Week #44 – Crowd

Welcome! Here is this week’s Flash, posted in the order received.

The theme is crowd.

A Lime Crowd by Rick Daddario
Haiga with Altered Photograph and Digital Mixed Media
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13B . by Mike DiChristina

“I shit you not,” says the guy who looks like a St. Bernard in 13A. He folds his tattooed arms over his chest and looks out the window at the Jersey Shore, far below.

St. Bernard’s sweaty arm sticks to mine. I hunch my shoulders and twist away from him.

The pug-faced guy wearing a wife-beater in 13C says, “That’s un-fucking believable.” He slips a toothpick into his mouth. A sleek, longhaired flight attendant swooshes by like a best-of-breed Afghan Hound gliding down Park Avenue. Pug’s nostrils flare as he breathes in her scent.

St. Bernard cracks his knuckles. “Nothing surprises me any more,” he says. He coughs, his jowls quivering with each wheeze.

The lady in 12B slams her recliner back into my knees, her white poodle hairdo peeking over the top of the chair.

“What’s he gonna do now?” says Pug. He twirls the toothpick in his open mouth, making it do little backward flips with his tongue.

St. Bernard laughs. “Nothing. He’s fucked.” He pounds his fist on the armrest between us.

I scooch further away from St. Bernard.

“Hey buddy,” says Pug.

Pug taps me hard on the shoulder, his fingernail a black smile.

“I’m talking to you,” he says.

I turn, our noses just inches apart.

“Move over,” snarls Pug. “You’re in my personal space, Scooby-fucking-do.”

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The Host among the Crowd . by Martin Porter

As soon as I arrived I made an attempt to find my host, but the two or three people of whom I asked his whereabouts stared at me in such an amazed way, and denied so vehemently any knowledge of his movements, that I slunk off in the direction of the cocktail table—the only place in the garden where a single man could linger without looking purposeless and alone.” — F Scott Fitzgerald

He has the show of power.
Stopping to share a word, he
Barely eats
As if he had fed prior,
Forgetting his invite.

Some say his riches
Are as illicit as
Brandy on his cocktail bar,
Not old as the label claims,
Or as proof. Some say
He lives on a little poker here,
Or bar-room brawls,
And some say worse.

He wanders ever hopeful,
With watchful eyes. Maybe he’s
Simply guarding his back, but
He seems to be searching
For the one thing he has lost.
You might get the impression
Life does not like him,
But I admire him and my girl,
She adores him.

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Division . by Jessica McHugh

She wanted to see its insides.

While the other kids were cringing in revulsion or spouting clichés about the moral implications of dissection, Marion was wishing they’d shut up so Mr. Harvey could hand out the scalpels. With fascination glistening in every careful incision, her partner squealed, just as disgusted by Marion as she was by the dead cat with its flesh peeled open like a jacket. But Marion didn’t care about Tonya’s opinion. She didn’t care about the whispers calling her a “serial killer in training”. She was just curious, and knowing that, she also somehow knew that her curiosity made her better than Tonya. The final cut revealed a perfectly framed interior, and Marion was amazed. The cat’s innards were so similar to her own, and that knowledge made her happy. It was as if learning anatomy was the same as getting to know God.

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array, cloud, set . by Dorothee Lang

She dials the number carefully. Voices surround her. A telephone box would be handy now, a space with a door, she thinks while she listens to the ringing of the phone on the other side of the line. Which, of course, isn’t a real line anymore, but a conglomerate of computers, transmitter and satellites. A black box of communication without answer.

She tries again, just in case.

“Hello,” she finally whispers into the phone, as if it would make a difference. “Hello, are you there.”
It’s not even a question any more.

She waits another two rings before she pushes the disconnect button. The she turns away, takes some steps into the crowd, becomes part of it again. A minute later, she is gone, while you still stand there, waiting for your phone to ring.

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Crowded Past . by Susan Gibb

She could count lovers on her fingers if she included her thumbs. Was that bad? Did it make her desirable or just loose?

Angela was twenty-eight. She loved sex, had rubber-band flexibility, and though she hadn’t loved all her lovers, there were two or three that meant something more than just sex. One of them had been Andre.

