Follow us on Instagram!

Our username is: thecellardoor.unc

We post updates about our submission deadlines and share our favorite covers from over the past few years of issues!

Advertisements

Submissions for Fall 2017 issue

Submissions for the fall 2017 issue of Cellar Door are now open until September 22nd at 11:59 PM!

See below for instructions:

You may submit a maximum of 3 poems, 3 works of fiction (10 pages double-spaced total), and 5 works of visual art.

All work must be submitted digitally.

POETRY/FICTION: Poetry and fiction must be submitted in MSDOC format. Your name must not appear anywhere in the body of the document. The document must be named in the following format:

YourLastName_TitleOfWork.doc

ART: Visual art must be in jpeg format. Color images will be accepted along with grayscale.

THE LONGEST DIMENSION MUST BE AT LEAST 1200 PIXELS. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.

The file must be named in the following format:

YourLastName_TitleOfWork.jpg

EMAIL POETRY TO: cellardoorpoetry@gmail.com

EMAIL FICTION TO: cellardoorfiction@gmail.com

EMAIL ARTWORK TO: cellardoorart@gmail.com

The body of the email should contain your name, email ad­dress, & titles of the submitted works. In addition, you must include your class, your major(s) and minor, and your home­town.

PLEASE: Don’t forget to attach your work!

Wabash

Staring out of four different windows, four friends with four different perspectives from the L train green line snaking above Holden and Wabash before turning left on Lake towards the West Side. As Ethan says, we’re going to get “loosey goosey.” It’s 11:45 a.m., our second day in Chicago. And we’re on our way to a brewery—me, Devin, Ethan, Graham.
Over and past the wide-set boulevards opening out into the Formal Gardens, Grant Park and the museums to the east. On the other side of the car a pale gray ochre of brick stretches high and weaves towards us, at times in courtyard-like spaces, at other times close enough for an outstretched arm to touch. The sky is still a mediated gray.
“Man it’s heavy out there, them streets are full today, boy,” says a man on the car.
“Lot’s of people, lot’s of people comin’ out for sure,” a companion adds.
At Van Buren we rejoin the Loop, the burning center of it all. Rather than disparate clots migrating in similar channels, the avenue pedestrians move as a singular mass now, pushing and pulling in herded waves that ripple to and fro: This side is going to the parks and probably the Bean, this side is going to the Board of Exchange. It’s a far cry from last night’s empty city. The commentator in the car resumes:
“I’m telling you man, shit’s about to happen.”
“Mmmmhmmm. That’s right. Them streets are burstin’ out, boy. Them things are ready.”
The car, previously filled with the white noise of distant garrulity, of idle phone comments, shuffling, and genial “how-do-you-dos,” grows quiet. Gradually. I turn around to view this public transport prophet and his conceding companion. Two seats to my right, he begins again:
“There’s going to be riots in Chicago today, boy.”
“Amen, brother.”
The first speaker, a small, salt-and-pepper bearded, freckled black man in a ragged overcoat with a cane in one hand, sits cross-legged holding a cigarette as if he’s going to light it right here on the train. The commentary momentarily ceased, he settles back into his seat and folds his hands over his lap agitatedly. His companion, a slightly younger looking, bald and tall black man in a jumpsuit and a baseball cap that he constantly removes to rub his head, stands by a door to the immediate right of Graham and Ethan. He, too, holds a cigarette between the index and middle fingers of one hand, twiddles a lighter as he looks out the door anxiously.
“An officer shoots an unarmed black boy, and the city knows about it, and they don’t do a damn thing. Cover it up and put the man on administrative leave. They pay him.” The prophet talks by thrusting out his cigarette hand with gusto, striking the air in front of his face. “Man had 18 complaints against him in his career. Eight-teen. That was an unarmed white boy you think we’d even be having this conversation? Think there’d be some fucking secret videotape? Think he’d be getting paid right now?”
“Hell no. Ain’t no goddam way…”
“And it for damn sure wouldn’t take no goddam year to figure out things…”
“No sir, no it fuckin’ wouldn’t…”
A debate smoldering across the country, blowing in from all sides, disparate dialogue fanning the flames over streets filled with, in fact, made up of fodder. How do we solve adversity, all adversity, of which a large part is the glaringly apparent malfeasance that causes racial adversity, when many are but kites and crows, battering about in the air for their share of a carcass…
“You guys talking about the Martin case?” Devin asks.
“Hell yeah we are,” the man responds as we bend onto Lake Street, heading out to the West Side of the city. “You hear what they’re doing now? They’re bringing in the Justice Department to come look at things. The Justice Department, man, they’re the fucking friends of that police officer. You think that’s going to do a damn thing? And they’re already taking too long on the verdict.”
“And they clearly need to do something soon, people are upset,” Devin says.
“Exactly man, exactly.”
Dev on my left, the man two seats to my right, both are leaning over to share— I’m in the conversation by mere virtue of turning my head. Their eye contact stipulates that I respond. I venture to share:
“Well…to be fair, they’re going to conduct the case in a way that doesn’t set a precedent of expedited justice, which is good in some ways…” Pause. Nervous. Try again. “To me…that at least is a good thing. Otherwise it could backfire against people who the law doesn’t tend to work fairly for.” The friendly nod I receive is confirming, I continue…
“I do agree though that this whole investigation and probe should have started a year ago when the police department was made aware of the situation. I also think that there needs to be definite prosecution by a democratically-chosen third party with limited ties to police organizations.”
“Exactly man, exactly. You don’t think the Justice Department has been here before? You think they did a damn thing to fix the Chicago Police? That force has been broken for years, dude. Years.” Sits back, throws up his hands. “The police riots of 1968, the corruption with the mob, Burge, Miedzianowski, fucking Daley, you think a goddamn thing is going to change if the same people come in to ‘fix things?’”
Devin leans in, too. Also loves speaking with his hands, I feel like a pool of gestures are collecting in my lap:
“It also shouldn’t just be focused on Chicago, right? I think this problem is a nationwide thing.” Vigorous mutual nodding. “Even if the details are as clear as this—which, we can all say….you just watch that video and there’s no doubt that the officer does something uncalled for—“
“—Not a single doubtable thing. And that man said he feared for his life? Is that why you keep shooting into a limp body?”
“—It confirms that there’s some kind of disconnect in the way we police, that there’s some crucial conversation that’s missing. You shouldn’t look at a police officer and feel scared or angry, right?”
“No sir, no way.”
I can’t tell if the other folks on the train are annoyed. But together we’re thriving.
“Police made me and my friend Taylor spend a night in jail for underage drinking in high school. They made a fucking joke of us in front of our whole fucking high school, and it was humiliating. It didn’t teach me anything other than not to respect the police.”
“Yes, ab-so-lute-ly.”
“You know,” I cut back in, “I’ve been reading that a lot of progressive critics say all this stuff should make us look back to the era of neighborhood policing. You know, back when officers were essentially a part of a community rather than acting like military out patrolling for wrongdoers. It was like neighbors looking out for other neighbors’ safety, there wasn’t this us-and-them divide.”
“Exactly,” Dev says. “Exactly.”
“Now, to get to the heat of it, I want to say that we all know—and keep in mind I’m not saying this to offend or affront you all,” the man says, tapping us on the shoulder, his hands raised as if in surrender, “That if this boy had happened to be of your…complexion…this wouldn’t be a debate at all. No. This man would have been put in jail and punished swiftly. And he most certainly would not have been given paid leave.”
“Oh no totally—you’re so right,” says Devin. “It’s a fact that it’s easier to be white in this country. It’s not a pretty one, but it’s there. I think it’s important to conversate about all—everyone’s—problems a whole, but I think that in order to have that conversation we have to recognize the divides. That’s how we can try and help change things and listen.”
“Oh—everyone’s got problems, no doubt in that,” says the prophet, “I just speak from what I know, and what I know is that there’s a problem with the police in this city.”
“And as someone that can’t talk from that perspective, it should be my duty to learn it and listen to your experience, then all of us conversate. In my opinion, that’s how I can best function as a human being—is having that ability to listen.”
“And that’s all we can do, brother: listen. As long as you all keep listening, things are going to change.” He rises from his seat, “Pleasure talking to you young gentleman today,” shakes our hands. “You have a good one, now.”
He taps his companion on the shoulder and they exit at Clark Street, two blocks north of Courthouse Square.
“Good luck with everything,” Devin calls after. They wave back to us as the train pulls away from the platform. Ethan and Graham move over to the two seats to my right.
“Bro…,” Ethan whispers, “That almost got intense.”
“Yeah, I felt that,” I reply.
“I mean, you know…it’s like I agreed with pretty much everything everyone ended up saying, but I freeze up in those situations. I don’t know if I should even say anything.”
“It was good to hear him expand on what he was upset about,” Graham adds. “You know, I’m not big into the news, to be totally honest, but I feel like when I do get into them it always seems like everyone out there doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. They’re just ranting. That guy seemed pretty fucking knowledgeable. Like he definitely knew and felt that shit.”
“Oh totally, totally,” Devin says. “And it’s all about those crucial conversations. You just have to be ready to listen and hope that people give you the privilege of trusting you enough to talk to you. He shouldn’t have had to feel like he was talking to nobody.”
We disembark at the Ashland Avenue station in the Near West Side, across the Chicago River from our host Jake’s neighborhood of the West Loop.
The now-clearing skyline is framed portrait-like by the iron rails of the station bridge, a vista so impressive we have to document it in pictures. It’s hard to imagine that unrest could exist in such a beautiful scene, but alas, not 135 years ago, just south of here, used to stand the residence of the O’Leary family. I laugh; I’m sure the stargazers on that fateful day of Oct. 10 were thinking the same thing before they found themselves fleeing the cupolas as the same vistas began burning…
A single spark conflated by winds and neglect into conflagration, the city serving as its own fueling fodder for wasted energy. Not even the pump house, full of alleviating water, was left standing. Some called it “The Scourge of the Queen of the West,” a response to the irresponsible decadence of Chicago’s expansion. Others called it a “blind Samson” unwitting of whether it worked for good or for evil, a possible boon to developers rather than a tragedy.
The Jungle was written in 1906. The Fire happened in 1871.
A reporter said of a consumed building: “He will look about as good as new, though the traces of the wounds are still visible, if you know where to look for them…”
Where did things stand now, if any differently?

