by Julie Carpenter
Camping with Barbie and Ken
The following story is based on actual events
He must have trembled from his vantage point in the shoe box under the bed
When he saw them packing the plastic motor home with sleeping bags made from old washcloths and toilet paper.
Maybe the first time he thought it would be fun.
He probably didn’t understand when three of the Barbies were plucked out of the box before the trip by the small hands.
Nurse, Doctor, Reporter said the owners of the small hands.
He must have been puzzled but maybe not afraid.
The manipulations of the small hands were the substance of his life.
But after that time?
The motor home surely smelled like fear.
He was never chosen as Nurse, Doctor, Reporter – he drove.
Skipper was always a passenger too – always.
Sometimes Midge and Theresa went, sometimes they stayed.
Sometimes along with Ballerina Barbie they were chosen to be Nurse, Doctor, Reporter.
Cut up Malibu Barbie was always a passenger as well.
She had no expectations – maybe the fear had dried up in her.
Her breasts and hair had been hacked away in the hopes of making her a boy.
She would die. She always did.
The small hands were sometimes kind to Skipper.
Some days she lived. Some she died.
Ken never died. No he was never allowed the peace of death.
Unlike the Barbie who had been buried and forgotten, he was forced to carry on.
Every time he was the witness.
Sometimes after the small hands had plunged the motor home off the side of the ditch,
He found himself crawling with a broken leg trying to drag Skipper to safety
He’d given up on cut up Barbie – she was always dead.
Sometimes the small hands pushed the camper down the steep hill
Bouncing, careening towards the inevitable stump or tree
Ken’s hands were never on the wheel
Reporter Barbie showed up to take pictures
And Ken watched her dispassionately taking notes
She was glad to be on the sidelines this time – no room for compassion.
Then to the hospital – cut up Barbie always DOA
Covered with a horrifying tomato blood
If the small hands could steal it.
The others were in various stages of death, twisted up.
Once Midge was decapitated.
Ken crawled out to find her head staring at him, next to one lime green shoe.
Back in the dark box there was nothing to do
But wait to pay again for sins he’d never committed
The small hands would come again tomorrow.
Captive Prince Trilogy by C.S. Pacat
Review by Jarad Johnson
I have been trying to formulate what to say on this amazing series since I (sadly) finished it. After the initial whiplash of realizing that I had finished the books, I couldn’t really articulate how I felt other than saying how wonderful the series was, but after that it just became too complicated. I have never read a series that is quite like this one.
When someone says that a book is unique, I often wonder what that means. Of course, there are some tropes and themes that all authors use or have used. Sometimes it seems like the same stories are recycled time and time again; there can be a sense of redundancy. But, there are a few books that seem like they create a whole new world, and for me that’s true of this series. It’s an amazing love story, and a sprawling, epic political drama. It defies stereotype and is truly a standout in the genres it straddles.
After much contemplation, I asked myself what made these books so great. I think a big part of it was the love story between the two main characters, Damen and Laurent. Yes, it’s great and amazing that they are in a male relationship, but it was also nice that their sexuality wasn’t the entire plot, but it served to enhance it. The series would have been amazing still, because of the author’s talent, if the two characters were not a couple. But, it became integral to the storyline that they were, because it was so skillfully woven throughout. Oftentimes, I find that LGBTQ+ characters in novels are either two-dimensional side characters whose sexuality I the main thing that the reader knows about them or written embodiments of common stereotypes. This is not the case here. The two are written as real people, with real struggles and real heartache. Sadly, that is a rarity.
Even though the novel does have heavy, overarching LGBTQ+ themes, that does not mean that it is only geared towards those of us in that community. Anyone can read these books, literally anyone, can read this book series, and unless you have a heart of stone, you will fall head over heels for these characters. These are books that can appeal to anyone. I feel that some stories, like this one, enrich our lives. That’s the joy of reading an amazing novel, being able to empathize with people who may not be exactly like ourselves (and why I inwardly cringe when someone tells me that they don’t read).
