Guest editor's note:
Thanks to everyone who submitted a response to the Jenn Zed “Louisiana Zombie Afternoon” Challenge.
It was a pleasure and an honour to be entrusted with your new brain droppings, fellow ekphrastic citizens. I am especially proud to have helped provoke such a wide range of content, both in style and substance. A huge thanks to the editor-in-chief for entrusting me with her baby, and allowing me to spread the word of Zed—a prolific, and phenomenal, contemporary visual artist worth following to see where her muses pull her next.
By the way, see if you can spot the tricky fiction masquerading as a poem.
And with that, I present you The Prose:
The Calm at Pool Parties
The day the hospital orderly wheeled her daughter, Ella, in for an emergency surgery, Nora received a text message from Rashid. "Getting married," it said.
The gaping hole in Ella’s knee distracted her. How could a pool party go so disastrously wrong, thought Nora. According to the birthday girl’s father, a boy had pushed Ella during a game to hurl her into the water, only her knee wedged into the raised edge of the pool and her head hit the water instead, leaving half her body outside. She couldn’t break her fall. Her knee was mangled: battered raw flesh peeked out from a hole, white dots of cartilage in the mix, entrails of blood lingered at the bottom left. For some reason, Ella didn’t complain of pain and the bleeding was minimal too. Nora was quiet as she realized that things could’ve been worse. She watched Ella sitting in her wheelchair calmly listening to the doctor as he explained what he will be doing during the suturing process. Watching, she realised that for some strange reason, she too hadn’t complained about pain, blood and holes either.
In the cold corridor waiting for the doctor to finish, Nora thought about the days when she was the queen of pool parties. At one party, she had met a boy — a friend of the birthday girl’s brother. She was probably about twelve that year, he was definitely older, taller with broad shoulders, and he swam for the school team. His breath smelled of soured beer and cigarettes as he tried to kiss her behind the bushes. He didn’t push her the way Ella was pushed. But he did try to do something else. The one thing that stopped him from going further was the dog barking at them from the edge of the bushes. The pool was a temporary pool, one that stood on a stand rather than built into the ground. He had taken her hand and led her calmly to the back of the pool where the hedges hid the fence from view. When the dog barked, he leapt up and ran off, leaving her there with her bikini bottom half way down.
Nora never saw the swimmer again. She made a mental note to tell Ella never to follow a strange boy into the bushes.
At another party, the party that Kate McKenzie threw for her fourteenth, they saw the floating carcasses of the family’s pets just before everyone jumped into the pool. The family chinchillas had flung themselves into the water. They looked like furry ear muffs that you’d wear when skiing, bedraggled and wet from being splashed with soft snow. The party had just begun too. Mrs. Norton had just arrived with Stephanie. She gagged and turned around, dragging Stephanie with her, sobbing uncontrollably. The scene reminded Mrs. Norton of the day they had found her two-year-old brother, Tommy, face down in the pool, Stephanie told Nora later. Kate was too distressed to continue the party, so everyone was sent home with a slice of cake, birthday song unsung.
Stephanie never went to another pool party. Nora made a mental note to remind Ella that drowning is always a possibility when there is a pool in your backyard.
As Nora and her friends grew older, cool drinks were surreptitiously introduced. Some kids arrived with flasks that were filled with iced soda; nobody asked what kind. During those pool party days, the adults were usually having pool parties of their own or were playing a round of eighteen holes. Once, one of the boys had too much soda and started to dance naked on the table. The security guards were called, they threw a towel over his head and took the boy away handcuffed. His folks had to bail him out later; he was charged for indecent exposure. They were all sixteen and celebrating the end of their exams and their imminent departure from Dubai.
Everyone went to different colleges after and she never saw the boy again. Nora made a mental note to remind Ella that alcohol at pool parties is a mistake.
Nora would remember Eliza’s pool party most. It was the year everyone turned eighteen and were high on gin tonics. She and Rashid were an item that year and they had decided that eighteen was a good age to commit. As they each took off their bottom halves, fumbling and giggling on the black and white tiles, Nora wondered if the bathroom was a romantic place to lose her virginity. After, Rashid denied that the child was his.
Nora made a mental note of reminding Ella that unprotected sex at eighteen has consequences.
Days after the suturing, Nora walked calmly into Accident and Emergency, asking to see the Resident who had sutured Ella’s knee. In the consulting room, she told him that she needed suturing too as she held a gun to his temple. She calmly unbuttoned her blouse and unhooked her bra with her free hand, then turned the gun on herself, pointing the nozzle at her heart. The Resident, handsome and collected, the doppelgänger of Rashid, calmly asked her to put her clothes back on and scribbled into his medical notes.
Eva Wong Nava
Eva Wong Nava lives between two worlds (literally and physically), and writes to save herself and the world. Her flash fiction appears in several places and she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize once. She is also an award-winning children's book author and an avid collector of children's picture books.
