Table of Contents

Summer 2008

From The Editor

Letter from Sandra Ruttan

Short Stories

Amra Pajalic

The Game

The Old Man

The Vow

The Other Shoe

Patrick Shawn Bagley

Bank Job

John McFetridge

Overtime

Russel D. McLean

Her Cheating Heart

Steve Mosby

Fruits

Grant McKenzie

Out Of Order

Patricia Abbott

Pox

Leaving

Damien Seaman

Love In Vain

Ugly Duckling

Steve Allan

Hump The Stump

Stumpy's Revenge

You and Me and Stumpy Makes Three

Stephen D. Rogers

Head Shot

Richard Cooper

Simmer Time

Sandra Seamans

Predatory

Allan Guthrie

Freckles

Brian Lindenmuth

Gun

Tony Black

London Calling

Brian McGilloway

Spoonfull of Sugar

Interview

Damien Seaman with Tony Black

Reviews by:

Sandra Ruttan

Savage Night

The Cold Spot

Brian Lindenmuth

Kockroach

The Crimes of Dr. Watson

Half the Blood of Brooklyn

Crimson Orgy

Mad Dogs

The Resurrectionist

Sharp Teeth

Lawrence

Black Man

Tricia

Hip Flask: Concrete Jungle

Chadwick

At the City's Edge

Amber

Small Favor

Madhouse

Book Excerpts

Toros & Torsos
by Craig McDonald

Paying For It
by Tony Black

Dirty Sweeet
by John McFetridge

Feature

The Graveyard Shift: blog by Lee Ofland

Pox by Patricia Abbott

Hanna had planned on burying the baby behind the house, where a gnarly walnut tree shaded a patch of berry-covered vines last July—their first summer in Wisconsin. This was what she’d decided in bed last night, weaving the fringe on the crocheted blanket between her fingers, sliding her too-warm cheek across the icy bedrail to cool it. She’d get up and see to it first thing, before the chickens were fed or the cows milked. Certainly long before Claas and the children returned from Chicago. None of them would be forced to look at Martha’s dear face, a countenance with all the light gone from it.

But a hard frost turned the ground to stone by morning. Cold had etched the isinglass with ice, poked its fingers into cracks where the mud had thinned. All this had happened in the hours after the baby slipped away, when she had not thought to look out the window— when she lay in bed half-drugged by grief.
Raising the spade above her head now, Hanna jabbed uselessly at the unyielding earth, the handle coming off after a few tries. Then she was down on the ground, scrabbling at the ice with numb fingers. She didn’t cry; tears would be the end of her.

Only a man as stubborn as Claas would choose to live here, she thought, heading back to the cabin to look for tools. Wisconsin was inhospitable, a place where Hanna could not hope to keep her children safe. First homesickness engulfed them—all five longing for Chicago with its paved streets, well-stocked stores, its schools and parks. Then came the hopelessness of building a house. Their two glass windows, purchased at a great price, blew out in a spring tornado. Next came the crop failures, one after another. It would be a dull diet this winter, bare subsistence by March.
Hanna had thought nothing could be worse than the wall of fire that rushed through the fields last August, threatening to take everything until a neighbor galloped across the scorching fields and taught them how to make a firebreak to change the fire’s path. Afterwards they looked in amazement at the black path that zigzagged for miles. It was like Satan himself had charged through the county.

Say it’s time to go home, her eyes pled whenever Claas looked at her. But when he finally did leave a week ago, he took the two older children with him. “Opa’s funeral is already over,” she pleaded. “What good will it do now?”

“It will be good for my mother to see her grandchildren,” he said, honoring his mother’s wishes over hers. Could a man who spent his days in the fields care for two children on the packed mud thoroughfares of Wisconsin? Roads where half-disguised holes could swallow a child. Where snakes and wolves waited for nightfall? Hanna watched the wagon until it was out of sight, holding Martha, still healthy, in her arms.

Pox. They came on the baby quickly. She’d heard it was like that: God, not wanting to take a blemished babe up to heaven. Hours of pressing cold clothes to Martha’s head and then immersion in the washing tub. But the baby moved inexorably toward death. No one Hanna knew had died from pox, but she recognized the signs. Her father had not permitted inoculation. “If God means you to have pox, you will and Jenner be damned.” Only Claas had been vaccinated, back at the paper mill in Chicago where his employer had lined the workers up.

Inside the cabin, there were no useful tools, but the earth near the stove remained soft she discovered, despite countless attempts to harden it with water. She dug until she could no longer throw the dirt out of the hole. She’d have to place Martha inside this cursed place she longed to leave, wrapping her in a shawl and placing her in the store bought toolbox Claas was so proud of. But first she looked at every limb, curve, and curl that was Martha, memorizing her coloring, her exact length and weight. Finally, she lowered the box into the hole, filled the hole in, and read a bible verse over it.

Later still, she took everything the baby had touched, along with the goods bought from the Winnebago Indian who had come to her door last month, and fashioning a ring from stones, set the goods ablaze. How quickly it was over! She wet down the remaining embers, tricking the water over them so the fire wouldn’t flare up.
Claas and the children would be coming home soon. This thought seized hold of her, and at that the very instant, she noticed a rash on her arms, pustules forming already. Humming an old hymn to block her thoughts, she began to gather everything in the cabin, in the barn, and in the yard that would burn— milking Hortense, their cow and the chickens, as she filled her burlap bag. A dizzying snow began to fall; she hoped the inclement weather would slow down Claas’ return.
She made her circle of stones— inside the cabin this time. Filling its center with hay, feedbags, the curtains from the windows, their bedclothes: everything that would burn. The pox would end here. Every trace would die with her.

Hanna stepped inside the circle and held the broom out toward the stove, reaching toward the fire with all strength she had. She watched quietly as it took hold of the straw, then poked it into a pile of their sheets, a dress her daughter wore to church last Easter, this canvass coat Claas had left behind. It took hold faster than the one outside and the last thing she saw was the bright sky through a hole in the ceiling. The sky was pure blue. The snow had nearly stopped.

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