Sulfur Steam

Up on the mountain, we hang out in abandoned buildings, places where stories fill the holes in the walls.  The old teepee was on the bottom of that ridge, before lightning struck.  Now all that’s left is the charred platform.  Harry’s cabin is up the road, but he sometimes returns, with his shotgun, his dogs, paranoia, so I stay away.  The trailer sits low in the valley. With electricity, it’s the homiest of the buildings, half-wild, its library varied as the friends who’ve passed through: books on metaphysics, botany, geology, and astronomy; plus a bounty of porn and pine mice.  The door’s unlocked, and some windows don’t close, but the vital mountain’s so gorgeous, it feels only natural to let it inside. 

Above, atop the steep hill is the old silver bullet trailer, left alone and gone feral, which we took over and named The Witch’s Brew.  Afternoons when the giant snowflakes whiten the forest, that’s where we hide out.  We run an extension cord up from the trailer, and make coffee, music, and art from random junk.  We’re real-life magicians.

Down the road, that’s the log cabin, with scalloped, golden pine walls, an iron wood-burning stove, and an unfinished roof that opens the attic to the stars and sky.  Animals lived among the altar stones and carved chalices.  We cleared them out and cleaned up, carried in water jugs, and sleep on the regal bed in sleeping bags.

On Halloween night, when the veil between worlds is thinnest, we drink lemonade and whisky with a new friend.  The candles burn, pinon sap smolders sweetly on the stovetop, and our intimacies bind.  We’re candid, affectionate, drunk, and Blacky confesses to horrendous teenage violence, says he’s been a bad person for centuries.  Then we’re all remembering a ship from another life, in the 1800’s.  Blacky was a pirate, and we were sailing passengers.  He hugs my boyfriend tight, confesses, “I’m so sorry for killing you.”

His tattooed arms gesture my delicate Victorian gown; he says I’d looked so beautiful, he’d wished he were a different man.  Blacky holds me, remembering across lifetimes.  He stares at my lips, my eyes, says he’s ashamed for what he did to me.  He’d hated himself for it.  We all embrace, forgive, in the flame-lit cabin like a ship lost at sea.

At midnight, the three of us walk to a steamy meadow with protruding wooden posts.  They’re next to the sulfur hot springs and fumeral, the last remnants of a 1920’s bathhouse and inn that burned to the ground decades ago.  The moon shines white, cold, and huge.  Then Blacky picks up a stake and starts bashing the old foundation posts.  And it’s unlike me, but I pound the old wood too, breaking and splintering the pieces that remain, as destructive as time passing.


Editor’s Note: I chose “Sulfur Steam” because it sounds and looks like what prosetry could be.  Simple.  It’s a picture, a song, and a little story.  Sperber describes nothing that’s in the actual DiClemente photo but still captures it.  And mostly, I chose the piece because I couldn’t stop thinking about these people, at the end, fluidly and silenty sending pieces of wood flying out into the dark. (Vallie Lynn Watson, MMR Prosetry Contest Guest Editor)

Dawn Sperber’s stories have appeared in Annalemma, flashquake, Hunger Mountain, The Pedestal, and Rosebud. She has work forthcoming in Gargoyle Magazine, Third Wednesday, and Witches and Pagans. She lives in New Mexico, where she is at work on a collection of short stories and pursuing an MFA at UNM.

Vallie Lynn Watson holds a PhD in fiction writing from the Center for Writers, University of Southern Mississippi. She recently guest-edited the inaugural issue for Blip Magazine (formerly Mississippi Review online). Her manuscript, A River So Long, was first runner up in the 2009 Miami University Press Novella Contest. Excerpts from the work appear or are forthcoming in Pindeldyboz, Product, Journal of Truth and Consequence, Sunsets and Silencers, 971 Menu, Trailer Park Quarterly, Women Writers, Oracle, Staccato, Metazen and Ghoti. New fiction coming soon in Moon Milk Review.