Wabash, by Bo McMillan

 

Staring out of four different windows, four friends with four different perspectives from the L train green line snaking above Holden and Wabash before turning left on Lake towards the West Side. As Ethan says, we’re going to get “loosey goosey.” It’s 11:45 a.m., our second day in Chicago. And we’re on our way to a brewery—me, Devin, Ethan, Graham.

Over and past the wide-set boulevards opening out into the Formal Gardens, Grant Park and the museums to the east. On the other side of the car a pale gray ochre of brick stretches high and weaves towards us, at times in courtyard-like spaces, at other times close enough for an outstretched arm to touch. The sky is still a mediated gray.

“Man it’s heavy out there, them streets are full today, boy,” says a man on the car.

“Lot’s of people, lot’s of people comin’ out for sure,” a companion adds.

At Van Buren we rejoin the Loop, the burning center of it all. Rather than disparate clots migrating in similar channels, the avenue pedestrians move as a singular mass now, pushing and pulling in herded waves that ripple to and fro: This side is going to the parks and probably the Bean, this side is going to the Board of Exchange. It’s a far cry from last night’s empty city. The commentator in the car resumes:

“I’m telling you man, shit’s about to happen.”

“Mmmmhmmm. That’s right. Them streets are burstin’ out, boy. Them things are ready.”

The car, previously filled with the white noise of distant garrulity, of idle phone comments, shuffling, and genial “how-do-you-dos,” grows quiet. Gradually. I turn around to view this public transport prophet and his conceding companion. Two seats to my right, he begins again:

“There’s going to be riots in Chicago today, boy.”

“Amen, brother.”

The first speaker, a small, salt-and-pepper bearded, freckled black man in a ragged overcoat with a cane in one hand, sits cross-legged with a holding a cigarette as if he’s going to light it right here on the train. The commentary momentarily ceased, he settles back into his seat and folds hid hands over his lap agitatedly. His companion, a slightly younger looking, bald and tall black man in a jumpsuit and a baseball cap that he constantly removes to rub his head, stands by a door to the immediate right of Graham and Ethan. He, too, holds a cigarette between the index and middle fingers of one hand, twiddles a lighter as he looks out the door anxiously.

“An officer shoots an unarmed black boy, and the city knows about it, and they don’t do a damn thing. Cover it up and put the man on administrative leave. They pay him.” The prophet talks by thrusting out his cigarette hand with gusto, striking the air in front of his face. “Man had 18 complaints against him in his career. Eight-teen. That was an unarmed white boy you think we’d even be having this conversation? Think there’d be some fucking secret videotape? Think he’d be getting paid right now?”

“Hell no. Ain’t no goddam way…”

“And it for damn sure wouldn’t take no goddam year to figure out things…”

“No sir, no it fuckin’ wouldn’t…”

A debate smoldering across the country, blowing in from all sides, disparate dialogue fanning the flames over streets filled with, in fact, made up of fodder. How do we solve adversity, all adversity, of which a large part is the glaringly apparent malfeasance that causes racial adversity, when many are but kites and crows, battering about in the air for their share of a carcass…

“You guys talking about the Martin case?” Devin asks.

“Hell yeah we are,” the man responds as we bend onto Lake Street, heading out to the West Side of the city. “You hear what they’re doing now? They’re bringing in the Justice Department to come look at things. The Justice Department, man, they’re the fucking friends of that police officer. You think that’s going to do a damn thing? And they’re already taking too long on the verdict.”

“And they clearly need to do something soon, people are upset,” Devin says.

“Exactly man, exactly.”

Dev on my left, the man two seats to my right, both are leaning over to share— I’m in the conversation by mere virtue of turning my head. Their eye contact stipulates that I respond. I venture to share:

“Well…to be fair, they’re going to conduct the case in a way that doesn’t set a precedent of expedited justice, which is good in some ways…” Pause. Nervous. Try again. “To me…that at least is a good thing. Otherwise it could backfire against people who the law doesn’t tend to work fairly for.” The friendly nod I receive is confirming, I continue…

“I do agree though that this whole investigation and probe should have started a year ago when the police department was made aware of the situation. I also think that there needs to be definite prosecution by a democratically-chosen third party with limited ties to police organizations.”

“Exactly man, exactly. You don’t think the Justice Department has been here before? You think they did a damn thing to fix the Chicago Police? That force has been broken for years, dude. Years.” Sits back, throws up his hands. “The police riots of 1968, the corruption with the mob, Burge, Miedzianowski, fucking Daley, you think a goddamn thing is going to change if the same people come in to ‘fix things?’”

Devin leans in, too. Also loves speaking with his hands, I feel like a pool of gestures are collecting in my lap:

“It also shouldn’t just be focused on Chicago, right? I think this problem is a nationwide thing.” Vigorous mutual nodding. “Even if the details are as clear as this—which, we can all say….you just watch that video and there’s no doubt that the officer does something uncalled for—“

“—Not a single doubtable thing. And that man said he feared for his life? Is that why you keep shooting into a limp body?”

“—It confirms that there’s some kind of disconnect in the way we police, that there’s some crucial conversation that’s missing. You shouldn’t look at a police officer and feel scared or angry, right?”

“No sir, no way.”

Clamor into ardor. Together, we’re thriving.

“Police made me and my friend Taylor spend a night in jail for underage drinking in high school. They made a fucking joke of us in front of our whole fucking high school, and it was humiliating. It didn’t teach me anything other than not to respect the police.”

“Yes, ab-so-lute-ly.”

