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Warsaw Moon: Part Three
by Paul D. Brazill

Slumped in his blood red leather armchair, in a darkened corner of the office—like a spectre of the man he once was—Dragan disinterestedly watched the slow drips of wine trickle down from the bottle that dangled from his hand onto the wooden floorboards. His thoughts flashed back to September.

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Dragan had snaked the black Jaguar XJ5 through the honey coloured Autumn morning and along the Old Town’s cobbled streets, listening to Bessie Smith. As he glided the car along the almost deserted Nowy Swiat, with its expensive shops, cafes and bars, he lit a cigar and felt like a king.

The High Priest Of Warszawa, a smirking, hyperactive American frat boy had called him, once upon a time. The rich American was being ironic, of course. At the time Dragan was just a speed freak. A jumped up Serbian car thief and drug dealer with ambitions. But now, well, the frat boy wouldn’t be smirking so much, if he were still alive.

Dragan turned right at the Palm tree sculpture and headed down Aleje Jarozolimskie, looking up at the blue sky.The Palace of Culture and Science loomed over the city like a giant gargoyle keeping danger at bay.

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As he turned the corner toward the Euro Continental Hotel a big black SUV suddenly screeched in front of him and blocked his way. Dragan braked but his reactions were slow. Perhaps he’d been getting soft. One upon a time he would have jumped out of the car and beaten the driver to sludge, but he simply sighed and reversed . And then another turned the corner and slammed into him, stopping his exit.

Within seconds, a swarm of men in black balaclavas rushed out of the SUVs and started attacking the car with hammers, baseball bats, rocks. And then one pulled out a shotgun and blasted the windscreen which cracked like a spiderweb.

The car was bullet proof, of course, so they didn’t get very far, but as Dragan slammed his hand into his pocket for his Desert Eagle XIX, he froze as recognised the red crescent tattoo on one of the men’s wrists.

Within seconds the men were all back in their SUV’s and had driven off but Dragan just sat there stunned, the dropped cigar burning a hole into his leg. He looked down and brushed it away as if it were a mosquito.

Who would dare? Who, from his people, would dare?

And so the purge had begun.

* * *

Dragan smashed the bottle on the floor. The red stain crawled into the wood’s cracks and crevices. He stood up, lit a cigar and gazed out of the window.

The Old Town square was almost empty. Just the occasional little ant scuttling across the snow. He could hear the sound of the music from Klub Zodiak below him. He could feel the throb of the bass, thumping its message to him.

He pulled a bag of cocaine form his desk draw and trailed a line of powder along the window pane so he could watch out for the mercenary eyes.

* * *

Krystyna decided to swim one more length of the pool. It was just past midnight but she knew that Tomasz would stand guard over her all night if he had to. She loved the Euro Continental Hotel’s glass swimming pool and the floor to ceiling window that gave such a great view of the Warsaw skyline.

She would miss this, she thought, as she floated on her back and looked out at the constellation of lights that trailed away from the hotel toward the Palace Of Culture and Science, old Joe Stalin’s unwanted gift to the people of Warsaw.

As she got out of the pool Tomasz rose from his seat like the Golum and handed Krystyna the towel. She said nothing as she dried her iron muscled body and went into the changing room.

Krystyna dressed and switched on her Nokia. There were two missed calls from Dragan and three SMS written in a garbled mixture of Russian, English and Polish. She was reminded of the last words of Dutch Schulz and almost laughed but instead she shivered as she played with her loosening wedding ring.

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Produced by Walter Conley.

Photo by Daniel Bell, a 24 year old artist, photographer and filmmaker out of Newcastle, UK. Daniel’s website is BONG EYED GIRAFFE and his work can also be view at http://afgahntramp.deviantart.com. Anyone wishing to contact him can do so at bongeyedgiraffe@hotmail.co.uk.

Paul Brazill’s serial WARSAW MOON can be read in sequence HERE.

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Submissions to disenthrallers@gmail.com. Please look through the site and check the guidelines before submitting.

Walter Conley can be reached at pitchbrite@gmail or found on twitter as pitchbrite.

All rights held by respective creators; do not reproduce without express written permission.

(Photo by Jill Auville; all rights reserved)
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Now up at disenthralled:

ISSUE #7.

Poetry and prose by Karen Baker, J.S. MacLean, Carrie Clevenger, Kilian Conor, Paula Ray, William Doreski, Roberta Lawson, Tyson Bley, Jelena Vencl Ohlrogge. Photography by Jill Auville.

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In the works: Part Three of Paul D. Brazill’s WARSAW MOON, Theater, a poetry special, fiction special and collaboration between a poetess and traditional artist.

