6 – Balance of terror

Fragments – W. Bjorkman

Cookie Head by Susan Tepper

Kyla opened the bakery strictly for cookies. Sold by the pound or half pound. A quarter pound only if the person seemed destitute. She would not sell individual cookies. Like it said on the window of John’s Pizza on Bleecker: No Slices.

For weighing the cookies, she found an old brass scale with double trays in a pawn shop.

Reggie, her pastry chef, sniffing his disapproval. “That’s a fruit scale.”

“Well it works for weighing the cookies,”said Kyla.

“If someone needs one cookie, a little sugar rush, how can you turn them away?” Then he straightened his high white pastry chef hat that always seemed askew.

Cookie head, she wanted to call him. His strangely shaped head had inspired the opening of an all-cookie bakery. Naturally he had no idea. His big chef-ego would have balked and bolted. Then she’d be stuck baking the cookies, too.

She liked standing on Jane Street holding a tray of samples, smiling at passersby, chatting, offering a cookie.

“You give away one at a time but you won’t sell one cookie!” Reggie was having a pissy-fit. “It’s unbalanced logic.”

She’d just come back with her empty tray. It was hot out there. She mopped her forehead with a napkin.

He dumped a cookie sheet full of hot chocolate chips into one side of the scale. It tipped precariously.

“Why are you doing that?” said Kyla.

“It’s what I do best. Terror. Until you give in.”

Susan Tepper is the author of “Deer & Other Stories” (Wilderness House Press, 2009) and the poetry chapbook “Blue Edge.” Over 100 of her stories and poems have been published in journals worldwide. Susan had been nominated five times for the Pushcart Prize. She curates the reading series FIZZ at KGB Bar in NYC, and is Assistant Editor of Istanbul Literary Review. You can find her online at www.susantepper.com.

The Balance by Darryl Price

comes to us naturally. We know how to play even
when all play has been outlawed. They can bomb us
day and night with everything they’ve got and still something
will make a toy with us. Whenever you start to

look around you start to see too much. One can
only stand between the warring factions for so long and
try not to belong to anything false. That’s why we

dance like maniacs. We know somewhere out there the lost
and lonely are crying in an all too familiar voice
for merciful justice. That’s why we sing out loud, we
prance in bright laughing colors, we climb impossible reflected buildings,

we jump and jive,we dive with blue whales,we
rock and roll.The sound we make is our beacon.
We send it out because it’s free with our love.

Darryl Price was born in Kentucky and educated at Thomas More College. A founding member of Jack Roth’s Yellow Pages Poets, he has published dozens of chapbooks, including a dual chapbook with Jennifer Bosveld, founder of Pudding House (the largest literary small press in America), and had poems in journals including The Bitter Oleander, Cornfield Review, Allegheny Poetry, Wind, Out of Sight, Paper Radio, The West Conscious Review, Pudding, Metazen, Cap City Poets, Doing It, Prick of the Spindle, Olentangy Review, Fourpaperletters, LITSNACK and the Green Fuse.

The Cutting Edge By Linda Simoni-Wastila

Today my head’s at war: good versus bad, logic versus emotion, high versus low. I’m in the middle of my raging melodrama when Patty opens our session with a cheery hello.

The others squeak back, reminding me of those sunny Happy Faces. Everyone “checks in” with what they’re feeling, doing, thinking. I slouch in my chair, transport myself to some other place, any place but here. I conjure up my kitchen, my trusty Wusthof. An excellent knife, an eight inch, ten/twelve carbon steel forged blade. Perfectly balanced. In my mind, the blade flashes bright and swift, decimating whatever lies underneath.

“Earth to Ben.” Patty interrupts my daydream. I open my eyes. “How are you today?”

I dismiss her with a wave of my hand. Laurel someone yammers about her depression. Everyone offers support. They’re so freaking chipper it makes me sadder, lonelier. Isolated in my melancholy. I continue rambling through my apartment to the bathroom, an ideator’s paradise: the hard surfaces, the mirror, the razor blades, the scalding water. The medicine cabinet: Motrin, aspirin, antihistamines, cough syrup, and lithium. Lithium will kill you, not very nicely, if you take enough of it. Inside the box of Trojans, a stash of benzodiazepines. Not enough to do me in, but taken with a glass or two of Dolce d’Alba, a hot bath, some Mahler , and the knife, they’ll make for a pleasant evening. My dark mood lifts. Yes, I think to myself, this is how I will do it.

