It was shortly after the pitter-patter of tiny feet had been drowned out by the rat-a-tat-tat of the debt collector’s knocks that Carole Parker considered killing her husband. But it wasn’t until many years later, when her daughter Kate had grown up and flown the nest, that she actually decided to do it.

Carole had barely been out of her teens when Doctor James Parker, as glimmering and sophisticated as a Brandy Alexander, swept through her hum-drum life like a tornado, picked her up like Dorothy and plonked her in an Oz that bore more than a passing resemblance to Chiswick, West London.

As the years trundled on, however, James’s gambling and drinking habits ballooned to the size of the Hindenburg, his mood swings and behaviour grew more and more erratic and Oz turned out to be no place like home.

Carole’s initial, overriding feeling of disappointment eventually melded into a hate that slowly marinaded until it congealed into a cold, hard contempt.
Carole, who had been studying Chemistry at Durham University when she met James, found that she couldn’t safely rely on him for an income and she eventually took a part time job at Bogajski’s Veterinary Practice in Holland Park, an upmarket joint that pampered the pets of B and C-list celebrities. Over the years, a bottle of chloral hydrate that nestled on a shelf at work had stood out like the lone, beautiful whore in a rundown brothel, teasing and tempting Carole. The years had stretched out like a long summer shadow until, at last, she spiked a bottle of Mortlach – James’s favourite whisky – and headed home.
Carole got off the 94 bus at Turnham Green and glimpsed her reflection in the newsagent’s window. Her heart sank like the Titanic. As she looked at the frump in the window she remembered overhearing a couple of shiny, happy WAGs talking about her as they sat in the vet’s waiting room.

‘Not bad looking but a bit on the drab side’, the northern one had said.

‘Dowdy and past her sell-by date,’ commented the other, in a grating Estuary accent.

‘About time for a make-over,’ they giggled.

It had hurt but Carole could hardly disagree and she’d been depressed for days after. What had happened to the vivacious young woman who used to light up a room like a firework display? She’d been drowned in a flat cocktail of debt and drudgery but there was still a spark, she knew.

Well, she thought, with James out of the way – and his insurance money in the bank – there would be a rebirth. A phoenix from the ashes. A flush of excitement burst free like a champagne cork but by the time she stood at the gate of her semi-detached house that excitement was waning and being replaced with fear. Fear of prison if she was caught. Fear of what Kate would think. And then the guilt, the doubt and the panic hit her like a tsunami.

Then she saw the car. A big grey BMW that was parked outside her house looking like a shark that was waiting to strike.
‘There are, of course, myriad negotiation techniques,’ said Detective Sergent Frank Cook, in a voice not dissimilar to that of the tiger in the Jungle Book film. ‘One of the most popular is a two-hander, as it were, known as the good-cop/ bad-cop. But I, however, am here alone today and I am as far from a good cop as you can imagine so I think I’ll just stick to the Corleone method.’

Carole was focused now. She looked at James but he just looked pathetic, like a scolded schoolboy. His face was bleeding and snotty and the fingers of his left hand hung limp. With his shaking right hand, he signed the contract as Frank Cook hovered over him like Godzilla over a flattened Tokyo. James was a big man – he’d played prop forward for Durham University – but Frank was bigger, with a face that looked as if it had recently been scrubbed by a Brillo pad and big, big hands, one of which held a big, shiny bloodstained Glock 29. The moment that Carole signed the paper she could feel her life slipping away like dishwater down a plughole.

‘Congratulations,’ said Frank. ‘You are now the proud owners of ..well … life.’ He grinned like a game show host, pushed the deeds to the house in the pocket of his Armani jacket and then indifferently threw an IOU towards James.

‘I do believe we should have a little snifter to celebrate, don’t you?’ said Frank, putting a CD into the player. ‘I think Doctor James here is certainly in need of a little hair of the dog that fucked him up.’

Carole went over to the drinks cabinet. She took a swig of Glenfidich before passing the bottle over to James, who gulped it down like a drowning man gasping for the last breath of air.
Puccini’s Tosca blasted out as Frank looked at a photograph on the wall: Carole and Jimmy on honeymoon in Las Vegas, looking full of life and future.

