03/30/2013 - 8:46pm
by Julia Halprin Jackson

The Promethean (by Dave Senecal)

Patty has Vaseline in her hair and waterproof blue mascara smeared across her eyelids. Hank can see the hibiscus bobby pin in her bun from up in the stands, and now that he sees her in the pool, her arms above her head as she waits for the music to begin, he is nervous. She’s a small brown dot in the center of the pool, which ripples in the evening light. The other girls wander around on the asphalt, their thin frames draped in towels, waiting and watching Patty wait.

It’s a long moment, this interval between getting in the pool and starting the routine. The audience shifts. His mother’s camera snaps and shudders. Patty’s arms are high, her smile refreshed. Her braces match her blackberry suit.

“Come on come on,” his mother says under her breath. “Not again.”

The last time Patty competed, the coach accidentally played MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” instead of Air’s “Playground Love,” which resulted in the world’s most blasé interpretation of 90s hip hop. She’d had to sacrifice her signature move, a long, slow oyster, her body making a strong V at the water’s mouth. When she left the pool, the other girls had quietly moved to the very edge of the cement, their ponytails dripping with glitter and water.

That night when she got home, Patty was quiet. Hank thought that’d be the end of that, that he’d no longer see his sister splayed out on the lawn, curling her arms and flailing her legs while their mother’s peonies squished underfoot. But that was last year, and here they are again, congregated at the city pool with all the families watching, someone’s dad navigating the spotlights at the top of the stairs. And still she waits, her face calm, her eyeliner visible even from the top of the tenth row.

He turns to his mom and asks, “Isn’t the point of synchronized swimming that you do it with other people?”

She doesn’t answer. And then, finally, the music comes on, a song Hank has never heard, but he can tell by the expression on his sister’s face that it is the right one. She transforms, her unwieldy arms plucking at the air, culling it of oxygen. Her upper body is rigid as she kicks in a circle. And then she’s under, her legs taut and straining as she kicks first one way, then the other, her arms and head invisible underwater. What is she thinking about down there, while her legs do the talking? Does she realize she’s alone? Surely she must register that she is bigger than all the other girls, who wait on the side of the pool in their matching suits. Can she feel the eyes on her legs? Does she like that feeling?

When Patty resurfaces, she exhales loudly, loud enough that the coach notices, and for a moment he can see her lungs heaving through her suit. And the smile, don’t forget the smile, the smile is back, looking less like the other girls with their plastic, pristine faces, and more like a girl in the limelight who doesn’t realize that others are watching. It’s a secret look, the one she’s giving now, as she tucks her knees under and spins. When the refrain starts up, he can see her lip synching.

“Oh, Patty,” his mother says. “Forget the words.”

But she doesn’t—as her moves grow more furious, and the music builds, Hank can hear his sister chanting along. The only word for that look in her eyes is swooning. She’s swooning, her breasts two small indentations above the roundness that is her stomach, looking rounder in that purple spandex, and before she can help herself, she’s done a flip turn and emerged radiant, her mouth open wide, words echoing across the water. Hank doesn’t know the rules to this sport but he can tell by the way the mothers are whispering that she’s beginning to break every one of them, and for that, he’s glad. She slips under again, her arms churning before she splashes upward in a body jump, her mouth open as she lets out a long, uneven bellow. The music fades but the spotlight remains on that face, her face, the face of someone who doesn’t belong and probably never will, her braces radiant in the moonlight. And when she gets out of the pool she doesn’t take a towel, like the other girls; instead, she stands dripping on the asphalt, still singing.


Julia Halprin Jackson is a 2012 graduate of UC Davis’ M.A. in Creative Writing program, where she wrote 100 one-hundred-word stories and began a novel-in-progress, Foreigner. Her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has appeared in anthologies by SMITH Mag, Flatmancrooked, Beyond Words Publishing, Scribes Valley Publishing, and the American Diabetes Association, and journals such as California Northern, Fourteen Hills, Sacramento News & Review, Fictionade, OccuPoetry, sPARKLE & bLINK, Catalyst and Spectrum.  Read more at juliahalprinjackson.com.


This piece was read as part of a production of “Action Fiction!”, sponsored by Fiction365 and Omnibucket.  

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03/28/2013 - 3:49pm
by Zarina Zabrisky

Naiadalie (by Dave Senecal)

When I was ten I lived in Odessa and dreamed of sailing to Africa, Australia or Argentina. I loved all far away places that started with A.  My name started with A, too–Alla–but I didn’t like my name. I kept altering it.  Angelina.  Angela.  Ariel.

Yes, I was Ariel, a famous singer.  I sang my songs to my only audience, Grandma Enta.  Grandma always sat outside, under a linden tree, in the shade, and didn’t move, yellow like our wallpaper. Ever since I was very little my mom left me sitting next to Grandma in summers.  Grandma told me fairy tales but she never could hear me.  She went deaf a long time ago. I couldn’t remember my father–her son–and I couldn’t remember Grandma Enta hearing.

So to explain my songs to Grandma I first drew pictures in colored chalk on the cracked asphalt or danced.  Pale pink, light blue, white, and creamy yellow palm trees, parrots, pineapples and princesses in puffy dresses covered the sidewalk and the yard.

One day I wrote a song about a girl, a pirate and a prince, and I made a long strip of pictures.  The pirate kissing the girl, a pink heart over their heads.  A prince on a galleon, pink sails full.  The pirate and the prince sword fighting.  The pirate in a pool of pink blood.  The wedding.  The prince holding yellow rings. A blue tear on a girl’s cheek, for the pirate.  The blue and pink mixed in the air and looked lilac, violet and tasted sweet when I licked my fingers.

The radio inside the neighbors’ apartment played music, soft piano and crying violins, and it flowed from the open windows.  I sang my songs to it, dancing and twirling in front of Grandma right on the drawings.  The girl in my song wore scarlet skirts, a red rose in her hair, and dangling bracelets on her ankles and wrists.  So I made chain bracelets from curtain rings and a skirt from a very old flag.

