Monday, March 15, 2021

Revise and Resubmit, fiction by Nick Mamatas

1. You find HTML difficult to learn, and you don’t trust those various blog platforms. There are still the old ways—the weapons of the X-ACTO knife and mimeograph. The truth must get out. 

Here is the truth as you recall it. The subways used to be clean. When a man felt the call of nature, he could use the restroom right on the platform. It would be clean, well appointed with liquid hand soap—clear, not pink!—and TP rolls cut to industrial standard. It wasn’t even the blacks who ruined the public bathrooms with their lack of care for the commons, their desperation to sell copper pipes and chrome taps for drug money, it was the homosexuals. They just had to suck one another, bugger one another, all hours of the day and night. Evacuation is a revolting enough activity under the best circumstances, but the mouth meeting the penis, the penis meeting the anus, the anus meeting the mouth, the anus meeting the penis, like filthy Tinkertoys…

Now even the white man has to hold it, or piss himself, or somehow find a quiet moment behind a concrete pillar on the subway platform, just like any savage.  No shopkeeper or restaurateur is kind enough to do a well-dressed, perfectly groomed, white man the favor of letting him use the facilities without a purchase. Your grandmother worked in a coffee shop when you were young. She’d let people use the restroom; she’d offer a first free cup of coffee after midnight to the late custom. Her Jew boss would have surely complained had he wasn’t already abed with his obese wife likely clammy from Lord knows what exertions, but what the Jew didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. She wanted to be alone at night with men sitting at her counter. It made her feel safe to be surrounded by white men.

2. You aren’t the man you used to be, and not only because the Jew took your job and drained your bank account of the precious funds your father and mother left you when they passed. You’ve lost a step. Your peripheral vision is collapsing into a dark tunnel. The pamphlet is ready, but you dare not hand it out on the streets. For every interested person you make contact with, there might a Jew or black who can somehow “pass”, despite the years you spend studying the science of racial realism. Plus, those black-masked terrorists with their homemade weapons and swarming numbers are just a text away. Jobless children supported by the miracle of compound interest, with nothing better to do with their lives than assault others for their opinions in the hope of “going viral”, whatever that is.

They’re already a disease.

You dare not publicly solicit, so instead you once again use the old methods. Wheatpaste and a bucket, late at night, when the traffic lights give orders to streets empty of traffic, when the diners are closed, when you can piss down a flight to steps to the subway station without audience or embarrassment.  Wheatpasting is really an endeavor designed for two, but you are at the moment of a movement of one. You have comrades, but they’re all far off in other cities, and you communicate entirely via a circle of round-robin correspondence, and then in code. The Jew owns the internet, but more than a few of your comrades work for the Postal Service. They revealed long ago the trick to free letters—just put the address you’re mailing to as the return address, and your own address as the destination. Leave off the stamp. The letter will be “returned to sender” every time. If the government insists blindly on treating everyone as equal, take advantage of the blind spots.

It’s a long night, but the streets seem longer, and it’s a challenge to hold the folder containing your leaflets by pinching it between your left arm and ribs, the bucket handle hanging from your elbow, as you brush the paste onto a lamppost with your right. Then you must gently put the brush back in the bucket in such a way as it doesn’t fall into the mush, slide a leaflet out of the folder without ripping the paper or dropping the folder, and plaster it up without getting your hands sticky, or glue under your finger nails. A block’s worth of available pasting space takes twenty minutes. Your arm cramps as the folder grows thinner and you have to keep your muscles tensed. For the white race you’re doing this, for your white children and for the two of your grandchildren who are white. Little Cicero, well…

It’s nearly three o’clock in the morning when you arrive home. Do people even call this hour three o’clock in the morning anymore? Three AM seems to be the fashion. Everyone is like a machine these days.

3. Waiting is the hardest part. Possible contacts are often the last to call the number on the leaflet. It’s not even pranks, vulgar children, and threats that fill your answering machine. It’s journalists, the maggots. Always wanting a quote, offering a coffee, even wondering if they could visit “headquarters”—you can tell from their tone that they already know that White Political Allegiance is headquartered out of your three-room railroad apartment. Wouldn’t it be a laugh, to show the man who wishes to lead the Master Race sitting in his boxer shorts on a stained old reclining chair positioned right before his television set? Then come the hysterics screaming “Nazi!”, which just showed that they only skimmed the leaflet—you’re a race realist libertarian. Monkeys don’t have markets! Then the punks with their threats and challenges, which they wouldn’t dare make if this godforsaken chocolate city allowed for concealed carry.

It takes weeks for your co-thinkers to reach out. You’ve learned not to grow upset when your handiwork is ruined, when the contact information at the bottom of your leaflets are scraped away. It’s these men, and twice even women, who do it. They need to meet you, but these exemplars of the West and the Race aren’t quite so courageous as they should be.

Truth be told, even those who reach out to you rarely do much more than accept the reading list you proffer them over coffee. It’s your fault, truly. The logo, the rhetoric, it all hints at a large worldwide movement to reclaim the world, to cleanse it. There are perhaps forty of you, and you are one of three men in this city. Who wouldn’t be disappointed to find that the future of white children and families depends on a handful of old men who have been crushed under the weight of Marxist oppression and horrific black violence?