And if reading is fundamental, so is good writing. The author displays a keen ability to weave a vivid and colorful narrative, which helps bring such amazing characters and storylines to life. Through her writing, you there is no doubt of Laurent’s coldness or Dements’ terror when Laurent is in danger. She makes you feel it with them, which I regard as a great talent.
The plot is also superbly done in both books two and three. I really loved the intense war strategy as Laurent tried to outmaneuver his uncle, and almost always coming out to or three steps ahead. As a chess fan, I can say that it was like watching a brilliant match between two masterful players. Watching the moves and countermoves and manipulation on both sides really kept the plot interesting. In addition to the characterization, there are layers of believable political intrigue.
I am disappointed that there are only three books in the series and that I will be leaving these characters back on the shelf, I do not regret getting lost in those pages. It was truly an amazing read.
Jarad attends Middle Tennessee State University, loves tea, and tries to spend every spare second reading. Jarad is majoring in English. Bless his heart! Let's all light a candle for him and send him happy thoughts!
By Julie Carpenter
So this was it. The Thin Hungry Man was finally going to get to eat. His quest was going to be fulfilled. He was so excited he hardly knew what to think. For one thing he could hardly believe that this was happening. Some part of his brain refused, point blank, to believe it at all, but since it had no better plan it decided to go along for the ride. Unfortunately, in its excitement, his brain had ceased to remember that it was in charge of his body. The Thin Hungry Man could hardly stand up. In fact, he soon found he couldn't stand up at all. He took two steps forward and then fell over backwards and lay there waving his arms and legs like some huge and hideous insect. His feet and legs were going opposite directions and his arms were so eager to be up and gone that they simply waved around his head instead of helping to push him off the ground.
Adelaide stood staring at this performance. It made her no more eager to bring the Thin Hungry Man in the house to feed him, certainly. She sighed and walked over to him and grabbed one of the excited waving hands and pulled him off the ground.
"Come on, you idiot!" she said roughly as he popped to his feet. "Do you want lunch or do you want to lay in that flower patch thrashing around like a lunatic?"
The Thin Hungry Man was happy to be on his feet, but he was a little afraid of falling down again so he held tightly to Adelaide's hand, smiling.
Adelaide jerked her hand out of his. "You're up aren't you?"
The Thin Hungry Man tottered this way and that, but held his position and as soon as he steadied himself he followed her towards the house.
Before he could reach the house, however, she turned and looked at him. She stared at the bloody shirt and dirty hair. He had, over the course of his wandering in search of food, acquired a lot of dirt and grime. Bathing is completely secondary to someone who is starving. Besides, he had no friends to tell him how stinky he was (a greatly underrated advantage of friendship). Adelaide wrinkled her nose. The thought of this grimy twit setting foot in her house was not appealing to her. But he was pitiful. From somewhere deep inside, sympathy welled up, a sympathy that surprised her and made her uncomfortable.
"Come here." she commanded the Thin Hungry Man and headed around the side of the house. He followed her with some concern, eyeing her suspiciously. He thought she had said lunch was inside. In the history of the universe, few people have been more ready for lunch than the Thin Hungry Man.
"You're going to eat, you silly man, just not until you're a little cleaner." Adelaide picked up the garden hose and looked at him. "What you really need is a bath of course, but I can't even put you in the bathtub looking like that. It would never come clean again. Just stand there while I clean you off with the hose. And take that horrible shirt off. And your shoes and socks while you're at it. Just take off everything." She went inside for a bottle of dish liquid.
When she returned, the Thin Humgry Man stood staring at her.
"Do you want lunch or don't you?" said Adelaide.
He took off his shirt. And his shorts and underwear. Adelaide squirted the blue dish soap on him from as far away as she could, told him to close his eyes and keep them closed then turned the hose on him and did her best to clean him up. She squirted water behind his ears and over his head. She sprayed his feet and did her best to spray his legs. He needed scrubbing but she could barely stand to look at him, much less touch him. She turned the hose on full pressure. He toppled over and popped up covered with grass and wet dirt clinging to him. She turned down the hose. When all was said and done, she had completely emptied a half gallon bottle of dish soap and he was blinking one eye like a mad man from the soap but he stood comparatively clean, nude and angular in her soft, sweet green garden, like a strange little gargoyle on a forgotten corner of the church that makes you feel more sad than frightened.