I found it in Grandma’s trunk.  Grandma Enta used to be the best seamstress in Odessa.  She was famous for her art of stitching but now she couldn’t sew anymore because of her arthritis. She kept her sewing tools in the trunk–glistening and rusty needles, tangles of bright threads, frail laces falling apart, and mother-of-pearl buttons.  She had also old photographs of my grandfather Ivan, in his black leather jacket and a red star military hat, and of some other bearded men–”To Enta from Yasha with love,” “To Enta from Aaron with love,” and some signed in strange spidery letters that I could not read–an old book in a foreign language with the same strange letters, and a small silver pendant in a blue box–it was a star, but with six corners instead of five, a kind I’d never seen before.

I was going to ask Grandma about all those treasures later, but for now I wrapped the red velvet banner around my hips.  The golden tassels swung by my knees, and “Long live the Red Army!” dazzled in embroidery.

After I bowed, Grandma didn’t clap.  She usually did.  Instead, this time she signed for me to get closer.  She used her frozen fingers like a hook to pull the banner off me.  The clothespin flew to the ground.  Grandma put the banner in her lap and patted the red velvet as if it was a cat.  Then, she said in a croaky voice, “You shouldn’t have opened my trunk without asking.  This is very old.  I made this for your grandfather when I first met him.”

I sat down next to her chair, in the dust, and looked up at her, preparing for a story because her eyes got all dreamy.

“He came to my house to order this–” she started, and then stopped.

She sat there in silence, her fallen mouth moving as if she was chewing on something.

“And then what happened, Grandma?  You fell in love and got married?” I asked.

“Do you know the other song about Argentina?” asked Grandma instead of answering.

I shook my head.

“It starts, ‘Tell me why do you need the foreign country Argentina?’ Mom never sang it to you? No?”

“No, ” I shook my head again.

“Come,” she said.

I got closer to her, breathing in the dry hot scent of acacia, mustard and garlic that soaked the air, and listened to her dense, crispy voice:

Why, tell me, travel far away to Argentina?
Here’s the story of our own Kakhovka rabbi

He lived a peaceful quiet life without a worry
Enjoyed his life as happy as a clam

The rabbi had a lovely daughter Enta.

I looked at Grandma.  Her name was Enta, and I never heard anyone with the same name.  It was a strange name.  A Jewish name, my mother once explained to me.


“Enta,” said Grandma and kept singing,

Enta was supple like a beautiful silk ribbon,
She was as clean as freshly laundered blanket
She was as smart as all the Tora writings.
She had two suitors crazy about her.

But then, you know, the revolution happened,

It happened in the  town of Kakhovka
It happened in our Enta’s little head.

The Reds were now in charge,

The Comissar Ivanov was –

She stopped.  Her waxy hands, all wrinkles, lines and knuckles with the blue knots of veins, looked like a witch’s hands.  She moved her fingers, smoothing the velvet banner on her knees.  Ivanov, I thought.  That was our last name.  Grandma’s, my father’s, mine.

“Wait,” I said, but Grandma couldn’t hear me so she just kept singing, and her voice was changing, it was getting stronger and younger,

And Enta fell in love insanely, madly.

Ivanov was broad-shouldered, handsome, healthy,

He wore new breeches,

And his boots were always squeaking.

Grandma sighed and said, “Oh how handsome he was,” and kept singing,

One night the rabbi returns home,

And Enta’s missing.

He finds an envelope and tiny little letter.

He reads the letter and he does not understand it.

Few words: “Good bye. I left–

Signed– Citizen Ivanov.”
“Oy, vey,” he cries. “Where is my little daughter?”

She stopped singing again.  I saw tears in her faded eyes.  She had no eyelashes left.  I watched a tear trembling on the slick red of her inside eyelid, then it slowly crawled its way through the furrows on her cheek as she started singing, her voice loud and clear,

“The rabbi prayed no more,

He quit religion,

Moved to Odessa

And became a business owner.”

Grandma stopped singing and closed her eyes.

“Grandma,” I wrote on the asphalt with lilac chalk. “Was it you?”

I tapped on her knee. She opened her eyes, read it and nodded her head.  Then she said, “Only my father didn’t become a businessman.  He died the day I ran away.”

She covered her eyes with her yellow crooked fingers and didn’t move.  I walked to her and patted her hand–it felt cold.

When Grandma died the next summer, my mother had the coffin set outside under the linden for the neighbors to say good bye.  I looked out of the window at the yard swimming in the golden heat and sweet acacia scent.  The piano music floated out of the open windows again and bounced off the yellow walls.  The flies buzzed over the coffin and landed on Grandma’s sharp waxy nose.  I got the red velvet banner out of the trunk, grabbed my chalks and went down.  I covered Grandma with the banner, face and all.  And then I kneeled on the asphalt and drew my last picture for Grandma.

A Russian Red Commissar galloped on a black stallion, the red velvet banner in his strong arm.  Enta, beautiful and young, sat behind him, her white arms wrapped around his waist, her braids flying in the wind, her brave eyes open wide.


Zarina Zabrisky is the author of IRON, a short story collection, and a novel We, Monsters forthcoming in 2013. Her work appeared in literary magazines and anthologies the US, UK, Ireland, Canada and Nepal. She is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. You can read some of her published stories and poems atwww.zarinazabrisky.com.


This piece was read as part of a production of “Action Fiction!”, sponsored by Fiction365 and Omnibucket.  

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03/28/2013 - 10:56am
by Damien Krsteski

"3 Magi" by David Senecal

I fire my gun. People around me turn swiftly, some duck and take cover. No time to explain. Plastered on the building straight ahead is a movie poster. Your typical will-they-won’t-they edge-of-your-seat romantic comedy. A bullet hole in the male character’s washboard abs. I curse.

In the corner of my eye I see the man dashing across the street. My gun hand outstretched I run after him. Cars honk, people swear, but all I’m thinking of is the bright red shirt I mustn’t let out of sight.

He takes a sharp turn after the Beaumont Hotel, and few seconds later, so do I. Breathe in through the nose. Exhale through the mouth. I remember my basic training. But damn he’s fast.

I squeeze through a couple holding hands. No time to apologize. Buzzing in my ear, the hoarse voice of the captain gives me directions.

“He’s probably headed for the subway. Cut through eleventh street and third.” I pay little attention to his words. My instincts guide me.

He’s at an intersection, jumping over passing cars with an athletic ability I can’t rival.

