That Lonely Last call by David Cranmer and B F Jones

B F Jones, David Cranmer, Mashup, Poetry

The dose of poison
to stifle
the living dread
is up
three fold
what it took
when I first slid
down the longneck chute.

The warm embrace
gone too quick
no longer enough
until
the next brief moment
of abandon
at the arms of an ephemeral ghost.

What had died
and spiraled
too far,
can be glimpsed in
that lonely last call.



David Cranmer’s poems, short stories, articles, and essays have appeared in publications such as Live Nude PoemsNeedle: A Magazine of NoirThe Five-Two: Crime Poetry WeeklyLitReactor, Macmillan’s Criminal Element, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. His debut chapbook, Dead Burying the Dead Under a Quaking Aspen, is now available. He’s a dedicated Whovian who enjoys jazz and backgammon. He can be found in scenic upstate New York where he lives with his wife and daughter.

B F Jones is Punk Noir’s co-editor and write Flash Fiction and Poetry. Her collection of interlinked stories, Something Happened at 2a.m. was published by Anxiety Press. She also has one flash fiction collection, Artifice, and two poetry chapbooks, The Only Sound Left and Five Years, all published by The Alien Buddha

Pugnus – a short story by James Jenkins

James Jenkins, Short Stories

“Don’t play the fucking victim here Ronnie,” Micky Boswell bellowed over the pounding rain. “You asked me remember? I’m ready for more responsibility Mr Boswell,” he mimicked Ronnie’s nasally voice.

The rain shat down in violent and relentless sheets. The wind howled in all directions as Ronnie did his best to separate it from the oxygen he desperately needed. Suspended by his ankles from the impossibly strong grip of his boss’s henchman, he made the mistake of looking down the twenty-four-story tower block. The ground barely distinguishable.

“Please Mr Boswell! Give me more time,” Ronnie squealed as Boswell’s thug released his bear like grip for the briefest of moments.

“Not yet Charles. I want to make sure that Ronnie here truly understands the gravity of his actions.”

The joke was lost on Ronnie. Between the henchmen’s tight hands clinging onto his ankles and the blood that had long drained to his upturned head he struggled for air. The continuous downpour funnelled down his body into each nostril. A crude side effect of the unintentional water boarding.

“I… I can find it Mr Boswell! It’s gone. Please, please just let me back up.” Charles eased his grip again, the lactic acid easing for a welcome second.

It. Did you just say it Ronnie?” Micky Boswell had run out of patience. Ronnie sensed his time was up and struggled in his inverted position for something to grab. A ledge, drainpipe, something, anything! There was nothing except the questionable flat surface of the cladding.

“Drop him Charlie, I’ve had enough of this fucking weather.”

The henchman released Ronnie without hesitation. His commitment to the sadistic crime lord ever unquestioned. Neither man gave their falling victim another glance and headed straight for the roof door. Safe and dry at last.

Floor 19

Ronnie had already descended five floors before the reality of the situation dawned – he was going to die. He’d always wondered if it was true what they said about your life flashing before your eyes right before death. It seemed unlikely. The entire events of twenty-seven years playing out before he smashed into the concrete some two-hundred feet below. Such a short amount of time for such a long distance. His mind seemed to sense the perilous situation amplifying the images that flashed through his mind.

Floor 17

Ronnie passed the window in slow motion. He had time to look in and witness the deprived décor. The wallpaper long faded and peeling. Outdated kitchen units lacking doors and draw fronts. The layout the same as his own but without the same amount of pride or delusions of grandeur. Ronnie hated the fucking building. A grey colossal prick that stuck up into the polluted clouds. Thatcher’s legacy – a raging erection for any hardnosed Tory. A symbolism of the us and them. It was inevitable that he would find himself in the infamous tower block. If not this exact one, then an identical sibling with equal powers to paralyze residents into typecast rejects. Society’s unemployables, the uneducated and most certainly law breakers. The sharp sucking of breath through teeth when telling anyone from the outside your address. Ronnie had never accepted life had to be this way. He knew he had been meant for bigger things. After his mum died, he and his younger sister were kicked out of the family home. The council relocated them both to the tower block. The spice heads sketched out in corridors and the crackheads slumped outside the doors of well-known cuckoo nests. The only role models were the rare glimpse of someone like Mickey Boswell and his entourage. The pied piper to his army of prepubescent teenage boys playing gangster. Ronnie was intoxicated by the man’s wield of power. He enforced respect from all of those around him. A few weeks after Ronnie and his sister Tina had moved in, Mickey pulled up in his fancy black car and Ronnie watched with astonishment as the bodyguard hurried to open the door for the crime lord. Rumour had it he was here on official business. The buzz was going around that someone owed tick, and everyone knew that if Micky Boswell came personally – you were getting fucked up. Mickey’s very own unit of bulging muscles and steroids heading as one into the tenement. Micky watched on leaning on his car wearing those cool as fuck sunglasses and puffing on a Marlborough. Ronnie had watched as the powerful man stroked his panting dog through the open car window. Only Micky Boswell could own a pug and still look as hard as cement in a place like this. There wouldn’t be many takers to tell him otherwise. Ronnie had known then that he must prove himself to this leader of men. His fantasies had been interrupted when the henchmen dragged out a screaming lad in a grey tracksuit. The colour did nothing to disguise the wet trouser leg. They dropped him in front of Micky who’d already taken his cock out and proceeded to piss on the blubbering mess. The crowd had been waiting for this moment as the onlooking community gave their approval with cheers and diminishing laughter. The stage set, Micky played up to the crowd. He made a big play of shaking the drops of urine from his abnormally huge prick and finally put it away. Keeping his captive audience on side, Micky produced an array of offensive weapons to the approving shouts of the bystanders. Saving the best for last – a battery powered chainsaw which was quickly deemed the winner. In a stroke of genius, he stopped before bringing the tool down on his pleading victim.

