Tonya Lippert reads from "Misreadings" from STRONGLY WORDED WOMEN

Tonya Lippert reads from "Misreadings" from Strongly Worded Women: The Best of The Year of Publishing Women, an Anthology. The reading was held at Broadway Books in Portland, Oregon on 2/12/19.

Debby Dodds reads from "Beast" from Strongly Worded Women

Debby Dodds reads from "Beast" from Strongly Worded Women: The Best of The Year of Publishing Women, an Anthology. The reading was held at Broadway Books in Portland, Oregon on 2/12/19.

Sydney Culpepper reads from "Pack Mentality" from STRONGLY WORDED WOMEN

Sydney Culpepper reads from "Pack Mentality" from Strongly Worded Women: The Best of The Year of Publishing Women, an Anthology (an anthology she compiled and edited!). The reading was held at Broadway Books in Portland, Oregon on 2/12/19.

Cover Reveal and Pre-Order Announcement for Don't Read This Book!

It’s here! Benjamin Gorman’s next novel, Don’t Read This Book, is available for pre-order today! Check out this amazing cover by Rafael Andres!

Cover Art and Design by Rafael Andres

Cover Art and Design by Rafael Andres

Want to learn more about the book? Check out the description in he Kickstarter here. You can pre-order your copy, get yours and free one for your favorite local library, get a YA title for your favorite school library, and even go big and get the entire Not a Pipe Publishing library to date! The author, Benjamin Gorman, is offering to come to you … or to let you send him to Antarctica if you’re sick of him. Check out the Kickstarter and become a backer today!

Chloe Hagerman reads from "All Is Revealed" from Strongly Worded Women

Chloe Hagerman reads from "All Is Revealed" from Strongly Worded Women: The Best of The Year of Publishing Women, an Anthology. The reading was held at Broadway Books in Portland, Oregon on 2/12/19.

Julia Figliotti reads from "Skin-Deep" from Strongly Worded Women

Julia Figliotti reads from "Skin-Deep" from Strongly Worded Women: The Best of The Year of Publishing Women, an Anthology. The reading was held at Broadway Books in Portland, Oregon on 2/12/19.

Trigger Warning: Some disturbing descriptions of an abusive relationship.

Announcement: New Project Managers Added to the Not a Pipe Publishing Team

We are so excited to announce that our family is growing. Due to the wild success of The Year Of Publishing Women and the attendant increased workload, we’ve added some marvelous project managers who will do the heavy lifting to carry some excellent manuscripts through the editing and marketing processes and deposit them as polished novels in the hands of readers. Please welcome Viveca Shearin, Kelleen Cummings, and the editor of Strongly Worded Women who is expanding her role, Sydney Culpepper! Meanwhile, our Co-Publisher Paige Gorman is transitioning to a role as the Submissions Editor. More details on that to follow. But first, please welcome Viveca, Kelleen, and Sydney!

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Viveca Shearin

Project Manager and Editor

Viveca is a freelance editor who joined Not a Pipe Publishing to work on a single novel and wowed us, so we asked her to join the Not a Pipe Publishing family as a project manager, and she accepted! She lives in Brooklyn, New York and is currently interning at a literary agency. When she's not working, Viveca can often be found with a big mug of tea (or coffee), her face buried in a good book or video game, and her beloved cat nearby for company.


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Kelleen Cummings

Project Manager and Editor

Kelleen Cummings is a Seattlite who loves the rain and her two cats. A recent graduate of Lewis & Clark College, she is putting her English degree to good use working with Not a Pipe and at an independent bookstore in the Seattle area. Though already constantly reading ARCs and the occasional actually published novel, Kelleen still makes time to craft, write poetry, and wander around the Olympic Sculpture Park. She definitely considers herself a creative-type as a writer, a dancer, and a crafter, but that doesn’t hinder her attention to detail while editing. She is interested in all genres, though she particularly adores historical fiction, romance, and social-justice oriented manuscripts.


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Sydney Culpepper

Project Manager and Editor

Sydney hails from Klamath Falls, OR, and is a recent graduate of Western Oregon University with an honors degree in linguistics and American Sign Language.  She’s been a reader and a writer nearly all her life, and she loves reading young adult fiction, especially fantasy and LGBTQ+ subgenres.  She self-published her first novel, Pagetown, as her senior project in high school, and is working on her next book.  Her other hobbies include Netflix, drawing, and petting her cat.

#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: Eyes by Heather S. Ransom

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the eight (eight!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we're publishing short fiction here. We’ve also compiled an anthology of some of the best of these shorts stories, and you can now purchase a copy of Strongly Worded Women: The Best of the Year of Publishing Women: An Anthology.


[Trigger warning: body horror] "Eyes" is a truly disturbing and terrifying story. Ransom, author of the Going Green trilogy, once again proves her ability to create entirely unique stories and worlds. This story features a world in which our eyes die out from disease and must be replaced. How would this be managed? Who gets the eyes? Is there a hierarchy? This story provides merely a horrifying glimpse into this world, one of desperation and darkness. -Sydney Culpepper, Anthology Editor

Eyes

By Heather S. Ransom

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I eased the spoon down into the baby’s eye socket until the suction sound turned to a soft pop. Clipping the optical nerve, I started on the other eye. One down, one to go. I had to reposition the spoon when it didn’t slide in smoothly. Adjusting my grip on the handle, I pushed down harder this time, thinking that although it technically wasn’t a “spoon,” I could have eaten cereal with it.

“Put on some speed, Zif.” A foot tapped impatiently. Fen never could stand still.

“I’m on it. We should have broken in to do this last week.”

Fen snorted. “Three sets in seven months. Hope these last a little longer.”

Finally, another audible pop. A firm snip, then carefully, I dropped both eyes in the quick fix jar, and pulled a crimper out of my pocket.

“Hey, you can’t blame me for tossing that second set. Dealers who sell unmatched eyes should be put down.” I’d felt crazy. It was hard enough keeping check on one set of urges.

My life was tough, but it was mine. At least I hadn’t been born a stock baby. Shunted after harvesting. I glanced across the other babies available, hoping I’d made a good choice. I mean, it was impossible to tell. They all pretty much looked the same. I could deal with the urges, I was just hoping for a little more time. We all knew that stealing a new set from a private stock lab carried huge risks. Those designated as “permanently sighted” didn’t know how good they had it. They just put in a call and a new set was delivered to their door. They never had to harvest their own.

But I needed these eyes. I crimped the nerve endings with new adapters. A burnt, slightly metallic smell filled the air. That was a good sign.

“Any day.” The foot tapping started again.