It was on a European vacation after high school graduation. She’d stayed in hostels because it was the trendy way to “do Europe” then. She hadn’t listened to her mother and packed a blanket. It was a cold May in France and Andre was not only warm but handsome in that skinny Frenchman sort of way. He put her to sleep at night with whispered poetry she didn’t understand. Her mother insisted she return to the States immediately. She left him standing on the Left Bank waving goodbye. She often thought of him fondly, blowing kisses and sweet purple violets into the Seine waiting for her to return.

Another was Greg the Hobo who dressed in old ripped sweatshirts and jeans. Her mother had sabotaged the relationship when she brought him home on semester break. He was Dr. Greg (the Hobo) today.

Her last love and the one she was now swallowing pills in her bathroom over is Paul, a musician who told her he loved three other women besides her. Simultaneously. Her mother phoned an hour too late.

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Speech . by Solveig Mardon

She digs her heel in the dirt, her boot sends swirls of thick red dust vacuuming up tiny corridors between sweaty torsos. The whole population of this cowless cowtown gathered at the feet of the politician to hear it all come together or just as damn likely fall apart, like the groaning metal of weekend rattle-trucks built by little brothers and ripped around the edges of town. Neck muscles all around her flex and crumple, everybody squinting at the stage. Handkerchiefs whip over shoulders, slap dust out of brows.

She feels him reach down, pinch his fingers around the loose skin of her kneecap, Goddamn, his arms are long. In the smack of the midday heat, rickety fan shaking its noisy head no, he had snuck around her body with that mouth of his, her elbows, knees, backs of her hands, taking skin between teeth and tugging like a gentle dog.

The wet-pitted city man onstage is waving his arms around and she can tell the top of his baldy skull is changing color, it’s frying. He finishes his speech. Dusty hands smack together around her, and what do you know, nothing’s changed. She still has sweat in her hair and the hands of an edge-town, hock-spit boy sliding up her leg.

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Rollercoaster . by Lauri Martin

“There’s no rush,” Luke said.

But Linda pretended not to hear him, careening their Chrysler Le Baron through traffic like a greased pinball.

Luke’s fingers clamped onto the seat cushion and his shoulders tensed to keep from ramming into his mom whenever they made a sudden swerve to the left.

Since there was nothing he could do to slow her down, Luke decided to close his eyes and pretend his mother was not in a manic phase and driving north on the interstate at rush hour. Instead he sat next to her on a rickety rollercoaster at the state fair.

Luke pictured himself in a bucket seat attached to a long train of cars riding a narrow gauge track through wild curves and up a trellis one hundred feet in the air. Somewhere along the track a skinny man with bad teeth held the levers that controlled their speed, their direction, their destiny, and this made Luke sigh with relief.

They hit a pothole. Luke screamed.

His mom yelled, “Wooooo,” and laughed.

She swirved to the right.

He heard metal scrape metal, the blare of horns.

Luke squeezed his eyes tighter. He pictured the carnie working the levers, struggling to trip the brakes, but instead of slowing they went faster jerking through curves until they sailed, twisting on a corkscrew and landing with a slam and a splash.

Luke was shaking. “What a ride,” he said when he found his voice.

Linda just stared out the windshield at the cattails.

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ANT FARM . by Linda Simoni-Wastila

My daughter gnawed on her honeyed toast, dropping bits into the top of the ant farm. The workers scurried to gather the crumbs. I sipped my coffee slow, to avoid the cup’s bottom, to prolong the moment when I left for work. Sarah and I watched the insects crawl through tunnels and burrows, hauling beige globs bigger than themselves to the queen. The sun warmed the kitchen. A sort of hypnotic peace settled over us.
A bargain, my husband had declared, holding the farm in his arms. He smiled, sweaty from a summer morning spent yard-saling. Sarah will learn about community, he had said. She’ll learn about hard work. What about you? I had thought.

But I let him assemble the structure after he promised to release the insects when Sarah entered kindergarten. A year later and the ants still thrived, unlike the goldfish that went belly-up when Sarah sprinkled in too much Tetra. The farm occupied an entire counter. Somehow the ants escaped and found their way into the sugar bowl and the plastic-sheathed bread. Every time I squished an ant with my finger, I felt a piece of me loosen and chisel off.

