Quarantine Tales Week 8

Enjoy the final issue of Quarantine Tales!

Living Locally by Erich von Hungen

From it,

we learned so much, so much.

How to do without.

            How to wait for frozen fish to thaw.

            How to cook it with dill or tarragon.

            How to plate it and carry it to our own table.

How to do without.     

            Without trips to the mall 

            to stroll and fawn 

            over things not needed,

            things that never leave their boxes.

We learned to have 

            before wanting again.

Learned to make do,

            to forget the word, “new”

            and found it not so bad at all.

We learned to value what was near 

            and always there.

            We learned to live locally.


We learned to do it slowly —

            slowly, slowly.

Not to just get into a car,

            a jet,

            a boat,

            a liner.

We learned to forget

            the latest restaurants, those with a twist,

            the best reviewed glamour or grunge bars,

            the hottest entertainment venues.

We learned to un-party,

            to enjoy locally


We learned to linger not to rush.

That home was not so much 

            a place to leave but to be in.

We learned

            to sit when sitting,

            to rest when lying,

            to see the little, smallest, nearest things.

And make them, then, a part of our dreams.

            We learned to dream locally.


We learned to take one step at a time,

            to notice it,

            to be grateful for it,

and that was really it.

We learned gratitude, 

            where we had only known complaint.

We learned to walk — not just to climb.

            We learned contentment locally.


We’d found the way, the road to us —

            one that we could manage anytime.

And right there,

            in the only life we had,

we learned to prize

            what flowed through us

            smooth and unimpeded.

Its voice, we learned to listen to.

Learned how to hear what is always nearest,

            what is truly, truly local.


And from that, we learned

how to do one single thing at a time,

            not 2 or 3 or more,

            and to be there with it,

            not past it — it, our only life.

How to be there with it, we learned —

            the very, very local.


We learned to discover quiet, 

            to measure it — 

            see the size of it —

            to accept it

            and to live inside it

            with nothing else turned on.

We learned to like it,

            and appreciate 

            what a gift that it can be.

We learned to live locally

            and from that,

            how full our cart really is.


If it had been a school,

we’d grade that time — that time before

with something like a zero.

That, too, we learned —

            learned locally.


And now that it is over,

we feel we’re just beginning.

            Here in ourselves, that flesh we’ve grown.

            Here in that place we’d never really known before.

            Here, locally.

            Here, finally, finally home.

Find more from Erich on Twitter and Youtube

Next Topic by William Smythe

Wake up and read the news.

            Donald Trump; mediocre blues;

            Pandemic strikes another county—



            Eat cereal and watch cartoons

            To get my mind off the news

            A notification then pops up—



            Nine dead in Canada.

            Gunman too. Oh,

            Fuck it, what’s new?!



            Cure for AIDS making waves;

            Storm rising in Australia;

            Gunman found dead in Texas—



            Walking, I see a fire rise

            Out an empty apartment

            Nine dead in Canada, 

            three in Memphis—



            Tears well up behind my eyes.

            I push them back and blink.

            I sniffle a corona laced sigh—


            Nine dead in Canada;

            Three dead in Memphis;

            Many more across Earth;




Find more on William’s Website and Twitter

Another F*ing Zach Story by Adam Wojack

None of us wanted to do it, but felt we had to. We met in person ten years later, in spite of the pandemic business. We’d all kept writing, but most of us should have stopped.

I mean, what was left to say?

Three more virus attacks – real ones, 14th century real – killed off half the people in the world and reduced global trade to basic services. Bread lines started at 6 a.m. National service was mandatory, to replace essential workers who kept dying off. We all received hurry-up training to run cash registers and stock lettuce, hand out medicine, direct traffic or drive buses. It sucked, but it was better than being dead. And it gave you the opportunity to smuggle out a loaf of bread or can of savory beans to warm your soul later, and maybe lure that cute chick without a cough to your place.

Even militaries were gone, absorbed into the International Health Force. Now they scoured borders for dirty commerce and crushed illicit gatherings. Being a veteran these days felt like a tag from the past. What brave humans used to do, before the public War on Safe Distance and the one waged in private: Scoring Liquor.

This war could have made us feel insignificant – I mean, we were – but no veteran would admit that. Nobody else had war stories. And if somebody did you just said, Yeah, but that wasn’t a real war. This pride, or delusion, is why I loved their company. Some did have good stories and I heard them through so many voices it was like we shared them. Name and place changed, and maybe deepness of hurt. But they told the same truth: this is when I was alive. And these stories were so much better in person than on the page.

We’d been a writer’s workshop, twelve of us, led by an English teacher. We’d meet once a month and trade stories and later on, drink beer and tell lies. It was mindless fun, but a lifeline. Then the first bad virus, the English teacher died, and we splintered. Met a few more times until the government shut down everything. We met online but it wasn’t the same. You needed each other’s presence to feel these stories. After four of us died, we stopped.

I don’t know why the reunion idea came up. We weren’t the first. Others had gambled and paid the price. We’d heard it all: infections, shame and then death. I don’t think any of us cared about shame or death, any more. We were sick of bunkering and hiding. Our training messed with us. We had to feel like soldiers or Marines, or god help us, sailors or airmen, again.