“How rude of me,” said Micky acting as if he had just remembered something important. “Who wants a go? A grand to the lucky candidate!” He offered the chainsaw up to the baying crowd. Ronnie wanted to run down there and then to show his worth. To throw himself in front of the face of opportunity. But before he could even consider the seven flights of stairs he was beaten to the chance. He wouldn’t have made it even if the lift worked – if the lift had ever worked. Instead a well-known spice head stumbled desperately forward and made a grab for the chainsaw. The piss-soaked point of fixation tried to get away but one of the heavies punted him in the rib cage. He slumped back to the gravel without further protest. Micky laughed at the spice head’s enthusiasm and teased him with the tool.

“You sure you know how to handle one of these?” he laughed.

“Let me do it Micky!” someone shouted from the impatient crowd.

“Now, now. First come, first served and all that,” he said passing the chainsaw over to the filthy shaking hands of the spicer. He showed him how to work it and made a dramatic leap back much to the amusement of the crowd.

Ronnie turned away from his window as the desperate man fell upon the boy on the ground. The sounds of helpless agony mixed with gurgled blood and the chainsaw was too much to bear. The fantasy had been so much more poetic than the reality. He’d promised Tina he would get them out after that. That was seven years ago.

Floor 14

The blinds were closed but Ronnie caught a glimpse of the elderly couple watching TV on an old rear projector. The odd slat was missing, he could see the grime and dust stuck with nicotine on each one. A pigeon took off in fright from the unexpected visitor to its perch. Ronnie considered reaching out to grab it but realised that it was a fruitless effort and would only be cruel to the animal. Fuck animals! Wasn’t that the reason he was here now? Pelting towards the ground on a one-way trip to a combustion of shattered bone and splattered innards. Yes. It made him regret not punching the bird. The winged rat might have posed his last chance of fury at the animal kingdom. But could he really blame the dog, less the pigeon for his current predicament? He wasn’t so sure. Micky Boswell hadn’t been wrong – Ronnie had asked for it. After the public massacre with the spice head, Ronnie reconsidered his career path. The drug fiend had failed to deliver any instant relief to the victim of Micky’s discipline. Even the blood thirsty crowd had grown sickened by the prolonged agony that his lack of co-ordination entailed. Micky read the room – forecourt – and allowed his entourage to guide him back into the car and away from the distant but approaching sirens. The tinted windows lowering just enough for him to jettison the promised reward – he was a man of his word. The spice head grabbed the cash and left the unfinished job to bleed and moan as his life slowly ebbed away. Ronnie had tried all the usual haunts after that. The jobseekers did the best they could. Unfortunately, their best wasn’t very good. Despite his average school grades, Ronnie’s address and more likely colour of his skin was overlooked for any potential apprenticeship. He understood it wasn’t always strictly about race. He had white friends who had been treated the same, but when fifty percent of the interviewers asked What country are you from? He realised it wasn’t just because his surname was Aluko. Reluctantly and with great sadness he accepted his fate and worked through chicken factories, handballing and the occasional labouring job. Zero-hour contracts and companies that didn’t deliver redundancies when they utilised their government friend’s liquidation rights. Dumping Ronnie’s potential deposit funds into offshore bank accounts – at least there were food banks!

Ronnie passed down over the red glow of the thirteenth floor. Maybe he’d wanted it too much. Some crooked part of his sub-conscious pining for the realities within. A blurred chance of red lace and naked flesh were his only reward. It could have been titty, but then it could have just as easily been a shoulder, elbow or even a punters bald head. Ronnie knew he didn’t have much time left so chose to believe it wasn’t the latter. He knew some of the girls who worked there from his schooldays. The queens of their generation, unattainable to the likes of Ronnie for years as he watched their inevitable journey. The same who had ridiculed him with rejections now begged for the change in his pockets and offered their sex for much more. Gone were their flawless looks and perked bodies, now replaced with decaying teeth and needle marks. A little look still wouldn’t hurt though.

Floor 12

Ronnie appeared as a flashing blur to the occupant of the twelfth-floor flat, but to Ronnie it felt like an eternity. For the briefest of moments, he locked eyes with the man inside. He recognised him from the estate. Another discarded soul long forgotten by the government who had failed him, left to the mercy of a hardened way of life. Vulnerable due to his learning disability and abused by anyone who chanced upon him. He’d witnessed the public humiliation himself and reflected on the damage he’d caused others weaker than himself. And for what? To climb Micky Boswell’s ladder of vanity and violence. He used to think he was different from the rest of the community. Purer somehow and righteous but as he continued to cascade past floor eleven and ten, he realised that he’d been no different.

Time had eroded the memory of the chainsaw massacre. It was aided by the twelve hour shifts and unsociable working hours to earn a pittance that barely covered the rent. The rare but unforgettable occasions that Boswell visited the estate distorted Ronnie’s impression of the man even more. The public displays of gore and retribution to the unlucky few who dared to challenge his authority were more discreet since the cameras were fitted. The jovial man’s demeanour as he walked proudly through the building’s corridors. Pausing to make small talk with the natives, handing a young single mother a wad of notes and helping an old couple carry their shopping bags. It was on one of these visits that Ronnie seized his opportunity, kidding himself that it could be different for him.

“Hello lad,” Micky said walking past Ronnie in the building’s foyer.

“Hello Mr Boswell. How are you Mr Boswell?” he’d eagerly replied.