My husband bounded down the stairs, his happy noisiness preceding him. Sarah ran to him, they hugged, chattering, behind me. Pressure welled from my gut to my chest. The room clouded. Outside daffodils poked through snow and the air shimmered blue. I drained my cup, picked up my keys, the morning unbearable.

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Overcooked . by Susan Tepper

At night Junie gets itchy. It starts with her back. Scratch it, will ya? she’ll say to anyone around. Sometimes we all ignore her and go on watching TV. She shimmys her back up and down the door frame. You got fleas, Buster said one night. It was the night Aunt May overcooked the spaghetti. She got into a big fight with Uncle Gil over plum tomatoes or fresh from the garden. By the time that spaghetti hit the table it had turned to mush. Uncle Gil got up and went to a bar. He didn’t say but we all knew. Aunt May sat alone in the kitchen and drank down the red wine decanter. Junie was hopping around trying to get a scratch from someone. Use this, Buster said, handing her a stretched out coat hangar. Just then Aunt May wobbled into the living room. She let out a shriek like a wild bird. We all stopped to look. Even Junie.

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The Fourth . by Melissa McEwen

The men dance with their wives
like they’re head over heels
in love, but it’s the drinking. Boys
with firecrackers that “holy-shit”
and “oh-shit” get off scot-free
because it’s a holiday
and everybody’s easy
and moms act like girls. Tonight
the fireworks will be heard
all the way from downtown,
but sound like they are
right in Aunt Eartha’s backyard
where ‘squitos and flies swarm
amongst us kin and the grill
is still hot and fathers
let young daughters drink
from their booze-filled cups.

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Crackle . by Roberta Lawson

He is born in suburban isolation, raised religious; steeped in rugged individualism and the superiority of the self. Aged seventeen he flees for London and New York, for Bangkok, Delhi, Jaipur, Tokyo. In thronging hordes of people at first he cannot tell if he hears his own heartbeat or that of those around him. When music plays he — finally — hears only music, scents everything all at once. Fleeing, running, milling, dancing, he falls into giddy women, men; is intoxicated on muddled humanity. As he brushes his shoulders against other people’s shoulders until he almost has no shoulders — until he is just energy, merged inside a bristling ball of human energy — who he was begins to blur. Lost in a sea of one other, he begins to exist.

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Conformity . by Catherine Russell

lost in the herd
just one of the crowd
so the pack
doesn’t prey upon
the one that stands out

For good or ill
-exceptional strength
as well as
weakness-
The one who stands out
attracts predators
In conventionality lies safety

Even the rebels
the loners
the socially inept
seek out their own kind
for safety lies in numbers

Most stay with the herd

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The Only Baby a Man Needs . by Michelle McEwen

First, there was one baby in the tub and by the time my man got home, there’d be a sweet smellin’ baby ready for bed. It was easy then— I’d close the door to the baby’s room and me and my man would go to our room. Then there was two babies in the tub and by the time my man got home, one baby would be sleeping and one baby would be fighting sleep. It wasn’t easy then— my man would go to our room slam shutting the door like the wide woke baby was my fault. Once, shaking his head, he told me how his aunt put whiskey in her babies’ formula to help them sleep. I don’t want drunk babies I told him. That night, I slept in the babies’ room. Then there was three babies in need of washin’. My man didn’t come home then— he’d just call to see if the babies was asleep. If they wasn’t, he’d stay out ’til they was. Once I lied just to get him home. But when he got home, there was a baby in the hall, one on the stairs, and one, hollering and hungry, on my hip. My man split for sure then— didn’t call ’til he was up north, outside of Cincinnati, talking about how me and the babies don’ took over his house, talking about how babies is women stuff, talking about how the only baby a man needs in his life is his woman.

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Old man deoderant . by Matt Potter

Pink-faced, he glowered in the corner, champagne in hand.

“I didn’t realise just how much you’d got around,” he said. “You’d only had five men when we got together.”

That was twenty-three years ago.

What could I say? Sorry my sex life has turned into a gay cliché? None of these men meant anything to me?

Bring something that will remind me of you, the invitation said. I’m turning fifty.

Even with the noise of the thousand men in the room, I could hear Jasper’s angry breathing. Had I really fucked them all?

“Who’s that anaemic-looking group over there?” Jasper pointed to a pale-faced quartet. Even in the middle of the room, they looked backlit.