You’ve grown used to disappointment.

4. You vote in every election, from President down to county coroner and school board, though with the school you often find yourself just spoiling a ballot. Nothing but a list of names such as Martinez, Washington, Ho, McDonald… You haven't met a white Washington or McDonald in this city in a very long time. Voting is like flossing—mandatory but it never seems to help with bleeding gums.

Then one day there is a candidate seemingly worth voting for, and not just for county committee of the Republican Party, or local sheriff. You’re not as enthusiastic as the race-denier right, not a sucker for his glad-handing and simple slogans, but the man is a wedge. He says what Presidential candidates must not say, and he does it without apology. And what he says shifts the Overton window. People are talking about whiteness again, and without hissing the end of the word as though the very notion were a curse. 

But what did it mean for you, old soldier in the race war? Your PO Box was filled with crudely drawn cartoons of pink-haired girls and sad frogs, and these were gifts from the people…children? simpletons?...purportedly on your side? More journalists to ignore, but a few public gatherings to attend. One young fellow who had the backing of family money and the genetic advantages of perfect Aryan physiognomy greeted you warmly at an event, and turned to talk into the smartphone of a comrade to introduce you to the internet. Your early writings inspired him, he said. He misquoted you, but only slightly.  Your actual famous phrase, the one that has become a meme, is There is no one else who will fight for us. We must fight together, for the future of the worldwide white race. He put it, “If we’re to have a future, we must, the worldwide white race, fight together.” No wonder he stammered twice. And you just had to stand there, unsure whether to offer an avuncular smile or a stoic and determined frown.

Ultimately, you grimaced.

5. You wonder now, why bother? We’re much alike, you and I. We’ve both been fighting for our causes, diametrically opposed as they are, for decades, in the old way. Steady leafleting, pamphlets, the creation and cultivation of small yet flexible affinity groups. Always an arm’s length from violence and street battles, though always armed and ready if “it goes down” as the kids these days say it. Yes, that probably is a borrowed phrase from African-American vernacular. I can see that grimace again, despite the sack over your head.

How right am I? I give myself a solid A-. Perhaps I’ve made a few assumptions, trafficked in cliché a tiny bit. Perhaps you once had a wife who supports your politics, or a common-law husband who doesn’t. You wouldn’t be the first fascist to be caught up in the ironies of masculinities, social progress, and the law. Champion the Aryan physique, declare the woman inferior and undomesticated, you’ll find that some of your comrades have joined the movement for access to lonely men.

Not a twitch, despite the ties binding you to your chair being fairly loose. Stoic or just uninterested in my theories? It hardly matters. What matters is this. You don’t count, not any more than I count. Nobody reads my pamphlets either, my presentations on post-state post-kyriachy futures at various anarchist gatherings and socialist fora are as poorly attended as your funhouse mirror versions of the same, and like you I was never much of a brawler. I have over one hundred students per semester, and almost none of them ever do the assigned reading, much less comprehend it. I’m as poor a revolutionary as you are a race warrior.

What I am good at is demographic divination. My masters degrees in sociology and English are good for something beyond teaching rhetoric and composition at the community college. I spotted you. You’re hardly the only older white man to skulk around on the periphery of the meetings we hold on campus—even an adjunct can reserve a room in the evenings—to ask questions at the end of a panel that mean nothing more than “But why not consider that which you have already rejected—that which I believe?”

You referred to globalism, not corporate globalization.

You claimed that since race is a social construction, it is “scientifically ignorant” to treat people of color differently, and instead suggested “that each group seek its own way.”

You discussed the importance of focusing on “the nation’s working class and small producers” instead of appealing to the international proletariat.

That’s the funny thing about you fash. You can’t simply pretend to have utterly mainstream politics. You have to signal to your fellow travelers, even as you try to infiltrate the far left; centrist politics; the garden-variety right-wing of the petit bourgeois, the banker, and the God-deluded. You fascist creeps, always attempting the fascist creep.

No, we on the left don’t do any such thing. We don’t want to associate with you, we don’t want to penetrate your spaces, enter your parties. You need to be crushed like insects. Not after we gain power, not after capitalism is overthrown. Anywhere and everywhere.

6. Fascism is ultimately capitalism, and especially capitalist morality, metastasized. If you could speak, if I hadn’t stripped you of your briefs, coated them in Krazy Glue, and shoved the mass into your mouth, and tied you to your own recliner, you’d try an appeal to horseshoe theory. You know, how Communism, most often Stalinism, is indistinguishable from fascism? How left anarchism smells like right-libertarianism? The political spectrum bending into a horseshoe, both extremes arcing toward a black hole of violence, oppression, and genocide.

But but…this is torture! Wouldn’t that make you as bad as I am?

You’re nodding, but that isn’t quite right. You’re old and clever. You’d say as bad as I supposedly am? You’re not a violent man, I can tell that much from the conspicuous lack of scars. Your limp is that of a sedentary office worker whose only socially necessary expenditure of labor is the sequestration of carbon, not that of a former street fighter. You’ve never harmed a hair on anyone’s head. Why do this to you and not to one of the badasses who have put my comrades in the hospital?

