Tag Archives: Issue Forty-Four

Neon Literary Magazine Issue Forty-Four

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In this edition of Neon we visit the quaint yet dystopian English town of Scarfolk, observe mysterious goings on in a grand hotel, meet a rather more respectable imaginary version of the president of the United States of America in a dream prison, sit in on a number of brutal executions (one historical, one sexual) and witness the creation of some seriously amazing fantasy inventions. There’s a graphic short story by acclaimed illustrator Stephen Collins, and some beautiful illustrations by Jia Sung, as well as fiction and poetry by Thomas Evans, Elizabeth Sackett, Ed Cottrell, Cheryl Pearson, Frederick Pollack, Eric Shattuck, Molly O’ Brien and James Hodgson.

Neon is pay-what-you-want to download, and costs just £4.00 for a physical copy. In its perfect-bound format each issue is around 70 pages, and is photo-illustrated in black and white.

Published winter 2017 (print and online).

“Grand Hotel” By Frederick Pollack

As a courtesy, the government man
lets the manager sit in on
the surveillance. But the cameras
are the hotel’s, and the manager thinks
it’s his courtesy. The other agents
in the room could set him straight,
but their chief signals them to stand down.
On the screen they’re watching,
a man viewed from the ceiling in green light
uneasily sleeps. Earlier they saw him
boringly, unhappily prepare
for bed. This man (the agent explained
with a frankness that pleased the manager)
represents democratic forces
in a small, important, troubled, distant land;
tomorrow he’ll sleep elsewhere,
and tonight his foes will not kill him.
On other screens, in remote stairwells,
men in helmets and armor
unobtrusively lurk; plainclothes types
(the manager knows the look) sit
neatly, here and there, in the lobbies.
The manager observes his usual screens.
On 30 North a girl is locked out
of her room. No – she’s looking
at herself, not in a mirror,
but in a polished panel of the hallway
wall. Will she kiss that reflection?
No – she leans her brow against it.
Will she hit her head against it?
Should he send someone? Can he? On 12 South,
a large man in an expensive
though markedly disheveled suit
(Why hasn’t he put on our nice white bathrobe?
the manager wonders), clutching a bucket,
confronts an ice machine. Seems unable
to interpret it, weaves back and forth
as if praying. The SWAT teams – if that’s the proper term
with feds – take one step up
in their secret stairwells and stop,
like martial angels ascending. Here and there,
in (the manager checks
a readout, smiles without prurience) nine percent
of the rooms, lovers thrash. The kitchens
gleam and are gratifyingly hectic
without chaos. On 50 South
the Thing appears. Maids give it various
Spanish names, but their silence has been bought.
Behind it, scuffs and mildew manifest.
Its grey skin, eyes red
with inscrutable rage, grief
or allergies fill the manager
with professional hate and worry. Of course It won’t
appear on the tapes. Should he ask
the government man for help? Now’s not the time.
In the North Tower bar, entering which
(critics say) is like strolling into
an Old Master, a somewhat older
man and somewhat younger woman
gaze off at angles. “She couldn’t–”
says the woman, and the man: “He–” The manager
adjusts his earphones to block
the jolly noise of the bar. “After a while
none of it meant anything,”
says the woman. “Even the kids?”
the man asks. She possibly sighs.
“He tried as hard as he could–” says
the man, without asperity. But noise
returns, a dropped tray, and what the manager hears
next is something from her about
“values,” how they can’t be just put on
like a dress. He agrees; more vigorously:
“It’s better in hotels,
isn’t it? Someone else to change the sheets…”
Intrigued, the manager misses
the moment the soldiers
begin to mount the stairs. When he looks,
those screens are dark, and so is the room
of the foreign personage. The agent,
pressing his own headphones, scowls for silence;
then rises (his team has exited), thanks
the manager for his patience
and patriotism. Reassures him
no guest and no routine has been disturbed.
“Was he attacked?” asks the manager. “We had to
extract him,” says the agent.
“But he’s safe?” “Of course,” the agent smiles;
shakes hands and leaves. Though it’s late,
Reception is crowded: a boisterous group has arrived.
Huge SUVs pull up, depart;
and if one appears
at a loading dock and leaves with strange cargo,
the manager knows he has no need to know.

*

Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness, and a collection, A Poverty Of Words. Another collection, Landscape With Mutant, is to be published in 2018 by Smokestack Books. Many more of his poems appear in print and online journals.

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“Signals Of Fear And Uncertainty” by Eric Shattuck

Image by Jia Sung.

There is a fist-sized hole in the concrete floor and another in the ceiling. The hole in the floor is bearded with sunblack shit, and at night the beetles climb out of it and crawl across my toes. The smell is worse in the daytime.

Sometimes I stand under the hole in the ceiling and let the sun cook my scalp until I can’t stand it anymore, until I can feel the edges of my mind singe and curl back like paper held to a candle flame.

I do pushups, sit-ups, handstands. I hum songs, recite half-remembered lines of poetry. I think about my wife: the freckles on her bottom lip, and the way only one cheek dimples when she laughs. Around noon the men bring me food – a paper plate with rice and chunks of flavorless gray meat. I eat with my fingers and stuff the plate down into the hole when I am finished.

There has been no interrogation, no talk of ransom.

I awake to find the President of the United States looking down at me. He is very tall; even hunched over, his shoulders scrape against the ceiling.

“You’re taller than you look on TV.”

He offers a paternal smile. “That’s the first thing everyone says.”

I ask the President how he got in here with me, but he is evasive. He asks me if I knew that an octopus can squeeze through a hole no larger than its beak.

