The Real Deal

 

falsified

Jamie and the other kids threw rocks in puddles while they waited outside the fairgrounds. Their ruckus went unnoticed amidst the lights and sounds of the carnival. Jamie sighed and dropped his handful of rocks. He looked at his watch. It was approaching midnight.

“There he is!” Lindsey shouted and pointed to the figure approaching on a bike.

All the kids circled around Kyle before he had even stopped.

“Do you have them?” Jamie said, pushing his way through the group.

“Yeah. I’ve got them. I said I would,” Kyle replied and reached into his backpack. He pulled out a folded up cloth. Everyone hushed and leaned in as he unwrapped the cloth, revealing two hand-minted gold coins.

“Woah!”

“No way.”

“Is it real?”

“Of course it’s real,” Jamie said and patted Kyle on the back. “Kyle said he could get them and he did. He’s the real deal.”

“How did you get them?” Noah asked.

“My mom found them cleaning out a storage unit,” Kyle said. “They’re Spanish bullions and worth a lot.”

“But won’t your mom kill you when she finds out they’re gone?”

“It’ll be worth it. A chance to see a dragon only comes around once in a lifetime, right?” Jamie said and held his fist up to Kyle.

Kyle nodded and bumped fists. “Right.”

“Oh my gosh, you guys are so lucky.” Lindsey said. “Why does it have to cost a gold coin?”

Jamie shrugged. “Dragons don’t accept MasterCard, I guess.”

“So how do we do this?” Kyle asked Jamie as he handed him his coin.

“We have to find the dwarf monk.”

Kyle had been certain Jamie was pulling some kind of stunt and he’d admit he made the whole thing up about the dragon after he showed him the coins. But, sure enough, after scouring through the hordes of guests and carnies, they found a dwarf dressed in brown robes by himself at the snack tables. His head was shaved in the center just like a medieval monk, and his sandals were kicked up another chair as he sipped from his goblet.

“We want to see the dragon,” Jamie said.

The dwarf barely looked at them. “You can’t afford it.”

“We can,” Jamie said, holding up his coin. “Thanks to my friend here.”

The dwarf sat up and looked from the coin to Kyle. “Those are yours?”

Kyle gulped and nodded.

“Fine,” The dwarf said. “I’ll take you to the dragon if you think you know what you’re doing.”

The dwarf monk finished his goblet and led the kids through the maze of tents and booths, all the way to the back where an enormous tent was pitched about fifty yards away from the rest of the carnival. Kyle couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed such a large tent before now. As they walked through the dark, Kyle sweated profusely in the chill air.

“Are you sure about this?” Kyle whispered to Jamie.

“You want to see the dragon don’t you?” Jamie replied.

“Yeah, but this is all so weird.”

“Well, if you’re afraid you can turn back,” Jamie said.

“I’m not afraid,” Kyle said, crossing his arms.

At the entrance, the dwarf pulled back the canvas flap and gestured through the doorway. “The dragon is inside. Pay your tribute and all will be fine.”

The boys held out their bullions to the dwarf.

“No. You pay the dragon himself.”

Jamie and Kyle stepped into the fire-lit tent and the flap closed behind them. A wooden platform surrounded the edge of the entire tent encompassing a deep dark pit. They clutched their coins tightly. Jamie moved towards the platform railing.

“Wait!” Kyle spouted. “Maybe we shouldn’t do this.”

“We have the gold. We’re fine.” Jamie said.

Kyle looked down at his coin. Flecks of gold paint had rubbed off onto his hand.

“Come on, you said you weren’t afraid.” Jamie said, then cocked his head slightly. “You can hear it breathing.”

Jamie leaned over the railing. “I think I see it.”

Kyle closed his eyes and took a long deep breath, then he joined Jamie at the edge of the platform. Respiration echoed out the pit. Humid air rose past their faces.

“It’s too dark. I can’t make it out,” Kyle said.

Jamie pointed to the tiny glints of light around the edge of the pit.

“Those must be coins. I think we need to pay,” Jamie said and tossed his bullion down. It clinked against the gold pieces below.

Kyle held out his coin, but hesitated.

“Go on. Do it,” Jamie said.

“I can’t.” Kyle stammered. “It’s-”

“Do you want to see the dragon or not, Kyle? I thought you were the real deal.”

Kyle dropped his fake coin into the pit of real treasure.

Two yellow eyes blinked open. The shuffle of coins rang as the faint traces of a large body stretched out. Deep laughter bellowed out and the yellow eyes faced upward at the boys.    Kyle stumbled backward and fell to the floor.

“Jamie, they were fake!” Kyle yelled as he crawled to the doorway. “I painted them! They were fake!”

“You what?!” Jamie gaped.

Before it could fully sink in, the dragon emerged from his lair and snatched the two boys who had stiffed him. They screamed and the dragon roared. Their ruckus went unnoticed amidst the lights and sounds of the carnival.

 

(Fiction by Wesley Martin, Photography by Bridget Richardson)

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An Interview with El Portal’s Incoming Editor: Bridget Richardson

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The school year has come to its conclusion and that means El Portal is just about to slip into its summer hibernation. Before that, however, we’d like to introduce you to El Portal’s incoming editor-in-chief.

Bridget Richardson, a long-time resident of Albuquerque, New Mexico, will officially be taking over as El Portal’s editor in August 2017. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in May 2016, Bridget entered the graduate program in English at Eastern New Mexico University in August 2016. Bridget’s hobbies include reading, writing short stories, and, first and foremost, rescuing animals. She loves adventure novels and her favorite is Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jewels Verne.

Bridget became aware of El Portal in 2012 when one of her professors encouraged her to submit to the journal. In fact, one of her short stories, “The Toy Library,” appears in the journal’s Spring 2013 edition. Her enjoyment of writing isn’t all that attracts her to the journal’s editorship, however. Bridget also has a keen interest in editing.

She says: “I enjoy editing and looking at ideas that people have which are turned into stories. I like to see people’s writing. I like to help take that writing a step further through editing it.”

