Tag Archives: living



Tori looked so picturesque that Zach cursed himself for not bringing his camera. She’d called at two in the morning, needing a ride, and then begging off and telling him he could go back to sleep. But she was downtown, and it was a two mile hike uphill to her dorm at Vandy. He was pulling up beside her three minutes after leaving his trashy-chic studio loft near Five Points.

Her black skirt swished a half-beat before the rest of her body followed. Her red hair seemed to absorb the glow of the bar front neon. He would have honked, but the familiar rattle of his old Wagoneer gave him away, and she waved to make sure he could see her. Of course he could see her.

“Tell me again why we’re not dating?” she sighed, climbing in and leaning back in her seat.

“Your giant, giant boyfriend, mainly,” he told her. He pushed in the cigarette lighter below the dash. He didn’t smoke, it was just something he did. Some folks touched their nose. Others tugged their collars. He played with the cigarette lighter in his truck. “Also,” he added, curling his fist and lowering his voice, “my art is my true love.”

“Oh, Jesus. What do you call it when someone cliches a cliche? Hypercliche? Megacliche?”

“I’m a barista and a photographer, living in a studio apartment above a pizza joint. I am the Voltron of cliches.”

“You’re not too cliched! Didn’t you sell something recently?”

“Sure did. From that gallery there.” They passed by a tiny storefront, the picture window covered in white blinds. In huge Veranda font the numbers “465” were stenciled in black. “Dude bought a picture of mine for a grand.”

What? Hell yeah!” She punched him on the arm, and he added to his cliche gestalt by pretending the punch hadn’t hurt. “How are you not more excited about that?”

“Well, it might not happen again.”

“Oh, Jesus.” She shook her head. “If you’re gonna be broody I think I’d rather walk.”

“I’m not broody. I just don’t wanna get too comfortable with the idea I can live off my photos.” He’s in a good space now, but when he worked two grueling jobs just to survive, he’d sometimes wake in the middle of the night unable to breathe. But things evened out for him. He starves now, making coffee and hustling photos, but at the price of finally living.

Ben Folds was playing in his stereo.

And all this wanderin’…

Got you nothin’…

“So I guess I’d be the chipper one.”


“When we’re together. I’ll clearly have to be the optimistic one.”

“Yeah.” The lighter popped back out, and after a beat he pushed it back in. “But we won’t be together.”

“Yeah,” she nodded.

You were ready to…

But never could…

“So was it a bad fight?”

“Not really. Just…” she sighed, “a stupid one.”

“So you’ll call him tomorrow.”

“Guess I gotta.”

“Yep,” and in the flash of a street light he could see her smile at him, “now that I’m gonna hold ya accountable and all.”

He pulled up to her building. The campus police call box by the door flashed blue and red in the still night. She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “You’re a lifesaver, man.”

“Cherry flavored and everything.” And he smiled after her as she climbed out. He caught himself a little too late watching the swish of her skirt against her thighs as she went in.

“Come on. Get your head on straight.”

At a light, he caught his reflection in the rear view mirror, saw the faint pink imprint on his cheek where she’d kissed him. He snapped a quick pic with his phone, and back at home he toyed with filters and exposure until her lipstick was a steel-gray print, framed by flecks of stubble along the slate white board of his cheek. He printed a copy, then scribbled along the gloss with a permanent marker. Once the words had soaked in he made two more prints, one to hang, one to hustle. He could easily get thirty bucks a copy for this print. He was gonna try for three hundred.





He texted a woman he knew, but she never responded before he fell asleep. Beside his whirring laptop, the corner of the print hung over the edge of his desk. It wafted in the eddy of his ceiling fan. Across the gloss, beneath Tori’s steel kiss, was the title, scrawled in black ink.



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Camilias playing peekaboo.

Crazy to think I was stringing Christmas lights through this bush just two months ago.

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Cool Hearts



Running again. When I’m not running I’m shambling. I hear gunshots, feel chunks flying out of my back. At least they miss my head.