Embedded in that argument is an axiomatic masculinist demand. Untie me and I’ll show you, you bitch! Neither of us are any good at fighting; we’d just throw haymakers, roll around the floor for a bit, I’d try to scratch your eyes and crush your testicles; you’d try to mount me and punch and grapple in a manner similar to sexual assault in the hope of triggering me. We’d both be exhausted after two minutes. I might have a heart attack. You would have a heart attack. You hide behind phalanxes of boneheads and star-spangled meth-addled bikers. On my side of the line, I’m a medic. I do my bit. I have my ways. 

Also, you’re in no condition to fight. You may not recall precisely what happened, but I’ll tell you: I saw you on the street weeks ago, putting up your leaflets, and recognized you from your skulking about at the edges of one of my events. I tore a number of your leaflets down. When you didn’t rush out to replace them the next night, or the night after that, I dug one of them out of the trash. Then I waited a couple of weeks and had an older, white, comrade, call you to arrange a meeting. He no-showed, but I was there.

Well-dressed women of color are invisible to you. That which you cannot conceive you cannot perceive. Whores, maids, mammies, or leeches. That’s all you ever see of us.

It was easy to follow you home. I didn’t even have to wear a hat and sunglasses. That was two weeks ago.

You live in a dump, and you’re an old white racist. You have a couple of unofficial deadbolts on your door, but I had your leaflet and your building superintendent is a nice man from Puerto Rico whom you mistakenly call Juan—that was the name of his brother, the former super. Both were once part of Los Macheteros; lucky break for me, but I would have found a way in regardless. Tonight Yeriel and I worked together to take the front door off the hinges so I could gain entry, then we put the door back up behind me.

Why? Because something has to be done about you, and I have the capability. I don’t hold to bourgeois morality. You and yours may fancy yourselves übermenschen, but in the end you’re just men who came in second in the game of Monopoly Capitalism and seek to start over with more property cards. We seek to overturn the board.

When you walked in, wheatpaste bucket in hand, was the first time I ever successfully used my Taser.

It’s recharging now. According to the instruction manual, it’ll be hours before I can use it again. That’s okay. We have all night.

Nick Mamatas is the author of several novels, including Bullettime and The Second Shooter. His short fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and several volumes of Akashic's city noir series.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Giving the Light, fiction by Nik Korpon

La primera regla,” Lalo started, then paused, regrouping. “La unica regla es,” he said again for emphasis, “we don’t stop for no one. ¿Entienden?”

He surveyed the group standing before them, beads of sweat cutting rivulets through the dust coating their faces. Many huddled close to loved ones, mothers holding children, grandparents and their grandchildren making an already-dangerous trip even more so. A small girl, not more than two, kept her eyes pointed down, her arms wrapped around her father’s leg as if that would protect her from whatever awaited them on their trip across la frontera. The father cleared his throat, calling for Lalo.

“Pero…la migra?”

“No me importa la puta migra, eh?” Lalo made a point to look down the line again, ensuring everyone was paying close attention. “You see la migra, you hide. If you can’t hide, you run.”

“Pero,” the father said again.

Lalo whipped his glare toward the father. He could feel the sun beating down with a hundred small razors, pummeling the crown of his head, splitting his skull as they remained hidden behind a rock outcropping five kilometers from the shallow river they’d cross to reach el norte. He’d barely slept the last ten days, what with Pilar’s sickness getting worse. His abuela told him the first trimester was always the worst and it’d get better, but it seemed like the opposite: They didn’t even realize she was pregnant till she was nearly twelve weeks. But as she got closer and closer pa’ dar la luz, she seemed to be getting more and more nauseated. 

And answering all these pinche questions was making Lalo even more irritable. He just wanted to get these people across la frontera, get his money from el Tuerto’s man, then get back home to el Llanto and be with Pilar. Just a few more hours till dark then, they’d be on the move.

The father cleared his throat again.

Lalo exhaled hard. “¿Qué?”

“Pues,” the father stammered. “What about los Cazadores?”

Lalo swallowed, setting his face to remain stern and maintain the group’s confidence. El Tuerto’s people had people inside la migra, so they could get their patrol schedules and reduce the chance one of their coyote groups ran into armed agents. But los Cazadores? Those crazy-ass redneck gringos who couldn’t get it up without holding an AR-15? Hell, they called themselves the Hunters, which was all anyone needed to know.

The father fixed his gaze on Lalo while he waited for an answer, his nervousness seemingly awakening the daughter, who finally raised her head, making Lalo’s hair stand on end. Her eyes were impossible, an aberration, like the entire sky above el Llanto compressed into two bright dots in her cherubic face. They were the same color as Pilar’s, the same color he imagined his daughter’s would be. He felt a pull inside him and considered walking away from this whole thing for a moment, heading directly home to Pilar and resting his head on her stomach to listen to his daughter’s heartbeat. But as soon as the thought arose, it passed. He wasn’t helping people cross to score points with el Señor. He did it to earn money for his family.

“Si tú ves los Cazadores,” Lalo said, “reza.”

