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Oleh Lysiak

Of course the weather changes but with minor variations and adjustments in levels of frustration I relive the same day, up at dawn, down at sunset, suffering dreams of people past perched on stairwells beyond reason. My recently fed dogs wag me towards reality. A glance at my parents' portraits initiates inevitable waves of guilt. Could I have done it better? Useless to wonder now, I did what I was capable of doing. Migraines ease in anytime on spiked heels flashing diamonds. Frayed connections to lost words I once commanded defy me and I miss my train again. I wield a whirling-bladed weed whacker, sculpting brambles. Cutting grass is useless but I like the smell and tidiness. On wings of paranoid elation I twist my motorcycle's throttle, accelerating reasons to survive.

Oleh Lysiak lives on the South Oregon Coast. He has worked as a reporter, editor, columnist, photographer, restaurateur, carpenter, sailor, smuggler, tree planter, fishing guide, sculptor, truck driver, river guide, cook, wood cutter, trash collector, marine gravity operator and reclaimed wood broker.



Fan
Donna Vorreyer

      Just like any other day at six o'clock, she pulls up to the tollbooth and tosses her change into the metal basket. But today is different. There's no jingle. The arm blocking her way doesn't lift in salute - the green light doesn't thank her. She cracks the door, questioning her aim, the cars behind her creeping impatiently toward her bumper, their curses trapped behind rolled-up windows and a wall of exhaust.
      A football helmet is lodged in the mechanism. As she peers in, she can see her change slipping around between the pads and the hard shell. She releases the helmet and shakes it upside down, her coins dripping into the basket like remembered sweat. She tosses it to her passenger seat where it sits for the rest of the drive, a disembodied head that cannot answer any of the questions she would like to ask.
      Home at last, she carries the helmet by the faceguard as she unlocks the door and heads for the kitchen. She opens a bottle of beer and sits, the helmet at the other side of the table designed for two. She touches it gently, runs her hands across its chipped red surface. No team logo, no name, no stray hairs in the straps, no sign of an owner.
She places it on her head. It's too big, but she fastens the chinstrap and inhales the lingering odors of perspiration and dirt. It smells like a man. She leaves it on for a long time.

Donna Vorreyer's work has appeared in several magazines including After Hours, Flashquake, and Bathtub Gin, and is forthcoming in New York Quarterly and Literary Mama.



Prognosis
Maria Pollack

     Having received from the doctor what could be considered the worst news possible, she hurried across the park to meet him at the café.
     He was seated at their usual table in the back, and when he saw her, he rose to greet her. He noticed the dark rings under her eyes and how dry and brittle her long chestnut had become. When he sat down across the table from her, he took her hand. It felt cold despite the summer's heat shimmering waves from the pavement.
     "So?" he asked.
     She shrugged but didn't take her eyes off the menu.
     He felt bad for what she was going through, and even though he'd argued with her, she was right when she said she was alone in this. After all, there was his wife and two sons to consider.
     After the waiter took their menus and she'd taken a sip of her iced tea, she said, "I've decided to keep it."
     He pulled his hand away, and she knew it was just as she suspected. Their relationship was over.

Maria Pollack has had short fiction published in The Detroit Jewish News, The Little Magazine, The Loyalhanna Review, Wings, Quantum Tao, Art Times, Urban Desires, Lily, The Angler, The Green Silk Journal, The Picolata Review, Word Riot, EMG-Zine, Blue Print Review, Chick Flicks, and The Ghost in the Gazebo: An Anthology of New England Ghost Stories. She lives in upstate New York.




Driven
Peter English

Blinding snow, visibility is about a foot. Our exit is next. We start to slide sideways. Brakes make it worse. Slow, slow, hope no one is near, can't see. For once, kids belted in the back seat are terrified into silence. Next to me, Beth stares forward, tight jawed, mesmerized. Please let us make it to the exit... another 500 feet I figure. Then suddenly the car starts vibrating. Oh my God, what now? Shoulder warning pavement. Too close to the edge. Easy. Try to see the white line curving right marking the exit ramp. Impossible. Everything is white. Stare harder, it should show up... yes, there! Slowly now, ramp inclines a little. I think it curves a bit to the left. Does it? Hard to remember now. Things look so totally different. Don't dare stop, might not get going again. Inch by inch, make our way. At last! Never so happy to see the pink and orange sign. With a sigh of relief, I pull in. "Okay, kids," I said, "what kinda donuts you want?"

