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    Here's that writers' manual you were reaching and scrambling for. You know the one: filled with juicy writing tidbits and dripping with pop cultural snark and smartassery. Ew. Not an attractive look. But effective. And by the end, you'll either want to kiss me or kill me. With extreme prejudice. Go on. You know you want to.

  • Dissolute Kinship: A 9/11 Road Trip
    Dissolute Kinship: A 9/11 Road Trip
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    Please click on the above thumbnail to buy my short, intense nonfiction book featuring 9/11 and trauma. It's less than the price of a cup of coffee... and contains fewer calories. Although, unlike most caffeine boosts, it might make you cry.

  • Music Speaks
    Music Speaks
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    My story "Solo" appears in this excellent music charity anthology, Music Speaks. It is an odd hybrid of the darkly comic and the eerily apocalyptic... with a musical theme. Aw, rather than me explain it, just read it. Okay, uh, please?

  • First Time Dead 3 (Volume 3)
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    My story "Unquiet Slumbers" appears in the zombie anthology First Time Dead, Volume 3. It spills blood, gore and genuine tears of sorrow. Anyway, buy this stellar anthology and judge for yourself.

  • Seasons
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  • Indies Unlimited: 2012 Flash Fiction Anthology
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    Indies Unlimited

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Entries in Crow (5)


Mediocre, This Uncivil War

The restless dead still wander the sites of old battles. Ironic to this misfit how much they still belong.

The thing squats on the arm of my chair. A sound like veins being knotted, unknotted, gurgles from its abraded throat, a spoiled creek.

"How gentle are you?"

Faraway dead moan their irony. It's a hammock, this world. Where, which places, is it anchored?

"Gentle as I have to be," I answer, and it is a good answer.

Something falls into an abyss and screams, dopplering to silence.

"Enjoy the silence."

How can something in such surly folds of grey make so firm a claim to whiteness when clearly they mean purity? Is anodyne a prize now? 

"Funny. I refuse both silence and joy."

"Then you're a fool. As all your kind have proved."

So be it. It's not wrong. How normal is it to stand in your bathroom, your mouth unhasped, no sound emergent, while your fingers crawl amid the grainy air and the muffled drop of a cat stooping from a chaise longue onto a hardwood floor punctuates some mutant night that dreams of being a sentence? The cat a comma. Your silent scream an ellipsis. Your burlesque fingers quote marks emulating talk.

Is mimicry all we have left? Will this sultry air not move again? Or ever match this hankering? 

The stench of the dying dead fills everything. Help me. Help.


And you don't even own a cat.


Yearning for a cloudburst.

Apples, blueberries, fresh basil, a pickled human finger, spring water, kidney beans, parmesan, labia minora.

Fungal uncle. Aching aunt. A dozen cousins, and portabella bella, under her umbrella. Ella, ella.

Cumulonimbus. Digital familial. Expertly packed, the things we need today. Riding the subway, a muted rollick under the fungible layers of love and tragedy. A rhythm section somewhat lower than the cacophony.

Wetness. Extra virgin truffles, and the staring, gutted eyes of a slaughtered baby. 

Compare grocery lists?

No. Please, let's not.


Cry wolf and loose the battalions of ravens.

Coyote always had two syllables to me. 

This is the West. The terminus. The place the world crawls to when its legs give out. When its heart wears thin. When all thoughts spiral out from certitude, recoil from discipline.

You hold a torch, guttering in the prairie wind, but your endgame, your raw sortie is clear. Nothing is happening in the gathering impasse in the sky; a skirmish of silence and spreading shameface. A pinto gelding sighs and looks askance, partway asleep on its sturdy legs, its long piebald face more sorrowful than genocide.

A hiccup. Something rustles. You cut the flap, ignite the walls, and eviscerate a child.

As you run, the keening starts and flows like some soon-to-be-discovered cloud form, and it follows you, a subdued post-rape scream as you stop to slake from a brittle canteen, the leather cracked and crackling, the lukewarmth of its bowels more jittery horror than quenchment, and it follows you and doesn't ever blink or quit, not even once. Not even in judgment.


"Time to wake up, baby boy."

A slow tide sucks itself back over pebbles. A harbour rocks its boats.

"I won't wake up. I won't ever wake up. All this is a lie. You lied to me. Goddamn it, you were supposed to be kind. Whatever happened to kind?"

"I won't ever answer that, my brother."

"You ain't my fucking brother."


