On the Open Road

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artwork by @jimmywyngaarden

a short story by Jerry Zinn

Jonathan squinted behind the visor. In the distance the St. Louis Arch was a glistening diamond. He turned to his father and nodded before giving the Triumph’s throttle a quick pull. Both bikes roared cathartically. Wheel-to-wheel, they traversed Route-66 toward downtown.

As one unit they veered off the highway and parked in the Meal-Rite Diner’s cracked, concrete lot. The building was small with white-washed brick walls and a pink florescent sign bearing the institution’s name. They were tired, but since they began their father-son trip a few days earlier, each had learned to cope with the pull of Morpheus. Morning was still in the early innings, and the diner was busy but not crowded, serving the local who’s who of blue-collars.

Jonathan switched off his engine and dismounted. He watched his father jimmy the key of the off-kilter ignition. Once the second engine ceased gurgling, the lot was quiet. Wind whistled like white noise through the city, modern structures leaving Meal-Rite as a time capsule of the last century. St. Louis’ beating heart of cop cars, ambulances, and benign shouting sat in the air like humidity. Jonathan retracted his hands from their gloves and wiped his face and neck with a bandana. Meanwhile his father struggled to unbuckle the strap of his vintage helmet with its muted tin shell and bright red racing stripe. Jonathan remained unconvinced about its structural integrity. But his father liked the headpiece, even if it was as much an insurance policy as a fedora. His father was cleaner than when they left the motel, as if the dirt respected him.

“First stop, St. Louis!” He grabbed Jonathan’s shoulder and shook it paternally.

“Heck of a long way to go from here,” replied Jonathan, kicking his boots against the curb.

“No one ever said a cross-country road trip was fast. Anyway it’s the journey that matters. Haven’t you seen that on bumper stickers? You think they just make those sayings up?”

“Hard to argue there. I have to admit; I’m enjoying it so far. Never imagined how peaceful it would be without music on the open road. Allows your thoughts to…”

“Wander?”

“Exactly.”

“You can’t be enjoying it more than I. Been waiting a long time to take this trip, and doing it with you…” he said, starting to choke up.

“I know, Dad. I’m sorry it took so long.”

“Life. You don’t have to tell me about how it goes. I know I’ve already said it a hundred times, and I’ll say it at least a hundred more. Jonathan it means a lot to me that we’re doing this together.”

With a smile he looked deep into his father’s heather-grey eyes, sharp from years of use but softened by the kindness in his heart. In that one glance, Jonathan couldn’t help but ask himself why he’d put off the trip for so many years. It never was about the trip. Sharing the journey was all that mattered.

“Hungry Dad?”

“Well it goes from St. Louis, down to Missouri!” he sang in response, trying his best to sound like Nat King Cole and failing endearingly. Through the screeching push-door they walked and sat at the counter.

“Be with you in a moment,” the waitress said mid-flight to delivering a couple stacks of pancakes. She was short and agile. Jonathan watched her maneuver, filling coffee and calling out orders all while dishing out dime quips on a breath and a blink.

The countertop was warped from thousands of elbows, many covered in the course sandpaper of canvas work jackets. The stools had been kicked around and beaten up, standing the test of time and outliving more than a few patrons. Meal-Rite was Route-66 before commercialization. There was nostalgia from genuine aging. No magazine articles about the establishment were hung. Meal-Rite didn’t tell people it was an institution. They already knew.

“What are you gonna get?” his father asked as he scanned the menu in its thick plastic casing.

“I guess I have to get a ‘Swinger,’ right?”

“That is why we came here. Not even sure why I picked this thing up,” his father answered with a chuckle. When he tossed the menu down its metal corners snapped against the counter.

“I’ll see if I can get her attention. Excuse—”

“Biking 66?” the waitress asked, dropping in like a jet on a carrier.

“That obvious, huh?” Jonathan answered. “My dad’s been asking me to do this for 10 years. Better late than never, right?”

“Certainly not the first time I’ve seen it. What’ll you have?”

“I’d like one of your famous Swingers with sausage and a coffee, black,” Jonathan said, closing the foldout.

“Where’s your dad?”

Jonathan looked at the stool next to him. It was empty. He swiveled to see the parking lot where his Triumph stood alone. Inside, the fragile glass that was his carefully constructed alternate reality had shattered at the lightest touch.

Looking blankly at the coffee maker Jonathan replied, “My dad always wanted me to make this trip with him, but I never… I was always too busy, too tired, too everything. In the back of my mind I thought I’d always have the chance to go…”

“Life goes according to its own plan,” the waitress said squeezing Jonathan’s hand with a love that transcended the briefness of their encounter. “I’m sure it means a lot to him that you’re doing it now.”