Peter English writes poetry and short stories, just for the kids, none published, and has a novel that has been undergoing changes for 14 years. The neighbors call him The Second Story Man because if he has time to tell you one story, he will always tell one more besides.



     It's a Blockbuster Double Feature Friday night.
     Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton.
     The Alamo and Traffic.
     Pizza and beer.
     The wife and the daughter.
     Hey, I say to the daughter, do you think I look like Dennis Quaid?
     She scrunches up her face. Can I have the car keys?
     Wait a minute, I say. Back in '79, at your Mom's high school reunion I'm standing at the bar with all the other spouses and this woman turns to me and says, I bet you hear this all the time, but you look just like Dennis Quaid. And I'm thinking, you mean that guy who's married to Meg Ryan, Everybody's All American, the dude from The Big Easy? So I say, Yeah, I get that a lot.
     The daughter says, Totally. Dennis Quaid, I can see that.
Let me tell you, I say, from that day on I am his biggest fan. Sure the years take their toll. I gain a few pounds, lose some hair. DQ does rehab and loses Meg - that has to hurt. And he doesn't play the tough guy anymore. Gets his ass kicked in Cold Creek Manor and plays the gay guy in Far From Heaven, but he still has that style. Yes sir, me and DQ, we are still in the game.
     Daughter sighs, holds out her hand. The keys, dad.
     The wife looks up from her magazine. It was Randy not Dennis.
     What? I say.
     That was my friend Jackie. She said you looked like Randy Quaid, not Dennis.
     Are you serious? The guy who made Cybill Shepherd strip on the diving board in The Last Picture Show? The loser Jack Nicholson delivers in The Last Detail?
     He's not that bad, she says.
     Not that bad? He's the B team.
     The wife smiles.
     I give her the look and stomp to the kitchen for another beer. She's giving the daughter her patented, eye-rolling shrug.
     Randy?
     No way.
     I know she said Dennis.

Len Joy lives in Evanston, Illinois with his wife and three children. For fifteen years Joy owned and operated an automobile engine remanufacturing company in Phoenix. In the past year his work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Antithesis Common and HappyNews.com. In November, Joy took third prize in the Canadian Writers' Collective Short Story Contest


A New Dish
Steve Meador

It is Thursday the 13th, not Friday, and taxes should be in the mail. My spirit catches a draft on the heat of anger, glides slowly back as I realize that someone has to pay for the world. But, I have discovered that the deadline for the postmark is Monday, the 17th, so it makes perfect sense to take a break, finish up on Sunday night. I go to the kitchen to help cook supper. Cubing chicken for some spicy new dish I become embroiled in a conversation with my wife, about french fries, no longer Freedom Fries I note. In particular, how a couple fries were thrown (lobbed terrorist-style, I'm sure) during lunch period by my seventh grader, for which he received a "conduct cut." Whatever the hell is that, I wonder, as my cleaver conducts a cut through that poor bird's breast. Actually he received two that day, she says, and four for the week, making it however many for the month. Mostly for talking to others, and back to some. I sigh, add more skin to the wrinkles between my eyebrows. He is a good kid, he's social, so he talks a little. There is movement near a doorway and I catch a glimpse of him sliding across the narrow hall, wearing a black stocking cap to iron out the curls in his freshly washed hair. Soon the ceiling rumbles. He is upstairs, online, blowing up enemy tanks and bunkers. My stomach tightens with worry about his near future. I watch the chicken cubes turn white as I stir them in the pan, saying no more, wishing that taxes and conduct cuts could be turned into something so beautiful, so easily. Wondering how I could delay or put off my son's next few birthdays. Missing the simple days when report cards had a line titled Deportment, followed by the teacher's handwritten U or S. Daydreaming that more of my donation to pay for the world might pay for my own country. I'm not sure if my brain or the chicken sizzles louder, when my wife reminds me to use a spatula, not the cleaver, to stir my work. God knows that I might scratch the coating that keeps the world from sticking to my skillet, and end up with a conduct cut of my own.