“I think they’re dead,” I said. “You want me to ask?”

Jasper looked away. My heart lurched inside my chest. I wanted to put my arm around him but didn’t dare.

“I’m surprised you haven’t fucked yourself to death, too,” he added, “given your record.”

I would have said, Well, I’ve given it my best, but a well-known face walked in. Conversation lulled, just a second, as he made his way through the crowd.

He – the newest guest – was well known for a long-running series of so-bad-they-were-unintentionally-funny TV commercials. Buck, he’d say, holding a deodorant stick at the camera. For the man in you.

“You fucked old man deodorant?” Jasper smiled. Now my face turned pink.

Jasper downed his champagne. “I’m gonna see if I can score,” he said. “Some freebies.”

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MESSAGE . by Marcus Speh

We are fortunate to live in times of great tenderness. To describe the intimate touch between two of God’s mad children whom we encountered today in the crowd, on the railway, we must use a metaphor lest someone presumes we want to poke fun at the less able as they’re called by well-meaning magistrates of human diversity. The normal people, as they call themselves, looked with suspicion at the crazies hugging in the train. They cannot figure out why the bozos, as they secretly call them, caress each other so eagerly. “You don’t need to hang on to one other”, says their minder, “just hold on to that pole”. His voice sounds practical but not dispassionate. “Okay”, says crazy Jim and as he grabs the pole, another one of the group with dark eyes puts her head on Jim’s shoulder, smiles and sighs deeply. Jim smiles, too. He doesn’t think he’s stupid. Neither do we. Before the train disappears in a dark underpass, I read a feverish message on the tunnel walls: “If everyone hunts the offender who stays with the victim?”

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Crowded Limo . by Maude Lark

A dull ache between the shoulder blades; sitting in the jump seat and the back’s too low. A great dread of the elderly driver who doesn’t seem to know what a steering wheel is for and two simultaneous sniffs, mine and the fellow’s behind me – everyone is silent because he’s sitting too close to a stranger’s shoulder.

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There . by Len Kuntz

There is an underground attic inside of me that holds my damaged pieces.

Once, a boyfriend found the hiding place. He listened, tried to be tender. He swaddled me in soft cotton, whispering sugar into my ear. “Ashley,” he said, “it’s going to be all right.”

I wanted to believe him. I leaned close, heard my heart scudding up against his chest like a bumper car unable to find forward or reverse. But he was only a hard set of lungs, not at all pliant like I needed him to be, and so I knew. I knew he’d never understand.

You don’t expect the world to be fair, yet what a surprise to learn how evil it’s gotten, so clever and blatant, too.

We were cramped inside the transit, chins to chins. Overfilled with so many people, the bus felt sweaty, but safe. A second later, men wedged me into a corner, pressing and owning me with wire rope and a cloth gag while we rocked through the long black tunnel, strobe shadows ricocheting.

***

My father is learning to visit less. Yesterday he said, “It’s time you got out of that apartment.”

But he also didn’t believe at first. “It couldn’t have been more than two minutes,” he said. “Wasn’t there a crowd on the bus?”

I know the world is a heavy place for strong people, and so I keep lifting myself from one corner to the next. I am almost ready. Any day now, I’ll be there.

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Segment from a Documentary Film . by Stephen Hastings-King

In this sector of the estuary you swim through continuous showers of sunlight and krill and the array of regularly spaced wavering human forms floating upright seems to extend endlessly in all directions. Each wears a trench coat and private-eye fedora, hundreds of Jean-Paul Belmondos imitating Bogart in the entrance of as many invisible movie theaters; each is tied by the ankles to the bottom like a soldier in Emperor Qin’s terracotta army except under water and made from something like kelp as if molded by beings who have seen images of human bodies but never touched skin, a dreaming from deep space made from television signals and repetition. When you navigate the rows of Jean-Paul Belmondos you echo in each passage of a thumb across lips but when you touch one it explodes into vegetable chaos. In this sector of the estuary for the length of a breath you can lie on the bottom and look back at the tourists overhead in glass-bottomed boats beneath the overlapping gazes of surveillance satellites or let yourself float toward the surface through the amniotic haze.

