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Collective Fallout Magazine

Collective Fallout is a literary magazine dedicated to queer-themed sci-fi, fantasy, horror, mystery and other speculative short fiction and poetry. It is a print journal, published twice a year.
The Collective Fallout blog is where readers will find editorial content, and is where readers are encouraged to comment on and reply to the print journal.
We welcome submissions for our second issue.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

from "Afferent Thursday" by Marie Stern


Inside the photo booth, I sat precariously on Mr. Saturday’s lap, his bony thighs jutting into me painfully. I smiled anyway, and the flash went off in a blinding assault. Thin arms held me close, and we seemed a strange sort of couple.

With a squeeze, Mr. Saturday asked me, “How do you feel, Elijah?”

The tips of his hollow fingers rested on my stomach, at once selfish and questioning. I leaned back into him, felt his ribcage through his jacket, wondered about his spine. My head drooped forward, and I felt his cold breath stir the fleecy hairs on the back of my neck.

A horrible plaid curtain hung in the doorway at an odd angle, so I could see the feet of a young girl – tiny pointed mary-janes – waiting their turn, scuffing the dirt, making a pattern.

He shifted under me, and his scent flooded the little, artful tomb in which we sat. I wondered how many souls were trapped beneath my seat, inside that screen. My answer came truthfully, if not wholly, “I have no breath with which to convey this love and fear.”

I felt the rise and fall of his chest, the sharp support on my back. He offered no warmth of skin, no heat but that which colored my thoughts, even as I dredged to mind all those people I had known and loved, sinned against and lost; even as I filled my lungs with air, desperate to calm myself. The smell of cotton candy and funnel cake invaded us, wrapped around us like a blanket, in us like a gulp of bourbon. There was something about this carnival, this Thursday, that gathered up tiny evils and churned them together until they turned to dust and coated your tongue. It was freeing, somehow, in the way that accidents happen, or in the way that with enough apologies, anyone can become a great and militant lover.

Under Mr. Saturday’s gentle guidance, I shifted in my seat, to face him, to look him in his sunken eyes. His face was soft and cruel. He was my mother and my father, my third grade teacher, who died three nights after I wished she would. He told me it was not my fault, and reaffirmed that it was. Mr. Saturday was the owner of the corner store, the gas station attendant, the woman at the Laundromat with whom I thought I was in love for the longest time, and with whom I never exchanged a word. He was my second cousin, he was my first kiss.

I slid my arms over his neck and held sure. Well, as sure as I could. Mr. Saturday was chuckling a little, and the rhythm of it made my palms sweat.

He leaned forward and fed the slot dollar after dollar, the slips of paper disappearing like much needed sustenance into a greedy mouth. I looked at him, startled, and said in a voice much younger than I wanted it to sound: “Wait. All it’ll get is the back of my head.”

Mr. Saturday grinned his death’s head smile and asked, “Do you have something back there to hide?”

I didn’t, so I let my forehead rest against his collarbone.

“Let me come home with you, before we run out of money to feed this stupid machine,” he whispered to me in the shell of my ear. The camera went off: Flash. In his voice, I could hear the ocean. In his voice, I could hear the promise of things to come. Flash. “I can fool July into freezing, a pollen blizzard, a winter of stolen kisses. You’ll never suspect me.” Flash. I felt his tongue, dry and warm, follow his words. Flash. I chewed my lip and tasted copper. Mr. Saturday was in my head, and I never wanted him to leave.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

from "Mercy Following" by Gabriel Malloy


The edge of the bar pressed up hard against his elbows, and the glass was cool and slick and simple under Immer's fingers - right and easy. Real. That was good, because he still felt skewed, like he'd gone sideways through some cheap funhouse ride. Upstairs, with that kid, earlier – that'd been fucked. Worse than usual.

It had stopped surprising him that people looking for the Bad found him; if they wanted it, it was there, running through him like dirty blood. When he took off his clothes he could almost see it moving under his skin; when he lay down, it lay down with him. When he drove, it talked to him between the cowboy songs on the radio, working its way through the sound of the engine and the commercials for beer and banks and auto-parts. It felt like blowback and it smelled of raw dirt and smoke.

