Excerpts from "Dress Code Aquarium" by Benjamin Niespodziany

Half a Dozen Castles

From brick number one to castle number six, the carpenter's experience totaled to twelve years of concrete sobriety. Twelve calendars of water hoses filling in motes. 144 months of checking in on the stain glass guy, on the ballroom tile crew, on the bubbly drape seamstress (she remained the carpenter's only sunshine). Chipping away at a speed of two years per castle, the carpenter spent over a decade of his time crafting perfect mansions. Estates for kings and queens, counts and countesses. Eventual rooms of long tables scattered with doubloons, arms of animals being dunked into goblets of wine. The carpenter was always long gone before the housewarming bender, before the viking cheers and the jester tricks. Already at work on the next castle. Over this twelve year period, the only thing that changed for the carpenter was his outlook on creating castles. He despised hidden walkways, loathed watch towers, and wanted nothing more to do with bulldozing on the foam of sea cliffs, on the wings of snowcaps. So, forever with a toothpick in his mouth, the carpenter sold the half dozen dungeons, drawbridges, moats, dragons, and all, and shortly thereafter drafted blueprints of a simple log cabin. A cabin without a wizard. A cabin without a single spiral staircase.


The Early Afternoon Fisherman

The early afternoon fisherman was less successful than the early morning boat fleets or the late night squid catchers with lights that added to their expenditures. Every day, after a good and long slumber, the early afternoon fisherman went out and did his best, often only bringing home enough to feed him and his wife. Nothing more. One Thursday, however, the early afternoon fisherman yawned and cast his line like normal, this time catching a school of barracudas, a whale heavier than a grand piano, a cannonball of koi, and an isopod the size of a warthog. He couldn't believe his luck as his ears filled with casino sounds overflowing out of his truck. He couldn't wait to return and impress his wife, brag off about the monster bag to all of the other fishermen lounging around at the dock. "This'll show 'em," he said, throwing his catch onto his small boat and creating a new weight, a weight that enacted the first signs of a slow sink to the sea for our hero in his antique vessel, miles away from the port. "This'll show 'em all."


Host Lenoman

The TV talk show was performing average numbers until Host Lenoman welcomed Dr. Chandler, a universally known animal handler, polyglandular snake charmer, and pan handling bull fighter. Chandler's father was a chandelier architect and his mother was a candle crafted; Chandler made sure to avoid the family businesses by sticking to exotic animals, often focusing on the breathing canticles of West African jungle avenues. When he arrived on the show, however, not with tigers and rhinos, but instead with rabid pterodactyls, 'Roided lizard people, elephant wolves (you don't want to know), and robots made of chainsaws, everyone acted surprised. The crowd was instantly devoured, cooked alive. Host Lenoman was saved but only from his waist up so he could continue cracking jokes in half for the people watching at home, stoned by the amount of visible bones. The ratings, like some of the ripped limbs in the crowd, went through the roof. Don't worry, Host Lenoman is fine. That same week, he underwent a half day surgery for metal legs complete and now continues to drive his car collection to famous events, content en route to department stores for turtleneck shopping because his wife just doesn't understand his neck and chin contrasts. Only he knows his upper body, and no manfalcon mutant massacre primetime Emmy Award Winning tragedy will ever claw that away from him.


Benjamin Niespodziany is a librarian at the University of Chicago who runs a multimedia art blog known as neonpajamas. He self-released a chapbook of poems in December known as Dress Code Aquarium and has had work published in The Occulum (forthcoming), tendercactus (forthcoming), tenderness, yea, Water Soup Press, and 1833.fm. Twitter/IG/Facebook/SoundCloud: @neonpajamas