“See Terry. Some of these kids do have manners,” Boswell said to one of his muscle men. Ronnie had beamed with pride. The Micky Boswell had paid him a compliment!

“What’s you name lad?”

“Ron, eh, Ronnie Mr Boswell,” he’d stuttered.

“Hello Ronnie, please to meet you. Call me Micky. You don’t work for me do ya?”

“No Micky Sir. I work at the chicken factory.” Terry the heavy snickered at him and Boswell spun on his own man.

“What you laughing at Terry? The lads working ain’t he?”

“Sorry Micky,” the sight of the clearly physically stronger man cowering to his boss pleased Ronnie.

“But seriously kid, why you want to work there for? Manners like yours are wasted in a fucking poultry packaging plant. Why don’t you come work for me?”

Ronnie couldn’t believe what was happening it was moving so fast. Two minutes before and he’d never even locked eyes with the infamous governor of the underworld. Now he was being offered a job? He’d dreamed of this moment but now it was here he could barely control his stomach. Liquid shit churned inside of him threatening to burst the thin barrier of his sphincter.

“I’d be honoured Mickey. What… what do you want me to do?”

“You don’t worry about that now lad. You know where my boozer is? The Ivy Tavern. Come see me tomorrow. See you later Ronnie,” Micky took Ronnie’s hand giving it a firm shake before leaving. Ronnie babbled his thanks and goodbyes to the back of the most dangerous man the city knew.

Floor 8

Ronnie stared at the closed blinds of his own flat and cursed himself for leaving the light to blead out from around the edges of the window. Not that any of that mattered anymore. The utility company could fight over the pitiful amount of savings that sat frozen in his bank account. None would be satisfied. His legacy – £128. After he’d met with Micky, Ronnie accepted a job collecting glasses and the occasional bit of bar work, he was left a little disappointed. It didn’t carry the same weight and potential as dealer or enforcer. Having the shame of telling his sister and her new prick of a boyfriend the reality of his previous brag was hard on him. Tina had already grown distant from him since she met Jordan. He was younger, stronger and more gobby than Ronnie. His reputation for unpredictable and unnecessary violence often resulted in a stabbing at the least. Ronnie had tried to warn Tina about him, but this had only pushed her further away. The argument resulting with her moving out to Jordan’s. It was still in the same building, but the distance wasn’t only physical. Despite this Ronnie found that he enjoyed his new job and even he could tell he was good at it. The manager asked him to fill in on the bar duty more as her trust went up in him. The pay and hours were even better than his last job too. Unfortunately, the constant mocking from his sister and Jordan was something he couldn’t shake. He obsessed about it, even considered having a fight with Jordan but that was likely to only end one way. Eventually it got the better of him and so he waited for the next time he saw Micky Boswell.

Floor 7

Ronnie had to bide his time before he saw Micky again. The occasions had been few and far between. You had to pick your moment carefully with people like this. It’s not advisable to ask your boss for a promotion while he’s crushing the skull of his victim into the bar counter. A lot had gone well for Ronnie in the meantime. He’d been promoted to assistant manager over another colleague who had worked there for much longer. The man hadn’t taken it well and spouted off about equal opportunities and ticking boxes before being kicked out. Ronnie knew the man had been skimming the till for as long as he’d been there, but it felt good to have the backing of his manager. He’d even met a girl and it was going surprisingly well until he’d introduced her to Tina and Jordan. The ridiculing had started right away. The girl Rita had been kind about it, but Ronnie knew that he needed that promotion and the respect that came with it more than ever. Finally, Micky came into the bar. Alone and happy. The moment couldn’t be better as Ronnie was the only one working the bar that day.

“Mr Boswell. How are you today? Can I get you a drink?”

“Manners!” Micky boomed holding his hands up in celebration. “That’s why I employed you lad. Looks like you’re doing alright. What was it? Robbie?”

“Ronnie, Sir.”

“There he goes again,” laughed Micky. “Bloody sir. You’re a good lad Ronnie, now get me a Yamazaki and whatever you’re having.”

“Thank you, Mr Boswell. I’m glad you came in actually, there was something I wanted to ask you.”

“Get us a drink Ron and then we can talk about it. And for fucks sake, call me Micky.”

Ronnie did as he was bid and headed to the cellar where they kept the good stuff. He retrieved the Japanese whiskey that they only stocked for Micky. He used the time to psych himself up to the moment. He couldn’t let this chance slip through his fingers. He went back to the bar and saw a couple of Micky’s goons had joined him. Ronnie felt his moment begin to evaporate.

“There he is!” shouted Micky to his company. “Two pints of Stella for these two please Ron.” He hated being called Ron, but Micky Boswell could call him what the fuck he wanted. Ronnie started to pull the pints wondering if it really was his forte after all.

“What did you want to ask me Ron?” Micky said with interest.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry Mr Boswell, it can wait if you have company.”

“Nonsense Ron. We’re all family here, aren’t we lads?” said Micky to a chorus of –Yes Boss. Ronnie suppressed the overriding wave of fear and cleared his throat.

“Mr B… Micky. I really am grateful for everything you’ve done for me and I really do love working at the Ivy, I really do. The thing is though, I was sort of hoping that I might be able to do something else for you. Like, you know, take on more responsibility for you.” Micky had remained quiet throughout and looked at Ronnie with genuine interest.

“Look lad, different people are meant for different things. Take Terry here, he could run this bar but just look at him. Would you come in here if that mug greeted you? Would you fuck. You’re a good kid Ron, this is a good fit for you. Why do you want to get involved with all my other bollocks? Karen won’t be here forever. Bide your time and you could be manager. There’s a tidy little flat above here, could be yours Ron. Get yourself out of the towers.” Micky really was affording Ronnie a rare kindness that contradicted his usual character. Ronnie wasn’t giving up yet though.

