, signaling to the crowd to say it with him, as rehearsed in Act I Scene 6.

 

Caleb (with crowd)

The short straw!

 

Caleb

But I’m not done breathing yet. There’s still time to change one last life. For good!

 

            The spotlight fades. 

            Chaos as before.

 

Caleb

To Woman Who Seems Wealthy but Always Looks Sad #3: Pardon me, miss?

 

Woman Who Seems Wealthy but Always Looks Sad #3

Yes?

 

Caleb

Even though it may seem like all hope is lost, care to chat with a complete stranger before our journey to the end?

 

            He points at the airplane bathroom.

Woman Who Seems Wealthy but Always Looks Sad #3 nods to the side with a little shoulder raise gesturing, why not.

They enter together through the sliding lavatory door. 

 

Caleb

So, what was waiting for you in Denver?

 

Woman Who Seems Wealthy but Always Looks Sad #3

You’ll think I’m petty.

 

Caleb

Now I need to know.

 

Woman Who Seems Wealthy but Always Looks Sad #3

I was going to trash my ex-husband’s house while he’s on vacation.

 

Caleb

Why the split, money problems?

 

Woman Who Seems Wealthy but Always Looks Sad #3

Other things too.

 

Caleb

Bad things?

 

Woman Who Seems Wealthy but Always Looks Sad #3

Yeah.

 

Caleb

I don’t find that petty. But then again, that’s coming from someone who once ate a Hostess Cupcake topped with microwaved ground beef. I don’t know if I’m qualified to be a good judge of character or not.

 

Woman Who Seems Wealthy but Always Looks Sad #3

Those are the ones with the cream filling?

 

Caleb

Yeah. It was a dare, but truth be told, it was kinda good. You should try it.

 

Woman Who Seems Wealthy but Always Looks Sad #3

Vegetarian.

 

Caleb

Right. I guess it’s a little late for that now anyways. 

 

The sound of engine failure.

 

Caleb

Well, it was nice talking to you. Who knows, maybe we’ll meet again, in the next life. 

 

Caleb reaches out for a handshake.

Woman Who Seems Wealthy but Always Looks Sad #3 hugs him instead.  

 

Woman Who Seems Wealthy but Always Looks Sad #3

I’m sure of it. 

 

The lights go out. 

 

Caleb

Mid-hug: Whatever your ex did, I bet he’ll regret it now.

 

The sound of an airplane nosediving, about to crash into some mountains. 

A split second before the crash, the lights come back on but the set has changed into a school playground during recess. 

A child stomps on an aluminum can. It buckles completely, symbolizing the plane. 

            Hold for applause (20-30 minutes).

            End.

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Paul Rousseau is a disabled writer with work in Roxane Gay's The Audacity, Catapult, Waxwing, Pithead Chapel, Jellyfish Review, and Wigleaf, among others. You can read his words online at Paul-Rousseau.com and follow him on Twitter @Paulwrites7.

THANK YOU FOR READING