Although El Portal will not be seeing any drastic changes in the coming year, Bridget aims to see an increase in submissions and interest from ENMU’s student body. In regards to this, she says: “I want to increase awareness about the journal. When there’s more students submitting, there’s a bigger on-campus presence. It also encourages students who may have a creative side in less creative fields to branch out into their hobbies in addition to their studies.”

This isn’t to say that she hopes to ignore our national and international contributors, however. Bridget also hopes to continue improving upon the foundations already in place, which make El Portal a unique venue for writers across the world.

Bridget’s unending enthusiasm and unique perspective is certain to reinvigorate El Portal and help to keep it the successful—and proudly strange—publication it has been thus far. We hope you will join us in celebrating Bridget as she assumes editorship of the journal.

Bridget Richardson can be reached at: Bridget.Richardson@enmu.edu

(Article by Kayleen Burdine)

This is West – Grimble’s Curiosities

Curiosity Shop

“I know exactly what will interest you,” Mr. Grimble said to the young couple browsing his wares to furnish their new home. He led them to his furniture aisle, briefly glancing out his shop window at the men hanging a sign on the store across the street.

“We’re not looking for anything too fancy,” the young woman said as they passed the china sets and rare coins.

Mr. Grimble turned from the window back to his customers before he could read the sign. “I don’t consider my items fancy, per se,” he said. “I prefer to think of them as special. Each of my wares is completely unique, with its own special history and meaning. You want your home to be special, don’t you?”

“Well, yes, of course,” the young woman said.

“Then this is the thing for you,” Mr. Grimble said, stopping in front of an antique European office chair. “These were manufactured during the height of the post World War I industrial boom. Very popular amongst businessmen. They oversaw many great operations while lounging in these chairs. This particular piece I know was owned by a Belgian clock factory owner. Most were destroyed in bombings and fires over the next few decades, but the clock maker loved his chair so much he had it sent overseas to keep it safe.” Mr. Grimble walked around the antique admiringly. “This isn’t just an office chair, it’s a throne.”

The young couple seemed unimpressed. They looked at the price tag and shook their heads.

“I’m not sure it’s really us, you know,” the young woman said.

“Of course,” Mr. Grimble said. “Let me show you some other items I know would be perfect for you.”

The young man looked around the shop and said, “Um, I don’t think you have what we’re looking for. Thanks.”

Mr. Grimble thanked the young couple for visiting and smiled as they walked out. After they were gone he sighed and sunk into the clock maker’s chair. He tightened his grip on armrests and looked back out the window. The sign across the street was up now. It read, Coming Soon. Francesca’s Trivialities. Mr. Grimble wondered what the hell a triviality shop was.

For days Mr. Grimble watched from his counter as customer after customer exited the triviality shop with useless crap and smiles on their faces. They left with cheap Chinese toys, common thrift store clothing, and mediocre knick-knacks. And barely a soul had bothered to pop inside his curiosity shop, let alone buy anything. So when he heard the bell attached to his door jingle, he greeted the schoolteacher over-excitedly.

She was looking for anything related to astronomy, as she was an amateur enthusiast. Mr. Grimble’s heart leapt. For some time he had been trying to unload a vintage 50’s telescope, used by the team that discovered the first binary pulsar.

“Oh my, how interesting,” the schoolteacher said. She asked many questions about the piece, growing more excited as he told its history.

This is how it’s done, Mr. Grimble thought to himself. You don’t just heap a bunch of garbage on as many customers as you can. You find the right item for the right person and that’s the sale that counts.

“And what is its magnification?” The schoolteacher asked.

“It had a magnification of 150X,” Mr. Grimble said. “Not as powerful as others at the time, but ideal for minimizing brightness glares.”

“What do you mean had?” the schoolteacher asked.

“Well, the telescope is no longer functional. Its worth comes strictly from its historical value,” Mr. Grimble told her.

The schoolteacher’s face soured. “Ah, I see.”

She quickly browsed the rest of the shop, finding nothing to her liking. Mr. Grimble returned to his counter and watched the schoolteacher cross the street to the triviality shop. After much longer than she had spent in his store, the schoolteacher reappeared with two large bags looking very satisfied. Mr. Grimble wondered what on earth she found over there instead of here. He spent the rest of the day watching the store across the street, gripping his hands together tightly, until a lanky woman with a bandana tied over her hair flipped the open sign to closed.

In the back office, Mr. Grimble poured over his record books. It was clear sales had flatlined since the opening of the triviality shop. Curiosities could not compete with trivialities, it seemed. Mr. Grimble scratched his head aggressively, unsure what he should do.

The front door bells jingled and a woman’s voice called out, “Hello! Hello!”

Mr. Grimble returned to the display floor to find the lanky woman with the bandana checking out his selection of mirrors.

Mr. Grimble tightened his fists. “Can I help you?”

“Oh, hi, yes, are you Mr. Grimble?” she asked. “I’m Francesca, from across the street. I just wanted to come by and say hello and introduce myself.” She extended her hand to Mr. Grimble, who reciprocated with one stiff shake. “I’ve wanted to stop by and see your store for a long time,” Francesca continued, “but I’ve just been so busy with the opening and all. You know how it is.”

“Sure,” Mr. Grimble said.

“So, wow, you got a lot of neat stuff here,” Francesca said, strolling through the aisles.

“Are you looking for anything in particular?” Mr. Grimble asked.

“Oh, I’m never looking for anything in particular,” she said and picked up a porcelain dove off a shelf. “Hey, I like this.”

“That’s not right for you,” Mr. Grimble said. “Its part of the Kaolin Collection. You’re not a collector, are you?”

“No. I’ve never heard of Kaolin,” Francesca said.

“Well, it belongs in a collection,” Mr. Grimble said, clenching and unclenching his fists.

“Oh, OK,” Francesca set the dove back on the shelf.

Mr. Grimble relaxed his hands and took a deep breath. “Here, I have the perfect thing for you,” he said and ushered her to a display of wall mounts. In between a taxidermied antelope head and a framed ticket to the Brisbane World’s Fair hung an eighteenth century battle axe. Its handle short and engraved with a spiral pattern, the head almost as long as the handle, the back of the head bore a faded crest.

“My god, you can’t be serious?” Francesca gawked.