“Please Mr Boswell. I just feel like if I could prove it to you. I could handle more responsibility then you’d see what I’m really all about,” he pleaded. Boswell shook his head in disbelief. Even his thugs were too stunned to add any jibes.

“Alright,” Micky said after a few seconds thought. “I’ve got a little job for you Ron. Little but really fucking important. You do this for me and then will see.”

“Yes Micky, anything. I’ll do it,” Ronnie said with excitement.

Floor 5

Ronnie feathered towards the ground and his impending death. The street was so close now that he wondered if maybe he would be okay. If he’d jumped from this height then maybe he would escape with a broken leg maybe even a fractured skull, but he could still survive yet. Inside the flat on floor five, Ronnie stared intently on the lush form of Rita Edwards bent over on all fours taking it from behind by Jordan. This was a bit of a shit show. Rita was the girl Ronnie had found himself falling for. His last living moments – the mental image of his sister’s boyfriend fucking her was quite depressing. He didn’t feel sorry for himself, only his sister who he wouldn’t be able to look out for anymore. Not even be able to tell her he told her so. At least she had the upper hand on their sibling rivalry. A departing gift. He’d promised himself he wouldn’t tell Tina and Jordan about Micky’s special job, but it wasn’t easy to hide a pug from everyone in the area. Tongues had started flapping and it didn’t take long for Tina to text him asking why he had been seen with the pug. He later found out that it was in fact Rita who had blabbed it to her. He was forced to divulge that Micky had assigned him the responsibility of his beloved pug. Micky was going away for the weekend and needed Ronnie to dog sit. The rules had been clear – The dog goes with you every-fucking-where! Ronnie tried to explain that he was still on shift at the bar, but Micky insisted that he take the dog with him. After the ridicule he’d endured just taking it out for a walk, Ronnie made his decision. He left the pug at his flat ensuring there was newspaper to relieve itself, fresh water and food. He’d take cleaning up shit over the embarrassment of walking the dog through the estate again. That street cred’ stood for nothing now. Instead, Ronnie was going to become one with the street in a matter of nanoseconds. Ronnie had been smug with himself once he’d finished his shift and walked home. It was late so he wasn’t even worried about taking the dog out for a quick walk with so few people about. He opened his door and was immediately hit with the smell of dog shit and urine. Ronnie flicked on the light switch to illuminate his pitch-black open plan apartment. He waited for the lively little fucker to scurry over to him, but he couldn’t even see the thing. Fear dawned on him rising like the bile in his throat. Ronnie ripped through his home in a painfully pointless search for the pug. Every unlikely cupboard he searched put off the inevitable realisation – the dog was gone.

Floor 4

He knew the flat would be empty. The tenants had been evicted a few days before and the way the council operated it would take an age before they turned it back over for those on the waiting list. It was one of the first places he checked for the dog. There was no rationale to his theory, just somewhere else to try. Ronnie walked with expanding panic fighting back the tears of his terrifying reality searching the tenement. His search had taken him to every floor and neighbouring block. There wasn’t a piece of open space in a country mile that he didn’t search. It wasn’t like you could put an advert out or start knocking on doors. If he found the dog or not, when Micky discovered he’d lost his dog he was a dead man. He risked asking his sister and Jordan but when he’d knocked on their flat door, he’d been told by a dangerously wired Jordan to fuck off and sort his own shit out. No one wanted to be dragged into the firing line for his mistake. Monday came and Ronnie knew his time was up. He didn’t hide from Micky. He had nowhere else to go and waited for the knock at the door. Patiently holding out for his impending execution.

Floor 3

Jordan’s flat. Ronnie knew he wasn’t going to see him there but was grateful to catch sight of his sister sitting on the couch. Tina was watching tv, a phone pushed to one ear. Blissfully unaware of her cheating boyfriend only a few feet above her and her brother hurtling to his death outside. She had her back to him, but Ronnie’s attention was stolen by a pair of prominent, globular, soft and solicitous eyes staring at him through the window. The pug even had time to tip its head, a trademark for the breed. The pug slipped out of view and with that Ronnie was released. For a split second he experienced the true velocity with which he was moving before he exploded across the ground. The heavy rain did its best to purge the streets of his entrails. Diluted blood rain funnelled into the gutters and disappeared under the sewer grates. Ronnie’s essence recycling back into the city’s water supply to be filtered into the water table and reused.

***

Tina held her breath over the dialling tone. She’d never even met Micky Boswell before, but Jordan assured her it was best he wasn’t associated with it. Boswell would recognise his voice he’d argued. This was their big chance. The bit of luck that they were owed. Jordan promised her that Micky Boswell would pay anything to get that fucking overly energetic creature back. Tina couldn’t wait. It wasn’t just the money; she hated the sight of the dog too. It hadn’t been easy to steal from Ronnie’s flat. Not emotionally at least, after all she still had a key. Jordan had been so convincing though. He’d chucked potential sums of money about and made her wet with the life he promised they could have. When she’d questioned her brother’s wellbeing he’d resorted to violence and manipulation. Threatening to do it without her. Besides, he assured her that Micky didn’t waste his time on people like Ronnie. No one was getting hurt he reassured her in his calculated way. The ringing stopped. Tina could hear the rain through the speaker and a man’s voice.

“Micky Boswell.”

“Hi Mr Boswell. We’ve got your dog. Here’s what you need to do if you want to see him again.”

