Before the Mall by Louis Raymond| music: Black Raven Running Through the Sky by Anna Ķirse

Before the Mall

for Franz Kafka


Before the mall stands Balloony Bozo! the Talking Clown™. A man from up north asks to be let inside the mall. Balloony Bozo! the Talking Clown™ says, “Not without your balloon, my friend,” and hands the man a balloon. The man from up north (and I’m talking way up north) asks again. 

Balloony Bozo! the Talking Clown™ says no and hands him a balloon. The man explains that he was going to buy his wife a necklace, something circular to say, You and I, honey, are forever. 

But Balloony Bozo! the Talking Clown™—brandishing the same huge grin—is persistent in handing the man a red balloon. “Look, Bozo,” the man begins, “I’m exhausted from work, and all I need is a measly necklace to show my wife I love her.” But Balloony Bozo! the Talking Clown™ just crosses his arms and says: “I’m afraid I can’t do that. See, even past me you will find hundreds of other Balloony Bozos!™ waiting to hand you balloons, and each successive balloon gets bigger, and eventually, you will have so many that you will float to the ceiling. We’ve got clowns at every entrance, too: JcPenney Balloony Bozos!™, Best Buy Balloony Bozos!™, Macy’s Balloony Bozos!™, food court Balloony Bozos!™, etc., etc.” The man from up north looks up. He scratches his beard. Then for the next several minutes and decades, the man from up north tries to barge past Balloony Bozo! the Talking Clown™, but each time, he is stopped and tossed to the pavement. Finally, well into old age, he asks the clown, “So what the hell are you promoting, Bozo?” Balloony Bozo! the Talking Clown™ just laughs and says, “I’m promoting happiness for our shoppers! Care for a balloon?” And with that, the man from up north pulls out a gun and shoots himself in the brain. Balloony Bozo! the Talking Clown™ maintains his goofy grin. After the man’s body collapses, Balloony Bozo! the Talking Clown™ leans down toward the man’s exploded head and utters, “Shame. This balloon was meant only for you and only you, and now I must let it go!”


One morning, Joe Benson wakes up with antlers. Yes, antlers, as in two awkward, wood-like protrusions, springing from his head. He wakes up a deer man. He looks in the mirror, touches them gently, and screams. He makes the situation real by nervously putting it into words: “I’m some kind of fucking deer man now!”

But he knows it isn’t natural. It makes him question a lot of things. He calls his mother in Bangor and asks if his father—who he tenderly refers to as “that sperm donor you once humped”—is, you know, a deer. Or a moose. But she just laughs into the phone. So he hangs up and questions the existence of God. He pulls out the Bible and pokes at Genesis, saying, “Fuck you fuck you fuck you!”

About ten fuck yous later, he calls his girlfriend Josephine, a fellow Philosophy major at University of Southern Maine who has yet to feel comfortable enough with Joe to let him see her naked. He wants her sex so badly, especially in the long, wine-soaked college evenings, but Josephine, however, says she is too self-conscious to go there. Plus, Joe feels he was falling deeply for her, and doesn’t want to screw things up.

“Baby,” he says, his voice swallowing itself. “Babes, listen. Today has been a weird day.”

“Is it a rash?” she asks.

“No,” he says. “Worse. Much worse.”

Fifteen minutes later, Josephine bursts into Joe’s apartment, hand on hip, displeased to find out that Joe didn’t relay the whole truth to her.

“You are so full of it,” she says.

“Excuse me?”

She tosses her purse and keys onto Joe’s kitchen table. “You’re not dying. You’re fine. You just got some weird-ass antlers.”

Joe stands there blinking. Josephine continues:

“You just need to be careful. Wear an orange vest if you go in the woods.”

“I’m not concerned with bullets,” Joe says. “I don’t want the scorn. I have class tomorrow. I have a job.”

Josephine laughs, showing her big toothy grin. “Just tell them you have lupus,” she says.

In a huff, Joe shuffles to the freezer, pulls out a handle of gin, and swigs. He doesn’t offer Josephine anything, but she moseys over and pulls out a beer anyway. They both sit on Joe’s couch, drinking in gulps, and, out of nowhere, before Joe can even let out a sigh, Josephine initiates, for the first time, the dirty deed. She sticks a hand down Joe’s pants.  