‘Those were the days, my friends, eh?’ said Frank, turning and spotting Carole’s Sainsbury’s bag. ‘And is that a bottle of Mortlach, I spy? I hope you’re not keeping the good stuff for yourself.’

For the next few minutes, Carole seemed to step out of herself as if she were watching a film. She poured the Mortlach for Frank and let it all happen. About halfway through Tosca’s third act, as church bells rang, Frank started babbling, puking and convulsing and, by the late evening, he was dead.
Outside The City Barge, a bustling pub overlooking the Thames, the speakers were blasting out an old Eddie & The Hot Rods song. A jet ski cut across the water and Carole flashed back to the previous month when she and James had dumped Frank Cook’s body and BMW in the river’s murky water, somewhere near the Isle of Dogs.

A small aeroplane left a trail of white foam across the vivid blue sky. Carole smiled to herself as she showed her friends the shiny red shoes that she’d bought from Harvey Nichols with one of James’s many credit cards.

‘I think I saw your husband looking out of the window again today,’ said Sarah, a mousy woman with mousy hair. ‘Is that all he does these days? He seems to peek through the curtains whenever I park near you. Is he turning into a Peeping Tom?’

Carole laughed. That really was all James did now. Snoop. He was at the window day and night waiting for reprisals from Frank’s cronies. Reprisals that she doubted would come.

If anyone missed Frank Cook or thought that he’d been murdered, she doubted that they would suspect a boring suburban couple like her and James. And if they did, well, she had that big, shiny gun in her handbag, just in case.

‘Oh, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,’ chuckled Carole as she drained her glass of Pimms and lemonade. ‘Same again?


KEEPING TABS a Bishop Rider story by Beau Johnson

all of them to burn

We find the shipping container within a sea of shipping containers. Inside is what we hoped were not: three distressed newborns and fifteen illegals under the age of consent. Malnourished, they’re living in the type of squalor one can only imagine. An unflushed toilet is as close as I can get, but even that is far from the wall which hits us.

Also: correction—these girls, they weren’t living. They were surviving.

What led us here is the last thing Reggie Bone told us before I relieved him of his hands.

“The abductions. The snuff films. The piece of shit admits to it being his father behind it all. He also mentioned a shipping container full of something he hoped to trade.” Batista stops in his tracks, his face seeming to recede as he absorbs the news. I feel for him. I do. But I feel more for the people these pieces of shit choose to rip apart.

“This shipping container, he give you a number?”

He did. And now we stood, doors open, the light from above and behind the Detective and me twisting our appearance into something it was not. Cowering, the girls beg, they plead, and we try our best to make them understand. Once Batista calls it in, I vacate the premises.

We weren’t done, though.

No. Not by a mile.



It was true. All of it. Angelo Bone being the one behind it all. The man hid his tracks well, too, but shell companies, they can only hold secrets for so long. What adds insult to injury is both the sentence handed down and the amount of time he actually serves.

Early release brings the number to just under eight years, and why, I’m thinking, Batista kept tabs. Means we knew his day of release months beforehand. Little more digging and Bobby Meeks pops into view, he being the person registered as Bone’s pick up that day. Outside the gate, I follow both men and the Caprice to the east side of Culver. Beyond boarded-up houses, beyond run-down streets, they slow and slide into the driveway of a house Bone no longer owned on paper but seemed to be his all the same.

Each man exits the Caprice, Angelo Bone thinner than the man who drove him there. The older man had more hair, too, all of it bunched at the back. But what I remembered most about Bone was still there: his swagger. The one that proclaimed his shit didn’t stink, not even after six decades in.

I let the engine idle. I let them get inside. Halfway to the property I decide the front door would prove the path of least resistance. Situations change though, and I could very well be wrong, but when teenagers in shipping containers is all your mind allows you to see you have to go with your gut more often than not.

I’ve found things work best that way.