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Crowd . by Darryl Price

You can’t get out of it, but you can feel out. They
can kick you out, but you can rejoin by refusing to leave
in the first place.You know if you’re a part of something

or not. The problem is this choice thing that asks you questions
even when you’ve already arrived at the answer’s doorstep. Oh they can
be cruel if you preen yourself differently. They take that as an

instant insult. You are not playing mirror. No one wants to see
the back of your skull. They watch you for signs. All’s well
as long as you remember when to pull your assigned puppet string.

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#humansong . by Kim Hutchinson
            Win the new iPad 2!
            Plz RT this:
            The NEW Fried Rice…
            #WriterWednesday
            #FanPageFriday
            #SaturdayStarShine

it’s #howwerollnow
#shoutitout #sayit2theworld #wearelistening
            Winning..! Choose your Vice… #winning #chooseyourvice
crowowd crowdead crowd-ed
croud sowndz R beeootiful
            Down with Q!
            Congrats to @…
            Thx 4…

#makeajoyfulnoise, or #justnoiz
            I luv, luv, luv Fridays!
            Found game tickets, but am staying home to watch.
            Yes, dear, whatever u want, dear, do u want 2 buy 2? :)

#talking is so simple
that’s why #it’ssocomplicated
it’s #morefunthanacanofcornniblets
            I hate my mind
            12 Steps to Enlightenment
            Don’t worry. The only side effect of smoking dope is happiness
            RT Twitpic-Those tattoos are looking good

and #morepowerfulthanacorruptgovernment
            #Egypt arrests Mubarak NDP allies over “bloody Wednesday” camel charge of Meydan Tahri
            Saif #Gadhafi visits #Israel and asks for help

#bareyourart
            Most beautiful thing I’ve ever made: http://bit.ly… #art
            If you haven’t seen @____ play, you’re a cocksmoker and u deserve 2 be dead.

#oryourheart
            Our thoughts are with the people of Japan today.
#tweetloud
#tweetlate
#tweetallnightlong
it’s #humansong
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The Watchers . by Derek Ivan Webster

The old man handed him a foil wrapped Swisher, puffing away at his own from between grey teeth.

“I’m not supposed to smoke,” the boy said. He took the cigar anyway. They sat in two chairs facing off an open wooden deck. The evening was cool and dry. An electric stanchion stood between them, polluting the brittle night sky with its light.

“I used to bring your father out here,” said the old man. The boy expected more. Nothing came. He unwrapped his Swisher and held it out. The old man’s lighter trembled as it caught. The boy took a long drag and let the sweet smoke roll about his mouth. It tasted different without the bitter his friends always wrapped inside.

More silence followed and the boy glanced down at his watch. It was getting late. His mother would be back to pick him up soon. He would ask her not to bring him here anymore.

“Be patient.” The old man leaned over and tapped his leg. “They’re almost here.”

“Who’s that?” the boy shrugged.

“Friends of your father,” the old man nodded out toward the darkness beyond the deck. “Friends of ours.” Cigar still in hand he reached over to the stanchion and turned off the light.

In an instant the whole sky was alive with stars. So many more than the boy had ever noticed before. Clear, sparkling, constant, they watched him with an undeniable familiarity.

“Welcome home,” said the grandfather. The boy awaited a distant reply.

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Punk Rock Girls (or, Violent Femmes, Mt. Hood, 1990)
by Chelsea Biondolillo

A sea of squinting eyes, upturned toward the sun, we sing along as the band whines out anthems. A breeze blows across an inland sea of crushed red plastic cups. Here and there, paper boats smeared with ketchup drift against a tide of brochures: PETA, Planned Parenthood, Greenpeace, while we rage: a joyful storm surge threatening the levy of bouncers.

We’re most concentrated up front, still an etiquette is observed. Eyes forward, hands where we can see them, you know? At stage’s edge, a crowd of girls has drifted like flotsam in an attempt to avoid the boots and elbows of the churning pit. We don’t know each other, but we know the rules: no smoking in the crush, no flailing wild in ecstasy—that’s what the fringe is for.

Suddenly we are cleaved, as a shirtless, sweaty kid throws himself at the barricade. Hooking his arms through the bars, he clamps tight. His legs kick out into us, forcing us back. This is how he wants to testify: he calls this dancing.