Steve Meador has been published in Wind, the Yearbook of Modern Poetry, Flutter and Boston Literary Magazine. He will appear in the March issue of Autumn Sky, and his chapbooks, Pack Your Bags, and A Good Sharp Knife are due out in 2007, from Pudding House Publications. For the past 25 years he has been a real estate broker in California, Ohio and Florida, Currently he lives in the Tampa area with his family, where he is working on young adult novels.




Blood Money
Scott Mastro

     The left arm's twenty-five dollars and the right's forty, not because one's special, just because it works out that way with the days of the week you go and how many times you can get stuck with a needle as fat as a tube in the same exact spot, and don't try to go to any other center. They mark your left index-finger cuticle with invisible ink that shows up under black light.
     You're told to eat a big meal before and sometimes you lie. They prick your finger, take your blood pressure, weight, temperature, and everything has to check out within certain parameters, even your iron level.
     Last Friday they told a guy he couldn't donate because of something wrong with his sample and you could see in his face, how much that twenty-five or forty would've meant. He was definitely pay-checking to pay-check.
     Getting job interviews in the beginning is rough, but eventually you learn how to fudge your résumé and eventually get callbacks. Then you get the interview maybe, then you have to go in. It's hard to know where to look. A woman said between their eyes on the forehead and they'll think it's good eye-contact. You don't want to stare them down or always at the floor.
     One interview for groundskeeper, they asked, "What was the last book you read?" They got a list for that one. Another was, swear to God, "If you were an animal, which animal would you be and why?" Took some thinking, but eventually came around to Coyote, because of the interaction with them and the dogs lately.
     You can't eat, sleep, close you eyes, lift your knees, or use a cell phone when you go in. The televisions run constantly and they have a system where if you trade in a DVD, you don't have to wait in line. PG-13 only. It's called a VIP card.
     There's a lot for editors, copywriters, proofreaders and all kinds of writing assignments on the Internet, websites for freelance work. Ghost-writing used to be only for non-fiction. Now you've got 'busy CEOs' that want 'fiction' written or people who advertise, "I have an idea for a story.' What the hell is this world coming to?
     The Chamber of Commerce wasn't helpful, not like they didn't try. They're mostly interested in you registering a company name and paying the State Fee.
     Plasma's the color of honey or weak tea when they take it, three hours for the process, and it only pinches a minute when the needle goes in.
     The man across the aisle was reading How to be an Auctioneer.

Staff writing for Image Magazine, ghost-writing for Arbor Books, business writing for The Poised and Purposed Pen, and freelancing the world-wide, Scott Mastro has lived all over the place. He continues to do so. scottmastro@gmail.com - http://dyingwriters.com/mdw/ScottMastro/html


Preplanned
Micaela Myers

The conversation turned from soy milk, which they'd both ordered in their coffees, to soy meat products, to the environment, to politics, to the stucco boxes and preplanned community that made up the town they both lived in—how fake it was, how it had no personality. They agreed on everything, each adding to the conversation, sharing information the other didn't know, cracking a joke that made the other smile. It was probably the best conversation she'd ever had with a man, but as their coffee blind date wound into its second hour, she found herself questioning whether she could ever kiss him—his thin lips, thin nose, thin cheekbones. Ironically there was no meat on him. And his teeth, they were so large. The biggest teeth she'd ever seen. I'm horrible, she thought. It isn't looks that matter, right? But could I kiss him? Doesn't it all come down to that? Could I ever see myself wanting to kiss him? And as they hugged goodbye, as they said what a great time they'd had, she was already composing her just-friends e-mail she would write from her stucco apartment.

So far, Micaela Myers has: been lucky enough to find literary journal homes for eight of her more than 40 short stories; traveled to 10 countries and lived in three, with eight different addresses; and totaled two cars in a two-year period on crowded Southern California roads. Along the way she has earned three degrees, including an MFA in writing from Vermont College in 2003. Micaela is a native of North County San Diego, where she currently lives with her wonderful husband, loving pit bull, and her rather cranky pony.