The head. My mind’s the only thing that feels like it’s still a part of me. Everything else always feels numb.

I miss my heartbeat.


Stupid to go so far, I know, but food is scarce. Our bodies still process meat, somehow, still use it to repair the normal wear and tear. Human meat works best, but we’ll eat animals if we find ‘em already dead. Or if they don’t mind us putting our hands on ‘em.

A deer runs by. Deer. So good, so hard to catch. And strong; one of those things can take five of us, no problem. We have tools, weapons. A lot of us even remember how guns work. I don’t think the living know about that. They’d probably double their efforts if they did.

Pretty sure I lost them. I found a river and let myself fall in. Hit a bunch of rocks when I reached the rapids, stayed under for a while. The water was cold. Really cold. Perfect. I don’t think it got over fifty all day. Too damn hot.

The water kept me safe. After about an hour I bobbed to the surface. Clouds were covering the sky. They told me it was safe to climb ashore. Their rain and thunder would drive the living back.

I feel the raindrops pooling in the pockets where my skin has worn away. It drowns the awful bugs that try to lay their eggs in my flesh.

I make my way to camp.


I see camp, far away. No fire; never fire. Just the others, shambling around, most of them probably unaware they’re moving. That happens sometimes. I’ll sit down, stare into space. Next thing I know, I’m walking, no idea how I got on my feet. I guess we sleepwalk. Maybe we daydream.

Our camp is small. Didn’t use to be. A lot of us once, enough to keep everyone away. Then the living burst through, stealing guns from a store we don’t use, bombing us to cover their escape even though we’d all fed that day. The little girl with the torn teddy burned real fast. The teddy turned to ashes before her groans died away. The staples I’d used to keep her bear together had melted from the heat. I still don’t know what they used when they firebombed us in our sleep.

I keep the staples, stuffed in a chamber my heart doesn’t use anymore. I take them out when the moon is full enough to make them glint. She had very bright eyes. I miss her.


The fat one grunts at me. He’s sitting down, like he usually is. Sitting bowlegged. Shotgun blast took out an ankle, now it’s too much trouble for him to wander around. He spends a lot of time throwing cards in a pile, then shoveling them back in his hands to throw them again. Pictures on the cards show his wife and daughter. They’re still alive. His wife’s the one who shot the ankle.

The new one still doesn’t like us. She hasn’t gotten used to what happened. We bit her…can’t remember who did exactly. It’s not a disease that makes us walk, like a lot of the living think. TV said something about radiation before there wasn’t TV anymore. But we’re dead; there’s a lot of nasty things swimming inside us. One of us bit her. She got real sick. I think the living pushed her away. She came to us, kept waving her arms around our mouths. A dead bear had kept us pretty well fed, and we weren’t interested. She cried a lot, until she got real cold and still. Now she just sits by herself. I don’t like her very much.

I like Rosa. Rosa’s mine. She likes me too. I’m hers. We like to stand around and put our hands on each other’s waists. We both remember music. We growl, but we can’t remember the tunes Rosa used to dance too. She wears a tight red dress that her body has stained. She wears underwear, too, I think. I know she still has dollar bills stuck in a frilly band around her leg. They weren’t always there, but one day we found the money fluttering along the ground. Rosa picked them up and stuck them in her garter. She made a sound like she couldn’t quite remember how to laugh. I like Rosa. Rosa likes me. We dance, even if we’re not actually moving much.

I stand next to Rosa. I took a chunk out of the big one in the blue uniform, the one always giving the other living people orders. He shot me. Always shooting me. Sometimes I wonder if he hates me. Doesn’t even know me. I let Rosa take the meat out of my mouth. She doesn’t have cheeks, so she eats it all in one bite. Rosa’s lucky. She doesn’t have a face that gets in her way when she’s eating.

Rosa keeps biting at me, and wails a little when she remembers she needs lips to kiss. I bite back. It’s okay, Rosa. It’s okay.