“Can you bring a second cup of coffee? We have a lot of open road ahead of us.”

The waitress winked knowingly, “Sure thing, sweetie.”

 

Battle for Europe

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artwork by @jimmywyngaarden

a short story by Jerry Zinn

“Hello and welcome! Thanks for tuning in to tonight’s matchup between Italy and France here at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. I’m Gareth Camp, and joining me in the booth this evening, as always, my partner Vince Chatham.”

“Thank you Gareth, good to be back with you.”

“Vince, this game ahead of us should really be interesting, with both teams in top football form.”

“Yeah Gareth, Italy and France are both riding hot streaks, and they’ve got a lot hanging on this contest. The intensity factor will be turned up to a boiling point in a way we haven’t seen for a very long time.”

“I heard French manager, François du Garde, in an interview yesterday, and he seemed supremely confident that his team would emerge victorious.”

“Nothing new from du Garde. He has always shown great faith in his team, almost I must say to a fault. I just wonder if he hasn’t underestimated the willpower of this scrappy Italian team.”

“Vince, scrappy is a good way to describe them. Simon Rossi has emerged as their de facto leader, scoring the deciding goals in the team’s last three matchups. Each of those scores came in added time when Italy seemed susceptible to a knockout punch. And on the other side of the pitch, René Monteux demonstrated poise and brilliance, as the French wiped the floor with Greece, Portugal, and Croatia, winning by an average of three and a half goals. Monteux been their ace, ascending from a relative unknown rookie to achieve an almost mythical status back in France.”

“So is it safe to say that Italy are the underdogs?”

“Italy is David, and France is Goliath. But as you said, Italy has tremendous willpower, and I know they wont go down with out a proper fight.”

“It reminds me a little bit of when Spain and Portugal faced off, with a Portuguese team coming out on top after having been written off by nearly everyone but their own countrymen. When they conceded those four early goals to the mighty Spanish squad, they appeared to be down and out. But Gareth, we all remember the heroics that followed. Portugal ended up winning 5-4. They then went on to fall to the French team warming up here today.”

“It does have a similar feel, but the stakes are so much higher in this game. You really have to go back to the middle of the 20th century to find a contest in which both sides put so much on the line, with so much to lose, but also a great deal to gain.”

“And there you have it: Italy vs. France, David vs. Goliath. The stakes? If France wins, they continue their domination of Europe and add Italy to their belt. If the Italian team wins, they will take over the massive French territory, currently at its largest since the Napoleonic era, and become the undisputed European power, rivaling the holdings of the former Roman Empire.”

“Football at its best, politics at its most extreme. Gareth it’s moments like this where we feel so fortunate that football has taken the place of war!”

“Right you are Vince. And here we go! The Italian team will kickoff in the ‘Battle for Europe.’”

It Came In With the Tide

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artwork by @jimmywyngaarden

a short story by Jerry Zinn

“What is it?”

“I don’t know. It’s like something from a sci-fi movie… some kind of prehistoric creature. Just look at it!”

“Who do we report it to? The police? Or do we go straight to the government? Who do you even ask for? Do you just call… the government, or is there a hotline for this kind of thing?”

“I don’t know, Lewis… I don’t know.”

The two stood in the wet sand at the edge of the ebbing and flowing tide and looked down at the strange organism lying lifelessly before them. Off in the horizon the daylight was giving way to the orange and purple hues of dusk, and the sea oats in the dunes waved back and forth like anemone in a gentle current.

“What about Dizzy? You think he’d know something?”

Laura thought for a moment about Dizzy. She’d be hard pressed to come across anyone who had a broader knowledge base, even in the police or the government. Dizzy had a sponge for a cortex, and it never seeped. He was a treasure trove of facts and figures, an animated reference book. Dizzy would have something to offer.

“That’s a great idea! I’ll call him. He might even know what this… creature is, or at least what we need to do with it.”

“Here, mine gets better reception around here,” Lewis said tossing his handheld.

Laura plugged in the code, and the line was connected immediately.

“Dizzy. Who’s it?”

“Dizzy, it’s Laura. I’m at the beach with Lewis. We… found something. I was hoping you could help us figure out what it is or what to do.”

“What kind of something are we talking about? That’s pretty vague. You find a funny looking shell?”

“It’s an animal. I think. It must have washed ashore with the tide, but it doesn’t look like anything either of us has ever seen. It’s exotic.”

“You’ve reigned in my curiosity. Describe.”

“Well it’s massive. Looks to be just less than, what would you say? Two meters? Ninety percent of it is covered in some kind of blue skin. But it isn’t tight like normal skin; it has all these folds and creases, like something thousands of years old. There are a couple black and silver lines and one thick black stripe that runs the down most of its back. It also has three large tentacles? But Lewis thinks there might be a fourth pinned underneath.”

