Category Archives: Fiction

“Homecoming,” by Jamie Elmer

“Home is not where you were born; home is where all your attempts to escape cease.” – Naguib Mahfouz

***

I took a seat on the worn couch, right on the edge, leaning my body tightly against the arm so as not to graze my leg against the guy passed out next to me. He had a penis with wings drawn on his cheek in permanent marker, his punishment for falling asleep before midnight with his shoes on. The party raged around me. I watched as my best friend, Lily, and a group of others cheered and squealed at the beer pong game going on not far from the couches. The hardwood floor around the table was sticky from spilled beer and overturned cups, similar to the coffee table in front of me, littered with every alcoholic beverage I could think of. I took a sip of my drink, rum and coke, hold the rum, and looked up at the sound of a crash. Alicia was pulled up from the floor she had fallen on and helped over to a lounge chair across from the couch where she collapsed and grinned widely over at me.

“Reina!” she yelled exuberantly. Her friend detached herself from her with a small apologetic smile at me and disappeared back outside, pulling a cigarette from behind her ear as she walked away. Behind the glass doors I could see more of the party: another beer pong table surrounded by players and friends; friends gathered around lounge chairs, smoking; a group of guys near a small fire pit passed a joint around. I looked back at Alicia, who waved at me to gain my attention.

“Reina! I love you, you’re great, ya know?” she said, smiling, her eyes unfocused.

“Had a little to drink?” I asked her, slightly amused, mostly tired.

“That and then some!” she giggled herself into silence, which took a solid minute and a half. She rummaged in the pockets of her incredibly short jean shorts and pulled out a small baggie. She shook it around like a treat for a puppy and the little white pills jumped around.

She pulled the shirt sleeve of one of the guys at the beer pong table nearest us. “Take a break?” she asked him, alluringly. He looked down at her and smiled, shrugged.

“Why not?” he said, and then looked back at the rest. “Time out!”

A couple of the others moved around the table toward Alicia and her pills, the same expressions of why not etched on their faces. I watched as Lily, a friend I’d known since grade school, and a number of friends from high school all encircled her.

Alicia looked up, back into my eyes after popping her pill. Before offering it to Derek’s outstretched hand, she moved to offer the baggie to me. I stared back at her and then up to see that most of the eyes of my friends were on me.

For the rest of the story, purchase a copy of Issue #2 of Negative Assets: Punk Lit Zine.

“About a Grrrl,” by Taylor Farner

Canon used to sell cameras with boxes that would hold 4×6 photographs. Each box would hold a couple hundred photos, maybe more if you crammed them in there. On one end of the lid, there was the Canon logo, and on the sides was a clear film that peeled up that you could slide photos under. Monica decorated the box three different times in her life: once when she was 12 and her parents bought the camera for her birthday, again when she was 15 and got her driver’s license, and again at her best friend’s wedding. Dani’s wedding. And Dani was in 26 out of 30 photos Monica had cut up to decorate the sides of the box over the years. She’d been Monica’s best friend since kindergarten. And looking at the box now made everything that much harder.

Monica swiped at her face and cleared a bunch of the mucus away, but she was crying too hard, and kept coughing in deep rough whoops. She set the photo box down and went for the napkins. Wiping away the snot from her hands and dabbing at her nose, she went back to the box of photographs. She was looking for a picture from the hiking trip she took with Dani last year. Both of them had really liked the photo; Monica made a copy for Dani, but her parents weren’t sure where she’d have it. It was probably still boxed away. If it was going in the paper, Monica wanted the photo to be one Dani really liked.

First, Monica found a photo from her senior year of high school.

“MONICA CRUZ IS A DUMB CUNT” The text glowed across the brownish-white aisle of lockers in bright red spray-paint. Standing on either side of the graffiti stood Monica and Dani. Dani was sticking her tongue out, and Monica stood there with her hand over her mouth, seemingly astounded.

Ramon Darren was the one who wrote it, she knew. She’d dumped him the day before. He denied sleeping around with Jackie Hildebrandt, but Monica knew he was lying. When you’re a cheating dumb-fuck, throwing tantrums or writing a bunch of ignorant shit in public places are the only ways you know how to react to being dumped. Ramon chose the latter.

