online magazine for short, good writing

Category: Mixtape

Mixtape: Ravi Mangla

by a contributor

Blurb is a short collection of new and previously published humor pieces. The ebook is available for free download through Artistically Declined Press. An excerpt from the collection can be read here. Also, Ravi’s chapbook, Visiting Writers, is available for free from Uncanny Valley here.

A Good Meal

by Ravi Mangla

The hostess points to a table in the corner of the dining room, where a man is eating alone. “Is that your husband?” the hostess asks. “Yes,” the woman says, the answer that seems closest at hand, even though the man is not her husband. The hostess leads the woman to the table and seats her across from the man. His knife pauses in mid-incision and he looks at the woman. “I’m not paying for your meal, you know,” he says. He returns to sectioning his steak. The woman browses the wine list. Halfway through the reds she notices the hostess guiding her husband into the dining room, depositing him at a vacant table. She considers how rare it is to observe someone you know so intimately from a distance, in a public setting, for any extended period of time. For a moment she tries to pretend they are perfect strangers, no longer bound by their common history. She watches him fidget with his silverware. He tucks his napkin into his collar, changes his mind, and places it in his lap. Can she picture herself in this scene? The man across from her, suddenly aware of the opportunity that has been presented to him, attempts to reclaim her attention. “Would you like to see how many potatoes I can fit in my mouth,” he asks. Before she can answer he begins packing his mouth with potatoes, alternating with separate forks. His cheeks widen and his face turns red. He mumbles something to her, but she is unable to reconstruct the words. The forks drop from his fists and clatter against the plate. She realizes he is choking. He pounds on the table and she tries signaling a waiter with her napkin, and when that doesn’t work she stands on her chair and shouts for help. Her husband, recognizing the voice, hastens to the table. He belts his arms around the choking man’s stomach. After several pumping motions the potato is exorcised, landing in the empty bread basket. The waiting staff crowd around the man, dab his forehead with a napkin, offer to refill his water. Her husband approaches with a quizzical expression. “What were you doing here?” he asks. “What is anyone doing anywhere?” she says. He considers the response for a moment. The answer seems to satisfy him. “Can I buy you dinner?” he asks, an earnest appeal. The breaking of bread won’t mend whatever is broken between them, but she wants to be the woman who believes in second chances. She wants to believe that all of the problems in the world can be solved with a good meal. Her husband offers her a silk rose from the choking man’s table. She twirls the stem in her fingers, holds the scentless petals under her nose.

Ravi Mangla lives in Fairport, NY. His stories have appeared in Mid-American Review, American Short Fiction, Corium Magazine, matchbook, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. A collection of microfictions, Visiting Writers, was published as an ebook by Uncanny Valley Press. He keeps a blog at

See Ravi’s list of 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series.

Mixtape: Gabriel Blackwell

by a contributor

According to Dashiell Hammett, a shadow man is “meant to blend in, to disappear by being always there.” Hammett knew something about disappearing. Behind the shadows thrown by “Miles Archer,” his fictional detective, was a very real detective—his partner in San Francisco, Lewis Miles Archer, a private detective so private that, when he went missing in February of 1929, no one even thought to look for him. Shadow Man is the biography of the silhouette Hammett, as well as Raymond Chandler and even Ross Macdonald, eventually filled in, a man who was always there.

Until he wasn’t.

—publisher’s description of Shadow Man

Napoleon Bonaparte

from The Obscura, A Historical Canon in Four Parts, for Voice and Left Hand

by Gabriel Blackwell

Commonly blamed for inventing that singularly pompous pose forever associated with his most famous subject out of some ridiculous depravity or artistic inadequacy, Jacques-Louis David, Napoleon Bonaparte’s portraitist, vigorously denied such charges not with dodges but with salvos of his own. The stint at Elba and consequent reconquest made him wary of St. Helena, even the grave—he dared not go against the Emperor’s word—and so, out of necessity, he had become skilled at sensing imperfections in others, refusing to keep his tongue when slandered.

The 1812 canvas, Napoleon in His Study, is perhaps the most famous of these hand-in-waistcoat renderings, but, truth be told, all of David’s portraits of Napoleon I featured this pose. It was David’s peculiar misfortune to have been afflicted with such a stubborn subject in the first place.