Because praying was all they could do.

Debris pocked the river bank. Clothes tossed aside to cut weight during previous trips. A rusted propane tank. Metal scraps fashioned into weapons to defend against desert predators of various species, some on four legs, others not. The wallet of someone who had underestimated the current.  

From where they crouched behind scrub brush, it appeared as if the water was lapping low against the soil, which was a good sign. The river was less than two meters at its deepest, enough that an adult could normally cross it with their head held up. But when a freak storm hit the mountain range a few kilometers miles upstream, water would rush down the gully fast enough to catch even a strong swimmer unaware and sweep them into a muddy abyss.

But tonight, Lalo watched the moonlight glitter on the surface like the tiara he’d place on his daughter’s head at her quince in fifteen years and hoped it was a portent tonight would be uneventful. He crept toward the edge of the brush, reminding the group of the plan as he passed, then peeked through an opening, up to where his partner Sergio waited, surveying the area with binoculars.

From this point, they could see faint headlights tracing up and down Route 9 in New Mexico. After Lalo led the group across the river, they would run as fast as they could to a small hideout on the US side el Tuerto’s people had dug in the sand where they could regroup, drink some water, address anything that needed addressing before making the last push across the highway to a truck stop where they’d be loaded into a produce truck and taken to wherever Tuerto said to take them.

“Estamos jodidos,” one of the group said.

Lalo came back around. “What’d you say?”

Everyone in the group looked at each other, a combination of shrugs and unwillingness to snitch on another.

“You.” Lalo pointed at the man, a scar running from his temple into his hairline, where it disappeared. “What’d you say.”

Not a question.

“Dije que estamos jodido.”

“Why are we fucked?”

“Should’ve done like my nephew. Got a visa and just never left.”

“He get a student or worker visa?”
 The man hesitated. “Student.”

“For what university?”

Again, the man hesitated. “Stanford.”

“Could you get into Stanford?” Lalo said.

The man didn’t answer.

“Then shut the fuck up and get ready to run when I tell you, ¿vale?”

He pulled back his shoulders, looking around for support from the others, but quickly crouched back down when he found none. A quiet moment passed, the group either whispering novenas or watching Sergio or seeing whether Lalo would strike out against the dissenter. When nothing happened, the man felt confident enough to speak up again.

“Should just go over and claim asylum. Demasiada violencia. Enough of us seen heads in our pueblos to claim that, ¿no?”

Lalo sighed for what seemed like the thousandth time, then crept back over to the man, staying low and out of sight. “You want go over there and claim asylum with those Nazis lording over them?”

The man started to argue, but Lalo cut him off.

“How’d you get that scar? Cartel fight? Smuggling drugs up your culo?”

“Someone doesn’t know how to use a scythe, how I got it.” The man postured like he was indignant.

“And you think that’ll matter to them?” Again, Lalo gestured toward el norte. “They see a scar, they think criminal. They’ll put you and any chamaco near you in a cage as quick as they say freedom fries, ¿entiendes? So you want to claim asylum? Hágale, pues. Buena suerte con ese.”

The man snuffed from his nose a few times, trying to save face before settling down, resigning himself to the situation. Lalo didn’t like working like this, for a man like el Tuerto, but what kind of choice did he have? A degree and work experience didn’t mean shit when there was no one to hire you. And as much as he hated herding these people across, the idea of them hauling their kids over a thousand miles of jungle and desert in order to get away from heads tumbling through the streets of their aldeas only for them to rot in cages like discarded fruit nearly brought him to tears. All he could envision was his future-daughter duct-taped to his back as he slogged across the barren land.

A sharp whistle cut through the night. Sergio waved his hand.

“Chicos. Vámanos,” Lalo whispered, motioning toward the river for the group to follow.

Sergio helped lead everyone toward the safest place to cross, a thin sandbar that only reached waist-high. It wouldn’t be quite as easy for the ones carrying small children but was better than any alternative. He stood in the middle of the river, herding everyone across as Lalo brought up the rear, keeping everyone together. The man who’d challenged him passed by, not raising his eyes and gladly accepting Sergio’s help when he stumbled on a rock or something hidden beneath the surface, as if by profusely thanking one of the coyotes, the other would also receive gratitude. Lalo didn’t care; he just wanted this night over.

The father was one of the last ones to come to the river’s edge. His daughter hesitated, testing the water then jumping back as if something had bit her toes. Lalo felt the night tilt around him. Then the father snatched her up and carried her, which Lalo was infinitely grateful for. He followed them as they crossed, the others on the far side already making their way toward the dugout.

Then the father slipped.

It wasn’t much, more like being knocked off true-north than slipping on a banana peel, but it was enough to make him throw his arm out to keep from falling, which threw off his balance on the other side. His arm swung out, dislodging the daughter just enough for her to slip from the crook of his arm.

She yelped as she touched the warm water, as much from surprise as her being two-years-old.

The father reached for her but wasn’t quick enough to stop her from splashing.

She fell to the side, away from her father. She yelped again, this time worse, the tone of her voice sharpened.