“Wild!” Dizzy exclaimed with youthful exuberance. “And what about the ten percent that isn’t covered in blue?”

“It’s difficult to say because we can only see half, but I think it’s the head. It’s almost like it’s incased in a kind of clear membrane, a pouch.”

“Have you touched it yet?”

“No, we’ve been afraid to. Lewis thought it might be poisonous.”

“That’s certainly possible. Well it doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever come across. Is there a stick or something near you? Try and turn it over. A lot of organisms have some defining features on the ventral side.”

“We’ll take a look around. Also, I noticed there’s a black tube hanging off the side. It’s hard to see in low light though.”

As Laura and Lewis scavenged for something that could flip the mysterious form from the sea, Dizzy thought about the description. It was true he’d never come across anything like it, but maybe that was because it was a new species, undiscovered, undocumented, entirely unknown. What if it had come from another planet, or even another galaxy? Dizzy wondered. The prospect of an alien life form excited him to near hyperventilation. He wished he were on the other end of the line, staring at the clear pouch and the blue skin.

“We found a metal rod. Lewis is going to poke it to make sure it really is dead before we try and turn it over.”

“I’m right here. Let me know what happens, and tell Lewis not to hit the tube; it might contain something hazardous, deadly even. You definitely don’t want to run that risk, especially since we have no idea what we’re dealing with.”

“He hit it a few times. It’s definitely dead, or comatose. Now he’s trying to flip it over.”

The suspense was getting to Dizzy as he waited anxiously on the other line. “What do you see?”

“Hold on he’s almost got it.”

With a splash, Lewis overturned the organism revealing its front. Laura had been correct. The head was enclosed in a clear membrane. It was unlike anything Laura or Lewis could have drummed up in the most hallucinatory dream, completely dissimilar from even the oddity of the animal’s backside. Laura was breathless as she gazed upon the peculiar beast.

“Did he get it?” Dizzy was whispering in anticipation.

“Yes… and Dizzy… it’s so… bizarre. Otherworldly.”

“Describe!” Dizzy bellowed, spilling the contents of his room-temperature mug.

“Well,” Laura began, “its face, it doesn’t make any sense. There are two eyes, a large bump with slits, and a bigger hole below that. Hold on, there’s something on the blue skin. There’s a circle on one side. It’s a darker blue with a red line across it and four letters…” she trailed off as she strained to read the small text.

Dizzy, for all his knowledge and imagination, was having difficulty rendering the creature from the outlandish description. He hung on the line without blinking as he waited for Laura to speak. When she continued, a pang of apprehension, an apocalyptic fervor, spread through his body.

“N…A…” she stuttered, but he didn’t need to hear the rest.

Shrilly he cried out, “Laura… get out of there, get as far away as you can! They’re coming for us!”

This thing, he knew what it was. He’d read about it, seen it in documentaries and comic books. It was from another galaxy; the creature came from the Milky Way.

Face Value

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artwork by @jameswyngaarden

a short story by Jerry Zinn

The ache in every joint, the slow response of limbs to their calls for action, a stiffness generally reserved for raw materials, all delivered to Norman Warren an unequivocal message: he needed the day off. On a business trip, he woke up in a generously sized hotel room much larger than the space he required. It was on the company’s dime, so he didn’t feel it was money wasted, at least not his money. As for comfort, the expense proved unnecessary, for comfort was as hard to find amongst the “well-designed” furniture as Norman’s glasses, hidden somewhere in the recesses.

He was a lead guitarist on a drug-fueled fit while he tore the room apart. Then it donned on him. Like watching a brief headline span across the television screen, it was announced that Norman had locked his glasses in the safe. It was a foolish decision, that much was evident. He needed his glasses to get his glasses. In his state, the irony was too irresistible to not grant hearty laugh.

With a few clicks the combination safe opened, the same code as always. Norman never gave it any thought, but if he were ever asked how that year became chiseled so deeply on the tablet in his mind, he would reply with a shrug. There were many things he struggled to explain, but fortunately for his sanity, he was never one to get hung up.

Having retrieved his glasses, their horn-rimmed frames set squarely on the bridge of his nose, allowing access to a clearer picture of the world, Norman set about fixing the wreckage he’d caused. He was a details man, some would say eccentric in his deliberate nature. He dressed, smartly as was his habit. Rarely seen without a suit, well tailored, tapered, and lint-free, colleagues and friends frequently remarked on Norman Warren’s well kept style, before even commenting on his character or disposition.

Even on a day of rest from his profession, sartorial resplendence did not suffer. It had been some years since he was last in Chicago, colder times in younger days, but he scanned through his list of remembrances, probing for favorite activities to relive.