Shit. A torrent of cars blocks my way, and he’s already on the other side. He turns, waves, his face contorted in this big fuck-you smile, then disappears behind the next building.

Through the tsunami of traffic noise I hear my cell phone ringing.

“Be careful, Campbell. He’s a time-shifter.” A familiar voice.

Click. The droning sound of a dead line. I gather my thoughts, eyes straying from side to side for any sign of my chase.

The pedestrian traffic light turns green. I dash across the street, head for the same street he took.

Time-shifter? I shrug it off. Our department’s dealt with much worse.

The subway, I remember, and sprint off towards the nearest entry point. I almost trip over the legs of a homeless man lying on the sidewalk. He yells after me. I’ll remember to give him spare change next time I find myself here.

It’s almost noon and the City is very much alive. Everything’s in motion. All the things I love about it now make me swear. Sweat trickles down my face.

After another intersection I reach the nearest subway station. I grip the iron-wrought railing and sling myself over it, then down the stairs, four at a time, into the coldness of the underground. Sliding across a turnstile, an old security guard sees me and protests but I point my gun in his direction and he shuts his stupid mouth.

Through the PA I hear Train A’s due in two minutes. I walk across the tiled floor, scouring the surroundings.

“He should be around. Look in the bathrooms.” The voice of the captain in my ear.

Adrenaline pumps through my veins as I kick the bathroom door in. I tighten my grip on the gun and try every bathroom stall one by one.

“I know you’re in here.”

I move to the girls’ restroom. Smells just as bad as the other one. Silently, I look under the first stall. Nothing. The second, then the third.

“You bastard,” I scream out as he kicks open the door, hitting me straight in the face. The red cardigan sprints towards the exit, leaving me with a bloody nose. I take aim, fire. He topples over right before reaching the door.

I get up, one hand pinching my nose, the other pointing my .44 Magnum at his body.

He stirs. With a groan he turns over.

“Captain, I got him,” I say out loud.

His eyes are pitch-black, stare straight through me. I don’t like it. Not one bit.

That sheepish smile again. I see the blood gather itself from the grimy floor, back into his body as the bullet wound heals itself. The small round bullet clinks to the ground. I’m about to shoot him again, but I sense myself dissolving, slithering out of the scene like smoke. Last I see is him getting up, sprinting out of the stinky bathroom.

A thundering noise splits my brain. I hear klaxons, chatter, tires screeching. I look around and there are people. The sign next to me says I’m on fourteenth street and third. A small Japanese restaurant to my right. I recognize the joint. Great ramen.

“Think fast, Campbell.” I rub my eyes.

It’s then I remember the phone-call. I pull up my sleeve and look at the time. It’s four minutes early.

The slimy bastard. Brought me a couple of minutes back.

Think fast, think fast. My heart’s pounding. I’ve never been time shifted before. Bruce from sector seven says he has been once, on a job in Pittsburgh, but I think he’s full of it. What do, what do? I must turn this into an advantage, I realize. The bastard was hurt, that’s why he shifted me minutes and not years back in time.

I see a payphone nearby. I remember that call I got earlier.

Without hesitation I insert a coin and dial my cell number mechanically. It feels weird, but I must go through with it. The cell-phone in my pocket doesn’t ring.

I hear myself pick-up, breathing heavily into the phone.

“Be careful, Campbell. He’s a time-shifter,” I say and hang up.

All of a sudden I get the urge to laugh. Stupid mutant. Joke’s on him. This means now there’s two of us. Twice the chance of catching his ass.

“We can do this all day my friend,” I say to myself, then head for the nearest subway station.


Damien Krsteski is a science-fiction author from Skopje, Macedonia. His work has appeared in numerous publications, links to which can be found on his blog: http://monochromewish.blogspot.com


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03/27/2013 - 7:51am
by Katrin Arefy

The sun, the silence, the sound of the little fountain, the warm water in the pool and the quiet resort all so relaxing. The two women accompanying me, my mother and she, made my long weekend feel safe and peaceful. The three of us looked so much like each other, our slim arms and shoulders, the curve we have in our lower back, the color of our skin and the tone of our voices.  I was glad they could talk all day and I could read and read and laugh out loud or enjoy the hot spring pool in silence.

I had a wicked plan to lead one of our conversations to past memories, one of the subjects that I am writing about.  At the breakfast table she said that she has no feeling about Iran, she laughed and said that her husband feels bad about this and thinks that she is betraying the country. My mother said, “It must be because of all the things that happened.”

All the things that happened. Things like her, acting as a revolutionary just out of excitement, similar to many young people of her generation. Things like she losing her mother in the revolution and things like her sister fleeing the country for political reasons and never contacting the family again. Did she have feelings about these things at that time?

I asked how old my younger cousin, her little sister was, when it happened.

-“Seven. Just  going to start school that year,” she said.

- “And how old was I?”


- “I have always thought I was nine.”

- “All right, now we are on vacation here. Look at this packet of milk. Is it a goat or a cow on it?”

- “A cow” I said looking at her and seeing how different we are.

A goldfish’s memory lasts three seconds. We have got a better one to remember what we want and delete what we don’t want.

And we decided to move on after my aunt lost her life in political prison and her daughter… we don’t know where she is. But the rest of us were able to move on and buy more necklaces and bigger houses overseas for a life-long vacation. Now everything is peaceful, well at least in Canada, and the three- seconds-long memory doesn’t bother a goldfish.


In the horrific years of the Yezhov terror, Akhmatova spent seventeen months waiting in line outside the prison in Leningrad in the hope of hearing something about her loved one on the other side of the wall. One day a woman in the crowd identified the poet and whispered to her with lips blue from the cold:

- “Can you describe this?”

- “I can” Akhmatova answered.

And  “ Then something like a smile passed fleetingly over what had once been her face,” Akhmatova described in the Requiem.

The horror, the pain, the coldness in the hearts and on the lips, and the reaching out and wanting to be remembered, to be felt. The willingness to be heard, by her grandchildren, and others on the other side of the border.

The borders, the walls. The prison’s walls that we build with our hands and the borders that we build in our imaginations, one more horrible than the other.

Our memories, living their own lives, waiting for us to get back to them, waiting in cold lines.

The warm feeling of a smile, to those unknown faces that will remember her one day.