“But, mon Empereur, why do you insist on hiding that, your right hand, even though it is there, in plain view? Anyway, it is quite handsome. Perhaps you could hold this piece of paper. Or this quill? C’est charmante, non? What a fetching and imperial pose it would make!”

“Non. Absolutement non.”

When David showed him his painting—just as the Emperor had sat it, with his right hand suspended from a cleverly constructed loop designed by itinerant Russian tailors (said to be angelically gifted)—the exasperated artist was nearly thrown in the stockade, accused of treason. The curious texture of the canvas at just that spot is the result of a second, yes, even a third coat of paint, covering the hand made of pigment in exactly two more layers than the hand made of flesh it was meant to depict. It is still slightly visible, mostly as an impression, a rough patch on the waistcoat in the shape of a hand, as though this one element of the painting had true depth. Napoleon’s despotic insistence was the peculiar result of his early steeping in the legends of Corsican oratory combined with the mendacious ministrations of the Russian tailors.

“Jacques-Louis, while you correct that idiotic mistake of yours, let me tell you of my history. I was not born here in Paris, you know,” the Emperor explained. “Non. It is from Corsica I come. There, we owe our culture to the Greek Aeschines, exiled to our island after losing an argument to Demosthenes, that preposterous windbag. It was apparently his second such campaign—easily prevailing in his first suit, he was not so lucky the second time. The greater the victory, the more crushing the defeat, ah? Do you already know the story?”

“Non, mon Empereur. Perhaps, if I may, if we were to just quite erase this strange loop your waistcoat has grown…”

Napoleon, attaining that musket-bore stare David had thought perfect for the portrait but now abjectly feared, ignored the inane request and instead carefully enlightened David on the illustrious career of Aeschines. Charged with treason by Demosthenes and his lackey, Timarchus, Aeschines returned their volley with arrows from his own quiver: Timarchus’s standing as accuser was seriously compromised by his rather raunchy behavior at Piraeus, was it not?  It was well known that the boy had played bottle to countless messages from foreign sailors too long at sea. Not exactly the man to be slinging mud, not when he was face first bottom up in it. The slander might have continued, but Timarchus slipped away and hung himself on the first pole he found, correctly guessing the orientation of the children of Astraeus. Demosthenes put away his accusations for another time.

It was not long in coming. Aeschines, sensing an Attic eruption, again prepared a complete reversal of the charges, accusing Demosthenes of the treason Demosthenes had accused him of. A matter of coin, this one, rather than flesh. In the event, it was something of a Pyrrhic victory, each increasing the other’s infamy until they were both nearly executed. Demosthenes prevailed only by the slimmest majority, a fact which Aeschines attributed correctly to one small but mortifying slip-up. Flustered at the baffling extent of Demosthenes’s oratory, at the third hour, Aeschines dropped his hand, decorously withheld in his toga until that moment, causing a report in colliding with his podium that swiveled all heads his way. Demosthenes broke off and everyone waited Aeschines, who, unprepared to riposte, had merely been surprised and was not even cognizant that he was attended. Gaping like a hooked mackerel, it took Aeschines several moments to realize eyes were upon him, whereupon, with consummate skill, Demosthenes rapped his own podium and picked up where he had left off, giving Aeschines the unsettling suspicion that he had just unwittingly ceded the upper hand to his opponent. Indeed, he had.

“It was the right hand, you see, cher Jacques-Louis, the hand of logic and reason. The hand of God. Dropping it heralded something ignominious, non? Everyone could see, plain as the tip of your thumb. To this day, to be shown a man’s right hand in Corsica is a slap in the face!”

“But you hide it from no one!”

“Zut alors! Jacques-Louis, in Corsica, this portrait would be counted a crime equal to Ham’s, and Noah’s curse would be handed down through your family. Attends! Those Russians are saints. The fiber they have woven this waistcoat out of, it is a miracle. It feels like the air, light as the light itself, but don’t be fooled by its lightness into believing it insubstantial, as I did. Non. I protested just as you do now, but they made a test.”

“What test?”

