Interrobang Zine, 2/2/13

“Counter Spring” by David S. Atkinson

Hilmer briefly misplaced the terror he felt, reflexively pondering how he could peddle overpriced meat rolls or some such thing to the mob while they tried to stone him.  He groped his greasy beard, trimmed himself instead of by some extravagant barber, with his arthritic fingers.  Foodstuffs weren’t his line, but a good deal of money could be made that way.

His fear woke instantly at a roar from the crowd he could not yet see.  The dark wood doorframe groaned as he clutched it, and he started at the noise.  He trembled as he peered up the stone ramp from his cellar watch shop onto the alley.  They were still a long way off, but he could hear them getting closer.  They would be to the alley soon.  At least the first of them.  He listened with his head in the doorway and his bulk shrinking behind inside.

Then Hilmer ducked deeper into the dim light of his store, the mass of his body rolling with him, to one of his merchandise cases.  His merchandise!  There was no time.  He had to be quick.

The case was cheap, but solid.  Dark wood beams, even darker than the doorframe, banded with studded black metal.  Inside the top of the case, pocket watches ticked.  Hilmer reached over the case, grabbing the heavy wooden lid crudely attached to the back and pulling it down over the top.  Then he snapped shut a giant rusted padlock, sealing the lid.  The ticking of the pocket watches in the case was still faintly audible.

He’d known it was only a matter of time.  That they were going to find out and come for him.  There was no way to keep it a secret.  He’d just had to wait.

The very night it occurred, he noticed the theft.  Even without his ledger, he always knew exactly what he sold each day.  And to whom for what.  Even before he double checked the ledger, Hilmer saw there were fewer watches in his inventory than he remembered selling.  He was robbed.

It had to be Von Braur.  Hilmer was sure.  Von Braur spent hours in the shop, examining one watch after another, supposedly never quite satisfied with any.  Time was all Von Braur ever spent.  He was a destitute, always possessing the nicest things but owning not a cent.  A window-shopper, Hilmer cringed.  Still, Hilmer reminded himself carefully that Von Braur was still a customer.  Money or no.

He glanced at the doorway, panting, making sure he still saw no one.  Then he dashed to each of the other cases, as much as his thickness permitted him to dash, and locked their massive wooden lids down with their own heavy padlocks.  With each case he secured, the ticking of pocket watches in the shop got softer, muted, and the shouts of the mob got louder.

If only another customer saw the theft, Hilmer despaired.  They would have denounced Von Braur on the spot.  Poured their disgust of thieves upon him, outrage at desecration of commerce.

But, they did not see.  No customer could vouch that it was a theft.  With only Hilmer’s word, the crowd would have no choice.  The primary codec of the commercial code decreed it.  A customer is always right.  A customer and merchant were alone.  The customer obtained merchandise, yet no money was paid.  They had to assume that Hilmer gave the watch away.  That Hilmer was generous, guilty of easy virtue.  They’d stoned Shmidtz for less than that.

He ran to the door again, thrusting his balding head out of his hole and looking all around.  His heart pounded in his throat as loud as the approaching throng, but they were still not close enough to be seen.  Cocking his ear, he listened.

A chance look stopped his gaze on his moneybox.  Hilmer’s eyes snapped wide and he ran.  Snatching up the stiff leather box with the dulled brass banding, he hefted the clinking heavy thing into a square hole in the floor and slid a stone tile over it.  Then he pushed his clerk desk, little more than an unvarnished oaken stool with a reading tray, on top.

His thought to feign it had not happened when he discovered the theft, cut his small loss rather than face the high price they would make him pay.  Not denounce the crime to the authorities.  But, he had sagged when he realized it was no use.  Von Braur would be seen with the watch and they would know that he did not pay for it.  Eventually, the Grand Auditors, keepers of the great accounts, would see the columns of Hilmer’s sales did not balance to his inventory and expenditures.  No, the shameful secret would inevitably worm out.

Hilmer’s eyes darted around the dingy stone of his small shop, ensuring that all of importance was secured- all his merchandise locked down and his moneybox safely hidden.  The mob could not be stopped, but if he could just hold out long enough for them to spend their fury his shop might be saved.

He shouldered the thick wooden door closed and slammed the bolts that ran from the top of the frame to the bottom.  Then he lowered the wooden beam lengthwise across and set it into place in the black iron bracket bolted into the wall.  It looked secure enough, but it could be battered.  He wondered if it could possibly hold.

Breathing hard from the unaccustomed exertion, his eyes examined the two small shop windows.  They were tiny and high up, the shop merely a cellar even though there was no story above.  That’s why the rent was so cheap, Hilmer delighted before remembering himself.  High and tiny as the windows were, the crowd could still force its way in.  He stretched up and lowered the shutters on both.  Then he barred them the same as he had barred the door.  Trying to catch his labored breath, he looked around at it all.

The shop was even dimmer now, almost dark.  Hilmer always relied on light from the alley to save on wax candles as much as possible and not much light came in through the cracks of the shutters.  The noises of the mob were muffled as well, but getting louder as the mob got closer until it seemed just as loud as when the shutters were open.

He slumped down at his clerk desk.  His shoulders hunched.  The reading tray, with his ledger and inkstand on top, pressed into his belly.  There was not quite enough room for his girth when he sat there, but it was a waste to purchase a larger one when this one sufficed.  A little discomfort was nothing.

Outside, he heard glass break, but it wasn’t his windows.  His windows didn’t have glass.  Still, it started.  Hilmer clutched his ledger tightly in his fleshy hands.  It wasn’t fair.  They were coming to punish the generous, the morally impure.  But, that wasn’t him.  Hilmer had never gifted anything.  No matter the tears, nor the begging.  He was not, Hilmer shuddered, generous.