That seems to calm her down. The rain comes down harder. Rosa tilts her head back, looks at the clouds like she’s surprised. The rain pours off her face, and she closes what’s left of her eyelids to enjoy it. The rain washes Rosa. She smells like ginger. And me.


The big blue one shoots at us. He’s got the arm that he swung at me wrapped up real tight. He’s yelling, angry. I’m pretty sure he hates me. He doesn’t see me, though.

Billy and Mary just stand there. They never really got that the living don’t like us. They forget we’re not like them. Billy actually waves. He’s hugging Mary close, still hugging her when the blue man makes her head explode with his shotgun.

Billy just stands there a minute, ignoring the slug that goes through his chest. He kind of just ends up on his knees, holding Mary. But she’s not moving. She’s gone, gone forever now. Billy doesn’t have Mary anymore.

It takes a while for him to get it. He has to see Pops go down, his tie fluttering on the ground, before he understands. Mary’s gone. He doesn’t have Mary anymore. Billy doesn’t understand why the big man did that to him. He closes his eyes and rasps, trying to cry. He makes one sad sound that maybe could have been a wail, and then the back of Billy’s head shatters. The mud is flecked in light gray. Bits of skull are still stuck to Billy’s skin. Billy has Mary again now. They’re both on the ground. They’re both not moving.

The big man shoots at us a little more, then runs away. We’re sad Billy’s gone. He used to run. Still remembered how to run. He’d run, and those of us who could remember would laugh. Or try to.


Some of us can survive without our brains. I don’t know how, or why, but some of us can. Not many. Probably not me. My brain is the only part of me I have.

I think about that while some birds are eating Billy and Mary. Some of them let Rosa pet them. She likes birds. One time we went back into the city to find Rosa’s bird. It was on the bottom of the cage, not moving. Rosa picked it up in both hands, bounced it up and down. She looked sad. It didn’t move. She tried to remember its name and grunted a little. Then she got so mad she tore pieces of her face off. Now she can’t kiss so well, but I bet Rosa’s happier without the skin getting in her way. She gets to see real Rosa when she looks into the water.

Sometimes I think about peeling off the rest of my face. It’s mostly burnt up. It feels tight when I try to eat. I tried it once but Rosa stopped me. She likes me like I am. I like Rosa.

One bird seems sick. It walks slower than the others, has to take a rest. It walks over to Rosa, pecks at her leg. Rosa picks it up, looks it in the eye for a while. It doesn’t move, just rests and breathes. Then she hands it to me. I eat its head in one bite. It kicks for a while. The meat stays warm while I eat, all that kicking pumping the blood. I like it. I rasp while I eat. I see little cords in Rosa’s face twitch as she smiles. Rosa likes me.


The blue man doesn’t look well, but he shoots at us anyway. He holds his arm close like it hurts. He shoots Rosa, hits her knee. I bet Rosa can still dance though, just not very well. Probably.

He shoots the fat man. The fat man’s cards scatter everywhere. His daughter’s face blows away in the breeze. He smooshes his wife into the mud when he falls over. His brains are all torn up. They bounce in his blown up head when he falls over.

The big blue man almost falls down. Almost. Then he stands up again and shoots one more time. Shoots me.

Shoots me in the head.

I fall down. I don’t get back up.


Rosa’s fingers in my heart. I like Rosa. Like her in my heart.

She takes out the staples. Rosa liked the little girl too. She left pictures of the little girl hanging by the birdcage. Rosa with her face still on, standing next to the little girl. The little girl standing on a ball, holding a big shiny cup. Before they were both what we are now.

The staples glitter in the moonlight. Almost as bright as Rosa’s eyes.

I only see things, little things, but they’re going away. Going away. I’m going away. My brains are leaking out. All of me is going away.

Funny. Light on the staples. Rosa’s eyes. Living people don’t have any light in their eyes. Always blink it away.

All of me.


I like Rosa. Rosa likes me.


One day I get up. Rosa walks up to me, sits down and looks at me. I just sit there for a second before I start to crawl. Rosa crawls behind me.

After a little while I reach a puddle. Most of my head’s gone above my eyes. Big chunks of brain hang on my skull.