“You do realize we are connected in a way you are unaware of,” Bone’s voice is deeper than I think it should be, and I want to hit him again but don’t believe I’ll be able to stop if I do. Behind me, coating the floor, lay Bobby Meeks, his throat a second, larger mouth. “It’s true, Rider. My youngest boy, before he’s sent upstate, he participates in a mouth train they ran on that sister of yours. This was before they made that little movie of her, of course. It’s also before you figured out it was the Abrums who did you wrong.”

Not a lot stops me cold.

Not a lot causes me to question.

What Bone says next assures me he is attempting to do both.

“But your momma? She was different. My oldest, Malcolm, he being not only the one who put her in that dumpster but the one who broke the bitch’s neck.”

I say nothing. I can’t. I do, he never gets to the car. I do, he never gets to experience life from the inside of a shipping container for himself.

As I told Batista: we couldn’t have that.



The look in his eyes is what I remember most.

“No!” he says. “Not this. NOT LIKE THIS!” But it was like that, Bone taking a knee to the face just so I could pry him from the trunk. Once inside, I take other things from the man as well. His shoes. His belt. Anything which would allow him to leave life early if he really went and tried.

When it’s over, when the bribes and pleas go away, and after I tell him we already knew about his diagnosis, this is when he finally sees things for what they are. Defeated, he looks up to me, through me, the light from behind and above me illuminating everything I have chosen to be.

It’s here I shut both doors. It’s here I add the chains. I think of those girls. I think of those newborns.

Nine years removed, they still deserve more.

Beau Johnson lives in Canada with his wife and three boys. He has been published before, usually on the darker side of town. Such fine establishments might include Out of the Gutter Online, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and the Molotov Cocktail. Besides writing, Beau enjoys golfing, pushing off Boats and certain Giant Tigers.

Find Beau Johnson online …

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The Book By It’s Cover by John Patrick Robbins

The Mandalay Bay Event Center was packed Vegas was alive as always, but especially when a big fight was in the air.

They were there to see Ron, and he knew tonight was his night.

The crowd was electric and come hell or high water, he was leaving that cage with the belt or being carried out on his shield like the true warrior he was.


It was himself Ron “The Wrecking Machine” Vasquez vs the champ Phil “Wildcat”Carnie.

He had been the champ for almost two years he was the favorite.


Most were betting on the champ but Ronnie knew most those fools were going to be very disappointed when he went in there and took what was his all along.


He and Phil were the main event and now after what seemed like an eternity, it was finally time.

He sat there in the chute ready with his corner.


His music played and he began his journey to the cage.

The people screamed as some cussed him while others cheered and security pushed them all back as he concerned himself with none heading towards the cage.


It was the most unreal feeling a man could experience.

And if you lost focus you could easily get lost in the moment.


He paused before stepping into the cage the ref outside looked him over as so did the well endowed blonde sitting in the front row.

As she made eyes at the jacked up light heavyweight.


And to her surprise he seemed to be checking her out as well.

As he winked at her before stepping up into the cage.

He was a matador in the arena and here he was staring at her.


As he circled the cage as again what seemed like the entire arena cheered. And as he came full circle she swore their eyes met yet again.

She felt the excitement as it ran through her body, he was a true man’s man.


The guy beside her nudged into her and cheered loudly he looked like a fighter as well and she was sure she had seen him before, but aside from just coming out and asking him she remained silent as he had been a nuisance all evening.


As he cheered on the fighters and coached from the sidelines, yelling at the top of lungs and spilling over priced beers along the way.


The Champion was announced and soon made his way through the sold out crowd.


It was the fight folks had been waiting a year for and was finally going to happen.

The champs confidence bled through in the crowd, he was arrogant and saw Vasqez as a stepping stone a mere detour to the huge money fight another title and going up to heavyweight would be the true reward.


He looked across the cage and straight through Ronny.

And as the ref went over the rules and told them to touch gloves he simply blew a kiss and flicked him off.


As again the crowd went nuts they were savages more caught up in the spectacle than the actual contest.

Most just wanted to get drunk and hopefully see themselves on T.V. and nothing more.

Fights broke out all over the damn arena.


Being in the cage was actually the calm within the storm.

Ronny just laughed at the pricks antics cause all too soon none of the bullshit would matter.


