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
Jack walked up to the cash register, sliding a sixer of PBR across the counter while simultaneously removing his wallet from the back pocket of his Wrangler jeans. He would pay for the beers with his credit card, but he needed cash for the lottery tickets—the Kentucky lottery hadn’t yet learned how to accept card payment, apparently.
Moon and Tide
A salty evening breeze blew gently, though forcefully, out from metronomic push of the tide, across the beach, up through the weedy, lizard-infested dunes, right into Quinten’s smiling face. It was cool; it smelled heavy – it felt nice. Quinten, clichés be damned, loved taking long walks on the beach. He did it lonesomely, however. He loved walking along the shore at night, feeling the lapping froth of the tide swarm around his ankles. He enjoyed using his flashlight – which he always brought along – to spot crabs scurrying frantically from the sand back into the water. He liked looking for starfish and sand dollars. He never kept them, though; he felt bad about killing things pointlessly. He always looked out for jellyfish – he’d had a bad experience once, when he had stepped on a sprawling, beached man o’ war. His foot was never the same – not completely – after that incident.
Clicking Crustaceans, Clattering Dice
Sage, riding atop the back of her trusted giant wolf-spider, Creep, nocked an arrow and loosed. She fired again and again into the blackness. She couldn’t see her target – not even her goblin eyes could pierce through this unnatural darkness – but she knew it was back there, somewhere; she heard it bellowing – its ancient, clicking guttural voice reverberating off the claustrophobic, circular walls of the black cavern like grating sonar.
Stepping out of the black, swirling portal, I removed immediately my coat and tie, unzipped my trousers and kicked aside my shoes, tossing them in a pile in the darkest corner of my chosen secret stone alley, one somehow secluded from all view downward the wooded hill on the far side of the temple of Hephaestus. I then further shielded the pile with nearby bits of chalky stone scattered along the floor of the alley. I couldn’t lose the clothes—I knew that—I would need them when I traveled back to New Orleans. If I were to fall out onto Decatur Street naked and battered from the bruises of time travel, the snooty folk sipping chicory at Café Du Monde wouldn’t have it. I’d be dragged across Jackson Square and thrown into the encircled crowd outside of St. Louis Cathedral to be made both an example of and a midmorning entertainment.
My head throbbed. My ear was full; oily liquid drained from it continuously. I opened the glovebox and popped some acetaminophen; that stuff seemed to work better than ibuprofen or naproxen. I shoved my pinker finger into my ear, pressing hard against the wall of the canal; I could hear and feel that rumbling noise from within my eardrum, as if a bubbling volcano. I had gotten regular ear-infections since I was a kid, but this was different. The symptoms were too diverse in nature. My ear ached, my head hurt, stinging pain filled my furthest back, top molar. Some TMJ sort of situation was developing in my jaw, which caught and clicked with each closure of my mouth. Eating was a hilarity, considering the frequent rapidity with which percussive music sprang from within my chin.
Walls. Singing Bushes.
If walls could talk maybe they could have alerted someone as Alex lay sprawled out convulsing on the carpet spewing saliva across his face as his eyes rolled back into the black depths of his poisoned skull. If walls could talk perhaps he would’ve been saved from flopping around percussively—his arms striking the carpet like sticks to a pair of tom-toms—and gasping for breath like a shored crappie.
The Good Folks
Light pierced the thick, large windows. The place smelled like popcorn, pancakes, syrup, and sweet tea. That’s what it always smelled like, at least until that inevitable, rotting stench swept briefly through the place. They didn’t seem to like that—they worked to prevent it—but it happened occasionally. It was unavoidable. A stench like flies, piss, dirty dishes, sticky floors, and muggy dishonesty. It didn’t smell like that now, though—it smelled like sweet tea and salty, buttery popcorn.
Lean, Hungry, Prowling
Sunday, November Sixth “Hear that Bengal growlin’, mean and angry!” came the slurred, unified chorus from the collected horde. Assorted German meats sizzled on grills innumerable; mac and cheese sat slowly simmering in crock pots. Sticky wet, plastic collapsible tables lined the cracked cobblestone parking lot just east of Gest Street, in the shadow of the titanic, lengthy Longworth Hall—that leaning, rectangular, chalky brick building, long-since mostly abandoned other than the sketchy nightclub filling the echoey bones of its bottom floor.
It was dark in Bellevue; it was five in the morning. Fog wafted upward from the slowly trudging, thick Ohio River and engulfed empty Fairfield Avenue in a concealing, damp mist. Streetlamps shined pathetically through the fog, only barely visible. They looked like massive fireflies floating lazily.