“They explained that this poor light of the candle—ha, even Lebon’s gas—is inadequate to illuminate the weave they have taken such pains to spin. Only the natural light of the sun is equal to the task. Unfortunately, they could not find a looking glass suitable for the parade ground, so we repaired to my apartments, where they closed all of the drapes until the room was as black as coal. Then, one turned a curiously shaped glass at the only open window, and voila, right there in front of me, through the magic of their glass, I could see myself, clear as day but much enlarged and everything as they had been telling me it was, with details sharper than the blade in my scabbard and their fine waistcoat in place. Ah, que c’est beau! If they hadn’t scampered off, I should have had them outfit a whole wardrobe for me.”

Sotto voce, the portraitist replied, “Be thankful they ran at the first hint of success, rather.”

“What did you say, Jacques-Louis?”

“Perhaps you will allow me to examine this glass you say they employed, mon Empereur? Purely for my own edification. Perhaps there is something yet to be learned.”

“Very well, monsieur. It is where the Russians left it, in my apartments. But I warn you: I tire of this sitting. The portrait ought to have been done long ago and there is the parade this afternoon to think of.”

The Emperor had his steward move the tailors’ glass into place. Once the curtains had been drawn and the sliver of light had spilled out of the prism, however, rather than the resplendent Napoleon, Marie Louise, missing both her bustle and her bodice, shone forth on the floor. She had been caught in the act of plucking a small cluster of three thick, black hairs from her enlarged and scandalously bared left breast. Dumbfounded, Napoleon stepped into his wife’s outline. His was but a blurred shadow moving over her finely detailed bosom, a vole set loose on the most jealously-guarded topography in the Empire. David could not suppress a nervous laugh.

The portraitist gloated, “You see it is not a matter of illumination or of reflection, mon Empereur, but of costume and plot. One of the tailors or perhaps a confederate must have been stationed in the Empress’s boudoir, dressed as you are in this so-called fabric, while you stood here, even as you are now, naked as the Empress and innocent as Adam in the Garden.”

Bashing the glass with his right hand, the Emperor bellowed, “Mon Dieu! Draw the curtains. Draw the curtains! I will not soon forget this insult, monsieur.” While David, taking care to remain penumbral, obeyed, Napoleon examined his bruised and bleeding member—pale, unlined, hairless, even a little atrophied from years of coddling in his waistcoat, it was that of a woman. He recalled the tittering he was certain he had heard coming from Ney and his fellow marshals during the morning’s oration. “Which direction did those tailors take?” the Emperor demanded.

Pursuing the Russians across steppe and frozen waste, Napoleon sought to make whole his pride, but realized with dismay that, though he was not particularly superstitious, with the fracture of the tailors’ glass he had indeed inaugurated seven years’ bad luck. He waited the end of this period as patiently as circumstances would allow, but as his shamefully exposed—and pitifully punctured—palm would have shown, his lifeline, though much longer than the several travel lines crossing it, was not more extensive than his fate line. Believing all along he would escape the island of his renewed exile and reconquer the continent, Napoleon instead contracted cancer, and, cursing fate, died long before the glass had finished exacting its revenge.

Gabriel Blackwell is the author of Shadow Man: A Biography of Lewis Miles Archer (CCM) and Critique of Pure Reason (Noemi), both out in November. He is the reviews editor of The Collagist and a contributor to Big Other, among other things.

See Gabriel’s 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series.

Mixtape: Thomas Mundt

by a contributor

“An Eat Pray Love for anorexic, atheist sociopaths, Thomas Mundt’s You Have Until Noon To Unlock The Secrets Of The Universe is a triumph of the human spirit (or, if homo sapiens sapiens isn’t your bag, a victory for your spirit animal’s corporeal self). This past summer, I had the distinct pleasure of checking this face-wrenching tour de force out from the prison library and, after I begged and pleaded with Bandsaw, Senior Librarian, to give me something, anything, else, I must say I didn’t puke on what I found—that is, the semi-coherent, incredibly-average musings of a fair-to-middling Caucasian struggling with personal demons and, in all likelihood, the current location of his car keys. A few sentences into Universe’s first selection, “Sarge,” I thought, Yes. Now THIS is the written word, and in easy-to-read American English. A few sentences later I was on the receiving end of a weight room pummeling from which I’m still recovering, but from what I recall it was decent. The food, I mean. Everyone talks about how awful the food is on the inside but, truth be told, I didn’t hate it. What are we talking about?
—Wesley Snipes, December 2012”

Out-of-Office Reply

by Thomas Mundt

You have reached the desk of Cort Plumlee. It is with great regret that I inform you that I have no desk, just a smartphone permanently affixed to my hip, sheathed in a stylish pleather holster. I have my concerns about the child labor undoubtedly employed in the manufacturing of said accoutrement, but that is neither here nor there.