Big John looked at both of them “Fighter are you ready, Fighter are you ready? let’s get it on!”


It was time to dance and Phil came out as arrogant as ever the overrated fool he was slamming his foot as to make Ronnie think he was going to either shoot or strike.


He wasn’t impressed in the years he had been watching him from the sidelines and he damn sure wasn’t impressed now.

Phil threw a head kick missed and as he spun around.


Ronnie lit him up like he was in a pinball machine.

And as the champion was off balance he stumbled backwards and caught by a left hook from hell.

He fell backwards into the cage and that was all his opponent needed.


The punches were fast and hard and soon the lights went out on the champions reign.


As the crowd went insane as so did Ronnie as he jumped on the cage.

As the tight body blonde was cheering with all the rest.

And as he stood on top of that cage he pointed to her.


She blew him a kiss and to her surprise he jumped to the outside and headed in her direction.

She was lost, it was like a true fairy tale moment except he was a chiseled from granite gladiator.


Beth couldn’t believe it as he made his way towards her and then was even more shocked, as he pushed right by her as he picked up the man sitting beside her annoying the shit out of her most the night into his arms.


As they embraced deeply and the whole crowd seemed to for a brief moment go silent as her heart sank and her world was turned upside down.


As Ron “The Wrecking Machine” Vazquez grabbed his lover’s hand and pulled him towards the cage.


And as he stood there in his moment he could barely find the words to speak.


As they put the championship around his waist and he lifted his partner again in his arms.


Meanwhile the champ had slowly regained consciousness.

As he awoke to find himself dethroned and his nightmare opponent embracing another man as he looked to the doc.


“Hey doc am I dreaming?”


“No champ I’m sorry you lost.”


Phil was befuddled to say the least, as the crowd if so was too damn drunk to care and the tight bodied little blonde felt as defeated as the former champ.


The gladiators had left the arena and the amped up jocks were left scratching their heads.


Ronny was a beast in that cage and was ever too happy to shatter the beer guzzling buffoons delusion of what a fighter has to be.


The champ had arrived and he was officially off the clock.

His job was to kickass and take names later and what he did beyond office hours was nobody’s business but his own.


The former champ was yesterday’s news the second the lights went out.

The fight game was a sea of sharks, blood was in the water constantly.

Backstage his opponent shook his hand and offered to buy him a beer.


He didn’t refuse and I’m sure if that blonde from the crowd had been offered she would had not either.


Life’s filled with surprises so they say.


Fight night would from here on out would never be looked at the same.


John Patrick Robbins: is the editor in chief of the Rye Whiskey Review and Under The Bleachers.  He is also author of Sex, Drugs & Poetry from Whiskey City Press.  And Once Upon A Nervous Breakdown from Soma Publishing. 
His work has been published here at Punk Noir Magazine,  Ariel Chart,  Piker Press, San Pedro River Review,  San Antonio Review,  Red Fez , Blognostics and The Blue Nib .
His work is always unfiltered. 

We could have been heroes? by Mark McConville

Our souls are heavier than sound, heavier than heaven, and we know now that we’re blotches on the skin of life. This road we walk upon leads to the cracks of suburbia, the domain where hope fizzles out and where men and woman fight to stay alive. In my pocket I have two coins, in yours you have lipstick. A pen to write rage on bathroom stalls, an object to cover up your split lips. These coins couldn’t get us a place to stay. We ran, carrying only ourselves. No remedies to nullify the pain in our hearts, no essentials. The clothes we have are on our backs.

Our eyes have seen many wars. The scars are medals. Through your own eyes you’ve seen worse. Your baby taken from you, your life thrown into turmoil. You can still hear the cries, those deafening bellows for your affection. A child terrified and stuck in a place only the devil would appreciate. A sanctum, lacking fresh air and the warmth from a womb.

Scared, we’re scared, you’re tears fall like droplets of rain, and my hands shake unrelentingly as I try to keep myself from cascading. You try to talk, I only hear fragments of your broken voice, you scream, I can only see your disgruntled expressions. I say that we must escape the doubt before we can think optimistically.

