I was taking my five o’clock walk and was about to turn down the street I had lived on all my life when I suddenly realized it wasn’t that street at all. It was a street I had never seen before. This is what happens when you do things automatically. You stop seeing what’s around you. Like the fact that, at this moment, a crack in the sidewalk was rapidly widening into a deep gorge. I stopped just in time, peering down at a blue river far below. The whole gorge was bathed in the kind of pink glow you sometimes see at dawn that makes you want to jump out of bed and set off on an adventure. Long I stood there, oblivious to the honking traffic and sirens. I eyed a narrow ledge winding down along the walls, and a parade of people merrily laughing and singing as they descended into the depths. I thought I heard the faint strain of a drinking song I once knew in college. I waved and one of them waved back, inviting me to join them. I was just about to do so when I observed farther down that both the ledge and the parade came to an abrupt end as, one by one, people jumped into the gorge, all flapping their arms for a time as they plummeted to their certain deaths. Why did they flap their arms, I wondered? And why on earth didn’t they stop? Were they all insane? In vain, I yelled at them, but the mad procession continued in a grim wave of falling, flapping specks of humanity. Helplessly, I stared down at the river, oh so blue it broke my heart. And in that moment, I suddenly understood all the mysteries of life and death and the pull of a river that could make someone follow it wherever it leads. I felt an irresistible urge to join them. It was then that I realized that the gorge was slowly closing as the hidden world zipped shut beneath me, leaving nothing but a crack in the sidewalk. I stood there, befuddled. Then I realized my mistake. I had taken a left instead of a right. Resuming my walk, I resolved to pay better attention to where I am going.
Gene Twaronite is a Tucson poet, essayist, and children’s fiction writer. He is the author of ten books, including two juvenile fantasy novels as well as collections of essays, short stories, and poems. His poetry book Trash Picker on Mars (Kelsay Books) was the winner of the 2017 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Arizona poetry. His latest poetry collection is The Museum of Unwearable Shoes. Follow more of Gene’s writing at his website: thetwaronitezone.com.
When I pressed the button it stopped beeping, clicked and spun and a tired sound came into the room. “Hello, this is Frank,” it said. “I wanted you to know that my son, Johnny, died from an overdose of heroin last night. I didn’t want you to hear it from someone else.” There was a long uneasy pause, the dial tone burred, and went silent.
He hadn’t left a phone number and I felt a sudden sense of panic. I didn’t know any Frank. I pressed the button again and tried to recognize the intruder. “Hello, this is Frank. I wanted you to know that my son, Johnny, died from an overdose of heroin last night,” it said, but somehow the voice had changed. There was a vacant tone of relief in it as it repeated, “I didn’t want you to hear it from someone else.”
The cold burr of the dial tone returned and the whirr and click of flashing plastic was ready to do it all over again. I pressed the button a third time and the flashing clicked and beeped, sending out its horror from a voice I would never forget.
J.S. Kierland is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and the Yale Drama School. He has been writer-in-residence at New York’s Lincoln Center and Lab Theatre, Brandeis University, and Los Angeles Actor’s Theatre. He’s written two Hollywood films and rewritten several others but refuses to talk about them. Over 100 publications of his short stories have been published around the country in Collections, Reviews, and Magazines like Playboy, Fiction International, Oracle, International Short Story, Trajectory, Colere and many others. He has also edited two one-act play books, and has “15” of the best of his short stories published as a collection from Underground Voices, along with a novella ebook titled HARD TO LEARN.
On the day of the final exam, students walked into the classroom to find a long table lined with body parts inside jars. Confused, and not seeing their professor anywhere, they walked along the table and read the labels on the jars:
– #1: Albert Einstein’s Frontal Lobe
– #2: Frida Kahlo’s Hands
– #3: Chris Hemsworth’s Biceps
– #4: Joan Sutherland’s Lungs
– #5: Usain Bolt’s Feet
– #6: Jane Austen’s Temporal Lobe
– #7: Freddie Mercury’s Vocal Cords
– #8: Oprah Winfrey’s Mouth
– #9: Anthony Bourdain’s Tongue
– #10: Beyoncé’s Legs
– #11: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Heart
– #12: Mother Teresa’s Heart
One of the students noticed an envelope at the end of the table marked, “Please read aloud.” He picked it up and said:
“Hi, class. This is your final exam. You get to choose one jar to eat from. A few minutes after you’ve eaten, you will receive skills and talents related to the person’s body part you’ve selected. As there are only 12 of you, you must choose quickly. You will receive your grade after the test is complete. Once these instructions have been read aloud, you have precisely one minute to select and eat. I am watching. Go.”
The students were the best and brightest at the university, maybe the country. They scurried around the table, some diving for their desired jar, snatching off the lids, shoving the various body parts into their mouths.
After the minute passed, the students stood around the table alternating between looking at each other and looking down at themselves, blood smeared across their hands and faces, meat wedged between their teeth. Only one person stood apart from her classmates.
She clung to the wall, face ashen, body shaking, but as each of her classmates began to clutch at their throats, lines of red crossing across their eyes, gasping, reaching out for help, toppling to the floor, convulsing and then settling into grotesque stillness, she noticed the lone jar left on the table, the one that would have been hers, shining like a beacon, and she understood.
The door opened, and the professor walked in, beaming.
“Congratulations,” he said, shaking her hand. “You passed.”
Elison’s work has appeared or will be appearing in The Rumpus, The Santa Monica Review, The Portland Review, Lost Balloon, and other places. Elison has an MA in Creative Writing from Sacramento State and was selected as a Best Small Fictions 2020 winner. To learn more, please visit www.elisonalcovendaz.com.