“It’s Spanish. Made sometime around 1780. A common weapon of the royal army. The stamp on the hilt suggests it was owned by a sergeant. It was recovered from a sunken ship off the coast of Florida. I have the papers to prove its authenticity.”

“Mr. Grimble,” Francesca said, shrugging her arms. “What would I possibly do with a battle axe?”

Mr. Grimble grabbed the axe with both hands and removed it from its display hook. He held it upright in front of him, admiring it, then offered it to Francesca.

“Hold it,” he said.

“No, really,” Francesca waved her hands at the piece.

“Please,” Mr. Grimble said and stepped closer to her. “See how it feels.”

“Well,” Francesca said, tapping a finger to her chin. “I never have held an antique Spanish weapon before, and who knows if I’ll get another chance.”

She took the axe from him.

“Wow, its heavy,” she said, awkwardly handling axe, holding the blade as far from herself as possible. “Is this thing sharp?”

“I keep all my wares in pristine condition.”

“Uh-huh,” Francesca said. “You know, I think I’ll pass on the battle axe.” She handed it back to Mr. Grimble. “But I’ll take that dove, though.”

“Yes, of course,” Mr. Grimble said.

Francesca walked back down the aisle to grab the porcelain dove.

Mr. Grimble tightened his grip on the axe.

(Fiction and Photography by Wesley Martin)

Call for Submissions

image

Photo by Alex Pappalardo

Time is running out! El Portal is currently accepting submissions for its Fall 2017 issue, but there’s only three days left! Fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, photography, and art are all welcome internationally. Simultaneous submissions are welcome. Deadline 11:59pm, March 31st.

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

The Spring 2017 issue is well on its way. Additionally, we recently released our Fall 2016 issue, which we’re proud to say is our best yet and includes a very talented array of writers, poets, photographers, and artists.

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issues of El Portal: Click Here

If you have any further questions about El Portal or the submission process, please feel free to email the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu.

This is West – Fetching Apples

Apples

Mary Louise stole Uncle Romeo’s lion tooth necklace off the table and ran out the back door. Uncle Romeo always said that the tooth would bring courage to the wearer, and he would know, being a stuntman for the circus and all. Mary Louise knew stealing was wrong, that Mother and God would be angry with her, but she was the only one who needed courage right now. She was really just borrowing it. God would understand. And if she was quick enough, Mother would never find out.

Besides, it was Mother who sent her out anyway, even though she knew Mary Louise didn’t like walking the farm alone. She had told her to fetch some apples so she could make dumplings for everyone during Uncle Romeo’s visit. Everyone else got to stay inside and listen to Uncle Romeo’s stories, but she had to fetch apples from all across the farm. Fetching things for Mother always fell onto Mary Louise. She wanted to protest when Mother had told her to get the apples, but didn’t want appear childlike in front of Uncle Romeo.

She slipped the lion tooth necklace over her head as she crossed through the gardens towards the apple tree. This farm was so much bigger than the one back in Ohio where they barely had room for Father to grow his wheat. But here they had gardens and chickens and even a pond, all surrounded by a great big wheat field. Mary Louise hadn’t gotten used to it yet. She didn’t like being alone in such open space.

She plucked an onion stalk to chew on as she cut through the gardens. And she circled around the chicken coop because she hated the way the chickens would rush at the cage and startle her. Past the chicken coop and over a hill by the pond stood the apple tree. Mother was so excited about having an apple tree, even though this one was rather small and not the greatest producer of fruit. Still, Mother loved the tree so much she insisted father put a fence around it to protect it from any greedy creatures wanting her apples.

At the top of the hill Mary Louise froze, dropping the onion stalk from her mouth. She grabbed the lion tooth hanging over her chest and felt her heart pounding. The biggest, most monstrous boar Mary Louise had ever seen thrashed about in a hole carved out under the fence. It was easily twice as big as any boar she had seen in Ohio, and it didn’t just have nubs for tusks: these tusks could stab straight through a grown man’s hand. Blood ran down its bristly haired body where it was cutting itself under the fence posts. Apparently the beast had been working its way to the apple tree and unwittingly pinned itself. It grunted and kicked futilely.

Mary Louise rubbed her thumb over the lion tooth and fought the urge to run back to the house. The boar struggled below her, seemingly unaware of her presence. She picked up a dirt clod and tossed it at the animal’s backside and ducked behind the hill. She peeked back at the boar, which only grunted and squirmed as it had before.

Mother had said to fetch seven apples, one for everybody to have their own dumpling. Inside the fence, Mary Louise spotted some scattered apples. With one hand clutching the lion tooth and the other holding the burlap sack, Mary Louise started down the hill. The boar had dug his hole near the gate, so she climbed over on the opposite side, trembling as she did so. Halfway over the fence her eyes met the hollow yellow eyes of the boar. The fence wobbled and Mary Louise tumbled towards the tree, only a few feet from the beast’s enormous snout. She scrambled upward and backed up into the fence. Despite the boar’s wild flailing, he remained stuck in place. Mary Louise opened the burlap sack and scrambled around the tree, picking up apples, always keeping an eye on the boar.

She gathered six; just one short. The tree had already dropped most of its fruit. She saw a ripe apple she could reach if she climbed the trunk a short way, but she would have to take her eye off the boar. She stuffed her foot into a knot in the trunk and reach for the nearest limb. Then she saw the entire fence was shaking violently. She turned around just as the posts pinning the creature snapped in half. The boar broke free and the fence collapsed. Without thinking, Mary Louise heaved herself into the tree, narrowly avoiding being gored.

She clamped herself to the branch while the boar rammed itself repeatedly into the trunk. She dropped the sack of apples and the boar mindlessly trampled them. Apple bits and pieces of bark flew into her face. The lion tooth whip-lashed around her neck until Mary Louise snatched it, but the shaking caused the necklace to snap and she lost her grip of the branch. Mary Louise plummeted downward. However, instead of hitting the ground to be trampled like the apples, she landed on top the boar’s back. This surprised the boar as much as it did her, and for an instant it halted its assault. Mary Louise realized she still held the lion tooth. She latched herself around the beast’s neck before it started bucking, and she stabbed the tooth repeatedly into its eyes.