Negativity has brushed against our resolve for years. Before this distress, we lived in a sunken apartment, living day to day, crashing into bottles of wine and rubbing skin with creatures of the night. Those people are to blame, their trust obsolete. They want money from us, but we’re broke, so broke, that I had to sell my late mother’s jewelry.

The day I handed over those rings and necklaces, was a day where my heart should have caved in. I had to sell them, I had to deliver money to the darkness. I wished for an SOS, I craved a bed, to rest my weighty head. There’s no bed, there’s no home. Only a road, a long, straight road. We’ll be dead in a day.

The money has dried up like the road we walk on. I have nothing to give, not a single dime, not a single word. You seem tired. Tired enough to breakdown, your engine crashing. The blood in you, coursing through veins which crave alcohol. We’re dependent on wine, cheaper the better, and as we find ourselves walking through the harsh-lands, the desire, the need, only strengthens.

Night is near. The thick darkness will only bring pain. A light in the distance flickers. In the distance there seems to be another beating heart?

Mark McConville


Recommended Read: Coal Black: Stories by Chris McGinley

Chris McGinley‘s Coal Black is a brilliantly powerful collection of short stories set in the hills of east Kentucky. This is a world of poverty, deperation, drug addiction, and crime. These are stories of good people and bad people living on the razor’s edge. The stories and the characters in Coal Black overlap, intertwine and interconnect to create a whole that is as just as good as its parts. The tales are social realist with a strain of magic realism and every single story is great. These are artfully crafted stories to savour. Coal Black is simply one of the best short story collections that I’ve read, and I look forward to rereading it. Very highly recommended.

coal black


Jenny Drank St. Germain by John Greiner

Jenny drank St. Germain under orders from The Clapper. He was a second rate hypnotist, but Jenny’s insurance wasn’t so hot, so she had to take what she could afford. He told her that it would be good for her complexion. Jenny had been a pimply kid, but that was ages ago when all kids were pimply and dermatologists were hard to find. Jenny had searched for the Holy Grail, hitting all of the obvious places in the Holy Land that had been hit over the centuries hoping to come across the stone that had been left unturned. The crusaders were a barbarous bunch, showing no concern for other people’s housekeeping. All stones had been turned and tossed to the side at least eight hundred years ago. There was no way to get around it, Jenny’s life had been a disappointment and she was quick to let you know it when she was on the St. Germain. The fact that her face was breaking out, long after the age of puberty had passed, was the last kick in the teeth that she was going to take. She didn’t give a damn about the Holy Grail, or even the True Cross anymore. She had done what she had to do and it had gotten her nowhere better than here. Jenny drank her St. Germain, showing no concern for the house that was burning down the road. She was glad that everyone was quiet inside.

John Greiner is a writer living in Queens, NY.  He was educated at the New School for Social Research.  Greiner’s work has appeared in Sand Journal, Empty Mirror, Sensitive Skin, Unarmed, Street Value and numerous other magazines. His books of poetry include Turnstile Burlesque (Crisis Chronicles Press) and Bodega Roses (Good Cop/Bad Cop Press).  His collaborative work with photographer Carrie Crow has appeared at the Tate Liverpool, the Queens Museum and in galleries in New York, Los Angeles, Venice, Paris, Berlin and Hamburg.


The Big Issue by Paul D Brazill

You see, they call them issues these days. Not like issues of comics like Shoot or Whizzer and Chips or Razzle, though. Naw, these are things like anger management issues, relationship issues, substance abuse issues. What that means is that issues are stuff that’s wrong with you. Stuff that fucks you up. And fucked-up people are called people with issues. See?

Like Tony Amerigo. It’s his dirty book shop that I’m stood in. He’s got issues, alright. He used to be a well tasty heavyweight. Could have knocked the Brut out of Henry Cooper, back in the day. But old Tony, like his dad before him, is more than a bit fond of the booze – floats like a butterfly, drinks like a fish. So, he’s got alcohol issues. Self-medication issues. So, now he’s got cash flow issues. Which is why I’m here trying not to breath in the cigarette smoke since Tony hasn’t exactly responded to the smoking ban in a positive way.