Some nights it woke up hungry and stretching itself; it made him want to twist and beg, so it made some kind of sense that other people could feel it, too - even that they’d want some of it. Immer knew he wasn't the only one with something sorry riding him - they all found each other, sooner or later.

“You think you know why you’re here - what you want?”


“Something so bad it’s going burn out what’s bad in you, right?”

A nod.

What does it look like? What are you seeing? Some mean badass fantasy with black hair and hunter's eyes – some comic-book reaper come for you? Sure.

“I’ll do that for you…but first you’re going to do what I want, you know?”

When he shared it out, it lost a little of its hold on him, got quieter – it might even leave him alone for a few days - but not tonight. All it took was the deepening shadows and the blue neon sign outside the window of his room that bleached the kid's hair to cold-blond, squared his jaw, emptied his eyesockets… and Parker was there. Not bidden, just there. Part of it. Because that's what happened when you gave in.

It'd be harder to take but he'd been raised to it; brought up where the ground never acted like it should and the creeks looked like roads that disappeared while you watched, twisting themselves into black trees or fading out to sky. Water today where there was earth yesterday, and things pushing against the skin of the soft, wet air; things you could see- or almost see - if you looked right. If you knew how, whether you wanted to or not; if you'd been born for it and taught.

He remembered being sprawled across his grandfather's chest in the porch hammock, sticky black hair falling in his face, skinny little arms and legs spidering out, breathing the old man's smell of machine oil and bourbon and smoke, his fingers catching in the steel chain necklace with the captured saints dangling from it. Something big had flown overhead; he saw its shadow pass and heard its wings, the rattle of leaves in the live oaks as it landed somewhere nearby.

"What kinda bird was that, Papère?"

"How you know it was a bird, chèr?"

"Course it was a bird; what else would be flying in daylight? Come on."

"Well, things aren't always what you think they are, you know that."

"Aw man. You sound like Mamère when I told her about the snake under the chicken coop."

The old man'd laughed, patting Immer's back with a shovel-sized hand and making the hammock rock like a Port Fourchon fishing-boat.

"Yeah? What she tell you he was?"

"I'm not supposed to say it. Mamère told me not to tell, and Dad don't even like me thinking about that stuff." He'd squirmed a little, sighed.

"Aw, it's all right, chèr. I just wanted to know who all is under my henhouse so I can call him by name if I see him, give him good day or good night. And that Ti-Roy Joe? He may be mine, but he a'n't so smart as he think he is."

It'd always made him feel bigger and better, hearing that his dad wasn't actually the Almighty. "OK, then. I guess…if you just wanna say hey to him or something…" he'd wiggled a little higher, bringing his mouth close up to the old man's ear. It was only two words to say, anyhow - easily whispered.

"Well, now…I'll remember that - seems I may have heard that name before, too. He's an old one, chèr, an old friend. Strong and old. You just watch your step around that one, and you be all right."

Like that. No amount of Vacation Bible School was going to fix that shit - even taking him away from the sweet green dark into the hard yellow dust hadn't beat down what was in him. Roy Joe and big daddy God just had to suck that one up and swallow hard, though they'd given him a name for it. Bad. Just one word - easily whispered.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

from "Deadly Angel" by Damian Serbu


“Can the devil act as an angel?”

Nick looked at me as if I’d lost my mind, which I’d wondered for the last hour, too.

“Listen, I know that drunks get philosophical,” he said, “but this is way over my head. You’ve got to keep that theological stuff for when I’m sober.”

Here I sat in Sidetrack on Halsted, my favorite bar, listening to great music and watching hordes of men saunter by, thinking about theological issues on a Friday evening. So Nick was right. So right that I giggled, finally falling into peals of laughter.

Part of me found this funny, but I also laughed to entice him toward me. His 6’3” frame hovered over as his long arms engulfed me, pulling me into a kiss. I closed my eyes and lost myself in the passion, even though I knew that he looked back at me, green eyes open, the whole time.

I still grinned like a school boy when he sat back on his bar stool.

“I thought you were a history professor, anyway. Why are you talking about the devil and angels?” he asked. “I’m just a cop. We can’t keep up with these deep things, especially after two Cosmos.”