I popped my bad eye out first. It hurt some, but I was used to it by now. And, once your sight started to go, the nerves didn’t work right anyway. The virus had infected it about a month ago, so it was pretty much already dead. I felt along the optic nerve to find the old inset point, cut just behind it, then crimped the new one in. I had sixty seconds to get the other one done. If both eyes weren’t connected by then, there’d be a possibility I’d see double for the span of this set. I’d known a guy who’d gone crazy, ripping his out before they even went bad because of double-vision headaches. What a waste.

I let the new eye dangle wet against my cheek. One more pop and crimp. This time completely by touch. That was the scary part of all this. I hated the blind times. They were suffocating.

Taking a deep breath, I gently pulled back my eye lids, one at a time, and softly pushed until the new eyes popped into place. Blinking, I waited for my sight to return.

“Well, how are they?” I heard Fen’s footsteps come toward me. “Pretty sweet. Cool green. Good choice on color.”
Suddenly a piercing wail filled the room. The baby! It was screaming now at the top of its lungs. It shouldn’t have done that. Stock babies didn’t make noise …unless …Fen and I looked at each other astonished.

“Oh my god, you hit the mother lode!” Fen yelled, over the top of the shrieking howl. “We’ve got to get out of here now! They’ll kill you to get those eyes!”

The baby came into focus. Black, gaping holes where its eyes had been. Its arms flew in random, jerking movements.

I just stood there. Everything seemed in slow motion. The realization of what was happening slowly washed over me. I looked up as Fen grabbed my arm.

“We have to go! Now!” Fen began to drag me across the room. Then a siren added its squealing, and I snapped into action.

I dove after Fen into a small air duct at the back of the room, scrambling for what seemed like forever until we rolled out into a waste pond behind the facility. Glancing back as we started to run for the trees, I saw officers with guns filing out of the building.

Fen’s breathing was jagged as we finally slowed to a jog, weaving through the thick brush. “Somebody’s going to be …in big trouble. Just think …they had an immune there and …didn’t even know it. They should have been …harvesting sooner.”

That’s when I felt it, so strong and burning. Overwhelming. There’s always urges with new eyes since they’re connected to the soul of the previous owner, of who they’ll become. Mother Teresa, Hitler, or some schmuck in between.

I looked at Fen. Rippling muscles. Smooth skin. My best friend. And I felt for the knife in my pocket.

The blade felt sweet sliding through Fen’s throat. No sound came from the open mouth. Wasted. Maybe I should’ve taken my new eyes out. Tossed them.

But they were immune. Not eyes that you’d give up.

Fen would’ve understood. A girl’s gotta make her own way in this world.


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Life as a middle school teacher for twenty-six years has allowed Heather an intimate look into the minds of thousands of young adults, most of whom are desperate to find their place in a society constantly changing around them. Many have found escape, ideas for facing challenges, or simply hope for a future where they can make a difference, through reading. So every year, Heather has her classes read. And they imagine together what their futures might hold, telling stories about advances in technology that could change their world.

Heather grew up in a family that loved stories. Her mom told incredible, fanciful adventures where she, along with her brother and sister, lived in a pond with tadpoles, or traveled across the dusty hills as Native Americans, or howled at the moon with the coyotes. As her mom told these stories, Heather became the character. She felt the water moving through her gills as she swam with Wally Wadpole. She tasted the dust in her mouth while riding her horse, Many Moons, on the hunt to bring back food to her tribe. She heard the coyotes calling her to come play, long after the stories were over. Heather fell in love with a good story, one that immersed her in a world that felt so real she never wanted to leave. This is what she hopes to bring to her readers, to give them a world they want to return to over and over again.

Heather's first book, Going Green, a YA sci fi dystopia, was published by Not a Pipe Publishing in March or 2017. The second book in the Going Green trilogy, Greener, was released in September of 2018, and the final part of the trilogy, Back to Green, will be out in the end of 2019.

When not teaching or writing, Heather enjoys spending time with the man of her dreams, Marv, and their two absolutely amazing adult kids, Danielle and Marvin. Living in Grants Pass, Oregon, affords her the luxury of ample opportunities in the amazing outdoors, as well as helping out at their local businesses, a pizza pub and cigar shop.

Heather is an active member of Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the Willamette Writers Organization, as well as the National Association of Science Teachers. You can also find more information and reviews on her website, www.heathersransom.ink, and on Goodreads author page.

Strongly Worded Women: Cover Reveal and Pre-Order Announcement

It’s here! The cover reveal for Strongly Worded Women: The Best of the Year of Publishing Women: An Anthology:

Cover by Sydney Culpepper

Cover by Sydney Culpepper

Back in 2015, Not a Pipe Publishing announced we were accepting author Kamila Shamsie’s challenge to the publishing industry to only publish women authors in 2018. Now, after publishing eight novels by seven authors, they are capping off their Year of Publishing Women with an anthology of 18 short stories by women authors from across the country.

The anthology will be available online and in bookstores on November 20th so it can be available for Black Friday shoppers, but you can pre-order it now to make sure you get your copy!

Amazon:

Hardcover: HERE

Trade Paperback: HERE

Kindle: HERE

Barnes and Noble and Nook: HERE

Apple Books: HERE

Inclusion in the anthology has meant a lot to the writers. Tonya Lippert, author of “Misreadings,” says, “It means joining a community of writers. I feel joined to Not a PIpe Publishing and the other writers whose work will be part of the anthology. We all will be working to spread the word and get the collection of stories to readers. Our lives are now intertwined.” Taylor Buccello, author of “The Becoming,” says, "Ever since I was little, I've loved writing and dreamed of having my work published. It still feels surreal to be getting this opportunity, but I'm so glad to be part it (and to be alongside some amazing women, at that) and to have a taste at the published world." Laura Hazan, author of “The Breakout,” concurs. “Having this story published in the Year of Publishing Women anthology is like a crowning - I've finally made it, despite the critics, including the one in my own head.” Rosie Bueford, author of “Woman by the Window,” sees it as a part of something larger: “I have long admired the work and social activism/awareness of Not A Pipe Publishing company and its founders. To be included in this project has been equally humbling and inspiring. As a woman and a social work student, I am honored to be a part of a literary project designed to empower women in the industry and in our country during such a tumultuous time. ... I feel this project has done a beautiful thing to bring about mindful awareness of what is happening within ourselves and all around us.”