At first we’re ruffled, sharing eye-rolls, heads shaking. And then, one of us grabs at his leg, hoists it up. He looks back, his eye-whites rolling like a spooked horse. Suddenly all our hands are upon him, lifting him like a lever, up over the fence. A bouncer rushes to him, grabs his writhing, frothing frame and deposits it at crowd’s edge. It will take him forever to get back. Without a word, we return to the band.

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Dew Drop Inn . by Robert Vaughan

I was late to the square dance bar for guys with O.C.D. It was fully underway but before I stepped into the Dew Drop Inn, I had to circle back to my car thirty steps one way, three times, circle the car three times, thirty steps total, then click my alarm beeper three times off/on, off/on, off/on. Ah, better.

I’d hoped they’d all be in two straight lines, the way we used to choose partners in gym class. It’d had been ages since I’d square danced, or danced at all. But Benny said, c’mon, you’ll have fun. All the guys are a blast.

When I entered the room, he waved to me from the floor. I don’t wave, it confuses people. As I hung up my coat, I did a quick scan, counting heads, relieved to find there were thirty-six dancers, four couples formed nine squares, but the caller made me anxious.

I joined Benny, the first song was Abba, and everybody sang along. I abhor pop music. Only listen to waltzes and was hoping we’d start with the Blue Danube. Benny reminded me it’s not Ballroom Dancing. He led me around the circle while the barker called things out of alphabetical order, like “heads promenade” (fourteen letters, shit!) before “allemande left” (same…fuck!)

Just didn’t make sense. Felt like two left feet, or fifteen toes or I’m just not cut out for this inane activity in a room filled with whirling dervishes.

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Sangatsu . by Kelly Grotke

You may say a crowd

Surges and ebbs like water,

But the crowd is gone.

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Can I Get a Witness? . by Martin Brick

The warden came, personally, and brought my meal. I asked him had he heard anything more. He shook his head no. “My sister, you mean?” She said weeks ago she would not come, but I thought she’d change her mind.

“No word,” he responded plainly.

“How about the family. Any of the Empson’s?”

“You really want them there, don’t you?”

“They have that right. They deserve to see it.”

“They do have that right. They know. They chose not to come.”

“So who’s it all going to be, then?”

The warden ticked them off on his fingers. “Me. Few other prison staff. The physician. Minister. District Attorney. Your counsel. A few members of the media.”

“That’s it?”

“How many people do you want to watch you die?”

“Lots. I want a crowd.”

“Even a crowd that hates you? To curse you? To relish the second the surgeon nods?”

“Yes. Especially that kind of crowd. I want a crowd with emotion. So this matters. These people that are gonna be here – the doctor and lawyers – makes it feel like the case is over and putting me down is like putting the last box of evidence onto a shelf somewhere. Tidying up.”

“You’re not a box of evidence. Trust me, the Empson’s hate you.” He added a little chuckle. He was telling the truth, but I couldn’t help but think that the Empson’s knew just exactly how I’d feel, and my sister knew just exactly how I’d feel. They all knew.

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Who Are the Majority of Scientists? . by Erik Knutsen

The majority of scientists convened a convention to converse. The majority of the majority of scientists attended. The issue discussed was the nature of the authority of the majority of scientists. It seemed imperative to address the increasing number of appeals made in their name.

The room fell silent, as the head scientist emerged in his ceremonial vestments. The spotlight reflected off his starch white lab coat, creating a retinal after-image. He laid out Galileo’s telescope and Marie Curie’s bunsen burner on the podium before him. The room stood in awe and reverence of the Concrete Realities. Then the oath was recited, each member recommitting themselves to seek to discover all that is knowable, to rely only on empirical truth, and to disavow all mystical representations. “There is the fact. On the fact we rely,” they chanted.

The HS spoke over the noise. He introduced the evening’s issue and the prominent related questions: On what level can an appeal to the majority of scientists be considered an evidence of veracity? When should the majority of scientists honour such appeals? How can the majority of scientists reach a consensus on what the majority of scientists believe?

Each question was wrangled back and forth. Learned debate went on for hours, with evidence, charts, diagrams, equations and photographs. After all sides made their case, their was a vote. The majority won.

The outcomes of the convention were published in newspapers worldwide. The average reader asked himself , “Who are the majority of scientists?”