“You know,” I cut back in, “I’ve been reading that a lot of progressive critics say all this stuff should make us look back to the era of neighborhood policing. You know, back when officers were essentially a part of a community rather than acting like military out patrolling for wrongdoers. It was like neighbors looking out for other neighbors’ safety, there wasn’t this us-and-them divide.”

“Exactly,” Dev says. “Exactly.”

“Now, to get to the heat of it, I want to say that we all know—and keep in mind I’m not saying this to offend or affront you all,” the man says, tapping us on the shoulder, his hands raised as if in surrender, “That if this boy had happened to be of your…complexion…this wouldn’t be a debate at all. No. This man would have been put in jail and punished swiftly. And he most certainly would not have been given paid leave.”

“Oh no totally—you’re so right,” says Devin. “It’s a fact that it’s easier to be white in this country. It’s not a pretty one, but it’s there. I think it’s important to conversate about all—everyone’s—problems a whole, but I think that in order to have that conversation we have to recognize the divides. That’s how we can try and help change things and listen.”

“Oh—everyone’s got problems, no doubt in that,” says the prophet, “I just speak from what I know, and what I know is that there’s a problem with the police in this city.”

“And as someone that can’t talk from that perspective, it should be my duty to learn it and listen to your experience, then all of us conversate. In my opinion, that’s how I can best function as a human being—is having that ability to listen.”

“And that’s all we can do, brother: listen. As long as you all keep listening, things are going to change.” He rises from his seat. “Pleasure talking to you young gentleman today.” He shakes our hands. “You have a good one, now.”

He taps his companion on the shoulder and they exit at Clark Street, two blocks north of Courthouse Square.

“Good luck with everything,” Devin calls after. They wave back to us as the train pulls away from the platform. Ethan and Graham move over to the two seats to my right.

“Bro…,” Ethan whispers, “That almost got intense.”

“Yeah, I felt that,” I reply.

“I mean, you know…it’s like I agreed with pretty much everything everyone ended up saying, but I freeze up in those situations. I don’t know if I should even say anything.”

“For me it was good to hear him expand on what he was upset about,” Graham adds. “You know, I’m not big into the news, like, to be totally honest, but I feel like when I do get into them it always seems like everyone out there doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about or they’re just ranting. That guy seemed pretty fucking knowledgeable. Like he definitely knew and felt that shit.”

“Oh totally, totally,” Devin says. “And it’s all about those crucial conversations. You just have to be ready to listen and hope that people give you the privilege of trusting you enough to talk to you. He shouldn’t have had to feel like he was talking to nobody.”

We disembark at the Ashland Avenue station in the Near West Side, across the Chicago River from Jake’s neighborhood of the West Loop.

The now-clearing skyline is framed portrait-like by the iron rails of the station bridge, a vista so impressive we have to document it in pictures. It’s hard to imagine that unrest could exist in such a beautiful scene, but alas, not 135 years ago, just south of here, used to stand the residence of the O’Leary family. I laugh; I’m sure the stargazers on that fateful day of Oct. 10 were thinking the same thing before they found themselves fleeing the cupolas as the vistas began burning…

A single spark conflated by winds and neglect into conflagration, the city serving as its own fueling fodder for wasted energy. Not even the pump house, full of alleviating water, was left standing. Some called it “The Scourge of the Queen of the West,” a response to the irresponsible decadence of Chicago’s expansion. Others called it a “blind Samson” unwitting of whether it worked for good or for evil, a possible boon to developers rather than a tragedy.

The Jungle was written in 1906. The Fire happened in 1871.

A reporter said of a consumed building: “He will look about as good as new, though the traces of the wounds are still visible, if you know where to look for them…”

            Where did things stand now, if any differently?

Rosie Septic, by Matthew Kerber

We had 4000 gallons of rose gold, liquefied pig shit in the back of our truck and we were

in a $10,000 rat race to get to South Carolina. My colleague (Joey Gent, as in gentleman) and I

(Johnny James) picked up the job a little before sunset yesterday. Bring our septic truck, drain a

tankful of this pig factory’s “lagoon,” and dump it in a station in little place called Ketchuptown

in South Carolina. An extremely weird job, for sure. But ten grand for 60 miles? You can’t pass

up that kind of dirt.

Joey and I were septic tank pumpers. We worked on the outskirts of Lumberton and all

down 211 clearing out people’s tanks. Joey was a good kid. He chose decent music and was

smart, but just dim enough sometimes to be quite an entertaining partner. I started working the

truck with my father right after high school in ‘93, about fifteen years ago. Then when my old

man had to quit a little over a year back, I found Joey, fresh out of Lumberton High, just like I

had been. My father knew Joey’s father’s brother and somebody said something about the kid

needing both a bit of discipline and bit of money.

“You ever cleared a septic tank?” I asked him after his daddy dropped him off for his first

“Once with a cherry bomb,” he said.

He got the job.

We met the guy with the job off of 95 a little outside St. Pauls. He was from the

Smithfield plant over in Tar Heel. The best dressed and least southern farmer in North Carolina.

One of those sleek types that doesn’t know a thing about a pig except for how much a warehouse

full of them is worth. “How much does it hold?” The man asked. Joey bragged about our 4500

gallon tank. I slapped the side of it with a dull empty echo. Bright blue with bold white peeling

‘SEPTIC’ painted in a block on the hull.

“That’s plenty.” The man peered under a paper on a clipboard.

“What do you have there?” I mocked.

The man tilted it back towards his body and let out a cough halfway between a laugh and

a sigh. “We need the excrement gone as fast as possible. We were just notified about a surprise

inspection tomorrow and if we’re over capacity on our pools again, which we currently are, we

will face all fucking hell from the EPA.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “So on top of the ten

thousand we’re paying you and a dozen other septic crews, we’re dishing out a twenty grand

bonus.”

“Hold on a second,” I said, “thirty grand? For a morning of work?”

The man shook his head. “That bonus is if, and that’s a big if, you two are the first ones to

unload your 4000 gallons in South Carolina.” That sonofabitch didn’t think we could do it.

“You must really want it gone,” Joey said.

The man nodded. “You have no idea, kid. We’ve got less than 24 hours and we need it

far, far away from anyone who cares. So keep nice and quiet about it if you want to get paid.

Smithfield might be losing a factory if someone catches wind of this.”

I really wouldn’t have minded that.

This was the shit, the real shitty shit. There were a dozen other vacuum trucks in line at

the gate of the lot when we got there a little before 7am. They were all clunkers, couldn’t suck

the jelly out a doughnut. All but the one at the head of the line. After no more than a minute of us

sitting there, a kid of no more than thirteen ran out and unlocked the gate letting the line of us

through. We all circled around one of the lakes in the clearing spread out about five miles from

Tar Heel. The “lagoons” were raised embankments about ten feet tall, half a football field in size,

and held eight deep feet of shining maroon pig liquids. There were two, both paired with a set of

longhouses squealing with stationary pork which were connected to a long row of pipes running

out the side to drain into the pools. A really terrible way to raise pigs. The meat came out tasting

so much worse from all the stuff they pumped into them. Whoever “owned” this “farm” was for

sure getting screwed over by the guys that hired us.

We took a spot near the end of the closest pool and parked, fed the hose of the truck out

as far as it would go, locked it in tight, then kicked the sucker into high gear. Joey hopped up on

the side of the truck and grabbed two buck lawn chairs wedged in a rack attached on the side of

the tank. He tossed one down to me and jumped off the side with his tucked under arm. We

unfolded them in step, just as the sun peaked over the tops of the trees, lounging back on the

crest of the gently rolling bank on the edge of our lagoon that held back a flood of shit and blood.

Our truck was old but we had just put in a new Fruitland compressor that was sucking as

fast as it could dump. Got it off an antiquer in Fayetteville who was trying to get rid of a busted

up vacuum truck. That thing didn’t have an intact piece on it but the pump looked like it was

fresh off the line. He didn’t have a clue he should be asking about eight grand. I got him down to

900 bucks.