Heather S. Ransom, author of “Eyes” and the novels Going Green and Greener, thinks of this anthology as a mechanism to mentor young women. “Today, more than ever, girls desperate to find their place in a society constantly changing around them need a wide variety of incredible females as role models. Strong, confident, inspiring women to show them that their future can be anything they choose, if they are willing to work for it. … I believe that young women today need strong female voices to guide them on their journey not only of survival but of self-discovery, appreciation, acceptance, and love.” For Lizzy Carney, author of “Mother Nature … Mother Nurture,” it’s far more personal. “Love for my mom is etched in my heart…putting words on a page was an action of describing that love. Just when I thought I would give up my pen for knitting needles, the opportunity of submitting Mother Nature Mother Nurture was literally handed to me. On a whim. I pushed send. Ma was a woman of grit and grace.  She loved to read and pitied those without an imagination. Having a piece of her story included in the Year of Publishing Women Short Story Anthology surrounded by stories written by women is incredible. Ma would be happy surrounded by creative women’s words. She made me promise I would keep writing. I will forget about knitting and keep my promise. Being included in this project, and having my story of Ma and her journey with Alzheimer’s published, is an amazing honor.”

LeeAnn Mclennan, author of “Zombie Apocalypse Rescue Agency” and The Supernormal Legacy trilogy, says, “I’m honored to be a part of Not a Pipe’s Year of Publishing Women short story project. The project celebrates women authors crafting the stories they want to write about the world they inhabit. It’s our chance provide even more evidence of the quality of writing women bring to the page. “ Karen Eisenbrey, author of “Crane’s Fire” and the novels Daughter of Magic and The Gospel According to St. Rage, shares McLennan’s view about quality and also highlights the community building. "The Year of Publishing Women has released a wide variety of great novels and short stories into the world, but it has been about so much more than that: it has brought together authors to learn from and support each other, and to amplify each other's voices." Maren Anderson, author of “Getting Pregnant on the Back of a Motorcycle” and the novels Closing the Store and Fuzzy Logic, agrees. “It's awesome to be bound together (literally) with so many talented women.”

We’re having a launch party at Another Read Through in Portland on November 30th from 7:00 to 8:00. Come hear many of these talented authors read from their stories, and get your copy signed.


#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: "Mother Nature…Mother Nurture" by Lizzy Carney

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the eight (eight!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE. The deadline for submitting to the anthology has passed, but you can still submit and maybe have your story published this year!


I don't believe I have the words to accurately describe this beautiful piece. This memoir is an homage to the author's mother, and the imagery and poeticism of the writing evoke such strong and yet delicate emotions in the reader. I can tell this will be a story I will return to again and again to revisit the pure emotion and heart I experienced when reading. -Sydney Culpepper, Anthology Editor



Mother Nature…Mother Nurture

by Lizzy Carney

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I am losing my mother in pieces. She is like an autumn tree:  beautiful, colorful, yet dying. The breeze of Alzheimer’s whispers through the branches while her memory drops off with the leaves.

One day when her tree is finally bare, I will hold a memory of her blooming strength. She weathered the storms and provided me with shelter.  I will be strong and remain hopeful because of her. For now, I will hope for spring to come, so together we may see the blossoms and green growth of love.

On a September drive through the Oregon wine country, Mom asked me, “What will we see once the leaves have all fallen?” She answered her own question. “Skeleton trees?”

I gather what is falling: her stories, her looks, her insights, and her love. Nature’s beauty is my rake. I rake these moments we share, embracing them as simple gifts of beauty.

Another day she smiles and says, “Oh, the little fast birds are here.” I look up to the fuchsia hanging in the window and see the swift messengers of love and joy. Hummingbirds never seem to stop, never glide. I will them to linger. I will life to linger, to be savored, so that we can take our time and drink the nectar. I know that hummingbirds symbolize immortality, bravery, joy, and perseverance. I wonder if their flight of infinity would journey into our house and allow me to have my mom a little longer. These tiny creatures delight her with their fleeting visits and provide me with a sense of peace, knowing that I will never stop savoring the nectar of my mom’s sweetness.

We rest on her bed with eyes wide and focused out the window and on the sky. The clouds drift. Mom comments that the sun is warm and melting the clouds. She asks what I see… I say I see a cloud passing as a caterpillar. “No,” she says, “it is God reaching out to us.” We are quiet as the view changes. She pities the person without imagination. The sky’s stage provides for an ensemble of characters: herds of wild animals stampede across the horizon. Musical instruments silently blow to the west. Stout kings float by followed by soaring chubby cherubs. “The clouds are heavy,” she remarks. “It will rain and they will be lighter.” I feel her love and bask in the slow motion of the moment. The clouds are dark and threatening. Mom dozes; I keep my eye on the clouds, waiting for one to pass and offer me a silver lining. I will be patient.

“How many sunsets have we watched together?” Mom asks me. Before I can respond, she muses that “the sky is a Van Gogh painting, only more beautiful.” She holds my hand while we wait and watch colors transform the sky into impressionistic images.  Sunset … a day’s end, bringing breathtaking moments of change in us, entwined with nature.

The sun is setting on my mother.  The hues and tones of her life dim quietly as the dusk of the disease sets in on her memories.  I cling to the colors of our time now. I embrace the brush strokes of the afterglow and realize that twilight is approaching and then will come darkness.

Magically, clouds part for the moon. The fuzziness of the veiled moon has cleared and so a bright glow streams down upon us as our night light.  We watch the moon rise while the stars decorate the sky. We talk as if we are young girls on a sleepover.

Mom wonders if Ireland has a moon. She did not see it when we were there last. I assure her Ireland has a moon and it is the same one we are viewing this night. We tease about shooting for the moon and that if we miss, we will hit a star. Together we count and wish and wonder.

One day I will look at the world for both of us: capturing the beauty in my heart, wishing on the giggling stars, watching the sun playing “sneak and peek.” My heart is broken as I lose my mother in pieces, watching the woman who was my mother disappearing leaf by leaf. It is broken open with love. I smile, stirring up memories of the joys we share overseeing the birds, sunsets and the night skies together, embracing Mother Nature. Smiling for the many joys we have had together.

Grief changes us forever. There is never ‘normal’ again. But my sorrowful and changed spirit will remember that I carry within me the beauty of my mother. She will be with me always, and I will be healed by the memories of ordinary and extraordinary moments we shared with nature. Mom will always nurture me. The moon will trade places with the sun and in my darkness I know morning will come.

I recall Carl Sandburg’s line, “The moon is a friend for the lonesome to talk to.” My mother’s moon and I will be having many conversations.


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Writer, educator, reader, gardener, and traveler describe Lizzy Carney’s interests and pursuits. Her journey is a lifelong learning expedition and she has discovered the value of detours.