“Better than before," she sighed. "Stand right there and don't move. I'll be right back."
Adelaide ran into the house to get some clean towels.
"He can’t put his dirty clothes back on," she muttered. "But what should he wear?"
She finally decided that he was certainly thin enough to wear some of her clothes and she found a pair of old shorts, shirt that she hated, and some rather itchy purple lace boy leg panties and took them out to him.
When Adelaide walked back outside she found the Thin Hungry Man standing firmly and stiffly where she had told him to. He had not come this far to lose out on lunch by angering the one person who had offered it to him. It felt strange to be standing there without his clothes although he wasn’t sure why.
Adelaide handed him the clothes. "Here are some towels and some clean clothes. Get dried off and then get dressed." She tried not to let her glance fall on him at all, but she couldn’t help stare. His starving body was riveting and revolting. Maybe a muumuu would have been better if she’d had one. She just wanted to do this one thing. This little thing. Then she wanted to send him on his way.
The Thin Hungry Man immediately obeyed, covering the skeletal body with the clothes she had given him, unfortunately initially interpreting the panties as a hat. After they had smoothed that over, Adelaide sighed and turned toward the house.
She did her best to remain angry with him. She felt more in control when she was angry. He stood barefoot and eager outside her door. What a dope.
"Come in," she said..
He walked into the kitchen and stood there smiling.
"Sit down," she said with a sigh and pulled out a chair.
He looked delightedly at the chair and sat down. She pushed him a little from behind.
"You have to sit up closer to the table stupid," she said. "It isn't like you're not entirely likely to make the world's biggest mess anyway."
He smiled at her. "Where's lunch?" he asked.
Adelaide glared at him. "Shut up and let me get it," she suggested.
So he shut up and waited eagerly at the table.
"Hmmm," Adelaide mumbled. She thought about what to give him. On the one hand, she really did feel a little sorry for him. On the other hand, she didn’t want to feed him so well that he kept coming back for food or something. She thought briefly about the ice cream and thought a bit about the lovely brie that had fallen out of the void. She looked at him and decided he wouldn’t properly appreciate the brie. She had already assuaged her guilt by telling herself that the filet mignon would take too long. Peanut butter. Adelaide didn’t care too much for peanut butter, but sometimes you just had to take whatever fell out of the void. She dug through the cabinet and found it.
There were two loaves of bread on the counter. She looked at them carefully to make sure she was picking out the oldest and stalest one. She spread the peanut butter on the bread and started to put the sandwich together. She turned and looked at her guest. He was smiling and rocking himself gently back and forth. His right hand had seemingly gotten out of control. It was moving around loosely on his wrist, fingers flexing madly. His left hand however was well under control and he smiled down at it frequently as if to reward it for its good behavior.
Adelaide sighed loudly. She went to the refrigerator, took out a jar of grape jelly and slammed the door. Thunk! The jelly smacked against the counter. She smeared about a teaspoon on the sandwich and smushed the pieces of bread together. Peanut butter oozed out the sides.
She slid the sandwich over to the Thin Hungry Man, and handed him a glass of milk. "Here you are. Go ahead. Eat."
The Thin Hungry Man picked up the messy, oozing sandwich and looked at it in awe.
"Food," he whispered reverently. He poked the sandwich at one side where peanut butter and jelly were oozing out the side. The index finger of that uncontrollable right hand jabbed itself between the bread and frolicked briefly in the goo. Convulsively, he jerked it out, as if he were having some difficulty stopping it. He lifted the index finger of his right hand to his mouth -- controlling it by lifting it with his left hand -- and popped it in.
A rather grotesque sucking noise followed, a look of sheer delight spread out over his face. And then his right hand lost control. It grabbed the sandwich, rather too hard because the bread smushed and the insides oozed out everywhere. He looked startled and darted out his left hand but it was too late. The right hand picked up the mushed sandwich and shoved it into his mouth. He gobbled the sandwich down in a few bites. Then he picked up the milk and took a delicate sip. And belched.