(Fiction and Photography by Wesley Martin)

Call for Submissions

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Photo by Dr. Linda Sumption

Time is running out! El Portal is currently accepting submissions for its Fall 2017 issue, but there’s only a week left! Fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, photography, and art are all welcome internationally. Simultaneous submissions are welcome. Deadline 11:59pm, March 31st.

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

The Spring 2017 issue is well on its way. Additionally, we recently released our Fall 2016 issue, which we’re proud to say is our best yet and includes a very talented array of writers, poets, photographers, and artists.

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issues of El Portal: Click Here

If you have any further questions about El Portal or the submission process, please feel free to email the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu.

This Is West – Things Lost

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The diner was a little sweaty this time of year. The heat in the kitchen was unbearable, the parking lot burned hot as a frying pan, and flies clung to the outside of the windows in small swarms, delicate legs in the dozens crawling around in what little shade the sills had to offer, granting the illusion of grime. Customers complained sometimes—they always did—but there was nothing to be done about it. The smell of greasy food and sugary drinks drew them in. The pesticides didn’t keep them out.

Ella covertly wiped the sweat from her brow before stepping out of the kitchen and back onto the floor. The AC kept the main room cool most days. When the temperature vaulted up over 95 degrees it got a little tepid. At 100 degrees most started to complain. It was 104.

The floor was more or less empty. A few people sat along the wall in booths, drinking tall, cool glasses of soda and tea and water with lemon. A young man chatted up one of the waitresses and a couple Ella had seen a time or two sat silently on opposite sides of the booth, looking in different directions. Ella had seen a dozen lives change over supper. She wondered if they’d still be wearing rings next time they came in.

Hal—an older man and a regular—sat in his favorite booth in the back, tapping his fork against the side of his glass not out of rudeness to get her attention, but as a tick he couldn’t control. She’d hated him at first. Now he was one of her favorites. But today he seemed disquiet, staring out the window at the clouds gathering on the horizon.

It was supposed to rain that night. An end to the drought at last.

“Over in Arizona we used to get these real big thunderstorms,” he said when she made her way over to his table to check on him. They were pals by now. She knew exactly what he’d order because it was always the same. In turn, he asked after her kids. “Always worried it might be the big one. The ground gets too hard and dry; the water just stays on top. Floods the place out. My house got flooded three or four times that way.”

Ella remembered dancing in ankle-deep water outside her own house as a child—a little shack tucked back and down from a street without a curb. Any time it rained more than a little, all the water from the entire street would pool in her front yard. As she got older, it scared her more and more. Sometimes the steps disappeared. Sometimes the water went up to-mid calf, only stinted from flooding her home by the high foundation it sat on and the slow drain of water into hard earth.

Brown water, sprinkled with floating patches of dry grass. When she pulled her feet out to step back up onto the porch, her legs would be plastered with debris. The air was electric. The air was alive. She was so, so young.

“It doesn’t happen much here,” she said and stared out at the clouds now, too. Giant, white, fluffy. But tonight they would bring lightning and thunder. The radio had been screeching shrill flash flood warnings all afternoon. “We get a little flooding, but nothing like you see on TV.”

She patted him on the shoulder in a comforting gesture, but he kept staring out at the sky, where the street seemed to shimmer in waves of thick, exhausting heat.

(Fiction and Photography by Kayleen Burdine)

Call for Submissions

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It’s that time again! El Portal is currently accepting submissions for its Fall 2017 issue. Fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, photography, and art are all welcome internationally. Simultaneous submissions are welcome. Deadline 11:59pm, March 31st.

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

The Spring 2017 issue is well on its way. Additionally, we recently released our Fall 2016 issue, which we’re proud to say is our best yet and includes a very talented array of writers, poets, photographers, and artists.

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issues of El Portal: Click Here

If you have any further questions about El Portal or the submission process, please feel free to email the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu.

This is West – “The Masterpiece”

deli

I had never heard of this man, this bewildering artist simply called Mikey as his nametag declared. Nevertheless, his exhibit garnered more attention than any other piece at the gallery. His space, nay, his stage, had a perpetual line of visitors awaiting their chance to experience his artistry. The curators of the event must have had the foresight to know his performance art would attract the largest crowd, for his stainless steel cart from which he created his masterpieces was located in the back, somewhat distanced from the other exhibits.

As not to appear too eager, I browsed the other pieces, half-heartedly admiring the portraits and landscapes and sculptures, occasionally commenting to a fellow fan of the arts, but it was the line to Mikey that had my true attention. After spending only a fraction of the time with the other artworks than I normally would have, I took my place amongst the other guests in line hungering for their turn with the splash out artist.

“Next,” he called, and the line moved forward slightly.

Mikey had bound his dreads into a pinned up ponytail, capped with a visor. He wore a matching apron with his nametag in the corner. He wore latex gloves and, never missing a detail, had a splotch of mustard on his forearm.

After watching many satisfied patrons leave his cart with their own original creations crafted right before their eyes, Mikey finally called “Next,” and approached the glass window separating the performer from the audience.

“How may I help you?” Mikey asked me, friendly, inviting. This was a man whose whole purpose was to share his art with others.

“Help me?” I said. “Sir, by engaging in your work you would not only help me, you would honor me.”

“Uh, right, OK.” Mikey said. “Bread?”

I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, then I noticed the placard listing multiple bread choices. My curiosity increased tenfold. Were we, the audience, to participate in the creation of these works? “Italian,” I replied, hoping it would be a choice Mikey would approve of.

He silently retrieved a loaf from beneath the counter and placed it on a sheet of parchment paper before cutting it open lengthwise. I awed at the mindfulness in which he executed the cut, clearly the hands of someone with hundreds of hours of experience.

“Meat?” Mikey said next.

I saw that placards existed for each step of the artwork’s creation. There were so many choices. I was suddenly perplexed.

“What do most people get?” I inquired, knowing I must seem amateurish to the man.

“Probably turkey,” Mikey said, with no air of judgment. “But hey man, this is for you. Not anyone else. Watchyu want?”