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Empathy and other human traits . by Stella Pierides

After falling through the rafters and getting trapped under heavy perches, Lucky was rescued three days later and adopted into a happy home. Being both smart and considerate, she settled in well, and became her savior Molly’s pet. Despite appearances though, she never liked the Badedas bath she was regularly given. It smelled strange to her, too human. Why didn’t Molly use it herself instead, Lucky wondered. But she would not count her blessings.

She knew she had been lucky. She had watched the other 11,999 chickens in the factory suffer; she had felt their terror, together with her own, when they were all taken to be turned into something humans call ‘stock cubes.’ She had squeezed herself to the furthest corner. When she fell, she just became numb. At heart, she is indeed a chicken. If Molly knew her secret of survival, she would not admire Lucky. She would pity her.

It was all down to the fact that Lucky dislikes crowds. In the barn, the more the other chickens flocked together, the more she kept apart. Although she rubbed feathers with the others, she kept herself at the edge of the flock.

Now, from a corner in the lounge, Lucky clucks to warn Molly against rubbing shoulders with that human she calls her husband. Humans are strange, she thinks. So clever, yet they don’t realize attachments can be detrimental to survival. Best to stay in your corner.

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Aspects of the Story . by Catherine Davis

Three stories spinning at once, not to mention watching out for cars. It’ll be a wonder if your Asparagus Syndrome client doesn’t end up on Poet’s Walk picking her way through masses of grackles and starlings.

Lock this bike to the rack.

Plus that song repeating all day, an– hold on! Asparagus is an item on the shopping list, not a story – see? See! Good thing for the helmet, so nothing else gets in, but on the other hand: what if it’s a pressure cooker, exacerbating the whole situation?

Pull the helmet off.

Consider the detail that a good thirty percent of life is past your bedtime. Stolen. No wonder the sun is always going down. Now, for instance.

Plunk an asparagus into the basket. Also bananas.

Sirens bark in the distance, dogs wail around the neighborhood. Ah, Dodie Smith, you smile. But: those puppies clamoring to be adopted in Houston. Also emails due for Berlin, Auckland, and Orange County Penitentiary. An address you unfortunately don’t have. You frown.

Think: Mapplethorpe envisioned the whole, complete, in an instant – then simply raced to execute. So they say.

That neighbor has spotted you ­– despite your cycling disguise – you’re forced to chat at the checkout, clenching your teeth against blurting out what her ruffians did to your yard. And the private line is ring-ring-ringing through: Hello, hello – these are your stories calling!

Christ, put the helmet back on – don’t let another thing in! Goggles, too. Rose-colored. At least there’s the filter of that.

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Bowstring Bridge . by Doug Bond

The train slows at the place where the river view opens up and the conductor announces, “Westley Station,” always giving the first syllable all the stress. Crossing the old creaky bowstring truss bridge I can see rippled flakes of black paint shearing from the ironwork.

My kid turns fourteen next week, same age I’d been the summer I “joined” the Bowstring Boys by climbing the scaffolding out under the trestle and letting go just as the train hit this bridge. It was a kick, beating back breathless to the surface, and then telling everyone how easy it was. Piece of cake.

Today the water’s grey-blue and pearly. I push my face up against the window glass to see it cresting up against the abutments. The doors open up all along the platform. It’s 6:32. We’re on time.

Since June, new blood’s been coming aboard at Westley. Recent grads, young and sparkly. I’ve taken notice of a girl, a young woman I should say. She normally sits towards the back having gotten in with some of the old guard.

There’s quite a crowd this morning, jammed, every seat and she comes back down the aisle and sits next to me. She gives me this little crack smile, like she’s trying to keep a secret and says, “Oh, there’s some schmutz on your nose.”

Facing herself forward, she takes out an ad-studded glossy magazine, and starts slowly flipping the pages, every now and then licking her finger to get a good pull.

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The Wall . by Guy Yasko

He takes a brown bag to the office. Makes him look frugal and he gets to avoid people. Why do it if you have to rub elbows with them? Besides, it’s part of the job description. You can’t do the work, can’t even get there without the wall.

Problem is the brown bag doesn’t last forever. Calls, meetings and a guy wants to eat. He takes the tunnel. He thinks of the fury above and smiles. No one is the wiser.