What is here and there, however, is that I am here, which is to say I have gone black for the day. I do plan to go back, though, despite suggestions to the contrary. If this reference to a popular sexual aphorism has made you uncomfortable, my sincerest apologies. Please be advised that I am blessed to have had several strong African-American influences in my life, including but not limited to my high school guidance counselor, a Mr. T. Allen Diggs, and a former lover, Cheryl. I am certain that, upon request, they would attest to the fact that this is the species of joke we made around one another all the time, given the post-racial ease with which we interacted.

But I digress. It is not my intention to keep you or any other interested party in the dark about my whereabouts, so please allow me to cut to the chase: I am currently in South Bend, Indiana, watching my eldest, Tracy, participate in a field hockey tournament. I am here under protest, mind you, and at the insistence of Tracy’s mother, who is currently hospitalized with acute appendicitis. Lest you question the level of my parental involvement, however, please know that the hesitancy with which I sit in the bleachers, ensconced in polar fleece and quarter-drunk on Speedway-brand Irish coffee, has nothing to do with my desire, or lack thereof, to participate in my pre-teen daughter’s life. It derives from my knowing abso-fucking-lutely nothing about the subject sport, the rules, regulations, and strategies that make it tick.

Additionally, the presence of several unaccompanied middle-aged men with binoculars, intently focused upon the billowing of tartan skirts and the revelation of athletic bloomers underneath, is a cause for concern.

Now, I realize that you did not issue me electronic mail in the hope that you would receive a status update concerning my travels to Midwestern college towns and the various comings-and-goings of the precocious young women therein. No, you queried me because you want, nay, need something. There is a corrupted Excel sheet you need debugged, a thrice-downloaded Adobe Acrobat update that refuses to take. You want to know if I found your key card, which you believe you may have dropped near the plaza-level vending machines.

I am writing to inform you that, today, as I watch a tiny orange ball get lobbed back and forth across the torn-up sod of a second-tier junior college green, the November chill threatening to freeze my mucus and seal my nasal passages like sarcophagi, I unequivocally and unabashedly do not give a shit.

Before you scroll through the remainder of my response in search of contact information for Rudy, my backup, please allow me to explain.

You see, I have catered to the whims of the tenants of the Crowne Center office park (hereinafter collectively referred to as “You People”) for upwards of thirteen years now and, during my tenure as Chief Technology Consultant, very little has changed for me, both professionally and personally. Granted, my income has seen steady, industry-consistent increases of three-percent annually during that timeframe, and I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge my good fortune for the same in this era of continued economic decline. The holiday parties and their related cold cuts-and-cheese buffets should not go unrecognized, either. It is just that, when a man invests in expensive, terrain-appropriate footwear such that he can scale a rock formation, lean out over its precipice, and take in the bounty below, the faces, places, and traces of dreams conjured and realized, he wants to see his mark. He wishes to point to a pear tree planted, a regional frozen foods distribution warehouse leased and utilized, and say I did that. That was me there, in the smock. Metaphorically-speaking, of course.

It is the days when You People call me Curt, or Kirk, or Mort, and after spending forty-five minutes cleaning ill-advised Limewire frolics off of your hard drives, that remind me that I have fallen well short of any mark-making goals I may have set in my youth. Thus, I will spend the remainder of my Friday in the company of Tiger Moms, indulging in my maudlin fantasies and, if I get hungry, oversized hot pretzels with extra salt and honey mustard dipping sauce.

Rest assured that I will return on Monday, ready to address any technology-related conundrums you may have encountered and/or caused during my absence. I will accept your right hand for a shake upon the completion of my Service Ticket, knowing full well that this is the best I can hope for under the circumstances, and from here on out.