Linda Simoni-Wastila lives in Baltimore and blogs at LeftBrainWrite.

The Balance of Terror by Derin J Atwood

He was big. Massive.
He dressed to show it off. Badly tanned skins wrapped around his body and limbs, thrown casually over his shoulder as a cloak. He didn’t speak, just growled. Snarled till he got whatever he wanted.
He played on it. Made others cower, intimidated by his presence and demands. He’d point, grunt and if the response wasn’t quick, he’d growl from deep in his throat getting louder and louder, till it was a roar and he’d step forward, towering over his victim.
He got what he wanted. Always with no thanks of course. He’d slap his victim across the head instead.
Cupped between pudgy hands, her treasure held close to her chest, she edged away denying him, refusing to submit to his demands.
He wanted.
The growl built up, his fists clenched. A snarl, teeth bared. He roared, his face inches from hers.
He enjoyed the fear in her eyes, the small hands slowly opening, extending toward him.
He leaned forward, ready to grab.
An intake of breath, he backed away. Frozen, shocked by his own fear he fell against the wall, eyes filled with terror, grunting in his attempt to escape.
Downed by a little girl … and a spider.

Born and raised in New Zealand, Derin J. Atwood has been telling stories all her life, first to her younger brothers and then to her own children. She now writes novels and stories. Derin lives in Whangarei with an adoring husband and a small green car called Kermit.

Getting Into It by doug bond

Everyone in town knew about it. They knew my name, said it like they were in church, hushed and quiet. Tommy’s step-brother up in Creelston said he’d help us set it right. Never did like that man. Gave me the shimmy shanks.

Momma just glared and spat and broke different parts of the house. Got so bad I couldn’t eat. Used to be she and I’d spend better part of Saturday morning out on the sand flats digging for stuff. Sifting the tiny shells at the tide line. Them slippery clams we hauled out with the sun still silvery and the gull’s squawking. No way could I hold any of it down anymore.

Well, Tommy, back in the vestry, game and jittery said let’s go do it. Told me Father Hammley kept his best stuff in the little drawer by the place where his robes were hung up. We creeped back through the maze of hallways and found the place, opened the drawer and just stared at it for a while. Then he said, “I’m having a smoke now…You OK with that?”

When he struck the match that’s when the real trouble started.

doug bond has endured life in Manhattan and along the Western fault lines, most recently in San Francisco in loving, creative partnership with his wife, daughter, Ben (a Lab), and assorted other hungry creatures. Doug has been in the habit recently of sharing a variety of Amuzementz including his own writing at http://dougbond.posterous.com/ and also at Fictionaut.

Blood by Catherine Russell

The Count of La Rue Morgue sneered at his servant as the zombie entered, carrying the wine glass filled with dark, thick liquid. “You may go, Alfred.” The servant shuffled through the stone archway to the ajoining kitchen, within earshot should his Master call again. “It’s impossible to find good help these days,” said the Count, wiping crimson stains from the white lace of his shirt.

Laughter cut through the silence like shards of broken glass. “It’s impossible to imagine them ever leading a revolt against the aristocracy,” said the Countess. “The only brains in their heads are the ones they eat!”

Another creature said, “Don’t be so sure, my lady. The nobles of France thought the same thing before they lost their heads; did they not?”

“Oh, don’t remind me,” muttered the Count. “I’m still ambivalent about that revolution. All that glorious blood! But the rabble rising to overthrow their betters…The thought still sickens me.”

“Perhaps it’s not wise to keep so many,” said another guest. “Intelligent or not, we can still be outnumbered.”

Now it was the Countess’s turn to scoff. “Indeed! As if they would want what is in our heads! They only crave grey matter, Geoffrey, and living grey matter at that. What would a dull witted beast want from the emptying of our skulls?”

Revenge, thought Alfred, sharpening another blade.


Catherine Russell is currently trying to publish her first novel. She writes short fiction, poetry, and learns more about the craft every day.

The Signs by cubehermit

Sitting in a prison cell gives you a lot of time to think about the signs.

As a candidate she promised to build a safe nation and an ethical government. She talked about her interest in Astrology as just a hobby; her campaign slogan: “Trust me, I’m a Virgo.” She was eccentric, but she had done well as a village leader, in local government, in the nation’s parliament. She seemed to have the interests of her countrymen at heart.

The first years of her presidency were wonderful, prosperous times. She brought unprecedented security. She cleared out the worst elements from the government. She established education programs, built universities and libraries. She paid down the national debt, signed peace treaties.

