Delirious as a blowtorch and begotten in the luminosity of love — This is the infamous out-of-orbit literary journal that delivers storytelling fit for a gathering around fire. Home to unpredictable fiction, revealing personal essays, bitter social assessments, subversive hymns, underwater obscenities, uplifting bad news, veiled confessions, hints of the erotic… And maybe even some dicey advice.
The man was identified as Oswald Madness, a drifter through time and space and now under special scrutiny in a locked room down in the hidden bowels of Denver International Airport. Two men from security stood around him. They were both wearing white dress shirts and red ties and sunglasses the deep dark color of alien eyes. The younger one was sucking on a colored toothpick. The older one had his foot up on a chair and was twiddling his thumbs while he looked at the detainee with a dubious stare.
Then he cleared his throat. “What business do you have in Denver?” he asked.
Oswald looked at him and then the other before speaking. “Leisure.”
“Vacation?” the younger one asked.
“Something like that,” Oswald answered.
The older one brought his foot down off the chair and walked slowly around the small, brightly lit room with no windows. “Something like what? Could you be more specific?”
“I’ve come to visit a friend in Arvada. He’s a butcher and he’s invited me to the grand opening of his new shop. That specific enough for you?”
The younger one chuckled. “Do you enjoy the complete and utter annihilation of others?”
Oswald made a what the fuck face. “I don’t understand.”
“The knives Mr. Madness,” the older one chimed in. “We discovered the knives. In your backpack.” He glanced over at his partner. “What are the knives for?”
“I told you. My friend is a butcher. They’re a gift for him. To celebrate his new way of life.”
The younger one laughed again, broke his toothpick, and threw it into some invisible space in the corner of the room. “Just how did you get through security in Milwaukee with a backpack full of knives?” he desperately wanted to know.
Oswald was quiet for a moment. “Security doesn’t ever see me.”
“So, you bypass security somehow?” the younger one said, glancing quickly at his partner.
Oswald looked at him deeply. “No, they just don’t see me. I stand in the queue, I politely wait my turn, I go on through. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
The older one went over to the younger one and whispered something. He shielded his words with a hand thinking that would keep Oswald from hearing what was said.
But he heard anyway.
“Have them pull surveillance from Milwaukee…”
There was a light knocking and the heads of the two interrogators snapped toward the door.
“Oh, shit,” groaned the younger one. Then he looked at Oswald. “Whatever you do, don’t piss her off when she asks you questions.” He went over to open the ugly door, and what appeared in the frame like sudden magic was something Oswald had never expected. It was the young girl who had been sitting in the airport food court and staring at him.
She looked at the two officers. “Leave me alone with him,” she ordered, and they quickly hustled out of the room. The door closed with a heavy, metallic click. The girl slowly circled Oswald like he was prey. She didn’t look like she did before. The conservative religious sect garb of yesteryear was replaced by a loose-fitting snappy navy-blue pant suit, and she wore a crisp white shirt and had on a red tie like the other two. Her hair, the color of a lemon-yellow sun, was pulled back tight and the excess pinned neatly into a circular mass on top of her head, and it looked like she was wearing a cinnamon roll for a hat. She wore black-rimmed glasses over her small eyes that hung below her oddly oversized forehead. Her nose was like a rabbit’s and her small mouth poked out like a swirling peppermint candy. Her stern look made Oswald nervous, but at the time he wanted to laugh at her because she was swimming in those clothes, and she made the harsh room smell like bubblegum.
The girl stopped moving and sat down in the chair opposite him. She looked so small and awkward in it, he thought.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Who are you?” she shot back.
“You must already know.”
She leaned forward and put her small arms on the table. “I know a lot of things,” she said. “Most of all I know that you have disrupted the vibrations of my particular plane in time and space.”
“Look,” Oswald began. “I was on an airplane to come see my friend in Arvada to help him celebrate the launch of his new business. The next thing I know, the world goes weird and suddenly I’m here being accused of whatever I’m being accused of.”
“Bullshit,” the young girl said so plainly and straightforward that it forced Oswald to take her more seriously. “That sounds like a very normal story but there is nothing normal about you.”
“Where are your parents?”