Ms. Carney holds a Master of Arts in Education from Antioch University and a Bachelor of Education in Special Education from Gonzaga University.
For seventeen years, she had the opportunity to teach special education students at the elementary, middle and high school levels and mainstream middle school Language Arts and Social Studies. As an adjunct professor at Antioch University, her teaching focused in mentoring adults studying to earn a special education endorsement or complete their Master’s degrees. Additionally, through the Heritage Institute, she offered classes designed to assist teachers to use children’s picture books to enhance instruction in writing and the content areas.
Currently, she is the full time caregiver to her elderly father.


Ms. Carney is a member of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and The Willamette Writers. She belongs to two critique groups and attends regional writer conferences. She enjoys writing in a variety of genres. Her essay “Death Stalks My Mother” was published as part of the anthology Upon Arrival of Illness: Coming to Terms with the Dark Companion (Savage Press 2012). Presently, she is working on picture book manuscripts and a book for Alzheimer’s caregivers. The working title is: Beyond Pee, Poop and Pills. The Life of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver.

Author Mikko Azul reads from The Staff of Fire and Bone

Author Mikko Azul reads from her epic high fantasy novel The Staff of Fire and Bone at the words and Pictures Festival in Vancouver, Washington. The picture quality is terrible, but you can hear her clearly. Get your copy of The Staff of Fire and Bone here: http://www.notapipepublishing.com/artists/#/the-staff-of-fire-and-bone/

Author Karen Eisenbrey reads from Daughter of Magic

Author Karen Eisenbrey reads from her amazing YA fantasy novel Daughter of Magic at the Words and Pictures Festival in Vancouver, Washington. The picture quality is terrible, but you can hear her clearly. Get your copy of Daughter of Magic here: http://www.notapipepublishing.com/artists/#/daughter-of-magic/

Author Jason Brick reads from Wrestling Demons

Author Jason Brick reads from his exciting YA action/adventure novel Wrestling Demons at the Words and Pictures Festival in Vancouver, Washington. The picture quality is terrible, but you can hear his reading clearly. Get your copy of Wrestling Demons here: http://www.notapipepublishing.com/artists/#/wrestling-demons/

Author Debby Dodds reads from Amish Guys Don't Call

Author Debby Dodds reads from her hilarious YA novel Amish Guys Don't Call at the Words and Pictures Festival in Vancouver, Washington. Amish Guys Don’t Call isn’t one of Not a Pipe Publishing’s novels, but Debby is a great friend of Not a Pipe Publishing, and it’s a great book, so we want to recommend it to you. The picture quality is terrible, but you can hear her reading clearly. Get your copy of Amish Guys Don't Call here: https://www.amazon.com/Amish-Guys-Dont-Debby-Dodds/dp/1988279437

Author LeeAnn McLennan reads from The Supernormal Legacy, Book 1: Dormant

Author LeeAnn McLennan reads from her YA superhero novel The Supernormal Legacy, Book 1: Dormant at the Words and Pictures Festival. The picture quality is terrible, but you can hear her reading clearly. The novel is available now from Not a Pipe Publishing. Get your copy at: http://www.notapipepublishing.com/artists/#/the-supernormal-legacy-book-1-dorman-by-leeann-mclennan/

#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: "Guard Crow" by Zoe Brook

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the eight (eight!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE. The deadline for submitting to the anthology has passed, but you can still submit and maybe have your story published this year!


This story weaves fantasticism with harsh reality. It depicts a little girl with a mysterious background who becomes friends with a crow. Solace from tragedy can be found in the strangest of places, and justice can be delivered in the most unexpected ways. These are the lessons I learned from this beautiful story. -Sydney Culpepper, Anthology Editor

Guard Crow

by Zoe Brook

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The little girl is running; she's out of breath and stumbles as she stops at the corner of the lot. She stands still for a moment, then as her breathing evens out, she looks over her shoulder, all around her. There's fear on her face, but it's almost a resigned fear. As if she's used to whatever she's afraid of. It fades as she turns to the chain link fence she stopped next to. Curiosity sparks, and a second later she's pushing through the loose fencing at the corner post.

She pulls the ends of her light pink sleeves down over her hands to protect against the sharp points of fence and crouches close to the ground to scramble under and through. There's a plaque on the fence at the same corner, marking the lot as under the protection of Ye Olde Watch Services.

There are a few trees on the far side of the lot, but most of the place is dusty bare ground piled with lumber, some crates, and various other building supplies. It's flat and open, but in this early night darkness, a little girl, even a little girl in pink and purple, can easily be lost within the strange shapes and shadows. She creeps further around a giant crate, as high as the refrigerator box her mommy used to let her play in. Growing out of the ground just past the crate are the bones of a structure. The darkness warps the lines, but to the little girl it looks like an adventure waiting to be created. Maybe an abandoned pirate keep, or where villagers started rebuilding after the last dragon attack.

She smiles, half skipping toward the skewed lines and oddly placed shapes. She's clambering over the pile of various shaped lumber when she spots the dark bird at the top of the structure. It's watching her steadily as she scrambles. When her feet touch the ground, she stops and leans against the pile to stare back at the bird. Her smile is open and expectant. The bird still regards her, even in her flurries of awkward motion, it has not shifted or seemed nervous. It's made no move to fly away.

“How do you do, Mr. Crow?” The little girl's voice is soft, playful. The bird tilts its head. The girl holds up an arm and points to the sleeve. “Do you like pink?”

The bird's feathers are shiny black. Even in the gloom they shine, and his eyes are intelligent and watchful. Blending into the night, but holding itself aloof.

The girl scuffs her untied shoes against the dirt, tracing a pattern in the dust. “I think pink is okay. I think I like dark green best. My favorite tree is dark green.”

The crow's wings swing out and he's airborne in a moment, swooping down to a corner of lumber only a little bit away from the little girl. He lands softly, his entire movement nearly silent. He regards her again; the little girl hasn't jumped, only continued to watch him, turning to face him straight on. Pink is a fine color, miss.

The girl beams. “My name is Fiona. What's your name, Mr. Crow?”

It is lovely to meet you, Fiona. I am called Sebastian.

The girl giggles. “That's a funny name!”

Heh, I suppose it is.

“The funniest names I've heard are always rich people's names. Are you rich, Sebastian?”

What is rich?

She shrugs, suddenly looking down at her shoes and frowning. “I dunno. My uncle doesn't like the rich, but they all seem nice enough.”

I see.

“Sebastian?”

Sebastian's head tilts. Yes, Fiona?

“Do you want to be my friend?”

