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Paul Luikart

      Seven years ago, I killed a man and cut him up and buried him way out in the White Tanks Mountains. They caught me, thanks to my jabber-jaw girlfriend at the time, and gave me life with no parole. I missed the desert so much though, and it missed me, that I ended up breaking out with a few other guys one night.
      Me and them guys split up and now I'm on the run solo and, of course, on the run solo there ain't legit money (and money a man needs) so I walk into this bank and I say, "Hey, put all the money in this bag. I got a gun and I'll start plugging people if you don't."
      They do like I say, which I'm glad for, because all I want is to grab the money and go.
      I say to the teller, "Show me what you're putting in that bag."
      "Don't hurt me," she says.
      "Hurry up and do it and let me see you do it." They WILL slip a paint bomb in on you. I've seen guys show up in their booking pictures purple as hell. I watch her shove in hundreds and fifties.
      I say, "Throw them twenties in there too."
      Outside, I get lucky with a getaway car. Right in front of the bank is this beautiful green Charger. Double lucky for me is the guy left the keys in it when he got out to get his cup of coffee or take a shit or wherever he went. I jump in and start her up and think, 'Hope he ain't bow-legged or got a trick knee or something, because he's walkin' home today.' I floor it and I'm gone.
      I believe the breath of life is the smell of creosote coming in through the windows when you're out there zooming along through the desert. I'm doing about a thousand miles an hour across some old back highway I don't even know the name of, all my windows rolled down, with that wind loud and proud and bearing the lovely scent of that little scrub brush right up my nose. I don't even know how I got onto this highway, I just know it's some wide open ground to cover. Saguaros and ocotillos are whizzing past and saluting me and I'm leading this parade of sheriffs and cops and FBI, like I'm a big grand marshal or something, out over all this sand and through the evening sun and I can't believe how fast I'm going.
      I turn the radio on and I turn it to a rock n' roll station and I turn it all the way up, so loud it's covering up those damn sirens behind me. Since I got all the windows down, I shout out into the desert, "Hear that gila monsters?" and I hear the gila monsters singing in time to the music, their snake friends and their tarantula friends joining in too, and I hope everybody back behind me realizes I got about a million scaly accomplices out here, who'd hide me in a heartbeat if I wanted.
      Since there ain't no turns in the road coming up and since the sun is starting to go down a little, I speed up even more and then I start laughing and cussing and shouting. I decide, just for the hell of it, to holler, "You'll never catch me coppers!" at them patrol cars in the rear view mirror, so I lean my head out the window and turn around as best I can and I shout it and give them the finger. All of a sudden, ping! ping! on the back of the car. They're shooting now so I pull my head back in and start weaving all over the highway.
      And then boom! They get my tire. It gets so loud I swear I go deaf. The car spins around and around and it just about flips end over end and and finally, it comes to rest about a hundred yards off the road. There's all this white smoke and I taste blood on my lip and my hip hurts and there's a million cops with pistols and rifles and shotguns. The cop closest to me shouts, "Get out of the car!" but I can't move at first because I'm still a little stunned, so he flips the door open real quick and grabs my left arm and starts yanking and yanking on it and shouting, "Let go of the wheel, let go of the wheel NOW!" So I do and my other arm is flopping around behind me, but I can't feel it. They pull me out and throw me down and step all over me.
      We end up driving back to some station somewhere, me and these two big pigs up in front, and I say, "Where we going?"
      "Jail," they say.
      "Yeah, but where?"
      "Don't matter."
      "Yes it do. Some of 'em I can get out of."
      "You won't do that this time."
      "What if I do, though?"
      "Well, then, you'd be a deadman."
      I look out the window. We're heading back the direction I just came from. The sun is really going down now, and those long, pink rays are stretching out over the whole desert. I ain't seen it like that for seven years. Longer and longer by the second, like skinny fingers, and I know it's me they're reaching for, trying to pluck me right out of the back of this car. I know it's just a matter of time before they get me again, probably grab me by the shirt collar when I'm least expecting it. Jails and cops don't like to give up what they got, but you better believe the desert don't either.

Paul Luikart lives in Chicago with his wonderful wife Emily. He has a degree in English-creative writing from Miami University and has had poetry, stories and articles published in a few different places, including The Chicago Quarterly Review, Coach's Midnight Diner and at the Burnside Writers Collective. He works at an organization that assists homeless men and women and their life stories often influence his writing.

David L. Martinez

March 12

      "How's your mother?" Janice asks.
      "Dying," Paul replies. It's a common reply of late, to which Janice normally says something like You know what I mean, or Yes, but how's she doing? Today, she's having none of it and after a few seconds, Paul adds, "I've got a new picture." He pulls out a picture of his mother in her red dress, her head unabashedly bald. She's holding one of his nieces (Freida, he thinks), and grinning, the smile reaching her eyes. "It was taken at her sixty-fifth birthday party," he says.
      Janice studies the photo as she sips her latte and, handing it back, returns her attention to her paper. "You should have gone," she says.
      Paul sips his coffee, black, no sugar, and doesn't respond.