“I suppose I shall have the roast beef.” I replied, exalted with a rush of applying my own person onto the piece.

“Cheese?” Mikey continued.

“Oh,” I said, tapping my chin. “Pepperjack. No, American. No, pepperjack.”

I tugged at my shirt collar, uncertain with my choice. However, Mikey paid my indecisiveness no mind, and added the cheese slices.

“Veggies?” He said, sliding the parchment paper down the counter.

I leaned in closer to the glass window to examine my options, my many options. Truly, no two creations had to be the same. There was infinite potential within Mikey’s craft.

“How much can I get?” I asked.

“As much as you want,” Mikey said. “But personally, I think less is more when it comes to the toppings. You know what I mean?”

“Yes, I think I do.” I nodded, absorbing those sage words.

I reexamined my choices, carefully considering what veggies could say the most with the least embellishment.

“I’ll take black olive, red pepper, and,” feeling a bit bolder, “onion.”

Mikey assembled the last ingredients and folded the creation closed before cutting it in half at a diagonal. Then he wrapped up the piece and handed it to me.

“That will be four eighty-nine.” He said.

“Yes, of course,” I could hardly believe that such an incredible experience came at such a reasonable price. I withdrew my checkbook and wrote the artist the specified amount. Upon handing the artist his check, his eyes widened.

“Wow. Thanks, brother.”

I reveled in his usage of such familiar association. Indeed, there was a kinship between him and me. Both of us contributing to the artwork’s creation, neither knowing exactly how it would unfold.

“No, thank you,” I said. Then I looked for a place to sit, where I might further endeavor to appreciate the masterpiece in my hands.

(Fiction and Photography by Wesley Martin)

Call for Submissions

IMG_7723 (1)

Photograph by Jade Smith

It’s that time again! El Portal is currently accepting submissions for its Fall 2017 issue. Fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, photography, and art are all welcome internationally. Simultaneous submissions are welcome. Deadline 11:59pm, March 31st.

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

The Spring 2017 issue is well on its way. Additionally, we recently released our Fall 2016 issue, which we’re proud to say is our best yet and includes a very talented array of writers, poets, photographers, and artists.

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issues of El Portal: Click Here

If you have any further questions about El Portal or the submission process, please feel free to email the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu.

This is West – The Adventures of Toast Girl

toast

I found Jeanie playing hacky-sack with a circle of friends outside the theater building before school started and asked her to walk with me.

“This is going to be strange, and kind of embarrassing, but I have to tell you something,” I said as we walked.

“Claudia, you can tell me anything,” Jeanie said, concerned.

“OK,” I said, halting and looking around to make sure no one was listening. I took in a deep breath. “I can predict the future by reading the patterns in toast.”

“Toast?” Jeanie asked.

“Yeah. Toast patterns.”

“Like, bread toast?” she said, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes, Jeanie. Toast.”

Jeanie blinked at me, then shook her head. “That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”

“I know, but just listen,” I said, rubbing my thumb over my forearm. “This morning when I was having my breakfast I saw something bad. You can’t go to chemistry second period today. Seriously, something bad is going to happen.

“Wow.” Jeanie rolled her eyes. “That’s one of the more creative excuses I’ve heard for skipping class.”

“This isn’t about skipping class. It’s about avoiding danger,” I said.

“Sure, sure. The danger your toast told you about,” Jeanie said.

I stuffed my hands in my pockets and sighed.

“So, what?” she said, smirking. “Every morning you have a slice of toast and a peek into the future?”

“Yeah. Most mornings,” I said.

“If you can tell the future that way then why don’t you just eat toast all the time?” Jeanie asked.

“Well, bread is fattening,” I answered. “But that’s not the point. Please listen, Jeanie. You can’t go to chemistry class. Promise me.”

I pleaded to her with my eyes more than my words. Jeanie’s smile shrunk and she placed her hands on her hips.

“OK, Claudia, what happens?” she asked with a flick of her wrist.

I moved closer to her.

“I don’t know why, but Linda and Caroline are going to get into a fight,” I said, barely above a whisper. “I didn’t see exactly what happens, but I saw glass breaking and people getting hurt. You were one of them.”

“Pfft, Claudia,” Jeanie said, backing away. “You’re being crazy.”

“I knew you’d say that. I knew you’d react this way. This is why I’ve never told anyone,” I said, now rubbing my hand aggressively over the opposite arm. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.”

“Wait,” she said, “so no one else knows about your toast powers?”

“Um, no. You’re the first person I’ve told,” I said.

“Awe,” Jeanie said, placing her hands over her chest. “That’s so sweet.” Then she shook her head. “No, what am I saying? This is ridiculous.”

She turned to walk away, but I stepped in front of her and placed my hand on her shoulder. “Please, Jeanie, you have to believe me. Or don’t believe me. Whatever. Just don’t go to chemistry today. Please?”

“Claudia,” Jeanie said, taking my hand off her shoulder. “You’re freaking me out.”

Jeanie walked past me back towards the theater building.

“Jeanie, wait!” I chased after her. “Look, you know how I always know which TV shows are gonna get cancelled? Well that’s how I know.”

“Uh-huh,” she said and kept walking.

“Remember when we were at the county fair? I totally knew Travis was going to crash that go-cart.”

“Everybody knew Travis would crash that night,” Jeanie said.

As we neared the front door, I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her towards the bike racks.

“OK. OK. Jeanie, seriously listen to me,” I said and let go of her arm. “Two weeks ago your cousin Alex died. When your mom told you, all you could do was sit and watch TV. You didn’t cry or anything. You were just numb. For hours you just watched Gunsmoke reruns until you decided to get something to drink. But your fridge’s ice machine wouldn’t work and you got so angry you broke off the lever and fell to the floor. I know this because I saw it in the toast.”

Jeanie looked to the ground and brushed her hair with her fingers for a moment before looking back up to me.

“Is this for real?” she asked.

“Really for real,” I replied.

“You can tell the future?”

“Yes.”

“Through toast?”

“Yes.”

Jeanie breathed deeply and nodded. “Okay then. We have to do something.”

“We can’t do anything. We can’t change the future,” I said.

“But you’re changing the future by telling me, right?” she asked.