An eight-year-veteran of the Chicago police, Nick pretended he had nothing to do with intellectualism but in reality had deep insights and incredible knowledge. He often complained about the bad habits and stupid behaviors of too many of his peers on the force.

“What do you think three Jack and cokes did to me?!”

“Made you into some sort of crazed monk.” Nick poked me in the stomach. “Dr. Sean, the crazed monk is your new name.”

“Okay, okay, but answer my question. Can the devil act as act as an angel?”

“Are you smoking something?” Nick asked, even though I had never done an illegal drug and he knew it.

“Seriously, answer me.”

“Okay. But first explain what in the hell you mean.”

“I don’t think I can.”

“Alright, the devil as angel, an exposé by Nick,” he said in a mock reporter’s voice. “Can the devil become an angel? I suppose he can. Isn’t he a fallen angel to begin with?”

“Yeah. I guess that’s not what I meant. Can something bad or evil do good?”

“Listen, you’re a little nuttier than usual tonight. It has to be a possibility, unless you believe in moral absolutes – good and bad would have to be totally separate, which is something you don’t believe. You always defend people I’ve arrested. You talk all the time about how you could never do what I do because you don’t believe in a black and white world, the world of a police officer.”

Nick had me thinking. His logical, rational approach to everything really helped tonight because I had to describe something in my mind that defied explanation. I needed to hear him affirm what I had always believed, otherwise my mind might spin out of control through no fault of the whisky.

“Now,” he continued, “tell me what in the hell this is about!”

“Promise you won’t think I’ve gone insane?”

“No more than I always wonder.”

“Seriously, promise.”

“Alright, relax, just tell me.” He grabbed my hand under the table and squeezed tightly.

“I think I met a vampire,” I said. Nick raised an eyebrow but thankfully didn’t smile.

“Someone who drinks blood? I’ve told you about some of ‘em we’ve arrested.”

“No, I mean a real one.” The tension became too much, so I reverted to humor to relax myself. I affected my Anthony Hopkins as Professor Van Helsing voice: “Nosferatu, he lives beyond the grace of God.”

Nick laughed, then leaned over to me. “Listen, you never have trouble telling me anything, so spill it. I won’t make fun of you. Just tell me about this and we can go from there. Angels, devils, vampires, whatever, let it out.”

I took a deep breath and thought through the entire story in my mind, for probably just a minute though it felt like an eternity, making sure that I had all of the facts right. As a cop, Nick always required that I give him extremely detailed and accurate witness accounts.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

from "Stoned" by Robert Samoraj


Little sister surprised my eyes when she took a mysterious round stone and summoned a needle. “The greatest junkie alive is coming to visit,” she said while preparing his fix. No idea who this was. “Who is this?” “Stone junkie!” No idea. The red liquid bubble in the spoon, floating around into a vial connected to the syringe. We sat on my bed, watching out the window, waiting for the visitor. Sister made a batch for both of us, and when I shook awake, something in Stone’s cold gray eyes attracted me. “Stay with us,” I said, wanting to know more.

“Only for a short time, but all right,” he said. It was an honor to host the great stone junkie for as long as he wished to stay. He even built his own needles to stick in those iron veins, transforming into a beautiful statue after each shot. His skin froze in the tidal action; the undulations turned to stone and he walked with the self-assured steps of a god with granite feathers. I took him for a ride too, down the sides of walls in my plastic hotel city, garden of flight and dilemma for the witch with the fake finger nails. I joined the junkie and the musician that played strings faster than anyone I knew. We spent time sharing stories and heroin delusions, until we started to become friends and I learned to love them both.

Maybe the false circumstances blew up the whole tangled mess.

“Man, I can’t handle this either,” Stone said when our highs started to push in their peaks. “See Bird. He’s falling apart too, playing his violin like that.” I witnessed the hallucination of this once great junkie while we nodded off in a bathtub with Bird flying on violin sounds.

The violin player stopped and smile, and he gave me a photo album of a beautiful place brought back to life. The books in the pictures would have made me cry, but we had just injected our orange-red solution and I was busy fighting with the monsters climbing from underneath the bridge on which we dozed.