The rest was all-encompassing, any thought of business wholly and truly forgotten. If a passerby asked at that juncture to list the primary responsibilities of his office, he could hardly have produced a one. But Norman’s memory was not without water. He remembered a diner he used to frequent downtown, and the smell of its pancakes resurfaced in the cabinet de curiosité with the aromatic fortitude of a fresh stack beneath his nose.

Along the sidewalk the brisk winds whipped around impressive feats of architecture. There was a supreme contentment in the air like a private weather system. Norman danced along the cracks, a checkerboard of light under the guidance of a harshly angled morning sun. Little attention was paid to the many faces gazing upon him. And while it did not trouble him in the least, he noticed a few men in dark attire seeming to follow. Those characters he dismissed as figments of his elaborate imagination.

“A stack of plain pancakes, please,” Norman declared to the waitress who’d shown him to a vinyl booth, adding, “with just a dollop of butter on the top, and a container filled generously with maple syrup.”

She nodded with a smile, clamping the menu under her arm as she made notations in a dilapidated notebook.

“Any bacon or sausage?”

“No, no. I wouldn’t dream of it. Nothing to alter the experience of these wonderful pancakes! Things haven’t much changed since I was here last. Not too many places can say that. I’m not as young as I once was, of course. Sure the chef’s different now. Joe I think his name was. He was old when I was young. Now that I’m old, I suppose there’s another Joe,” Norman replied with an enthusiasm rarely in such abundance at that hour in that place.

“Coffee?”

“Indeed. If my sometimes faulty memory serves me, the coffee here is likewise worthy of unaltered consumption.”

Her confusion was legible. “Black, got it,” she answered with a laugh, sifted out the important elements of the superfluous reply.

Norman folded his arms and looked around the diner with great satisfaction. It was just as it had been those many years before, when responsibilities were minimal and attitudes could only be described as carefree. Norman was blissfully unaware of any changes undertaken since his last visit. Even the table possessed the same sticky spots identified decades before, elementary to its function. He glanced at the face of his watch out of reflex, but restrained his attention. It was not a day to worry about passing minutes or hours, and decidedly not one on which to be concerned with ticking seconds.

His pancakes arrived with the full-fledged scent he’d earlier recalled so vibrantly, though now they were real. Using careful swipes of the knife, Norman spread the butter. Precisely he laced a pattern of syrup that soaked into the pores of the hot, fresh stack. The pillowy texture and sweet, salty taste delivered to him the exact pleasure he desired since waking up. Bites he paired with sips of coffee, replenished at irregular intervals by floating hands in his periphery. Nothing distracted from the enjoyment of the monumental breakfast.

As Norman neared the end of the meal, a refill of his coffee came with the handwritten bill, a scribbled amount in faded pencil on a carbon copy. He reached into his wallet and pulled out the last remaining bill, heavy enough to cover the expense plus a generous difference to those who’d taken care of him. “I need to go to the bank,” he thought aloud. He tore open a wet wipe from the dispenser and sanded away the sticky residue from his fingers. Then he dusted off crumbs from his peaked lapels.

A few of the men from before were sitting at the window table, trying to be invisible. The other patrons, those not dressed in black, watched him too as though they expected a performance on his way out.

“Hey Norman!” a kid called out from nowhere. “Can I take a picture with you?”

Not wanting to appear as though he didn’t understand the intricacies of the generation, Norman obliged with a smile and a twinkle of an eye. How strange, he thought, what will these teenagers come up with next?

Norman noticed a branch of his bank two blocks down the street. His phone had a seizure in his breast pocket. It was the kind of arrhythmic nonsense that indicated a return to service after a period absent a signal. Best to be ignored, something for later, Norman supposed.

“Mr. Warren, good morning,” the spick and spam manager said with outstretched arm.

Norman was more than a little caught off guard at the warm welcome. The manager’s face was unfamiliar.

“It is a good morning,” Norman replied.

He approached the teller, who smiled with her bright white teeth in full display. For a moment he debated whether or not to complement on the perfect arrangement of her ivories, but thought the better of it. “You have a beautiful smile,” he went with instead, judging it a more acceptable compliment.

“Thank you, Mr. Warren,” she replied. “What can we do for you this morning?”

“I’d like to make a withdrawal. Here is my card and my identification.”

The teller picked up his debit card but slid the ID back. “That won’t be necessary. I only need this.”

So much for security measures, Norman thought.

“And how much would you like to take out this morning, Mr. Warren?”

“How does $160 sound?”

“Wonderful. And I’m guessing you’d like that in twenties?” she answered with a chuckle.