“I guess. I don’t know.” I shook my head. “I don’t usually mess with this stuff. I just couldn’t let you go there today.”

“Well we have to try,” Jeanie said. “What if Linda and Caroline kill each other? We have to stop that fight.”

“I don’t know, Jeanie,” I said, letting my hand fall limp from rubbing my arm.

“Yes you do, Claudia,” Jeanie said, placing her hand on my shoulder now, smiling. “You were given toast powers for a reason. Maybe this is the reason.”

I smiled back. “Maybe. But what can we do?”

“I don’t know, Toast Girl, but we’ve only got through first period to figure it out.”

(Fiction and Photography by Wesley Martin)

This is West – A Breath

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“Sunset in Lugansk” by Alex Chupryna, retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

Darren knew the moment he opened his eyes that it was too early to be awake. Pale light illuminated the dusty blinds, but did nothing to combat the morning darkness. The old radio beside the bed pronounced the time in blue: 5:47 a.m.

For a moment he stared up at the ceiling and took in the stillness. It’d been years since he last came home, years since he’d slept in this bedroom and woken up with his parents down the hall. They slept in separate bedrooms now; no sense in sharing at their age. In the room that’d once been his sister’s, his mother’s oxygen machine wheezed gently behind a closed door, pumping air into lungs that could no longer be trusted. He imagined his father was already awake downstairs, hunched over his coffee.

Darren sat up, pushed the old quilt aside, and placed his feet on the chilled wood floor. It was a motion he’d repeated every single day for nineteen years, yet now he marveled at the oddity. He knew this room inside and out; knew better than anyone that there were still probably stickers on the inside of the closet door and that he’d once hidden a dirty magazine behind the loose bit of wall paneling now hidden by a dresser. It was the newfound emptiness that skewed the space and made it unrecognizable. Nothing from the old days seemed to remain.

Careful to be quiet—though he imagined his mother couldn’t hear much over the machine strapped to her face—Darren snuck down the stairs, skipping the sixth step out of habit because it probably still creaked. The kitchen light wasn’t on. His father must still be sleeping.

He fumbled around the kitchen by what little light had begun to leak in through the window over the sink. The coffee dripped sluggishly into the pot as it brewed. He watched the dark liquid rise behind the glass and, when there seemed to be enough, he poured himself a cup that wasn’t quite two thirds full. The tendrils of steam rose like phantoms.

He unlocked the back door, wincing as it creaked, then slipped outside and took a seat at the ancient picnic table. The sky was pale blue, lingering on the edge of darkness. His arms and legs were uncomfortably chilled by the morning air. This, at least, stirred some memories.

The old tom cat that’d greeted him when he arrived the day before slunk up onto the patio and snaked its way between his legs.

“Are you taking care of them?” he asked.

The cat sat down under the table and stared back with big yellow eyes.

(Fiction by Kayleen Burdine)

Welcome Back!

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Photo by Jade Smith

Another winter break has passed and El Portal is finally back in business for the Spring 2017 semester. As of January 1, we are now accepting submissions for our Fall 2017 issue and are pleased to announce that our Spring 2017 issue is well on its way with an exciting new lineup of talented writers and artists. The submission deadline for the Fall 2017 issue is March 31, 2017. Please check out our submission guidelines and terms of submission for more details.

We are likewise pleased to announce that the new year heralds the return of some old faces, so be on the lookout for the continuation of the This is West series this Friday, written and photographed by Kayleen Burdine and Wesley Martin. You might even be seeing some special entries by guest writers, as well!

We look forward to fresh publications in the new year and we thank you, as always, for reading El Portal.

This is West – Stubborn Old Man

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“You like coffee?” Catherine asked Curtis as he placed her medication on the kitchen counter.

The kettle on the stove-top steamed.

“Yes, with cream and sugar,” Curtis said, moving to the dining room table.

Catherine frowned and heaped spoonfuls of beans into the grinder.

“Abigail, please tell me you still drink your coffee like a real American,” Catherine said.

“Black is fine, Grandma,” Abigail said, walking over to the photos framed on the wall. She stopped in front of the one showing Grandpa Allen carving a pumpkin. “Grandpa always went all out for his pumpkins.”

Catherine took a French press out of the cabinet and set it on the table. “He liked to put on a show for you girls.”

“My high school would do a pumpkin carving contest every year,” Curtis said, “when I was-”

GRRRRR-OOOM! Catherine ground the beans.

“Tell me about the new job, Abigail,” Catherine said as soon as the grinding stopped. She dumped the grounds into the French press.

“Oh, it’s the best,” Abigail said and took a seat next to Curtis. “Even though I’m only junior staff I’ve already been assigned to some big cases.”

“You earned it, sweetheart,” Curtis said.

“Of course she earned it,” Catherine said, pouring the steaming kettle over the grounds. “My granddaughter works too hard to not be recognized. You should try it sometime, Curtis.”

“Oh, stop, Grandma,” Abigail said. “Curtis’s shop is doing well right now.”

“Well for a toy shop anyway,” Catherine said and set out four coffee cups on the table.

“It’s a game shop, actually. Not toys,” Curtis said. “Mostly role-playing games.”

“Mmhmm,” Catherine said and lit a cigarette. “I’m sure you’ll make a fortune selling those to school children for their lunch money.”

“They’re not just for children, they’re-” Abigail patted Curtis’s hand and shook her head.

Catherine plunged the French press and filled the cups on the table. She passed each to Abigail and Curtis, no cream or sugar, and set one out for herself and another at the empty seat at the table.

“Is someone else coming?” Curtis asked.

“No,” Catherine said. “Who else besides my sweet Abigail would come out all this way to visit an old lady?”

The kitchen lights flickered.

“The lights are still doing that?” Abigail said. “I thought you had a repair man out here?”

“Those con artists?” Catherine scoffed. “They don’t know how an old house like this works. If it’s not a cookie cutter model home, they don’t know how to fix a thing.”

“Maybe Curtis could take a look,” Abigail said.

“Please,” Catherine said, tapping her ash into the overstuffed tray on the table. “I doubt there’s an electrical engineering game to teach him how.”