Very truly yours,

Cort R. Plumlee
Chief Technology Consultant
Cotillion, A Certo Company

Thomas Mundt is the author of one short story collection, You Have Until Noon to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe (Lady Lazarus Press, 2011), and the father of one human boy, Henry (2011). Teambuilding opportunities and risk management advice can be found at

See Thomas’ list of 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series.

Mixtape: David Galef

by a contributor

David Galef: My Date with Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books)

How do you cope with a spouse who’s a charismatic kleptomaniac?
Does it matter if the souvenir you bring home from Africa is another human being?
What can a wife do if all that remains of her husband is what he left in the bathroom that morning?
Never mind waking up one morning as a giant insect. What about metamorphosing into your mother?

My Date with Neanderthal Woman won Dzanc Books’ first short-story collection prize. The title piece snared an award in an online humor contest, was published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, got republished in the Great Books Foundation’s Short Story Omnibus, was translated into Spanish for a collection called Los mejores relatos, got sold for a film option, and was performed by an actor in Los Angeles for an evening of selected shorts. The other pieces aren’t bad, either. Here are thirty-three visions of lives that—let’s hope—are far from your own.

Ask for it at your local bookstore or order it from Amazon.

On Holiday

by David Galef

Have you been to the banana-squashing festival in Minanga?

Velida marks the last day of the year you can legally eat ice cream on the island of Nectos.

The origins of Chopstick War Day are obscure.

No one has ever succeeded in photographing the Witches’ Sabbath Parade.

All the citizens dress up like cockroaches and copulate with whomever they can.

The idea is to commemorate the historic crossing of the Redback River with three inner tubes, a pot of oatmeal, and a sack of goose feathers balanced on one’s head.

The triangular fans from the Feast of Hangover depict the three transcendent states: drunk, unconscious, and dead.

On this one afternoon, the dogs rule the household.

One line of celebrants wears funny hats; the other side carries fedoras.

The Dance of the Arthritic Cripple started as an add-on to the Catholic mass at the Yellow Church on St. Tropisme.

The medieval Festival of Farts is thought to stem from a post-Lenten celebration of a cabbage surplus.

First the Master of Pajamas stretches, then the Night-Capped Trio yawns, and then the gaily bedecked cots are wheeled out, the first evening of Somnos.

The holiday ends when the participants run out of eggs.

The floats for the Prettiness Pageant become the kindling for next day’s Perfect Pyre Parade.

Unfortunately, the Feast of Hrofar, begun to take the peasants’ mind off the famine of 1470, supplies only one pancake for 800 revelers.

The Substitute Holiday can take the place of any other holiday in the calendar with just a day’s notice. Also, the Substitute Holiday Elders are ingenious in recycling objects from other holidays, such as turning decorated walking sticks into percussion instruments.

The orgies of the Bucharin Bacchanalia have been discontinued until several paternity suits are resolved.

The supposed effigy in the Punters’ Procession is a real woman imprisoned in papier mâché.

The city commission frequently has to double- or even triple-decker holidays, artfully juxtaposing Amputee Pride Parade with Skateboards in Procession and Nurse Appreciation Day.

Everyone at the Birth/Rebirth Gala knows what the six-foot candle stands for.

In a strategic move, the Glendale Chamber of Commerce is staging its Feast of the Tourist the week before Centerville’s Sightseeing Spectacular.

Questionnaires to be filled out by spectators after the Flaming Cocktail Throw will help make next year’s event even better.

David Galef has published over a dozen books and shows no sign of stopping. His latest are the short story collection My Date with Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books) and Japanese Proverbs: Wit and Wisdom (Tuttle). He is a professor of English and director of the creative writing program at Montclair State University.

See David’s 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series.

Mixtape: Marie-Helene Bertino

by a contributor

Marie-Helene Bertino’s collection of short stories Safe as Houses received the 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Award, judged by Jim Shepard, and was published in Fall of 2012. Among other things, the stories are about Bob Dylan coming to Thanksgiving dinner, a girl winning a free ham, dating the idea of your ex-boyfriend, being an alien with opinions on human heartbreak, how your college pals are magic, and dancing with nuns. She is finishing a novel about Philadelphia and magic and music.