“I am the parent,” she snapped back.
“You’re in charge around here?”
“You seem so surprised, Mr. Madness.”
“You’re a kid. How old are you?”
He studied her intently. “Yes.”
“12… Yesterday I may have been 54. I never really know until I get there.”
“I don’t really get what you could possibly mean. Can I get a lawyer?”
“But it’s my right.”
Oswald pulled on the restraint that kept him chained to the table like an animal. “You can’t do this!”
The girl stood up and made a face to the camera in the corner of the ceiling. She made a strange nod with her head. A moment later two people entered the room, a man and a woman, and they were garbed like doctors. One wrapped something around Oswald’s head to keep him from spitting and screaming while the other one quickly injected something into his arm with a long needle. The girl happily smiled while watching the green liquid enter him.
Marsella Blume woke up on the wrong side of a lifetime of wishful thinking.
The house in the manicured suburb where she lived was quiet. She gathered some fresh clothes and took a long hot shower full of steam and soap. She had to be clean for him. She had to smell good.
Once dressed and properly perfumed, she went downstairs to the kitchen. An orange cat rubbed against her legs and purred. The cat’s name was Alex, and he was hungry so she undid a fresh can of food and plopped it into a bowl. The cat smacked at it mercilessly while Marsella brewed herself a cup of light roast coffee. She drank it down quickly and rushed out to her car that sat beneath a carport. She looked at herself in the rear-view mirror and dabbed at her face with a fingertip to smooth the makeup one last time before pulling away.
As she drove toward the Lucky U Motorlodge to meet the man she was cheating on her husband with, she went through a grocery list in her head for when she would do the shopping following her affair appointment. Gravy. Fat-free milk. Scouring pads. Cat litter. Onions… Meat.
She bit at her frosted lip, worried, hoping she would remember everything. She scolded herself for not writing things down like any sane person would, but she usually relied on her own overloaded mind instead, readily at the cost of her own personal derailments. And the boxcars were piling up.
When she finally pulled into the gravely lot at the Lucky U, she shut the car down in a space in front of room No. 9. He appeared in the window without a shirt on and smiled at her through the glass. Part of her wanted to throw it in reverse and tear out of there and drive to the other side of the world. Another part of her wanted to break the rules of decency.
The next thing she knew she was lying on her back in the uncomfortable bed, and she mindlessly studied the ceiling while he thrust himself inside her. The landscape moved annoyingly — a visual jolt every time he went deep that was beginning to make her head swim. She closed her eyes and thought of Niagara Falls in the spring. She could hear the thunderous flow of the water as it went over the edge and fell with a power like no other. Who was this seemingly random person above her this time? He wasn’t nearly as strong as the falls. She had her hands on his upper arms that weren’t even very muscular. She looked up at his unappealing face, now twisted with his own hard work and pleasure. He was breathing like a marathon banshee and dripping sweat onto her face as he slapped against her skin.
“Please don’t cum inside me,” she warned him. “Not today. I don’t want to feel it today.”
His dead eyes went wide as he looked at her face. “I may not be able to help it,” he grunted. “You’re a dream come true.”
She suddenly turned away and tried to get out from under him by twisting her body. He popped out of her like a cork from a bottle.
“What the hell! What are you doing?” he wanted to know.
“I’m suddenly not in the mood,” she said as she straightened herself on the edge of the bed. “And I’m not anyone’s dream so don’t say that ever again.”
He scoffed in frustration and went to sit on the opposite edge of the bed. He was trying to catch his breath as he moved his hair out of his eyes. He reached for his pack of cigarettes on the nightstand and lit one. He just sat there naked and smoked quietly.
Why had she even chosen him, she thought, as the room filled with the haze of his smoke. Glenn. What an inconsequential name, she thought to herself. They worked together in the real estate office. He was an assistant to the more experienced brokers like herself. How did it even happen? She tried to recall. Then the memory suddenly bobbed to the surface of her jumbled mind like a dumpling in boiling water. One day they were driving in his car together, just the two of them, and they were on their way to the home of a prospective client out in the country who had a very large house they wanted to sell. They had been listening to the radio and laughing about something. He purposely reached over and touched her leg. She instructed him to pull off in a secluded spot and then she found herself leaning in and kissing him. He kissed her back ferociously like he’d never known love. She recalls seeing the glint of her wedding ring as she held his rough face. Soon after, her top was undone, and his hands were on her. She knew she had to stop, but she couldn’t. Then her head had fallen into his lap and this essential stranger was in her mouth, and then she began to cry because it wasn’t love. It was never love, but still, she kept at it. And now she was trapped in a cheap motel room once again, and she didn’t want him at all anymore.