The President doesn’t know what to do with his hands. He fiddles with his American flag lapel pin, cracks his knuckles, holds them stiffly at his sides.

I ask him if rescue is imminent.

“If I could, I would have help on the way as we speak. A whole fleet of black helicopters, chock full of rough men. Real doorkickers.”

“Why can’t you?”

“The truth is, I don’t know where here is. I have the key, as it were. Now all I need to find is the lock.” The President pauses. “You know, I was a prisoner of war once, myself.”

“I know. I remember the campaign ads.”

“They pulled my fingernails out with pliers.” He holds up his left hand, taps the tip of his middle finger. “This one didn’t grow back. The nail is fake. Acrylic.”

I chew my fingernails down to nubs. The President writes his full name and phone number on a scrap of paper.

“My personal line,” he says. “In case you remember any details about the men who took you.” He offers me an after-dinner mint from his breast pocket.

The President comes and goes in the night. Increasingly, I find myself unable to recall what he has said to me. When he finishes speaking, I am left with only the vague impression of having heard his voice. I am starting to resent his presence in my cell. Because of his height, he is closer to the hole in the ceiling, closer to the fresh air. He tilts his head back and inhales deep, greedy lungfuls.

He has roped me into playing tic-tac-toe. We take turns scratching X’s and O’s into the wall with the point of his lapel pin. The President wins twenty games in a row. I have suspicions that an aide is whispering strategies into the earpiece he has taken to wearing of late, but he assures me that this is not the case, and I am in no position to make accusations.

He begins the twenty-first game by placing an X on an edge square, and I see my opening. I box him in and take the win. The President leans against the wall and slides down into a seated position. His face clouds over.

“It’s this heat,” he says. “I’m not thinking straight.” He produces an embroidered handkerchief and dabs at his forehead, his wrists, the back of his neck. He hangs his head.

The President is weeping. Tears are coursing down his cheeks. Despite his height, he seems shrunken down, a boy in his father’s suit.

“Mister President.”

He ignores me.

“Mister President, really–”

The wailing intensifies. I am gripped by sudden predatory urges, like a wolf watching a wounded sheep fall out of the herd. The first kick is weak, but I put my weight into the second. I hurl myself onto him and we roll across the floor together, punching and biting. I put my knee into his stomach while he crushes my knuckles against the concrete.

The lapel pin bounces into the hole in the ground, and just like that, the struggle is over. We lay side by side for a moment, wheezing and probing our faces for injuries. When we get up, we stand in opposite corners with our backs to one another, like two people pretending not to notice each other at a party.

The President has forsaken me. Days go by without so much as a word; I believe he is still upset about the tic-tac-toe.  Any hope of a rescue mission is remote, and morale is low.

I find myself staring at the X’s and O’s scratched into every wall of my cell, wondering if they will blend together, coalesce into something meaningful.

At night, I walk in circles. I listen to the crickets sawing outside. I sit beneath the hole in the ceiling and look up at the stars, searching for the gleam of satellites that orbit overhead. I imagine an antenna sprouting from my head, projecting signals of fear and uncertainty into the dark, as if one of those satellites might pick up on them, might look down into the hole and see my face looking back, and the person watching the feed will say, This man is in trouble. This man needs our help.

*

Eric Shattuck is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. He studied at South Carolina State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and served as an editor for the Inkwell student literary journal. His work has been published in The Nottingham Review, 99 Pine Street, The Molotov Cocktail, Gone Lawn, and the Kentucky Review, among others.

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“Dishonorable Trade” By Elizabeth Sackett

"Dishonorable Trade" By Elizabeth Sackett

the rain chills him to the marrow.
he is meant to be human, not humane,
and the potential of the axe
is resting, for now,
on the scaffold.

a lady’s head is bowed
as she steps forward to the crowd,
the weather darkening her hair,
weighing her crown.
the man can see
the vertebrae of her spine,
the cold pale way
they extend from her neck
like a twisting fish.

it’s easier that way,
he knows,
the hair up so that the strands
don’t snake and snag the blade
but even after a decade
of this dishonorable trade,
the softness of the back of a neck
disconcerts him.

maybe it’s because of his child,
the way she curls against his wife at night,
her dark curls
flickering, insubstantial,
in candlelight,
the sweet smell
at her nape.

there’s nothing childlike
in the woman before him.
the words she speaks to
the people
soak up the rain like paper
and fold, but he is certain
they must be noble.
she turns
and there are creases by
her eyes. he has seen panic
and there is nothing alien
in her resigned desperation,
a shudder in her lip
and a twisting in her hands.

she
reaches
out
to him, a coin
resting in her restless
fingers.
do you
forgive me,
he says.

with her response
she ghosts her nails
across her throat
before kneeling
before a stone bed
and flinging her arms
like a bird.

the coin is cold and wet.
into his pocket
it goes,
and it shall be played with
by small hands
later, the metal
catching
the mystery of
firelight
and his child
shall laugh,
the sound full
in her body,
traveling from
a filled stomach
to a throat,
bubbling
and bursting
but these are thoughts
for a different time.

the axe
releases.
he’s already received
absolution
for this potential sin
and the skin
on the back of the lady’s neck
goosebumps,
for a moment,
with life.

*

Elizabeth Sackett earned a degree in English with a writing concentration from SUNY Geneseo, where she received the Lucy Harmon Award for Fiction Writing and was published in Gandy Dancer. Highly involved with her local live poetry scene, she has also recently been published in Gravity Of The Thing and Fickle Muses. She spends her spare time drawing pictures of bird skeletons.

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