He smiled up beatifically at Adelaide, a great circle of peanut butter and jelly surrounding his mouth. A blob of jelly hung from the end of his nose and there was a little piece of peanut stuck in it, the last peanut butter to have fallen into the void having been of the chunky variety. He sipped his milk slowly now and again, exuding great sighs of pleasure.
Lunch. At last.
Catching up with the Thin Hungry Man
THM Chapter 1
THM Chapter 2
THM Chapter 3
THM Chapter 4
1. Serving Wisdom
Tha wants to hear
'ow tha nannan saved tarn
al tell thee.
a were nowt but
a serving oik
to big bosses
on r tarn.
serving 'em sup a were
an they were in
a reet tacking
seein as son lads
from another tarn
as said 'Thas best
do as we ask else
we'll beat thee
black and blue.
Know what am saying?'
"We want tha lasses,
wives and girlfriends
fort neet or maybe
In a reet to do.
Well as bein a serving oik
a 'ad an idea.
So a pipes up
"al sort it for thee."
an they continued
wi their yammer.
" a said, al sort it.
an their still yammer,
yammer. a slams full
pint pot dahn so's it
splashes all o'er
"Lunk'eads! A said
al sort for thee!"
Well, they eyes me
up and dahn like a were
summat art a tarn.
A were a bit on a looker
then, tits pointy, reet curve
on ma hips and dash
a blonde hair.
Then been so engrossed
they'd not noticed us.
"Well!", chief boss says.
A outlines plan
to 'em while they're
eyeing up me goods,
int plan a volunteered
a stack o' me female
mates to join us.
An it were on.
2. Second Best Dress
Bosses telled their wives
an girlfriends o' plan,
an telled 'em to keep stum.
Some o'them lasses
as doubted us lot
lower dahn pecking order
could do job reet. Snobby
bitches. They says
"We'll tek 'em in an
teach 'em how to play part."
A told our stack o' lasses
an they were game. So
all on us volunteers
turns up at posh lasses
doors and got a reet
"Tha dunt want too much,
else tha'll stink like a whore."
she dabs rose petal scent on us,
rouge's me cheeks,
chooses second best
linen for us "Dunt want you
showing us up."
an a were saving her.
Other lasses had been tret
same, but now all on us
were off to meet
wi enemy artside tarn.
a gev lasses advice.
to get, first. Thas posh,
remember. Up to them
to woo thee."
When us turns up
they've laid on a reet spread
for us, hot meat and fresh fish platters,
rice, pasta and sweet wine.
bearded enemy is all in a line up
to the tables. "Are you their
wives and girlfriends?", one
o' them asks.
A walk along line o' men.
Stop. Pull a lads goatee
ma tits an say " No, we're
shit under thee booit. Av
got some goats milk
'ere that wants suppin'."
an ma tits in his marth.
One o' other lasses,
reveals a thigh an says,
"ma fig wants chewin' on."
Yet another pouts her lips,
"a need a tongue to tek,
ma nectar" an snogs
one o' the enemy.
soon all are coupled up,
an suppin' place dry
an ma lasses are play
fightin' wi enemies weapons
an hidin' them away
lad on ma breast as his hands
all o'er, a gently prise him off,
"Time, yet, lover, time."
an sneak artside
an climb a wild fig tree,
an raise a torch
art on folds a ma dress
leet it so's bosses can see.
an bosses come dahn
on enemy fistin', cuttin'
av blood splattered o'er
her second best dress,
ma rouge is redder.
beat 'em soundly we did,
atter wi were gin r freedom
fort savin' tarn.
an that's why we're 'ere
under wild fig tree,
suppin' goats milk
an lasses play fightin
Paul Brookes was shop assistant, security guard, postman, admin. assistant, lecturer, poetry performer, with "Rats for Love" and his work included in "Rats for Love: The Book", Bristol Broadsides, 1990. His first chapbook was "The Fabulous Invention Of Barnsley", Dearne Community Arts, 1993. He has read his work on BBC Radio Bristol and had a creative writing workshop for sixth formers broadcast on BBC Radio Five Live. Recently published in Clear Poetry, The Bees Are Dead, Live Nude Poems and others.