So we leisurely watched for the hose to catch something too big to swallow, it would start

wiggling and gurgling louder, but it was flowing smooth as a creek. Ripples circled outwards

from above the roundabouts of the hoses shoved into the lagoon. Our ripples were the biggest,

Joey knew with an eager look on his face. The other guys knew too. Last ones to start, first tank

full. We’d be out of there in an hour, tops.

The truck next to us was from Dogwood Drainers; the most stupid sons a bitches to ever

clear a septic tank. They set a little old lady’s house on fire a month ago when the boss’ son lit a

cigarette while he was leaning over the manhole. One of them had been staring at us for a good

five minutes before he stuck his thumbs in his waistband and walked on over. Big, slow, dumb

looking strides. Randy Owens, owner and boner: “Looks like you boys got yourself a new

pump,” he had to shout over the dense drone of compressors all around the lagoon.

We got up and walked down the bank no more than two yards from our chairs. “Yessir

we did. A Fruitland W1600, water cooled. Can’t beat it,” Joey had the most perfect shit eating

grin on his face. Randy was too old to be such a smug ass. He was more salt than pepper, a short,

patchy, but well-hidden, beard. 55 years of being a piece of, and disposing of, shit. “We should

be out of your hair soon enough,” I said catching Joey’s grin.

“Sure, sure you will, son.” He spit off to his side. “Me and my boy will be finishing up

right soon now,” They were feeding in two hoses with two Jurop Lc420s, a great lower top of the

line pump, to a single tank. Excessive, he knew it too, and louder than hell, but their truck was

nice enough (brown with ugly white flowers) to run them both and run them well.

Little Randy Owens (Leslie Owens) who had been sitting against the front right tire of

their truck picking at his elbow since we got there, walked on over to join his daddy in the

banter. “Nice truck,” he said, “think it’ll make it all the way to South Carolina?”

“Jesus, God… Leslie, shut the hell up,” Joey rolled his eyes far enough back in his head

to get a glimpse of our blue beauty. Joey graduated from Lumberton High in ’06, a year before

Leslie. Before either of us even realized that I already knew for myself, Joey used to (and still

does) tell me about how much of a dumbass ‘this kid Leslie’ at his high school was.

“Fuck you too, Joanne,” little Randy shouted.

“With all due respect, Mr. Owens,” Joey turned just the slightest to face him, “I will not

hesitate to hit your child.” I snorted and gave Randy a look that said I mean come on that’s pretty

Randy slapped Leslie on the back of the head, I mean hard. “Get your ass back over

“Well we’ll see you in Ketchuptown, Owens!” I said through mine and Joey’s laughter. A

sharp gargle cut through the drone of the Owens’ overcompensating twin Lc420s and crackled

behind us. Our hose started to pitch.

“Shit, shit, shit, Joey go kill it!” He ran over to shut down the pump.

“Might wanna get that fixed before you head down to South Carolina,” Old Randy said,

“We’ll wait up for y’all once we’re there, Johnny.” He slitted his eyes, grinned, and walked back

over to his truck.

I gave a strong tug on the hose, cussing to myself. It budged a little but was stuck on

something. I kept a steady hold and followed it up the bank. Out there in the middle of the

crimson sea was the most unfortunate pig floating along, squealing its head off, trying to stay

above the surface. I couldn’t hear it over the ruckus around the lake, but its mouth was wide and

yelling. I gave a hard tug on the hose and the pig inched towards my edge of the bank.

“Goddammit,” I groaned. The hose was stuck tight around its back leg. The pump was done

sucking but the hose wasn’t done sticking. I started reeling it in. “Joey, come help me with this!”

He ran up next to me and grabbed the hose and pulled it with me. “What’s it stuck— what in the

hell is that?”

“That’s a pig Joey. It’s what made this goldmine of a mess. And it’s stuck in our hose.

Come on, come on, pull the thing.”

We got a grip on the hose and started walking it backwards down the bank. The pig came

out of the liquid, we couldn’t see it but felt when the hundred lbs. of pork slid up onto the plastic

liner of the lagoon. We gave a few more big ones and then a final heave and could see the pig

make it just barely to the top of the bank flailing around unable to stand up. We rushed up to it. It

was a shoat, probably just barely small enough to slip out of the factory. The little thing was just

squealing its head off trying to run somewhere but stuck halfway on its back and halfway on its

“Hold him down for me, Joey.”

He tried his best to get a grip on the pig, but his hand just slid right off, wiping big wet

patches of some really awful slime down the side of it. He couldn’t get a hold so he just sat down

on him and put the shank with the hose stuck on it in between his own two legs. I gave the

biggest yank I could and I’ll be damned if I wouldn’t have torn the poor thing’s leg clean away if

the hose hadn’t have come off. It gave a loud wet suction pop and I fell backwards, almost down

the bank, letting go of the hose. Unfortunately for Joey, who hadn’t been working a septic truck

anywhere near as long as about every guy out here, he forgot the cardinal danger of septic

vacuuming: backfire. Every once in a while, when a hose goes and gets clogged, there’s a pretty

big buildup of pressure. Now the pump takes care of most of that pressure with some sorts of

safety release valve, but not all of it. And when the blockage is cleared, the pressure takes the

easiest route out.

Joey got up off of the pig, which sort of hobbled to its feet and started running in circles,

and he picked up the hose. A spray of something a little too red and a little too chunky careened

out of the end of that thing like it had somewhere to be. Backfire.

I tried to clench my jaw shut. I tried to keep from saying something. I really did. I nodded

toward the pig. Giving a terrible attempt at holding back a smile, “How embarrassing. You two

wore the same thing.” I about passed out from laughing. He threw the hose out into the lagoon,

flicked me off, walked down to the truck and started the pump back up. “Aww come on man,

I’m just messing with you. It happens to everyone.” He pulled off his gloves first and then his

clothes all the way down to his white and red heart spotted boxers. We had a huge water tank

above the pump for flushing jobs. He pulled off one of the hoses to it and started washing off the

maroon that had covered him head to toe.

I made a clicking noise in the side of my cheek and called the pig over. He had stopped

running in circles and seemed fairly calm, limping a bit, but fine. I called at him again. He slowly

hobbled on over keeping his head close to the ground. I put my hand out to him and he sniffed at

it. “You must be some kind of Houdini getting out of that hell hole.” I patted him on the head,

appreciating the nice layer of glove between us. I called over to Joey, “Hey why don’t you clean

off plopper here while you’re at it?”

Joey flicked me off again. I walked her (as I found out) over to the truck. The pig took a

quick liking to him. I guess she felt a little at home, smelling something so similar. They can

smell about ten times as well as dogs. We had a plump little Yorkshire pig when I was growing

up. He was the runt of the litter. The classic tale of my father wanting to get rid of it and my

sister and I being just the right age to plead to keep it. My dad was a pig farmer, and a damn

good one. My family had a decent sized farm on the edge of Elizabethtown, about twenty miles

from Tar Heel. We kept about 150 pigs on a nice big slab of land. Then Smithfield rolled up in

’91. It only took two years before we had to sell the farm. Dad took his old hog feed truck and

slapped a vacuum on it and started clearing septic tanks. I joined in a year later.

I checked the level on the tank. “We’re at 3950 gallons.”

“Nah shit. I checked,” Joey said. He was cleaning the pig now, which actually was

washing off pretty well. Couldn’t have been out there too long.

“Man calm down. It’s a rite of passage.” I made a grand gesture with my hand.

“Everybody gets backfired on once. It happened to me when I started working with my old man,

second month on the job. And it happened to him the first fucking tank he drained,” I laughed.

“You’ll never make that mistake again. I sure didn’t.”

That seemed to make him feel a little better. “This guy is kinda cute,” Joey said as he

scratched her between the ears. She slowly lifted her snout to the sky as he did it, in a way that

only pigs do, and she looked up there for a while, even after he stopped scratching her. “I wonder

why he’s so calm around us.”