Her father lunged over at the same time as Lalo, the father falling into the water to make sure he reached her. Lalo, still upright, missed. The father rose, water cascading off him, his daughter held tight in his arms, protecting her from all else unseen as Lalo shepherded them across the last part of river.

On the other side, dripping but safe, Lalo finally exhaled.

“Por fin,” he said, then pointed at the rest of the group heading toward the dugout. “Vámanos.”

“Espera.” The father was knelt down, tending to his daughter, who was babbling something Lalo couldn’t understand. Zapotek or Lacandón or something from much farther south, the words smothered in wet banana leaves and dense moss.

Lalo cursed under his breath. He thought babying children was an American thing, not wherever they were from. After all, she was just wet. Lalo and his brothers spent most of their free time in the river near their house.

The father looked up and caught Lalo’s gaze, his eyes conveying something paternal that Lalo had never felt before: the urgency of an injured child.

“What’s wrong?” he said.

“Ella está herido.”

“Hurt? She’s just wet. Muévete ya.”

The father lifted up her leg, displaying a gash on the back of her calf, the blood now glimmering in the moonlight.

“Ella tiene hemofília.” His voice was thick with fear for his daughter.

Lalo felt the air tremble around him, the humidty pass over him. “So stop it.”

His hand shook as he pulled a small tube out of his pocket and held it up. Lalo didn’t know what he was looking at, especially not with the moon as the only light.

“Este es desodorante pero solo lo funciona para heriditas.”

It only worked on small wounds? Lalo fought the urge to scream. The cut wasn’t huge, but her skin was wet, making the blood flow more easily. And if the deodorant wouldn’t stop the bleeding on a wound so large, they were going to have to make the wound smaller because Lalo couldn’t let this girl who had his future-daughter’s eyes bleed out in the middle of the desert.

Think think think think.

Lalo had an idea. He called out in whispers. “Sergio, ven acá.”

“Nadie pare,” Sergio called back.

“Ya sé,” Lalo said, trying to convey the urgency of the situation without shouting at Sergio to get his ass back here so they could fix the girl and get gone. “Pero ven acá, ¡ya ahora!”

Sergio told the rest to wait a second while he scurried back to Lalo.


“Gimme your needle and thread.”

Sergio didn’t ask, just dug into the breast pocket of his shirt and pulled out the contents, dumping it in Lalo’s palm.

“You take them to the spot,” Lalo said. “I’ll take care of this and we’ll meet you.”

Sergio nodded, hurried off without another word.

Lalo held the needle up to the moonlight and slid the thread through, then looked down at the father.

“Tapa su boca y sujétela fuerte.”

Even in the darkness, terror radiated across the daughter’s face. Lalo averted his eyes and focused on the cut.

The skin puckered as the needle touched it, bouncing back when the sharp point slipped through. She gave a muffled yelp and bucked against her father’s firm grip, then jumped again with the needle’s next pass, over and over. Tears glimmered down her cheeks, down her father’s.

Lalo worked his way up, clenching his jaw harder and harder as he cinched the cut further closed, the needle flashing in the moonlight. 

He repositioned himself, trying to keep the wound in the light to make sure it was completely sutured. But the father took the movement as his being finished and relieved the pressure on his daughter’s mouth, just as Lalo shifted her leg, inadvertently pulling the thread tight. 

The daughter’s eyes went wide, almost as big as the sky over el Llanto. Her yelp echoed through the darkness, across the sand, before the father could clamp down on her mouth again.

The father and Lalo froze.

Breath crashed against the inside of his mouth. Blood thrummed through his veins.

A desert rat shuffled through the brush to the west, its feet scrabbling over the hard dirt. A bat flapped overhead, chittering as it chased bugs across the sky. A cereus not ten meters northeast from them breathed a sigh of relief, its blooms opening for nocturnal pollinators. The wind shifted, carrying the faint smell of cigarette smoke.

Lalo scanned the area. No one in sight, not even Sergio and the others.

Then another shuffle, due northwest, maybe fifty meters away. Not a rat. Not a snake either. Bigger.

“La migra,” the father whispered.

Lalo pushed aside a quick thought, looked around frantically, though he knew there was nothing to hide behind. They were caught in the open. The scrub brush would only give them momentary cover. Only real options were to run north or head back across the river, across la frontera and out of la migra’s jurisdiction. Dile a Dios, he thought. “When I say, you grab your girl and you run.”

The father nodded.

Then the heavens opened, bright white light raining down, blinding them.

A bolt of cold shot through Lalo. La migra would call out, tell them to freeze, put their hands up, all that shit. But now: nothing.

Which meant….

“¡Los Cazadores!” the father yelled, already scooping up his daughter in his arms.

Lalo shoved the father northward then took off, feet pounding on the desert floor. Puffs of sand exploded behind Lalo as he ran in the opposite direction, drawing fire away from the father and daughter. He zigged and zagged, cutting across the land, but the puffs drew ever closer. Lalo faked right, then bolted left, toward the river. It wasn’t deep, but maybe he could bound out to the middle, baptize himself in el río, hold his breath tight and let the current take him down—

Lightning tore through his calf. His face slammed into the desert, sand coating his mouth and face as electricity eviscerated his muscle.

