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)


This is West – Fetching 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)

This Is West – Things Lost


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)


This is West – “The Masterpiece”


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)


This is West – The Adventures of Toast Girl


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?”


“Through toast?”


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


“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)


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.


This is West – Fortunes


“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.


“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)


This is West – No Tresspassers


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.


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)


This is West – Lawrence of New Mexico


In 1855, the US Army created the United States Camel Corps in hopes the foreign animals would serve the country’s expansion westward. By 1863, the project disbanded and the camels were released into the wild of the American Southwest.

Lawrence, of New England, peddled his bicycle across the empty desert road. Patches of fine red dirt swirled across the pavement, occasionally being sliced by the bike’s tires. In the east, behind him, a storm brewed. But where he rode now was as hot and dry as ever. He’d have been more thankful for the breeze if it wasn’t for the dirt pelting against his skin.

Why am I here? Lawrence thought for the thousandth time since departing on his biking tour, his supposed vacation. I don’t belong here. Biking in the desert was so different from biking in the forested hills back home. His body was performing the exact same motions, but his mind refused the peace that normally came with the peddling.

He’d too hastily accepted the new job out here in New Mexico. Months had passed without him ever really fitting in at work, or really making any friends. His new residence just wasn’t home. So he decided to do a three-day biking trip, an activity he had loved back north, but it just wasn’t the same in the desert.

Just keep pedaling, he told himself. Truthfully, he felt more like stopping and turning around. But he was already out here. Going back would be pointless. Just keep pedal- Oh, forget it.

He halted the bike and rehydrated. As he drank from his water bottle, he spotted a blur in the distance off the road. He shielded his eyes from the sun. The blur was a reddish brown and took on a horse-like shape as it drew closer, only it was larger than a horse and didn’t move like a horse.

Lawrence’s adrenaline spiked, realizing he was out here alone and defenseless. I don’t belong here. He readied the bike to speed off, but his curiosity demanded he stay. Steadily, the reddish brown beast drew closer revealing it had long spindly legs, a curved neck, and bushy mane around its collar. A hump protruded from its back.

Lawrence blinked in amazement as the camel continued its trot across the desert towards this lone isolated part of the bike route. Where did you come from? Why are you out here alone?

The camel stared back at him with glassy eyes, as if wondering the same thing about Lawrence. He and the camel maintained eye contact as its thick black hooves clacked onto the pavement, just ten feet in front of Lawrence.

How had this exotic creature come to be so far from where it belonged? Yet, the camel didn’t seem to question its location. It was here, therefore it belonged here.

The camel crossed the road and pressed onward through the desert. Lawrence watched the majestic mysterious animal hoof off into the distance until it was once again a blur on the horizon. After a moment, he resumed pedaling westward.

(Fiction and Photography by Wesley Martin)


This is West – Sediment


Fajada Butte (G.B. Cornucopia (National Park Service, United States – Chaco Canyon National Historical Park: Weather)

The details of the land are
boundless, rugged
Layers that shimmer, hide.
They call out to the depths
beneath and above
Creating beauty out of fire,
They crisscross forming
layers of sediment, evoking
caverns, mountain, streams
Adding to the story of the
land, the people.
Yet still hiding secrets
beneath the shimmering
Waiting for the surface to
Waiting for their time to
shimmer in the sun again.

(Poetry by Fawn Hon)


This is West – A Withered Reflection


“Marks of the Wind in a Puddle” by Malene Thyseen, retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

The lingering heat ruined the rain. There was no torrential downpour sweeping in on a cool wind. It didn’t cleave the sunbaked summer in two. It didn’t arrive with low, auspicious thunder and purple bolts of lightning. Instead, it fell in unsatisfying specks for days, exacerbating the already oppressive humidity, clogging every throat and drawing the sweat from every pore. It rushed down the street in brown torrents, pooling in the lowest intersections, and helped tires to grind asphalt into fresh potholes. The weeds had already begun to triple and the sodden, sucking earth didn’t yet allow for mowers to grind them back into stumps.