His men are waiting on the street. He pulls his collar up, adjusts his hat. Why take chances? He sees the lights and presses his pace. He counts his steps. …31 32 33.

33. He exhales. The room is warm but silent. A murmur begins. The volume increases as he walks to his table. He sits to a chorus of boos.

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Missa Frequentia . by Walter Bjorkman

Stranger vultures of deadening ash-pits
climbed vocally to lofty spires of supplication

the thin strangled birds heightened to stand
atop prayers sent forth by the harried villagers
as one by one the weary townspeople
filed slowly past the heap of dull remnants

the now silent birds of prey
lofted into the open air
circling wider with each passage
of another face
over the mutilations of their fellow men

Slowly the dotted figures crested the hill
and disappeared in absolute silence
each without answer from afar
of what turned this vile story
into one of mortal agony

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Bye-bye Love . by John Wentworth Chapin

“Barbie stood naked before the throng, facing all defiantly,” the Narratrix intoned. The crowd of men jeered: a green Power Ranger, a handful of Pokémon, two Batmen, and Bob the Builder, behind them a seething mass of African Safari animals and sharks. Barbie wore only her clear pink heels, her defiance untempered by her precarious stance on a white Lexus convertible. The potential for mayhem was tangible.

“Whore!” cried Papa Smurf, leaping vertically and shaking with righteous zeal. Barbie fell from her makeshift gallows, taking out a Lion and the Polar Bear of Unknown Origin. Barbie quickly hopped back.

“You may call me whore, but I will never bow to your rules.” Barbie pushed her flowing golden locks behind her shoulder.

“Burn the witch!” cried the crowd.

Barbie shook with fury. “I would rather die than live a lie. I could never love Ken. NEVER, I say!”

“A single tear fell down her lovely cheek,” whispered the Narratrix; Barbie was thinking of her one true love, Dora, silent in suicidal repose after her Hummer plummeted off the couch.

Ken soared through the air, collecting Barbie in his well-defined arms. The Narratrix’s voice was triumphant: “The crowd howled, cheated.”

“No!” Barbie screamed. “Let me die! Let my love and me reunite in death!”

Ken deposited her on the pouf where the Hulk waited, chest bared. “Be patient, sister,” Ken said. “We can fool them another fifty years.”

The Narratrix blinked back tears. “Fuck NOM,” she hissed.

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Priorities . by Michelle Elvy

for Rob

Rich and Sarah got married. Everyone came. The prying aunt from Philly, the slobbery uncle from Sicily. The cousin with weepy eyes, the cousin-twice-removed who smells like mothballs.

The guest-list decision came one night over bubble bath and champagne.

“If we invite Aunt Jane, we have to invite Phyllis,” said Sarah, scratching in her notebook and splashing in the bubbles. “And if we invite Phyllis, we can’t leave out Bea.”

“And with Bea always comes her stupid dog,” said Rich, as he stepped in to join her. “What’s his name?”

“Freddie.”

“Yeah: Fucking Freddie. Pass the rubber duckie.”

“Rich! Focus! We either open up the list to the whole crazy family or…”

“Yeah, I know, but right now the loofah’s calling. I feel dirty — and I got my priorities.”

The guest list fell to the floor as Sarah scooted down deep and felt a slippery tongue between her toes.

In the end, everyone was invited, and all their friends and family attended, 532 in all. It was a much larger affair than they had envisioned. People drank and danced long into the night, peering into webcams and sending out good cheer from seventeen points across the globe. From 200 in Boston to 80 in Berlin to just Frida and Jorg and a well-behaved parrot in Cyprus, everyone participated with glee.

It was the first internet wedding in both families. It was also the first New Zealand bathtub wedding. It was also probably the first wedding with toe-sucking between I-do‘s.

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Thanks to Rick Daddario for providing this week’s art, A Lime Crowd. Here is what Rick has to say about its creation:

Haiga is Image with Haiku. In this case both the image and the haiku are my own. The limes are from a lime tree in my yard. I liked the visual order of this grouping in the rain. From this ordering the idea of crowd evolved. The overlay of numbers added to the concept of an organized crowd. I often combine a variety of materials and techniques in my work. In this case I felt the simplicity of these two images created a unified work which interacts well and is balanced with the haiku.

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