At first it only made Monica more pissed off, and she wanted to die in a pile. But thankfully Dani was there.

“Oh… oh my god, no, this is too good!” Dani said between each harsh gasp she tried pulling in through the laughing fit. “Ramon is such a baby!” she said, struggling to get the words out. Monica pulled out the camera. It was her safety net, and what she hoped would be her future. She wanted to be a photographer for Flipside. Photography was her thing. But life has a way of taking the things you like and putting them in the ground.

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“Oh good, yeah, take a picture of it! We can put it up on the wall,” Dani said.

The wall was a scrap-book, on a wall. It was in Monica’s room. The wall started as three bulletin boards the girls had mashed together after their first concert, in 8th grade. They made a pact that by the end of high school they’d have the wall filled with ticket stubs. They’d made great strides in between the on and off fights, the highs and lows of teenage friendships. The girls had their share of ups and downs, but each time they fought at Alberta High, they knew that it would pass, and they’d be together again.

That day, Monica learned that no matter how enlightened you think you are, and no matter how much you tell yourself that it doesn’t matter what people think of you, when someone feels the need to tell the whole world you’re a dumb cunt, it’s going to eat away at you, a little.

For the rest of the story, purchase a copy of Issue #2 of Negative Assets: Punk Lit Zine.

“Plane of Thought,” By Zachary Valladon

I died eating honey roasted peanuts.

“Ramjish.”

“Hm?”

“Will my father be okay?”

“I do not think so.”

“My guru has begun his healing process. I know he will be okay.”

Karesh was an old friend, or something like that, and I had long since grown disgusted with his perpetual positivity. When I was young, I wanted to be a lawyer. Then, I wanted to be a doctor. I did both of those things on my own terms. I practiced law first, in India. When I grew tired of the lawlessness in the endless slums I grew up in, I wound up on a one- way plane to America with my twin brothers. In life, I’d always had a natural (some might say god-given) tenacity. My ambition was unmatched in my family, and I didn’t need to worry about success. I knew, inherently, that I was destined for greatness. So, when America’s shores beckoned me to the fruits of my ambitious nature, I sought the respectable future of a doctor. Twenty long years studying and practicing medicine came and went before the call came.

Unlike me, Karesh was lazy — life seemed to hand him great things. He was good at fiddling with any of the primitive technology we could get our hands on and eating bland Indian sweets. We grew up and attended the make-shift excuse for a school in our neighborhood together. I excelled academically, but my instructors never gave me accolades for my intellect. Instead, they scolded me for believing myself to be superior to my classmates. I believed then, and continued to believe until my death that success warranted an appropriate level of arrogance. In order to be the best, I needed everyone else to understand that they were not.

Karesh believed deeply in the idea that the world could unite as a peaceful family. He followed the teachings of a renowned spiritual man, a guru, in India. Karesh meditated regularly, ate without regard for his health and had somehow managed to earn himself a career with computers in India that was equivalent to a six figure salary in America. I think that I hated him even as a boy, but he was always drawn to me. As a child, he was the only one who associated with me at school, as a teen, the only one who broke bread with me and as an adult, the only person to ever reach out to me from India. He disgusted me.

Of course, when he called me to tell me that his father was sick, possibly dying, and that he would pay as much money as he needed to assure that he could be transported from India to America to be in my care, I could not refuse. Being on life support, his father would need to have a doctor on the airplane with him in case of an emergency. Karesh insisted that I was the doctor to fly with him, so he also paid for my ticket to India and back and the labor. When it came time for the actual flight, I was so busy planning my European vacation that I almost missed it.

When I first saw Karesh again, he was the same as I remembered…bubbly, fat and smiling. All that changed was that he now wore a mustache and that his hair had begun to gray on top.

“Ramjish, I am thankful beyond words that you’re here,” he said.

I extended my hand out with a slight smile; to me, this was nothing more than a business transaction, but Karesh did not need to know that.

For the rest of the story, purchase a copy of Issue #2 of Negative Assets: Punk Lit Zine.