She got up and walked past him without a word and into the bathroom to take a shower. But there was no erasing him from the hard drive of her body — only time and keen personal deception could do that, maybe. He was long gone when she came back out. The key to the room sat on her pillow atop a one-dollar bill.
Marsella Blume always ended up with the shopping cart that didn’t go straight or had a wonky wheel that rattled and drew unwanted attention. It was just her lot in life, she achingly figured.
She steered her trolley down the shiny, well landscaped aisles of boxes and cans and bottles and bags and tins and sacks and pouches until she reached the meat department at the very back of the store. The chilled and brightly lit cases gently hummed. She drew closer and peered down at the animal flesh neatly cut and presented atop the white foam trays wrapped in plastic. She studied all the various hunks of animal flesh. Some were bright red like blood. Others the color of well-tanned human beings. Others still were pale as a sun-bleached shell on a sandy beach or like a distant breakthrough muddied star in space.
She picked up a package of flank steak. She wondered to herself. Flank? She didn’t know what that even meant. The only thing she knew was that she was staring at a piece of animal flesh. It was the flesh of an animal that once walked around and ate grass or something like that, she thought. It breathed. It looked at the sun or stood on a hill in the rain. It had eyes and a brain. And now she was holding a piece of it in her hand. How incredibly odd, she thought. How when you really think about it, the truth of the matter is human beings savagely kill other living things, cut them up into pieces, wrap them up neat and tight and sell them for profit. Then we burn them, chew them up and swallow them down into our collective guts in a celebratory sort of way.
A man in a white lab coat streaked with red and with a hair net atop his head that made him look extremely peculiar smiled at her as he stocked more packages of animal flesh beside her. His eyes were alien blue and twirled like old time camera flashcubes when he smiled. “Can I help you find a particular cut?” he asked her politely.
Marsella looked at him. “Is that blood on your company uniform?”
He looked down at himself. “Yes, it is.”
She was alarmed. “Where did it come from?”
He looked at her strangely, but then again, he was used to odd birds swooping in from the ridiculous world. “I work in the meat department. I’m a butcher.”
“So, you cut up animals back there?” Marsella asked with a nod of her head toward an unknown space beyond them.
The butcher chuckled at her. “Not really. They come to us already cut up. We just cut them up more.”
“So that they fit neatly in all these little packages or in trays in your fancy little case over there?”
“That’s right. We take it right down to the point of purchase and consumption… Are you sure there’s nothing I can help you find?”
“Can you show me where you work?”
He made a puzzled face. “I’m sorry, mam. We can’t allow customers into our production area.”
“Then can you tell me what a flank steak is?”
The butcher cleared his throat and thought about it as he looked at her. “Listen. You seem nice enough. I’ll let you come back and look at my beef chart and I can show you exactly where the flank comes from.”
Marsella suddenly brightened. “Really?”
“Sure… But you can’t say anything to anyone. Okay?”
“Okay. But what about my shopping cart?”
“Just leave it. We’ll only be a minute or two.”
She followed him to an area behind the custom meat counter and through a set of swinging metal doors with two little square windows on each one. He led her to a white plastic table that was stained pink from repetitive butchering. Above the table was a big poster with a drawing of a cow except the cow was divided up into all sorts of different parts and the parts were labeled and color-coded. He pointed to the one marked flank. It was blue.
“See there. The flank is at the bottom of the cow, just forward of the rear quarter.”
Marsella’s eyes slow danced across the chart, and it almost made her feel like she was back in her high school biology class. It nearly smelled the same — like death and bleach. “I never imagined such a thing,” she said.
“Well, where did you think meat came from?” the butcher asked with a tone of sarcasm that made her feel stupid.