Skipping Stones by Matthew McGuirk

Poetry, Punk Noir Magazine

It wasn’t quite like the ripples 

that surface on a glass pond 

as the rock skitters across, 

but it might have been

something like that. 

Paid leave were the words,

therapy was their direction,

words were the infraction,

 nothing more

than

  words,

but that’s not what they said!

It was obvious they saw the stone 

skipping across hard asphalt 

and chipping away

at a polished surface, 

something time worked at, 

perfected.

Flecks hid under cars and 

slipped through sewer grates,

scratching, 

sullying

and maiming the stone. 

He was crossed legs

and paper and pencil on his lap.

His office was a leather couch

and a chair in the corner 

if you didn’t want to be cliché.

He wanted to know how I was, 

where I grew up 

and what my parents did.

He couldn’t hide wanting to know

how school was,

did I like my students

and the courses I taught?

It sat there just

broken, 

shattered, 

vulnerable, 

ever exposed to 

the light of day,

waiting for people 

to stop and examine it

or pass it by

because it was of no need. 

Mostly,

 he wanted to know if I was happy.

I asked him if he knew why I was here,

maybe turning the table.

He nodded

and asked if I ever had feelings like that.

I just laughed

because it was a question

that anyone who knew me 

would scoff at

and it seemed right 

that I should too.

The jagged edges, 

the surface no longer smoothed by a river

or polished day after day, 

were exposed.

A hand might go to collect

them up and catch a sharpened point,

something they weren’t ready for,

something that wasn’t there last time. 

I left feeling nothing was resolved.

Did anything need to be fixed,

uncovered?

I marked the session off

knowing I just had to go

until I met the quota, 

the number that said

I’m OK.

Still, a part of me wants to know

what they saw, 

how a few words

spun their minds,

turning my smile

around,

like they were just now

seeing me for who I was.


Matt McGuirk teaches and lives with his family in New Hampshire. BOTN 2021 nominee and regular contributor for Fevers of the Mind with words in 50+ lit mags, 100+ accepted pieces and a debut collection with Alien Buddha Press called Daydreams, Obsessions, Realities on Amazon. http://linktr.ee/McGuirkMatthew Twitter: @McguirkMatthew Instagram: @mcguirk_matthew.

Twinkles – a short story by Kristin Garth

Kristin Garth, Short Stories

By eleven, the Leonard twins were a regular spectacle at Twinkles Skateland. Aunt Ina had struggled to raise them, since the age of six, after their parents murder/suicide.  Ina was an Olympic figure skating enthusiast exposing her blonde nieces to endless televised performances of the great pairs.  Ina’s favorites were Gordiva and Grinkov while the twins were obsessed, for obvious reasons, with the Carruthers siblings.  It wasn’t a stretch for Kiera and Kaci, who not only looked identical, tween twin Barbies, but also did everything together, to imagine skating together, too — though Aunt Ina explained early same sex siblings were not permitted to compete in these events.

None of this performance fantasy, of the girls, was connected to any reality or literality.  They could have never learned ice skating in their small southern town where it never snowed and no ice rinks existed.  Aunt Ina could not have afforded such fancy lessons even it had.  She could barely feed her charges and save  gas money to chauffeur them around in her peeling Dodge Caliber.  But she managed somehow, scoping out all the free activities that Florosa had to offer its youth, squirreling away dollars from her shifts at Target. 

The most popular of these activities she found to distract her tragic twins from their poor run of luck in life was the free skate at Twinkles Skateland.  On Tuesdays and Fridays and Sundays, for specific three hour slots,  under-12 kids skated free.  The rental of skates was $5 per child which was still cost prohibitive for Ina, but when she told the girls they would have to first save up the $30 to buy their own skates they both managed to find odd jobs in the trailer park to accomplish this task within a week

Their first skates were a classic white boot with pink toe stops and wheel bearings.  These  instantly became Kiera and Kaci’s mutual favorite possessions.  The twins coordinated their thrifted wardrobe to match the skates and to create a cohesion they mirrored in their synchronized routines at Twinkles.  The girls practiced endlessly gaining speed and acumen, stealing the simpler choreography from videotapes of ice skating legends.  The effect of all this combined with the twins’ doubly blessed genetics created a show that stopped even the speed  skaters in their tracks.  By the time the twins were 14, the  DJ began featuring the girls each night with a motley mix of “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star, to highlight their grace,  merged a little jarringly with  “It Takes Two” as the girls exited

 to the delight of a mesmerized rink.

A little slow on the uptake that the twins had become entertainers at the roller rink (Ina enjoyed dropping the girls off and getting household chores done while they were so thoroughly occupied), their aunt caught on when 15 year old Kiera finally broke the news — they’d been asked to shoot a commercial. 

“They want to pay us $100 — each.”

Aunt Ina was no businesswoman, but she had impeccable common sense.  Twinkles was a chain of roller skating rinks.  Her nieces had endured an abysmal childhood — Ina knew only ended with the murder/suicide not started there.  Her brother was always a brute — even to her as a child.  She could only imagine what these young girls had suffered at his demented hands.  The girls never spoke of it — though they held in most things except, Ina imagined, with each other.   Whether it was a twin or a trauma bond, Ina couldn’t totally say.  Though Kiera served as the spokesperson of the two, always filling the air with a chatter of inconsequential information, it was clear there was always much about the girls’ lives Ina would never know. 

Her nieces were stunning squared.  Ina knew the most certain way out of their violent past and bleak present was to capitalize on that.   Stopping the car so she could study their inscrutable faces, she demanded to know everything they had been doing at the skating center each night. 

It was Kiera, of course, who confessed to the skate shows; Ina sighed.