Paul D. Brazill
WARSAW MOON: PART TWO

The tall men in the black hats and long black overcoats looked like shadows as they cut through the snow smothered square.

A ghostly spiral of smoke drifted up from the husk of the burnt out car as Darko fell to his knees, the low hum that hovered in the distance growing louder.

He looked up, gasping, as the plane roared overhead. His fingers buzzed and tingled and the sensation spread through his hands and up his arms. The weight of an elephant was on his chest and then he felt the cold hard metal against his forehead.

Then the day dissolved to black.

* * *

First there were trickles and then there was a flood until what seemed to be hundreds of people spilled out over the square, like jackals searching for carrion. The men in the black overcoats slipped through the crowd as the approaching sirens screamed nearer.

Shuffling into the corner a nearby alleyway, Brendan pushed back the brim of his black fedora and plucked a battered packet of Galois from his raincoat pocket. He handed one to Arek, sweat peeling from his acne scarred face.

‘Another one bites the dust,’ growled Arek, his accent as thick as treacle.

‘Aye,‘ said Brendan, the traces of a grin appearing at the corner of his mouth. ‘Just not the one we were after.’

He coughed and spat on the ground. He wiped his mouth, revealing the red tatto on his wrist.

‘Are you gonna call or am I?’ he said.

Arek inhaled deeply and looked up to heavens, at the stars and the moon, as if hoping for help from above.

* * *

The aquarium bubbled and gurgled, bathing the office in a sickly green light. The air in the room was warm and soupy and Dragan steadily sipped a glass of gin.

At a large desk, a raven haired woman was using a gold credit card to chop up a little heap of cocaine. She leaned forward and snorted through a Harrods pen.

‘Ay Caramba, mother fucker,’ she said, her Latino accent as thick and dark as an Irish coffee.

Dragan poured himself another large gin.

‘Gin makes you sin,’ said the woman, with a chuckle. Dragan glared a her.

She turned away, retouched her make up and stood up. Guilt rumbled inside Dragan like a thundercloud. He’d sworn that the previous time would be the last time but once again he’d broken his promise to himself.

The woman walked over to him. She was tall and in her early twenties with wan looking skin, red lipstick slashed across her full lips and her black hair cut into a Louise Brooks bob. She was wearing a red PVC raincoat and shiny black stiletto heels. Dragan took a wad of cash from his wallet and wearily handed it to her.

The James Bond theme began to play and Dragan took out his mobile phone.

‘Tak,’ he said and listened for a few moments before answering.

He slumped over the large oak desk .

‘And exactly how much of a bollocks is ‘a bit of a bollocks’?’ he said, his expression volcanic.

‘Maybe I’ll go?’ said the woman.

Dragan waved indifferently toward her and she walked out of the office door, her head held down but still watching.

And still listening.

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Paul D. Brazill was born in Hartlepool, England and is now on the lam in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

His stories are available in print in NEEDLE MAGAZINE (The Sharpest Tools In The Box), Howl: Dark Tales of the Feral and Infernal (The Stamp Of A Vamp) and RADGEPACKET 4 (The Nightwatchman).

COMING SOON ARE STORIES in the anthologies Harbinger*33, Daily Flash, Daily Bites Of Flesh, Don’t Tread On Me, FLASH! and Bats In The Belfry.

His story The Tut was nominated for a 2010 Spinetingler award. .

His stories have appeared online at A Twist Of Noir, Beat To A Pulp, disenthralled, Radgepacket Online, Powder Burn Flash, Blink Ink, The Flash Fiction Offensive,Shoots & Vines, Six Sentences, Pulp Metal Magazine, MiCrow, The Legendary, Thrillers Killers ‘n’ Chillers and other such classy joints.

His column “I didn’t say that, did I?” is a regular sore spot at Pulp Metal Magazine.

* * *

This is Michal Giedrojc‘s first appearance at disenthralled. You can see more of his work and contact him through his website: giedrojcmichal.com.

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Part One of WARSAW MOON can be read in Issue #6.

Part Three is in the works.

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Produced by Walter Conley.

Upcoming issues will include Theater, Fiction, Poetry, Art and, provided I live through the encounter, excerpts from the unpublished friendship manual by Katashi Katsu.

I recommend that readers of disenthralled check out VAGABONDAGE PRESS. The March 2010 issue of The Battered Suitcase includes work by disenthralled contributor Roberta Lawson.