The red polka dot puffy sleeve new dress. A lazy summer day. A nine year old girl daydreaming, perhaps, or playing with her younger brother.

The first experience of your dream not coming true.  Somehow my memory is longer than the one of goldfish’s. I can still hear the chaos. It sounded like an endless loud screaming noise. My cousins went to visit their mother that day in Evin, the political prison the name of which invited everybody to silence.  But they were to be sent home without seeing her.

My brother picked up the phone and was told to hand it to someone older. The voice, the messenger of death, sounded like a junior follower of the Supreme Leader.

I could think of nothing, I ran to the other room, I knew I shouldn’t be wearing red. I looked like a chicken whose head was cut off but still alive, running, perhaps running away from the pain.

The fear of how to tell my grandmother and my cousins when they come back home pushed away the grief. The fear has stayed with me till today. I took my red dress off and put on a dark shirt.

Soon it came, the horrible moment. They came back home. My mother already weeping, I knew mothers read their children’s minds. My grandfather looked pale. My older cousin screaming “Tell us! What did they say? You are killing us.” And my grandmother.

It took me time. I couldn’t. I chose my middle cousin who was three years older than me. I still remember that moment every time I hug her, every time I put my arms around her shoulders. I whispered to her ear, not believing my words. It wasn’t true, my aunt, her mother could not have hanged herself.

My aunt was killed. They killed her. My aunt couldn’t tolerate her body after they killed her so decided to leave her body. A hero.

I have lived with two vivid images of my aunt. The image of the day they took her from her home, dragging her on the street, and the image, the dream, that she will come back home one day.

I remember all the exotic gifts she gave me made my childhood so colorful.  I remember she was a warm temperamental  woman.  I remember she was beautiful.

If there is a border that separates people, labels them and puts them in different groups, then here are the only two groups that I can imagine: those who love and those who forget.

The voice. How many phone calls did he make? How many messages of death? Does he remember?

And the pain, does she remember.


And then that woman with no name. She turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, for trying to get the last glimpse of her town, her memory, her past. She turned into a pillar of salt for loving, for the sin of love.

Forget-me-not, that is the name I give her, to the one who couldn’t betray, who couldn’t forget, to the one who became the pillar of love.


Katrin Arefy was born in Tehran. She received graduate degrees in Art and then in Piano Pedagogy from Moscow Gnessin University, only to end up expressing herself in words. While pursuing her music career as a teacher, author and artistic director, she has devoted all her free time to her passion for literature.


This piece was read as part of a production of “Action Fiction!”, sponsored by Fiction365 and Omnibucket.  

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03/25/2013 - 10:06pm
by Ian Tuttle

Darren had proved himself capable, though he’d only been hired as bar-back two weeks prior.  He had a grace and speed about him.  He had a knack for quick-cut conversations, and for queuing the music that needed to be played.  Jessica trusted him.

When Jessica arrived a half hour after Darren opened, she was surprised to find none of the mixers restocked, and dirty glasses still stacked, unwashed.  The Home Shopping Network blared from the TVs instead of the ballgame or a retro movie.

“Jessica,” said Darren.  Not his usual grin and bow.  “Look at this.”

Her eyes adjusted to the dark.  She was wearing her eyeglasses, because she’d had a bad night last night.  The eyeglasses were non-prescription; they just masked her puffy eyes.  She was obsessed with smooth skin and kept a pump-bottle of lotion behind the bar.

Darren had his hands on the sides of a typewriter as if he was about to slowdance with it.  Lovingly, respectfully.

“Quaint,” said Jessica.  “Now let’s get ship shape.”

“Remember the guy in the sweater with the patches?”

“The Norwegian guy?”


“What about him?  Honestly, we only have twenty minutes to open.”

“This is his,” Darren said.

“So stick it in the stock closet.  Let’s get going.”

“He got hit by a bus last night.  Died.  Sally told me this morning.  Apparently he had a grant, some exchange student thing.”  Darren looked down at the typewriter.  “They were hooking up, and she was expecting him last night.”

“Well look,” Jessica ran through her checklist in her head.  Pourer caps, ice, mixers, tunes, trash, money for the bouncer, money for the till, keg lines, etc etc.  Nowhere was there a typewriter on her list.  “Just, maybe we can give it to Sally tomorrow.”

“Yeah, okay.”

Darren hefted the typewriter up like an infant, hands on its hips.  “Hey,” he said.  “There’s a page in here.”


“Something he wrote, still in the typewriter.”

Still she had to check volumes, write tonight’s order, call next door’s landlord and tell him to submit a formal complaint about the cigarettes instead of harassing patrons.

“Jessica.”  Darren’s voice had an edge she’d never heard.  “These are his last words.”

“So?  Listen, I don’t mean to be a bitch or anything, but we need to get moving.  Put it in the stock closet.  We’ll deal with it later.”

Darren nodded.  He drew the page from the typewriter’s drum then took his time to read it.  He folded it up and slid it into his back pocket.

Jessica waited to hear the words.  Darren didn’t speak.  Jessica said, “so?”

“You’re right.  Let’s get ship shape.”


Ian Tuttle is a photographer and writer living in San Francisco. His book StretchyHead was published in 2011 by PAC Books.  He has also been published in Sparkle & Blink, Full of Crow, and Internet Poetry. His photographs have been exhibited and collected internationally. He is a mere month from finishing his MBA at Babson College.


This piece was read as part of a production of “Action Fiction!”, sponsored by Fiction365 and Omnibucket.  

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03/24/2013 - 8:39pm
by Benjamin Wachs

A dozen voices hummed rhythmically in the back of her head as she hopped down the stone steps and walked off the quad.  A men’s chorus, a tune she had heard a long time ago, as a child … a memory fragment.  Her father’s study, smelling of pipe smoke, as he handled his old books with more care than he ever used for people.   She’d heard the song in there.

It was a pleasing memory, it made her smile, but it warned of danger.   The song was a warning.

She cut across an alley to get to the winding pedestrian bridge that would take her to her new apartment in the 19th Ward.  “Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm,” the chorus hummed in her head.  What was it?