He woke up each morning with the sheets clinging to his body and showered only to sweat again within the hour. He suddenly favored juice over coffee, welcoming the cool slide of citrus down his throat each morning as the briefest possible reprieve. He dressed in shorts every day, but even that wasn’t enough to keep the sweat out from behind his knees, from beneath his arms, from sliding down the nape of his neck. His front door was sticking, suddenly, in a way it hadn’t before, bloated by warmth in its frame and he sighed when he realized the particularly large, ugly orb weaver that’d made its web between his porch light and the awning hadn’t yet been knocked away by the stuttering downpour.

He felt like he hadn’t been able to breathe in weeks.

The house on 14th Street, the house that wasn’t his own, seemed to have taken the weather to heart. The trim running beneath the gutter looked more chipped than ever; he’d been meaning to repaint it for the last four years. He would mow the grass just as soon as the lawn dried out, but for now the Yellow Mustard was slowly creeping ever-higher, halfway to his knees and sure to be taller when he showed up again tomorrow. Rain’s phantom speckled the sidewalk and his skin in tandem.

A withered reflection behind the door groaned when he stepped inside, shifting in the old brown armchair with the worn-down and fraying arms, looking older than it had just hours ago. His father had recently begun to sleep there, when walking to his bed had become too grand an effort. The carpet beneath his father’s feet was stained with every substance imaginable. For half a decade it’d increasingly become the solitary site of his life’s every moment, spent wiled away in front of an ancient television sat atop a rickety end-table drawn close to account for failing eyes. The numbers on the controller had worn away completely months ago.

He took a seat on the sunken sofa, next to a toppling stack of old newspapers, and sucked in a lungful of dust. A piece of him wondered if he’d begun to visit too often. “You alright?”

His father grunted, pulled in a labored breath. “Been better.”

(Fiction by Kayleen Burdine)


This is West – Calvin’s Salvage

Calvin's Salvage photo

The tow truck’s wheels wobbled through the rows of old cars and scrap. Calvin had considered getting one of the new hover models, but that was before the spaceport had come in. A year ago this lot covered nearly half-a-mile with rows stacked three cars high. Back then, Calvin’s Salvage was booming and his destiny was certain. Now, destiny dwindled with his lot.

Calvin wound the wobbly truck out the back of the lot into his acreage where he and the kids had built a tree fort in the big spruce. Charles and Antoine liked to play knights, and sometimes Calvin played the giant attacking the castle. No games now. The kids had left with their mother to stay with her parents. If the spaceport kept snatching up all the property, there would never be another game played in that spruce.

Ida had pleaded for Calvin to sell the lot and come with her and the kids. Even through all their long arguments, Calvin had believed things would turn around; that the spaceport couldn’t conquer the whole town, that Calvin’s Salvage would survive.

It took months—all the way to the first launch—for Calvin to see that Ida was right.

The wobbly wheels halted on the hill at the edge of Calvin’s property, right outside the spaceport’s safety radius, meaning Calvin was not legally obligated to sell. At one point Calvin had considered this a blessing. Now it was a cruel joke.

From his hill he could see the spaceport, about the size of a dime if he held one up at arm’s length. Even from this distance he could tell that the shuttle was in place at the departure dock.

Closer by, Calvin saw the brick factory that had kept the town’s economy running for so many years and also the drive-in theater which had reliably entertained the town for almost as long. Both had the misfortune of being located directly in the safety radius and were forced to sell early. Perhaps they were the blessed ones: they never had false hope. One by one the town was bought out by the spaceport. Calvin himself had been offered a generous sum, but this lot was his destiny. He built a family and a home here. No sum would have been large enough to outbid destiny.

The shuttle’s engines churned fire and Calvin felt his destiny soaring off this planet along with the shuttle. He shielded his eyes, watching the unimaginably sophisticated metal tube rise farther into the atmosphere. The shuttle flew high and his heart sank so low.