No French Quarter For Your Thoughts
The corner of Bienville and Bourbon streets, friday night at 10 o’clock: smoke and mirrors at every turn. Partiers hanging on delicate wrought iron balconies, still standing, they moan under the weight of hurricanes and beads tossed to the street. I got beads of every colour while stumbling through the mass of revelers in feather masks and painted faces. In New Orleans everyone meets your eye. Hey Pretty Baby! Have some Southern Comfort with your Hurricane. Show us your tits baby, its okay. We got your pretty beads. Don’t wear ‘em downtown, though sugar, the muggers want your shiny tourist stuff. I forgot Southern Comfort is liquor as I went looking for the underbelly of New Orleans. I found no such thing or maybe I didn’t notice. I visited the House of Voodoo, could have been the House of Pancakes. I passed a few gothed-out Pentagram sporting kids but they just wanted to bum a smoke and read my Tarot Cards. On Toulouse, I noticed the most beautiful boy dancing outside of the Spotted Pig. Eyes closed, he undulated and vibrated heat. We had a moment of blissful eye contact before he went searching for the next good tune. I walked along Jackson Square and sauntered in the alley where Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise made vampires sexy. I sent my vibes out to the immortals. Come and get me! But my call went unanswered amidst the swirl of tempestuous confusion, the cacophony of drums, horns, and electric guitars blaring from every bar, and the mist filled with souls getting high on fumes and spills.
Liz Axelrod received her MFA from the New School in 2013. Her work has been published in Yes Poetry, The Rumpus, The Brooklyn Rail, Electric Literature, The Ampersand Review, Wicked Alice by Dancing Girl Press, Counterpunch.com and more. Her chapbook, Go Ask Alice (June 2016) was chosen as a finalist in the Finishing Line Press New Woman's Voices Competition. Liz is an Adjunct English Professor at SUNY Westchester Community College and NYC City Tech. She has reviewed books for PW, Kirkus Reviews and Lunalunamag.com, and was founder, co-host and curator of the Cedarmere Reading Series in the home of William Cullen Bryant (2014-2018). Liz now resides in sunny Albuquerque, NM where she is finding her place in the Land of Enchantment.
Child From a Pipe
Her consciousness opened up gradually, and at first all she could understand was the darkness. As the unending seconds finally expired and gave way to one another the all-enclosing nothingness gave form to a muted warmth, an orange glow. She felt herself suspended in the weightlessness, her skin compressed in the heavy, viscous fluid. Her body screamed to move, to disentangle her from the suffocation the ether aroused.Yet her limbs would not rise, her head would not tilt upwards. Her thoughts could not detect the tentative connection it should have had with her movements. It was as if a barricade had been erected at her brain stem, arresting her control, turning mere discomfort into panicked frustration.
Outside the pipe the doctors congratulated themselves. Subject #26 had maintained life for the past five minutes. The previous record had been two.
Gatson was the one to notice a sudden spike in her heart rate. Their adrenal monitor revealed a sudden surge of the hormone into the bloodstream. One segment of the team moved to add tranquilizers to the transfusion fluid while another moved to attach intravenous tubes to her index fingers.
It was all for nothing. The shock from the hastily applied anesthetics may have been the culprit, or it could have been an unseen component all together. In any case, Subject #26 expired. Preparations were made to begin tests on Subject #27.
A senior at Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park, Florida.
The Omega Woman
We wake up in the No-More-Chance Motel.
"I came here from a future time,"
she'd said, the night before.
"I had a message... don't know what it was."
No Staff. We scavenge in the breakfast bar.
A zombie lurches through the kitchen door.
"They built me from technology,"
she says—I am too busy with the axe--
"but I eat much the same as you."
And. That. Was. Much. Too. Close.
Now, how to improvise coffee…?
"It's strange how similar our peoples are..."
She has this curl of hair behind one ear.
"If we get close, you might become like me."
Four in the foyer. Pump-action. Easy.
I need more shells.
"They spread by something in the blood, you know?"
A sound outside?
"And I am blood-borne also, in a sense..."
Shit, that's a lot of zeds! Turn back.
This service door swarming with zombies too
--how is it with life on the line I feel?
Only one way to do this. There will be gore!
"Don't get it in your eyes," she shouts.
No good. Retreat. We barricade the door.
Upstairs I sponge the blood away with care.
"Oh wow!" She seems surprised. "I’m capable of love...”
Her eye's have tiny little lights,
something rotating deep inside.
We kiss for quite a while.
I never had my fingers in a cyborg girl before.
"No time," she gasps, and starts to glow.
I've always been a silhouette against the light.
"I have the message now:
Brace yourself, this stings."
Ian Badcoe lives in Sheffield, England, where he is a software developer and local poet. He has aspirations to being a non-local poet but hasn't yet been able to get enough "quantum" into his work.
1. You, this side of my threshold. I thought you were gone for good. I have a premonition already. The weight of the risk, the storm that is coming. Still, I fling the door open to an old friend. It's not even a question.
2. The equilibrium of the world shifts. The electricity changes. Possibility and potential are two of a thousand sparks. Everything is illuminated.