March 19

      "How's your mother?" Janice asks.
      "Dying," Paul replies.
      "No change then," she says, sipping her latte.
      "Not yet. My sister's holding a prayer vigil this weekend. She's hoping that her church group will be able to pray the cancer into remission.
      "I suppose that's one approach."
      Paul nods. "It can't hurt."
      Janice looks at him and lays her paper down. "Don't tell me that you're buying into it?"
      "No. I just don't think it'll do any harm."
      Janice stares at him for a few moments and then returns to her paper. "I suppose not," she says.

March 26

      "How's your mother?" Janice asks.
      Paul grunts and scoops another forkful of eggs topped with salsa into his mouth. He's eyeing a piece of sausage left on her plate. She takes a sip of her latte and turns the page on the paper.
      "Are you going to eat that?" He asks.
      "Yes," she replies.
      The sausage grows cold, uneaten, on the plate.

April 2

      "How's your mother?" Janice asks.
      "Dying," Paul replies.
      "The prayer vigil didn't work?"
      "Not yet but we're not giving up hope. The lord works in mysterious ways and all that."
      "So I hear. How's your father taking all of this?"
      "I don't know. I haven't talked to him."
      "You should call him."
      "I will."
      "I think that'd be a good thing."

April 9

      "How's your mother?" Janice asks.
      "Alive! The surgery removed the sarcoma from her left lung. She's going home the day after tomorrow."
      "That's great news!"
      "She's still not out of the woods, though. There's still the surgery needed for the sarcoma in the right upper lung."
      "Why didn't they operate on both lungs at once?" Janice asks.
      "There were concerns about her age and her ability to heal from simultaneous surgeries."
      "Are you going to go home?"
      "Not yet. I'm planning for a trip during Christmas. I'd like to see my nieces and nephews."
      Janice scribbles on her crossword, "They grow up so fast."
      "Too true," Paul replies. He sips his coffee and studies a redhead crossing the street. Nice, he thinks.

April 16

      "How's your mother?" Janice asks.
      "She's still recovering from the operation."
      Janice flips to a new page of her paper. "How's she feeling?"
      "She's still in pain. My father told me that she was hurting so badly last night that she couldn't get out of bed. She wet herself and he had to change the sheets around her."
      Janice peers over her paper. "Really?" she asks, looking disgusted.
      "Yep." Paul pours hot salsa, not a lot, over his eggs.
      Janice shakes her head. "God save me from getting old."

April 23

      "How's your mother?" Janice asks.
      "Doing well. I've got a new picture." He pulls out a picture of his mother in black jeans and a t-shirt that reads, I'm Emma's grandma! She's wearing a blue seventies afro wig and holding a dozen yellow roses. In the background, his father is eating a slice of lemon pie, an open pack of Pall Malls just within reach. The date stamp on the picture is 04/01/07.

April 30

      "How's your mother?" Janice asks.
      "Still dying of cancer, I suppose," Paul replies. He flips the page in the newspaper and ignores Janice as she looks at him.

May 7

      "How's your mother?" Janice asks.
      "She's started a new round of chemo. The doctors are trying to shrink the right lung sarcoma before the next operation."
      "Any new pictures?"
      "How's your father doing?"
      "Ok, I guess. We don't talk much."
      "You should start. Neither of you are getting any younger."
      "I suppose," Paul replies, fiddling with his watch.

May 14

      "How's your mother?" Janice asks.
      "I ordered my eggs over-medium; these are over-easy."
      "Oh… well, I wouldn't stand for that." Janice flips through the style section while Paul tries to get the attention of the wait staff.

May 21

      "How's your mother?" Janice asks.
      "Her next operation is scheduled for Wednesday," Paul replies.
      "This should be the last one, right?"
      "Knock on wood."
      "Any new pictures?"
      "Nope. Are you going to eat that?" Paul stabs his fork in the direction of Janice's sausage link.
      "You know I will," she says. She doesn't.
A few weeks later…

      "I was so sorry to hear about your mom," Janice says. She reaches across the table and pats Paul's hand and then her hand stops on top of his and she squeezes and the moment elongates as they contemplate this intimacy. After a few seconds, Paul pulls his hand free.
      "Thanks," he replies.
      "How's your father doing?"
      "He's not happy. My sister moved in and she won't let him smoke in the house."
      "That's probably smart."
      "Tell that to him. He insists that she's violating his constitutional rights. Fucker probably killed my Mother and he has the gall to talk about rights."
      "You don't believe that." Janice says.
      He doesn't but he shrugs and lies, "I don't know. Maybe. I don't know. Shit happens, right?"
      Paul stares out the window and the conversation stalls.
      "Look," Janice says finally, "They brought me some extra sausage here. You want?"