Calvin sighed and rested his head on the steering wheel, then an enormous explosion a thousand feet in the air sent him clambering to the floor of the truck. After a second, he uncovered his head to see a fireball, much larger than a dime, hurling pieces of the sophisticated metal tube in all directions. Chunks of mangled flaming wreckage rained down for miles around.

(Fiction and Photography by Wesley Martin)


This is West – Inherent Process


It smelled of moisture when he awoke: a moisture he had not smelled since he moved to the dry, searing west. The lengthy downpour coated and seeped into every permeable surface, creating an aura fueled by the extracted dust seeping out of every dried up, seemingly hollow crevice—a stagnant, murky smell which co-mingled with the fresh scents bursting off the rain drops as they shattered like small shards of fine glass upon the inflexibly crisp landscape that is what he now called home.

His senses had to isolate the intoxicating scent of fresh rain, a type of rain that sought to sanitize every depraved act committed upon the land and the energetic chaos carried by those calling it home. What did a soaking rain offer his new home? What did the entwining smells of dusty, aging wood and bitter, dry weeds offer? Weeds that were furiously growing out of the myriad of cracks throughout the pressed pavement parking lots along the small town’s one-street business district. What mischievous deeds were being cleansed by the lengthy rain and pushed out of their cozy, arid homes?

Looking back at the events that transpired, he pinpointed it was 1986 when the inevitable move to the west began its path. He was twenty-six years old and had just relocated to the top of the social hierarchy in his profession, a profession he found satisfied his complex thought process. A thought process that engrossed every ounce of his being, so much so he had no choice but to adhere to the inherent process occurring within him—which meant his profession was of the utmost importance. But his profession was gone and, since the move to his new home, he couldn’t shake the continual movie reel using his mind’s eye, his dreams as its projector.

It was one of those chance events that flew in, slapped him in the face, shit on his head, kicked his legs from underneath him, and slammed him flat on his ass, gasping for air—leaving him wondering in that split second if he had forgotten how to breath.

(Fiction and Photography by Fawn Hon-Hinton)


This is West – A Stillness


It isn’t sunset; not yet.

The sky colors with the haze of the in-between: clouds smeared across the horizon and ringed with gold by the late-afternoon sun. The blue begins to pale. Birds chatter in the tall elm trees and soar in circles around their nests. Bugs flock to stagnant pools of rainwater and flit around weeds grown taller than the fences which surround them. A fox crosses the crumbling asphalt laced with stubborn greenery and disappears.

One day the Earth remembered how to breathe and the world went still.

What’s left are ruins: homes abandoned in the wake of a cataclysm, levelled or standing, water-logged or charred to husks. When Earth decided it was time for the end, she spared almost no one. Humanity tamed the land, mastered disease, and conquered uncertainty. But in the end its undoing was the one thing it never managed to reign in: the unrelenting ferocity of natural disaster.

These days there’s a quiet that doesn’t disappear.

Merril watches a flock of blackbirds take to the sky, punctuating the silence with an avian ballet. It’s the same every summer: each night, as the sun begins to slip away, the sweeping murmurations twist and twirl among the clouds in perfect synchronicity. She watches until the birds disappear and the crickets sing, then locks herself inside the old one-bedroom house at the end of Glorieta Circle.

She is fifty-two years old. Thirty years have passed since an F5 tornado levelled her hometown. Eight years have passed since she buried her husband under a sprawling oak tree in Oklahoma. It’s been fourteen months since she last saw another human being.

The little hole-in-the-ground Texan town she’s haunted for eight months broadcasts its seclusion in semi-collapsed buildings overrun by Virginia creeper and trumpet vines, fountain grass and thistle. There’s a stream not far from her home with water clean enough to drink and enough game lurking in the shadows to eat well a few times each week. It isn’t pretty, but it’s a living.

When food gets scarce she hunts with her husband’s old rifle, picking rabbits and coyote off with a hand steadied by years of practice. Most days she favors traps. Most days the roar of the rifle sounds displaced and irreverent: a reminder that although she survives, she is not home.

