Joshua Gordon

Hillbilly Requiem

Down on a hilltop, Irish, Scottish, whatever: The growl and tussle of a yard full of mutts; once a brogue, now a twang neither sweet nor resonant; a vesper in the sumac that soon dies and is born again in the hollow fist of your son. His son. His daughters. A shack teeming with pups just off sixteen, on three-oh-five, off four-forty-six: Any number of places where the sound can nest in needles and hide in the leaves underfoot—where the fury can take root. Eighty-six, then seventeen. There was a day a boy never opened the front door again without a knock.

Beside the trickle and piss of the creek, among the riprap clinging to the glacier-ground dirt: Upon that rock I found my home. And there left it, when all my grandmother had to do was move. Move, and the man said she’d live. But she stayed so still, hollering for the help she refused to give herself. So stubborn her skin shredded across her bones. So still, finally, she did not breathe.

I refused to watch her die when all she had to do was move.

And now a man is deposited like a huge gray stone after the muddy gush of a thaw, now surrounded by children and children’s children, some perched on top, snatching for minnows to bring home in a five-gallon bucket, the word “asbestos” printed on its side, next to a warning not to let the kids fall in and drown, only to forget the pail on the porch, where the flecked fish will suffocate in the stuff that was their life if only it had moved.

Your lungs no longer rattle. Your hands no longer clench, nor do they spread wide enough to leave a smart, red splash on the skin of the creek, dammed and pooled to catch crayfish.

I love you, somewhere, in a heart inside a heart. I love you in the flesh of a wild grape plucked, sweet and sacred, from a vine tangled in the foundation of a hip-roof garage in perpetual collapse, afraid of when you’d find me—afraid of the smart and the splash. I love you in the chaff of a pillowcase of beans dumped and winnowed into a white pail: a harvest unadorned, frugal. I love you in these streets and in these rooms so far from the unhurried rush of a piss-poor creek.

But I do not love you there, where the chaff and the water stop, where you only need to move before the roof comes down on our heads. Someday the hills will come down, too.



Depending on the week, Joshua Gordon is a writer, editor, instructional designer, or librarian living in Buffalo with his wife and two children. They also own a very ugly dog with a natural Mohawk, named Wemmul.

Michael Garcia-Juelle

The First Time My Father Saw Venusians

The first time my father saw Venusians, he was waiting in line to apply for unemployment benefits. 

The first one, a 'man' standing ahead of him in the queue, wore a jean jacket in the dead of June. That was the first sign, but what really gave him away was his penchant for glancing back over his shoulder. Then there was the 'woman' that got in line just behind Dad; he could tell she was an undercover Venusian because her hair was dyed red, “red like a stop sign,” even though she had to be at least sixty. Once the 'security guard' started eyeing him up and down, it became clear the Venusians had planned an ambush. He got out of there without a second thought. It’s been nearly a decade now since Dad's had a real job, but he's never gone back, never seen a penny from Uncle Sam.


The second time my father saw Venusians was not long after that, at our family's ritual Sunday dinner. We were at a Ruby Tuesdays, or an Applebee’s, some generic place like that. I was talking about my college applications, but Dad was preoccupied; he was having a hard time, I would later learn, identifying the Venusians in the restaurant. . . at least until a roar of exuberant laugher erupted from the table nearest ours. 

A wide-eyed expression formed on his face; this look that read confusion and shock all at once. (His face would get stuck that way afterwards, just like Mom used to say mine would when I'd make funny faces at Sissy.)     

He turned towards the offending party and shouted: “Laugh, assholes, laugh!” 

My mother was mortified. My sister’s cheeks turned bright pink. But the folks at the table didn’t react at all. Didn’t even flinch, just carried on chatting. My father's unprompted outburst was so absurd, so unlikely, they probably just figured they'd heard wrong; that whatever this odd man was shouting about had nothing to do with them at all.  

Either that, or they really were Venusians. Who knows.  


A few days after that, Dad asked me for a ride to the pharmacy—his car had been repossessed by the Venusians, of course. I figured he had to pick up his blood pressure medication, but he didn't bring any little orange bottles back to the car with him.

"Look, Dicky," he said, opening the pack of photographs. "Look what the aliens do to the clouds." I felt a cold knot in my gut. He flipped from one photo to the next, explaining how the Venusians had shaped them into signs and symbols. 

"They're giving me the middle-finger in this one."

All I saw was clouds. 

"This is in the shape of the Devil. See the horns?" 

More clouds.

"They even turn the clouds into porno!"  

But I didn't see any pornographic clouds, only regular ones. 

"Those are nice pictures," I said. "But they're just clouds." 

He fell silent. A slight trace of horror tinged that perpetual expression of his, that vague look of shock and confusion. He put the photos away and stared out the window for the rest of the ride. He rushed into his room when we got home; I remember hearing the soft click of the door locking behind him. 


The next day, my father told me I was a Venusian. He pointed a stiff finger at me, and said, "I know what you are, okay? So you better back off, you better leave me alone." 

"That's crazy," I said, and his eyes got even wider. He started to shout, sending spittle at my face. I just kept saying, "I'm your son, I'm your son." 