His fingers clawed at the ground, pulling his body toward the river. Twenty meters. Eighteen meters more. Fifteen—

A foot smashed against his spine, pinning him in place.

“Looks like you caught one.” The hunter’s voice was thick with smoke.

“Not the one I was aiming for. Them tiny ones are faster than they look,” another hunter said.

“That’s why they’re a good challenge.”

The foot relented, but only to flip Lalo over. The two faces were backlit against the moon, only moving shadows where features should’ve been.

The first hunter said, “Pegged you as the soft touch, stopping to help out that little girl and all. That’s y’all’s rule, right?”

His words had too many vowels in them, distended them, so they became hard to understand.

“‘No stopping,’” the other hunter said, readjusting the rifle slung over his shoulder. “Not for no one. But wherever the cargo go, the boss ain’t far behind.”

“Yeah, I’ve had my eye on you a spell. That bounty on your boss’s head’ll set me right for a long time.” The first hunter crouched down, took a long drag on his cigarette, held it for effect, exhaling only when he spoke. The air shifted around him. “So I’m gonna ask you once, and only once: where’d your friends go?”

Lalo sucked in his breath, steeling himself, staying quiet. Wondering how far away the father and the girl were, if they were hiding, if there were more hunters in the area.

The first hunter laughed to himself. “One of the strong, silent types, huh?” He pulled the cigarette from his mouth and regarded it for a long second. “Okay, then. I think I can help with that.”

And as he lowered the burning cherry down to Lalo’s eye, all Lalo could see was the part that burned hottest, the bright blue part, the same as the sky above el Llanto, where Pilar was waiting for him, pacing their bedroom with a hand on her stomach, counting the seconds between contractions.

Nik Korpon is the author of Radicals, Wear Your Home Like a Scar, The Rebellion's Last Traitor, and Queen of the Struggle, among other. He lives outside Baltimore.

Monday, March 1, 2021

The Good Life, fiction by Richie Narvaez

 Reimagining Ernest Hemingway’s Indian Camp

Chibenashi was out of breath from running with the dogs. The dogs followed Chibenashi all the way from the camp, but when he found Larry, they turned and ran back. 

Larry sat on the soft loam at the edge of the pines by the lake. There was an empty bottle between his legs. The young man stared out at the lake. It was a cold night and much colder by the water. Larry had a poor fire going and half a dead fish near it on the sand. The fire was threatening to go out. This disappointed Chibenashi. He had taught Larry better than that.

“Larry!” Chibenashi said. “Ayashe is in a bad way.”

“I can hear her from here.”

“We have to get the doctor. She’ll die if not,” Chibenashi said, trying to catch his breath. He grabbed Larry under the arm and pulled him up. The young man was soft as a boned fish and stank of anti-fogmatics. Chibenashi pulled him up and walked him toward their rowboat, beached a few yards away.

“Move your feet,” Chibenashi said.

“Will Boonoo George be there?” Larry said. 

“What does it matter? We need his brother, not George.”

“I don’t like Boonoo George. Peezhickee don’t like him either.”

Chibenashi was going to say it didn’t matter if Ayashe’s husband Peezhickee liked George, that Ayashe’s husband was more full of anti-fogmatics than Larry was, but instead Chibenashi said, “Peezhickee’s in a bad way, too, on account of his foot. It don’t look good. Maybe the doctor can look at him, too.”

“Boonoo George is a leech.”

“You ought not to say that.”

“I won’t sit near him in the rowboat if he comes. You sit near him.”

“The rowboat is not that big, Larry.”

“I don’t want to sit near him, is all. If I do, I will jump overboard, and you can row those white men to Ayashe by yourself.”

“Fine. I’ll sit near him. Now help me.”

They pushed and pulled the rowboat into the water. Larry sat in the front of the boat while Chibenashi took the oars.

“I’m not sitting near Boonoo George is all I’m saying,” Larry said across the rowboat.

“Fine.” Chibenashi said. The rowing made him sweat, and the sweat drying on his skin in the cold air made him shiver. But he didn’t mind it. It woke him up and kept him awake.

The doctor and his family camped every summer on the other side of the lake from the Ojibwe camp. They usually didn’t bother anybody, and it was good to have a doctor close by. Their medicine was different than Ojibwe medicine, and Chibenashi had to admit it worked sometimes when the Ojibwe’s could not.

The rowing was going hard, and Chibenashi looked over and saw that Larry had fallen asleep.

“Larry! Wake up.”

Larry sat up straight and rubbed his eyes. 

“How can you sleep when your sister is in danger?” Chibenashi said. 

“If she dies, it’s her own fault.”

“You ought not to say that, Larry. You know better. I know you know better.”

They pulled their rowboat up the shore, near the doctor’s rowboat. The doctor’s rowboat looked brand new.

“That sure is a pretty boat,” Larry said. “I could use a pretty boat like that one.”

“You already have a boat.”

Chibenashi walked up the beach and toward the doctor’s camp.

As they approached, the doctor and his brother stood up from around their fire, looking as if they were ready for a fight. White men always looked if they were ready for a fight.