Wild blueberries and whistler marmots bisect a sheer plane of scree. Fruits of the woman, of the delta. Contours the shade of American ordinance. Blue is the overtopping god above grey, above white. Great banks of snow in mid-August. Tourists braying like burros. This caldera, this cascadia, this hallelujah, shouted from a ruined throat into ink, chorused into unspooling light years of astonishing indifference.


Sister Matins

For a hushed moment, in your stillness and quiet we thought you dead. 

Your body is encased in a form-fitting spray of powdery charcoal dust. No gloss, just fine textural grain. Your hair, which does in fact gleam like the renegade moon, is gathered in a dark ponytail, most alien to you. You are a vessel, a human kayak someone might paddle across the mist-shrouded lake. But you would never stand for that. This is about dignity. And what is right. 

Sister. Let me breathe for you.

Still. You are on your feet now in defiance, your perfect legs spread in a warrior pose, your musculature fine as topography, the line of your jaw tracing the upraised shoreline like a medieval sextant. 

With my fingertips I want to sketch that jaw; with my whole hands I want to ward off hurt for you. And I see that you know this. But each passing moment only adds to your Egyptian charm, your Cleopatran scorch, your torrid Mediterranean allure, your intrinsic gypsy tang. A parade of goddesses arrives and begins to carouse. Nephthys and Isis and Bastet. Qetesh and Sekhmet. Banished to the shadows, I watch with my jackal eyes. I dream of violet orchids and ruby-throated hummingbirds. 

I literally just said this to my good friend, a father of young children: "Hugs from a four-year-old are worth their weight in hummingbird wings."

He laughed in that way you laugh when something is unassailable.

It might well be that you rebut your feline side. Whatever. I sense it anyway; see, hear, feel, smell, taste. The steps you offer me I recondition, make of them a route for you to renegotiate and clamber back aboard hope.

The aurora blooms in the late summer sky. Greens and violets, curtains in the vast cosmic window. They dance and shimmer all night without need of accompaniment. An electric profundity of silence. 

You are a single flower the colour of amethyst in a once-fertile valley that has grown cold and strange. Your petals are a purple fist, protective. The very first rays of daybreak fail to tempt you. But then a sudden sunshower mists your corolla, stirring them to unfurl and accept both heat and liquid, and you open to the world and the first bird sings.

Your cry is piercing in the gentle night, carrying over conifers and crumbling ridges, the lament of someone grasping at a hundred frozen edges. Pain is pain. Fear is fear. And you know both. We meet on that very plain, wrought of anguish and the bleak ignoble tendencies of our kind. We are clothed; we are unclothed. It matters not. We embrace. Another time you walk right by me, oblivious. At others we are bathed in the spectral light of nebulae.

Sometimes my thirst makes you smile. And you tease me. Sometimes you welcome it. Each time we honour the crossing of our paths, we're forced to reconcile our altered selves. And each time that happens, the more we can say we're mostly good. And if I know your femininity of a moment, it's true you might save me from some future hangman. We are dangling from a fulcrum, you and I. Like clocks and guns and fever dreams. Crows and coyotes. Ravens and eagles. Breakthroughs. Onslaughts. Executions. Hot rocks in a lodge and scintillating skies, everything animate and woman-bejeweled.


Balance Beam

He enjoyed whispering rumours of doom on long flights. Insinuating himself into the sphere of a fellow passenger's trust, wearing his skin of bland congeniality so well he began to believe it himself, then telling them what he'd overheard from a flight attendant, about how the captain had swallowed a fish bone and, while clutching at his throat, had knocked an instrument setting askew that no one noticed until the first officer finally did so, before immediately realizing that their unwitting detour across half the Pacific meant they no longer had enough fuel for a landing at any airport, and that they'd have to ditch in the ocean, which almost always augured catastrophic loss of life. He would select a young mother to whisper this to, a weary twentysomething whose toddler had finally, mercifully, succumbed to sleep. Or a nervous old lady. Or a half-drunk and angry middle-aged white man, who'd invariably make it about him and his entitled self-pity, provoking a full-blown tantrum that would be infectious throughout the cabin, providing endless entertainment far funnier than the inflight movie.

Although he could never laugh, not on the outside.

When they always landed and people looked at him accusingly, with oddly hurt and—strangest of all—disappointed expressions, he'd shrug and say, "Must have misheard. Could have sworn that's what they said."