“It’s a gal, actually. It’s the first time she’s been outside. Pigs love people too. Let’s cap

it right at 4000, and get this show on the road.” Her fur was stained light red fading in from her

middle down. Joey was still in his boxers and drying her off now. “The Owens over there are

about done. Twenty more grand, man. That’s fifteen skins for each of us.” They were doing the

same thing. Standing, watching the gauge impatiently. Little Randy had clothes on though.

“What should we do with her?” Joey asked. “Should we tell someone in one of the

longhouses?”

“Nah they’ll just toss her in the scraps. They’re not gonna use anything that’s been in

that.” I tilted my head towards the lagoon.

Joey looked down at the pig who was sniffing his feet. “We’ll let her ride with us then.

We can find some farm to take her on the way back from South Carolina.”

I gave him a real disapproving look. “No,” I said. “We’re about to hit 4000. Go put some

clothes on.”

Both of the lagoons looked to be about half empty now. There was a change in the air.

Everyone heard it. Even through the drone of a dozen trucks pumping away. The twin Lc420s

next to us had been cut off. “Joey,” I shouted to him on the other side of the truck. I followed the

hose up the bank and got ready to pull it out. “Joey, what’s it say?” Where the hell was that kid?

The Owens had reeled in the hose and were getting in the cab. I casually flicked Randy off.

“Joey!” He came around the back of the truck, still in his heart boxers. He killed the pump.

“We’re good, we’re good! 4000! Pull it!” he yelled to me. I reeled that hose in, and Joey wound

it up and cinched it so fast that we should have timed it. Bits of filth flung every which way. We

were climbing up into the cab soon as Big and Little Randy had started rolling away from the

lagoon.

There was a pig in the middle of the cab. She looked me square in the eyes when I

opened the door. “God dammit Joey!” He jumped in the passenger side and gave me a timid grin,

still in his boxers. The Dogwood Dumbasses were making their way well down the road now.

“Put some fucking pants on.” I slammed the door, shoved the pig over into the middle, and

jammed the clutch in way too hard.

They were a good bit out ahead of us after we left Smithfield, but still in sight. Didn’t

seem like we were losing or gaining any space. Their truck might have been a hell of a lot newer,

but it was way too big for that to make a difference. We were passing through the main strip of

Tar Heel: a middle school, a gas station and a Subway. They didn’t turn where I expected them

to. “Damn, I thought they would go through Lumberton. They’re taking 131. That’s my route.” I

took my next turn a little too sharply. “Well we’ll go the other way and see if we get lucky.”

The pig had such an oddly familiar smell. I rolled my window down and told Joey to do

the same. It was rancid as could be, but it wasn’t her fault. Joey, who was still in his boxers, was

scratching her ear and the thing had a dumb content smile with its head cocked and mouth

halfway open. “I’m gonna name her Rosie.”

I sighed. “Well shit, Joey. Now you have to keep her.”

We headed along 72 to and passed through Fair Bluff right on the border. That’s where

we’d see the Dumpholes again if we had kept at the same speed. But we couldn’t tell if they were

five miles ahead or five miles behind.

We pull up to a red light just on the inside edge of the border, probably the last one for

miles. We couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes from Ketchuptown. Rosie had her head

in Joey’s lap. I start to pull through the intersection when I heard a squeal from the pig and

another from Joey.

“Rosie! She just leaped through the window, man!” Joey stuck his head out the window

to look for her. We weren’t going fast, so she’d probably be all right, but that was a tall fall.

“Pull the truck over,” Joey said.

“Oh no. No way. This is your own damn fault,” I said. No pig’s worth twenty grand.

“The hell do you mean? We can’t just leave her out there,” Joey said.

“Joey, we’re ten miles away.”

“Please pull the truck over, Johnny. Please.” I had never heard the kid so serious.

“Goddammit, Joey!” I grumbled. I yanked the wheel a little too hard to the right and

brought the truck to a stop about halfway off the road. We were out in a long stretch of corn

running on either side of us with the road sliced down the middle.

“She’s up there,” Joey pointed up beyond the truck as we climbed out, Joey still only

wearing his boxers and boots. I decided to start bringing spare clothes after that. Somehow Rosie

had gotten in front of us. She was sitting in the middle of the road looking up at the sky. “Come

here Rosie! Here Rosie!” Joey called out.

“Great job. I’m sure she’s got her name really locked down by now,” I gave a little soo-

wee and she looked down from the sky at me.

A green four door appeared at the edge of a bend in the corn up the road. It came

barreling down behind Rosie with no sign of slowing down. We jumped up and down waving

our arms and shouting. Joey started to run towards her but I grabbed his shoulder before he

could. The car was too old for anti-lock so it skidded and pulled a ninety degree turn completely

to its side. It stopped about two feet from Rosie. She cocked her head slowly then looked over

her shoulder at the car. She did a little trot over to the side of the road, then started walking back

towards us. We exhaled.

“You alright ma’am?” I shouted up to the car. She waved back at me, visibly shaken, but

alright. She started to back up.

There was a massive screech of tires from behind us.

The lady slammed the brakes then threw it in drive and gunned it into the rows of corn to

our left, a look of absolute terror on her face as she barreled into the stalks. The Dogwood

Drainers truck barreled by me about three feet from knocking my hair off. It started to pitch to

the right trying to avoid the lady’s car as they slammed the brakes. It slid, slid, slid, and

suspended in the air at the perfect angle of balance on its left set of tires, then toppled over on its

side releasing the foulest rose gold liquid all across the road.

The liquid was spreading out all around us now. Joey and I ran up to the truck trying to

avoid splashing around in puddles of it; Joey already smelled bad enough. We helped Bignlittle

Randy climb from the cab out of the now-sunroof side door. Little Randy had been driving of

course. They were fine, a little woozy, but it didn’t keep Randy from smacking the hell out of

Leslie. The lady backed slowly out of the corn stalks, that same look on her face, then booked it

out of there, having gotten enough close calls to last her a few years.

“Y’all sure you’re alright?” I said.

They both nodded. Old Randy just looked at the truck, fuming, probably pondering how

his son ended up being such a dumbass. Boy I wished I could’ve seen Leslie’s face when he

yanked that wheel to the right.

“Good,” I said, “that’s good to hear. I’m really glad. Because it sure does smell like one

of you might’ve shit your pants.” Joey and I bent over laughing. Little Randy turned beet red,

which later went down in our book as a sign of him not having understood our reference to the

pig shit, meaning he must have actually shat in his pants.

We pulled in to the lot in Ketchuptown about a quarter hour later, leaving the ungodly

mess behind for the two stooges. There was a man waiting on a bench at the edge of the road

where it turned into dirt. He was sitting out in the late morning heat wearing black pants and a

short sleeve white button down dress shirt, heavy wet patches under his arms. We stopped the

truck and he walked over to us.

“Y’all coming from Smithfield?” He called up to me. Young kid. Just a little older than

I nodded. “Got a tankful back there.” Rosie crossed over me, stuck her head out the

window and grunted. Joey was holding onto her back legs, grinning at me.

The kid raised an eyebrow. “Is that one of ours?”

“Nope. Picked him up on the side of the road.”

He left his eyebrow up. “My daddy is waiting just up the road where you need to dump

“Then why are you out here?” Joey called from across the seat, laughing.

We drove up the path and parked next to a little white one room house. The man that

gave us the job opened up the screen door and stepped out onto the porch. We climbed out of the

truck. The man gave a strange look at Joey in his boxers and boots.

“Congratulations, boys,” he said with his arms crossed and missing the customary smile

that comes along with a congratulations. “Y’all are the first ones here.” The sketchy sonofabitch

paid in cash of course. Joey and I both got a stack of 150 hundreds.

“Say, did y’all happen to see another truck headed this way?” The man asked us while his

son was emptying our truck outside into what must have been a huge underground tank. “I was

told from up there that you two and another crew left way before any of the other trucks.”

Joey and I looked at each other, grinning. I nodded at him. After you.