My brain. Big pieces of me. Don’t feel like mine anymore.

I shake my head, hard. Clear it out. I sling bits of brain on Rosa. She rasps, because she can’t remember how to laugh anymore.

Clear my head. Feel like me.

I get up, but it takes a while. I have to stop and think about it.

Think. Don’t know how to do that right now, but I guess I’ll learn.

I get up. I start walking into the woods.


The big blue guy is on his hands and knees. He’s looking into the river. Won’t see anything but foam. It’s the rapids we’re at now. I walk up to him. Rosa follows, though her heels get stuck in the mud.

The blue guy gets up, turns around. His mouth is open and he’s tilting his head. He’s gray. Veins around his eyes aren’t throbbing anymore, like they always did before.

He looks sad. He makes a little moan, reaches out to me. I push him in the water.

He just looks confused, but I don’t care. I don’t like him. I don’t want him in our camp. I don’t want him near Rosa.

He just keeps looking at me, even when the rocks break his ribs and flip him in the water. He just looks at me, and gets washed away. Maybe he’ll fall off a waterfall.

I turn around. Rosa gets her heels out of the mud, and walks with me until she’s ahead.

I follow Rosa. I’ll always follow Rosa. We have time now. We don’t have to run right now, like we always have to.

I like Rosa. Rosa likes me.

We shamble on. It’s gonna be dark, but not yet. The living won’t come right now. We have time to walk in the cool air, in our cool skin. We have time.

I touch the staples in my heart. I’m lucky. The living don’t have any in theirs.

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old milwaukee


With the weather having turned cold and wet, Jonah had grown his beard out, so that whenever Monica kissed him she’d smile reflexively. His whiskers tickled. If he kissed her, she’d turn her head and scratch at her nose, but it seemed like she couldn’t get enough of kissing him on the cheek.

They were leaning against the sink in Kelly’s kitchen, each nursing a tallboy of Old Milwaukee. Monica had her arms around his waist, and was softly rubbing her nose against his thick flannel shirt. She breathed deeply. The fabric smelled of detergent and deodorant and pine needles. She realized the smell of pine needles would always make her cry now.

Kelly passed Jonah the joint. Monica looked up and opened her mouth. She and Jonah kissed, and he handed her the blunt as she exhaled his smoke. When she took her hit she tapped the ash into the sink and handed it off to Will.

“So I’d like to propose a toast,” Will said, feeling the weed and swishing his can overhead. “To my boy over here getting his research post with the Ag Department! Happy for ya, bookworm.”

They thunked cans and drained them. Monica tugged lightly on Jonah’s shirt. “Take it easy, babe,” she half-whispered.

“I’m fine,” he murmured to her, rubbing her arm and kissing her forehead. She scrunched her eyes closed and shrank from his beard with a grin.

“So,” Kelly started, clipping the last of the roach, “what the fuck does that mean, anyway? Are you gonna be farming or something?”

“I’m actually gonna be involved in researching efficiency in animal insemination.”


“I’m gonna be watching a bunch of pigs fuck.” He unhooked another can and cracked it open. “So, you know. Same old same old.”

Will’s cackle seemed to make the kitchen ring. “Shit, dude, you gonna be jackin’ ’em off too?”

“Noooo, not me. But I will be watching ’em get jacked off, for whatever that’s worth.”

“That’s some sexy shit, man,” Kelly interrupted. Jonah and Monica scooted over as she made for the sink and washed away the roach. She let the water run a bit to make sure it was good and flushed. She grabbed a couple more cans for her and Will. “You talk like that when you and Monica get it on?”

“Maybe not quite so technical.”

Will was kissing Kelly’s neck and pulling her close. Kelly swigged her beer nonchalantly, like she didn’t notice him. “Hey man, whatever gets y’all goin’. Hey, where the fuck is Devon? We’re almost out of beer over here.”

The painkillers were starting to hit. They mixed with the beer, making Jonah feel a little like he was floating. Or maybe that was the weed? Jonah’s bloodstream was quite the cocktail in that moment.