Curtis hid his expression behind his coffee mug.

“Grandma,” Abigail said, dumping the ashtray’s contents into the trash. “Maybe it’s time to consider moving someplace where they can take care of you.”

Catherine took a heavy drag. “You mean a nursing home? No, I’m staying in my house.”

“But, Grandma, what if you fall again?”

“I won’t fall,” Catherine said.

“Grandma-”

“I won’t fall,” she said and turned her back to Abigail.

Abigail looked to Curtis for support. He shrugged and sipped more coffee.

Abigail turned back to Catherine, but before she could say anything, her phone rang.

“Its work,” she said and left the dining room.

Catherine faced Curtis, still taking heavy drags from her cigarette.

“So, Catherine,” Curtis said. “How’s your-”

“I want you to get Abigail to drop the nursing home talk,” Catherine said and snubbed out her cigarette.

“Um, that’s not really any of my business,” Curtis said.

The lights flickered again. When they returned to normal he noticed the extra coffee cup was empty.

“Uh, that cup just . . .” He checked under the table for a spill. It was clean. “Where did the coffee go?”

“Allen drank it,” Catherine said and refilled his cup.

“Allen isn’t here, Catherine,” Curtis said, cautiously.

“He’s always here. He won’t leave,” Catherine said and lit another cigarette.

“Allen is dead,” Curtis said. “You know that.”

“Of course he’s dead. And he still won’t leave, the stubborn old man.”

Curtis peeked out of the dining room. Abigail seemed to be engaged in something important. He looked back and Allen’s coffee mug was empty again.

“Catherine, I don’t know what you’re trying to pull here.”

“I’m not pulling anything,” she said and offered Curtis a smoke. He declined. “Allen won’t leave and he doesn’t like to be alone. So I’m not going to a nursing home.”

Curtis tapped his finger on his mug. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but maybe you should think about-”

The lights flickered. The cabinet doors swung open and slammed wildly. Allen’s coffee mug whizzed right past Curtis’s head and smashed into the wall behind him.

Abigail rushed into the room. Catherine closed the cabinet doors while finishing her smoke. Curtis was on the floor picking up shards of mug.

“What just happened?” Abigail asked, wide-eyed.

“Nothing. A gust of wind.” Catherine said.

“That was no gust of-”

“Sweetheart,” Curtis interrupted. “I was thinking we should visit more often to help Catherine out around the house.”

(Fiction and Photography by Wesley Martin)

This is West – Guest Writer Steve Bellin-Oka

Still Life with the Plague of Darkness
            — for my daughter

I woke this morning before dawn
to find the nation’s hearts had hardened.
Something stretched out its hand—a darkness
so thick it felt like gauze.
It seemed it would last for days.
Even the pavement cracks were wider:
more thick weeds forcing up
through the ridged concrete.
Overnight, someone stepped on them
and now we think our backs are broken.

But they’re not—I think of you
in another time zone, just turned thirteen,
the same sun rising from the far end
of the city. We’d wanted a land
less dangerous for you. To find
our questions answered. To wipe layers
away from the cocoon you struggle
to break free of. Forgive us.

But the November branches define
themselves against the slow sunrise.
Brown and red leaves still cling to them.
Inside the house now, I’ve pulled
the curtains back. Already so much
light pours in—nothing can keep it out.


An assistant professor of English at ENMU, Steve Bellin-Oka is the author of two chapbooks, The Frankenstein Poems (2014) and Dead Letter Office at North Atlantic Station (forthcoming in 2017). His work has appeared in Cream City Review, Mississippi Review, William and Mary Review and Yalobusha Review, among other journals, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets prize and fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the Hambidge Center for the Arts, and was recently shortlisted for the Key West Literary Seminar’s Scotti Merrill Memorial Award. He is currently finishing his first full-length book of poems.

Fall 2016 Launch Party

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For our local readers, El Portal is very pleased to announce its Fall 2016 launch party will be happening at 4pm on Wednesday, November 9th in the Jack Williamson Liberal Arts Center lobby here at Eastern New Mexico University. Join us for a reading of student work and a presentation of student photography while helping us honor our student contributors and the Fall 2016 prize winners! It’s sure to be a great time.

Call for Submissions

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It’s time! Today’s the submission deadline for the Spring 2017 issue of El Portal, so make sure you get your potential publications sent to us by midnight. The next submission period won’t begin until January, so this is your last chance for awhile! Fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, poetry, photography, and art are all welcome internationally. Simultaneous submissions are welcome. Deadline 11:59pm, October 31st.

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

Additionally, we recently released our Fall 2016 issue, which we’re proud to say is our best yet and includes a very talented array of writers, poets, photographers, and artists.

To check it out: Click Here

To check out previous issues of El Portal: Click Here

If you have any further questions about El Portal or the submission process, please feel free to email the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu.

This is West – Fortunes

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“You gotta be shitting me,” Gulliver said for maybe the third time since striking up a conversation with the Asian guy whose car broke down along the freeway near the store. “You traveled all this way, halfway around the world, just because of some fortune teller? That’s one of the craziest damn things I ever heard.”

Edmond couldn’t help but overhear the conversation, or at least Gulliver’s half of it, while restocking the beef jerky on the opposite side of the shop. Fortune teller vaguely registered through Edmond’s zombie-like state, but over the years Edmond had come to tune out most of things Gulliver lauded over with the customers.

The Asian guy laughed and said something Edmond couldn’t make out, but he could tell the guy had an accent.

Edmond checked his watch. Only forty-two more minutes before he could go home and binge on some National Geographic.

“So what kind of treasure are you expecting to find out here?” Gulliver asked the man.

Fortune teller. Treasure. Edmond stopped hanging the jerky packages and listened.

“I don’t know for sure. Gold and jewels, maybe,” the man said. “But she also said I’d find treasures worth far more than anything I could imagine.”

Edmond jutted up from the aisle to face the foreign traveler. Mid-twenties, wearing a polo and khakis, grinning like he just got off an amusement park ride.

“And you believed that?” Gulliver gawked. “Sorry, buddy, but it sounds like a scam to me.”