You can reach me, Walter, at pitchbrite@gmail.com and on twitter as pitchbrite. Submissions to disenthrallers@gmail.com. Please take the time to familiarize yourself with our journal and guidelines before submitting.

All material copyright©2010 by respective creators.

SHE’S DIFFERENT
Text and photos by Adam Lach

Marina Till, a transsexual, has had numerous medical examinations and treatments, such as a very intense hormonal therapy, at times seriously weakening her organism. For a long time she has been dreaming about a sex change surgery but she can not afford it. She does not accept herself and her body. Suicide attempts and alcohol abuse are means of escape from the body she lives in. A body that does not belong to her. She said, “Once I swallowed a large amount of pills and they simply went right through my body. Sitting on the toilet I could hear them hitting its basin. It was then, I realized, that if it was so hard to kill oneself, then what would it take to change one’s gender?”

I spent a few long weeks with Marina. I wondered how she coped with her difficult life-role. Her being suspended between mental existence as a woman and the masculine form of her physical being was for me a very important element of the transformation. I focused on the relation between herself and her body and was able to observe the existing antagonism, a proof of what she has yet to go through. After a sex change surgery she will legally, psychologically and physically become a woman and forget the fact, that once she was a man.
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Photo: Adam Lach/Napo Images

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Photo: Adam Lach/Napo Images

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Photo: Adam Lach/Napo Images

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Photo: Adam Lach/Napo Images

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Photo: Adam Lach/Napo Images

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Photo: Adam Lach/Napo Images

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Photo: Adam Lach/Napo Images

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Photo: Adam Lach/Napo Images

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Photo: Adam Lach/Napo Images

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Photo: Adam Lach/Napo Images

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Photo: Adam Lach/Napo Images

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Photo: Adam Lach/Napo Images

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Photo: Adam Lach/Napo Images

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Photo: Adam Lach/Napo Images

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Photo: Adam Lach/Napo Images

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She does not accept herself and her body.

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Produced by Walter Conley.

All rights reserved by Adam Lach/Napo Images. Do not use without express written permission. This story first appeared at NAPO IMAGES. Thanks to Adam for graciously allowing me to reprint it here at disenthralled.

Adam Lach can be contacted at lach@naopimages.com.

(Photo copyright©2010 Brooke Shaden; see Issue #5)

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SUBMISSIONS ARE OPEN

We’re up to something. I’m not sure what. More editors. New submission address. All kinds of projects in the works. Have a look around, check out the guidelines. Create something. First-timers are strongly encouraged to submit.

Here’s the new email: disenthrallers@gmail.com

If you’d like to address a specific editor (Walter Conley, Paul Dutra, Quin Browne, Peggy McFarland), put his or her name in the subject line.

Address general questions or comments to me, Walter. You can also find me on facebook (“walter conley”) and twitter (“pitchbrite”).

Check the ISSUES page for archives.

Our latest publication: MARY MILLS & JENNY MAY PETERSON

Walter Conley
Louisa, VA
4/4/10

Poetry and Fiction by MARY MILLS
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The Croc Atop the Tele

Scattered shards
on the floor
like rubble
after a bomb
scored a hit.

To the left
on the wall
an axe hangs
double-edged
dangerous.

To the right
of three swords
curved in sheaths
angry teeth
announce him.

From his head
a haunting smile
seethes with guile.
the croc is set
to strike
from atop
the tele.

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Traffic

green
amber
red.

living
dying
dead.

degrees
of
decay.

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ingrown toenail

screaming infection
      bloody mess-

       antibiotics
       for ten days.

      I need
       some weed!

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Spanish moss

creeping, seeping
clinging, swinging
crawling, sprawling

from the top
down to the
bottom branch.

scary mist:
soft, airy
Spanish moss.

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snowfelt gratitude

from the safety
of a warm house,
I have a ringside seat
and can watch the
greatest show on
my side of earth.

without interruption
without commercials
my free ticket to
uninterrupted beauty
fascinating, amazing.

I am grateful for this
reminder of
human limitation.

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Silence

Voices of
Soothing silence
Close your eyes
Open your ears
Listen!

Can you hear them?
Soft shades
Of sound
Surrounding
Memories

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Rough Ride

Jenny Wilkinson called to her daughter, Rose, who was in the backyard looking at a magazine. “Rose, watch Al while I go shopping. I won’t be but an hour.”

“No need to hurry, Mom. I’ll take good care of Al.”

Jenny Wilkinson left her son with Rose, his thirteen-year-old half-sister, and planned to be home before Luke, her husband. While Jenny prepared dinner, Luke would amuse their three-year-old son. Neither Luke nor Al tired of this routine because it was not a routine, but a joyful interaction.