Sometimes he would embellish it further, reveling in the unfolding story and its implications: The copilot noticed but pretended not to, and when it was discovered, he declared "Allahu Akbar!" at which the senior flight attendant fainted. A cadre of mice that had been onboard as property of a multinational pharmaceutical company, in the process of being transferred between a research laboratory in San Diego and an experimental facility in Kobe, had escaped their defective crate and chewed through enough wiring that all the hydraulics were lost and the slightest turbulence would soon send them plummeting like a doomed lance into a calm and glassy ocean that might as well be adamantium.

He once told an unaccompanied young passenger, all of thirteen years old, dark of feature and tiny of frame, that he was an undercover air marshal and had discovered a plot by ecoterrorists to make of their fossil-fuel-guzzling flight an example, by remotely shutting down each engine in turn until the United Nations agreed to outlaw all the oil trade on earth, and she had begun to cry silently until her grief and terror had built like late afternoon thunderheads and no one could console her or get any sense from her, and she'd had to be sedated and then hospitalized once they'd landed.

Because they always landed. 


She never landed. A decade of perfect run-ups, mounts, and layout full twists on the balance beam, only for the landing to fail. 

Yet she kept loving. Loving it all. Believing in the idea of perfection and the dedication of her coach and her fellow gymnasts. And the cruel man she didn't know, yet dreamed of every night. The man who whispered appalling things to defenceless souls so he could fondle their terror. The man who fed on dread and drank dismay. 

This charming man. She knew one day she'd get it right.


A dream. He was lying on a cloud, smoking a Cuban cigar. A coyote and a crow were having a heated conversation about the chemical makeup of Pluto's great heart plain. He laughed and they both turned to him and said, "You'll wish you hadn't done that."

"Whatever," he answered, and drew in a lungful of smoke that was bitter and hot and made him cough.

"You need to stick the landing," a female voice whispered in his ear, but he saw no one. The coyote and the crow were gone. Just a single balance beam, shimmering, impossibly narrow and infinitely patient.

He mounted, teetered and lurched a couple of times, attempted a routine, did okay. But he couldn't dismount. He was too afraid of the landing. He closed his eyes, told himself nothing could go wrong in a dream, that it didn't matter. Just jump and hope. But he stayed frozen, his heart drumming like a hummingbird orgy in his chest, his lungs shrivelled in the rarefied air. Then the cloud disappeared and he was falling at last.


When he opened his eyes, he thought at first the cloud was back, the dream was back, but it took a moment to realize the cabin was gauzy with smoke. He inhaled an acrid electric reek. Then he registered the screaming. Saw the flight attendants wet-faced and inconsolable, clutching rosaries, totems, talismans. Felt his entire lower guts shift with the slow stirrings of true terror.

A man nearby, in a voice tremulous with sorrow, said, "My daughter's wedding is next month. I can't miss it…"

He scrambled to the window, saw the fire flapping like oily orange rags from the engine, the impossible cant of the horizon.

And for the first time in the few minutes left of his life he embraced terror and found within his core something small but bright, something that hummed an unheard frequency, while his wretched human moans mingled with those of his fellow passengers and were entirely indistinguishable.


After the Riots

© Janet TernoffHard to believe there had been riots here only last summer. The street seemed so ordinary. The pavement still carried the sheen of an earlier rain squall, but was now trickster-bright under the great dome of our planet's sky. A city street, with towering glass buildings, random nodes of pedestrians, and a blossoming row of Japanese maples every fifteen metres or so.

She hailed a cab but no cab stopped. She'd lost her phone in the park, after those one-armed boys had chased her, so Uber was not an option.

A crow on a streetlight glared at her and screeched "cuntlicker!" just once.

She flinched and bowed her head. Tried to recall the transit map in her brain. Bus or skytrain?

Maybe she could walk. She only had to go a couple blocks. Or wait, was it two klicks? She could never remember. Was there even a difference?

The pulsating sun was turning yellow-orange and crimson, swirling like a candymaker in an emerald sky. A man emerged from the knots of passersby, stretched his neck and whole face toward her, looming like a thing from perdition's carnival, and spat in her mouth. She tasted spoiled mackerel and she gagged, vomiting out a small dead rodent on the fur-lined sidewalk along with the pitiful remains of her lunch, a soft taco.

"Help me," she said, although not loudly, and kept walking.

"Cumbucket," said the crow.

A woman laughed in an alley closeby. 

A rusted old Chevy sedan slowed and kept pace with her. She couldn't make out the driver, seeing only a silhouette that suggested a misshapen head far larger than a man's. Ponderous, untamed, hirsute, bovine.