It would be my utmost pleasure to be called friend of yours.

The girl's sad face brightens, a smile flashing across her face. “Awesome!”

What is your favorite tree, Fiona? You mentioned it was green?

She nods emphatically, hopping on the tips of her toes. “It's this huge, dark green tree. It lived in my old backyard. I think mommy told me it was called cedar. I named it Toby though. We were best of friends.”

Sounds like a very worthy tree indeed, my friend.

She nods. “Yes! Toby was the bestest.”

Fiona, have you ever been afraid of the dark?

She shakes her head. “No. Not really. Mommy used to say that the monsters didn't live in the dark. But I don't think she knew I was listening.”

Your mommy sounds very wise.

“Yep!” She bounces on the slightly springy lumber, staring absently at the strange structure. “Why are you here, Mr. Sebastian Crow?”

I guard this place. Why are you here, Miss Fiona?

“Cause this place looks like fun.”

Why were you running, Miss Fiona?

She makes a face and hops to her feet. “Nevermind that! Do you want to play adventure?”

Sebastian's eye follows her, contemplative. He finally blinks, his head bobs slightly. I would like to very much. How do we play?

It would be a very strange sight to anyone watching. A girl running and jumping across lumber and half built concrete platforms. Brandishing imaginary swords and speaking with great seriousness, as if to nobility, in turn. A crow flying around her during the fighting, patiently perching in response to her diplomatic talk. Sometimes resting on her shoulder or raising a foot to shake her hand. Her play voices, and his playful caws, carry in the night. But no one is there to see. No one is there to hear them playing.

***


Fiona flops down on a tiny patch of grass, panting, and Sebastian alights beside her. “You're excellent at adventure!”

Adventure is excellent. I am glad you showed it to me.

“There's adventure everywhere! You just have to look.”

Does your mother know where to find your adventures?

She shakes her head, looking a little sad. “Mommy died a month ago. She told me there was something eating her insides, and she couldn't stop it. She made me promise to find adventures for myself, ‘cause she wanted to see me happy when she looks down from the cloud windows.” She smiles, faintly. “I think mommy would've liked you.”

Oh Fiona, I think I would have liked to know your mother, too.

Sebastian pushes underneath one of Fiona's small arms, and looks up at her, his eyes warm. Fiona hugs him back.

“I should probably go home, Sebastian. Will I see you again?”

Fiona, child, I'd like that.

“Are you always here?”

Yes, I will be here until the fence is gone.

“I'll come visit you all the time!”

I look forward to seeing you. Please be safe on your way home.

Fiona nods and waves as she pushes through the fence and runs in the same direction that she came from. Calling over her shoulder that she'd see Sebastian the next night.

***


She did see Sebastian the next night, and every night that week. Pushing through the sharp fence and meeting him in the ever-changing piles of lumber and progressing building. She tells him how she felt about the color of her shirt each night, and they play adventure together. Sometimes she tells him something about her mother, or about something simple and innocuous she'd done that day. Somedays when she comes to the fence, she is running. She pushes through the fence faster, sometime scraping the edge of her arm, and crouches down behind one of the huge crates. Sebastian sits with her, but after a while, when she is satisfied that what she watched for isn't coming, she smiles and they play.

Tonight is the last night of the week, and they are sitting together on a stump, after having played adventuring pirates. She's fiddling with the edge of her orange shirt sleeve, around her wrist. Every few moments, her knuckles would rub against the skin underneath and she'd wince.

Does your wrist hurt?

“No, not really.” She shrugs. “Sometimes.”

Why does it hurt Fiona?

She turns to face him fully, her face faintly illuminated in moonlight and her expression is utterly serious. Much more serious than even her most important diplomatic talks. “Can I show you something, Sebastian?”

Of course, you can show me anything, Fiona.

She pulls the edge of her sleeve up carefully, revealing a bruise just above her wrist. She twists her wrist, the bruise wrapping all the way around her arm. In places it looks like the shadow of fingers digging in.

Sebastian's feathers puffed out angrily, his eyes sharp and flashing. Who did this to you, Fiona?

She pulls down the sleeve. “It doesn't really matter. This one doesn't hurt as much as the others have. I just wanted to show someone.”

Fiona, who did this to you? This is important.

There's fear in her eyes again and she shifts down closer to the ground, listening carefully. Looking intensely at Sebastian. “Promise, Sebastian, don't tell anyone, please!”

I can't make that promise. Fiona, what's wrong?

It happens so fast, neither of them has quite enough time to react. There's a sharp shout from the front of the lot and the sound of a gate opening in the fence. Flashlight beams streak across the ground in switching patterns and half angry voices yell to each other.

Fiona grabs Sebastian and shoves him away from her, half behind a pile of small crates. “Hide, Sebastian!” she hisses,

Fiona – !

The men's lights have landed on Fiona and they're surrounding her. She's cowering against the crate, her arms thrown up against the bright lights. “Is this her, Mister?”

“Yes, that's her. About time! Young lady what do you think you're doing here? We're going home!”

Fiona stands and shouts angrily at them, the man in normal clothes and the three men in their dark blue uniforms and funny square hats. “NO! GO AWAY!”

The man in normal clothes grabs her arm and yanks her toward him as they all stomp toward the road. Fiona yelps at the man's touch and when she looks over her shoulder, the fear in her eyes is sharp and bright. She's searching for Sebastian's calm eyes. “Sebastian, the monsters live in the daylight! Sebastian!”

The crow hops toward her, but the men are walking away too quickly. As they move past the next building, Sebastian spreads his wings and flies.


***


The couple is walking past the nearly completed construction site, its fence halfway gone. The woman listens intently as the man gestures and shakes his head, explaining something to her.

“It was the damnedest thing I've ever seen! No one would ever believe me. Old man Grant, he was up on the roof. Must've been trying to fix the leak. His wife's always on him about getting it fixed, especially since they got her sister's kid, but the cheap sonofabitch, I guess he didn't want to pay anyone. Anyway, he was up there doing god knows what, and this slick black bird's just there out of nowhere, diving on him, attacking him. Scratching him and cawing somethin’ fierce, knocks the fucker off the damn roof. His eyes were messed up, his hands too! Scariest shit I've ever seen. Time the ambulance got there, he was gone. Hit his head in the fall, I think. Bird's nowhere to be seen. I can't explain that shit to the cops, y'know?” He runs a hand through his hair. “One of ‘em looked like he'd seen a damn ghost though, muttered to his partner something about 'remember the other night? Remember that?' I think he was starting to say bird, but the other guy shushed him so fast, it was real freaky.”