The moon was high and glistened on the Genesee River.  Housing was cheap in the neighborhood on the other side because it was supposed to be crime ridden.  It wasn’t, but black people lived there, so never mind that it had the highest concentration of residences containing PhD’s in the city – its reputation was cemented into campus lore like a medieval superstition.  All she had to do was look at the data to know better, but most people couldn’t get rid of it that easily.  She was proud of herself, finding an apartment that nice on a grad student’s salary – her first time living off campus, since she’d left home.

“Hmm hmmm, hmmmm, hmmmm,” it was a kind of rhythmic chant, or … what?

Then … the high voice that sang over it was clear like a bell, like a chime, so pure she couldn’t tell if it was male or female, a boy soprano or a girl tenor.  She stumbled at the force of it.

Oh where are you going to, said the false false knight
To the lovely little child upon the road …

It sang over the humming, the strange words locking into place with the rhythmic chant as though it were a drum beat, the rat-a-tat that kept soldiers walking in time.  Her father’s face, his old hide covered books bound with red thread, appeared before her.  She had been young, and she was not supposed to be there when he read these things.  He’d looked up, seen her, and his eyes had fallen because this was a riddle and to hear it was to be in mortal peril.  But she remembered the answer to the song, the set-up, the premise, that moved it forward, and the beautiful star-voice sang the response to the call:

I am going to me school, said the wee, wee boy
And still upon the road he stood!

“Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm,” the chorus in her head hummed, keeping time. “Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm.”

The river was before her. The pedestrian bridge in front of her.  Her father had gestured and she had come forward.  The door had closed behind her.  She remembered the sound of the lock.  “I am so sorry,” he’d said, shaking his head.  The riddles had just begun.

Oh where are you going to, said the false, false knight
To the lovely little child upon the road …

The purity the voice, its cadence, she’d never heard anything like it.  Beautiful, predatory – she wondered if it was the sound sharks make when they sing.  She stepped on to the bridge.  Something was coming for her, waiting for a wrong answer.

I am going to me school, said the wee, wee, boy
And still upon the road he stood!

“Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm.”  “Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm.”

It was the right answer.  She was a student.  But she was coming from her school, not going towards it.  Did that matter?  She had looked up at her father, confused, frightened, but he had only put a finger to his lips and turned the page.  It had been hot in the study, brutally warm.  A cold wind blew now.

“Forbidden knowledge,” her father had told her once, “is a kind of disease.  It can be caught.  Contracted.  It can lie dormant, until conditions bring it out.  It can be imprisoned, kept in books like a virus in a test tube.  We have not overcome ignorance, so much as contained the truth we do not wish to live with.”

“Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm.”  “Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm.”

Oh what is that upon your back, said the false, false knight
To the lovely little child upon the road …

Her backpack, containing her iPad with her textbooks loaded on.  Was it playing with her, this beautiful sharp toothed voice?  Or did it really not know?  Or was it a ritual, the way a defendant is asked to make a plea and a prisoner is given a last meal?

Atweel it is me books, said the wee, wee boy
And still upon the road he stood!

Books, yes, carrying books now was the right answer, and again her life had answered the riddle correctly.  “Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm.”  “Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm.”   She reached the peak of the bridge, half-way over the river.  It gushed and roared in the dark.

The preliminaries were over:  she was at the point closest to the moon.  The voice turned malicious.

Oh I wish ye were in yonder tree, said the false, false knight
To the lovely little child upon the road …

Thunder clapped.  The river rose.  “Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm.”  “Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm.”

The false knight … the false knight … the false knight wanted to know how she would survive standing at this great height, all alone.  “Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm.”  “Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm.”

“What is the false knight?” she’d asked her father as he’d taken scented oil from a smoky decanter and dripped it upon her hair.

Her father placed the decanter back upon the forbidden shelf, next to the rocks from Jerusalem, and rubbed the oil into her scalp.

“You will not understand,” he said.

“Why does he want to hurt me?”

“Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm.”  “Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm.”

“He is the lie that corrupts, the seduction we cling to, the star that leads astray.  The fruits of the only original sin.”

“The devil?” she’d asked.  She felt his fingers tighten around her hair.

“You do not understand!” he said roughly, still holding her tightly.  But then his voice softened.  “The devil is a superstition,” he said, “and that word has two meanings.  One you already know, I’m sure:  a superstition is something you are too old and too wise to believe in.  But there is another, hidden, meaning to that word, for a superstition is also something you are not old and wise enough to understand yet.  The devil is such a superstition.  As you understand the false knight now, he is ridiculous to believe in.  You would be a fool to think such things.  But someday … someday … my sweet child … if you meet him on the road you may come to understand that everything mankind has built, we made so that we would not have to answer his riddle.”

A good ladder standing under me, said the wee, wee, boy
And still upon the road he stood!

“Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm.”  “Hmmmm hmmm, hmmm, hmmmm.”

There was no ladder, but she was standing on a bridge that spanned the river.  Was this close enough?

“We must take steps,” her father said, “to protect you now.  I hope you never understand.”  The next time she saw his study, the books were gone, and he never opened them again.

The wind blew.  The wind howled.    Her father had begun calling her “my little butterfly,” from that day on, because he feared that she would be fragile when she finally flew away.  She clung to the railing and wondered if a strong gust of wind could really throw her over the side, into the river below.

Oh I wish ye were in yonder sea, said the false, false, knight
To the lovely little child upon the road …

Something had changed.  Her father had protected her, all these years, and campus had been a shelter from the world, but now she moved out of their power.  Lightning cracked.  Thunder boomed.  The wind pusher her chest into the railing, shoving her towards the water.

She shouted at the wind, at the thunder:  “This is what’s supposed to happen!  I’m a grown woman!  No one can protect me!”

It was the wrong thing to say.  The False Knight had found her, ready or not.

Oh I wish ye were in yonder sea, said the false, false, knight
To the lovely little child upon the road …

Thunder crashed.  The wind was too much, she would die if she stayed here, at the top of the narrow bridge – she had to go forward, running the long dark blocks towards her home, or turn back to the university, where it was bright and safe but nothing was truly hers.

“Will I be pretty?” she’d once asked her father, and he’d said “yes.”

“Will I live a long time?”  she’d asked, and he’d looked away when he said “I don’t know.”

“Will I be strong?” she’d asked, and he was silent.

Oh I wish ye were in yonder sea, said the false, false, knight
To the lovely little child upon the road …

“Be careful,” he’d told her, long ago.