“That would be… fine. It doesn’t matter to me particularly.”

“I just thought you might prefer twenties, because, well, you know.”

“Beg your pardon? I’m afraid I don’t follow.”

“Here you are Mr. Warren,” the teller responded as if she hadn’t heard the comment, as though he’d said internally.

Norman retrieved the stack of bills. “Thank y—“ he started to say, but his attention was arrested. He examined the money, given to him in an exclusive denomination. Cold swelled like a frozen wave on the shores of a Scandinavian island. The gaiety of his earlier manner shattered into jagged shards. Staring back at him on each of the crisp bills, a green and black slide in two dimensions, was the unmistakable visage of Norman Warren.

End of the Year

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artwork by @jameswyngaarden

a short story by Jerry Zinn

“You’re afraid of water? How is that even possible? You mean you never like take a shower?” Maddox joked to the amusement of the boys huddled around.

“I told you, I’m not afraid of water; I just can’t go near chlorine,” David answered defensively with cheeks reddening.

“Sounds like you’re just scared to take your shirt off in front of the girls,” Andrew added.

“Maddox, Andrew, leave David alone,” warned Victoria.

“Oh, David looks like you have a bodyguard, and it’s a girl!” Maddox said, getting a rise  out of the audience once more.

“David, don’t listen to him. He’s just being a jerk.” Victoria added before returning to the girls clumped on the other side of the pool. Keeping with long-standing tradition, as the kids trickled in, dropped off by lucky parents to leave under the attention of the unlucky ones, the boys and girls self divided. Bridging the gap between the two gender-specific camps were the plastic tables covered in a hodgepodge of nachos, cookies, pretzels, sodas, and an optimistic bowl of salad. A large yellow cake sat in the center, prepared and decorated by the local grocery store in blue Crisco frosting which read, “Congratulations to the 3rd Grade Class of 2010!”

Though neither the parents nor the children believed that completing the 3rd grade was a monumental accomplishment, it was proper procedure to hold an end of the year pool party. It suited both the children and their parents. On the one hand, the boys looked forward to showing off what a week of push-ups could do to their physiques, and the girls enjoyed wearing new swimsuits and beating the boys at virtually every game. On the other hand, the parents who stayed could gripe about the struggles with teachers and administration from that year, and the parents who left could enjoy time without their kids. The adults watched the group of forty or so by delegating control to the lifeguards, grabbing a few beers, and eating the children’s snacks.

Each year there was one boy more eager than the rest who would tear off his shirt and cannonball into the pool, encouraging the others to join. Inevitably they would, moving in units of friend groups, until nearly everyone was splashing in the water like an excited gaggle of geese. As he was the previous summer, the year’s attention grabber was Eric Jackson, a slightly hefty, moppy-headed boy who was more goofball than cannonball as he jumped into the water.

“Let’s go! Come on guys!” he said flailing his arms around. He spoke only to the boys, playing the game of tactful disregard for the other half of the grade. The actions of 3rd grade boys and girls were chess-like, only each side was blind to the moves of the other. As a result, laughably awkward moments were the rule of every day.

It took a quarter of an hour for the boys to make it into the pool, every boy except David, and Freddy, who didn’t have a problem with chlorine he was just more interested in talking about the recent actions of the Fed with George’s dad. A few outspoken girls threw themselves into the mix early on, but the rest laid out on lounge chairs to tan with indifference.

Victoria laid back with her mother’s sunglasses, too big for her face, but stylish, which made her confident. On either side of her were the class’s second and third most popular girls, collectively forming a power clique. While she did enjoy the attention that came with her position, Victoria was a kind person and wasn’t afraid to let her true colors shine. She turned her head out of the direct sunlight and saw David sitting by himself, watching his classmates engaged in every manner of boisterous nonsense.

“I’ll be back,” she said to her companions who continued to readjust uncomfortably in chairs engineered for adult-sized bodies.

“OK,” they responded in unison.

Victoria pried herself away, plastic strips clinging to her legs. David didn’t notice her traveling in his direction. He was lost in thought. It had not been an easy transition for David, coming to a new school where everyone else had been together since kindergarten. It was especially difficult to make that jump into 3rd grade, when hormones were starting to play games with young minds and bodies, and low self-confidence was often medicated with teasing and practical jokes.

“Hey David,” Victoria said.

David looked up to see her, and blood involuntarily shot back up into his cheeks.

“Oh, hey Victoria,” he responded unsteadily.

“Can I sit with you?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Victoria took a seat, and the two sat quietly. David searched for something clever to say, while Victoria waited for him to say it. Time passed slowly, and Victoria could sense his discomfort.

“So, have you ever been in a pool?” she asked, breaking the stalemate.

