about the author

Steve Owen is a writer with an MFA from Notre Dame and almost done with his PhD at the University of Utah. His short fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and critical analysis have been published in the Notre Dame Review, Otis Nebula, Quarterly West, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Flatman-crooked’s Slim Volume of Contemporary Poetics, The Bend, and numerous other print and online journals. He’s received four awards for his short stories, poetry, and nonfiction, and he is a recipient of the Sparks Fellowship and a Full Tuition Scholarship at Notre Dame University, and the Karen Lee Warmdahl Scholarship at Sacramento State. In 2015, he was awarded a four-year Graduate Teaching Assistantship at the University of Utah. He’s worked at Flatmancrooked, the Notre Dame Review, then created and ran mixer publishing until he went to Utah. His dissertation project, “The Killing Thing: A Cursed Memoir,” deploys disparate genres, breaking down the distinction between realist representation and fabulism with an estranging expressionist, parabolic aes-thetic. His work strives to mix social realism with fabulism and surrealism, and sometimes postmodern elements.

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Incident #2  

Steve Owen

Walk straight home after school, the Sheriff, who reminded me of a general, said. Stay inside until your parents come home. Don’t accept candy (he described the child abductor: a man with a beard who looked like local TV personality Shotgun Tom Kelly). Don’t accept rides to Disneyland. Don’t engage in conversation. DON’T.

My school, Alpine Elementary, had called us for an assembly. I was in the third grade. Be on alert for a van that looks like the sun, he said. My eyes ached when he said it and I closed them, imagined walking through the door of a brilliantly bright, radioactive sun, with wheels.

As the Sheriff spoke, his hand tapped the black holster on his belt. For emphasis on words like DISNEY and CANDY. My eyes seemed stuck, captured by some invisible force in the GUN, on its black barrel, its door. The hallway. I walked inside, my fingers touching its shiny walls, and lay down beside the bullets, my brothers, in the gun’s cylinder. It’s cold in here, we thought, are you afraid of being taken? Depends where we go, the bullets said. We don’t get out much. We have short cold lives that get caught in strangers’ bodies. Then we’re trapped alone. Like when L— moved away. What would happen, I asked, if the sun were to steal me, a bullet? I could kill it! I knocked on my steel casing to prove my point. Kill the sun? they mocked. We can’t do that. That’s what we do! I objected. We’re killers! Yes, one said, but the sun is too big and too hot. We’d be deadly as ice. And regardless, another said, you’re not a bullet (a third laughed). You’re not like us at all! What am I if not a bullet? I thought about knocking myself again, but I was afraid my casing might not make the same sound; my body suddenly seemed more flimsy and weak (my brothers’ lack of acceptance was bothering me). Instead I said, How else could I lie down in here? We’re the same! What’s inside our bellies is much different, they said, you don’t know because you’re a little slow. Put your hand in and see. I placed my hand on my closest brother’s casing and a small grate, a door, appeared, which I opened. Flames licked the interior and stuck out like a tongue and grabbed my hand. Blisters began to bloat my hand, making it look more like a doctor’s glove; the kind I’d seen on TV and always thought of blowing up like a balloon. Now my hand was inflated and hurt, so I yanked it away from the tongue. It deflated and returned to the size of my own small hand, and my brothers said, See? Now look past your casing. Before I could pull my shirt up, the Sheriff finished speaking. He turned to shake hands with Mr. Kirby, our principal, and my soul shot from the cylinder, fired from my brothers, back into my own body.