David Martinez lives and writes in Denver, Co. His writings have appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Literary Tonic, the Houston Literary Review, and Poet's Ink, among others.

Chaz Siu

     Littlejohn said—well he didn't say it, he wrote it down—that we was all of us going to die when the end of the world come to Beaumont, Louisiana, population 223. That boy hadn't spoken a word in twelve years of living, and that might've made him smarter than the rest of us, but we didn't pay that little bitty philosopher a lick of attention.
     He was mute, but we always treated it like no big deal unless he was getting on our nerves with all his scribbling. He carried a tablet everywhere he went, and a little black pen with the end chewed off so raggedy plastic parts stuck out in all directions. We'd got used to him tagging along, pulling out that tablet and scrawling the same nonsense he always did.
     End of the world coming soon, he wrote.
     That again. His favorite line of cowpucky.
     "Littlejohn," we'd say, "Shut your trap."
     It's coming quick as you think, he wrote, maybe this Friday.
     "Last time you said Tuesday," said Jimmy Pontraine, "and it come and gone. You either a liar or you got it all wrong, Littlejohn."
     Friday was our day to play hooky, as far away from sixth grade as our feet could take us. We always went to the bog, where Jimmy's daddy had a skiff all four of us could get on, except there weren't ever no room for Littlejohn. We left his dumb butt on shore, still scribbling, and it didn't take no genius to see he wanted to go with us to see the gators and the marsh. Truth is, he made talking a lot of work, so most days, we didn't take him along.
     One day while we was out on the skiff, Jimmy got the bright idea to tell Littlejohn we seen a marsh monster. So we put on our scared faces, yelling and everything, and when he seen us coming in, Littlejohn got scared too. He was shaking all over so he could barely scrawl with those dirty hands of his.
     See, he wrote, end of the world coming soon.
     "What are you blabbing about, Littlejohn?" said Jimmy, "All we seen is a marsh monster with big fangs. Weren't no bomb."
     Don't need to be no bomb to see the end, he said. That monster make you blind to it.
     His face was jumpy like when you poke a frog belly, but we kept our faces all scared until Littlejohn was gone, scribbling about the marsh monster and the end of the world.
     Next day, he had himself a jacket with little metal studs all over it he said was his daddy's.
     It protect me from the monster, he wrote, it protect me from the end.
     "Littlejohn," I said, "You ain't got no daddy."
     Jimmy cuffed him one on the head and Littlejohn made a squeak like a hurt rabbit. "Littlejohn," he said, "you the biggest liar on the planet."
     Littlejohn sat down in the dirt, tugging on his ears and crying a bit when the sky got stormy all of the sudden, and he jumped up like a pogo stick and ran into PawPaw's store.
     We all chased him into PawPaw's, but Littlejohn weren't nowhere to be seen.
     PawPaw gave us a hard look.
     "What you been doing to that unfortunate child?" he said, "He ain't like you!"
     We told PawPaw we knew that, but Littlejohn was a dummy just the same.
     He scowled at us and told us to get out of his store.
     "Don't you come back 'til you get y'selves a new attitude."
     He ran us out right quick, but not before I seen Littlejohn's head poking up behind PawPaw's register, looking at us with them teeny eyes of his, scribbling something on that tablet.
     PawPaw read it and gave us a hellfire look, and we ran down the street, kicking in the mud puddles until our jeans was painted brown.
     At lunch on Friday, we seen Littlejohn walking by himself, and Jimmy grabbed his shiny jacket and we all ran with it until Littlejohn couldn't keep up with us no more.
     "It's Friday," we yelled, "and we doing just fine, Littlejohn!"
     He was walking a ways behind, with his arms crossed around himself, rocking his head and crying up a streak on his dirty brown face.
     Jimmy waved the coat at him.
     "What you gonna do without your jacket?" he said, "Is the Martians gonna get you?"
     Littlejohn, he stopped following and didn't answer Jimmy, didn't scribble no words or wave that tablet of his around. Just kept rocking.
     The jacket was too small for any of us, so Jimmy threw it into the bog and we ran ourselves all the way to the orphanage, before Sister Elizabeth could give us a pounding for being late to supper.
     "Where's Littlejohn?" she asked.
We gave her the same answer we always did, telling her we didn't have no idea.      I guess after we left him, Littlejohn must've got clever enough to shoot a pistol, 'cause PawPaw found him the next morning snuck into the back of his store with a note on his tablet and a bullet in his head that shut his mitts up for good.
     The note said, See, I told you so and he signed it Edward, which was his first name that none of us knew he had.
     When Sister asked us why he done it, we told her it was the end of the world, and Littlejohn didn't want no part of it.

Chaz Siu lives in San Diego and has published stories in a variety of literary ezines since 2002.