The woman shudders. “I'm just glad the kid wasn't home. She's been through enough, what with her mama dying with that awful cancer? I'm sure glad she wasn't home.”

***

It's almost a week later, and Fiona's walking past the site, holding a woman's hand and smiling up at her. The day is bright and cheerful. As they walk past, Fiona looks into the site, the house inside already taken shape, albeit a crooked one, and the fence is gone. But she still looks, as if searching for someone. The woman stops to talk with a man on the sidewalk and Fiona lets go of her hand and slips into the lot, looking around the corner of the house.

“Sebastian?” she murmurs.

The crow is sitting on an upturned barrel, cleaning its feathers. At the sound of her voice, the crow looks up and meets her eyes straight on, half flying half hopping over to where she stands at the corner. Fiona!

The girl laughs and flops down to her knees. “I thought I wouldn't get to say goodbye before you left! I'm so glad to see you!”

And I you, Fiona. Are you alright?

She nods. “Aunty Agnes is going to take care of me still. It's been so strange, she seems so much happier now that Uncle Grant is gone. She's talking to me, telling me all kinds of things and saying she was wrong about Grant, and so many things. She sounds so much more like mommy now. She wants me to tell her all about mommy. She says they were sisters, but she didn't get to talk much cause of Grant.”

I am so glad to hear that, Fiona.

“I think you're my best friend, Sebastian.”

The crow presses its head into the little girl’s hand. You are the best friend I have had in a long time, Fiona. I would have made sure to say goodbye.

The girl presses her cheek against the bird's head. “I wish you could stay.”

I will be, Fiona. The man who will live here now, he has hired me to guard his house. I will be here whenever you need me. But Fiona, promise me you will find adventures with other kids your age too?

She smiles. “You're staying! This is the best news. And I will always find adventure!”

Thank you for being my friend Fiona.

***

For years, the slightly strange man wonders why little Fiona always waves at his house when she passes by every day. She isn't quite waving at him, but she always waves, smiling and laughing. When he once asks her aunt, she doesn’t know why either.

He is glad though, that he isn't the only eccentric element in the neighborhood. Instead of being the weird half-pirate neighbor, he is but one of the slightly strange occurrences in the slightly strange neighborhood, that no one ever really talks about, but everyone sees. The little girl who waves at his house every day, even when she is grown. The retired cops that seem afraid of crows. The neighbors that whisper to themselves that anyone who hurts children gets fiercely punished.

And then there is the neighborhood crow. It must be a different crow, sometimes. But it didn't entirely seem different. More always present and watchful. As if it is guarding something. These crows that look like the same crow, like his house the best. Whenever the crow is there, it is on his house.

And he loves this weird neighborhood where he fits in, where he falls in love with Fiona's aunt a little more each year. Where he can delight the kids at the library story time with the stories of his adventures on the sea.

He chuckles to himself, holding the curtain back slightly, watching the all grown up Fiona walk past his house with her fiance, and even now, she turns to his house, smiles, and waves.


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Zoe Brook lives in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle, where she works as a stagehand. She graduated from The Evergreen State College after studying the interactions of social movements, queer history, literature, and sexuality. She continues to follow her passion for learning and writing as she focuses on her novels and begins her career.

#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: "Getting Pregnant on the Back of a Motorcycle" by Maren Bradley Anderson

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the eight (eight!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE. The deadline for submitting to the anthology has passed, but you can still submit and maybe have your story published this year!


Another mesmerizing story from Maren Bradley Anderson! Her writing effortlessly transports the reader to one of the nameless small towns that are spread all throughout the country. This is a story of nostalgia and guilty pleasures and how you can be addicted to a person. As I read, I wondered, does the past ever really leave us? And can we ever really leave it behind? -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor

Getting Pregnant on the Back of a Motorcycle

by Maren Bradley Anderson

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I never figured out how Ellen and Eddy got together. My last trip home I saw them sitting on the back of his bike eating ice cream at the Freezee drive-in. How lame is it to be eating ice-cream at the Freezee when you're, like, 28? I was home visiting Mom, building her a porch, instead of taking a real vacation somewhere that wasn’t my shitty home town.

Ellen had grown her hair longer, so the curls sprung in ten directions, but otherwise, she was as luscious as she had been at graduation. And she licked that cone like she wanted to have its babies.

Eddy ate his ice cream like he didn’t trust it.

I nearly crashed Mom’s Passat into the car in front of me watching Ellen eat. Genius. Then I flipped a bitch into the Freezee parking lot and pulled in next to them. Double Genius.

But she was mine first. Those blue eyes and that curly black hair? Mine. Crooked front tooth? Mine. Diabolical mind? On my side first.

Eddy is a whiny little shit with money and no spine. He tries to make up for it by riding a very loud motorcycle. It’s not a Harley--he’s not that cool--just a knock-off rice grinder. I’d kicked his ass a couple times when we were kids for being a snotty little shit. Maybe that’s why he’s always been a dick to me. Maybe he’s just an asshat.

I don’t know what I expected when I opened the door, but I didn’t expect the blank look under Ellen’s precisely arched brows. Like hunting bows.

I wasn’t surprised by Eddy’s reaction, though.

“Hey, asshole. What do you want?”

“Ice cream.” Then I said, “Ellen? You don’t remember me.”

She made a show of squinting at me and then threw back her head and laughed just the way she used to in high school when we’d talk about someone she didn’t like.

“Justus!” she cried, with a half smile. “How the hell are you?”

I should have said, “Fine,” and walked away. I knew that look. At least, I did at one time.

Instead, I said, “I’m great. How the hell are you?”

She tossed her head again, her hair flying and a chain on her motorcycle jacket jangling. “Oh, you know. Still stuck in this town. Working. Having fun.” She nudged Eddy with an elbow.

“What do you want, Justus?” Eddy slid an arm around Ellen’s waist, and she wiggled closer to him.

But she locked eyes with me and took a huge bite of ice cream, leading with her teeth. Her crooked tooth made my toes tingle.

“Just to say hi,” I said. “In town at my mom’s. Thought I’d see some friends.”

“Wanna come out with us tonight?” Ellen asked.

“What?” Eddy and I both asked.

“Why not?” she said. “Catch up on old times, right?” She bit the cone again and wagged her eyelashes first at me, then at Eddy.

Eddy was glaring at me, trying to intimidate me, I suppose, but I wasn’t paying attention. Why would I? I had held him face-down in a muddy puddle, and my former girlfriend was giving me come-hither eyes.

“Sounds good,” I said. “I’m game for anything.”