In an abandoned Texan suburb thirty years after the end, she’s certain humanity was never home.

(Fiction and Photography by Kayleen Burdine)


This is West – Seed of Muse


“Trapped Tumbleweeds” by USFWS Mountain-Prairie. Found on Wikimedia Commons.

The woman sat staring into the milky swirls of her latte, hands folded in her lap. In the epicenter of the creamy cyclone in her cup, she felt a beginning, an inkling, a seed. Her memories and thoughts swarmed about the motionless center, organizing themselves into the curved arms of a story, and she envisioned how her last book had come to success. How the last seed had become a nation.

It began with the seed, the genetic offspring of a thousand works before it, waiting in a dry western soil. Then the rains came – the life occurrences and experiences – that flooded water onto the plains of her thoughts and allowed the seed to germinate. The seed reached deeper into the damp red earth, pulling ancient and established prose into its being, and it reached higher, stretching toward the unobstructed light of new possibility. Deeper it grew and higher it stretched, until the thousand green arms of its sentences fluttered in the open air for all to see.

Except it was not done growing yet. New limbs branched off of old ones, old branches died and fell away, and editorial/evolutionary concessions redistributed resources to the parts of the plant that needed them most. Upon reaching full maturity, the tumbleweed then freed itself of its author. It dried up and waited for a strong wind.

The work of art did not wait long before a powerful and unlikely gust rushed down from the north, exclamations of praise in the New York Times sweeping up the story and sending it hurtling southward. With it, numberless other stories skipped along, getting caught up on fence lines of indifference, distaste, or obscurity. But the woman’s book rolled on, a thousand seeds falling on fertile minds as it passed from reader to reader, driven by the weather phenomenon of social attention.

Hard work had won the woman’s book the validation it deserved. Hard work and a lot of luck. She brushed her obsidian hair back behind her ear and lifted the latte to her mouth. She had been lucky. Lucky that her seed had fallen on good soil, lucky that a prominent editor had crossed paths with the wandering book, lucky that her work trundled into the social scene at the right time, and lucky that it hadn’t gotten caught up with the overwhelming body of fictional work being produced and lost in a pile of weeds.

Of course, she thought while returning her rectangular reading glasses to her face, it takes hard work to be lucky.

She put down her latte, picked up a pencil, and began scribbling the next seed on her receipt.

(Fiction by Alex Pappalardo)


This is West – A Dirt Town Brown and Cupcakes


I could tell it hurt. This time was different. He winced when I said it and in that moment the words solidified for me and I chewed it up with green chili and warm pizza dough and swallowed.

“You’ll be back,” he mumbled with confidence. He spoke into a brown ale that was our favorite. It was hardly ever available anymore at a local pub where we’d met.

“Let’s talk about something else. How did the interview go?” I asked over my pizza and my eyes turned downward.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Did you get it or not?” I pleaded, but I didn’t know for what.

He didn’t engage.

“Six years.” He shook his head.

“I’d change it if I could,” I said.

“Me too.”

A New Mexico Spring has a wind that makes bodies ache; it swirls out the dead from the ground and they wander around barren fields with cow shit patties from the beginning of creation or the great divide. It’s calming, sometimes, to hear it howling outside of a studio apartment where his checkered vans with drawings on the yellowed parts lie next to the mattress on the floor. Watching the dust collect on his skin and form greasy clumps and kissing tumbleweeds floating on his cracked lips. The harshness of it all becomes bearable. Almost. Until you forget about the layer of your skin that’s rubbed raw from going outside, and you nurse it on his couch. And the way the callous on his thumb forms to the guitar in the corner that hasn’t left its case in months you’ve stopped counting. And the time he used paintbrushes to leave a mark. And then, the tattoo gun.  Comfort collects on his white walls and I can’t remember what water tastes like in the air. You forget that the wind’s not so bad.