“I guess I never really thought about it,” she said. “I suppose like most people don’t.”
“Well,” the butcher smiled. “There’s a bloody reality behind every shiny facade.”
“I suppose that’s true,” she said, returning the smile.
The flank steak Marsella had purchased sizzled and smoked as it hit the hot cast-iron skillet. She turned to look at her husband who was sitting at the table behind her flipping through a day-old newspaper.
He sensed her looking at him. “What’s the occasion?” he asked.
“Steak. You never cook steak.”
“Oh,” Marsella fumbled in her thoughts. “I decided I would try something different. The butcher recommended it.”
He moved the newspaper away from his face and beamed at her from across the gap between them. “The butcher? What butcher?”
“The one who works at the grocery store. He was very helpful. Did you know they have a huge poster of a cow back there and it shows all the different ways they cut up that poor animal?”
“He showed you a poster?”
Her husband sneered with suspicion. “Did he show you anything else?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she wanted to know.
Her husband mumbled something undecipherable and rattled the newspaper in frustration. “Don’t burn it,” he said louder.
Marsella jabbed a large fork into the cooking flank steak and it bled out, the juices smoking and sizzling loudly in the pan. “I won’t,” she meekly answered.
She set two plates down. Her husband looked up at her from across the table and smiled after she took her seat. “This looks amazing,” he said as he unfurled his napkin. “I’m hungry as a dinosaur.”
Marsella looked down at her meal as he worked his knife and fork into the slab of animal flesh before him. His utensils scraped and clinked against the oval plate, and that combined with the sounds of his prehistoric chewing made her skin crawl and her teeth hurt.
She crinkled her nose at the hunk of flank steak before her. She thrust her fork in followed by her knife. She sawed, pierced the piece she had dislodged from the bigger piece and brought it to her mouth. She pushed it in and started chewing. The taste of salt and blood and iron played out strongly on her tongue. She forced herself to swallow and then she gagged a bit.
Her husband quickly glanced up at her. “Are you okay?”
She ran her tongue across her lips and fake smiled. “Do you see what we are doing?” she said, and she took a sip of water.
He looked confused. “I thought we were having dinner,” he answered.
“Yes. But no. Think about what we’re doing. I mean really think about it.”
He looked at his plate and then back up at her. “I’m having a steak, some potatoes, green beans…”
“No!” she blurted it out. “I want you to think about it at a much deeper level. Why can’t you ever do that!?”
He slammed his knife and fork down and they rattled angrily against his plate. “What the hell do you want me to say!? And I’m sorry if I’m not as intelligent as you supposedly wish me to be.”
“Do you not see it!?”
“See what, Marsella!?”
“We’re eating animal flesh! Look at your plate. That used to be a living breathing being with a heart and a brain and eyes to look upon the world with.”
He rolled his own eyes at her and wiped at his mouth with a napkin. “Oh Jesus. Here we go.”
“Is this your way of telling me you’ve decided to become a vegetarian now?”
“I may consider it.”
“Because of your great enlightenment following your visit with the butcher? I bet you won’t swear off all meat,” he scoffed.
She avoided his comment for the moment but filed it on the horizon of her memory. “Don’t you see how heinous it all is?”
“We stand over all these poor animals like gods and treat them horribly while we fatten them up just so we can cut them to pieces and then cut them to more pieces until the pieces are just the right size of convenience for the bloodthirsty bah, bah, bah consumers. Look at what you had in your mouth! Look at it!”
He watched her carefully in case she physically attacked him, and then he looked down at his plate.
“That’s right,” she continued. “We cut them up into little bits and package them up nice and friendly like and stack them in a refrigerated fluorescent case for the humans to prey upon with their watering eyes and nimble fingers. Oh, but to all of them it’s just a good piece of meat. It’s just something we breed and harvest to feed ourselves. We’ve turned other living creatures into a commodity to buy and sell by the pound! And then you put it in your mouth and shit it out later! Does that not bother you in the slightest?”
“It’s simply the cycle of life, Marsella. The cycle of life,” he answered sternly.