“I know this is strange,” she says. “But I think I want it.”

Joe sets down the gin. He almost blurts, Really? but decides against it. If the antlers work to assuage some strange fetish of Josephine’s, then so be it. Instead he says, “Ok baby,” and grabs her hand. He leads her into his bedroom, puts on some Al Green, and lays her on his bed.

Joe begins by undressing for Josephine and dancing to the music. She quietly watches, quivering with desire. He slides out of his skinny jeans with finesse, but struggles to get his t-shirt off with the antlers. Then he rips off his socks, and tosses them carelessly onto his mountain of laundry. Finally, he slips off his boxers.

“Now your turn,” he says, sliding into bed.

Josephine stands. One by one, she plucks off the buttons of her blouse, letting them fall like coins by her ankles. She unhooks her bra and tossed it aside. Before going for the zipper of her jeans, Josephine hesitates, cupping her breasts with her perfectly manicured, blood-red fingernails. She rubs her nipples. Joe wants Josephine so badly in that moment—wants to kiss her fine breasts, work his way to her soft neck. But as Josephine slides out of her jeans, Joe sees something more beautiful than anything he’s seen before, a freakish grace but grace nonetheless: Josephine’s thighs—so perfect in their musculature—are infested with horse hair.


Joe and Josephine go to the mall to shop. There’s a kiosk that sells custom t-shirts, and to declare their love and secrets to the world, they’re going to purchase tees that say “Freak 1” and “Freak 2.” But upon driving into the mall parking lot, they notice a ruckus before the entrance. Yellow tape is sectioning off an area by the giant doors. Bleat-less cop cars are present, their sirens aflame. The Starbucks Mermaid, The Panda Express Panda, Geoffrey the Giraffe from Toys R Us, and of course, Balloony Bozo! the Talking Clown™ are standing, smoking Marlboro reds, shooting the shit.

Joe and Josephine walk up to get the scoop.

“What happened?” Josephine asks.

“Some crazy fuck offed himself,” Geoffrey says.

“Tragic, really,” adds the Starbucks Mermaid.

Josephine sighs a sympathetic note. Joe Benson, however, is too distracted by the dead man to ask any questions. Joe begins to wonder how he might die. He thinks: Will I die of a human ailment, like cancer or diabetes? Or will I go out like a deer, run over by a Subaru while bending over to pick up change in the road? Or a bullet by a hunter? These questions worry him for a few minutes.

Then the Panda pipes up.

“So what brings you two here?”

“Shirts,” Josephine says. “Matching t-shirts.”

“Cute,” offers the Starbucks Mermaid.

“More like gay,” Geoffrey says.

The Starbucks Mermaid slaps him.

“What kinda shirts?” asks the Panda.

“Shirts that read ‘Freak 1’ and ‘Freak 2.’” says Joe.

“Who’s who?” asks Geoffrey. “He seems like a number two.”

The Starbucks Mermaid slaps him.

Josephine and Joe exchange glances. They shrug. At the same time, they both say: “I’ll be two.”

Everyone laughs and awwwws except Geoffrey the Giraffe.

Then Balloony Bozo! the Talking Clown™ walks over to Joe, his blood red grin as fierce as ever, and offers a balloon.

“No thanks,” says Joe.

“I suggest you take it,” says Geoffrey. “He ain’t lettin’ anybody in without taking a goddamn balloon.”

“I don’t want it,” Joe says.

Balloony Bozo! the Talking Clown™ takes a step closer.

“Look, I don’t want the fucking balloon,” Joe says. “It’s been a long day.”

Balloony Bozo! the Talking Clown™ takes a step closer.

“Stop it,” he says.

Balloony Bozo! the Talking Clown™ takes a step closer.

“Cool it bro,” he says. “I mean it.”

Balloony Bozo! the Talking Clown™ takes a step closer.

“Bud out, clown!” Joe says, pushing Bozo!. But Bozo!, hardly budging, cocks back his fist and clocks Joe in the nose, knocks him over. Geoffrey Giraffe chants “Fight! Fight! Fight!” but the Starbucks Mermaid, the Panda Express Panda, and Josephine help Joe up to his feet.

“Jesus,” Joe says. “Let’s get the fuck outta here, Josephine.”