Al loved his wagon and squealed with delight as his sister labored to pull the large, unwieldy wagon with him inside up a steep incline. As she struggled to keep her footing while dragging the burden, perspiration rolled down her forehead. Her determination to be rid of the noisy creature in the wagon was fueled by the vibration of little legs and feet, banging on the floor of the wagon. He was about to get the ride of his life.

At the top of the hill, Rose gave the old wagon a heave, sending it into a momentum, which increased as the wagon approached the big maple at the bottom. In what seemed an instant, the wagon struck the maple’s extensive feeder roots and flipped onto its side. A neighbor noticed the runaway wagon with its tiny passenger and hopped the fence just as the wagon careened into the tree, emptying Al onto the ground. The feeder roots deflected the wagon and prevented it from colliding with the tree trunk. Tragedy had been averted, and the toddler was alive. His injuries, with the exception of his jaw, were superficial, and his neighbor was able to reposition the dislocated jaw.

After the bouts of heated arguments concerning Al’s accident had subsided, a stifling silence seemed to bounce off the walls as Jenny and Luke exchanged civilities. Luke demanded that Rose never be alone with his son and made it clear that he would take certain measures to ensure Al’s safety. An uneasy peace filled the house like an angry, caged animal, pacing back and forth, ready to let loose its pent up rage.

“Now what?” Luke asked, looking past Jenny to Rose, whose strawberry blond hair would’ve turned blood red from his yanking it out if he hadn’t controlled himself.

“What?” asked Jenny trembling.

“Now, what will happen next? Will Al live to be four?” Luke sighed and bolted toward Al’s room. An ungodly frustration devoured him. How could he protect the boy? As he left a sleeping Al, Luke’s rage had reached its boiling point.

” It was an accident,” Rose countered in her defense, retreating into the kitchen. The screen door slammed as she lunged for the backyard. Luke did not follow her. The time for discussion was past. Silence dominated dinner and bedtime.

Jenny’s eyes opened. She had heard a muffled child’s voice. She glanced at the clock. Whatever the noise was, it wasn’t worth bothering about. She closed her eyes and drifted off. It was early, and she needed her sleep. The figure beside her hadn’t moved. Then, after a few minutes, she awoke.

” It’s 7:00. You’re going to be late for work, Luke!”

Tugging at the sheets, she discovered pillows bunched together. A stifled cry of helplessness stuck in her throat. Luke was gone!

From the hallway, Rose’s voice quivered, “Al is gone! Kidnapped!” Rose saw her mother, sitting by the pillows, motionless. Upset by her mother’s stare, Rose embraced her in an attempt to comfort and distract her. The intruders were gone.

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In the Kitchen with JENNY MAY PETERSON

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Produced by Walter Conley and Paul Dutra.

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Contributors:

Mary Mills is a retired world language teacher, whose specialty is German. Her translation of poems written by concentration camp inmates, “Voices of Theresienstadt,” appeared in the Nov., 2009 issue of Pacific Coast Philology. These poems can be viewed at http://mandelproject.us/Millscollection2.pdf. Her own poetry has appeared in Autumn Leaves, Rattlesnake Review, Inscribed, and, most recently, in disenthralled.

Jenny Peterson is a west-coast photographer with mid-western sensitivities spilling over her lens. Her imaginative photographs ferment a fantastical realism, as she challenges the physical laws of the ordinary day. In her spare time she is also a professional dancer and massage therapist. Visit Jenny’s gallery at flickr: onlymefairmay.

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Coming next is the Theater Special, edited by Quin Browne.

Submissions are CLOSED at the present time, but check the guidelines in April. You can reach Walter Conley at pitchbrite@gmail.com or find him on twitter as pitchbrite.

Please note that we are now located at disenthralled.net

All material copyright©2010 by respective creators.

(Photo by Steve Pacuk)
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Please note that disenthralled can now be found at disenthralled.net.

ISSUE #6 is online. Flash and poetry by Bruce Brown, Petra Whiteley, Janeen Chabot, offbeatjim, Robert Crisman, Quin Browne, Michael J. Solender, Mary Mills, Paul D. Brazill. Photography by Jenny May Peterson, Paul Dutra, Sarah R. Bloom, Steve Pacuk, Meredith Kleiber and Gwyn Michael.

Special thanks once again to Paul Dutra for technical assistance.

And thanks to Quin Browne for stepping in and stepping up.

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Submissions are CLOSED at the present time, while we finish the current projects and reorganize for spring. Next are the MARY MILLS and THEATER specials.