“You’re gonna be about 4000 gallons short,” Joey said.

The blood drained from the guys face, I mean he went white. “What exactly do you mean

by that?” he spoke quietly.

“They had a little mishap on the road,” I said.

“Son of a bitch,” the guy said under his breath. He snatched some keys off his desk then

ran out the door. We followed him, trying to hold back our laughter. The guy started yelling at

his son who had just finished tying up our hoses, frantically trying to get him to understand the

severity of the situation. He ran off yelling something about “Call Terry! Call Terry and get his

ass down here,” then jumped in a white Ford and sped off the way we came. That was the last we

saw of him. We hopped back in the truck where Rosie sat patiently in the cab. I tossed the manila

envelope of cash over to Joey as I climbed in and we left on the highway back up towards North

Carolina.

A couple months later we heard that the EPA caught wind of the whole fiasco and

dropped an $8,200,000 fine on Smithfield for trying to hide their shit. Still, the Dirtbag

Dumpheads had to give up one of their older trucks to pay for the cleanup of the spill. Joey and I

bought it for nice and cheap. We painted our old one and the new one a nice light red and put a

big maroon Rosie Septic along the side with a little drawing of a pig. Rosie rode along on most of

our jobs after that and the customers just loved her. Especially that little old lady that Little

Randy almost caught on fire.

The Mindkiller

You are a space captain. You look out the window and the blackness consumes

you. It sinks in your bones, and you feel almost swallowed up by it. It’s always made you

feel uneasy thinking about how vast space is but fucking small it makes you feel. You’ve

had dreams where that blackness is a shadow and it slithers up like dark water and gooey

tar looking to blot you out like some little white speck on a perfectly black canvas. You

never thought space was the place for things. You’ve always felt like that daunting

smudge of coal back-dropping the night sky never wanted you there. Nothing bore

something and it felt like it was really pissed about it. You’ve considered that, maybe,

God’s way of dealing with this issue was the black hole. Like it was a higher class of

dark angel awaiting us at every corner to turn us back to the nothing we belong. You’ll

never tell anyone that.

You’ve arrived at Nebulon 876-Y and are looking for the heavy element, Iridium

4. You don’t know what any of that is or if you even said it right. But it doesn’t matter

because your job isn’t getting the names right, it’s getting the people right. Everyone

loves away-teams. A whole bunch of people squeezed into a can that’s waiting to be

eaten up by the darkness and all they want is to get out and meet it. You think the men

are crazy, but you don’t blame them for wanting to stretch their legs. Sometimes, when

you haven’t quite met the day yet, you think about opening the door to go for a walk. I

guess there’s something to be said about home and humanity – they never leave you.

You build up your away team and you send them off to search the cosmic body.

Everyone expects you to stay on deck throughout the mission but you excuse yourself for

a glass of scotch. You hate that crap, tastes like burning oil to you, but you drink it

because the doors just opened and you’re glad you’re not swallowed whole by that black

shit outside. You go back out. You let them assume you had to piss or that you drink

because you’re an alcoholic. Honestly, anything is better than letting them think you’re

scared of the dark. You watch the screen and realize you are, in fact, not watching the

screen. You are blacking out and all you can feel is the sensation of falling.

Something catches you and you feel like you’re in an endless dark room by

yourself. You suddenly are scared and angry at the same time. You begin to scream. You

scream louder and louder thinking that maybe someone is far away but can still hear you.

You feel like your screaming into nothing, and the deafness of your surroundings scares

you. You begin to believe you’ve been sucked into a void in space. Then, you hear a faint

noise. Oh god, finally! It tells you to breathe. You think, ridiculously, “Holy shit! How

am I going to breathe? There’s no air in space!” but you try anyway. It hurts. You breathe

again, but harder, and it hurts more. Then you hear someone say “SLOWER! YOU

NEED TO BREATHE SLOWER!” So you breathe slower. But that hurts too. You keep

doing it until, quite suddenly, your conscious and looks as though nothing has happened.

One of your men looks at you and smirks, asks if you’re okay, and you self-consciously

continue on looking at the screen. To you, this must have happened, but everyone seems

so calm. Are you going crazy? Are they really that untroubled? Is this all in your head?

You go on your day and finish out the mission like, well, maybe you’re just crazy.

You look in the mirror before bed and ignore the normal figures you think you see in the

background. “They aren’t real. This isn’t happening. Nothing exists.” You mutter to

yourself. Panic. Fear. You lay down, you take a deep breath, and you look straight up to

tell yourself blankly that it’s okay. You notice the shadow falling from the ceiling, and

start to check yourself to make sure you’re not having another panic attack. That’s what

happened today, you tell yourself, JUST a panic attack. You close your eyes and open

them. You pinch your skin. But the figure has begun to take form. You search for your

anxiety meds as you begin to cry. You realize the meds don’t matter because the

sensation of his cold hand on your shoulder is too real to be a delusion. This isn’t a

dream. The shadow is standing before you, his eyes a piercing light. He doesn’t speak but

you understand him and why he is there. He is the Mindkiller. He creeps through the

night and within your fears. He manifests them and belittles them. He is the darkness that

takes your beliefs and your comfort. He exists to remind you of your fate. He is fear itself

and he exists before you to remind you that the only way to move on is to face him. He

does not harm you. His hands are on your head and smoothly patting down your back.

The coolness of the dark soothes you. There is comfort in sitting too long in the presence

of fear. You realize that avoiding him has been the cause of your pain, your anguish, your

tears, your hyperventilations.

The void. The darkness. They are your true home. They are where you belong.

Hurricane, Utah

“The moon looks awfully suspicious tonight,” Frankie said, curled on her side behind

Stella and staring out the little window of their trailer. The moon was bright, its craggy gray face

staring down into their bed, making Frankie’s pale skin glow and bathing Stella’s hairy arms

with white light.

“The moon definitely isn’t sentient enough to look anything other than rocky,” Stella

said. She closed her eyes and wrapped Frankie’s arms tighter around her waist.

“I don’t see how you can know that for sure.”

“Babe. Please go to sleep. We can talk about it in the morning if you want.”

“Okay,” Frankie said, brushing her nose against the top of Stella’s spine. “But you have

to promise you’ll actually listen to my theory this time.”

Stella, exhausted from a full day of computer programming and wrangling their kid into

bed at a reasonable time, was already asleep and snoring, too far gone for even Frankie to wake

There was a routine to their mornings, or at least the semblance of a routine, well

thought-out but not nearly flexible enough to accommodate the volatile emotions of a seven year

old. Manny was a squirmy little kid, intent on finishing what he started and with an avowed

distaste for anything green; a distaste that Stella shared but couldn’t give in to if she wanted him

to eat vegetables at any point in the foreseeable future.

“Manny, how many times do we have to tell you that you need to eat your breakfast first

and then you can color in your sketchpad?” Frankie asked, tucked into the little reading nook

with an easel and jars of nontoxic paint, her own miniature studio. She liked to tell Stella that

dawn was the best time to paint, the sun rising up into the vast Utah sky, the tips of the cacti

perking up at the first hint of warmth, the quiet so deep you can taste it on your tongue, sweet

and cloying. Personally, Stella thought that was a load of shit. Frankie just liked to have an

excuse to laze around their living room and take naps while fielding orders from her Etsy shop.

Stella made her way over to Manny, who was doing a phenomenal job of ignoring them,

and grabbed his fists with her large hands, dwarfing them in comparison, two little moons resting

in the blank emptiness of space. Her palms were warm and welcoming, coaxing his clenched

hands open until he dropped the marker he was using.

“Did Mama Frankie ask you to stop coloring?” Stella asked, looking sternly into the deep

brown of Manny’s eyes, the ones he inherited from her.

“I don’t remember.”

“Manuel. You’re a smart boy, I know you remember.”

“Yes Mama Stella.”

“Yes what?”

“Mama Frankie told me to quit coloring.”

“And why didn’t you do what she said?”