“Once, when I was a lot younger, but I don’t remember it. My mom says I’m allergic to chlorine. I’ve been in the ocean a lot though. I do like swimming.”

“That sucks. What are you going to do here?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t even want to come, but my mom had some work thing, and she said it was better if I went to this party than to her office.”

“My parents work a lot too, but it wasn’t as bad before they got divorced. Do you like it here?” she asked with the kind of abrupt transition unachievable in adulthood.

“It’s ok, but there isn’t a lot to do if you can’t get in the pool.”

“Oh no, I meant like here in town and at St. Andrew’s. Is it better than where you used to go?”

“Oh,” David said with a hint of embarrassment. “It’s fine. We move around a lot. It’s just my mom and I. It’s usually just easier if I don’t make friends.”

“That’s sad. Life is a lot better when you have friends to be with.”

“You’re lucky. Everyone likes you.”

“Well that’s true. The part about me being lucky. I don’t think everyone likes me. They just act like it. Sometimes I think being like you is better.”

“What? Why would you want to be like me?”

“Actually, to be honest that isn’t what I meant. It’s that I sort of, well, I like you David. You’re a good guy.” Now it was Victoria who blushed and turned her head toward the concrete deck. David smiled lopsidedly as her words sunk in. They both stayed that way, looking at the ground for a few seconds before Victoria gave him a quick peck on the cheek.

“Thanks,” David said and immediately questioned himself for doing so.

“You’re welcome,” Victoria answered with equal discomfort.

At the deep end of the pool, where the rest of their class was engaged in a heated game of sharks and minnows, Maddox looked up just in time to see Victoria and David’s poolside exchange. He’d been keeping an eye on Victoria since he arrived at the party, and for most of the year leading up to it. His strategy had been one of shock and awe, using every chance he got to show off and appear superior to the other boys. Maddox’s hope was that Victoria would come after him. His theory was based on the mid-century principle that the tough guy was never supposed to go after the girl. He had to make her come to him. But it hadn’t worked, and as he watched her with David that realization finally started to set in.

“Maddox, what are you doing? They’re all making it across!” Alex cried out.

Maddox ignored him and climbed up the ladder, being sure to flex his microscopic biceps as he pulled himself out. He made a decision, then and there, that if Victoria didn’t want to be with him, he didn’t want her to be with anyone. Hormones hit Maddox like a breakfast tidal wave, early and hard.

“Allergic to chlorine… ha!” Maddox mumbled as he neared David and Victoria, his body still dripping wet. “Get up!” he commanded.

“Maddox, leave-”

“No Victoria. I’m talking to your boyfriend. Come on, get up David! I want to race you to the other end of the pool.”

“I told you, Maddox; I can’t go in.”

“Yeah, yeah, you’re allergic to chlorine. You know what I think? I think you just made that up. Who ever heard of someone that’s allergic to chlorine?”

“You know, bullying me isn’t going to get people to respect you,” David said matter-of-factly with unappreciated maturity.

“What do you know? You don’t have any friends!” Maddox barked back. By now the entire class was watching the exchange with great interest. Maddox could feel the spotlight on him, and he used the opportunity to seize David’s arm and pull him to his feet. “Alright, we’ll do this the hard way then!”

“Maddox, please stop,” David pleaded. “You’re going to regret this.”

But Maddox didn’t relent. He dragged David with him to the edge of the deep end.

“First one to the other side wins! Here I’ll give you a head start!” he said pushing David over the edge with a shove at his back. Maddox jumped in a split second after and started to swim toward the other end. He was so focused on winning that he didn’t pay attention to what was going on around him. By the time he got to the other wall and turned around, everyone else had cleared out. They were all huddled by the poolside in shock. Some of the kids even covered their faces, peeking through gaps in their fingers.

“Maddox, get out of the pool!” yelled a boy frantically. “Get out, hurry!” But Maddox was too caught up in his victory to understand what all the excitement was about. He just hung onto the side and looked confused as he scanned the pool for David. Maddox couldn’t find him anywhere, but something caught his eye a few yards away. There was a fin cutting through the water and moving fast in his direction. He didn’t have enough time to react, let alone get to safety.

“He turned into a shark!” someone screeched.

All Maddox could do was close his eyes and let out a shrill scream as he braced for impact. Every part of his body tensed up in anticipation, but nothing happened. Maddox listened but all he could hear was heavy laughter in surround sound, and he slowly peeled his eyes open to see David wading in the water with a plastic shark fin strapped to his head, grinning ear to ear.

“I guess I outgrew my chlorine allergy. Found this at the bottom of the pool,” David said pulling the fin off. “I didn’t know you were afraid of sharks. I also didn’t know you scream like a baby, but I guess everyone knows now. Bullies don’t win.”