“Maybe.” The traveler shrugged. “However, I paid the fortune teller nothing. She told where to find the treasure in exchange for ten percent of what I find. Why would she do that?”

Edmond glided out the jerky aisle, intently watching the two men chat at the counter.

“Well, you got me there.” Gulliver said. “But not everybody would just up and leave like you did.”

The traveler’s grin faltered momentarily. “Well, it wasn’t as easy as that,” he said.

Gulliver pointed out the front windows to a tow truck coming down the freeway. “Buddy, you’re ride is here.”

“Wonderful,” the traveler said. “Hopefully it won’t cost a fortune to get that thing fixed, cuz I haven’t found mine yet.”

The two men laughed. Edmond stared wide-eyed at them from the slushie machine. The traveler thanked Gulliver for the phone call and the company, then moved for the door.

“Hey,” Edmond called out. The man stopped and turned around.

“Where are you from?” Edmond asked as he walked towards him.

“Japan.”

“From Shinshiro?” Edmond said.

“I-yeah.” The traveler cocked his head at Edmond. “How did you know?”

Edmond stopped directly in front of the man, next to the sunglasses kiosk. Their reflections bounced back at them from the dozens of lenses.

“I saw a fortune teller once. She told me that if I traveled to Nagashino Castle in Shinshiro I would find a great treasure.”

“Oh,” the man nodded. “But you didn’t go.”

“No. I didn’t.”

The tow trucks horn honked.

The man looked Edmond in the eyes, then left the store.

“Holy Hell, Edmond,” Gulliver said. “What was that about?”

Edmond watched the traveler hop into the tow truck and vanish down the freeway.

“Gulliver,” Edmond said. “I quit.”

(Fiction by Wesley Martin)

El Portal – Fall 2016

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Readers can now access the PDF version of El Portal’s Fall 2016 issue. Click on the image above to access the PDF file. If you have any questions about the Fall 2016 issue, please feel free to contact the editor at el.portal@enmu.edu.

Full List of Contributors:

An Interview with Joseph Somoza

Juan Carlos Pérez-Duthie “Certain Things Are Likely”

Gaylord Brewer “The Art of the Blackout”

Gaylord Brewer “Living Crèche”

Mary Murphy “The Last Guardian”

Nicole Ferraro “Burn Holes in My Favorite Sweater”

Tom Sheehan “Charlemagne Killabrew, Civil War Veteran”

Laura Coe Moore “The Hand

Jack Buck “Back in 2003 When Watching Four TV Shows in a Row Was Considered an Insane Amount of TV Watching by an Individual”

J. Tarwood “The Getaway”

Katelyn Ross “The Nothing You Left Behind”

Iris Esquivel “A Scream! Somewhere in the Nebula”

Robert Joe Stout “What Are They Saying?”

David White “Boots”

David White “Train Station”

Don Mitchell “Grulla I”

Kaitlyn Roberts “Arches National Park”

Kaitlyn Roberts “Into the Abyss”

Michaela Browder “Untitled”

Haley Madden “The Astronaut’s Rainbow”

Aaron Pappalardo “There is a Machine”

Carol Oberg “Dusting Life”

Glen Sorestad “We Are All Refugees”

Glen Sorestad “Please, Tyler, Please!”

Julia Simmons “Eyes Open”

D. Shawn Hunton “The Town and the City”

Dane Cobain “Don’t Forget the Lemmies”

Lonnie Berry “The Cost of a Mule”

Marc Cioffi “Another Poem of the American Road: A Song Against Forgetting”

Jay Frankston “The Logger”

Enzo Scavone “Someone I Know”

Emmy McCray “Substitutes in the Case of Necessity”

Emmy McCray “First Aid”

Wesley Martin “Grubber Ludwig”

This is West – No Tresspassers

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Cattle dotted the area like ink stains, the setting sun washing the desert landscape in the piercing glow of its final rays. The further Ian traveled onto the old man’s private property, the more reluctant he became. If he got caught it wouldn’t be the end of the world. The owner would probably just ask him to leave—maybe wave a shotgun around—and Ian would do so, gladly and without complaint. But getting caught meant never knowing for certain. And having already experienced what that uncertainty felt like for the better part of a month, he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue.

He passed a low rise in the land and a building came into view, painted black with shadow against the blazing orange horizon. His palms suddenly felt uncomfortably damp where they were wrapped around the steering wheel. His stomach rolled with a sudden wave of nausea. As he drew closer, its features grew more distinct and were eventually illuminated by the headlights of his truck. A low wooden fence roped off the area immediately next to the shack, a chicken coop built inside but long forgotten. The busted bulb secured above the door dimly reflected the dying light and a fresh black and orange ‘No Trespassing’ sign shone like a beacon from beneath it.

“Dammit.”

Ian pulled over, turned off the engine, and climbed out of the truck, greeted immediately by the scent of ozone and the light, chilly breeze the passing storm had left behind. He shut the door.

Approaching the shack felt akin to approaching a wild animal, haunches raised, teeth bared. The once-white walls were now weathered and peeling, its scaly exterior offset by the ancient plywood nailed over its windows. Choosing to forego trying the clearly locked door—a brand new one, looped through a fresh latch—he instead circled the area, finding nothing but a few more boarded windows and a fat, brown tarantula resting on a pile of rocks. There was no way to get inside. Not anymore.

Why choose here of all places? Ian paused once he’d completed his loop and touched the cold aluminum sign nailed to the door. There were thousands of other places John could have chosen. What was so special about an abandoned shack in the middle of a stranger’s ranch? Ian futilely tugged at the lock. It wouldn’t budge. He knocked a large fleck of ancient paint away in frustration, desperate to leave some sort of mark. He made another circuit around the perimeter.

In the back, a slender crack between the plywood and the glass-less window offered a cumbersome opportunity to glimpse inside, and Ian pressed his forehead against the ancient wood, closing one eye. Nothing much lay inside: only a small, dark, empty room with concrete floor, dusty and forgotten. Above, he knew, there were rafters. But nothing hung from them anymore. Surely not. He stepped back and breathed.

Against the dying light of the sun, the tarantula scuttled away.

(Fiction and Photography by Kayleen Burdine)