Travis Dahlke

Hot Mountain

There's good dumpster diving in Ottawa. The Nordic Isle Buffet throws out whole steamed lobsters. Farlburg Family Ford doesn't send their tire rims back to corporate to be destroyed. The Jemns Inn factory fills their dumpsters with baskets and authentic New England crafts. After the holidays I wake up early and snag any rejected candles that didn’t make it to labeling. Their identity can only be surmised by color. If I had siblings I’d send these home as gifts. Jemns Inn once melted down their shrink, glass and all. When their filtration system died everyone knew exactly how close autumn was when the wind shifted to canvas the city in mauve. Periwinkle in the summer. 

It would be better to be home in Michigan with Arnie playing Call of Duty, having some beers and bringing up his old girlfriend so I could fall asleep to him talking about her. I could tell it was summer there when Arnie's new girlfriend would bring us pink lemonade with messages hidden in ice cubes.

Their house was a terrarium with its fudge climate and carpet moss. I could tell it was summer there when Grandma Heather’s leg veins resurfaced. She was the adopted kind of grandma that came built-in to the couch. Forever watching Arnie’s floating rifle blow up oil drums, to feel consumed by such AWESOME graphics. In afternoons, she would sing to us about how the whole house had secret oak flooring and that it was beautiful. 

We knew it was spring when the smell of jizz was in the air. “Pyrus calleryana trees did this when they bloomed.” Arnie would say. He combated them by starting a Riekki tree removal business. Before this we used to steal chainsaws, remove the belt and use them as props in his garage/haunted house. $10 leading up to Halloween. $5 November 1st – 8th. Just a bunch of people paying to hang out near old paint cans, pretending to be someone else. 

“I tap into the life energy in these things and bam - I let ‘em have it. Have what? You don’t want to know, man.” His palms becoming flattened oyster tongues. Always drifting. Arnie made enough money to buy a batch of yard signs. Riekki Tree Removal - Call Arnie.

“You don’t wanna know how many jizz trees I’ve slaughtered. I deserve this.” This was what he told me after sleeping with other women and ignoring Grandma's Heather's hospital bills. I went with him to buy a used Honda that had only 32,000 miles on it. This number had been written on its windshield in glass chalk. On the back panel it still faintly read 'Congrats FHS Seniors, Go Wildlions.' I helped him scrape that off, and I helped him hold cardboard in the sun to better light the dong pics he sent out. His Publisher's Clearing House mailers.  

Arnie's girlfriend divorced him by writing a message on the tub wall in her hair. Grandma Heather was finally eaten by the couch. When they tore up the carpet, it was only planks of little mites underneath. After that Arnie was too depressed to move, but I wasn’t. Putting on his mask involved simply lining up the mouth slit, tucking my own hair behind the band and changing the phone number on all of his yard signs. 

To throw out your past is even easier. Upon getting rich off charming away unwanted nut-bearers/car denters using only my mind, I stuffed my old flannels into garbage bags. Five years of winter spreading apart the seams to reveal the tentacled arms with their button suckers. I drove Arnie's car to the Goodwill bin and pushed all those winters into the mouth. 


You can carve a key like a shank. Sometimes it's already unlocked. Either way, your clothes will hunt their way back to you. Listen to the 'woolen bloodhounds,' as Heather would say. Even when they're scratching and barking at your door, no one says you have to hear them. 

To dive deeper it's all fish skeletons swimming in perfect muck or W9 forms shredded into snow. It's recyclable Big Mac shells where strange mollusks have at long last, found their home. But I'm rich enough to drink coffee indoors now and can point out the people who wear my hand-me-downs as all new younger brothers and sisters. You really only miss the chlorine when its spirit’s annual visits stop. Everything will seem strangely fresh. Then I’ll come back up. 

Travis Dahlke’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in StructoSporkletApt.SAND JournalBridge Eight PressOcculum, and The Longleaf Review, among other places.

Michael O'Neill

Loch Ness Mother

When I saw you in the bathtub, cotton robe hung around your shoulders, waterline oozing up the fabric, I thought that was what bathing looked like. My 4-year-old eyes glimpsed your semi-naked figure, vanilla skin pulled tightly over a frail wireframe of bones. Shut the door, honey, you said.

You were so brittle I feared the next soap bubble that floated your way would envelop you, morph over your body and drag you under, spiraling together down the drain.

And then there was the time in 7th grade, coming home from school, when I witnessed you sitting on the roof, knees tucked to your chest, bare feet beginning to bleed on the coarse, tar shingles. There’s cereal in the pantry, just don’t use all the milk, you called down to me. That night, through my telescope, I scanned the rooftops of all the other neighborhood homes, recording whether there were other moms perched atop. 

You looked like a bird with two broken wings, one holding a lit cigarette, the other the stem of a wine glass, as if you had no idea that you could fly or that you were broken.

The day of graduation, you couldn’t get out of bed. I brought home the diploma and set it on your nightstand, sunlight sliding through the plastic blinds, illuminating your opaque eyes. You were so sunken, so concave, I could have walked right through you.

I laid my head next to yours and heard the hurricane of voices parading through your skull, crashing like waves against your brain. I imagined your mind as a game of pong, two-dimensional pill bottles sliding up and down, slowly batting back and forth your now-dead impulses – except there’s no joystick. There’s no joy.

If I inserted a stethoscope into your ribs, I was sure there would be some tentacled beast to grab ahold of it, some leviathan that would finally rear its head, revealing itself for the first time in decades, as if the Loch Ness Monster had invaded your body and lived deep in the underbelly of your disease.

I could throw a spear through your heart, releasing your demons, but I could never know whether that would only awaken an even darker side of you, or if such an act of daring would truly put to bed forever the terrible genetics that dictate you.

You lived two more years in your vegetative exile, which was just shy of the timetable any of us could afford to keep paying. Every tube and catheter and needle and poison was a line item on your outstanding medical bills, and unrolling the long scroll of your past-due notes was like watching the ending credits descend into a coffin, your name appearing so many times one would think you were the producer, director and star performer of your life. But we all knew that to be untrue. You were the unpaid sideshow act who went off the rails early in your career, your family playing the role of handlers and agents and enablers.

And we were sorry for it. Sorry for you.

Michael O'Neill is a fiction and poetry writer residing in Chicago. His work has appeared in Maudlin HouseWhiskeyPaper, Journal of MicroliteratureUnbroken Journal and Great Lakes Review, among others.