Their camp smelled of burned fish and liquor and cigars and piss and lilac soap. Chibenashi bowed to the doctor and told him why they were there, and the doctor turned to go back to the tent.

George teetered on his feet. He had a short face, with a hawk nose and a dirty bald head. He had a bottle in his hand. More anti-fogmatics. 

Some nights men just have to drink. Chibenashi would save his drinking for later, after Ayashe’s baby was born and she was safe. No one liked being in the camp, no one liked peeling the trees, making them naked to the sun and the wind and the insects, leaving them to rot. But it was the only work left. But that was the reason the men at the camp drank. One of the reasons, anyway.

The doctor came out of the tent, and a thin little boy stumbled out after him. The boy was just putting on a coat and stood like a newborn colt. The doctor was a younger version of George. He was a smart one. His eyes looked bright but not focused. His beard was very neat.

The boy was an even younger version of both men, not old enough to shave.  He stood behind the father, holding his hand, and stared at Chibenashi and Larry as if they gave him the heebie-jeebies, as if he thought they were going to scalp him.

Larry said, “Why are they bringing the boy? He looks like he’s going to loose himself.”

“I don’t know,” Chibenashi said. “Let’s just go.”

“We’ll have to take two boats now, so I can row the pretty one.”

“Sure, Larry.”

“As long as I won’t have to take Boonoo George.”

“George can speak Ojibwe, Larry. He can understand you.”

“I don’t care.”

The scared boy and the doctor started walking toward the new rowboat, so Larry ran over to it ahead of them. Chibenashi headed toward their own rowboat.

The doctor and the boy stopped. The doctor was saying something to the boy, who looked as if he were about to cry. When they moved again, they changed directions and headed toward Chibenashi.

“Oh no,” Larry said. 

George waddled up to the white man’s rowboat and dropped in.

“No! No! No!”

“Shut up, Larry,” Chibenashi said. “Let’s get a move on.”

On the lake, Larry rowed smoothly, the way Chibenashi had taught him. Larry was still young and full of fire. Chibenashi rowed as best as he could, but he didn’t have the strength. He had peeled bark all day, then stacked it, and then helped load more to go to the tannery. He was exhausted and had eaten only a spoonful of rice for dinner.

They had known Ayashe was in trouble for days. Nokomis told them what she was doing was not helping the baby to be born. So they decided someone had to go get the white doctor, and Chibenashi said he would go.

In the boat, Chibenashi got a better look at the doctor’s boy. He had red cheeks and long eyelashes. His head swiveled and his big eyes seem to be trying to see the entire world. The boy crushed himself against his father, who held the thin boy against his chest, with one arm over him, as if he was trying to shield him. From the cold? From the animals of the night? From the entire world maybe. With his father’s big arm around him, the boy didn’t look any less frightened.

On the other side of the lake, the doctor and his boy got out of the boat. Chibenashi pulled the boat onto the shore.

They were in a hurry, but George had stopped on the sand and was puffing on a cigar. He took cigars from his pants pocket and handed them out.

“Have a gall stone,” George said in Ojibwe. “Have a gall stone.”

Larry looked at Chibenashi. “What is he doing with the cigars?”

“Shut up and take one. Don’t insult him.”

“I want to insult him,” Larry said. 

“A free cigar is a free cigar. If you don’t want it, give it to me.”

Chibenashi took the cigar from George and in English said, “Thank you, Mr. George. Thank you.”

“Armpit,” George answered in Ojibwe.

“You said he speaks Ojibwe,” Larry said.

“I thought so,” Chibenashi said.

Larry snatched a cigar and smoked it on the long walk through the logging road back to the camp. Chibenashi kept his cigar in his shirt. The logging road was wider than it used to be because many of the trees were gone. One day you would be able to see straight from the lake to the camp.

“Why do you hate George so much?” Chibenashi asked Larry. 

“He cheated me at cards. More than once.”

“More than once? Then it is your fault you kept playing cards with him. You should know better.”

“And he likes our women. He will not even look at a white woman.”

“That’s because they won’t look at him,” Chibenashi said, trying to be cheerful.

“He likes our women a lot. And he goes with them, even when they don’t want to go. Especially when they don’t want to go.”

“Don’t say things like that.”

“Why not? It’s the truth.”

Chibenashi looked back to where the doctor was leading his boy by the hand. George was farther behind, pissing on a tree he was leaning on and getting his feet wet.

“You shouldn’t gamble, boy,” Chibenashi said. “You know that.”

“I know.”

“You’re no good at it. It’s what did your father in.”

“That’s not what killed my father.”

Chibenashi put a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Leave it be.”

Larry shook the hand off. “You’re always taking shit, bowing and scraping to them. You’re shit to them, you know. Less than shit.”

Chibenashi’s eyes welled. “Leave it be, you stupid drunk.”

Nearby Ayashe screamed. The dogs exploded into the forest and straight toward Chibenashi. They yipped and ran around him. “Git from here,” he told them. “Git.” But the dogs went on, wagging their tails fiercely.

Nokomis stood outside Ayashe’s shanty with a lantern. She yelled at them for taking so long.

Larry stopped and said he was going back into the woods. “I’m not sticking around for the rest.”