It wasn't working. Once he started jabbing his finger against my chest, I got nervous. I had to try something else. 

"If I'm an alien," I said, forming the words in spite of the quivering lump in my throat. "Then how do I remember going to the beach, you and me, when I was small enough to sit on your shoulders?" That memory felt further away than time could account for—as far away as if it had never been mine at all. I wondered if it felt the same way for him. 

He softened. Backed away. Stood there blinking for a while, then went and locked himself in his room again. 


"You're not one of them, Dicky," Dad admitted later. He never apologized, just adjusted his accusations. "But they control what you say, what you do," he said. "Like they control the clouds."

"You need help, Dad."

"See," he said. "Like that. They're making you say that." 

Then it was my turn to lock myself in my room. We started taking turns—Mom, Sissy, and me—caring and not caring, being there and being anywhere else. It was the only way.  

Dad wept when the Venusians with guns and badges came for him. He thought they had really gotten him this time, that they'd take him back to their mothership and do God-knows-what to him. But they just left him at a psychiatric hospital. 

He was there for a week. They pumped him full of injections, gave him pills that knocked him out for fourteen hours a day.  After day three or so, he didn't see any more Venusians. And he didn't see any for a few weeks after he got out. But they came back, eventually. They always come back. 


Years later, after the third trip to the hospital (but before the fourth), Dad wrote himself a check and took five hundred dollars out of my mother's bank account. He bought a one-way ticket to New York City and didn't tell anyone. We filed a missing persons report. We checked hospitals and jails for five days. At the end of the sixth day, we heard a knock at the door, and there stood my father: tired, haggard, and hungry. My father, with a black eye, bruised knuckles and a dry wound on his lip. My father, sad and pathetic. 

I took him in my arms and said, "Don't ever do that again." 

Sissy wasn't home. Mom was relieved, but too angry to talk to him. It was her turn to lock herself up.

He told me he'd only had enough money for a Greyhound back to Miami, and he hadn't eaten in two days. I microwaved some leftovers and sat with him as he ate. I sat in the way one sits when they want to make it clear they are waiting. It felt like a long time before he spoke.

“What did you do?” I said. “What did you do?”

He told me about the first time he saw Venusians. And the second, and the third, and many other times after that. He told me they had been bombarding him with rays from outer space, hot energy that makes his bones hurt. He said they had commanded him to go to New York City to meet one of their agents, that they'd told him this through the television, and that these demands had come with a threat: if he didn't show up, they would bombard the entire world with the same rays—only much stronger—and that would be the end of everything.

"I couldn't let them do that," he said, staring blankly over my shoulder. "I couldn't let them end the world with you still in it." 

I took a good look at him then—at the old, broken man he had become—and I saw what the Venusians had done, what their work had sown. I saw cheeks too hollow for a wife's kiss; a gaze too distant for a daughter to recognize. I saw shoulders too feeble, too weak to bear the weight of a son.

And I tried to remember, but could not recall, the last time I had seen my father. 

Michael Garcia-Juelle is a writer, student, and teaching assistant in the MFA program at Florida International University in Miami, FL. His work has been published by NanoismShotgun HoneyTypehouse, and others. He writes because the power of writing mystifies him, and he loves a good mystery.

Matthew Bookin


for Rachelle & Bug

I was drinking beer in the sun of the living room and my cat was stretched out so long across the far side of the couch. Sam was sitting on the loveseat, cutting rhubarb stalks into a big glass mixing bowl using a pair of shearing scissors. Sugar had been fanned out all over the coffee table.

I started talking just to hear the sound of my own voice. I said that I wanted to be buried with my cat, like a Pharaoh. I wanted to take my cat to heaven with me.

Sam sliced through the rhubarb like she was on safari. She told me I didn’t believe in heaven, which was true, and she said she didn’t picture me going to heaven, anyway, AND she definitely didn’t picture my cat going to heaven, either.

I carefully balanced my beer on my forehead and asked her where exactly I was going then, and she pretended to think for a moment while a half chopped stalk of rhubarb bled down her slender wrist. 

She said, “A swamp. Like a dank, miserable swamp.”

I laughed and finished my beer. Sam set her shearing scissors down onto the sweetness of the coffee table.

I said, “Samantha, no swamp could keep me and this little prince down,” and I gestured toward my cat, lying there deep in his simple, fat dreams. 

I said, “Samantha, tell me what you want to drink. We have so much of this day ahead of us and I know you’re thirsty.”

She said, “Bombay.”

I buried my face into her neck and said, “Tell me not to drive to the store. Tell me to never drive anywhere ever again.”

But she did and I did. Time moved mechanical in its calendar boxes and our lives carried on for a little longer, weeks or maybe years. Eventually, through no fault of my own, I spent an ill-advised November night sleeping in a graveyard next to an Episcopalian church. I got a cough that developed into a tiny reaper in my chest and I carried it around like a secret I wanted so badly to tell everyone, but no one wanted to hear it.