She heard distant music to the west: French horns, glockenspiels, bassoons. As if some ghost parade had been carried on the storm, had become unnerved and had left for the coast, was fading as it passed over the edge of the wide Pacific, gathering in its heartbroken wake only the good things of the world.

Crying seemed appropriate, but she resisted.

"Suck me," offered the crow.

The car tracked her every move; she even stopped to test it. After a minute or so of this dance, something made her suddenly brave, and she opened the passenger side door. An immense shriek so loud it cracked windows and stripped blossom from the maples blared from inside the vehicle, and a voice that sounded like something malignant being boiled alive said, "Get away. Close the door. We will chew off your limbs. We will obliterate everything you've ever loved."

She recoiled and collided with a younger woman, who hissed at her and made a sign with her fingers. "Are you here?" the young woman asked. "Is anyone here? Am I here?" Her faded bluejean eyes rolled into her skull and instead of whites, the orbs were without light and colour, darker than the underwings of the sleek and ribald crow.

"Goatfucker," suggested the crow.

The air was filled with cherry blossom and its fragrance was cloying.

She tried to answer the woman, but her throat was coated in something sweet and gluey. Her mind filled with a roomful of mewling fetuses, their stick limbs waving and clutching like tiny tentacled ocean things, pellucid amphibian eyes mostly sightless, dark stilted beings looming and striding among them and plucking morsels as they trod.

What is all this? What happened to me? she thought, a moment before something impossibly vast and inconceivably dark dimmed out the world and everything truly went to hell.


The Hart of the Wood

© tibor jantyikHowever good a day it is to be alive right now, just know there will come another day when it's equally good to die. You don't need a Crazy Horse to tell you that. 

There will come a storm. A war. And in war all our darknesses will converge, will meet. Too late, we might want to quarantine ourselves, remove our lusts and terrors from all equations, but that moment will have passed, and into the noxious bloodtide we must wade as ravenous, reluctant warriors, taking a reckoning of our friends and our enemies both, and giving deference equally, however much one is conveyed by the sacrament and the other by the sacrifice. For they are one and the same.

And this is what the crow saw.

Abandoned islands in a smokestack sky. Industrial archipelagoes. The molten stench of the world's innards. What gave us pause. What made us flinch. How many of us were built for this remorse? 

Who, who will comfort you now?

Hidden from most, a blister erupted in the forest, while men drew crude vaginas in the dirt and women built phalluses from mud. The crow flew closer, alighting on a cedar bough. Only the crow loved both venerated and venereal, gleaning correctly their kinship. Which is love, really. The crow has solved a great perplexity.

And now the coyote speaks.

But its language seems like gibberish, and its strange music makes men want to kill, so no one hears the coyote song. It goes:

"Weep now, but laugh hence,

Dream of yesterday while

Gutting the hart of the wood.

Kill your clenched prey, but

Return its offal to the thirsty earth,

And sing its worth to the skies."

If men heard the song, they might put down their dull blades for a while and make more and better vaginas in the dirt, or sharper blades. If women heard the song, they would perhaps add more verses and take solace in their propensity for avoiding foolishness in the unforgiving glare of the eternal public square. If children heard the song, the stitching of the world might even meet.

But instead, the crow mocks the coyote, and the coyote bows his defeated head while hot visceral gouts are splashed across the chalk downs of England, wakening the fox and the badger, only to begin the whole hemoclysm anew.

The fox barks till he's hoarse, then returns to the vixen in the den. Wash cycle becomes spin cycle, ad infinitum. They stand stock still and search each other's liquid eyes for some truth or even a hint of their next move. She tells him he should have been gone a long time ago, and he follows the arc of a comet in the black dome of the night, then stifles his abject caterwauling.

The crow laughs, although it feels more like whimpering. For a moment, it doubts even the sunrise, but at last spies a pale shimmer on the eastern rim of a sorrowing earth. Its cry is coarse in the quiet dawn, rough as the beard of a rapist on soft skin, and like a coward, stupidly, the crow looks only inward.

Ashamed, gauzy, reprehensible, engulfed, abhorrent, pensive, impure, tarnished, rapt, dishonorable.

Nothing but words. Words. Sounds as created by lips, throat, and tongue. Then scratched onto parchment with an ink-black quill. Repeated as tales or incantations. For what? Turns out the best we can say is this: 

Today is a good day to go fuck yourself.