She didn’t have the answer, now:  she didn’t have the answer to the False Knight’s riddle that would keep her from falling into the ocean.  She could only run forward, forward, into darkness, into her future, and hope there was an escape on the other side.

Oh I wish ye were in yonder sea, said the false, false, knight

She turned.  She ran.  Ran back the way she’d came, towards the campus, towards the big stone buildings, away from the only home that was truly hers and back towards the light where she knew she’s be safe.

The wind grasped for her, but she didn’t look behind.  The humming softened, the voice was gone.  She would stay in well lit places from now on, spending her life as an academic, and avoid the dark road, and the uncertainty where the wisdom of age resides.


Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media, Playboy.com, and NPR among other venues.  He archives his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.


This piece was read as part of a production of “Action Fiction!”, sponsored by Fiction365 and Omnibucket.  

Read more stories from Action Fiction! productions.

03/17/2013 - 4:39pm
by Robert Lee Frazier

"Jovian Thermal Incline" by David Senecal

The moon shone full into the window of stuntman Roger Tully’s movie set trailer. Roger steeped out of the small bathroom and directly into a pile of empty beer bottles. They clattered and then rolled across the floor. “Crap.” He smacking his lips together, wishing he had some water to drink, suspecting tomorrow’s hangover would be painful. Roger, reaching up to pull the blind closed mumbled, “Three months stuck in this hick Texas town, and we’re still not done shooting this movie.”

Roger, better known these last few years as, the man in the King Reptilia suit, glanced out the window. Across the lonesome little trailer park on the outskirts of Johnsonville, the crew lived in, was a row of trees and tall grass. Standing there motionless, an exact replica of the foam and polyurethane suit he came to loath.

“Hey?” Roger squinted for a better look as a cloud passed in front of the moon, and the trailer park plunged into darkness. “Oh man.” Roger grabbed the cord, and slowly lowered the bind.


“What the heck is taking that man so long?” Lou Resneck shouted as he chewed his cigar. Lou ran his fingers through his balding head of hair, and paced in front of the movie set.

“He’s coming sweetie,” his wife Rosa called out from behind a camera. As the co-director and producer she liked to double-check everything before the shoot began.

It was Lou and Rosa’s dream to create a monster movie series that would finally take care of them into their quickly approaching old age. Creating King Reptilia was their meal ticket. Now on their eighth film, titled King Reptilia vs. The Radiation Zombies, Rosa could finally breathe easy. Rosa considered coming back to Johnsonville a personal triumph. Nearly forty years to the day she spotted something monstrous moving through the swamp, but after telling her parents they didn’t believe her. King Reptilia had been her revenge.

Roger appeared at the side of the set, stiff with freshly applied polyurethane and spray paint to give his monster suit skin a sweaty sheen. Roger felt almost sea-sick as the two cups of coffee, and one sports drink he consumed, to aid in his more frequent bouts with the morning hang-over, rolled around inside his stomach.

The set was a semicircle of man-made hills, but the foreground area is flat dirt arena. Where, a newly shrunken King Reptilia, trapped in the last film, King Reptilia vs. MechaReptilia, by the U.S. Government and shrunk down with their super-secret nuclear Fission shrink ray, his new seven-foot tall frame was ideal for fighting radiated mutants in the current flick. In the movie world King Reptilia remained bullet, laser, and fire-proof, Roger however, was taking a beating. He crawled through the motions of the fight scenes in the grueling Texas sun.

“Cut! Why are you moving so slow Roger, are you hung-over again?” Lou screamed from his director’s chair.

Roger stood still; sweat ran down his face, his head pounding in the heat. He thought to himself, I need a drink.

Later that same afternoon, a Wardrobe assistant named Janet helped Roger drink water through a straw while keeping the headgear on. As Roger tilted his head back, he spotted it again. Standing silhouetted against one of the trailers, a near perfect copy of the very same monster suit he was wearing.

“Did you see that?”

“See what?”

“Someone is standing over there in a king Reptilia costume.”

“Oh,” The assistant answered without looking up, “Probably a fan.”


“You know – one of those fan boys, some pimply teenager in love with the King.”

A surge of relief filled Rogers mind, Fan-boy, sure that made sense.

“Or,” Janet continued. “Lou’s trying out a new stuntman to take your job.”


Night time and the heat of the Texas spring season had finally slacked. Lou Resneck, soap and bath towel in hand, strolled toward the communal showers. Lou chewed his cigar, and again debated a problem he had been struggling with since shooting began, Roger Tully’s drinking habit.

The dusky light made strange shapes come alive in the saw-grass, of which Lou was oblivious. He talked to himself as he walked, “It’s not like it wasn’t a good run. He’s made it past the old mark of series films with the same actor. That’s something.” Lou walked closer to the edge of the trailer park. Suddenly, he saw from the corner of his eye, King Reptilia standing in the swampy grass.

Lou started back and squeaked out, “Roger, What are you doing? Are you on the sauce already?”

Lou looked deep into the onyx eyes and blinked, “You know, you’ve had a great run as the King?”

There came a low throaty rumble.

“There’s no shame. I mean, think of the retakes?”

The rumbling grew louder.

“Okay, we’re all professionals. I’m going to give it to you straight. I need a younger – faster guy in that costume. Someone with some guts – someone who will take chances!”

King Reptilia stepped forward and bellowed out a great challenge.

“Not bad. But listen, I’ve got half a dozen guys who are tough.” A reptilian arm rose up. In it clawed hand was clutched a pair of rabbits. Their throats chewed open and dangling. Lou looked up surprised. An odd expression painted his face. He slowly removed the cigar from his mouth, and then he did something he hadn’t done in years.

He smiled.

Shaking his head slowly he said, “Kid, I didn’t know you still had it in you? You lay off the sauce, and keep up with the fight scenes, and the job is still yours.”

The great reptilian head turned catching the dying light in its bulbous eyes, and it let out another throaty growl. Lou nodded while putting his cigar back into his mouth. They both turned from each other, and walked away.


Roger trudged home mumbling, “Replaced by a younger man. Who do those Resnecks think they are?” He pulled the gloves with the new Titanium claws off his hands. “I’ve been King Reptilia for every single film – never even missed a day’s work.”