I leaned hard into my own ragged cough until I awoke in the swamp I’d been promised. My cat was there, too. He lived in a wicker basket I carried around on my hunched back. All day long he just rode around, purring in his sleep, safe in his little palace. We didn’t keep a home. We moved quietly through the bog of the afterlife.

I’d arrived in the clothes I’d died in and I kept those stitched together as best I could. I made an axe by combining a broken witch-tree branch, spider loops, and a giant curved tooth I found deep inside the lightning struck bark of a downed tree. At first the whole thing would fall apart every time I tried to swing it, but eventually I got the hang of it. You just had to keep a steady wrist.

There was strange quiet music in the distance and I could never quite tell if it was real or if I was dreaming in death. There were abandoned rowboats all throughout the marsh and some far off trees looked like people if you squinted hard enough.

It was raining if the sun was out and we traveled through the swamp looking for mud fish to eat. There was purple moss that could be ground down into a seasoning, it was growing on the bellies of giant, endlessly sleeping alligators and it made the fish taste tolerable. It tasted of ghost pepper. The dark red moss was poison and the neon green moss made you have bad dreams while you were still awake. This was the pace of the afterlife - seasoning dirty fish and sleep. That’s all there was.

Once, we bumped up to an edge of the swamp, a place where the trees thinned and the foul water almost reached my waist. It was impossible to go any further. I could see through the fog, and it was so far off it barely seemed tangible, but there was a distant shore beyond the gloom. Far away from the end of the marsh was a green sloping hill, lit by slow cloud slash rhythms of sunlight, and on the hill I could see a flock of sheep, their wet wool the color of rain-soaked hay. My cat roused from his basket and together we watched the herd of sheep crest the hill and disappear from our strained sight. And eventually, the fog thickened again and the hill was lost to us. And eventually, we had to turn from the edge and wander back into swamp. Whatever the far shore was, it wasn’t for us.

At night the rain would relent and three crescent moons would fade into the sky. I’d make a fire and tell my cat ghost stories, some I remembered and some I thought up, and he’d snuggle in and I’d scratch his head and there was so much time to pass. 

I figured that if I’d actually lived long enough, I’d have eventually tumbled down into my own bad brain and botched whatever life I’d made for myself, only to end up writing a series of unpublishable novels about baseball while sundowning in some graveled upstate trailer park. I figured this.

My cat figured he’d have fathered a whole army of lion-pawed kittens and that he’d have taken down a few school districts worth of fish in his time. He figured this.

I thought about Sam. It was the only time anything felt like anything. We’d walk an extra portion of time just to burn past the hurt of it. We walked so long. We walked so long. We walked so long. We were brothers and we walked.
One late afternoon, we came upon a clearing in the bog. In the center of the clearing was a small wooden shack, the first semi-hospitable structure I’d seen. Above the doorway to the shack someone had used big swipes of red paint to spell out the words: NO KILL SHELTER.

I walked slowly towards the shack, and my cat jostled around quietly in his basket as I placed my hand onto the door, carefully pushing it open. We were not afraid.

Inside, the shack was much bigger than it had appeared. The sunlight refused to enter its gloom, but there was a faint red glow from within. I let the door of the shack close behind me and I gently set my cat’s basket-house onto the floor.

As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I could see a clock in the center of the shack. It was a tall grandfather clock, and although the pendulum in its body remained still, I could see the time moving normally inside its dusty face. On top of the clock was a fat red candle, burning steadily, producing small rivers of wax.

I felt compelled to sit and rest, so I lowered myself onto the floor of the shack and sat cross-legged, staring into the dreamy red din of the candle the whole time.

Affixed below the candle, at the very top of the clock, was a little wooden sign written in cursive. It spelled my name, and then there was an ampersand, and then it spelled out the word, “Fettuccine.” And, of course, that was my cat’s name.

The candle bled and bled, getting dimmer now, with the light trying to stay strong while it danced to some ending. My cat climbed out of his basket and settled down on my lap. We sat there and watched the weeping wax together and the time went by. Too long. Soft rain started drumming outside and then faded into nothing. The wax bled down onto the clock’s face until it covered up all the possible time. We were together.

Eventually, the red light got impossibly low, and my cat was half-sleeping, safe in my lap. I started singing, before I even knew what I was doing, maybe I was praying. I couldn’t tell because I’d gotten so incredibly tired. But, I wanted to stay with him for just a bit longer. As long as I could. 

I was mumble-singing, “Little prince, little prince. Goodnight, my sweet prince. Little prince, little prince. Goodnight, my sweet prince.”

And the light did leave us, as we knew it would, and we were left together in the warm darkness. He was still with me and I was still with him. The sound of his purring was thunderous, ancient, and only for me.


After he died, Samantha cried with an intensity that was deemed medically impossible.

After he died, Samantha had to put his cat down because it refused to eat.

After he died, Samantha burned through a hard decade in a bad blink.

After he died, Samantha married a dentist with kind eyes.

After he died, Samantha’s dreams came true in a way that split her own history in half.

After he died, Samantha lived so long and bright that she forgot where she’d sent him.

Matthew Bookin [b. 1985] lives in Buffalo, NY. He wrote HONEST DAYS (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2018) and is a co-founding editor of PEACH MAG.