3. I'm diving in, I'm saying yes to whatever transpires. I am astonished anew. I am renewed. I am walking right out onto those waves in instant, unwavering faith. My joy is so profound that I'm a spinning top, a whirling dervish undone at the seams, pure flow. The Game is alive, magic is afoot.
4. Of course a warning shot was fired. While casually inhaling down one of those Dunhills I no longer smoke, I fired it myself.
5. Of course I've tried to find you. Since all this has happened. Of course you'll see this one day and know I'm still writing poetry about you after all this time. Never had anything to hide from you, and never will. Yes, I am writing my heart out after you. Of course I am.
6. If I wanted more than you were offering, it was still the bare minimum that I asked. Just the basics.
7. Still, don't think I only blame you for the fault in our stars. I was the bad seed. I was the wild heart, I was the tempest.
8. We are standing on the pier, and the sky is falling. The lake is bigger than the sea. We are closer than we have ever been, and it is almost over.
9. I will never let you fall, you say, when I tell you I am falling. I will never leave you nor forsake, you tell me, while you tell me you are leaving. It is something I have heard somewhere before.
Lorette C. Luzajic
Lorette C. Luzajic's poetry has appeared in hundreds of print and online publications, including an assortment of anthologies, and journals like Rattle, Grain, Pacific Poetry, and (forthcoming) L. A. Cultural Weekly. She is also an award winning mixed media visual artist whose imagery is heavily dependent on concepts in poetry, with work shown all over the world, from Scotland to the Yucatan to North Africa. She is the founding editor of The Ekphrastic Review.
The girl found him on the edge of the schoolyard. His dirty Nikes jutted onto the mowed lawn from the switch grass and wildflowers, his bare legs dappled with shadows of Queen Anne’s lace.
She parted the blades and stems like curtains, thinking he was asleep and she should wake him. But he didn't move, his thin body centered on a blanket patterned with kittens and puppies. His left arm cut across his tie-dyed T-shirt while his right twisted sideways, smooth and hairless in the morning sun.
The girl knelt and stared at the explosion of skin and bones that had become his face, his hair stiff with blood that had oozed onto his pillow. She touched his leg and his arm and tried to peel his rubbery fingers from the pearlescent handle of a gun. Covering her face, she curled up near the boy’s feet, listening to the echoes of her classmates playing four square on the asphalt.
He came up missing again, the neighbors whispered. His mom called the police last night.
People worried but not too much. Just a week ago the police had searched for the same 14-year-old boy who wandered away in a T-shirt and khaki shorts.
He's like that, they said. It’s nothing new.
Sipping coffee, they recalled the sidewalk battles between mother and son and the shrieks that pierced the soft air. Seated by their bay windows, the neighbors viewed the kicking and clawing as the boy struggled to break from his mother’s embrace.
That family, they said. They’re really something.
Neighbors sighed. They shook their heads. Turning away, they pictured his mother’s silhouette as he escaped to burrow into the wall of tall grass that bordered the school.
He'll turn up, they said. The police will find him. He's probably just hiding again.
That morning, parents heard the AMBER Alert as they walked their kids to school. Checking their phones, they saw his name and photo, and imagined his daily race to vanish. A few thought of his mother and how she found his empty rumpled bed and the window that opened onto the twilight. A sketch book and markers were strewn across his braided rug, the pages filled with vivid outlines of children with cigarettes and guns dangling at their sides. Her purse was upended in the corner, the contents spilling beyond the snaps and zippers. Picking it up, it felt lighter, her handgun missing from the deep center pocket.
As parents and neighbors waited for news, children sat in classrooms, waiting for recess. When the bell rang, the girl was the first to bolt out the double doors. Running in her long grey dress, her head scarf rippled as she went beyond the swings and climbing toys to find her place near the grass and weeds.
She's weird, kids said. She wears ugly clothes and smells like icky spices. No one likes her.
Parents told their kids not to tease her, but didn’t understand her olive brown skin, or her slim quiet parents dressed in loose, woven clothes. They thought of her standing apart at school events, or of her absence at soccer games or parties. When they heard she had found the boy, they wondered how long she had sat there, or even if she screamed.
I know my kid would have told someone right away, they said. I wonder if she did.
As they heard more, they ignored how their kids had jeered when the girl came back, trying to tell them what she had found.
Go away, a boy said.
Yeah. You can’t play with us, another sneered.
You’re not American.
When the girl sobbed, the kids yanked off her scarf and pushed her down.
You’re lying, a girl said.
You just want to trick us, a boy taunted.
I bet you got a bomb under that dress.
Kicking stones and pulling at her clothes, the children scattered when teachers came, becoming quiet and pale when they saw the girl had told the truth.
That poor boy, their parents said.
And that girl, they added.
But the more they learned, the more they turned inward, thankful it wasn’t their child or a close family friend, finding comfort instead by sending their thoughts and prayers.
Ann Kammerer lives in East Lansing, Michigan, where she works as a copy and feature writer for small business and higher education. Her short fiction has appeared in several regional publications and magazines, and has been awarded top honours in fiction writing contests.
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