And that’s the trouble with people like Tony. They just don’t understand that times are changing. Now me, I’m a man of the 21st century but Tony’s a bit of a relic, like. He’s had the same dirty book shop for donkey’s year. The same rusty shutters. The same sun-bleached horoscope and trainspotting magazines in the window – as if the locals don’t know what he sells. Probably the same old porno mags in there, from the looks of it.

That’s why his business is going down the Swanny, to be honest. These days everyone can get their filth on their computer or even on their mobile phone. And for nowt. So, why go to a dump like this?

He’s got location issues, too. Used to be well posh round here when I was a kid but now it’s like holiday camp for smack heads. Once it gets dark, it’s that Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ video all over again.

My boss, Captain Cutlass, has told Tony to diversify. Maybe get in a couple of one-armed bandits, scaffolder’s lap tops and the like. Or some of the duty free ciggies that the Poles and the Euthanasians sell. But Tony’s stuck in his ways.

Oh, and here’s another thing. These days, it’s all about presentation skills. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say something that counts. That’s why I’m very careful about what I call myself when I turn up at Tony’s gaff.

I’m a factotum, you see. Now, I know what you’re thinking: What’s a friggin’ factotum when it’s at home? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s someone who sorts stuff out for someone else. Bit of this. Bit of that.

The bloke I sort stuff out for is an entrepreneur, although some people call him a gangster. And he’ a right head the ball, with it. His name’s Captain Cutlass. Well, that’s not his real name. His real name’s Jordan but no one calls him THAT these days.

Cutlass is a sea coal baron which means he’s got a bunch of lads who drive jeeps down to the beach at low tide and dig up coal. He’s made a packet, he has. Not that he needs it. Before he got into the sea coal game, Cutlass made a mint smuggling booze and ciggies and that into the docks. He used to stand at the front of one of the boats waving this massive friggin sword about. Hence the nickname. Although I think the sword was actually a rapier.

Anyroad, old Tony’s a bit thick, like, and I doubt he knows the difference between a factotum and a totem pole. So, what I say is that I’m a ‘representative’ of Mr Cutlass. See? I don’t even say I work for Cutlass. What I say is I just ‘represent’ him. It’s not the same, like. More official.

I say that Mr Cutlass isn’t very happy with Tony’s financial contributions and that he would appreciate it if Tony increased his monthly payments, since he’s been getting a bit behind.

After a bit of the to-and – fro, I have to be proactive and take the initiative, don’t I? I break one of   Tony’s thumbs. And then the other. So, he’s screaming and turning red and telling me that he’s got nowt. The cupboard is bare.

After a couple more slaps I come up with the idea of torching his shop to get the insurance and pay off Cutlass and a little consultation fee for me. The only problem is that Tony hasn’t paid the insurance since God was a bairn.

And now it seems like Tony has a problem. Except, that these days, we say that there are no problems, only challenges. So, yes, our Tone has a righty nasty friggin’ challenge ahead of him.

* * *

I’m outside the old Odeon cinema finishing my curry and chips when the BMW pulls up.

‘Get in,’ shouts Captain Cutlass, turning down ‘Tiger Feet’. No fucker else in this day and age listens to Mud, but Cutlass is a even more of a relic than Tony Amerigo. Big black, spidery quiff. Teddy Boy suits. The full whack.

‘Just the man I’ve been looking for,’ says Cutlass.’

‘Aye?’ I say.

‘Oh, aye,’ he says, sniffing a bit and looking me up and down.

‘Tony Amerigo,’ he says spraying the inside of the car with peach deodorant. He’s a right poncy twat sometimes, is Cutlass.

‘Oh, aye,’ I say, playing it cool.

‘How did it go?’ says Cutlass.

‘Well, it was … challenging,’ I say

Cutlass looks me up and down.

‘And what the bollocks does that mean in the Queen’s English?’ he says.

‘Our Tony has … issues, ‘ I say

‘Aye?’ he says.

‘Oh, aye,’ I say.

‘And what type of issues are these?’ says Cutlass.