Buy the book here. For a list of where to read all of the stories, go here.

Say Goodbye to Your Father

by Marie-Helene Bertino

I found a starfish on the beach and jogged the half-mile back to the house. I hoped my mother would make a fuss over it and she did. We pretended it was a monacle, using it to block out the sun. We pretended it was a brooch. We lay it on the counter to dry and reported its progress to one another throughout the day. It’s still drying, it’s almost dry.

We had come to the house because my father was one month dead and we hoped the sea would do the thing the sea does when it makes you think only of the sea.

That night my mother and I were roused from our bedrooms by clanging in the kitchen. Beams of light shot out of the starfish and morphed into a glowing woman. I am here to give you every earthly desire, she said. Chests of emeralds. Season tickets. Revenge on people who suck. Riches out the kazoo. What do you want first?

My mother made the sound that meant she was pretending to consider something.

Say goodbye to the starfish, she said the next day before hurling it back to the water. When I was little she used this phrase to teach me manners and temper loss. Say goodbye to the mailman, say goodbye to your Aunt Barbara, say goodbye to the sea.

Riches, she scoffed as we walked back to solid land. Life isn’t hard enough.


photo of Marie-Helene BertinoMarie-Helene Bertino has been a diner waitress, a muralist, and a singer in a band. Her stories have appeared in The Pushcart Prize Anthology XXXIII, North American ReviewMississippi ReviewInkwellThe Indiana ReviewAmerican Short Fiction, and West Branch. She has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize three times, receiving the award in 2007 and a Special Mention in 2011. She hails from Philadelphia and lives in Brooklyn, where for six years she was the Associate Editor of One Story. She has taught for The Gotham Writer’s Workshop and One Story’s Emerging Writer’s Workshop and has received fellowships from Hedgebrook Residency and NYC’s Center for Fiction, where she is a current fellow. Her collection of short stories SAFE AS HOUSES received The 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Award, judged by Jim Shepard, and will be published in fall of 2012.

See Marie’s list of 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series. Also check out her short story at FiveChapters.

Mixtape (Volume 1)

by Treehouse Editors

Johannes Lichtman

Last March, after about six months of planning, a handful of my former students and I finally opened our literary treehouse to you all. In the past nine months, we’ve had the privilege to publish more great writers than we could ever have hoped for—and not only that, but a dozen or so of these great writers have books out. Books that you should read!

Over the next week, we’re going to be spinning the Treehouse Mixtape (Volume 1), featuring some of the best stuff we’ve published over this first year, along with little tastes of why you should read the books these great writers have written. With those post-holiday Amazon gift cards burning a hole through your pocket, it seems like the perfect time to buy them (or, in some cases, download the books for free).

Along with the seven writers we’ll be featuring over the course of the week—Matt Bell, Marie-Helene Bertino, Gabriel Blackwell, David Galef, Ravi Mangla, Thomas Mundt, and Ariana Nadia Nash—we’d also like to congratulate these Treehousers who have also recently put out books, have books coming out soon, or have recently been featured in major anthologies:

Eugene Cross Fires of Our Choosing: a short story collection from Dzanc Books, which we liked so much that we reviewed it here at Treehouse, and I included it in my personal top 10 of 2012. But don’t just take our word for it—The Huffington Post said of Cross’ characters: “They are who they are, and if dignity has been denied them by the rest of us, including us story-tellers, it is restored by this collection.”

Roxane Gay’s short story “North Country” was picked as one of the twenty Best American Short Stories of 2012 by editor Tom Perrotta.

Kyle Minor Praying Drunk: a short story collection from Sarabande Books scheduled for release in early 2014, of which Daniel Handler (aka “Lemony Snicket”) said, “I finished this book with my heart pounding and grateful, my coffee cold and my smile wide and crying like a baby.”

Patrick Somerville This Bright River: a novel from Reagan Arthur (an imprint of Little, Brown), which the Chicago Tribune called “A remarkable achievement.”

Matthew Specktor American Dream Machine: a novel from Tin House Books forthcoming in April 2013, which David Shields called “the definitive new Hollywood novel.”

Brandi Wells poisonhorse: a chapbook from Nephew (an imprint of Mud Luscious Press), which featured was on CNN.