Robert Pettus is an English as a Second Language teacher at the University of Cincinnati. He also taught for four years in rural Thailand and Moscow, Russia. He has had numerous short stories published, in both popular and academic journals
Faces in the Trees
Faces in the Trees Lucas was sitting in class in the mathematics building at Northern Kentucky University. He looked outside, through the splotchy smudge of the dirty classroom windows. He longed for the weekend. Lucas hated math class; he was only taking it because he was forced to – it was one of the unfortunate hurdles of completing his general-education requirements.
Timothy Montgomery Born September 2, 2043 Died October 13, 2054 “Muuhhhhhhhhh!” I always screamed so pathetically in my last days. I spent the last few years of my life that way – mooing and shrieking like some sort of domesticated, bovine ape. I knew the cow fields bordering Abry were dangerous – my mother had always made me well aware of that – but I couldn’t help running around out there, in those open spaces. I had to get away from the smog – the muggy, toxic goop of that unnaturally shifting city. The relatively big sky allowed me to breathe; my chest contracted and retracted with pleasure when I was there, as if at least relieved.
The traffic wasn’t moving a bit, so we decided to park on the street and hoof it the remaining two blocks. We walked the cracked, dampening sidewalk with a purpose. This was a party street – directly bordering the University of Cincinnati campus. The street-side was littered with beer boxes, beer cans, shattered glass, rotting food. The smell of freshly-lit bud wafted throughout the area as if naturally present in the local flora. I liked the scent, but I can’t handle smoking the stuff – makes me far too paranoid. It was early Saturday afternoon – maybe one o’clock.
My alarm rang. I threw the synthetic, translucent blanket from my bed and arched my back to upward to the ceiling as if in a yoga position. My bed was uncomfortable as hell, and I don’t mean in any normal sense. Every morning I would awake with a cramp so bad that it would cause me to flail around like a flapping, caged goose. Laying back down, I leaned against the wall and grabbed my phone from the floor. I had an iPhone 4s – it was a cool model, at the time. I thought so, at least. As I did every morning, I opened the Clash of Clans app and checked out what was happening. We had been invaded. The whole place was fucking trashed. That was what I got for using exclusively goblins in my army. I was stubborn, though – goblins are fucking cool. I didn’t care if they weren’t the strongest creatures in the world – I was going to use them.
Sisyphus at the Edge
Nobody can hear you scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. They’re wrong, though. I’ve known it for years. Known it! Why else would I be out here, near the blackness of the gravitational trench, this deep into space? If there is gravity, sound can travel through it; and gravity is everywhere! So there must be a noise – at least a whimper – in a vacuum. Perhaps the sensory experience of that whimper is beyond human epistemic comprehension, but I wasn’t ready to admit that; not yet. Zero-gravity is a myth – gravity is existence.
The Lincoln Homestead
Lincoln Park road curved back and forth as the dainty maroon Toyota Scion revved exhaustedly up and down each winding hill. Its little engine was working hard. At the top of every slope, Raymond threw the car into neutral to see if it could descend the hill, build momentum, and scale the next without putting it back into drive. He had been successful a couple times, but not often enough to relieve the small car of its monotonous, Sisyphean struggle.
Yangon to Naypyidaw
I wrenched open my heavy eyes. I was only half conscious. Hot, swampy gusts from the opened windows buffeted my face – the smell of the outside jungle circulated through the train. I was dehydrated. My head throbbed; I was hungover. Three 24oz. bottles of ABC beer – a stout popularized in Myanmar due to years of British occupation – stood jiggling with the rattle of the train on the rusted metal tray table in front of me. Those weren’t the only beers I had drunk the previous evening. I had a hell of a time in the restaurant car, talking – along with my British colleague, Ben – with some locals. We drank to excess the two beers – Myanmar Pilsner and ABC stout – which are popular in the country, conversing in what broken language we could each use. We chewed betel, which I had wanted to try for some time. I didn’t feel much of the stimulating effects – maybe I wasn’t doing it right – but it did turn my mouth and teeth red, of which I was proud. I felt like I was getting the true Burmese experience. I wasn’t sure how I wound up in my current location, however. It didn’t look familiar. The outside sky was still dark, but morning was breaking slowly. Thick dew from the outside jungle spritzed my face as I stared out the rushing window. I drank it in greedily.
Shots in the Pond
The golf ball slid smoothly from the club face of the pitching-wedge, a noticeable divot left remnant in the damp earth. The ball, soaring in a perfect arch, dropped with a loud plop into the mossy pond. Michael stepped away, holding his hand visor-like to his eye as he searched for a wake near the ball’s landing point.
Kindergarten in Russia
The creaking elevator dinged shut. I pressed the first-floor button. The lift slid wobbling unstably downward from my small apartment on the thirteenth floor. It was early in the morning, at least for a Saturday – 7am. I had to work on Saturdays. I had to work on Sundays, too; I worked every day other than Friday. The elevator again dinged again as the doors slid open. I put my head down and paced hurriedly out of the building.
The Donkey Tree
The crack of the M-80 rang out and echoed off the damp walls before drowning in the murky creek below. Minnows darted about frantically, from both the explosions and also to avoid the claws of the backward-swimming crawdads looking for a meal. To James and Peter, this damp, hidden world under the bridge was the best place to light off firecrackers in town.
An Elderly Citizen
Juan Pablo Dominguez walked the aisles of Parkview IGA, looking for the Valentina hot sauce he wanted. It was the best sauce on anything, and it wasn’t even close. The perfect blend of spicy and creamy. Perfect. He couldn’t find it. IGA had trouble keeping it stocked, he knew, and he was disappointed. It was one of the most magical things he had ever tasted in his ancient life, and he’d had quite the extensive gastronomic history.