‘Financial issues,’ I say.

Cutlass shakes his head.

‘I reckon the daft twat’s going to have some mortality issues soon, then,’ he says.

‘Aye,’ I say. ‘I’ll face that challenge tomorrow. Fancy a pint?’




The Ghost in You by Graham Wynd

The bass thrummed like a distant heartbeat from deep in the earth, as if a long-buried temple called forth its adherents from slumbering death. Frazer didn’t even have to look up from her drum kit to know the band were swaying as one to its tempo. Even Pike who could barely exist without flapping his lips—improvising, scatting, even humming when he had no words to sing—seemed content for a space to just lean into the beat as Jones stretched the chord out on his guitar and the room rolled with it—hypnotised, in the music’s thrall like zombies called by its chant.

You could wield a guitar like a weapon—and sometimes Jones surely did—but tonight it was a kind of repository for all the energy in the room, taking it, swirling it around and sending it back threefold to start the process again.

Keeping the pace on the kick with the precision of a metronome clad in Chuck Taylors, Frazer threw a glance at the bass player. Godfrey was new but it was clear from the moment they lurched into the first tune that he fit in like no other bassist had in the long string of losers they had meandered through. He was a pro for one thing; turned up on time, not drunk, not reeking or strung out. For once there was no need to turn down the amp or throw sticks at his back or shout out the chords. He actually listened to the drumming and he played like madman, filling in the spaces with the occasional manic riff but never losing the rhythm, never kicking out the knitted skein of the song to draw attention to himself. Less is more is less: no more grandstanding or incompetence.

Instead they were here: one with the crowd, such as it was, one with each other and at last at last the feeling that Frazer had known all along could be there—the bliss almost forgotten of a song hanging together, a crowd vibrating to the tune and a taste of what magic there was in the music that made all the late nights and the fights and the bleeding fingers and the shouting matches all worth it. This communion, this glory, this moment of being all together as one with the audience too, and they knew it—they all knew it and they all loved it. It might be no major gig, it might be no major venue, most of them will have forgotten it by the time they put sweat-soaked heads to their pillows that night or morning—but some, some few would know, would remember, would say what it was, what they felt and hold a bit of the magic because it was nothing short of that.

It was in the songs; Frazer had known it but had begun to doubt anyone else might know it.

They might be nobodies from nowhere but after tonight, maybe just maybe they were going somewhere—floating in that shark-filled sea of music life, sure, but sailing on the raft of the songs they wrote.

Songs I wrote mostly, Frazer thought.

But as they whipped the song up to its final crescendo even that didn’t so much matter, because the group really worked, they all pushed the songs and something that had just been words in a notebook and snatches of tune became a god-damned bona fide song when they all joined together in moments like this. Frazer closed her eyes as she pounded out the final beats and nearly collapsed on the kit. They all grinned at one another as the song ended.

There was a moment of silence, just long enough to made them frown and then the crowd went nuts. They screamed like they were on Top of the Pops and the cameras were rolling. The band all laughed and clapped back at the crowd because it was just a perfect almost childlike moment of delight. It worked. They worked. The song worked. And maybe it was just a small hall in a small town all too far from the big lights, but it was a start.

From moments like that great things began.

At least in the past they had from the sweat dripping Cavern Club to the mosh pit of CBGB’s or working men’s club in the north. Surely even in the most unlikely of venues—like this one—legends began. They had to start somewhere, right?


A Drug I Cannot Have by Mark McConville

I’d present my heart to you, but you condoned it to be black and blemished. You haven’t seen it beat. It could be clean and red, thumping or slow paced. I can’t make you see that I’m an honourable man with intentions to love the bones and blood of you. There’s was a sliver of hope dancing through the light, your photogenic face a sight to behold, but I’m afraid we’re fading into black.


Last year we sank lower than expected. Burning desire was our life stream, our backbone, sexual urgency kept us together even through confrontation. We knew the pendulum was swinging towards disconnection, hitting the fatty tissue of bloated excuses.