“It’s barbaric. If a man did that to another man, they’d send him to the electric chair and then some… And how many people out there do you think would even buy a steak after watching it gutted and plucked straight from a cow right in front of them? Hmm. Would you?”
He stood up. He was perturbed and he yelled at her. “I don’t know what you want me to do about it! It’s just the way it is, Marsella, and I’m sorry, but there are a lot of things in this crooked world far darker than you realize or wish them to be. But man is at the top of the food chain. That’s reality. It’s where God put us. It’s called survival of the fittest. Cows weren’t meant to plow fields or operate machines or be doctors. If you don’t like it, then go ahead and stop eating meat, but I for one will continue to eat meat because humans are carnivores… And I happen to like it.”
“Omnivores,” she said dejectedly.
“Human beings are omnivores. Maybe if you educated yourself, read a few more books, you’d know that.”
“Why is this suddenly turning into an attack against me. Jesus Christ, Marsella! All I wanted to do was enjoy my dinner and you launch into this psychobabble about meat and insult my level of intelligence. I won’t stand for it anymore.”
He snatched up his plate and started to walk away.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to finish my dinner in the den. There’s a game on I want to watch. And I would appreciate it if you just left me alone with my subpar thoughts.”
With the state of the world such as it is, I look to Log Cabin syrup to bring some sense of peace. I guess I always have. I would consider it one of my favorite food packaging labels of all time.
“What a lunatic,” someone might say. “Who could possibly find comfort in a bottle of pancake syrup?”
Have you ever looked at the picture on the label? I mean, REALLY looked at it.
There’s a cozy, finely crafted little cabin right in the middle. It has four windows and a door, each aglow with golden light. There’s a chimney on the snow-covered roof, and out of the chimney comes a swirl of smoke from the fire crackling away below, a man inside stoking the logs with a harpoon-like poker.
The cabin is surrounded by angelic-white snow – deep snow. There are seven pine trees, their boughs slightly weighted down by the same snow that surrounds them. Misty mountains stand as sentries on the horizon. A golden-yellow sun looms large over it all as the dawn of a new day undresses.
Even though the interior remains unseen, I imagine what it must look like. It’s square. The fireplace is in the far corner, and an area to prepare food and drink sits to its right. There’s a large table in the center of the cabin, a sturdy wooden table with four chairs – even though I would wish to be alone here. I imagine a homemade bed off to one side, thick blankets unfurled atop it, some sort of pillows, an opened trunk at the foot, a small table with an oil lamp within reach.
The whole place smells like camping.
There are no tracks, neither man nor animal, outside in the snow. It must be fresh powder, or the man inside just hasn’t had to go out in a while. Or maybe he can’t. Perhaps the Earth has drifted too close to that enormous sun and the world is set to burn, but wouldn’t the snow be completely melted?
“It’s simply a representation of the welcoming of a shiny new day. You should buy a bottle of our syrup to celebrate,” says the man from the marketing department.
“Oh,” the man inside the cabin says. “You have convinced my simple mind. I will buy some of your beautiful pancake syrup.”
“And be sure to buy more when you run out,” the man from the marketing department insists. “You will need this syrup forever. You will need it to survive.”
“Here’s all my money,” the man inside the cabin says.
“Great,” the man from the marketing department says, reaching out a hand and snatching the cash. “You’ve got a good job, right?”
“Yes, but I hate it,” the man in the cabin replies. “But it pays for the high-speed internet… And the syrup.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a black-market human butcher,” the man in the cabin answers.
“Sounds like a lifestyle that must be stained in blood.”
“Much more blood than you can possibly imagine… But I don’t want to talk about that. It upsets me… So, the sun isn’t real?” the man in the cabin wants to know. “Am I merely living in a simulation?”
“Oh, it’s real alright. The world is melting away. I’m just here to convince you otherwise. You’ll be safe. As long as you buy our syrup.”
“I will. It’s delicious… There are many other products on the shelf, but this one is the best. I love the picture on the bottle. Absolutely love it. Just the thought of eating pancakes in the wilderness calms my anxiety and tenderizes my angst. It brings me hope at the end of a dark day. Goodbye now.”
The man inside the cabin slams the door and goes back to sharpening his knives.