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I can be reached at pitchbrite@gmail.com or twitter.com/pitchbrite. If you’ve never contacted me, please let me know what it’s about in the subject or it will be deleted unread.

Walter Conley
Louisa VA
3/21/10

Night at the Western

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Quick update and links you should check out:

Update for March 5, 2010

Things have been quiet lately, as I catch up on my own writing and discuss the future of disenthralled with friends much smarter than I am. Three Specials are currently being assembled: Theater, Noir and Mary Mills. None is far from completion. I’ve loosened up the schedule to allow for new ideas, additional material to be gathered at the behest of the other editors; but you can expect one of those issues around March 15. And regular issues/submission opportunities will resume after the Specials have been finished.

Recommended links

One of my favorite short story writers, Ray Nayler, has a webcomic up at Zuda Comics entitled NIGHT AT THE WESTERN. Cesar Sebastian handled the artwork. We need more noir webcomics online. Head over, read it, vote. The winning comic will become a regular series.

NIGHT AT THE WESTERN

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My friend Nicole Hirschi has a blog called CJT’S WORD VAMP. Lately she’s been posting flash fiction by writers familiar to readers of disenthralled, such as Salvatore Buttaci, Michael J. Solender, Richard Godwin. Here’s a link to the current story by Jeffrey S. Callico, whose poetry appeared in Issue #2:

CJT’S WORD VAMP

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Screenwriter/reader Xandy Sussan has a blog called COVER MY SCRIPT where she doles out great advice not only on the film industry, but on writing itself. No nonsense. Gained through experience. Always straight-forward, entertaining and right on the money:

COVER MY SCRIPT

And be sure to check out the links to Contributors and other sites of interest at the bottom of the page.

If you need to reach me, pitchbrite@yahoo.com. Let me know what it’s about in the subject line or the message will be deleted unread. In realer-time, there’s a chance you might find me at twitter, user name pitchbrite.

Walter

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Listen to me. Carefully.

Are you listening?

Good.

Don’t move.

Don’t say a word.

Before this gets out of hand, there’s something I should tell you….

 

ISSUE #5
(offbeatjim, Roberta Lawson, Jodi MacArthur, Richard Godwin, Mary Mills, Len Kuntz, Maria Gornell, Lynn Alexander, Lena Vanelslander/Photography by Bailey Elizabeth, Sarah Bloom, Brooke Shaden, Paul Dutra and Kimberley Joanne Sinclair)

ISSUE #4
(Michael J. Solender, Mark Joseph Kiewlak, Nora Ibsen, offbeatjim, Brittany Wallace, Robert Crisman, Michael D. Brown, AJ Dresser, Mary Mills, Richard Godwin/Photography by Kristin Fouquet)

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SPECIAL #3
(Fiction by Miss Alister/Photography by Sarah R. Bloom/Produced by Walter Conley.)

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ISSUE #1
(Quin Browne, offbeatjim, Roberta Lawson, Allie Dresser, Janelle Rene/Photography by Paul Dutra/Produced by Walter Conley)

SPECIAL #1
(Fiction by Kristen Michelle Håvet/Photography by Paul Dutra/Produced by Walter Conley and Paul Dutra)

ISSUE #2
(Bruce Brown, Amy Kelly, Quin Browne, Jeffrey S. Callico, Len Kuntz, Allie Dresser, Jodi MacArthur/Photography by Paul Dutra/Produced by Walter Conley and Paul Dutra)

SPECIAL #2
(Poetry by Kristen Michelle Håvet, Salvatore Buttaci, Lynn Alexander, Howie Good, Carla Criscuolo, Robert Crisman/Photography by Anna Szczekutowicz/Produced by Walter Conley and Paul Dutra)

ISSUE #3
(Alisa Rynay Haller, Robert Crisman, Lynn Kinsey, Miss Alister, Howie Good, Paul D. Brazill, Tom Leins, CK Black, Richard Godwin, Lena Vanelslander/Photography by Katie Stokes, XactoInTheBox, WonderfulUgly/Produced by Walter Conley and Paul Dutra)

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(Photograph copyright©2009 by Walter Conley)

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THE SALVATION SKITS
by Miss Alister

Photography by Sarah R. Bloom

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I. The Need

Just before dawn, Ray and Val stepped over the lifeless bodies sprawled on soiled couches, chairs, floors, and left the dead party and its soggy stench. They got into Ray’s beat-up Chevy van and did a line to keep them awake on the drive to Denny’s. They’d spent most of the night apart from one another, caught up in a vortex of sick fucks and drugs. It’s not the way Ray wanted it, but Val had a desperate edge to her these days and he didn’t want to lose her. They ate their Grand Slams in silence, neither wanting to tell the other just how far into perversion they’d gone, but silence is the biggest tattle tale. So they shifted to small talk to shut it up and tried to enjoy the tail end of the coke high for what it was apart from the debauchery.