Maddox was shaking with shame. He took a deep breath and dipped his head under, hoping that everyone would be gone by the time he resurfaced.

 

Final Stretch

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artwork by @jameswyngaarden

a short story by Jerry Zinn

Entering the last turn I was in fourth, my legs churning underneath me with confidence in their training. I didn’t bother to flash a glance to the side or behind; I knew no one in my wake had any crumb of a chance. My attention remained on the three to my fore. Recognizing the exertion in their movement, and seeing each of their breaths as labors painfully borne, I knew my best option was to hold steady.

Coming out of the bend, I waited in anticipation for the proper moment to strike. I sensed a growing weakness and a loss of pace in the one in third and pushed harder to overtake. With my eyes beaming forward, only two left to pass, the distance to the finish line teased out like salt-water taffy. My competition seemed to launch ahead impossibly. I found myself locked in a tunnel, all light fading around the track ahead. The thousands of faces watching with hopeful energy dissolved into the bitter, mounting darkness. Flashes of cameras formed constellations dotting the void.

The final stretch is always the hardest. Time slowed achingly. I felt my lungs swell, and my heart was a metronome keeping irregular time. Latching my awareness solely to those two life-giving processes, I reached deep and drew out my last reserve of strength. Fire jolted into my legs like a shot of adrenaline.

I approached from the outside, my opponents fighting each other desperately, nose-to-nose. Darting pupils registered my attack. The end lay ahead of us like the virgin sands of unmapped islands, inviting one among us to be the first to step ashore. Only two strides remained, and I propelled through them with every remaining iota of strength. I lunged my head forward, seeking that crucial extra millimeter to propel me to triumph. A flash of the bulb signaled the end of the contest.

As the brightness dissolved away, the slowness gave way to rapid progression, and the faces reappeared amid a hurricane of applause. The race was over with no clear result as I let up. Unease drew itself like a sheet over the stadium in anticipation.

“Whatever happens, you ran one helluva race,” fell softly on my ears, in company with a few strong pats on my back. A passing minute later, the photo appeared to a resurgence of screams. A victor had been declared. A taut blow of the horn introduced the announcement.

“What an incredible race!” called a voice emphatically. “The photo-finish showed that the winner of the 145th Rosewood Stakes, is… Churchgate!”

With the sound of my name I made my way confidently toward the stands, a stunning wreath of red roses held high, eagerly awaiting a chance to don my shoulders. As we approached the winner’s circle, my jockey bent forward and kissed my neck. It was a job well done, deserving I thought, of a heap of sugar cubes.

The Lottery Saved My Life

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artwork by @jameswyngaarden

a short story by Jerry Zinn

“What do you mean by that, exactly?” the woman asked incredulously.

“The lottery saved my life,” Meyer replied, solidifying his statement with the concrete of repetition.

“Again, what do you mean? I heard what you said,” she took a sip of her martini. The olive rolled around the bottom of the vessel where it settled and would remain untouched.

“It’s a bit of a long story, Ms…?”

“Ms. Nothing I’m not a divorcee. My name’s Ida.”

“That’s an interesting name,” Meyer replied, half truthfully. A change of subject was on his mind.

“Not much more than Meyer.” The bartender approached Ida, but she was done drinking. Ida was interested in hearing how the lottery could, with such dramatic emphasis, “save,” a man’s life. She’d only heard of vast sums of money deposited in accounts overnight ruining people’s lives, driving them mad either with the burden of fortune or the carelessness that is so often served with excess. Meyer had a darkness in his eyes. Ida could sense his was a long story she wanted to hear. It was a tale her readers would be anxious to consume

“Well you’ve got me there. You may want another one of those. It’s that kind of story.”

“Why don’t you just start, you know, at the beginning? That’s what we usually say.”

“In that case, I’ll have one for us. Another rye Manhattan,” Meyer said raising a finger and swirling the remnants. The liquid was mostly clear now, ice the only inhabitant recognizable without chemical testing. “You know you could say a Manhattan is an island drink. Of course, only technically. Are you one for technicalities?”

Ida said nothing, hoping he would delve into his tale of lottery salvation. For a multimillionaire, Meyer dressed simply, business casual, in the way of old Wall Street, before tech vests were the uniform of choice. If she’d sized him up on her own, she’d have guessed commodities trader: intelligent, understated, and private.

“So the beginning…” Meyer sensed the time for stalling expired. “I’m an accountant. Well I was anyhow, for about fifteen years. I got a job right out of school and hated it, but I figured that’s just what being a college-educated adult was all about. Save your self-pity for the birds and all that. There was a clear track for me, promotion wise, compensation wise. I was making enough money not to complain, except over coffee with old friends.” Meyer bent over and took up the cuffs of his chinos another roll. He’d been in between on the appearance three versus four curls presented, and ultimately, as his story was just starting through the dry background, he changed his mind.