And they all knew it!  They’d known him all of his life.  Always complaining how tight-fisted he was.  How he schemed and cheated them.  They knew, but ignored it because a customer spoke against him.  That was the worst- that this would happen to him when it was so untrue and they all knew it.  Any merchant so vile to be free with his wares should be driven out.  Hilmer was sure of that.  The community had to be outraged, wrath visited upon the wretched to cleanse the taint.  But, that just wasn’t him.

A stone pitched off of his door, no doubt thrown by the approaching mob.  Hilmer’s head snapped up and he stared, pulse pounding, but nothing else.  Just an early foray by someone at the forefront.

Hilmer snapped open his ledger and flipped through the pages. He was without sin.  It was all there.  Every month back through all of the years.  From the first day he sold watches from a box in the street, watches he’d grabbed from junk heaps and washed.  All the way up until that moment.  Each and every transaction.

He pointed, as if someone was in the shop to be convinced.  Right there.  The watches broken beyond repair he sold to the scrap metal dealers.  Didn’t he carefully fill them with mud to increase the weight and pretend he just hadn’t bothered to clean them?  They’d never been able to house so much mud on their own.  He’d easily got twice the going rate out of that deal.  Wasn’t that avarice?  Wasn’t that greed?  Anyone would think so.  Hilmer gesticulated wildly.  And that was just one instance.  There were hundreds.  All throughout his ledger.

He poured through the pages of the ledger again.  There!  He could just point to a line and evidence was found.  The counterfeit he sold to Fritzmeine, a rival dealer.  Hilmer shrewdly saw the watch was a cheap forgery carefully made to resemble an expensive Glocken.  Fritzmeine offered just enough that Hilmer should sell easily without suspicion.  Clearly, the idiot was fooled and thought Hilmer overlooked the treasure.  Hilmer let Fritzmeine think he was taken in.  Even managed to squeeze out a few more coins.  Surely that wasn’t generous!  No, was that not proof of sharp business acumen?  No mercy.  Driving for the best deal possible at any means necessary.

And another!  On the same page!  Hilmer pounded his fat fist down on his clerk desk.  Did he not buy from his own mother for next to nothing knowing she was destitute and had to take whatever he offered?  Was that not the height of mercenary?  Heartless!  Cold!  Noble.  No, he was above reproach!  Surely there were none as upstanding as he.  As grasping.  The examples were in the thousands, one for each of the coins he’d hoarded over the years.

Did he not shortchange as a general rule?  Did he not slip forgotten watches left behind on benches quietly into his pockets when the forgetful owner was not yet a foot away?  Did he not insist any debt to him be paid immediately while he left his own creditors stewing until the doomsday?  Avarice!  Greed!  Indeed, he was a saint!

A couple more stones rang out against the boarded up front of this store.  Then a few more.  Hilmer shook his fist at the unseen assailants.  How dare they?  They had nothing for which to reproach him.  Nothing.

Then he dropped his fist quickly and shrank down humbly.  He thought that he must not forget himself.  No matter how untrue it all was, they were still customers.  Customers must always be respected.  That was the law.  They were right, no matter how erroneous or misguided they were.  But look!  Hilmer peered back at his ledger.  It was so clear, how could they ignore?

Suddenly, Hilmer froze.  His eyes locked.  It was not the stones smacking into his store, though there were stones.  Hilmer did not hear them.  The watch he sold to Drusden…it was actually worth what the skinflint paid.  No overcharging at all.  Hilmer’s spiky eyebrows furrowed.  The haggling had been fierce.  They’d argued for hours.  But…did he give in too easily?  Could he have gotten just a little bit more?  Hilmer was certain at the time, but he wasn’t as convinced anymore.

The ticking of the watches was no longer audible in the shop.  The yelling outside was too loud.  The rocks were more frequent.  Harder, too, smashing against the outside of the store.  Hilmer was unaware, though.  He nervously flipped the pages of his ledger, searching.  Uncomfortable.  What else had he missed?

His gaze stopped on a transaction with Spezzler.  He smiled as he remembered shortchanging the old duffer.  But, then the smile fell.  Did he shortchange Spezzler enough?  Spezzler had not noticed and Hilmer was as bold as he thought he could get away with, but had he been too cautious?  Maybe a few more coins would have gone unseen as well.  He would have been all the richer.

Panicked, he raced through the ledger.  He found deals that were good, but not as good as they could have been.  Not just one or two, more.  The more he looked, the more he found.  What horrible things would he find if he kept looking?

How could things have gotten to this state?  Hilmer had always watched himself so carefully.  Made sure he guided his life by the bottom line and not any frivolous motive.  He’d striven and walked righteously.  So, why was the core rotten?

The smashing on the front of the store wasn’t just stones anymore.  Fists and maybe other things, hundreds of them, battered and bashed the walls and shutters.  Shouts rang out, some clear and some not.  Some threatened.  Some demanded.  A few just roared.  The heavy wooden door shook and flexed inward under the blows, but did not give.  Not yet, anyway.

All this time, he hid the flaw from himself.  He was loose with his purse strings.  Downright charitable.  There was no other explanation.  An honest merchant would not have let go a cent that was ripe for taking.  Hilmer might as well have given the money away.  Bile rose in his throat.  He felt filthy, disease-ridden, although he’d often saved expense by sparing hygiene without having any qualms.  He wiped at his hands, feeling an oil that he could not remove.  His body twitched, unable to stomach touching itself.

He leapt to his feet right up out of his clerk desk, his movement ignoring the uncoordinated limitations of his frame.  The desk topped from the motion, smashing on the hard stone floor.  The inkwell clattered and a dark pool oozed outward from it, soaking the ledger and obscuring the entries.

He ran to the door and furiously threw the bolts back.  His body snapped trying to fling the door open, smacking his head on the stone wall, forgetting the bar in his haste.  Then he ripped that free as well.