“You’ll be back,” he said again. “Everyone always come back.”

We parted at the stoplight. I didn’t kiss him. I didn’t want him to be right again.

I felt the sting of dirt on my bare legs underneath my skirt. I faced the sun. I would miss its dry heat for the last time.

(Fiction and Photography by Jade Smith)


This is West – My Unnamed


This is my voice, my untrammeled and confused trill of noise. I’ve heard that my voice, my noise, the vibration of my vocal chords is a signifier, but I didn’t say that. The signifier is not mine to name and is not part of my language.

My browned fingers bleed sometimes from washing dishes all day; not the rubbing but the constant soak of soap-filled water splits my skin open. Rubber gloves only last so long, and there are dishes at home as well as at work. I take care not to bleed at work; it is not acceptable. At home dark tendrils drift into the rose colored water and a deep pain afflicts me. Perhaps if I had a gift of words I could name this pain, pen it up in a clear plastic container and prod out its secrets. The eight fifty an hour I make washing dishes in the back of a Mexican fast food chain helps sustains my body and my children, but it only helps.

Watch a drop of blood touch the surface of oily water, watch the red pearl blossom into a crimson flower before the thin gossamer threads of my life drift away. And I pause until the flow of my fingers stems. I watch the seeds of my poverty in the sink of my labor and I feel deep things moving beneath the surface. Of course sadness, pain, anger, and other common words come to mind, but using those words to describe what moves within is like watching my son break out into a boiling fever and calling it “not good.”

The tragedy within, of my downtrodden and broken self, is mine.

I do not have a name for it. Instead others speak for me, wage wars of idealism far above my head and use the deep nameless thing within me like a bludgeon. The poor are a weapon in the hands of the educated, swinging my incomprehensible feelings about and cutting at the opposition who they claim created me. The opposition swings back claiming that their detractors would make beggars of us all. In between the poor suffer and the intellectuals talk about the poor like a Darwinian phenomenon.

The poor are not mine either. I am poor, but I am not the poor. I am mine, and the things I suffer are mine also, and the things I cannot name are mine more than anything.

Except I’ve shown my fraudulence. Remove the words: untrammeled, trill, signifier, tendrils, gossamer, and all words like them. Reduce my words to a rudiment of language that barely resembles the words used in tomes to define our existence and that I did not create. Replace them with silent tears, pain, curses, slang, confusion, outburst of senseless bitterness, and a thousand other manifestations. Then look upon me, upon the things I name with gestures and emotion and leave unnamed by words, and say I’ve brought this upon myself.

These things are mine.

(Fiction by Alexander Pappalardo)


This is West – The Playa


“Thirst, probably.” He reported as if he’d swallowed something too large and it had stuck in his throat. The news had come as a sand-sting to the town; it covered the small wagon-wheel in dusty rumors. I’d come as an outsider with a Corolla and a funny accent.

“Ironic, isn’t it?” He continued.

I didn’t know if it was irony, but I had a suspicion it remained sore for this man. A bleeding puss pocket—ready to burst at the moment he touched bourbon to his lips. Something he held onto and let fester; he picked at it and over time the skin remained damp and soft. As the Deputy Chief of a small border-town that had 17,000 residents he felt a sense of personal responsibility, I imagined. He was a pudgy man with bug eyes that were yellowed and looked like the cracked earth he stood on now. He’d taken me out to the pasture where they’d found her.

“She was headed for the Terry farm I’ll bet,” he said. “Dairy farmers and the like, I imagine looking for a husband or brother.”

“What was her name?” I questioned, scribbling in a notebook as he kicked a tumbleweed out of our walkway.

“Don’t know. Undocumented.”

“She was traveling then?”

“Suppose you could say that. No one knew her.”