We all saw the signs during those happy times, but she was doing so much for us. We didn’t mind registering our astrological signs when we got national ID cards. We didn’t think anything of it when she announced government contracts would be given out to Virgo-owned businesses or launched a nation-wide fertility campaign in December with an eye toward a nation of Virgos.

By the time she dissolved parliament, took over the news stations to broadcast her own speeches 24 hours a day and executed or imprisoned all Geminis and Scorpios (I am unhappily part of the latter group), her grip on every facet of our lives was complete.

I hear Libras are next…

Cubehermit is master of her 4×5 foot domain. Just as you do not mess with Texas, don’t mess with the cube. You can see more of cubehermit’s work at her website, Corporate Cog Poetry.

Lieu of the Welfare State by Bernard Heise

He’d heard their voices so often that they echoed in his skull. “Stop whining, asshole,” they said, “get a fucking grip. You gotta pick yourself up by your bootstraps – keep your eye on the prize!” But after a lifetime of Whoppers and Kentucky Fried consumed in front of the TV (Jerry Springer for fun; the History Channel for education; FOX for moral guidance), Arthur was so fat that he could reach no further than his prick. One day, for reasons that he would never understand, just as he was waddling across the parking lot of St. Andrews School for Boys on his way home from the bottling plant, the Lord spoke to him softly – “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” – and Arthur knew that He would honor a good faith effort. So Arthur turned his eyes towards heaven and crossed himself. He put down his lunch box and whipped down his pants. He reached into his underwear, grabbed himself tightly around his testicles and penis and pulled hard. And suddenly he found himself ten feet off the pavement, balancing horizontally, suspended from his fist. The pain was incredible and his balls were blue, but he was afraid to let go. Worst of all, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the boys in their private school uniforms, their eyes trained never to miss an opportunity, coming at him with lacrosse sticks to bash him like a piñata.

Bernard Heise lives on a sailboat in the South Pacific. He monitors the sun as it rises and sets; he keeps a watchful eye on the tides. And when the spirit moves him, he animates the mummified corpse of 15th-century Anglo-Saxon bishop and mounts the pulpit at the Church of Rebar Jesus.

Allah Akbar by Matthew A. Hamilton

In the midst of a war torn nation
leaves emerge below the Vakhan strip like
mangled bodies of faceless men:

We are soldiers.

They are Taliban.

We are the snow that falls
on the Towr Mountains, the
lavish pine trees and
cool scents of fresh green that mingles
with the frozen breath of angels.

They are the rain that falls in the valley below,
the sun that awakens the land,
the blackcurrant shadows that penetrate fresh air.

Their children are borne from small stones that lay atop a dusty hill.
Torn clothes clutch frantically to makeshift poles.
Lonely cries tremble in the wind.

Souls bleed into the Panjsher River.

There is peace.

They are the noble snow leopards hiding behind frosty rocks.
Sensing warm blood and nourishing pulp,
they wait patiently for the agali of the Hindu Kush.
Moon rays drip on dark rosettes of steady strength.

We are the jackal surrounding bleeding
mountains of carrion.
We are the red fluid changing untainted snow
into a watercourse of red crimson.

All of us form the balance of the Tiger.
Dignified black
and orange-gold refreshes
the waters of the Amu.
Changing days and
dark shadows ripple
across straw-colored streams.

Their spirits become our spirits,
wasting away like of crushed bone.

Death is routine.

We are soldiers. We shoot their children.
They are Taliban. They plant bombs in their chest.

There is Terror.

Matthew A. Hamilton is a US Peace Corps Volunteer serving in the Philippines. He has work in Metazen, Crows Nest Magazine, Long Story Short, and others. He has forthcoming working in Black Lantern Publishing and The Battered Suitcase. After service, Matthew will pursue an MFA in Creative Writing at Fairfield University.

The Next Step by Martha Williams

His heels are hanging over the edge, he is clinging to stay on. She grimaces.
He’ll be a climber, her mother said.
She can’t think of anything worse. She wants him to be a housewife, a pianist, a baker. No Everest, no cliffs.

He reaches for the next shelf, pudgy toes scrambling for a hold, fat fingers barely long enough to grip. One toe on and up. Peachy face set skywards, baby eyes fierce with determination.
He won’t be a housewife – he always seeks the next step, standing in his high chair, scrambling up the stairs… his balance perfect, her terror sickening. Not a baker.