“It’s how we’ve been going without paying since we aged out, Ina.  Please, you have to let us do it.  We’ll be skating on TV.”

“Oh, you’re gonna do it all right but not for $200.  Ina’s gonna sort it out.”

Sort it out Ina did.  She negotiated $1000 each for the girl’s commercial appearance as well as free pink princess skates with rainbow ribbons that the rink sold and matching pink outfits for the girls performances (two rhinestoned figure skating style outfits each and three pairs of matching shorts and tees and long socks with pink stripes).  They were Twinkle royalty now thanks to Ina. All she asked was that they never leave her out of the loop of their shared lives again when she could be so beneficial to them.  Kiera nodded and bounced her submission, but Ina wasn’t naïve enough to trust it. 

While Kiera certainly appreciated her aunt’s managerial skills.  Some Twinkles secrets, she understood, Ina could never know — like Kenny.  Kenny Stroyer became the new DJ at Twinkles two months after the twins turned 17  (celebrated at the rink with a 1700 pink balloons and a special pink light show.)  Kenny was 23, had a girlfriend who was active duty in the Navy, transferred from San Diego to Pensacola where he was forced to start over accumulating DJ gigs in a smaller town.   He’d only taken the skating rink job to get to know people when he’d arrived and was desperate to level up  the moment he walked in the Twinkles neon rainbow doors. Kiera had learned all of this in her many chats with Kenny while slipping ICEEs, sat on his work table inbetween the shows with her sister.

Kaci learned everything she knew about Kenny Stroyer through her sister.  Kaci learned most things in life this way.  Kaci felt, as long as she could remember, inherently inept at interactions while Kiera seemed gifted at the same skill. 

Kaci’s memories were rather limited to the time they’d come to Ina’s at six.  Before that time, memories were Polaroids of fragments of a crime scene that mutated and changed from tortures upon small bodies, still aching in the strangest places, to visions of actual blood and murder that made her sick to her stomach.  The Polaroid revelations were blessedly infrequently revealed — all shards of a mirror whose only purpose now was destruction of its intended beholder.   Kaci always feared if she began talking though – even casually, that these truths would all spill out from her, like the vomit that came with the worst of the Polaroids.  The disgusting truth of her insides would spill out, the ones took so much trouble to hide.

Nothing good came of talking or looking to the past, so Kaci closed her cherry glitter glossed lips and focused on the practiced perfection of the ice-skating routines, mimicking the choreography of innocence and beauty. Work made a magic of limbs that transcended the liminality of a lost adolescence.

Kiera was only eight minutes older than her sibling but the difference between the two socially felt like decades.  Kiera never knew a stranger or an obstacle she could not manipulate. Where Kaci clung to Ina and to Kiera, Kiera clung to anyone who she saw as a step away from the past.   At Twinkles, this person became Kenny.

Kaci could see it happening and guessed at its conclusion months before the girls were 18 and the inevitable coup de grace occurred.  Every time Kaci saw Kenny and Kiera in the booth, as the date  of their adulthood approached, Kiera was scooted closer, and their two heads tangled in whispers, Kiera’s long blonde locks covered Kenny’s.  In their double bed in the trailer, Kaci listened to Kiera’s side of the late night talks with Kenny that became part of their nightly routine. 

“You made that much on the dayshift?”

Kenny had been picking up open dayshifts at Sirens, a strip club, and had confided in Kiera, who’d filled in Kaci, that the dayshift DJ was completely unreliable (cocaine) and on  his way out.  The management had already asked Kenny if he could take over full-time within the next few weeks. 

As Kaci had guessed before Kiera broke the news, Kenny had broken up with his military girlfriend weeks ago.  He’d had enough cash squirreled away from his strip clubs shifts to get into a new place. Now she heard Kiera doing the mathematics of topless dancing in her head, Kaci knew what was coming.  They were both 18 in just weeks.  She didn’t exactly want to be a topless dancer; it was not a thing she’d ever imagined herself doing   Yet she knew she would follow where Kiera led.

It’s what she had always done.  No one else could understand what they had been through.  When Kiera held Kaci in the double bed, she did so knowing all the heinous secrets Kaci held tight in her throat. 

“How long do you think we can keep rollerskating for a living?  And what has it gotten us – rhinestoned outfits we hang on a curtain rod in a trailer?  It’s just choreography and a lot more money.  Kenny says it’s a classy place.  There’s nobody like us.  We’d kill.”

Kaci nodded.  There was no argument she could make.  Life was just a countdown until this new chapter with her sister began.  It certainly couldn’t be the worst chapter  — not even in the same book.

They turned 18 on a Monday but waited until Wednesday to make their move out of Ina’s.  Their aunt was doing a double shift at Target, and it gave the girls a chance to move all their meager possessions into Kenny’s new apartment in Pensacola across from the mall. 

Kiera moved into the bedroom with Kenny leaving Kaci, for the first time in her life, with her very own bedroom.   It was the first event in their emancipation from Ina  that Kaci had not expected.  It should have felt like a luxury, decorating one’s own room and stretching out under the covers as far as one’s limbs desired.  Instead it  felt lonely in a way that Kaci could not have anticipated.  Sharing a room had never been a choice.  Poverty had forced the girls together their entire lives, but it was all Kaci knew and being without it introduced a new pain to a girl who thought she had experienced all of them.  It was a shameful childish feeling Kaci could never confess just quietly cried herself to sleep the first week on the new premises.

There were other new experiences, and they were not all unpleasant.  Working at the strip club was surprisingly similar to working at the rink.  She followed choreography with her sister, a lot of the arms were the same.  Stilettos felt like roller skates in moments in the muscle memory of her legs.  A mistake would land one on the ground to the same kind of casual ridicule that could happen at the rink.  It happened to other dances there, but Kaci and Kiera never fell. 