“Stone,” I said, “you’re beautiful and graceful. Take a bath with me.” Coming down, so close. The moisture would soften his skin, melt him down. We could wash in that shed identity, and I would see his face.

But no. The tub stayed empty. They never brought flowers to my grave.

The musician and the stone junkie came and we danced, with great affair … there was a perfect love. The stone junkie was that which could not be touched. He violently refused to let me feel his cold hard skin, but he wouldn’t give anyone that sense. I understood, at least, why the layers cannot be penetrated. After all I had my own adamant shield to throw back attackers, friends, even lovers.

The musician strummed my guitar, clumsy but moving. He smiled, still, even after all of those images broke free from our minds. The sentinels and their plasma waves never stopped under the influence of the liquid we used. Our psyches broke down walls, and we shared the projections of our fantasies and fears.

A princess with a knife in her teeth stumbled forward, bloody and empty.

Dancing sea creatures on a lake of fire surrounded the rocky bridge where we stood.

Cars drove in three dimensions.

Dimensional barriers melted and the strangest sex was experienced, with a little death behind the skin.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

from "Chalk Outlines" by Erin Popelka


“You always drive too fast at night!”

“No, I don’t. I drive just fine. You’re the problem! You always grab the armrest like it could stop the car. And really, you don’t have to gasp every time the road curves. How am I supposed to drive with all that?”

“Well, I gasped with good cause tonight, didn’t I?”

Amber froze. “Beth, I’m sorry. That curve came around so fast and …” Her words dropped and then neither one uttered a sound. Beth looked hopelessly into Amber’s eyes, close enough that she saw her face reflected – the sharp line of her dark hair against her usually piercing gaze. Then she saw Amber, her lovely hazel eyes, always a different color depending on the light or the color of her shirt, and her strawberry-blonde hair, now with a few pieces hanging out of her braid. Amber’s lips usually seemed poised to speak; Beth only ever saw her truly relaxed in her sleep.

They both looked away, taking in the room around them. An overstuffed leather couch sat against one wall, facing a bizarre floating globe in the corner. Past the couch were two matching bookshelves, both filled to the ceiling. Light came from both an overhead lamp and a window that looked onto a rolling field of grass. Clouds blocked any view of the sky. Standing at this window, Beth tried to open it, but saw that there was no latch. In fact, there was no window seam at all. The glass seemed to be an extension of the wall itself. Fighting a rising sense of panic, Beth whispered, “Where are we? What just happened?”

Amber stood in front of the bookshelves, glancing through the titles. “The bookshelf might have some clues.” Tracing spines, she noticed, “Look, some of these are our books. They’ve even got our old college ‘Used’ stickers still on them.” Amber pulled a slender copy of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot off the bookshelf.

Beth was grateful for the distraction. “Oh, God, that book is from my tedious required English class.”

“Here are some of mine, too. Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Descartes – it’s been forever since I’ve looked at these.”

“Our strange friend in the corner might be able to tell us something,” Beth said, walking over to the globe.

“I don’t want to look at that yet. It’s creepy.”

“Not as creepy as the window – there’s no latch. And this globe is amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. Look – it’s a perfect sphere, and the screen somehow bends each degree along the curve,” Beth walked closer and reached out to touch the warm, smooth surface. “It seems to be hanging alone in mid-air. That can’t be – there must be some wire here somewhere. I wish I’d had this technology for my installation at the Keppler Gallery. I could have –”

“Beth, look at this. You took notes in the margins of Godot – they’re striking.”

Beth walked to Amber, took the book from her outstretched hand, and read aloud: “‘Waiting for Godot = waiting for God = purgatory.’ You think we’re in purgatory?”

“I don’t know. Yes, maybe? No? I was driving that tiny car and the curve happened so fast. It came out of nowhere. I should have been going slower, I should have been more careful in the rain, I should have –”

“Amber, stop,” Beth touched her arm. “There’s nothing we can do about it now.” She reached around Amber and pulled her close. They held each other, Beth leaning her head into the perfect crook of Amber’s neck, until Amber slowly pulled away.

“Beth, we’re dead. What are we supposed to do?”

Beth looked down at the book still in her hand, “Keep waiting?”