“Because I wanted to finish my drawing so I could show you and Mama Frankie.”

Frankie looked over from where she had been carefully shading in the russet oranges and gentle

beiges of the rocks that rose up like giants out of the sand, a smile tugging at the corners of her

mouth. As much as Frankie tried to play it cool, Stella knew she was delighted that Manny

seemed to have inherited her propensity for visual art. Their fridge was filled with pages ripped

from Manny’s sketchpad, drawings of big dinosaurs and cacti and dogs. Stella’s favorite was the

one that featured her and Frankie on either side of Manny, holding his hands. It was mostly just

three blobs connected by two thin lines, but underneath each blob Manny had painstakingly

written their names: Estella, Manuel and Franklyn.

Stella expected something similar, maybe a more detailed drawing of their little family,

with noses and eyes and ears this time, but instead what she saw, drawn on the page in Manny’s

childish scrawl, was a monster. A familiar one. It had four red crayon lines etched into its cheeks

right below dark, bulbous eyes and its lanky body was outlined with green, its mouth a dark

smear. Stella still remembers the feel of its hands, moist and huge, pressing into her body,

skating along the edge of her jaw. Frankie kicked and yelled until she was hoarse but Stella had

just drifted, vacant and sad, while the creature explored their flesh.

It was something that she and Frankie had tried desperately not to speak of in front of

Manny. They had been so careful, keeping all of their musings, at one time such a huge part of

their life, relegated to the bedroom or the miniscule shower barely large enough for their bodies.

Manny would make his own decisions on this; they would not force their (often warranted)

paranoia and mistrust upon him, their beautiful little boy.

“Stella?” Frankie said into the stretched out quiet. Stella handed over Manny’s drawing,

unable to speak. In times of tension Stella often found herself stricken mute. She would open her

mouth and strain her throat, but her vocal chords, usually so intent on producing a sound louder

than she intended, would be paralyzed.

“Manny, why did you draw this?” Frankie asked. Her hands were shaking but her voice

was deep and steady, sure.

“I don’t know.” Manny said it matter-of- factly, looking away from their searching eyes

and back down at his barely-touched breakfast.

“Honey,” Frankie said, dropping her brush into the bowl of murky brown water and

making her way over to Stella and Manny, squatting down beside the two of them, “you’re not in

trouble or anything, ok, we just want you to tell us if you drew this from your imagination or if

you saw something, or someone, that made you want to draw it.”

She didn’t ask if he had seen it at school, or if he had noticed any strange lights outside

his bedroom window at night, or if he had felt paralyzed, unable to move, while lying in bed.

After years of chasing conclusive proof of the existence of extraterrestrials, Frankie and Stella

had learned that the power of suggestion was a strong one, especially for young children. To

preserve the accuracy of a witness’s sighting, it was important to allow them to speak of their

encounter in their own words. Asking leading questions, naming specific places or colors or

creatures, would taint the witness’s consciousness, planting ideas that may not have been there

organically.

Frankie never thought she would use those techniques, once as familiar as breathing, on

her own son. At least, that’s what she and Stella had both hoped to avoid by settling down. They

had loved it so much when they were young, working odd jobs for a few months, making enough

so that they could go on the road, just the two of them, a map, and whatever UFO they were

running after this time. But they knew that things would have to change with a kid in the picture,

so they stayed in Hurricane. It was close to Frankie’s family, who considered her betrayal of

faith unforgivable but still loved Manny, even in the light of his mother’s misgivings.

Manny sat, poking at his oatmeal, seemingly oblivious to the worry in Frankie’s voice. “I

don’t know. Maybe.”

“Maybe?” Stella asked, tongue unsticking from the roof of her mouth, voice rough but

audible.

He shrugged, done with both his breakfast and his mommy’s weird questions, and

hopped down from where he was perched on a creaky metal folding chair that they had found at

a yard sale a few months ago. Frankie didn’t believe in buying new, thought it was a waste of

money, and so their furniture consisted of old, half-broken things purchased at yard sales and

pulled off the side of the road.

“Alrighty then,” Stella said, clearing her throat of the last of the remaining tightness,

“let’s get you to school.”

Riding to school was part of their morning routine, although who drove and whether they

got there on time was always up in the air. On this particular morning Stella drove, Frankie in the

passenger seat and Manny strapped down in his car seat. Vehicle traffic in Hurricane was never

really a problem seeing as it was a town of less than 15,000 people, but the foot traffic made

Frankie want to bulldoze over a couple of Latter Day Saints members, so Stella usually drove in

the mornings.

The car was quiet, absent Manny’s usual sunny chatter. Frankie, generally incapable of

sitting properly in her seat, was sitting the right way around, looking straight out the windshield

and gripping Stella’s hand tightly.

They pulled up to the line for the Drop’n’Drive at Lil’ Sprouts Elementary School and

Frankie reached back and unbuckled Manny, handed him some money for lunch and then pulled

him forward until she could wrap her arms around him in a hug.

“Love you buddy. Be good at school today,” she said.

“Love you too Mama Frankie.”

They inched closer to the front of the line and Manny got ready to fling open the side

door. Stella pressed the brake and snagged Manny by the front of his shirt before he could leave

the car. She tugged him towards the front seat, just far enough to kiss his forehead.

“I love you,” she said, smoothing his fine blonde hair away from his eyes.

He rolled his eyes, said, “I know Mama Stella. I love you too,” and then removed himself

from her grip and threw the car door open. A chorus of honks sounded from behind them, urging

them to move forward, so Stella let her foot off the brake and clutched at Frankie’s hand until

she could no longer feel it.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Frankie said, holding back just as tight. “He could have just

drawn something he saw on TV. You know we like to watch Star Trek when you have to go in

and work late.”

“I know.”

“If he was taken -” Stella sucked in a breath, as if Frankie’s words had hit her in her soft,

vulnerable stomach. Frankie started over. “If he was taken, then we’ll just have to make sure that

they didn’t do anything to hurt him.”

“And to make sure they never take him again,” Stella said. She pulled into their parking

space back home, a rectangular area covered in gravel a few feet from the door of the trailer.

“Yeah,” Frankie said as gravel crunched under the slowly rotating tires. Her voice was

steel. “That too.”

Stella and Frankie met when they were fifteen, after Frankie’s parents finally let her

enroll in public high school. She had been going to Liahona Preparatory Academy, a private

school for LDS members only, and the freedom to choose between classes like band or robotics

or shop felt like she had already been given her own planet to rule over. Robotics was easily

Stella’s favorite class, because the teacher, Mr. Robertson, didn’t really care what she did as long

as she got her work done. Frankie spent the class doodling eyes all over her notes while Stella

diligently wrote down everything that Mr. Robertson said, just in case he included it on their

weekly quiz. By all accounts they shouldn’t have worked, but in the span of about six months

they went from strangers to lab partners to friends to inseparable. It took them three years after

that to start dating, but they’ve been together for seventeen years since.

It would have been easier to steer their obsessions towards something more productive,

something that could have helped them later on in life, but it was hard to care about something

when it was full of people that either outright hated them or disagreed with their “lifestyle

choice.” How could their fellow conspiracy theorists blink an eye at two women in love when

they were dissecting video footage of the moon landing to determine whether or not it was

faked? They were weirdos, yes, but not any more so than anyone else.

And so they started looking into UFO sightings and accounts of alien encounters when

they were seventeen, started believing them more often than not when they were twenty four,

and had their own close encounter at thirty-two.

A decade and a half of chasing something that seemed impossible, and then to have it

confirmed for them without a doubt? It should have made them even more dedicated to the

cause, impossibly committed to revealing to the rest of the world that we are not alone. It should

have been something celebrated and told and retold, over and over until their voices were hoarse

and the crowds of people gathered around to hear the truth could only repeat Stella and Frankie’s

words back to one another. It should have given them a deeper insight into the consciousness of a

being not of this earth.

It wasn’t like that at all.

