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March '05  

news: Hobart #4 available now!

Family Values
by Erik Olsen

by Hilarie Shanley

by Nicholas Grider

You Don't Listen Anymore
by David Henry Fears

by Todd Robert Petersen

by Nathan Leslie

They float to the shore looking like giant hatched amoebas. We trace their halo shapes and wonder if they are miniature planets, pulled through the atmosphere, ketchup blood leaving spatters on our sky.

We know immediately that they're stuck in the sand. Their eyes are so pretty that I worry someone will pluck them out.

Smart alecks surround the orbs, take an inventory, and name them "The Dirty Half-Dozen". Six in total, they have human limbs. They are beached in a cluster and their bodies contort to form ovals, wrist bones fused to ankles.

The small kids find sea glop and sticks that have all washed in with the tide. They take this junk and cut at the flesh of the creatures. It must feel like angry teeth, I think. I collect the kids like a mother hen. When we walk back to the town lights, we stow sand in the cracks of our feet.

At night the prettytooth people sit in their beheaded jeeps and twitch small fires and pose, saintly, in the light. The creatures, still beached like failed obelisks, are the immediate backdrop. Someone yells about the moon being magnetic, how it's sucking out the tide, taking the sea grit to someplace new.

With this tide, the creatures are lifted momentarily back into the water. They skid ugly fractions in the sand. I dodge beer bottles and the smog of kissing and I try to feed them the baby carrots that I’ve stolen from the grocery store.

Craig suggests cutting them all up, dissection with rocks and penknives. He wants to scoop out their insides and sell the best stuff to a science magazine. I think he'd like to play surgeon and discover some hidden scroll underneath a mint green vertebrae or liver. That’s the problem with Craig. He thinks in soapsuds, never worrying about the mess or the guts.

Days later, they are still immobile and plump. It must be all the salt. They are pickled to the bone from it. They can grow stalagmite crystals between their teeth.

Everyone has a theory. Some think they are a race of mutants from the bottom of the ocean. It’s pitch black on the seabed, so they keep pets of those blind fish, the ones with electric currents for ears.

Craig wants to cook them before their insides spoil. He wants to pick out the most complimentary spices and then craft a soufflé of ribcage flanked by salt-stained heart. The other boys lick their teeth. Cannibals, I say.

The sea starts roaring at night, more urgent than the wise porch sitters have ever heard it. People tuck their children into their beds and sew them in sheets up to the chin. Don’t run over to your window tonight, they say. Under the mist, the town will figure out what to do about this sea junk once and for all.

I make a bid for their liberation. It is worse labor than the death march of the Egyptian pyramid blocks. I drag the trapeze people, one at a time, across the soup warm sand. I haul them with an oof to the back of my van. They are all married together, heads cradled in stomachs, as I follow the curb home.

I keep them in my basement next to runner-up trophies and killer spiders with dust bug decoys. The creatures are quiet and their eyes follow me. I play records because the silence is eating at my liver. Would you like a slice of pie? I ask. I rummage through cans of mushroom soup. Do you want some oyster crackers? Those always make me feel better.

They won't take a crumb. Not even the smallest one, the creature who seems like a young boy, ready to untangle his arms and kiss with too much spit.

The creatures sink into the carpet and act like a potato crop, with tubers and unformed eyes. Their hearts pulse in the center of their throats.

The town cuts a gash into my screen door and picks the lock that is coppered from years of finger pad oil. They find me because Craig recognized my footprints home.

I wonder what he has told everyone. Maybe he dug through his books and decided that these creatures are aliens and must be launched back onto their boiling stew planet. Maybe he thinks they are time travel stowaways.

The men have tools, pointy arrowhead sticks that they poke us with. One spear severs the eyelashes from my left eye. I bend over, collecting the hairs like they are fallen comrades, trying to fuse them back. They throw a giant fishing net around my shoulders and start heaving us all toward the door. I try to wedge, piece by piece, through the twine rope squares, but the stubborn jamb of my shoulder stops me.

The creatures seem allergic to my skin. Any place my elbow touches them turns a dark mildew. I see the piglet noses of children touching the glass of their windowsills. This is such a beautiful town, the people tell one another. We’ll be damned if anything ruins that. These freaks have made the waves irregular. The fish have all gone three hundred miles east. We lost a boat at sea. They’ve put a curse on us.

They put us on a shrimp boat and attach our net to a hook that rests high on the chipped mast. Some of the men watch as the waves spit under us.

I hear their voices inside my bottom lip and underneath my fingernails. The creatures don't look at me. They just say: It's okay. You are beautiful and wise and even your kneecaps are kind.

Craig is there, laying flat on the deck and dunking his nose into the water. He starts to look really scared, sick, like something has swum into his body through his nostrils and is wrapping coils around his lungs.

I can see the town lights and the aggressive stop signal of the lighthouse. The rocks cradle ship splinters like they are matchsticks. When I was little, my mom would tell stories about these rocks, how they were haunted in the loneliest way.

I hear the voices in my fingernails and the gooey part of my inner eyelids. Don’t worry, they say. Your eyelashes still look beautiful. You are what we came for; we'd get cut to ribbons for you. I feel my toes go numb and glassy.

I watch Craig and keep my lungs like two sealed jars holding a poison that shouldn't be released. I look at him and try to smile goodbye but his hair doesn't make me want to kiss his ears, it doesn't make me want to steal fruit from the grocery store anymore. I don't love you anymore, I think, triumphant. Let some other girl try to save your messy spine.

The creatures unwind their wrists from their ankles and thread their fingers around my elbow, pulling my body away from itself. We float downward, away from Craig and honeysuckle, their arms unfurling like victory ribbons, welcoming me home.

Hilarie Shanley's favorite historical figures are Harry Truman and Madame Veto. More of her work can be found at Dicey Brown, elimae, and The Edward Society. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.