Men had always worshipped the girls, even in their adolescence, at the rink.  Of course, most of them had contained their inappropriate feelings but the twins still read them in their long gazes.  It was the same gazes at the club; the  girls just offered more to it now.  One of the many secrets, Kaci’s cherry gloss lips kept now was that she enjoyed taking her top off for the men.  It made them quiet like her.  Speechless.  Their gaze became sad and desperate and worshipful.  Men were much more attractive like this.  Every other moment they reminded her of her father, and so she kept her distance. If they could always behave like this, she might not.  She finally understood her sister’s need to be naked with them.  When they were like this, it felt safe.

The girls worked nightshift and Kenny worked dayshift, which meant that he wasn’t around the apartment a lot while the twins were awake.  Kaci enjoyed this – the two sisters having the place to themselves.   It meant that their sleep schedule was different, too, and after a few weeks, something miraculous happened.  Kiera started sleeping with Kaci again.

“He wakes me up when he gets up so early, and it’s fucking killing me, dude.  Like Jesus Christ, I can’t have bags under my eyes – I’m the breadwinner here.”

We, Kaci thought, but characteristically kept it inside.  They’d be leaving this place soon.  Kenny, still a humble dayshift DJ, had outgrown his usefulness.  Kaci wondered if he’d learned his sister enough to know it, too, or would he be stunned like Ina when he came home one day to an empty apartment.

The girls were both asleep after sunrise when Kaci learned the answer.   It couldn’t have been more than three hours — nightshift ending at 3 am, post their regular Waffle House hash brown stop  and alternating  showers, it was always 4:30 by the time their heads got pillows. 

Kenny’s door, as usual, had been shut when the twins arrived, and the apartment was quiet.  Kaci assumed he was sleeping like usual — though each day, much like her sister apparently, she considered him less and less.  Only when Kaci felt the vibration of the bed did she remember Kenny.  For a second, remembering that she had, as she always did, lock the door to her bedroom, she  hoped  it was some PTSD of her childhood . 

Then she heard his wince and the whispered, “Motherfucker, and she knew that Kenny was really here, had pried open the door and was climbing into the bed.

Kaci smelled the liquor on his breath now as he carelessly flung himself between the two girls.  Kiera turning away from him even in his sleep.  Then he touched Kaci’s bare thigh — like it was just another limb of her sister, a limb he clearly thought he possessed though he never had — and certainly did not now.

Kaci knew there was no one to speak for her now.  She would have to do it herself.

“Kenny, stop it.  It’s me, Kaci.”

He’d laughed but the laughter was pointed and aggressive like his movements in the bed.   

“She speaks at last.  To what do I owe this pleasure?”

His face was almost touching Kaci’s in the dark.  She could almost taste the alcohol on his his breath.   The old, awful Polaroids of her childhood flashed inside her head — of nights like this with a man in her bed who didn’t care she wasn’t her mother.  She would just do.  The last was stillness and sadness and blood and then a darkness like a hole that her body floated into as she heard a scream that came from outside her body.

Was it Kiera’s scream or her own?  Kaci didn’t know.  By the time she woke, she was in her sister’s arms.  Kenny was off the bed as Kiera screamed at him.

“Get out.  You never touch her, you freak.  Get out of here.”

“This is my apartment, remember?   Mine before you ruined my life, you little bitch. You owe me — both of you owe me.”

Kenny’s face was red with rage and his body lunged at the bed as he spoke.  Kaci trembled in her sister’s arms terrified at what would happen next — until she heard her sister’s response.

“You expect two incest survivors to have incest with you?  Is that it?  What we owe you?”

Kenny was quiet.  Kaci was shocked to hear the words spoken so matter of fact and plain.  The girls had never spoken of it themselves though Kaci expected that was the privilege of a shared life, there was much that didn’t need to be spoken because it was a mutual experience.  She supposed this night would be another of such things.

“We’ll be out of here by the time you are back from work — that is if you want to continue working at the strip club.  I wonder what’s harder to replace there a dayshift DJ or two stripping twins..  Shall we find out or you wanna go to your room and leave us to our peace while we pack?”

Kenny’s stood staring at the girls an instant, his face sunken at the realization that in addition to losing Kiera, he was in danger of losing his job.  Certainly, she was right.  The girls were the most popular act at the club.  There was no doubt who management would choose.  

He walked out of the room.  Kaci took a deep breath as she heard his door shut.

“Goddamnit, so much for sleep.  Let’s get packed and I’ll call Roger at noon when he’s closer to awake and get him to pick us up.”

Roger was the night shift DJ and already Kiera’s new good friend. 

Kaci looked at Kiera.  Her squinting eyes and wrinkling forehead pronouncing all the doubt her lips dared not.

“Stop it.  We can’t afford Botox yet.  We aren’t staying with him.  We just need a car to go so see some places and somewhere to lock up our stuff. How much cash you got?”

“5,000?  Maybe a little more.”

“Fuck Roger.  Let’s call a taxi and get a hotel, a newspaper and find us a place.”

Kaci bounced and nodded and hugged her sister.  She didn’t say another word but as she hurriedly packed for what she considered her first real second chance at life, her blue eyes were full of twinkles.


Kristin Garth is a Pushcart, Rhysling nominated sonneteer and a Best of the Net 2020 finalist, the author of a short story collection You Don’t Want This ( Pink Plastic Press), The Stakes (Really Serious Literature) and many more books.