Back in the van, they did another line to get them to their shithole apartment on the south side. The more distance that got put between last night and them, the easier it was to fool each other back to the comfort of oblivion, until Val saw the church and the people queuing up. She put her hands on the dash and sucked in air so severely, Ray jerked the wheel to avoid imagined doom. “Fuck, Val!” But she didn’t give a shit if his heart blew up at 160 beats per minute, just demanded he pull into the church parking lot and either go in with her or wait for her or leave her there, she didn’t give a shit about that, either.

This happened a fair amount lately, the after-party Pavlovian remorse and desire for redemption on seeing a church. Val grew up conditioned to believe she could find something called God only within the walls of a steepled building. So Ray pulled in and parked on the far side of the lot. Everybody’s gotta do their thing, find what they’re looking for no matter how long or hard a way it is to go. Val would be out of there as soon as her high wore off and she realized she was sitting in a sea of flowered old lady dresses and suits, dressed like a tart. He’d wait for her as always, say a few prayers of his own out where they’re more likely to count for something, maybe catch a few winks if the timing’s right.

Ray watched Val shake her tight ass around to the front of the van and head toward the church, her high heels clicking and her tits jiggling, trying to spill out of her top. She’d pasted a smile on her face that Ray imagined felt to her like it was sweet, but it came off more Jezebel than Ruth. He laughed, slid his seat back and jacked off. One prayer answered, just like that.

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II. Pick-up Line

Val smiled her way up the church steps, shook a few hands, spoke a few saccharin words, wanted to be liked. She felt a camaraderie with these people, a warmth in her heart that let her know these were her people and she’d be back again, every Sunday. She would. She felt excitement, like this might be the day that the miraculous change would happen and stick within her like drinking and drugs had stuck within. Swap one religion for another, just like that, because with God anything is possible. With every step toward the sanctuary, she felt that more strongly. Reverence was an awesome drug indeed.

A rosy-cheeked young man stepped up to usher her to a seat. With a little work, he could be hot she thought. She smiled and winked at him when he handed her a bulletin. He blushed and hastened away. Shit. She didn’t mean to fuck up like that. She sat down and smoothed it over in her mind, made it like it never happened. She concentrated on the wavy, slow-mo organ prelude, some of the gazillion organ pipes pumping out flutes and cellos and oboes. Amazing contraption. She wished she knew how to play. Oh, the things she would accomplish when she was clean! She closed her eyes and smiled. Dream, baby, dream.

Val felt a swish of air and opened her eyes to a pale, young woman sitting down next to her. She looked to be around her own age, somewhere in her mid- to upper twenties, anyway. She was stick-thin, swimming in a flowered old lady dress with a lace collar. And her look couldn’t have been plainer: glasses, no makeup, stick-straight mouse-brown hair held back on either side of her face by baby barrettes. She was so sweet, though, offered Val her hand and introduced herself as May. Val smiled warmly, took May’s limp hand and introduced herself back. She could feel genuine goodness coming off May and she basked in it, smiling, until the service began with the church announcements. Maybe May would be her homegirl in this new scene.

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III. Foreplay

May locked her car door and started across the parking lot for the church, bible in hand. When she looked toward the church steps, a flash of red caught her eye. It was a blonde bombshell with a bouffant hairdo in a tight, bright red ruched bodice, a belt sparkling with red rhinestones, faded stretch jeans that hugged her Barbie legs all the way down to her ankles, and three-inch red alligator-print stilettos. May shuddered and relocated her bible tight to her chest, tried in vain to keep her eyes from snapping back to the red flash.

The sight of the red woman was just too sensational to resist, and May succumbed to the urge to blatantly gape at her, endured too easily the shame she felt in doing it. God would get her for this, but some depraved part of her had risen up so radically and had so overwhelmed her that she concertedly turned from the choice to recite Philippians 4:8 over and over in an effort to right her sinful thoughts. Instead, she quickened her pace toward the church steps, calculating the angle of approach that would best allow her to get a glimpse of the red woman’s face without appearing to be trying to.

When she got close enough to estimate the woman’s age, she was taken aback by a pleasurable sense of identity on determining it to be close to her own age of twenty-six. Even though the red woman’s makeup was muted and mussed, like from a night of drunken revelry and maybe sleeping God knows where, it did little to detract from her allure. May consoled herself with the fact that it was still far too much makeup for church, too much rouge and black eye shadow and mascara to bring before a holy God.