He’s going for the third shelf. He has to lean backwards to reach, sliding his hands along to find a section not covered in books. He will fall, if not this shelf then the next.

His fingers skid, a foot slides free. She hears his gasp.
She can’t let him fall. She leaps forward.
She can’t let his first fall be Everest. She stops.
She must keep him safe.
She must teach him about falls.
She grips her own mouth.
His second foot slips and he is dangling from the sweaty fingers of one hand, “Maaaaaaa…!”

She shuts her eyes.

Martha Williams lives and writes in the UK, and has had work accepted by Writers’ Forum Magazine, Meridian Writing, Metazen, The Writers’ Bureau, Tomlit, 6s, Nanoism and others. Martha hugs her figments here and Fictionaut.

The Good Guys by Beate Sigriddaughter

A photo of her hometown, 1945. The castle in the background, standing. The church transparent with boldly missing chunks of stone, but the basic structure is intact. The rest is rubble, ragged stones that no longer look manmade. One five story façade stands tall, facing the market with nothing behind it, no depth, no life, no commerce. All back to nature almost, with grass already growing wild between the tumbled bricks.

However, the market square is filled with striped umbrellas—red and white mostly she remembers, though the picture is black and white. There commerce has resumed with eggs and vegetables and, yes, a few flowers for those whose life continues. Women with shopping bags, men striding with produce or purpose, children quite possibly laughing. One perky umbrella has polka dots.

She used to play in the ruins nearby. Splendid places for hide and seek, always provided there were no longer any not yet detonated bombs.

The rubble patiently sits in the grass awaiting the future. Peace at a cost. The work of the good guys.

Not her favorite photo, perhaps, but one that haunts her with importance and impatience until women and men will have the courage to persuade each other that priceless peace is better than even what the good guys do.

Beate Sigriddaughter loves roller coasters, seals, foxes, and wild roses. She has published 2 novels, 1 novella, and prose and poetry in many print and online magazines. She has also established the Glass Woman Prize to honor passionate women’s voices.

“Flash” by Claire King

Tomato juice – ice, no lemon – and a small sachet of salted snacks. An American movie, Will Smith. Tash asleep in her bassinette on the bulkhead, to the relief of the obese red face in 32H. On a central screen our matchstick plane makes its not-to-scale progress over the Atlantic.
The flimsy film that tears to release the nylon blanket. My fingers tucking it under my loosened belt. The seatbelt signs bright: turbulence ahead. It’s nothing too dramatic; Prim and Prissy are still blocking the aisle.
“Tea, coffee, for you sir? Teacoffee f’you Ma’am?”
Fragments that meant nothing until they became an overture in retrospect.

The light comes first. White hypotenuses slash through every window. As though God Himself had rent the indigo skies. The light opens our mouths, jump starts idling hearts.
Just one brief knock, a rap on metal, then we are dropping. The rays of light extinguished.
A gasp. Is it my own? Through the monochrome of flashing stars where clarity used to be, I reach forward blindly for Tash. I have to touch her now. My bones, my flesh could save her yet.
I am jolted back against my seat and then…
Then nothing. The engines’ drone fills the vacuum where the screams should be. Four hundred passengers caught in cognisant limbo. Our fear held in the balance.

Tash’s face is wet with tomato juice. Her cry is the first to puncture the silence. Permission to exhale.

Claire King lives in France. She has an open relationship with her novel and an assortment of short lovers. Claire blogs at www.Claire-King.com.

Wired by Elizabeth Irvine

Snap! Is the sound your bones make if hit with enough force at just the right angle. Snap! A sound like a rifle shot and you wonder for a split second if someone nearby is hunting. Snap! Before you crumple to the ground and realize that your leg is broken and you are alone in the middle of nowhere. Snap! Don’t be scared, it doesn’t really hurt, not right away.

First you feel like the wind has been knocked out of you and your leg feels hot and full of pins and needles, as though it has simultaneously fallen asleep and spontaneously combusted.Then it begins to expand like a useless, perversely inflating log inside your skinny jeans. Not to worry, your adrenal system is in high gear, your body is wired for survival, it won’t let you feel the pain… not yet. It has to give you enough time to drag your sorry butt to safety before it allows the shaky waves of frozen nausea to wash you away.

Snap! It has to make you laugh in the face of your karmic debt as you drag yourself across an enormous field of dried thistles… laugh at the blood dripping from your palms as you pluck the mean thorns from between your fingers and wonder who will help you pluck the them out of your ass. Snap! Don’t be scared. You are wired for survival.