“But babe, the shirts,” Josephine says. “We need to tell the world that we’re proud to be freaks.”

“Tweet it, then,” he says. “Let’s get outta here.”

So they leave.

They go back to their dorm rooms to start their happy life. They go on to finish college with honors, go on to do the whole American Dream thing, which the on-campus Marxists claimed was just an idea. Hard work = $$$$ = Happiness. They have to step on a few necks, but hey, they turn out ok. Joe starts a hat business for people with antlers called A Little Deer, A Little Gear™. The store also recycles fallen off antlers to make furniture, like coat and towel racks. 

The store eventually expands to sell winter masks for folks with tusks, hardhats for the unfortunately horned, and the first ever pair of human WhiskerClippers™. He and Josephine, swept up in a generous capitalist tide, ride it to the top. Following the success of the first store, a stone’s throw from Maine Yankee in Wisscasset, they open stores all over America. They sit pretty until retirement, at which point they move to Port St. Lucy in Florida, where they don’t have to worry about hunters or parking bans in the winter. One day, after a few margaritas and a game of cribbage, sitting under a beautifully grey Floridian sky, Josephine asks Joe if he remembers the shirts.

“Shirts?” Joe says. “I don’t recall.”

“Come on,” Josephine says. “The Freak 1 and 2 shirts! Remember the clown?”

Joe’s eyes widen. “Yes!” he says. “That Bozo fella!”

He grabs his wife’s hand. They decide to order the “Freak 1” and “Freak 2” shirts from, an all-purpose online shopping experience. They get them delivered with three hour shipping right to their doorstep via the DroneQuick app. But when they open the box, they notice their order is wrong. One shirt reads “BE” and the other reads “JUST.” They put them on and stand before their bedroom mirror.

“Be just,” Josephine says.

But Joe sees it differently. He swaps places with his wife.

“Or,” he says. “Just be.”

Regardless of the error, Joe and Josephine keep the shirts. They stand helplessly before the mirror. And the two spend their final years of life switching back and forth, never quite knowing which way is best.


Louis Raymond is a writer from Biddeford, Maine, and a recent graduate of Emmanuel College in Boston. His stories and poems have been featured in Poydras Review, Ray’s Road Review, Cheap Pop Lit, Extract(s), and elsewhere. A collection of his fiction entitled Vacationland is available on Amazon.



annaAnna Ķirse | Riga, Latvia

I have just started my 2nd year of composition studies in the Joseph Wihtol Latvian Academy of Music. I am an open-minded person with a wide range of interests and experiences in various music genres and cultural activities. My main area of interest is electronic and academic music, which is my core specialization.

I do enjoy experimenting with combinations of electronic and academic music in new ways. Besides creating music, I perform in theater as an actress or as a musician in public events or art performances that involve musicians from different genres. This inspires me to introduce new elements in music, starting from using chemical formulas as base for compositions (“Amanita muscaria” for Divertimento Ensemble (IT)”) over to creating sound recordings underwater (“Black Raven Running Through the Sky” for choir and electronics).

Recently I was chosen as one of the top 10 composers from 50 young talents across Europe to take part in the “7th International Workshop For Young Composers” (Lecturers: Oscar Bianchi Italy/Switzerland, Sandeep Bhagwati India/Germany, Anton Safronov Russia/Germany) for which I had the opportunity to compose for “Divertimento Ensemble” (Milan, Italy). In May I took 2nd place the Peteris Vasks contest for young composers with my solo piece for viola. In this piece I used the cover of a grand piano to create unusual sound effects using specific technique, which makes special vibrations of piano strings. Performing electronic music, I participated in festivals abroad, for instance, Transmediale festival in Berlin (one of the biggest festivals for media art and digital culture) and the Sound Exchange festival in Chemnitz, which had lots of wonderful performances, workshops and a traveling documentary exhibition about the experimental music scene in Central and Eastern Europe. This autumn I attended Rurh Triennale 2014 where I gained new impressions and experiences.

In addition to creating and performing music, I created and organized the event series “LULU” in which we displayed recordings of contemporary opera in Riga and other cities across Latvia. The goal was to introduce a wider audience to this art form which is very dear to me.

Performance by Anna Ķirse 

Choir performance of Black Raven Running Through the Sky here