May looked around at the other parishioners who were approaching and navigating the church steps and saw a mix of fierce whispering and shocked expressions. And some of them she could see were working painfully hard to appear nonplussed, to be like Jesus, to not stand in the way of letting this sinner get her God fix, for she might just be saved this very day. They were, all of them, woefully aware of their duties as Christians, and most importantly, as members of their fine church, to greet newcomers with warmth and love, but this was too difficult a situation.

The majority of the women simply didn’t know what to do, how to act, what to say, and so they nudged their men to go forward and do the dirty work. But the men were damned if they’d approach the red woman lest they appear to be pandering to their basest sexual desires and later be accused by a witness—walking by, across the street, say—who wasn’t fully apprised of this unique and delicate set of circumstances.

There was the odd matriarch who dared approach, either out of mean curiosity or a desire to feel the red woman out, to check her wellbeing, her state of mind, prepared to take matters into hand and turn her away should she be determined capable of causing trouble. Each of the daring ones ended up concluding their interviews with wry smiles and seemed satisfied enough to allow her to proceed into the church.

The greeters seemed to take their cues from these daring women and were stiff, but polite. The ushers all hesitated but one brave, young rosy-cheeked soul, who tightened his jaw muscles and stepped up to the task, smiled uncomfortably, bent stiffly forward and back in an abbreviated bow. The church was filling up quickly and the back of the church always filled up first with football fans and sleepers. So the rosy usher had no choice but to lead the red woman to the middle pews in a somber procession of two, her with her sex and him fending off a hard-on with an arsenal of holy thoughts.

May was next up to be seated, hoping she’d get the young rosy, but he’d made a beeline for the first old bag he could find, to balance things out. One of the venerable church fathers stepped up to her instead and smiled, whispered “Good morning, Miss May,” and waited for a signal from her regarding seating. May smiled and cast an exaggerated glance at the red woman and said to the usher, “I don’t mind,” to which he replied, “Bless you my child.” May lowered her eyes in mawkish humility and blushed. Indeed, she wished it was a desire to witness to the red women that drove her, and not the sick ache within, to be envied by women and lusted after by men.

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IV. The Act

The imposing, white-haired Rev. Dr. Silbus McInnery sat in prayer in his favorite cushy chair in the fireplace room as he waited for his cue to enter the sanctuary and begin the service. One of the deacons rushed in with intent to prepare him regarding a flashy red-clad, improperly coifed woman whom his wife had found to be named Val. But the Reverend Doctor waved him away and continued to wait in his garden of prayer for the end of the church announcements. As soon as the Introit was begun, he got up and moved to the side door to the sanctuary, and when it concluded he blustered in, the wind made by the door causing his great robe to billow and his pulpit stole to flutter out to his sides and back.

He strode to the pulpit and grasped both wings of it with both hands and swept his smile mightily over the congregation. He did a glaring double take when his eyes took in the red flash of Val. And he inwardly cursed his humanity as he tried desperately to right his mind and unstick his eyes so that they might continue their godly sweeping straight into his booming Call to Worship. Val’s presence had taken him by such surprise that for the first time since his first pastorship, he truly felt as if he might not be able to carry the service. His mind displayed an array of prime excuses to depart, each with appropriate words of explanation and apology.

The assistant pastor came forward with a glass of water and whispered, “Reverend Doctor, your words may lead another soul to our Lord and Savior this day. Here is sustenance that you may continue in His name.” The Reverend Doctor grabbed at the glass and gulped the water and his eyes bulged. It was not water but vodka. He took another swallow, then smiled, full of love and recovery, and began his Call to Worship, “Great and gracious God, we gather before you this hour to promote the worship of God as revealed through Jesus Christ…” After that it was a piece of cake.

Midway through the sermon however, Val’s enthusiasm began to wane as her cocaine high gave way to the harsh consequences of twelve hours of hard partying and sex with strangers and the reality of a head pounding to the rhythm of sleep-or-die. She dug in her purse and popped a caffeine tablet, was so desperate she chewed it. She looked around at the sea of flowered old lady dresses and suits and ties. She looked down at her breasts oozing out of her sizzling red bodice, at her poured-on jeans and her glittery red nails and gaudy faux jewels, and she thought, “My God, what am I doing here?”