Hilmer ran out to meet the mob and they, in turn, surged forward to meet him.  Perhaps not expecting Hilmer to emerge, the crowd moved aside and he ran out past them into their midst like a customer merely coming out of the shop.  Then they noticed him and fell back in apparent surprise.  Those who burst inside when the door flung open carefully peeked back out, as if trying to see what was going on.  The rest, who pressed forward so eagerly a moment before, waited.

Hilmer stopped, his bulk tensed like he would charge randomly at any moment.  His clenched lips trembled with rage and his eyes darted wildly.  He spun to face the crowd one way.  Then he spun again to face another.

The crowd stared, as if stunned.  The entire alley was jammed with still more cramming to get in.  Their features indistinct, they were wrapped in the green cloaks Hilmer knew they wore each Sunday to services, the weekly reading of accounts by the Grand Auditors.  Most carried clubs or baskets of stones, or at least a few stones clutched in their hands.  Even the few windows that looked out onto the alley crowded with figures.  No one moved, though.  The mob seemed to have lost its purpose and force at the shock of Hilmer.

“What are you waiting for?”  Hilmer bellowed at them, spittle flying from his lips, enraged by their lack of motion.  “Are you not righteous men?”

One hand, far into the crowd, weakly but obediently tossed the stone it was holding.  The mob watched it glance heavily off of Hilmer’s head.  He stumbled, but didn’t fall.  A small patch of blood started collecting on an empty spot in his ragged hair.

“Do it!”  He yelled at them, recovering his balance and shaking his arms frantically.  “Do it!”

Then, recovering from its shock, the crowd obliged him.

The Science of Fiction, Oct-Nov 2008

“Reclamation”  by Joseph Grant

Despite what you may read on the matter, the way it happened was slow and arbitrary. You may have already read or have heard of the occurrence in the media, portraying it as some sort of celebrated, almost overnight event, but in reality, it began without much notoriety and only a few educated minds took scant, if any notice.

In the way the wind gently pushes a child’s toy sailboat across the thin surface of a translucent pond, so too did it occur. In the way a rare flower pushes up through the soil to reach the sun, so too did it occur. Whereas the sailboat sets in motion the almost indiscernible ripples from under its tiny bow towards the banks did it reach our shores and the flower, long ago thought dead, thus did rise again into the new city.

All over the city it was taking place, although in small increments, taking its time, the way time always does. Seismologists, it would be fair to say, took note of it almost immediately in the weeks leading up to the big event. For weeks there had been the clusters of tiny tremors beneath the earth’s surface, slight but deep enough so as not to alarm the masses, just adequate to rattle their cupboards. The seismologists knew different; a strong earthquake was on its way.  Remnants of the 1906 quake, an echo from the past, it would later be determined.

But there had been other, more important matters at hand; war, terrorism, work, falling in and out of love, paying bills, the usual mediocrities that make up living and dying in one’s life. Then, as seismologists had been predicting, there occurred the moderate earthquake that literally shook the city from its day-to-day stupor.

To the masses, it had been an unexpected shock; as such incidences were rare, as the Mayor himself pointed out in his televised speech directly following the tremor. There had been a few injuries, but miraculously, no casualties, it was reported. The police, fire and other emergency departments were all put on tactical alert to meet a demand that never fully materialized. There were minor acts of lawlessness in the city, but this was due more to broken storefront windows and some structural damage, rather than any malfeasance on behalf of the citizenry. The National Guard, called out the minute the asphalt stopped shaking, were subsequently dispatched to the Armory to assist with dazed homeless that never showed.

The newspapers reported the big story and praised its readership with every accolade for having shown such fortitude in what clearly could have been much more of a disaster. For weeks, the newspapers squeezed the earthquake and its many sub-stories and characters dry but failed to cover the real story lying just beneath the still trembling surface.

Harold Pinter had noticed what the papers had not. But then again, he would have, having been an antiques dealer and now an employee of the New York Historical Society. Given his eye for detail, he was acutely aware if his surroundings, distastefully modern though they were.

Every day on his way to work, Pinter observed the ugly modernity that was encroaching upon his once lovely city. Things had changed dramatically in just his lifetime, alone; zoning laws had been rewritten and in some cases, eradicated altogether. Entire blocks of brownstones were being irreplaceably razed to make way for the new East Side Highway. In the momentous case of the State of New York vs. the Landmark Commission of the State of New York, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State that it did, in fact have the entitlement to impose eminent domain and seize the homes and properties of those impeding the progress of a highway in an already overcrowded and constantly gridlocked city. Heated arguments raged on both sides over the proposed mega-roadway, none of which altered any outcome until the earthquake put an end to construction for the time being

Pinter noticed the change in a rather opaque way. With his nose stuck in a historical thriller as always, he tripped right over his own two feet crossing Broadway. Perplexed, he peered up from his glasses and saw a peculiar sight. Train tracks in the middle of Broadway?

The lines were not entirely protruding from the uneven patchwork of asphalt that was Broadway, but there they were. He stood staring and scratching his head and wondered how these train tracks came into being. It was only by the frantic horn of an oncoming taxi that he was brought back to his senses. He darted out of the way and onto the relative safety of a New York City sidewalk; relative as it was New York City after all.

As he wandered away, the thought again meandered into his always curious mind: “Train tracks on Broadway?”

If this had been the only incident, then events might have gone unnoticed throughout the city, but wherever Pinter went, he discovered inconsistencies that had not existed prior to that particular date and time. Apparently, the earthquake had stirred up a strange liquefaction in the earth beneath the city. Pinter observed bizarre disturbances to the terra firma around him. Dirt having been stirred and sidewalks having been uprooted by the quake showed evidence of a strange reaction. For beneath corporate plazas and citizen walkways, existing steel and wooden frames jutted up and out where none had existed before. Further complicating this unexplained phenomena were the red bricks and terra cotta that had been exposed by freak rainstorms that had pounded the city and had vanished almost as soon as they came. The National Weather Bureau had no explanation for these weather anomalies nor did the city planners who were suddenly being besieged with confused and irate telephone calls from city inspectors as to why building had commenced on properties and closed lots without construction permits.