Jameson made the call. At first, nobody agreed. Why not just meet online? one asked. As good and safer, another said. So Jameson pitched it as old times. Tell a single flash story about whatever. Here’s the theme: What I miss the most. Oh, and winner gets the slim liter of vodka he’d acquired. Nobody jumped until he posted a selfie with bottle.

We met at the old place, wearing masks and gloves. The block was so empty nobody saw us. The door wasn’t even locked. We kept the lights off and at first I didn’t recognize anyone. It had been that long. Then I heard their voices, their laughs. You don’t forget these things about people.

We dropped our masks and our fears, and tossed latex on the floor. Eight of us sat down around a dusty table. Katie found an old rag from behind the bar and threw it at Marlon, telling him to wipe. Jameson pulled the bottle of vodka from his backpack, set it on the table and smiled. His white teeth lit the mood.

“Winner take all. Who’s first?”

No small talk, straight into it.

Oscar went first, like always. He read a memoir piece about how he missed being in combat, in Iraq or Afghanistan or somewhere, and how he felt bad that he didn’t have any good war stories, like in the movies. He read that his only good story was the time an IED blew up and a donkey ear landed on his buddy’s windshield, and how this buddy kept the ear and tried to make a souvenir out of it but it stunk so bad he had to throw it away.

Mel told a story about his fucked-up childhood and alcoholic mother and how he didn’t know why he was here because he wasn’t drinking anymore. But if he won, he said, he’d share the prize with us.

Katie told an angry story about some guy who tried to rape her in the Air Force. It was full of details about what she was wearing and how close a friend she thought the guy was and how she barely got away and then didn’t report it for a long time. And how she was still pissed.

Nobody said anything for a while.

“What the hell do you miss about that?” asked Mel.

“I don’t fucking know,” she said, still angry.

Marlon told a story about a girl from college with big tits he still wishes he’d fucked; Antonio followed with something about food, always about food, and everyone hated him for it and laughed; Jameson read a story about his father up in New Hampshire and how he’d died while Jameson was driving up to see him and that was it, the last time he’d ever see him and he’d never get this back. We all got quiet again after that. I didn’t want to go after Jameson but I did, telling a story about my kids who’d stopped talking to me over some bullshit and how I wouldn’t get those years back and what I’d do differently if I could, if I only could.

Nobody said anything for a while after that.

“Well merry fucking Christmas,” said Jameson. “Zach, you’re up then we vote.”

Zach was the group outlier. Too young for Vietnam, too old for Iraq, but he’d served the hell out of Desert Storm, he always said, even if he’d been on a ship in the Navy. And he had stories – things he swore truth to, like one-man raids, bayonet fights, being a prisoner of war. We all expected something like this – another fucking Zach story.

“I’m dying,” he said. “Brain cancer, terminal. The viruses couldn’t kill me. And I miss this,” he said, spreading his arms wide, “More than anything. I know you guys never believe any of my stories, but that’s okay. It doesn’t matter. I never showed up to be a fancy writer, never cared if I got published. I just wanted your company, just wanted to be heard. It can be a lonely life sometimes. I think you all know that.”

We all looked around the table. Was this another Zach story?

Jameson pushed the bottle in front of Zach and bowed his head, deep and slow.

Katie told Marlon to get some fucking cups.

We poured the vodka and held up our glasses. Zach made the toast.

“My fellow veterans… to the war.”

Coyote in Chicago by Kathleen Sands

Coyote ambled along Michigan Avenue. He sniffed at the big green lions guarding the Art Institute. Noticing his reflection in the Cloud Gate sculpture, he grinned to check whether any breakfast had stuck between his teeth. Nope, all clean and white. 

Still. Something seemed off. He slowed, sniffing up the Magnificent Mile. Hotels, restaurants, skyscraping buildings standing in for mountains. He peered into darkened shop windows and empty alleyways. Everywhere was weirdly quiet. Where were the humans? In the last meeting of the Council of Creators, Old Buzzard said he’d heard a rumor that the humans were gone. Maybe it was true.

If so, no real surprise. And Coyote knew he was partly to blame. Over the objections of the other Creators, he’d given dangerous gifts to those wayward two-leggeds: fire and opposable thumbs and more. Raven had warned that such gifts could be misused, but Coyote had opened his golden eyes wide and said Oh wouldn’t that be terrible. Then he’d snuck off to bestow his largesse. 

He crossed streets named Delaware, Seneca, and Huron but saw no Delaware people, Seneca people, or Huron people. He didn’t even see any Blank people, the ones who’d been left unpainted during the last Creation because he’d run out of colors. Seeing the depressing pallor of the poor Blanks, he’d felt a twinge of guilt and given them some extra gifts: guns and ships and bottomless acquisitiveness.