Excuses tiptoed but then sprung into life. They were thrown like daggers around the atmosphere, back and forth. I couldn’t distract myself from the bigger picture. You knew we were doomed, teetering on the line, I stood there like I was on a landmine, unable to move, expecting my love for you explode into particles of disdain.


You aided me in times of unpowered strength. Darting from chemist to chemist to help me unhinge myself from edges of the void. My future uncertain, endless night spent sobbing into a pillow, rattling as the wind hit against thin, glass panes. And you stood there, silenced, but disturbed by my bent, fidgeting body.


I didn’t want to touch you with my rough hands and brittle nails. A became a ghost to you, a fool, a creature creating wars in a small one bedroom apartment where dreams stalled and emotions fell demoralizingly through the cracks.


I can’t find you now.


I am unable to call myself an honourable man, an admirable human being, shooting for glitter and gold. And you left, with a painting in one hand and a bottle of expensive wine in the other. You couldn’t wave at me, or say goodbye, your tears didn’t trickle down chalk white skin, and they were kept for another day and time.


My pulsating heart feels heavy on occasion. Heart palpitations intrude, snapshots of past events impose like a dramatic movie which never stops. Bad habits control my days.


And there’s you.


A successful artist dazzling the world and the cold art galleries which many eccentrics bask in? Where poets carry their notepads, and write stanzas fit for bathroom stalls. Some make it, some don’t, and some are smash hits, fuelled on words and narcotics.


You’ve made it.


Oh you’ve made it. Clarity has stood the test. You can now see your achievements pile up. Accolades for the greats. Paintings all round, hearts melted by award speeches. Ceremonies ticked off, uncomfortable shoes worn, bleeding feet and those tears which were kept shed uncontrollably.


I see you on the screen. I see you in the lights outside Michelin started restaurants, kissing privileged cheeks, drunk on alcohol and adrenaline.


You’re pretty.


You were always attractive. Dreamy in fact. But you’ve changed the colour of your hair, you’re fitter, wearing thousand dollar dresses.


I held you back.


Drugged and isolated. A dreamer suffocated by self-doubt. I held you back, cracked your resolve. I challenged your beliefs, orchestrated our pitfalls.


I now stay in a gritty part of town. Overwhelmed by broken homes and disenchanted travellers drinking themselves into chaotic instances.


I am frightened.


Frightened of this stretch of town. Memories of you drown out the black.


I know you’re a drug I cannot have.

Bio: Mark McConville is a freelance music journalist who has written for many online and print publications. He also likes to write dark fiction. 

Mark McConville


Picnic by John Greiner

He told me to hook up with the hangman, hang and get the lay of the land,; I did and now there’s nothing more to do than cross the river with him in tow. He was a real mystery maker with that mask of his, now there’s not much left of him. He’s not even worth the myths made in dime store Western novels. The air around the hangman is starting to go bad and my cologne isn’t doing much to help the situation. When I started out on this crossing my only concern was for the free lunch on the other side, but now that my stomach is starting to turn I’m not sure that I’ll be able to hold down the cold cuts and coleslaw that they promised would be laid out for my arrival.. I’m a real sucker. They’re going to get my labor cheap. Here I am, going across as straight as I can and they probably never planned on playing it straight on their end of the line. They know what’s up. I bet you that they never even went to the supermarket to get the fixings for the picnic they promised me. I wish that I had a slaughter house hunger, so that this would be worthwhile. I just need to get this job done, no matter what it costs me. I think that I’m going to lose my breakfast. This journey is going to end with me in the hole. I’m not even sure how I’m going to make it back across the river once this job is done. I never discussed that particular with them when I signed on.

John Greiner is a writer living in Queens, NY.  He was educated at the New School for Social Research.  Greiner’s work has appeared in Sand Journal, Empty Mirror, Sensitive Skin, Unarmed, Street Value and numerous other magazines. His books of poetry include Turnstile Burlesque (Crisis Chronicles Press) and Bodega Roses (Good Cop/Bad Cop Press).  His collaborative work with photographer Carrie Crow has appeared at the Tate Liverpool, the Queens Museum and in galleries in New York, Los Angeles, Venice, Paris, Berlin and Hamburg.