Pinter researched the mysterious tracks at the New York Historical Society Archives Room. After a few false starts, he hit pay dirt with a revealing photo. There had been a set of train tracks down Broadway, but these had been trolley tracks, to be exact. Ostensibly, the tremors shook the old line loose from its confines and pushed it up into for the sunshine for the first time since 1957, the date of their asphalt entombment. The lines themselves dated from farther back in time to around 1897, he was able to deduce from another photo. It fascinated Pinter that this relic of the past be exposed once again, but his fascination did not last long, as there seemed to be a commotion in the Great Hall before him.

Pinter peered at the crowd assembled at a plot plan desk and walked over. He observed the Historical Society Chairman, Lawrence Phillips III engaged in a highly-charged conversation with three men; the Assistant City Deputy, the City Planner and the Zoning Tsar, all trying to articulate their unique situation over the other.

“Larry, I’ve got these guys and City Hall breathing down my back, trying to get me to clear those couple of rowhouses down on First.” The Zoning Tsar, Walt Civlek spat.

“Yes, I remember, Walter. Quite a shame those had to go. Eighteenth-Century pair of rowhouses, some of the last in the City, you don’t need to remind me. It damned near broke my heart when you tore those down a few weeks back. What’s City Hall on your case for now? Work not moving because of the tremors?”

“That’s just it. We tore those down before the quake.”

“Well, then…”Phillips harrumphed. “What’s the problem? Did your boys find something of importance below the foundation? A couple of Revolutionary War items, a few skeletons? If you need us to go down there and check it out we can dig through the dirt for you, like we always do.”

“The problem is…”Civlek cleared his throat and shrugged. “…is that they’re back.”

“What’s back?”

“The rowhouses.”

“Come now, don’t joke around. I saw them torn down myself. Is this your idea of some sort of joke? What do you mean, they’re back?” He sighed. “Surely, someone down at City Hall must be in error. Sorry, Deputy Commissioner Rodriguez.”

“No need for apologies, Larry.” The Assistant Deputy to the Mayor nodded. “We’ve been known to make a few mistakes.” He winked with a smile. “But please know that this is no mistake. I have been down to the site myself this morning. I saw the rowhouses torn down on the news myself. There can be no doubt, no room for mistake. Inexplicably, the rowhouses were still extant. I offer no explanation. The City offers no explanation, gentlemen.” He quickly added, looking at each one of them.

“That’s preposterous.” The City Planner bellowed. “Buildings don’t just reappear overnight after they’ve been knocked down, let’s be serious, for Pete’s sake.”

“Allow me if I may, gentlemen.” Pinter spoke up nervously at first. “I have been observing, with some reservation, some rather odd occurrences throughout our city. I, myself, tripped over trolley tracks that were not there a week before. I fear that the earthquake has disturbed the city in more ways than one.”

“Larry, who is this man?” The City Planner snapped. “I have no idea what you and Walt are trying to pull here, what has got you both in league here with each other, but all I know is the Mayor is pretty ticked that those rowhouses are impeding his highway bridge after having been told that they had been torn down weeks ago. Now, I don’t know what kind of trick you’re trying to pull here, Larry, but these buildings, as historically precious they may have been or are, actually, they still must come down or there will be the Mayor to answer to.”

“If I may interject, gentlemen, just for a moment.” Pinter said and realigned his glasses. “These train tracks…”

“I thought you said they were trolley tracks?”

“Well, I…”

“Larry, who is this person?”

“I’ll speak to you later, Pinter that will be all.”

“But…” Pinter stammered. “The trolley tracks…”

“Pinter, we have important matters to discuss. We can meet in the morning.” Phillips said with a stern voice.

The next morning, Pinter showed up at Phillips’ door as expected. Not expected, was the sight of his boss holding his head and pressed against his head, a makeshift and bloodied ice pack.

“What on earth happened to you?” Pinter asked, alarmed by the scene.

“It was the damndest thing.” Phillips recounted. “I got on the subway and there was absolutely no air on the car. Then the conductor mumbled something about police activity up ahead and how the train would be delayed and so I thought I’d walk it as it was a nice morning, you know?” He said and shook his head. “Owwww. So, I get out of the subway at Canal but it doesn’t look like Canal, it looks more like the idiot train conductor didn’t know where he was going and made up that story about police activity, I’ll bet. So, I spot a young man standing on the corner and while he’s in tattered clothes, I don’t think anything of it and I ask him if he knows where I can take the Number 2 line up to Grand Central and then switch over and you know what this nutcase does? He holds up a stick with a dead rabbit impaled upon it, of all things and starts clubbing me with it. I ran for my life!”

“Wait a minute.” Pinter held up his hand, concerned. “Are you trying to tell me that some guy had a rabbit impaled on a pole?”

“I’m not trying to tell you that, I’m telling you that.”

“The Dead Rabbits Gang.” Pinter blurted. You say you couldn’t recognize the area, but the conductor said it was Canal?”

“Oh, come now.” Phillips retorted. “It was some homeless mental patient pretending to be his own Gangs of New York.”

“How come you didn’t recognize the area? You worked down on Canal for twenty years.”

“Don’t tell me what I already know, Pinter.” He barked. “The conductor must have hit his head or something, maybe that was the police emergency, I don’t know, but what I do know for a fact is that the idiot did not stop at Canal Street. I may have been hit on the head a few times, but I know what I know.”

“What did the subway sign say again?”

“Canal Street.” Phillips said slowly. “But that can’t be. That just can’t be, I tell ya!”

“Something strange is going on.” Pinter digressed.