But now all the humans seemed to be gone, painted and pasty-face alike. And since the task of perpetuating life fell partly to Coyote, he needed to get rolling. His assignment from the Council was to find a place for the next Emergence, a connection between earth’s center and surface, the worlds of spirit and flesh. Someone on the Council had mentioned Lake Michigan as a possibility, so Coyote had volunteered to check it out. Any excuse to get away from Baboquivari Peak for a few days and scoff down some urban treats: leftover KFC, stale pancakes, rancid egg salad. And since he was going urban, he’d dreamed for an instant of making his trip in the form of a scruffy Esai Morales, leather jacket over wifebeater, zooming northeast on a Kawasaki Vulcan Vaquero painted metallic spark black.

Nah. Too flashy. This assignment needed anonymity. So he’d traveled in his usual four-legged, bushy-tailed form. No leather jacket or motorcycle, but still scruffy.

Now he was passing parking garages. Houses of worship. Theaters. Inedible public gardens. No humans.

Hey, Coyote! A huge Norway rat peered from a sewer drain near the Clark/Lake station and spoke through the chunk of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza she was chewing. How’s it going?

Coyote paused for breath. Hey, Rat. Just blew into town to scope out the next place of Emergence.

Time flies. Why can’t you use one of the old places? How about that eternal spring down inside the Grand Canyon?

Coyote shook his head. Been diverted to keep the world’s biggest desert golf course green.

Of course. What about that sacred lake outside of Taos? Or that mountain cave just inside the Arizona-Sonora border?

Coyote sighed. Yeah, they were great. But that lake’s now a ski resort, and the mountain’s been dynamited for the big wall.

Crap. But there’s tons of others: Mount Fuji, Hagia Sophia, the Ganges—

They’ve all been paved, blasted, or otherwise cut off from the spirit world. Gotta be a new one. The Council’s been thinking about Lake Michigan.

Rat’s mouth fell open, crumbs spewing. Oops, sorry. The Third Coast? Hell, no. Metals, solvents, pesticides, plastics, decaying corpses—it contains more pollution than water. If the next Creation emerged from there, the new humans would be infertile, cancerous, and claw-handed. By the way, fellow omnivore—want some pizza? She shoved a hunk toward him.

He backed off. No thanks. Tomato sauce is for enchiladas, not bread dough. Hey, where’d you get that pizza if all the humans are dead?

Rat blinked. They’re not dead. Some virus scared them indoors, but we still got eight billion or so.

Eight billion? Wow.

And they still throw out tons of great food. Rat nabbed a bite of greasy bacon off her pizza.

So we don’t need a new Creation after all.

I t’s been great, actually. Rat whipped out her smartphone and showed a video of wild animals enjoying cities all over the world: penguins and kangaroos using crosswalks in Cape Town and Adelaide. Parrotfish and loggerheads swimming in a Venetian canal. A herd of javelina barreling through the UCLA campus.

Coyote raised his eyebrows. I see what you mean. Maybe we should keep the humans indoors. Think of it. Gibbons swinging from the Eiffel Tower. Elephants touring the Taj Mahal. Hyenas yelping in the White House.

How would you do it?

Easy. Throw HIV and COVID-19 into the martini shaker together and proceed to shimmy like jelly on a plate. You’ll get a tough new virus that’s vaccine-proof because it mutates constantly and is so contagious that there’s no prevention except isolation. Darwin Awards to all the humans who try to defy it. He chortled.

Rat attempted to laugh but only choked on her cheese. Still, caging them up sounds like something they’d do to us. Is that really how you want to be? Like them?

Coyote considered. Okay, the videos might be trivial, but eating isn’t. His stomach rumbled. Any decent Mexican food in this burg?

Yeah, Xoco is a few blocks thataway. I scored some excellent cabrito there last week. Shall we? 

Vámonos pues. All creatures are driven by their bellies. I’ll decide on the fate of humanity after I down some chicharrones. He laughed again and trotted toward Clark Street.

Rat scurried alongside. That’s a rare sound, an animal laughing. Wish I could do it.

First qualification for being appointed to the Council of Creators.

Creation requires a sense of humor?

Gotta be able to laugh at your mistakes.

They traveled companionably, following the aroma of roasting chiles and cinnamon.


Questions for My Shadow by David Icenogle

How long does it take to forget yourself?

If you’re alone long enough

with no end on the horizon of time

how long would it take to forget

everything that has shaped you up to this moment?

How long could your memories last

when isolation has taken away all points of reference?

When there are no faces or words available to remind you of the life you’ve lived.

What memory would be the last to go?

The first time you held your child.

The moment you learned someone you loved had no more tomorrows.

A night the darkness of the sky pushed the stars towards you so close you could feel their breath.

When the gravity of aloneness has torn everything away,

what image would be the last to hang onto your mind?

The face of the person who survived this life at your side.

A hospital room of people welcoming a new person to this world

or awaiting a final exhale.

A range of mountains that swallowed your gaze and stood impossibly still.

How much time without others would it take to forget their meaning to you?

Can you forget how much you loved something?

What is the distance it would take to teach your mind not to yearn for anyone?

Maybe you could always keep your humanity burning inside you if

there was a promise that someday

you would feel the breath of stars again.

A lighthouse in your loneliness.

Maybe that promise would be enough to carry you.

Even if it was a promise

you had to make to yourself.