Maybe this is a good time to state that I did have my reservations about actually meeting up with them. I’m not the most wholesome person in the world, but Ellen...Ellen is what her closest friends call “a piece of work.” I reminded myself that Ellen’s idea of comeuppance for the boyfriend before me was to steal his truck’s distributor cap and then spread the rumor that his penis was three inches long. His sin? He couldn’t make the prom because his grandmother’s funeral was the same day.

Our relationship didn’t end well, either. Senior year, I got an acceptance letter to an out-of-state college, and she didn’t. Somehow that was my fault. One summer and two sets of slashed tires later, I went to school and she stayed here.

Still, after a day of rebuilding Mom’s porch, I showered, shaved, and drove to the Alibi, the bar we used to sneak into with our fake ID’s. The place still held an element of danger for me. The fact that Ellen suggested the Alibi made the “you’re getting away with something” vibe even stronger.

It is one of those bars that never changes. In the 1970’s someone decided it would be groovy to tile every vertical surface with colored, mirrored glass. The shadowbox was mirrored, too, and all the horizontal lines--bar top, stools, tables--were painted black. Very psychedelic. Very dated. Awesomely Retro, or cheap, depending on your perspective. It was where I’d go when I was in town to act out with my friends, even though the ‘Niner’s posters were peeling off the walls and the black naugahyde on the stools was wearing thin.

It was Thursday, and kids from Humboldt State were there. I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t recognize the bartender, but she’d been working there long enough to know that a plunging neckline brings bigger tips. She told me she hadn’t seen Ellen yet, but she knew her. I was awarded a wink with my beer. “Where’d you meet Ellen?”

“High school.”

“So, I don’t need to warn you?”

I grinned and turned my beer around slowly on the coaster. “I probably need a refresher.”

“She’s trouble.”

“Yes, she is.” I looked up at her. “What kind of trouble do you mean?”

“I mean the kind of trouble cute boys like you don’t want to be part of.”

I laughed. “You don’t know me very well, Miss.”

“No,” she said, drawing the “O” out with a puckered lip. “I don’t, do I?”

Then, for some reason, she stroked my hand and walked to the other end of the bar.

A few minutes later she caught my eye and pointed to the door. Ellen’s graceful silhouette was in the doorway peering into the shadows. She was looking for me. I reveled in this knowledge for a moment before waving to her.

She smiled and walked towards me, alone.

“Hi!” She threw her arms around my neck, rubbing every part of her against me.

“Where’s Eddy?” I asked her hair.

“Who cares?” she said, arranging herself onto a stool.

The bartender set a napkin in front of Ellen, but looked at me. “What are you drinking, El?”

“Usual, Bev.” Ellen didn’t take her eyes off me, either.

A moment later, Bev slid a tall drink across the bar, and I slid a ten back. “Keep it.”

Bev put a finger on the back of my hand as she took the bill so I would look up at her. She smiled and tucked a napkin under my palm. I wadded it up with one hand, and she moved away.

“Do you know her?” Ellen asked.

Did she see anything more than a meaningful look? I said, “No. Cute, huh?”

Ellen narrowed her eyes.

“Gotcha,” I said.

She laughed without preamble, and I did, too. “You still like teasing the tiger. You always did.” She purred and dragged a fingernail up my thigh.

I took her hand. It was cold. I almost put it down again.

“How many years has it been?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Too many.” She touched my face with her other hand and looked in my eyes. “You haven’t changed at all.”

“You’re more beautiful.”

She smiled. “Let’s go somewhere.”

“Don’t you want to ‘catch up’?”

She snorted, an unpleasant habit I remembered from high school. “Talk. Talk is cheap.”

“Still,” I said. “Talk to me.”

She grumbled and fidgeted, using that lickable lower lip of hers to pout.

“What are you doing nowadays?” I asked.

She sat back and crossed her arms. Then she uncrossed them and took a long draw from her drink. “Let’s catch you up,” she said. “I dropped out of junior college sophomore year. Got pregnant on the back of a motorcycle. Had a baby. Did some time for DUI. Lost the baby to the state. Now I shuffle paper at a veterinary clinic. It’s a promotion from cleaning the cages. So, how’s your life been?”

“Jesus, I’m sorry,” I said.

“Yeah, me, too.” She pulled a cigarette out of my shirt pocket and lit up with her own lighter. The bartender simply put an ashtray in front of her. I eyed the “No Smoking” sign, and then pulled a smoke out for myself.

“On the back of a motorcycle?” I asked. My mind instantly flickered to Eddy’s bike.

Ellen was watching me. “Yeah.”

“That must have been tricky.”

“You want me to draw you a diagram?”

“I’ll just let my imagination run wild, if you don’t mind.” We grinned at each other.

“So?”

“Oh, my life. Umm. Wife and three kids. I like my job...”

“What do you do?”

“Astronaut.” I laughed when she choked on her drink. “Just fucking with you. I do boring office shit that no one finds interesting except me.”

“Three kids?” It was dark, but her face looked a little softer, maybe.

“Joey, Ashley, Ben.”

“Lucky bastard.” She stabbed out her half-smoked cigarette. “Three kids?”

“Yeah.” I took her hand again.

She looked at me. I watched as the soft look took on familiar hard corners.  Her hand was still cold.

“Are we done catching up, yet?” she asked.

“I think so.”

As we stood up, Eddy walked through the door and squinted into the dark.

**

I didn’t know where we were going. I was just following the loud growling of the bike and its single tail light because just above it was Ellen’s perfect ass. Eddy was in as foul a mood as before, but he let her lead him to his bike and tell him where to go. I followed in Mom’s robin's-egg Passat down deserted roads that were hauntingly familiar in the dark. Whispers of things I did in the woods back in high school tickled the back of my head.

I had time to reflect on our conversation. The “three kids” lie was almost as outrageous as the astronaut story. To have a wife and three kids would almost necessitate my having married someone. So far, marriage was as unlikely as my getting into the NASA training program. Well, maybe not that unlikely. I pulled out the wadded napkin and read Bev’s number again. She wasn’t as cute as Ellen, but few people were. However, Bev was probably not Ellen’s equal in a lot of respects, which was a good thing. I put the number face down on the dash and set Mom’s box of tissues on top of it. I’d learned long ago not to assume stuff in my wallet was safe from Ellen.

I also learned long ago not to trust Ellen’s stories. For example: no one gets pregnant on the back of a motorcycle. That was a totally Ellen-esque invention. I admired the quality of her lie, though; I had instantly wondered if Eddy were the father and felt the intended flare of jealousy. Now I wondered if there even was a baby. I hadn’t heard that she’d had a kid from any of my high school friends, and news like that would have found its way to me.