Roger halted a few steps from his trailer. The sun had set, the light from the bulb above his trailer door was on and it cast a strange glow. On the ground, in front of his trailer door lay an odd-looking pile. He slowly stepped over and stared down. Stretched out with their throats ripped open, was a pair of dead rabbits.

Is this some kind of sign? Roger thought, as he contemplated the sightings of the other King Reptilia. Roger screamed out in frustration and kicked the animal carcasses out of his way. He then pulled open the door, but before he stepped inside he turned and yelled, “I’m not going to quit!”

Roger slammed the door behind him, but instead of his usual habit of drinking until he passed-out; he flopped down on his bed out of exhaustion, and soon fell into a deep sleep.

Outside a single figure crept along the tree line, and stopped. It’s highly evolved eyes spotted the rabbits it left as a gift on the doorstep of the big male, forsaken, still laid on the ground. Spurned, and rejected the great Reptilian let out a cry of pain and anguish. As the eyes of the ancient monster misted over one terrible thought entered its old head – revenge.


Early the next morning, dressed in the King Reptilia suit, Roger was in fine form. He destroyed an improvised road block, deflected rubber bullets, and killed or maimed a pack of mutants, all before he had his morning coffee break.

Lou flinched as Rosa hissed into his ear, “We’re going to make it.”

Lou nodded in agreement; he knew they were scheduled to finish shooting by tomorrow night. A sense of relief spread through him. One more sequence, he thought, and I can cut the extras loose by lunch. I’ll save a day and half’s wages.

Twenty five minutes later Lou shouted, “Cut! That’s a rap folks.” Everyone, including the extras shouted with excitement.

Roger leaned against a fake wire and Styrofoam wall and smiled to himself under his mask. Thoughts of a much-needed vacation, followed by a promotional tour with events in air-conditioned hotels, danced in his head. But before one camera could be packed up, before one set piece was pulled down, and before one zombie received a shorted paycheck, a scream erupted from across the set. A near perfect copy of King Reptilia stood up in the saw-grass. The production company stood stunned. Only Lou Resneck had the presence of mind to growl, “Roll cameras – action!”

Rosa looked over at him surprised, and asked, “sweet-heart?”

Lou shrugged and whispered, “The next film slatted for the series is King Reptilia Must Die! He has to fight some of his own kind to remain king. If we can get a few of the fight scenes shot now. We will be way ahead of schedule.”

The monster bellowed with rage, and began walking across the wasteland set, its claws extended, ready for a fight. Roger glanced over at Lou, and Rosa, and watched as they nodded back approvingly.

“So, it’s to be like that, is it,” Roger asked himself bitterly. “Well if it’s a battle they want, then they are going to get something spectacular.”

He worked the 30 pounds of pressure per square inch metal jaws in his mask, and clashed the titanium claws together. They sparked, and the quick clashing action made the metal sing.

As the two monsters closed on each other all three cameras swung into focus, one on each monster, and one on the middle of the set. Roger thought this will be a fight to the death. I’ll show them, I’m still the king.


Robert Lee Frazier lives in Hagerstown Maryland where he works hard at keeping his published author alter-ego a secret. However, you can follow his authorial trials, and tribulations at www.robertleefrazier.com


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03/13/2013 - 8:14pm
by Benjamin Wachs

"Ericka" by Dave Senecal

Ten of the rabbits are going to die, Dr. Burnham told me: and I’m going to kill them.

They stare up at me from small steel cages, wrinkling their noses and hopping in a way that might be nervous, as I prepare a syringe filled with a cancer-causing cocktail.

The solution is green, the color of radiation and toxic waste in comic books.

These ten rabbits have to die, or no one will accept the results of Dr. Burnham’s experiment, no matter how successful it is.

I was warned this day would come: you can’t be a PhD in biology here and not kill things.

I should feel more guilty about it, I’ve spent so much time trying to avoid this kind of lab work; but I’m getting married in three weeks. A spring wedding. I have a final fitting for my dress tomorrow, and the caterer’s nothing but drama. I can’t get frilly lace and menus out of my mind. I was warned this day would come, too.

I will also inject the next ten rabbits down the line, but I can fight to save them … up to a point. The experiment is a success if they live and their cancers die. I call them the “Roulette Rabbits.” (The first ten, obviously, I call my “Death Bunnies.”) Since I’ll be going on my honeymoon mid-way through the experiment, I might not even see how they turn out. Dr. Burnham objected, strongly: but I told him that if he doesn’t like it, he can always graduate me. He’s been nitpicking my thesis for two years, to keep me here to run his lab. I qualify for science grants aimed at women and minorities. He loses me just as much if I’m fired as if I matriculate, so he agreed to let me go for my wedding. And honestly, I think I’ll like not seeing the outcome better. Poor little Death Bunnies. Poor little Roulette Rabbits. I’ll be the one injecting them, but as long as I’m not watching them die it will feel like I’m less responsible.

These guys, over here, are the ones I don’t have to worry about. The Control Rabbits. As long as they get fed, they’ll be fine. They’re here just so that we can keep track of what ordinary rabbits, non-cancerous rabbits, do. Live and eat and … well, we’re not going to let them screw, but, everything else.

Everybody already knows what ordinary rabbits do. Their imprisonment here is formally necessary, but practically pointless. Still, they shouldn’t complain: better to be a Control Rabbit than a Death Bunny.

I can’t believe I’ll be wearing a veil. That’s so … medieval. And white? White? I’ll be moving into my future by turning myself into a relic of the past. It makes no sense. If I had a daughter, it’s everything I would tell her not to do. Live in the present, love your opportunities.

I tap the glass syringe that holds the deadly green cocktail. Looks all right to me. Is it time to kill bunnies? I should be wearing rubber gloves. I can take a few moments to put on rubber gloves. Don’t want any of this stuff to end up on my hands.

But I fell in love with that dress. I’m nervous about the wedding, I’m nervous about Brad … some kinds of passions make you sure and some make you insecure … but I fell in love with the veil. Astonishing. I never would have thought I’d have it in me: it doesn’t make me proud, but it makes me happy.

The Death Bunnies are nervous. I’m sure of it. They really are. Dr. Burnham warns all of us not to think of them in human terms, but, what else could be going on?