Monica had her fingers hooked around his belt. Her blouse was like thin tissue. He could feel goosebumps as he ran his hand along her arms.

“So, like,” Will took a deep, steadying breath, “like what are your plans after you get done jacking off pigs?”

“Dunno, man. Jack off cows? There’s gotta be plenty of horny-ass farm animals out there.”

“Is this where you saw yourself going?” Monica asked him, looking up and grinning. She kissed him. The taste of cannabis in her mouth made his heart rocket for a moment. “Seven years of school to be a pig fucker?”

“Well I’m not gonna be fucking the pigs. Just, you know…watching them get fucked. There’s a substantial degree of difference.”

Her grin widened and she chuckled lazily. She was really high and a little drunk. She kissed him again. Out of sight of the others, she slipped a hand into his back pocket and squeezed his ass. He did a lot of walking through the mountains for his thesis. He had a pretty nice ass now.

He could feel her fingernails digging into him through the denim, and a flutter worked its way through his cock. His jeans were pretty tight. Things could get embarrassing in a second if he wasn’t careful.

Kelly coughed and waved a hand through the air. “Jesus, we’ve hot boxed the whole house. If we’re done smoking let’s move out to the back porch.”

Will was staring at her tits, jiggling bra-less in her tee shirt. “Where you lead, I shall follow,” he told her, his voice muffled by the can against his lips.

“Y’all comin’?” Kelly called back, as Will wrapped his arms around her and kissed behind her ear.

“Yeah, we’ll be out there in a second!” Monica yelled as the screen door slammed shut. When they were out of sight she looked up with a closed-eye grin and kissed him again. Her tongue filled his mouth and she worked her hand down the front of his pants. He could feel her working her fingers around him. She got horny when she got high. She took the hand that was in his back pocket and ran it through his shaggy hair. She thought it made him look like James Brolin. She liked to tell him this when they had sex.

He was smiling as he kissed her. Master’s degree. New job. Horny girlfriend. ’78 wasn’t a bad year. It could’ve been a hell of a lot better, but right now…things weren’t so bad.

Okay, he was feeling the weed now. Smooth, cutting down the sharpness to his drunk. He tipped the can and took down a few more gulps.

“Heeeey.” He looked to her, and the mischievous grin was gone. She was pouting now, wrinkling her forehead in worry. “Hey, babe. Maybe you shouldn’t drink so much.”

He took an even moment before taking another sip. “The beer didn’t put the tumor there, babe. Either of ’em.”

Her hand had gone still. “They found another one?”

He nodded. “Two more, yeah, right next to each other. Brain stem now. Uh…” He didn’t know how to finish the thought other than simply saying: “Malignant, but I guess that’s obvious now.”

She pressed her face to his shirt, bobbing her head to wipe an eye against the flannel. She was going to hate the scent of pine needles for the rest of her life.

He rested his head on hers. The smell of her hair made him think of Jeep rides in the open air.

He had to fight to keep from telling her he loved her. He’d told her that when he’d found out about the first tumor. She’d cried all night and into the morning. If he said it now, she might break down. Besides, saying it out loud was just redundant.

He could ask her to marry him again, but he knew where she stood on that. So he stood there and let her hold him, while he was still there to hold.

At some point they’d have to tell the others, but right now all Jonah wanted to do was party.

“Hey,” he told her. When she looked up he kissed her. His breath was deep, husky. He kept kissing her. Eventually she was kissing him back.

They stumbled past the screen door and down the hall. They ignored the light switch as Jonah kicked the guest room door shut behind them. Neither of them thought to turn the lock. How could they think of it, with her nipples firm against his ribs, and his fingers running down her spine?

Luckily, they didn’t need it. Their friends heard them through the thin walls, but the door stayed closed. Devon made it back with the beer, and as Monica and Jonah rolled around in the dark, the others hollered and slapped at the closed door. They screamed and laughed, a chorus exalting in vicarious celebration.

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