It was two days of violation and hurt and fear. Moments of sharp clarity subsumed by

dizzying blindness and the overwhelming urge to scream. It was the stuff of nightmares, the stuff

that filled the testimonies of people that they had interviewed but never really listened to. How

could they have continued on in their search if they had truly understood the horror and trauma

that these abductees had experienced?

They woke up in their trailer, parked out in the middle of nowhere in the Utah desert, two

days later, after what felt like a lifetime, sheets rumpled and kicked down to the foot of the bed,

tangled up in one another so completely that it felt like the prelude to orgasm, or maybe the

aftereffects. They felt disoriented, swollen, tottering around like toddlers as the endolymph fluid

in their ears readjusted to earth’s gravitational pull. There was blood under their fingernails and

speckled on the backs of their hands.

What do you do when you and your partner have just been abducted by some kind of

unknown, unidentifiable being? Well. You go to Super Taqueria and get the 3-for- 2 deal. Then

you go back home, put your head firmly in your partner’s lap, and cry a whole bunch.

They talked, after the tacos and the tears. About what they had been trying to accomplish

by chasing after UFOs for so long. Was it proof? Recognition? Knowledge? Whatever it was,

any desire to accomplish it had deserted them in the face of their own experience. When Manny

came along in the wake of their abduction it made sense to create a new life, away from all those

forgotten beliefs. And now, after almost seven years in Hurricane with little reminder of their

past, their son might have been taken as well. It was unacceptable.

After years of partnership, Frankie and Stella knew how to work together under pressure.

Frankie would call whoever needed to be called – Stella’s supervisor at IBM, the principal at the

Lil’ Sprouts Elementary School – and charm them with her southern Utah’n accent while Stella

would research, looking up names and phone numbers and email addresses that weren’t readily

available and sliding them across the table to Frankie.

They were a bit out of practice – Frankie overshot charming and went straight into down-

home hick while Stella stomped around their bedroom trying to find her old travel journal,

pleather-bound and ragged from years on the road, where she kept contact information for all

their old acquaintances – but after Frankie’s second stilted phone call they got back into the

swing of things.

“Hey Al, it’s Frankie, from college?”

“Oh shit, Frankie? I thought you and your girl had gone and gotten yourselves taken to

the mothership.”

“Yeah, well, we fought our way out. We need some help if you don’t mind.”

“What do you need?”

“I know you used to be good buddies with that meteorologist over in Salt Lake. Is there

any way you could ask him if he’s seen or heard about any weird weather patterns around

Hurricane in the past month or so?”

“You think something came through there?”

“Well,” Frankie said, not sure how much she should say. Al had been a good friend back

at Southern Utah University, had actually been the one to invite her and Stella to the Conspiracy

Club in the first place. But he was still, as far as she was aware, active in circles that she and

Stella had abandoned long before they stopped chasing and planted themselves in the harsh sands

of Hurricane. She finally settled on, “We’ve got our suspicions,” and left it at that.

It took them a little over an hour to call everyone they could think to contact. Frankie

wasted little time on pleasantries, and their acquaintances (friends? fellow believers?) could

sense the intensity in her voice. When they asked after Stella, Frankie responded with a curt

“She’s doing fine,” and pressed on, asking favor after favor of people she hadn’t seen in years.

They were all understanding, though. A community like that, with nothing more than

circumstantial evidence and a willingness to believe the impossible, had to be.

“Okay, so I’ve called everyone that might be able to help in the Utah area. Do we wanna

try Arizona next?” Frankie’s knee was bouncing up and down, causing Stella’s pen to roll right

off the table.

Stella wanted to call every single person in her journal, every number that she had

scribbled down for hotels and local police departments, and then maybe a few on top of that,

ones that had surely been disconnected but that she knew all the same. Her mami. Her Tio

Miguel. Her baby sister.

“No,” Stella said. She leaned down and picked up the pen, hooked it onto the old pages of

her journal. Frankie’s leg remained at a steady jog under the table, so Stella reached over and

pressed her large palm over the meat of Frankie’s thigh. Her leg slowed, and then stopped. It was

quiet in the trailer, only their breathing, slightly louder than usual, disturbing the morning. It

wasn’t even noon yet. “We’re going to go see Lynn while we wait for everyone to get back to

Lynn L. Excell was the Chief of Police in Hurricane, had been for thirty years, and she

was the kind of intimidating woman that Stella often felt compelled to call Sir. She was also, as

far as Stella and Frankie knew, the only other believer in town.

“I haven’t heard or seen anything weird, no. At least nothing non-human. A couple of the

folks from that polygamist colony came through the other day but they didn’t stick around very

long.”

Frankie hated it, but one of the only reasons she and Stella were able to do what they

wanted without too many people giving them trouble was the proximity of something worse than

two women living with one another and raising a child together. Even still, that didn’t stop

everyone.

“I know you’ve never had an encounter,” Frankie began, quieting her voice so it wouldn’t

echo through the police station, “but these fuckers are the real deal. They’re humanoid and tall,

maybe 6’5’ or 6’6’, and they’ve got markings on their face. Four lines across what we would call

each cheek. The eyes are big and black and its body is green. If you see anything, don’t try to

reason with it or talk to it because you won’t be able to. If you’ve got your gun, shoot it.

Otherwise, just get away as fast as you can. And then call us.”

“Jesus H. Christ, Frankie,” Lynn said. “I’ll let you know if I see anything. Just take care

of yourselves.”

“Thank you, Lynn. We really appreciate it,” Stella said.

“You really think those things are around here?”

Frankie shrugged. “I hope not.”

“Alright, well, you let me know if I can do anything else. And tell Manny that Cheeseball

misses him.” Cheeseball, Lynn’s enormous orange cat, hated everyone except for Lynn, her

husband Daniel, the man in charge of Animal Control, and Manny. After their first meeting

Manny had begged for a kitten of his own, but Stella and Frankie had both agreed that their

trailer was too small for a cat and an outdoor pet would likely be eaten by desert foxes.

Frankie and Stella left with a promise that Lynn would contact them if she noticed

anything that seemed even remotely extraterrestrial. It wasn’t much. It wasn’t anything. But it

was all they could do.

As the afternoon wore on the calls came in, a litany of reassurances: no unusual weather

patterns, no sightings in or around Hurricane for at least seven years, no strange animal behavior,

no nothing.

When they were younger, wide-eyed and eager to confirm the existence of even the most

unlikely UFO, reports like these would send them into a funk. Frankie would claim government

cover-ups and Stella would replay witness accounts over and over again until the words were no

longer coherent and her head was full of static. So much had changed in seven years. So much

more than they could have ever predicted.

They were sitting in the Lil’ Sprouts Elementary parking lot, almost a whole hour early to

pick Manny up, and for the first time that day Stella felt as if she could breathe freely. Frankie’s

elbow was planted firmly on the driver’s armrest, her head resting on Stella’s shoulder, long hair

the color of corn silk prickling Stella’s neck.

“So. Why do you think he drew that thing?” Frankie asked into the silence.

“Assuming he wasn’t taken?”

“Yeah.”

“Well,” Stella said, “he’s a creative kid.”

“He gets that from his mother,” Frankie chimed in, smirking.

“He could have overheard us talking about it. You know how thin the walls in our trailer

“I know,” Frankie said.

“Or,” Stella began as the bell signaling the end of school started ringing, “he was just

drawing a man with scars on his face. And he used the green marker because green is his favorite

color.”

Children streamed out of the front door of the school, running to get their favorite seat on

the bus and looking around for any sign of their parents’ car in the Drop’n’Drive line or the

parking lot.

“Maybe,” Frankie said, doubtful, but let it drop when they saw Manny push his way to

the front of the sidewalk.

When Manny spotted them his eyes, beautiful brown and almond-shaped like Stella’s, lit

up. He smiled, cheeks dimpling, and waved goodbye to a tall man standing just a few feet behind

him. The man had scars on both cheeks and wide, dark eyes and his smile was the same, the

exact same, as Manny’s.