“You’re telling me.” Phillips said and passed his ice pack to his other hand and held it back against his head. “I’ve been getting the most off-the-wall calls this morning.” He stood unevenly and touched the edge of his desk with thumb, index and middle finger to steady himself as he carefully walked around the desk. “The Mayor’s Office calling me first thing this morning and telling me they got buildings missing.”

“Missing?” Pinter echoed.

“Yes, missing.” Phillips said as if it were the sanest concept in the world. “Now, I don’t care to clarify what such a statement even means. I have received crackpot calls by people I highly respected before this morning, telling me that they’re standing in front of the Singer Building or are looking up at what sounds like and standing in front what is apparently the Ninth Street El only its back and currently running! My wife just called me and told me she was outside the Hippodrome and Jenkins himself called and told me he was standing in front of Madison Square Garden.”

“Slow down, slow down.” Pinter said and halted the agitated man. “You’re gonna give yourself another heart attack.” Pinter guided the troubled man back to his seat behind the desk. He wondered if the bump on his head was worse than suspected and if he should take him to the hospital, as he wasn’t making any sense. “Now, there must be some logical explanation behind all of this. Maybe some radio prank or university initiation or something.”

“But that’s just it. If that was it, I wouldn’t be so bothered by it. My wife calling me telling me that about the Hippodrome, I have to believe her, she’s my wife and Jenkins, he’s a long-time employee; I’m the godfather to his kid, for crissakes. But when he calls me and tells me he’s standing in front of Madison Square Garden, I have to suspend my belief and well, believe him, too.”

“What’s so difficult to believe that he’s standing outside the Garden? I hit a Knicks game there with you three weeks ago.”

Phillips gave him a hard look with a very bloodshot right eye. “At Fifth and Madison Avenue?”

“Madison Square Garden hasn’t been at that location since 1925!”

“Yes, I’m aware of that.” Phillips said. “All morning long since I got here at six, I’ve been getting news of the impossible. I don’t quite understand what’s going on.” He said and read his email with a confused look.

“What is it?”

“I’ll be damned. I just got this email from Heather. She says the City Hall Subway is running again, but not only is it running again, it’s running to and from the old Pennsylvania Station. Look, here’s another one from Bill Tildon’s cell phone. He says I’m not going to believe this but he’s at Saint Paul’s, he just got done with his meeting down at City Hall and says he was almost hit by a cable car going up Broadway heading towards Barclay Street!”

“A cable car?”

“A cable car.” Phillips mopped his now sweaty brow with the watery ice pack. “He texts me that he’s currently watching a horse drawn omnibus heading the opposite direction and asks me what an omnibus is!”

“Well-..”

“Look at this. Now I got Claire Davis texting me that she’ll have to find another route to work because there’s some problem they’re telling her on the subway line.” He said and started to read. “She says they’re saying that there are a lot of confused passengers down there because they’re telling them that the subway doesn’t run past 23rd Street any longer. What in the world is going on?? Pinter, I want you to go out and give me a status report. Has everyone in this city lost their minds? Is this a terrorist plot, some sort of poisonous gas or hallucinogenic in the air or some sort of mass delusion, would you, Pinter?” He waved him off. “Go ahead; go…the Mayor will no doubt be calling me. Keep your cell phone on.”

“Yes, sir.” He nodded but then wondered what kind of a boss would so cavalierly send their employee out into potentially poisonous gas.

“Oh, just great!” Phillips growled.

“What’s wrong?”

“I think the city has gone off the deep end. Some joker delivered the wrong paper.”

“Wrong paper?”

“Yes, wrong. Since when do I get this newspaper? I always get the Daily News.”

Pinter looked down at the newspaper spread over the jumble that was Phillip’s desk. It alarmed him as he glared at the masthead. “The Sun”, it read. More alarming was the date. “August 13, 1897”. Things were indeed out of sorts, thought Pinter. Out of time and out of place, he said to himself. It was time he got to the bottom of things, he told himself.

As Pinter wandered out of the building, he recalled the odd blurbs in the newspapers over the past few days detailing how citizens were being accosted by strange sights and sounds that defied logic, but thought little to nothing of it. New York was always full of strange and fantastic stories from the days of Washington Irving. Pinter started to piece the stories together in his mind. He had heard about certain pockets of known terra firma that were seemingly swallowed up and in their place, a Beaux Arts building or two would spring up, but thought these were just fabrications. At the bar the night before, he had overheard a conversation where a drunken customer spoke of standing outside of Merrill Lynch Building Downtown where the building should have been, yet from his description, it sounded like the Singer Building, torn down in 1967, stood proud, but no longer so tall among the steel canyons of Lower Manhattan. The guy said he had heard of losing a job but not a whole building. Pinter shrugged it off to drunken misspeak from some soused patron. It was so far-fetched; no wonder news organizations completely ignored the main story.

Up until the last week or so, it had been occurring at an almost imperceptible level, but there had been additional tremors recently and Pinter believed that these had something to do with the measured increase in the strange phenomena around the city. He started to make note of the old–fashioned newsstands, that mixed with the new, odd-looking subway kiosks, the gas lamps, corner stores, the sanitation men and their ashcans, the building sides with their painted billboards brightly blazing once again from their once dull brick memory, but most alarming of all was the shut down of the Brooklyn Bridge. Whereas most of the New Yorkers thought the newsstands, lamplights, subway entrances were an affectation of a city celebrating its past; the closure of the Brooklyn Bridge woke the city from its languor.

When police and city officials went down to investigate such an outrageous claim, they were met by their own personal disbelief. Walking over from the Singer Building, Pinter literally sidelined down Fulton Street towards the South Street Seaport and the East River. What sights met him, astounded him.

“Where did all of these clipper ships come from?” He asked a stranger as he looked around the Seaport. It was filled with antique sailing vessels.

The man looked at him warily and spat black chaw from his blackened lip. “From the sea, ya damned fool.”