“Fired,” by Andrea Harsma

It’s raining. It doesn’t always rain, contrary to what some people think, but it is common. The clouds hang low in the sky. The Space Needle’s light isn’t visible, but neither is much else. Traffic crawls by on the 405. It has been said that every freeway called the 405 is at a standstill all the time, and that is probably true.

Umbrellas are everywhere. Some malls have public-use umbrellas at their entrances and exits. They aren’t generally stolen; people are too nice for that. Really, other than the snobbery, most people in Washington – state, not D.C. – are very nice. Granted, there are some ghettos in the state, but it just doesn’t seem as bad as places on the news. It’s almost as if the Pacific Northwest is isolated from the rest of the country.

The building, like most in the city, is nondescript. It’s tall, concrete, with many stories. Two people, a man and a woman, exit the front doors and walk down the stone steps. Both hold umbrellas, extended, that cover their faces and shield them from the rain. Their walk is nearly synchronized as they reach the bottom of the stairs and turn right. As they continue down the street, a third umbrella-toting figure comes out of an alley alongside the building and walks the opposite direction, posture slouched as he trudges along. The pair in tailored suits walks with a purpose, not talking, not caring to avoid the puddles. When they are a block away, the seventh floor windows of the building they left explode outward in a fiery shower of glass shards.

***

Bellevue was for rich kids. No, really. He was pretty sure if he tried to come downtown for anything but work, he’d be “asked” to leave. He couldn’t count the number of Lincolns or 5- and 7- series BMWs that rolled by pedestrians in perfectly tailored suits that cost almost his whole month’s pay.

Reuben hated suits – he’d hated them as a child, when he’d had to dress up for church, and he hated them now. The tie was like a noose around his neck, ever tightening. He leaned back in his chair, surveying the view before him. It really wasn’t bad; his seventh story office had huge picture windows that overlooked half of downtown Bellevue. Well, it did from an angle, if you leaned back far enough, as he was. Older buildings like the one that housed his office were closer to the outskirts of downtown; central Bellevue had been undergoing a facelift for the past decade and now boasted a variety of newer office buildings with modern designs. The rent in them was astronomical, though, even for downtown. The rain pelted against the glass, again, like most days. Reuben had learned to accept the rain, even though he didn’t care for it. It was as inevitable as the traffic that accompanied it all the way back across the I-90 bridge to his dingy apartment in Tukwila.

God, even the name was awful.

He glanced at the clock. Another hour, and this would all change. Maybe not the traffic that even now inched by on the streets below, but the rest of it.

He moved his hand to check his watch, then stopped. It wouldn’t do to look anxious. Instead, he slowly turned his seat to face his desk again and pretended to be very focused on cross-referencing something in the database with a client file. They hadn’t gone paperless yet, and this would work to their advantage.

He’d miss his desk most: a lovely, L-shaped mahogany wood, made to look handcrafted, that probably weighed more than a baby elephant. It was his favourite thing in the office, and the only thing that he’d ever really felt was his.

***

“Sam” got her interviews where “Samantha” did not. She knew – she’d applied as both, staggering application and resume submissions. As a child, she’d wanted to grow up to rule the world – or at least a multinational corporation with underlings to do her bidding. She’d found school easy, but boring. The boys hadn’t been particularly impressed by her dreams to have it all, and her teachers had given her a condescending smile and suggested she devise back up plans.

It took her years, most of her life to date, to discover that no one wanted her to be in charge because she was a girl. Over time, she’d learned to adjust her habits and word choices accordingly. She learned to cater to their egos, letting them think her suggestions were their ideas, and dressing more feminine on occasion to downplay the effects of her authoritative tendencies. She still wore pantsuits, but had invested in some skirt suits as well at her mother’s insistence. Her mother had long ago advised her to “play the game,” and it had taken Sam several years to understand what that really meant.

