HCE received a lot of high-quality submissions for The Brutal Issue – sadly, too many to fit inside the magazine! So we offered some of our shortlisted contributors the chance to be published on our website.

Keep an eye on our social media for more great writing like this, in the run up to the release of The Brutal Issue…


Vincent M. Basso


Trash flecked barbed wire. Sage and blue sky. People settled here,
hands massaging deep down the earth just begging that clean country air.
1980-something. After a 9-to-5 the years an ulcer people deserved
a simple parcel of windmill and wind battered fence. 9.7 miles square


dirt roads stark in symmetrical grid and spirit hum among the power lines
and ruined trailers and promises cracked and raw beneath the mountain
where the MRSA catches between words and the dogs tear at your calves
at night when the beetles gather the medicines of cold and flu, anhydrous


and used batteries, red phosphorous, drain cleaner, iodine. There was a kid.
He was arguing that he wasn’t queer. He got hysterical about it stomping around
and spitting and smacking his chest. There was a kid – he kept lifting
this cinder block and dropping it over and over again. There was a rhythm to it –


a pressure in his groin. A mouth – thin hair-like silver spines quivering
over the gums – it whispered something like ssssss! He thought it the worm
of his heart. Something his father had given him – drunk and crying like that,
a grown man naked in the night while the world edged a little nearer


to its cold promise in satellite. Some nights the kid swore he could still hear
the cops amid the trash. He was a maggot. Something latched onto a cock.
The dull pain a sugar in his teeth, a flood – the kid red faced and screaming.
He lifted the brick. Dropped it. Something was dying beneath the soil.


Something was alive there. He was daring it to speak. The cottonwoods branched
above the bosque. Fields of alfalfa. Haystacks. Adobe churches founded
in the colonial era. The severed heads of deer hung in the Old Town Saloon.
The plow already turned to food stamps, the social worker’s call – hard strain


and sweat against the gout bulbous and greedy. Just to edge a finger near
it sang. Father of Grimace. Mother of Grin. “Fucking bitch! You miserable
fucking cunt!” A sugar so good – sort of thing that settles in the nerves,
causes the eyes to twitch, the teeth to drive deeper until they all but pass black


and lifeless to the drain. Even the angel got syphilitic and swore, “I know
what sets the addicts free!” The kid lifted the block above his head.
He shat himself slick with it, a cricket in his throat like the Winds of Disaster
come upon the Earth. This was the absence of the fathers. The animal dream


beyond the red. The thing done the kid fled while the other, smaller child
lay broken beneath a mattress in the desert. This was before the shrine
and many bright plastic flowers. The portrait of Christ and American flags.
The picture of the boy tacked to the cross and all decked out in his football jersey.

VINCENT M. BASSO is a poet and writer. His work has appeared in Southwestern American Literature, Zombie Logic Review, Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire, Future Earth Magazine, New Guard, Nth Position, and other journals. Vincent is also a doctoral candidate in the English Language and Literature program at the University of New Mexico. His academic work focuses on disaster culture in American literature.