Pinter shot the man a dirty look, but the man was already hobbling away over the wet cobblestones.

Pinter had not been to the Seaport in a number of years and was surprised to see how much it had changed. Pier 17 looked entirely different. But what shocked him the most besides the sudden re-emergence of the Fulton Fish market alive in Manhattan again was the sight of the Brooklyn Bridge and now agreed how much of a prudent idea it had been to close it; for half of it was gone!

“Where did it go?” Pinter asked a longshoreman as he passed by. “Was there an attack?”

“Where did what go?” The man growled wearily. “What kind of an attack you mean? Anarchists??”

“The Bridge, where did it go??” Pinter chastised the man. “Where’s the rest of the damned thing?”

“Whaddya mean, where did it go? Where’s the rest of it?” The man pushed a woolen cap back on his forehead and eyed Pinter as if he were crazy. “They’re building it, can’t you see?”

“Building it?” Pinter parroted the man. “Building it?? It’s already been built, a hundred years ago!”

“Mister, you go the yellow fever on the brain or something?” He said and scratched at an overgrowth of graying whiskers.

“You’re the one who’s telling me they’re building it, not me. I think you have a screw loose or something.”

“Oh yeah?” The man turned and said: “We’ll see about that and blindsided Pinter with a devastating backhand.

The next thing Pinter knew, he was crumpled on his side upon the wet pavement near the docks, his money splayed about him and heard the man walking away, muttering something about how nearly breaking his black jack over some nut with useless money. Nothing made sense anymore thought Pinter but it wouldn’t as he dizzily struggled to his feet and held a handkerchief to the throbbing bump at the back of his skull.

Pinter called his boss in vain, as there was absolutely no reception. He was not certain if it was the crack to the skull or the odd fog that was coming in off the Harbor, but Pinter began to get frightened; he did not recognize the city at all. It was as if the city had changed while he was momentarily knocked out.

In a panic, he raced uptown on foot; passing old dance halls and livery stables that seemed to be growing from the ground itself. He lived in Manhattan all of his life, but never remembered these places and furthermore, he was beginning to feel like a stranger in his own city.

Fevered, he reached a newsstand and plunked down a dollar and took a newspaper. Maybe the papers would explain what was going on, he thought. As he walked off, he could hear the proprietor call after him. Nonchalantly, he called over his shoulder: “Keep the change!” and quickened his step, as he did not like the man’s reaction. Had everyone in New York City lost their minds?

That’s strange, he thought, I could have sworn I picked up the Times. He thumbed through the paper. The Globe??

He was not about to retrace his steps a few blocks back and get the correct paper. The masthead reads: “The Globe and Commercial Advertiser-New York’s Oldest Newspaper, 1797.” Over the name, it notes in bold type that it is the “10 O’clock Final Edition”. The headline exclaims “Planes Fly; Balloons Fall” while the front page and for some odd reason, the sports page recounted Wilbur Wright’s spectacular flight over Manhattan that very day. The news, whether it was for the city or the world made no sense to him and made mention of the then novelty of curious flying machines. This was ridiculous, he thought, what were they smoking down at The Globe, whatever that was, he smirked. As he scanned the pages, he wondered if it was a commemorative newspaper he picked up by mistake. He wondered if the present-day paper was inside. Then it hit him as he read the date, September 29, 1909. Chillingly, he came to the realization that he was no longer in his own time.

As he wandered along the cobblestones where none had existed before, he was certain of that, he wondered if he was being swallowed up by this reclamation of things past and pondered the notion if this was akin to being in a maze or a set trap and all he had to do was find his way out.

What didn’t make sense was that he could see his every day surroundings. It was as if things were changing just enough to keep ahead of him. It was as if he was underwater and could plainly discern things just past the surface but could not reach it. He could see landmarks such as the Empire State Building or the Chrysler, but by the time he reached them; they were gone, replaced by the unfamiliar.

It was the same as when he got to his apartment house, a building that dated from 1895. When he reached his fifth floor walk-up, which had never been a fifth-floor walk up, but the elevator was inexplicably no longer there, he opened the unlocked door to his apartment only to be met by a family of immigrants putting together paper flowers on the kitchen table who loudly and most likely profanely chased Pinter from the building, as he no longer lived there and would not live there for another one hundred plus years.

In the irony to end all ironies, for Harold Pinter, working at the New York Historical Society, the past had always been his present, the future certainly did not exist and the modern day present was useless and meaningless to him. He had never felt he fit in, had not a sustained love affair to keep him from chasing ahead of the mysterious elements changing his city literally in front of him, so instead, he stopped running, stopped racing to be on time and let the past finally, catch up with him.

The entire episode was never fully disclosed in the media, nor was it ever challenged, although some conspiracy theorists desperately tried to tie it to matters such as global warming or nuclear testing. It was soon relegated to the dustbin of conspiracy theories, along with Loch Ness, UFO’s, 9/11 and JFK. But, there had been too many witnesses, too many changes, too many cell phone cameras the government couldn’t contain, too much in the way of physical evidence such as incongruity like the Crystal Palace near the New York City Reservoir where the New York Public Library should have been but was not, to let the matters fully rest.

The Mayor’s Office at City Hall tried to ignore the facts, but instead fabricated a story on “Victorian Beautification”, but it was as far as they were going to publicly admit. As far as the government was concerned, it rounded up as many confused Victorians as it could find and sent them live among the Amish, deep within the mountains of Pennsylvania.

Just as quickly as the entire strange episode evolved, it quickly and mysteriously deconstructed itself, sparing the city a full-blown explanation and more than enough embarrassment. Little by little, as if two battling weather fronts, the past ebbed from the present, receding to where it belonged, setting things right once again.