Elizabeth Irvine is a professional horse trainer and smart ass and an amateur author. She is currently living in self imposed exile in Pendleton, Oregon.

The Terror of Balance by Martin Brick

He always smells her. Great plains dust and sweat. When she dismounts off the rope, into his arms, it is most prevalent. Not like Renée who smells of some kind of lotion. Something French. Both nice.

Come see the amazing Flying Zambrotta Brothers. Seven Brothers all defy gravity with their seven beautiful wives. They twist and turn high above the crowd, led by the eldest, Giuseppe and his lovely bride Sophia.

When she falls into his arms it’s a matter of trust. She’s seen his eyes on Renée. Knows that her presence challenges this part of the act. He could easily miss a catch, break her neck, claim accident. He won’t, but every time she imagines it.

Gentlemen! You won’t want to miss the fabulous, the sensuous, the sultry burlesque dancing of Lady Renée St. Croix. She’s traveled to India, to Persia, and to Paris, performed before Sultans and Princes, and now she’s come to the great state of Oklahoma. This is a show you won’t want to miss.

Renée knows Giuseppe will catch Sopia every time. His act depends on her. But more, he loves her, as a craftsman loves his most trusted tools. There is an absolute rightness of her in his hands. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate holding something else. But she knows men always fall back on what they know best – their craft – his craft – balance. They all balance.

Martin Brick is an Assistant Professor of English at Ohio Dominican University. His publications include The Cortland Review, Vestal Review, Sou’Wester, Pindeldyboz, and other places. He is a past Pushcart nominee and a former editor of Wisconsin Review.

Too Much Information by John Wentworth Chapin

Hot summer night, heat steaming off the asphalt and crushed beer bottles outside the bar. A large crowd of guys cluttered the sidewalk in front of the bar entrance; he expected as much. The guys liked to wind down with some cheap drinks on Sunday night before starting back to the grind the next morning. He affixed a sociable smile to his face as he maneuvered through the tight knot which reeked of cheap warm beer and fresh cigarettes and unwashed sweaty ass. One of the guys called his name, and he looked up: a familiar face. They’d slept together once. He’d do him again, but probably not. Chris–that was his name. They exclaimed and bear-hugged, hot, sweaty, and nearing drunk but not sloppy. He pulled back from the hug and made for the door; a hand tapped his shoulder and he looked to see Todd, a former hookup. “Hey you!” he said as he smiled and positioned for another hug. He happened to glimpse Chris’s face and saw there the dawning recognition of his relationship with Todd. It was disarming, recognizing that whatever signal he was giving off just told everyone that he’d slept with both of these guys, and now they both knew it. He couldn’t dredge up a single memory about the sex. He made for the dark doorway to the bar when another hand tapped his shoulder. He turned to see a familiar face.

The bar door was dark and inviting and a long way off.

John Wentworth Chapin teaches writing and runs the writing center at the University of Baltimore. He is an Editor of 52|250, but he knows who wears the virtual pants around here.

A Night of Not Knowing by Michelle Elvy

for Jana

They say you are OK, but how am I to know, really? You were taken – taken – so fast, I had no say, and I’m left with nothing but your sudden silence, not the hot cry I expected. We had been one – breathing, feeding, living in unison – and then you were gone, lifted from me swiftly, rushed to a safe sterile place. And now you lie there in your own world of plastic and tubing and disinfected air, and I lie here in my world of pain, helpless to help you. They say you are ok but I know what I saw: a purple lifeless thing, sticky and wet and tiny in the surgeon’s hands, taken from me to keep alive. I want to take you back, but you’re an impossible fifty meters down the hall, a world away. So I wait, with my belly split by precision incision, my breasts landmines waiting to explode at the slightest touch, my heart throbbing because it cannot feel yours any more. I lie here alone with my searing scar, raw with fear and not knowing. I lie here sleepless and wait for the moment when I will touch your new skin, smell your new smell, see your tiny fluttering chest, and feel your perfect fingers wrap round my thumb with their miraculous might. I already know the hard suck of your hunger, and my breasts weep with nourishment that you may or may not ever know.

Michelle Elvy lives and writes on a 43′ sailboat and is presently located in Whangarei, New Zealand. She is co-editor of 52|250, and she has published work at Metazen, Words With JAM, and 6S. When not flashing here, she’s writing at Glow Worm, listening at VOICES, or sailing on Momo.

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