She blended in now: short trendy haircut with highlights, tailored suits, trim figure from spending her nights working off the frustration of dealing with them. Ugh. Men. Reuben was the same as everyone else. She let him think he was in charge – just like those before him. If they thought they were in charge and that everything was their idea, they became incredibly easy to manipulate. Reuben had been easy pickings; his power trip tendencies were easily exploited by mention of an overheard plan to replace him. Whether that conversation had ever actually happened wasn’t important; it gave her the out she needed to start over. Maybe the next company would be smart enough to see her potential and give her the position she deserved.

***

Edgar was nervous. He couldn’t help it. He was always nervous. His palms would get sweaty at the first mention of deadlines or crunch times. That was why he’d dropped out. He never told his parents; they’d have been devastated. Better to let them think it was the economy’s fault that he wasn’t doing anything with his degree…the degree he never got. Thankfully, he’d had Reuben.

Edgar and Reuben had met in college; they’d been in several of the same classes, and both sat in the back of the room, though for different reasons. Edgar sat in the back to keep his stress levels lower because no one would call on him in the back. Reuben wanted to screw off all the time, sleeping in class or trying to hit on the girls that sat too close. He’d thought himself one of the “cool kids” as though that didn’t die out in high school.

They’d kept in contact, though Edgar never knew why. It had saved him though when he’d found himself jobless and quickly running out of options to pay for a roof over his head. DSHS didn’t care for single, childless men like it did single mothers. Reuben had put in a good word for Edgar with the building manager, which was how he’d gotten the job in the first place. “Facilities Manager,” like it wasn’t the messy, god-awful job it’d always been when people called it “janitor.” At least there had been some honesty once.

Now, it was all layers. Layers of political correctness and fluffing covered everything. Reuben and Sam were right; he was underpaid. If he quit, he would be ineligible for unemployment. It would be so much easier if work just didn’t exist anymore.

***

The worst they’d be hit with would be negligence, but he had a feeling it’d really only be Edgar. Reuben wouldn’t be quite so willing to go through with it otherwise. Thankfully the building was the sort to have the anti-suicide windows, ones that didn’t open and were just there for decoration and to see the outside world but never touch it, which only served to add to the feeling of being trapped. Those windows would factor in nicely.

They’d planned carefully, allowing for even those that might be in the office late to have left. The one rule had been no deaths. They didn’t need that on their hands, didn’t want anyone looking too hard because they had a death to investigate.

Reuben had been very angry when he’d first caught wind of the home office’s plans to remove him from his post as boss of their local franchise. They didn’t know he knew, of course. He’d put so much of his own time and livelihood into this crappy job, to little end. He hated the politics of these rich people determined to cut everyone off at the knees in order to save themselves a few bucks. Selfish bastards. He’d show them, and they’d never know.

***

Edgar tapped his fingers on his janitor uniform’s khaki pants as he leaned against the wall in the supply room. It was a bit bigger than a standard janitor’s closet, but that was because the building had so much space to clean that they needed tons more space to hold all the stuff for it. He glanced at the clock on the wall, then at his watch, trying to gauge how accurate the wall clock was. He waited impatiently, expecting someone to walk through the door and ask him why he wasn’t working. Couldn’t waste even a few minutes of their time, after all. Time is money, and all that.

A minute later – he knew, he’d been watching the clocks – the door did open, but it wasn’t his supervisor. Sam poked her head in and eyed him expectantly.

“What’s wrong?” Edgar tensed immediately, heart pounding, eyes flicking over her shoulder to see if he could spot anything out of place.

“Are you ready?” Sam brushed a speck of lint off the shoulder of her tailored blazer as though the speck was his question.

“Yeah. Yes. We have thirteen minutes by my watch, but it’s more like twelve by the wall clock. Twelve and a half, maybe.” He glanced at his watch again, then at the clock on the wall. Sam blew out a breath, ruffling her bangs.

“Great. Don’t screw it up.” She turned, began to pull the door shut behind her.

“Sam?”

“What?” Her voice, like her movements, was impatient, clipped. Edgar recoiled slightly, took a breath.

“Are you…sure?”

She hesitated for just a moment before her face twisted into a smirk, eyes raking over his janitor’s cart.

“Oh, yes.” She shut the door behind her, leaving him alone in the room once more. He glanced down at the cart, at all of the bottles of fluids with warnings plastered on the labels.