“Sorry,” Meyer said, taking a sip of the fresh Manhattan. He gave a look of contemplation, as though the taste of the drink validated his comment on technicality. Maybe the Manhattan is an island drink. “Anyway,” Meyer started again as though much time had passed, as though uncontrollable distractions had put the story on hold long enough for Ida to forget what he had been saying. “Blah blah blah, accounting. Let’s just say the bottom line was, I was content, which is a colorful euphemism for unhappy. I was never a gambling man, not even a betting man save for a few gentlemen’s wagers and the occasional exchange of six packs for football games. I wouldn’t call myself sheepish, but perhaps I am endowed with a certain… reticence.”

“That’s a generous way to call yourself timid. For a numbers man, you have a way with words.” Ida was toying with the charm on her silver necklace, sliding it along the gossamer thin chain links.

“I had an English minor. Just wanted a twist of pretension.”

“Like rye in your island drink?”

Meyer laughed a decidedly sporting laugh. “Touché. Well me being as I’ve described, I was never going to quit, not without something else lined up. And because I was too nervous to pursue other jobs, I wasn’t going to leave. Not in my lifetime. So I did what any rational, statistically proficient, diploma holding individual would do. I went to the grocery store and bought a lottery ticket.”

“Did you pick the numbers or were they random?” It might have seemed a horribly pedestrian question. What after all did it matter? But Ida was interested in anecdotal data. Those tidbits were gobbled up by the readers, the deflating topics of most comment streams.

“They were computer selected,” Meyer replied. Evidently he’d put a lot of thought into the decision. Accounting brought some considerations to the insanity. “I only bought one. I have a fate complex.”

“Oh I think we all do, if we’re honest with ourselves.”

“I guess I put it in a drawer and forgot about it. Truth be told I forced it out of my mind, because as long as I didn’t check to see if I won, there was still a chance I had. Don’t check and you can’t lose, right?”

“I see the logic.”

“The drawing happened, and a few days went by. I genuinely forgot. Accounting has an amazing ability to block out everything in your life with meaning and drown you in tedium. Then I saw a blurb in the news, that the winning ticket had been sold not just in my state, not just in my city, but at the very store I’d purchased mine. Well even over endless excel sheets that’s a hard set of details to ignore.” Meyer paused for a laugh that never came. “So I left work that afternoon a little early, and I sat at my desk with the ticket stored in a drawer, unseen, and so still viable.”

“Naturally.”

“Then I looked. And that was that. I won. Four hundred and twenty-two million dollars, roughly, after Uncle Sam. I didn’t go in to work the next day. Even with that much money I didn’t have the courage to quit my job, so I let my job come to me. My boss called after three or four days. It was three days, I don’t know why I said that just now. Of course I kept track. I never skipped work. And only then, over the phone no less, I cut the cord. I told him I was done with it all, and don’t mind about the two weeks. I thought fifteen years was enough notice. I expected, well hoped anyway, he would be at least a little mad but I think he was glad my salary and benefits were no longer on his budget. They were just going to replace me for less with a younger model.”

“May I just ask something?” Ida interjected.

“Please,” Meyer replied, welcoming the break.

“Well it’s just, you said the lottery saved your life, but other than being one of the countless victims of complacency, it doesn’t sound like you needed saving? You weren’t terminally ill were you?”

“No, nothing like that. I claimed my winnings. I never bothered to collect my things from my office. I’d just as soon have them throw it all in the garbage or donate it to an accountant charity. That’s what I thought over the weekend anyhow. Come Monday my tendencies returned, and I figured I’d better go in that afternoon and get my stuff, say goodbye to the select few whose company I didn’t detest. I was going to go too, except that I turned on the news, really just to see the weather. I wanted to know if I needed a rain jacket. That was October 19th.”

Ida’s face dropped, the life escaping air from a pinpricked balloon. “You were an accountant…”

“Yes.”

“At… CDG?”

Meyer read the young woman’s morbid expression. “I take it you understand now?”

“That whole building… No one survived the attack. Hundreds of people died that day.”

“No one survived that went to work that Monday. And I had perfect attendance in my tenure. It seems no great prosperity comes without cost. Sure, I won the lottery. I lived, and I’ve got more money than I know what to do with. But I will always feel I should have been in that building. It will haunt me forever. As it should. I keep the ticket with me, so the memory never strays. I think what I said earlier, that should be the title of this story when your magazine prints it: The Lottery Saved My Life. It has a dark poetic quality, Edgar Allen Poeish.”