I think of myself, for a moment, in my white gown and veil, walking down the aisle, holding a green syringe.

I turn. Might as well do them all at once: the Death Bunnies, the Roulette Rabbits. I was thinking I’d want to take a break in between, but, I’m supposed to do them all right after the other, and that feels right, somehow. Get it over with.

I walk over to the first Death Bunny cage. It’s small enough that he doesn’t really have any place to run. I reach my arm through the bars, I’m just thin enough to go through, and hold him steady. I look over at the green fluid again, the transparent glass that holds it; at the Roulette Rabbits who will have a fighting chance if our theories are right; at the lucky Control Rabbits. Some people are just destined to sit in cages, I suppose.

I look back at the rabbit I’m holding, and then look up again, catching something in the corner of my eye.

What the hell?

I put the syringe down, carefully. I walk over to the corner of the room where the Control Rabbits live. I look down in their cages.

One of them’s not moving. At all.

I reach into the cage. I stroke it. I pet it. I poke it. I try to feel for a pulse. How do you feel for a bunny’s pulse? It’s not breathing.

I step back. Once. Twice. This isn’t supposed to … how did it …

I reach into my pocket and pull out my cell phone.

His number’s second on my contacts. After Dr. Burnham. On three rings, he picks up the phone.

“Brad,” I say, before he can say speak. “Is everything … all right?”


“Is everything … are you okay?”

“Um, yeah. Yeah. Why?” He starts to get worried. “Did something happen?”

“What? No, no …” I look at the Control Rabbit’s cage. “Not … really.”

“Is it …” his voice gets more serious, and more worried. “Wedding stuff?”

“What?” That had been the furthest thing from my mind, for once. “No. No. It’s not … I just … you’re okay, though.”

“Yeah. I’m fine.”

“Not talking to me on your cell phone in traffic.”

He laughs. “I just got out of a meeting, and was getting some coffee. What’s going on?”

“Really nothing.” I look away from the dead rabbit. Natural causes? Is that possible? Does that even happen?

That’s not supposed to happen. It will throw the whole curve off. We’re supposed to decide who lives and dies.

“Are you there?” Brad asks.

“Yeah. I’m here.” I’m very much here. “I’m sorry: this was a stupid call. I just … I just got worried, all of a sudden. I’m … about to kill some rabbits.”

“Oh!” He thinks he gets it. “Do you want to …”

“No. I’m okay. We’ll talk at home. All right? Bye.”

I don’t give him a chance to try to open me up. I hang up the phone before he can say he loves me.

I slip my cell phone back in my pocket. I lean against a counter. This … what do I do? Technically the rabbit died before the experiment began, maybe if I don’t inject them now Dr. Burnham can get a replacement. One who does what he’s supposed too. His life expectancy was a solid two years. If it’s not that easy, this could throw the whole project off. That rabbit was healthy. He was supposed to live. I wonder if we’ll have to start over after I get back from the honeymoon.

I see myself, in my white dress and veil, walking down the aisle, holding its little white body.


Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media, Playboy.com, and NPR among other venues. He archives his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.


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03/06/2013 - 2:03pm
by MJ Benedeto

ARS 2 (by Dave Senecal)

I steal.  You would never believe it, to look at me.  I am a carbon copy stockbroker-belt-stay-at-home-wife.  I live in a house that does not have a number because in our neighborhood the houses have names instead of numbers.   I play golf with an enviable handicap and win tennis matches easily.  I lunch.  I also steal.

The perky shop assistant is all smiles when I hand her my platinum credit card.  “Will that be all?” she asks as she gently folds my twentieth silk scarf.   She encloses it in tissue paper and places it carefully in a shopping bag that shouts its expense and exclusivity despite its pandering to insincere subtlety.
She doesn’t realise I have pocketed my prize for the day and I’m confident of never being discovered.  I am not afraid of the police.  It isn’t them I fear.

I don’t cook and I don’t worry about cleaning since we have a live in maid.  Paula, our Polish maid, looks wide-eyed at my collection of shopping bags when I enter the kitchen.  She sighs, and then without a word, unpacks pre-packaged gourmet meals which she puts in the coffin sized freezer.

I check the time on the kitchen clock.  It’s only six o’clock and I wonder if my husband, Stephen, will make it home before midnight.  I just thank god for pre-packaged food, the microwave and my indifference to home-cooking.  I rarely wake when Stephen wanders home and into bed.

Stephen insists on working punishing hours because of the economy.  He claims he must entertain clients with later and later nights.  I should care but I don’t.  Maybe I would have cared two years ago, or even a year ago.  I don’t care any more.

The only thing that matters is growing my collection of stolen treasures.  With Paula distracted, I walk the length of our echoing house to one of our spare rooms.  I quietly slide open a drawer in the bureau and place the treasure next to other packages, and then, just as quietly, close the drawer.  No one has
discovered them because no one else dares to go where I go.

I met Stephen at work, at the same brokerage house.  We were ravenous high performers but I could hear the ticking of my biological clock.  At 38, just before the crash and burn bankruptcies in The City, we married with the intent of producing our 1.8 children.  Stephen and I are good with numbers.  It turns out we aren’t so good with life.

I began my stultifying exile when I became pregnant.  I went off to middle-class coffee mornings with my pregnancy “buddies”.  Before the end of the third month, I lost our baby.  Cue pitying glances and not-so-hidden smugness of pregnant mothers who hadn’t wasted their most fertile years chasing filthy lucre.

Within a year I was pregnant again.  We were so cautious and so quiet about our news.  At five months, the baby, baby Abigail, was doing cartwheels in her sonogram;  but by month six there were no kicks, no scrunched up somersaults or explosive baby hiccups waking me in the night.

They induced labour.  Stephen organised the burial.  We had no service.

So I steal quietly, cautiously hoping.  I wait in humility.  I fear the cosmos will punish me again for my presumption.  I hide my stolen treasures in Abigail’s nursery in plain sight.    No one else dares to go where I go.


MJ Benedetto has had a lifelong love affair with the written and spoken word.  She trained as an actress, has written poetry, screen plays and is now investigating different fiction narratives.  Her current day job is as a sports coach after spending nearly 20 years in the corporate world.  She is also a dual US/UK citizen.


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