I got off the bus that afternoon and pistoled it home to nab my bike, ready to be abducted. It was a bright spring day. After some time spying unsuccessfully for a sight of the sun, I decided to park on my bike in the middle of the street. This was easy to do because only a few cars came up our road, black-topped Roble Grande, lookie-loos usually, because we were in the country and far flung from the center of town. The light banging off the asphalt hurt my eyes, the heat releasing an oily smell which came from the belly of the street. Between myself and my house stood a field of foxtails and a cactus tree. I spent so many hours beneath it, curled up in its shady rocks, staring up at its prickly, expressionless pancake faces, that it was easy to imagine myself there—even with the flaking fence between us—running a finger across a pad, placing my eye before a single spine tip, until I was running along the spine, towards my own areola. We—my cactus family and I—produced a fruit called tuna, which looked like eggs of blood to my human family—specifically, human me—who left them to rot in the sun out of fear, and each summer, migrant farm workers, whom my father faithfully called “wetbacks,” would ask my mother’s permission to pick some, to grill or make into wine, because they were familiar with our delicious bubblegum flavor.

We caught sun from the air with our faces, amused at the useless cries of the foxtails rallying around us, attempting to overrun our field with their inferior “spikelets.” Stuffing myself as I yawned and stretched my roots further into the ground, I wanted to ask my faceless mother why she wouldn’t let me go to L—’s goodbye party, but since our waxy skin and spiny faces made speech too painful, we remained silent, unable to communicate our true intentions, and only the wind moved us at times. I was left with the explanation my human mother had provided: You can catch an infection from a community swimming pool. But not if I’m a cactus, I wanted to say, suspecting, as usual, some hidden reason behind her decision. We eat the sun! We have held this field from invaders, even grazing horses, for generations! L— and I married during kindergarten: we sat next to each other each day in class, tracing the correct form of letters together, observing the immature behavior of the others (those who missed their parents and lost control of their tempers; those who marched through the block home L— and I created, reducing it to an insignificant rubble). We remained monogamous the whole year, the intimacy growing between us until we developed a form of telepathy, a shared secret language made up of eye and finger signs, how dare you keep us apart! If she could speak, I believe, then and now, she would have revealed her prejudice against L—’s family, who lived in an apartment complex with a dirty swimming pool—although how she could know this I never knew since she had never been there; or perhaps more likely, it was simply too far to transport me to due to her fear of driving (or both or neither).

I could tell by the slow speed of the orange van rising up the road that my abductor had arrived. The people who lived in our neighborhood often sped down this road, ignoring children, snakes, rabbits, careening home to their own safe, secret lives. Parked on my bike, but also in my cactus body, my mind was caught in both places at once. I saw my splayed shoes on the black top, I saw my mother staring at me, her face a frozen ping pong paddle. My child body felt surprised and wondered if we could become a bullet again. My cactus body was more interested in my mother’s sublime reasoning. You will catch a disease! she said. You will drown from lack of supervision! Our swimming pool is dirty for weeks, you let me swim when it’s bright yellow, why can’t I visit my wife?

The still sun. Stopped in front of me. In my split state, I waited for him to open his door and take me. Instead, my abductor’s window rolled down. He had a brown beard, which didn’t seem spiky but combed, a soft cushion.

He asked me what I was doing, and unable to explain myself, I said, I wanted to talk with him.

His eyelid twitched and my soul returned. Stammering at first, he invited me to sit beside him in the passenger’s seat. I placed my bike on the side of the road and opened his door.

As we sat there with the engine running, his hand kept rising to rub his twitching eyelid. Sweat beaded his forehead, and the walls of the van felt hot and slick. I sensed his suffering, and I reached up to touch his face. His beard was soft, like the cushion I’d imagined, but below the surface, the hair grew thicker, coarse, the skin gone scabby, seedy in patches. Just then, his eyelid twitched. It made me think of a locked door, one banged on repeatedly by something trapped inside. My hand turned into a key and rose up to meet it.

As I touched his eyelid, I caught a glimpse of myself reaching out. My face looked sunburned, my nose snotted with orange mucus. He slapped my hand away and tried to grab my wrist.

I opened the door and leaped. Slammed hard, picked up my bike and started pedaling. My hand stung. I wanted him to chase me. Instead, the van’s wheels peeled off and I could feel gassy tar forming in the blacktop’s gut, my body, light as it was, sinking into it.

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