The Dream of the Sheep as It Is Sheared

She has quick hands. She hangs from the ceiling, holstered, her back supported. The razor is a hair too close, starts at the skin of the belly and shears it smooth. My feet are over my head. I am making it easy while imagining what her life must be, the only woman amongst cowboys. Do they watch her as I do, bent-over and adept at man-handling? She has me shedding my wool four seconds in without so much as missing a bleat. I can only imagine how quickly they fell for her. I think even now her face is hardening, with the air of winter in her cheeks. I will be cold once she releases me, but for now I am glad to give her my heat, because she seems small in her big boots, too-big hat over her shorn head. When all the cowboys came down with lice, she decided to chop it all off, and that has made her a sight: tall smooth forehead, eyes sloping like a sole, her cracked lips and chapped hands the only indication that she is anything less than steady, anything that can be weathered. She should be all face, shapely cheeks and dark gouging eyes; she could be mythic if she wanted, or an artist’s conception of face, that raw molding of human features, regardless of sex or gender. She could be a man or a woman, but here with the shear she has chosen something more difficult.


Editor’s Note: This is one of the strangest stories I’ve ever read. It’s narrated by a sheep, for one thing, and a very calm and thoughtful sheep at that. I love the way the sheep knows what a sole is, drops a music-related pun, and tosses off the rhyming phrase “here with the shear” like it was nothing. But mostly I like how the sheep has a heart, a huge heart full of understanding and pity. And I like how the story works its way into the source photo, so it comes as a revelation after we’ve forgotten to be looking for it. (Ben Loory, MMR Prosetry Contest Guest Editor)

Ruth Joffre‘s fiction has taken 3rd in the Glimmer Train Fiction Open and has won the Arthur Lynn Andrews Prize.

Guest Editor | Ben Loory lives in Los Angeles. His fiction was a finalist in the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers Contest and his story, “The TV,” appeared in The New Yorker. Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day coming soon from Penguin Books. As a screenwriter, Ben Loory has worked for Jodie Foster, Alex Proyas and Mark Johnson. He is a graduate of Harvard College, holds an MFA from the American Film institute, and is a member of the Writers Guild of America west. Interviews at The New Yorker and The Emprise Review. Non-fiction at TheNervousBreakdown. Read Ben Loory’s short story “On the Way Down: A Story for Ray Bradbury” in Moon Milk Review.

*Photograph, Hands of an Artist, by Clarence Alford.


by Leon Geist

Wake. Rotate hand then arm. Stop. Reach for side table with stretched fingertips, touch the gold metal lamp base and turn on the light bulb that flickers, lights, flickers. Bad bulb, or maybe it’s not bad at all. It only behaves badly.

Lay flat again. Coil springs push through a much worn mattress curved low in the middle with a faint yellow-orange stain outlined in brown, scented in Clorox. Nurse had tried to clean the urine away while discussing cost effectiveness and new mattresses.

Springs push at ribs, thigh backs, shoulders, heads. Two heads are helpful on days when waking requires two minds—one to choose to get out of bed, the other to plead for staying, though the option is not up to either head. The legs and the heads do not talk properly anymore. It’s the nerves. They flicker sometimes.

Nurse comes for me and I hate her though I wish she would wash me more thoroughly down there where I can’t feel anymore. She’s an ugly nurse, old and stocky, and I hate her because she can make me hard just by washing me.

The chair sits, waiting for me today as it does every day and I hate it, too, the chair. Nurse pulls my legs to the side of the bed, lifts me, turns us like dancing so that she can sit me properly in my chair. She lets go before touching, so that I drop a few inches, rattle, shake from the jar of it. She does it on purpose. The straps are uncomfortable on my chest, the neck brace rubs at the back, below my hairline and I imagine that little men hold me there with stick pins and screws. I think a blister has started where the skin is raw.

The bulb flickers again and I think to turn, observe what I can already see reflected off walls and the white of nurse’s uniform. I think to turn because the habit has not forced itself out of me yet and in my mind, I turn, rise up from the chair and yell at that bulb to stop its fucking flickering, but the brace holds my head straight forward as nurse feeds me runny scrambled eggs on a spoon, sips of orange juice through a straw. She never gives me coffee. I hate her.

Before nurse leaves, she places me in front of the window covered in slats of horizontal gray metal and it is as if slats on my cage though they go the wrong way for a cage. The bulb flickers again. I can see it in the window glass between metal slats like glowing about my flickering body that, in the glass, appears to be dancing in strobe lights.

After nurse puts me back in bed then turns out the light, I wait for morning and the chair and my slatted window, hoping for a sponge bath.


Leon Geist lives in North Carolina with a cat. This is his first published story.