The single tail light slowed and turned into a pull-out. Soon, I stood at the head of a trail that led down a hill listening to a river rush far below. Ellen came to stand next to me grinning like a shark and then plunged into the darkness. “Stay on the path!” she called over her shoulder.

Eddy shoved past me, so I followed, overcoming my urge to push him into the dirt at the bottom of the hill.

It was so dark I couldn’t see them ahead of me, though I could hear their footsteps and Eddy cursing when a branch swatted his face. I realized the water I had heard was the Mad river which skirted the edge of town. Ellen and Eddy were crashing through the forest, her laugh dancing around the trunks of the trees, but I could still hear the spring peepers--tiny frogs--and an owl above their din. There was a smell, too, mixed in with the forest scent of earth and fir. I couldn’t quite place it, but it was sticky-sweet and green.

Eventually, there was a light ahead. As I got closer, I saw it was a tiny shack with one glowing window. I opened the door and was bathed in warm light bouncing off of a copper still. In the rafters stalks of pot were drying. The smell—green, sweet, sticky—hit me again. I grinned.

Ellen was on a tattered mattress in the corner, holding a jar of clear liquid and taking a hit off of a newly-lit joint. Eddy pulled off his shirt -- man, he was pasty and hairy -- and then turned to the still. I closed the door.

“Here.” Eddy shoved a jar into my hands.

I sniffed it. “Moonshine?”

“White dog whiskey, asshole,” he said. “It’s a new thing.”

“It’s not going to make me go blind, is it?”

Ellen laughed and made a show of downing the rest of her jar. “See? Good stuff,” she said between coughing spasms. She held her arm high above her to keep the smoking joint safe.

The moonshine burned my throat in a bad way. I shook my head and whooped. “I like how you kids party around here.”

Eddy actually smiled. “Granddad’s still. I’ve been perfecting the mash for years.” He took the joint from Ellen, took a long drag, then handed it to me.

“Perfect,” I said.

I looked at Ellen over the good, sweet smoke. She met my eyes and pulled off her shirt and bra in one movement. Eddy downed the rest of his mason jar and flopped next to her on the mattress.

“Dude,” he said. “No Bogarting.”

Well, what was I going to do? I knocked back the rest of the moonshine, put the joint in my teeth, and unbuttoned my shirt. I wasn’t nearly drunk or high enough to feel good about this decision, but I wasn’t leaving, and watching was not an option. That only left one thing to do. I sat next to them on the mattress and gave Ellen the joint.

“You haven’t changed since high school, have you?” Ellen purred. Eddy set his glasses on a windowsill and then kissed her neck, ignoring me. Ellen dropped the joint into an ashtray while she slid her other hand under my open shirt and smiled. Eddy bit her and she yelped and giggled.

She pulled me down and shoved Eddy to the side. Her taste brought back all those feelings: anger, rebellion, lust, danger. I slid my tongue over her tooth and moaned. Her fingers in my hair, wringing something from my head. She pulled me back and looked me in the eye. Maybe it was the pot or the moonshine, but her face smeared in front of me.

Then, I was in the backseat of my beloved '69 Mustang with her, eighteen, trying to explain why I was leaving town even while fresh hickeys stung on our necks.

"College," I said. "So I can get out of here. So I don't have to work at the mill."

"My daddy and uncle work at the mill," she sniffed.

"I don't want to," I said. "I want a real job. In an office."

"Don’t you want me?"

"Yes, but..."

"'Cause, I'm not leaving."

"I'll come back."

"You won't," she said. "No one does."

I couldn't deny that I wanted to look out a window and see something other than the mill pouring noxious white smoke into the sky. I wanted to forget the shrill whistle that called the workers like cattle to their slots in the factory. I couldn't tell her what she wanted to hear, so I didn't say anything.

"You'll go somewhere else, get married, and whatever," she said. "But you'll always be fucking Justus!"

She slammed the door so hard the glass rattled in the jamb.

On the mattress in the shack, she pressed her nails into my scalp, and I wondered if she was trying to draw blood.  

There was something very ugly in her look. Destructive. Inviting, but not wholesome. She was so incredibly sexy.

She knew it. Her lips parted, and I could see her pink tongue and crooked tooth, and I almost dove in again. I knew, I remembered the darkness, I would willingly sink into that well. It was familiar, but...

What does she want?

“I’m glad you’re here, Mr. ‘Three kids and a wife.’”

Oh. Right. Revenge.

I stood and had almost buttoned my shirt before Ellen said my name. “Justus?”

I glanced back from the door. Eddy was on top of her now, one hand over her mouth, another cupping a breast, and he squinted at me with a sloppy grin. Ellen was watching me, not fighting him. I wondered how far she would have gone this time if I had stayed. I closed the door.

I walked back more slowly, not thinking about where to go, just going. I stepped carefully around the pot plants I had crashed through before. I listened to the little frogs and the crickets. I watched the treetops catch the thin, lacy clouds that held the moonlight and kept it from reaching me down on the ground. I knew enough to stay on the path; Eddy was the kind of fuckhead who would booby-trap a marijuana patch.

At the foot of the hill below the road, I sat and looked back toward the sound of the stony river. I thought of Bev’s number on the dashboard and allowed myself the fantasy of calling her now and taking her somewhere private where she’d screw my brains out and make me forget the picture of Ellen looking at me with Eddy’s hand over her face. I imagined myself marrying the flirty bartender in Barbados and not inviting anyone from this town.

I looked at the motorcycle when I got to the top of the hill. I leaned against my mother’s car, smoked a cigarette, and really looked at that machine. I imagined the two of them walking back to town in the morning, him pushing while she complained. It was a very good picture.

But what would I be paying them back for? Him for being with Ellen, the girl who taught me self-loathing and who made all successive women sweet and charming by comparison? Her for trying to break up my fictional family?

No. They both deserved to suffer for reminding me.

Fictional kids and wife and astronaut job notwithstanding, I am, really, no better than either of them. That’s why I took the spark plugs.

I let the air out of the tires because sometimes I’m just a mean little fuck.


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Maren Bradley Anderson is a writer, teacher, and alpaca rancher in Oregon. She teaches English at Western Oregon University. She fills her days caring for alpacas, playing with her kids, and reading books that make her laugh. She has written two plays for the Apple Box Children’s Theater, and her writing has appeared in The Timberline Review, Alpacas Magazine, and The Christian Science Monitor. Her novels Fuzzy Logic and Closing the Store are available online and through your local bookstore—just ask them to order them for you. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or her website.