As for Pinter, he remained in the past he had always loved but like that long lost love, could only address in memory, until now. For once, his present was a delight of every one of his senses, as he roamed actual Victorian New York in his strange new clothes. An anomaly left him stranded in the past, which was just fine by him. For while all he had ever known and all the places he had ever gone remained as the past had once been, out of touch and years aloft and the past, for those who nervously watched such things, remained exactly where it had always been; in the past.

Metazen, 2010

“Friends and Relatives of Rubber” by Len Kuntz

To make it easier on everyone involved, he became a rubber band. A paper airplane might have worked just as well but give him credit because his idea bespoke inventiveness, understanding, and a certain languid level of maturity.

First he burrowed into the bark of a nearby rubber tree, waiting for the drilling press. Inside he was strip-searched and boiled, reengineered and born again. He exited in a gluey river of sap that was slow to sundry but became shapely nevertheless.

Afterward he demonstrated superior elasticity.

People shot him.

He went here, he went there. Friends and relatives used him for their own purposes, much the same as before except that now there was a crisp expediency, a complicit collusion.

Not everyone had acuity, however. “What’s happened to you?” his sister asked, and when he failed to answer, she said, “Aw fuck it,” and launched him into the shallow end of their swimming pool where he sank no different than a finless fish.

Seen from below the water’s surface she resembled a David Hockney painting. “Who the hell are you?” her warbled voice chanted.

Speechless, he thought: I am a vessel a utensil a measly weapon an unused binding unit.

No one was especially impressed.

The kings and queens of the neighborhood no longer acknowledged him. The grocery store clerks—former vandal friends of his—now looked askance when he stood in line hoping to purchase cigarettes. Once he was tied and knotted to a homeless man’s dreadlocks for a fortnight, but other than that his new existence remained useless, leafless and lame all the same.

Also, he smelled disgusting, like a car tire or hippo breath, talc-y like a bad batch of heroin. He never bathed and never ate or drank. He became slender then skinny-sharp, fluid and flexible, his own acrobatic show.

Nonetheless, he was under no illusions. He knew what he was: a child, a sire, an heir maybe, someone’s hard burden.   He was a son, a stepson too, a rental until eighteen. Prostitutes and backhoes, places to live for a short periods of time—all of these things could be leased as well.

On his birthday a final, fraudulent fuss was made. For appearances sake, one set of parents had a nature-themed party featuring exotic yet endangered species from the pruned plains of Africa and Australia, Mexico or North Dakota. On hand were rhinos and emus, macaws and giraffes, foreign nationals with Nehru collared shirts and felt cowboy hands. The event was a fair to middling success until the boa trainer got sidetracked telling a story and the snake swallowed a neighbor girl whom everyone—teachers, house wives, babysitters—adored. He didn’t know the girl that well, but he understood he was supposed to feel genuine gloom over her loss, and when he couldn’t generate even a pinch of sympathy, he snapped himself off a water faucet and sweated pungent regret the entire flight across town.

He arrived late to the second party because the Seattle PD had difficulty fingerprinting him.

Many of the featured guests were gone by then. Gangbanging bums looted the overflowing garbage bags and cans, adjusting their blousy pants as they did, shuffling their pistols and penises to make room for half-eaten corndogs made from imported Chicken Cordon Bleu.

He hoped no would recognize him.

He tumbled over to the tented table where wilted balloons hung from the aluminum posts like drunken grandmothers or their slackened breasts, and found what was left of the sheet cake.

Untouched but for a finger stab in the northeast corner, cursive frosting gave this enthusiastic yet vague salutation: HAPPY BIRTHDAY YOU!

He took a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. The cig tasted like a bad movie, or a celluloid strip smoldering black and gritty under an unforgiving flame. He stuck the cigarette butt through the gluey icing and flinched when it hissed back, a pissed off Satan woken from his nap.

The lawn gleamed stoner green, yet brittle tawny weeds clung along the outskirts where the neighbors lived. He lit matches, one after the other, and tossed the flaming javelins as far as his rubbery arms could stretch.

The fire crackled and burped up blackened bilge as it digested a field within seconds. It slid dance floor smooth and liquid orange.

The remaining crowd stampeded, ladies screaming, men scooping up their deluded toddlers and oxy cotton teens. Sweaters snagged and ankles sprained.

His own father and stepmother, Jamie, plowed right over him. He hit his stepmother’s breast plate and fell backwards, somersaulting in slow motion while wondering if any child had ever suckled one of those steel bullet nipples. When he landed, his father crushed his cheek, leaving a topsider imprint: the Gucci letter G.

He wished the fire would make its way to him, but the grass where he laid was soggy and soaked from Diet-Coke spills.

He inhaled the burnt odor and pictured the bottom of an urn containing cremation remains. He considered the word “remains”, rolled it around his tongue like a hairy jaw breaker, and listened to the squad of fire trucks, their sirens bleating and piercing the sky, a murdered flock of magpies.

He tucked his hands behind his head. His favorite part of a story was the end.

He opened his eyes and challenged the sun to a staring contest and never blinked, not even once his corneas were boiled.

He smiled. Even as a rubber band, he felt whole. Especially as a rubber band.

His birthday was a success, his wish granted. Rubber or real, it made no difference; he was invisible and would remain that way till the end.

Metazen, 2/15/11.

 “The Soul Must Go On” by Timothy Gager

 

At forty, I was the oldest man to run away to join the circus and I stayed about nine years until I got sick, very sick. My job had been to clean up the camp and feed two hobo dogs, Joe and Bangles, who were found somewhere along the way of our traveling show. Quickly I was unable to do even that menial task. Doc Snickens offered me some of his miracle cure but I’d sworn off drinking recently. I should have taken a slug, but it was a matter of principle by that point. If I knew then what I knew now I would have stayed a drunk, never worried about what town or even what time it was. Now I knew everything there was to know.