At the same time she felt as though the real Val inside the sex package was failing, dying, and she cried dry tears for that Val, so sad for her, so ashamed that she mostly stood by and watched the dying. These post-partying, high-flying attempts at redemption were poorly done farces, pure embarrassment, and she could never think clearly enough to do it right, to keep her shit together on a Saturday night so she could get up early and don a flowered old lady dress. Somehow, up against booze and drugs and sex, religion didn’t get it. Anger surfaced at that thought.

If she was incapable of dragging herself rightly to the altar to receive salvation, how would she get there? Who’s the intermediary that gets you from you to the Jesus who’s supposed to save you? The Holy Ghost? And where might it be found? Via prayer? And what if you won’t or can’t because it’s not your nature to dog prayer to the point of salvation and you weren’t brought up religious? Why should you be damned by your own DNA and screwed up childhood, two things you had no control over? Just exactly how is it that with God all things are possible? What are the mechanics of that? She couldn’t think, sat stone-faced in the hard, unfriendly pew, pissed and waiting to eject herself from this torture.

The Reverend Doctor was wrapping up. “…Father, may no one leave here without a sense of sinfulness and without calling upon You and thanking You for forgiveness already received. We pray these things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.” The air literally swooned with pure love and saving grace and the organist allowed it to blossom a moment before letting loose and taking it to greater heights with a resounding introduction to the crowd-pleaser, “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” But Val could stand no more, saw the congregation’s rising to sing as the perfect opportunity to run from this great, stiff place. She stretched her lips like a smile at May, plowed past her and walked down the never-ending aisle to the high arched doors, fighting like a wildcat to keep her chin up and look proud to be a sinner.

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V. Release

Ray woke to the mad rattling of the van’s passenger-side door handle. He squinted his eyes toward the commotion and realized it was Val, shaking the shit out of the thing, hollering at him to open the goddamned door. He slid his seat forward, raked his hair back with his fingers and just looked over at her and laughed. She was beautiful inflamed with rage. He took his time reaching over to pull the lock up, and the instant he did, Val yanked the door open, jumped in and slammed the door shut like liquid.

She didn’t say a word, just flipped the visor down and stared at her face in the mirror. She saw the sagging raccoon eyes, blotchy cheeks and dry lips of a has-been hooker. Val slapped the visor mirror back up, turned toward Ray and glared at him, asked him why the fuck he lets her shake her smashed ass into Sunday morning church after partying all night. They both knew the answer—it was the only time she had the nerve—and so he said nothing. The exchange of looks was enough. Val snapped her head back forward, stared straight ahead and sat with her hands between her knees, her back stiff, her fierce will fighting back tears and losing for once. She bit her lip, got control enough to say, “I’m done trying, Ray.”

Ray swung his feet over the engine hump. “Here, Baby,” he said to Val. He wrapped his arms around her and held her, let her cry. She cried for herself, for again and again fucking up the whole concept of church and praying to be saved from the darknesses she felt powerless to break free from. And she cried for the congregation of proper church people that had to deal with the sight of her there in her sleazy outfit and red spiked heels. She thought of the church service, how she heard the words but couldn’t feel the words, until the congregation rose to sing the stirring final hymn. And now, relaxed into Ray’s arms, she felt the same pure love and saving grace coming through him that she couldn’t deal with in the church. She smiled. “Well fuck if you’re not my prayer, Ray. Show me the way.”

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Miss Alister currently lives in New England but spent most of her years down south. The southern years were the widest-eyed ones that took in the mystique and the romance but found more beauty in the blues and poverty and sweet twangs and drawls and sleazy chicks and hobos crawling through the nights, all the gritty stuff of life in the unbearable heat. Her blog, “The Essence of a Thing,” can be found HERE.

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Sarah R. Bloom is a fine art photographer living outside Philadelphia, Pa. with her daughter and a husband she imported from England. Her work has appeared in and around the Philadelphia area including The Art of the State show in Harrisburg in 2008. She began taking self-portraits in August of 2006 and began a project to take a daily self-portrait for a year (she did it for two years), and has cultivated the self-portrait as her primary (but by no means only) format for communicating her art. Sarah’s website, “Sad and Beautiful World,” is HERE.

Links to the original photographs @ flickr:

“Misguided angel/Day 89, Year 2”

“On the wayside”

“Where are you going?”

“Come, baby, reach me”/Day 95, Year 2

“His blind spot”

“Words fall through me”

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Produced by Walter Conley.

ISSUE #4 is scheduled for Jan 15, 2010.

Submissions are CLOSED at the present time, but watch for news on an upcoming project. Comments and queries to Walter at disenthralled2009@yahoo.com.

All material copyright©2009 by respective creators.