By Julie Carpenter
The girl stared at the Thin Hungry Man who was busily sniffing the flowers. He seemed quite content. His clothes hung in rags. He had a pair of what might have once been khaki shorts that continually slid down from his waist and caught on the bones of his hips. What might once have been a white t-shirt had a gaping hole under one arm and it was stained green and brown. He did not have shoes and his feet were rather ghastly with thick, calloused skin. He had strange patterns on his arms that appeared to be….blood. She had never seen anyone thinner. His elbows stuck out sharp and pointy and his knees….he was a bag of bones encased in pale white flesh, with only a breath of air to fill him. The only thing that appeared healthy about him was the shock of curly brown hair above his eyes. There seemed to be a terrible cowlick in the front and it stuck up and then bent back over into his right eye.
The girl walked over to him. "Who are you? Did you say you were my cousin." She assumed the little red haired bastard had been lying; but you always wanted to get the story out of whatever freak landed in the garden. Then you could convince them that there were people who wanted to buy their insurance in the forest or circuses to join a couple miles away or you could give them fake maps to fairyland or the North Pole. It took some effort but you could usually have them on their way to nothing before too long.
But this time a sudden vague uneasiness washed over her. There was something unsettling about the strange man. She reminded herself that all of the creatures that she met here made her uneasy. No, that was wrong. Most of the creatures she met annoyed her or flat out made her angry.. He definitely made her uneasy and a little sad. And maybe a little angry. How had he let himself get into this shape? She let her self go with the anger. She was annoyed that he had decided to drag his starving carcass here and make her feel sad. She felt a little more in control now that she was angry instead of sad. She felt a little more equal to getting rid of him. That was the important thing.
“Well,” she said, “Did you say you were my cousin?”
He stared at the girl. "What do you mean? What’s a cousin?" he asked.
The girl looked at his thin happy face and tried again. "Where did you come from?"
"I was with those guys," here he pointed vaguely in the direction of the dwarves' house "and we were throwing beer bottles and then he brought me here," said the Thin Hungry Man.
"I know that, but I also happen to know you couldn't have been there long. I just talked to their mother yesterday and she said nothing about you. Where did you come from? Before the dwarves’ house I mean?"
The Thin Hungry Man looked in the direction of the void. He pointed. "From the blackness." he said.
"That's odd," murmured the girl, really more to herself than to the Thin Hungry Man. "You don’t often see people fall from the void. And they don’t usually know they’ve been in the void. They always have some cockamamie story about their lives and where they’re going."
The Thin Hungry Man smiled hopefully. The girl looked at him. She sighed deeply. She was in no mood for foolishness today, or any day for that matter. He made her uncomfortable. It wasn't that hard to find food on the edge of the void.
She looked at the Thin Hungry Man. "What is your name?" she asked him.
"What do you mean?" he cocked his head like a confused and stupid beagle. A confused, stupid and painfully skinny beagle.
"I mean, what did people call you where you came from?" she explained, none too patiently. "For example, my name is Adelaide, so when someone I know sees me they say, 'Hello Adelaide.’ That sort of thing."
"Well," said the Thin Hungry Man slowly, "There weren't any others like me where I came from. Just me." A great sense of inadequacy came over him. He felt sad again and his stomach rumbled so loudly that the girl jumped back from him.
"There were no others, no names and no food," he said sadly.
"No food?" the girl asked him. "When was the last time you ate?"
"Never" said the Thin Hungry Man. He looked sadly at his finger, which had recently quit bleeding.
Adelaide looked at him, bloody and ridiculous, so thin he looked as though he might break. Flower petals fell from his hair now and again and a deep sadness had spread over his face.
"I know I'm going to regret this," she muttered to herself, shaking her head. "Come on in and have some lunch."
"Lunch?" said the Thin Hungry Man.
"Food." Adelaide explained. She was seriously annoyed at herself. Why didn't she just send back out to the void to pick up some snacks? It seemed wrong somehow. Well, she would feed him but then he had to go.