011. Animal Crackers. Howie Good

Situational awareness is just so important. Even a momentary lapse can result in a 9-year-old in a black-and-white striped Halloween costume being mistaken for an actual skunk and shot. Now crime scene technicians in full-body coveralls are photographing the bloodstains on the front walk, dusting for prints, scooping shell casings into evidence bags. As the shooter gets dragged off in handcuffs, his wife collapses on the ground, convulsed by sobs. What is inside is going to come out despite the efforts of a nice neighbor to calm her. And the moon? It looks exactly like the blade of a scythe. 


The old woman who told fortunes in a booth on the boardwalk turned the last card over. King of spades. She frowned at the card. Then she predicted I would die screaming, but screaming in the voice of the opera star she called Placebo Domingo. Nowadays the more that is reported, the less everyone actually knows. Ninety-nine percent of humans have been inducted into the bedlam of complex systems. When machines operators are overcome by fatigue and confusion, the machines are capable of operating themselves. Anyone can get a gun. It takes a white whale with a grudge to use it.


Mother died in the “nuthouse,” as people called it then. I might be better known today if I didn’t have such difficulty talking about it in something other than code. All these years later, searchlights are still probing the sky, supposedly for a ghost squadron of kamikaze pilots, but who really knows what’s going on? It could be the government is afraid every airplane flying overhead will crash. I lost my faith in portable electronic devices when missionaries went looking for souls to convert among horses and dogs. I imagine it was a strange time, too, to be a poodle.

010. Mud. Jay Caselberg

We’d been in the pit for a month now, digging with our fingers, with anything we could get our hands on. Every day, the rain sluiced down, running in rivulets over our muddy faces, making strings out of our matted hair. It pooled in stinking puddles, mixing with everything else that lay there, filling the air with a pungent miasma. Still the rain came, trying to wash it all away, but the constant spattering against our upturned faces gave us no relief.

Thankfully, they removed those who fell. They could have left them where they lay. After the first few days, they learned to feed us. Fewer succumbed because of it. There was no joy to the eating though. It was merely a means to an end. Survival.

And survive we would, those of us who remained.

We could see them up there, near the pit’s edge, their figures mere silhouettes, illuminated from behind by the vast arc lights, blurred by flowing water. Occasionally, we could hear noises, machinery, other things that we could not identify, a guttural shout if one of us got too close. And yes, we got too close. We would keep getting too close. We would keep digging. We would keep trying.

And one day, one day, we would be out.

009. Farewell to Yet Another Adopted Homeland. Leah Mueller

Goodbye, Pacific Northwest. I’d like to be polite (because I know you need that) and say this break-up is my fault, but it’s not me. It’s you.

Goodbye tent cities along the freeway, on the sidewalk, and underneath bridges. New tents pop up every day, reminding me to pay rent or die.

Goodbye rain that starts in September and ends in July and is replaced by fires that threaten to burn down entire forests.

Goodbye clusters of pissed-off motorists, chasing too little road with too many cars. Everyone wants to get both hands inside that money pie before it disappears.

Seriously, goodbye I-5. How many years have you stolen from me with your knotted-up traffic?  How many times have I seen those red lines across my GPS screen, stretching for miles? How many points added to my husband’s blood pressure as he lumbered to and from work in an overcrowded bus? 70 miles roundtrip, because he couldn’t afford to rent an apartment in the city of his birth.

Goodbye, Jeff Bezos. We could live with Bill. He’s a corporatist, but he pays his staff. Bill is like a well-worn REI sweater. He is old Seattle. You are the face of new Seattle the way Donald Trump is the face of the United States. You couldn’t exist without your grasping facile citizens.

Goodbye surly humans who live in the rain all year and despise other humans.

Goodbye exorbitant utility bills. I can’t believe it costs me $200 a month to use electricity and water during the summer, in an area where no one ever uses air conditioning or waters their lawns.

Goodbye smug, neoliberal citizens who think you got a good deal because you paid only half a million dollars for your 2,000 square foot house in Tacoma.

Goodbye jackasses who believe all you need to do to be compassionate is put a rainbow flag on your fence. When it comes to bombing innocent citizens in other countries, however, you’re not quite as tolerant.

Goodbye cell phones everywhere. I almost became a robot myself. I’m afraid I might be too set in my ways. I panic when I think about living in a town filled only with land lines. What if I miss something?

Goodbye chronic bronchitis. Goodbye pain in my 60-year-old knees, my shoulders, and my back. My torn hamstring. The damp ache that sinks to the marrow and never leaves. The rapacious black mold. The ice-cold bottle of hand lotion beside my bed, useless for massage.

Goodbye Pacific Northwest. We used to love each other. You’ve changed into someone I no longer recognize. I understand why you started to bathe more frequently, then began wearing spiffy outfits and drinking craft cocktails. But you run with a ridiculous crowd and never come around the old neighborhood. Your real friends miss you. I miss you too, but I’m moving on. I’ll understand if you forget to write.