2 poems by David Cranmer

David Cranmer, Poetry, Punk Noir Magazine

Twilight Falls and the Monsters Are Due

The unbidden lurks,
as anxiety mounts
over life’s frailty
—setting off a burst of barks
that fails to beat it back.

The seed is sewn,
the weight takes root.
Even my girl playing
“Chopsticks” as a lark,
can’t change the weather.

I don’t scream into the wind,
or whine, blaming the universe.
I take it in, absorb the blows,
mercy will come
by daybreak.


Limelight

Thank you for sitting with me
in the limelight
of a Charleston, West Virginia, hotel
that’s seen better days.
The white hot light is dimming
and we both know where this is going
but thanks for playing along,
you saying it’s going to be all right.


David Cranmer’s poems, short stories, articles, and essays have appeared in publications such as Live Nude PoemsNeedle: A Magazine of NoirThe Five-Two: Crime Poetry WeeklyLitReactor, Macmillan’s Criminal Element, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. His debut chapbook, Dead Burying the Dead Under a Quaking Aspen, is now available. He’s a dedicated Whovian who enjoys jazz and backgammon. He can be found in scenic upstate New York where he lives with his wife and daughter.

BOOK REVIEW: BLOOD TRIP BY JESSE HILSON

Book review, Scott Cumming

They say never judge a book by its cover, and to them, I say behold the cover of Jesse Hilson’s novel Blood Trip and tell me the cover doesn’t make you want to instantly dive in. Add to that, quotes on the back cover from Punk Noir nobility in Max Thrax and HLR and I was more than DTF with this one. Really feel bad that I read this one on my e-reader and need to pick up the paperback.

Mike is a two-time loser resentful of his ex-wife’s new husband and for reasons that are barely clear to him, let alone us, he decides to hire someone to kill him. The plan is to lure Allen to Atlantic City under the auspices that Mike’s daughter, Julie, has been kidnapped. It’s a quality setup reminiscent of many a noir classic and I love that we’re never really clear on why Mike wants Allen killed other than a fanciful notion that his ex-wife will consider taking him back that I don’t even think Mike is convinced by.

This is a book balanced on the egos of men, but carried by an array of strong female characters as we follow Julie’s Spring Break misadventures in Atlantic City and later the perspective of Mike’s ex-wife, Wendy as well as a Detective and crook who come into play later in the book. That is my one criticism that these strong female characters didn’t get to follow through on their promise and drifted from the story as it went on. Even Mike’s girlfriend, Renee, seems as though she has an exciting backstory somewhere in the background.

Hilson has a skill for keeping you on your toes and throws in the unexpected at turns to keep the narrative fresh. It is sometimes just a small wrinkle, but it helped keep me unbalanced when reading and explored fresh avenues of suspense.

Hilson has created a noir novel that should be able to stand out from the crowd with a stunningly beautiful cover, a classic premise with weird and unexpected twists and turns and strongly envisioned characters who want to know more about even if it doesn’t come to fruition.

BOOK REVIEW BY SCOTT CUMMING @TUMMIDGE


Four 5 line poems by Louise Wilford

Punk Noir Magazine

My sister’s tattoo

The unicorn isn’t bashful. It appears each time
your sloppy sweater falls off your shoulder, or your t-shirt
is too thin. Its childish lines ripple as you move your arm;
its cerulean body has no diffidence. Cheerful and over the top,
it’s the thing people notice but you forget. It suits you.


Painting the study

Let me lay here for a while,
dust sheets rushed in wormcasts at my toes.
I’m floating on a sea, adrift on waves of night-blue clouds.
Beyond, cars surge and ebb, the wax and wane of other lives.
But let me crowd-surf gentle fingers of thought, remembering.


Painting the study 2

Twisting a room from that to this.
Capturing a dream that slithers off, that won’t be caught –
replaced by other wraiths – fire-red or Chanel grey, sand
or cloud or dusk or sunset pink or cyclamon.
Promises that won’t be pinned to the plaster.


Jigsaw Man

You are the edges I struggle with,
the crusted hasps of a sea-chest half-buried in silt.
You are the winter sky that hides itself in cloud-fur,
the loops whose slots elude –
tongue pressed into the wrong groove.


Louise Wilford lives in Yorkshire, UK. Her work has been widely published, most recently in BanditEnglish Review, Goats’ Milk, JadenMakarelle, New Verse News, POTB, The Fieldstone Review, River and South and Parakeet. In 2020, she won the Arts Quarterly Short Story Prize, the Merefest poetry Prize, and was awarded a Masters in Creative Writing (Distinction). She is working on a children’s fantasy novel.

Blog: https://louviewsnewscues.blogspot.com/

Two 5 line poems by Gillan Simfukwe

Punk Noir Magazine

Skull

I couldn’t say it to your face
But it seems there is a hollow skull where your eyes and heart should be
people always said he looked shifty
but I never saw it, perhaps because you were never looking right at me
As you are now and as you were then


Another skull

Another skull, this one anthropological in nature
I swear i must have spent years looking through my ancestry
all the skulls and figures that led up to me, trying to find someone to blame.
But there is no joy in the tavern as in the road thereto;
and so the failure knocks on my door and lies there like a stray.


Gillan Simfukwe is a student at the University of Leeds currently studying law and trying to get out of it.  He likes Ann Quin and footy.

The Terror by Jon Davies

Punk Noir Magazine

I won’t think about what happened
But I can’t stop the dreams
Waking up is worse
I can’t breathe until
I’ve checked the sheets for blood


Jon Davies writes poetry, horror and crime fiction. When he’s not writing, he’s out walking the hills, reading, sketching, listening to 90s music, or doing judo. Find him on Twitter @JonDaviesWriter.