“That’s your sister in there.” Chibenashi tugged at his arm.

“I can hear how she’s doing all the way from the other end of the camp.”

“Come on. Let’s go in. The doctor may need our help.”




“Listen. I’ll buy you a drink. Stick around and I’ll buy you a drink afterward.”

“In town?”

“In town. Where else? I don’t get drunk alone in the woods like a fool. We’ll find a place you haven’t been thrown out of.”

“You’ve been thrown out of a few yourself.”

“Not in a long time, boy. Let’s go to Ernie’s then.”

“Not Ernie’s.”

“Fine. We’ll go to Gilby’s, although they don’t like us there as much.”

Chibenashi shooed the dogs away and entered the cramped shanty. Inside, it smelled of smoke and the sour smell of peeled hemlock. There was the way a room smells when a woman is giving birth, of blood and sweat and shit and something sweet and musty. But there was something else there, too, something foul and sick.

Chibenashi looked up and saw Peezhickee in the upper bunk. He had a pipe in his mouth and his head lolled back and forth against the wall. Maybe the doctor should look at him first. Peezhickee had been in much pain since he hurt his foot, and, since his wife starting giving birth, he had spent two days drinking.

Things had been bad for them for a long time. Peezhickee and Ayashe had been together since before they were teenagers. Chibenashi had once been sweet on Ayashe, too, when she was a girl and Chibenashi almost a man. She had eyes like glittering river stones, and she loved to sing although she sang like a hungover bird. She knew that and enjoyed herself anyway. She knew Chibenashi was sweet on her, but Peezhickee was the one she picked, the one she stuck with, which was only right. Peezhickee and Ayashe held hands when they were only kids. As they grew up, when one or the other was missing, which was a lot of the time, everyone knew they were together and knew what they were doing and knew they were out necking by the back of the camp.

When they got married it was a good thing. But then a year or so ago, Peezhickee had started talking about moving out of the camp, about going to California maybe. He thought they could live a better life, a good life out there. But Ayashe’s family lived in the camp and she wanted to stay near her family. So the couple started arguing, and Peezhickee started drinking more, even during work. Then just three days ago Peezhickee had an accident peeling bark and chopped into his own foot. He hadn’t kept his mind on the work. You could see there was no way that foot was going to heal. You could smell it.

Another Ojibwe, Oshkaabewis, stood in the shanty, ready to help. Chibenashi went to stand next to him, pulling Larry to stand next to him.

On the bunk Ayashe screamed, loud enough to hurt the ears. 

On the top bunk, Peezhickee’s face was in pain, too, like he was giving birth himself. 

Nokomis remained in the shanty. The doctor ordered her to heat some water and after she got it he shooed her into a corner. 

Ayashe kept screaming and the doctor put himself between Ayashe’s legs. He told Chibenashi and Oshkaabewis to hold onto her ankles. He told George and Larry to hold down her arms. As George came close, Ayashe bit him. But still he held her down. There were five men squeezed onto the small bunk holding her tiny body down. 

The white doctor put his hand inside her. The look on his face told Chibenashi that something was wrong. The doctor took a jack-knife from the hot water and cut into Ayashe, tearing her belly open. 

Chibenashi turned to look at the boy standing there alone, away from his father’s arms. His eyes were as big as the sky, and it looked like he really was going to loose himself.

There was lots of blood on the bed and the doctor reached for the baby inside the wound and yanked it out and cut its connection with its mother. 

Chibenashi saw the baby’s face and saw that it was another half-breed. Nine others had been born in the camp. He stared at the baby for a long time, and he looked at Ayashe, whose glittering river stone eyes were closed. Larry touched him on the shoulder and pointed toward the door where Boonoo George stood. “Him,” he said.

“You can’t know that for sure,” Chibenashi said in a small voice.

“Does it matter?”

The white doctor sewed up Ayashe with catgut. She was covered in sweat and her skin was hot as fire, but she was alive.

“Nokomis will take care of the rest,” Chibenashi said. He stood up to congratulate Peezhickee, but he saw that Peezhickee had used a razor to open his own throat. He had done it so quietly and quickly they hadn’t noticed.

Larry said, “I don’t blame him. I don’t blame him at all.”

Boonoo George was stumbling out the door.

“I am going after him,” Larry said. “I want my money.”

“Leave him be, boy.”

The white doctor was whispering to his son, and the son’s face was covered in snot and tears. The white doctor led the boy out of the shanty. He left behind his jack-knife. 

“I want my money,” Larry said. He bent down and took the white doctor’s knife.

“Come on, boy,” Chibenashi said. “It’s almost morning. We got to get to work soon. Let’s just go.”

“Come with me,” Larry said. “I want my money.” And he stumbled out the door, past the doctor and the boy, and after Boonoo George. 

Chibenashi looked at Oshkaabewis, who stood and said nothing. Then Chibenashi took the cigar from his pocket and put it on the bunk next to Peezhickee. He took the razor from Peezhickee’s still warm, wet hand and he followed Larry out the door.

Richie Narvaez is author of four books. His most recent novel is the historical YA mystery Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco, and his latest book is the anthology Noiryorican.