The trailer bounced to the next place as Maggie sat over me. She was known as “The Amazing Woman with No Arms or Legs” who could drive a car and play video games with her nose. The crowds loved Maggie. What they didn’t know was that the car and the games were pre-programmed. A corpse could have driven that car but everyone wanted to believe in a good story which would warm their lives.

When the day came Maggie had a certain light about her and she reached down to give me a hug with the soft arms of a million Gods.

I wanted to be cremated, but there was not time. The show had to move on so Snickens and Wolfboy built a huge bonfire and hoisted my stiff body in. I had left my that body three hours and thirteen minutes ago and was watching from a tree so I wouldn’t have to rise out of those damn ashes. My body crackled in the flames but my soul was totally clean. Snickens offered to do a eulogy but he hemmed and hawed, finally admitted he had nothing to say. Maggie wheeled in with a note in her lap and passed it to Doc Snickens.

“Is that from him?” Wolfboy asked and pointed to the fire.

“It is,” Snickens said. “It says, I know how this will end, burned in a campground that I would have lovingly kept up but that’s OK. If anyone wants to honor me by spreading my ashes wherever you see fit or appropriate in my honor, that would be the best I could have ever hoped for. Additionally, if you wanted to keep any of me, it would be fine too. You all were the family I never had.”

The next morning Wolfboy and Snickens raked my remains in with the dirt. They tossed two bits of bone to Joe and Bangles but the dogs only sniffed at them. The caravan was ready to go but I knew where I was going. I knew that hell didn’t exist for anyone after they died—but it was a place that we all had to travel away from.

 

from Metazen, 5/14/13

“After Receiving a Picture of Dick Butkus via Text Message” by Timothy Gager and Teisha Dawn Twomey

You like pictures sent by your best friend. He sent Dick Butkus, snarling in his black Bears jersey, number fifty-one. It’s been awhile since you’ve had a funny dick picture. It made you laugh. He also sent you pictures of his hoodie and you pretended you are with it. He didn’t send his handsome face, just the hoodie, so you would imagine yourself wearing it, being inside it.

One time a drug dealer sent you a picture of his penis with a line of hillbilly heroin on the shaft. You were tempted, but he was wearing a cowboy hat and you were really just not into that. Maybe if it had been MDMA and he had been in some sort of Candy Raver getup, you know, with the fluorescent plastic beads and clad in a child’s backpack full of toys, it might have been different. At the time, you didn’t have the Dick Butkus pic to send back in reply, so you sent him someone else’s penis. It seemed logical, very logical.

You have a picture of wicker porch chairs you sent back to a small Irishman. You told him you already had Paddy O’Furniture and you’ll never go back there again. He hadn’t see that coming… neither did you, actually. You surprised yourself sometimes.

There is a motel down the road, a Day’s Inn, the Irishman said. You could meet him there when he got off his bartender job. He said the rates are pretty reasonable, though they didn’t leave those little mints on your pillow and the coffee is only good in the lobby. Oh, and he thought there was a discount for tall, dark and handsome pilots. He said he left the front desk people little plastic wings that they gave little kids, you know, the first time flyers. Women go crazy for that stuff. At least they do at the Days Inn. Also, the rooms had these big blue chairs, very comfortable.

“What do you say to calling in sick tomorrow?” he texted. “Continental Breakfast is on him,.

You’re once again sorry that you changed your relationship status from “in one” to “single” last week, but he’s going to have to do better than going with something he’s obviously done with women every single fucking time. You don’t have a picture to text him back with. Instead you text, you’re not all that impressed and that he must have a Ph. D. in Douchebaggery. Free. No schooling required. His texts qualified him for that degree, you wrote.

You decide to take a walk to the gym, clear your head of all the images of cum shots and perfectly manicured scrotums, though at first you did find that attention to detail vaguely and strangely thoughtful. You wonder how it is possible that you’ve received five different dick picks in the past two weeks. You take out your smart phone and calculate that you’re averaging .357 penises a day. You wonder how many of these guys must screw up and send one to a wrong number. You wish you were the wrong number and you were someone else, with enough self-respect to call the cops and file an indecent exposure charge. You know the cops would just have a big laugh over that after you left.

Earlier, you stood in the mirror and practiced the dirty look you planned to use later in the day. You try it when you pass the homeless man who always cat calls you and you instantly feel bad. All you can see is his pitiful little Styrofoam cup, but you imagine a hard-on poking his pants as you shamefully toss all the bills left in your pockets his way.

Then on the treadmill, the phone vibrates. You don’t want to open it, but after all, it’s never stopped you before. You admit, when there is a car accident on the highway with a white sheet you look to see if there is anything else more specific: a broken windshield or blood on the pavement. You expect the image to stop you in your tracks, but instead it’s your best friend sending you a picture of roses and a cup of coffee. With his soft slender fingers he texts, “well?” and you send him back the picture of his dick, the one of Dick Butkus. You dial his number. You tell him, “yes”.

Hello published writers of dead links…

Going through my own list of published links, I realized some of my favorite on-line markets are no longer on-line. I didn’t know how to feel about this. Should I re-submit my work or let it be?  It felt like a part of my writing history died, well, because it did.

So, coincidentally, Rusty Barnes, author and editor, posted on Facebook that he had 50-60 stories in purgatory. So I thought of something–We are not alone.

so, THIS

After your story was published in that on-line journal that died, I’ll post it here, submit to ctgager37@gmail.com with proof of work being previously published from a dead market. (Original e-mail of acceptance, dead or link from your webpage that leads to nothing.)

Timothy Gager, Editor, www.timothygager.com


GUIDELINES Send all submissions to ctgager37@gmail.com

1. Send previously published works of fiction or poetry as a .doc, along with proof of dead link, as stated above.

2. To qualify, market must no longer exist, or they’ve not archived their work.

3. If you’ve re-posted it on your blog or on places like Fictionaut, or if I can google it, then it won’t qualify to be posted.