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Root That Mountain Down: Chapter One

Novel Excerpts / Novella Issue 11 by Evan Balkan

It’s an unspeakable smell. The smell of death. The ripping open of animal to let out the demons, loosing the jumble of organ and bone and tissue and exposing it to open air where microbe and maggot and mosquito can do their work.
Black piles of waste swarming with insects fill clearings in the woods, just beyond the demarcated perimeter where decrepit buildings totter in the heat. Two scraggly roosters barely muster up the energy to chase each other in languid circles amidst food wrappers and beer cans. Muddy men wearing flip-flops cradle tattered playing cards and AK-47s.
A voice booms from inside the long, flat building: “Hey! Hey! Hey!” over and over like a wicked hymn. A shirtless man emerges. Stretching from his right shoulder to his belly button is a long purple scar. The belly button protrudes like a tiny appendage. His arms are outstretched, and unlike the other men, he has a nice potbelly.

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Land of the Free

Novel Excerpts / Novella Issue 11 by Peter Hoppock

For the first 20 years of Douglas Williams’ life, his grandmother Mary had been tightlipped about her past—what had brought her to America, what and who she had left behind. During the last week of his last semester of college, Douglas’ father Llewelyn Williams Jr., fearing a downturn in Mary’s health, insisted Douglas join the family at the nursing home that had housed her for the last five years. That evening, after a short visit from a priest during which she insisted she was healthy as ever, she asked about Douglas’ upcoming Army service and if he still expected to be stationed in Europe for a time. When Douglas answered yes, she made this request of him: Please look up my brother-in-law Joseph, who might or might not still be living in Wales. She gave Douglas a photograph of her long-dead husband Llewelyn Williams Sr., noting that she had none of Joseph, but that the two brothers, born a few years apart in age, shared enough features for the photo to be useful. Promise you will do this for me, she insisted. Douglas kissed her on the forehead and promised he would. Mary’s request took everyone by surprise, especially Douglas’ father, himself equally tightlipped about his origins—as if it were a family obligation to bury the past.

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The Message

Novel Excerpts / Novella Issue 11 by Richard Friedman

Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 2025

“Mr. Bookman, time for dinner!”
Simon Bookman roused, groggily, and studied the nurse. He didn’t recognize the nurse that took care of him for the last two years. Josephine Lucas rolled Mr. Bookman in his wheelchair to the dining room for today’s feast consisting of a dry piece of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and a little cup of vanilla flavored ice cream.
If Simon Bookman could remember the old days, he’d recall the smell of baked apples wafting up the staircase and hypnotizing his three boys, Winston, seventeen, Sebastian, fourteen, and Wellington, age ten, respectively, dropped in the lap of Simon and his wife Margaret after Simon’s brother and sister-in-law died in 2000, courtesy of a drunk driver.
The older boys retreated into the safety net of their deceased father’s transportation company. Wellington chose the sciences and graduated from Stanford, and celebrated his thirty-fifth birthday, a shared celebration with his beloved uncle.

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