She didn’t know how hard the wind could make her ache, as if it were peeling layers of her away. Little by little she forgot herself among the dirt. She forgot why she’d come. And how could it have hurt so badly for her to be here now. Water. She needed that, she knew. Dust and sand covered the backs of women that had come before her—a list of names the desert had crossed out. Arizona, she thought. That’s what she could remember. She said it out loud, focusing on the syllables. Why was land so cruel?  It erased the name her mother gave her. She huddled down in the heat, covering her face from the journey. She thought of home.


“There’s a playa, just north of here,” the Chief said. “She had maybe two miles.”

I wrote “Dead woman” in the perfectly aligned columns I’d taken from an air-conditioned trailer. I’d been counting bodies for two years and every trip never got any easier. I scribbled “Nameless” in the margins. The Chief climbed into his four-by-four Dodge pickup and cranked up the AC, removing his sweat-rimmed hat and throwing it on the dash. I walked around the truck to the passenger side and noticed a bumper-sticker that read “Pray for Rain” in blue and white lettering.

“The farmers sure could use it.” I hopped in the truck, moving my thumb in a hitch-hiking motion toward the back of the truck. “The rain.” Trying my best to sound local in sympathy.

“Not for the farmers anymore.” He looked ahead and drove over the large holes in the pasture.

I looked at him, puzzled. The wind had picked back up and the sand hit the glass of the truck and made a scraping sound.  We were headed back to town to get a burger and something to wash the afternoon down. He pointed to my notebook in my lap.

“Rain keeps the body-count down.”

(Fiction and Photography by Jade Smith)


This is West – Skies of Brown, Clouds of Gray


There was nothing beautiful about a New Mexican spring.

For every flower and warm, sunny afternoon there were six or seven lung-fuls of dust and needle-like torrents of sand blasted at her face at thirty (sometimes forty or, God forbid, even fifty) miles per hour. There was no beauty in a sky painted brown, a moon painted sickly yellow, in stars obscured by not-really-clouds. There was no pleasure in the dust devils flying down her street like phantoms for days on end, carrying stray trash and elm seeds. Spring was a season to be spent inside, more-so even than winter, hiding from the groaning voices hidden in every gust. She had laughed the first time she drove past that sign in-between towns that read “Gusty Winds May Exist.” Now she resented it.

There was something especially infuriating about being trapped inside an empty house by a force as seemingly innocuous as wind. The windows of their old house rattled in their frames and the draft pressed loose doors open like it was welcoming itself in, enjoy your stay, no that’s alright, I’ll take the couch. She was tired of dusting the windowsills. She had been through a three-pack of cheap feather duster replacements in the last month alone. The dirt was invading like a disease, lining the windows and the thresholds, sprinkled across her kitchen floor where in the winter there’d been only the slightest hint of damp and chill.

He returned on the windiest day of the year–the windiest day of her life–scaring her half to death when the screen-door suddenly flew back and banged against the side of the house and he all but tumbled in, bags in hand, hair tousled into the sort of disarray that up until that moment she had only ever associated with sleep and sex. Still in the midst of a fit of stir-craziness her hair was bound to the top of her head carelessly, not even brushed, and the clothes she wore were the sort she felt comfortable putting at the mercy of bleach stains. They stared at one another, momentarily mute. She was a mess. The city was a mess. He was a mess.

He was home.

“Beautiful as ever,” he said, face threatening to split with the size of his grin—with pleasure at how much planning it must have taken for him to arrive in this way, like any other storm, sudden and powerful. But not filthy, like spring. Not infuriating. His arrival was like the gentle whisper of rain she’d been anticipating for days, the thirty-percent chance promise she’d spotted on the weather channel two days ago that’d grown to sixty-five yesterday and ninety today.

She threw the feather duster at him. He looked at her in mock-offense, followed by real offense when they both became aware of the imprint of dust the filthy thing had left on his shirt. She laughed, the screen door rattled like it was trying to escape its frame, and in two quick strides she was in his arms. For a moment she took him in (her summer, at last) and when she opened her eyes, just over his shoulder, she could see the clouds—real, heavy, gray ones—creeping in on the horizon.

(Fiction and Photography by Kayleen Burdine)