The Boy Martyr

by Brett Biebel

I’d had sex before I met Davey, but not much, and it was mostly unsatisfying. With guys who were real earnest. Too earnest, probably. Like you could tell they prided themselves on respect, but maybe it was all just a pantomime of respect, and they were only doing it so they could talk themselves to sleep at night, defend themselves to current mothers and future daughters—and also maybe some deranged version of my dad. Davey was different. 

This was in college. He played football. Almost good enough to start. He took me down into these tunnels underneath the Abbey, and there were beer cans and Frisbees and candles, and everything smelled like incense. Like Mass at night in late November. We didn’t have a flashlight. I kept tripping, and somehow his hands were always in the right place, and I didn’t know if it was some athletic-balance thing, or else maybe just all part of the plan. We came out into some kind of basement chapel, and there was an altar and these little honeycomb niches all along the walls.

“Reliquary,” he said.


“There’s fingernails in there. Pieces of hair.”

“And you thought this would be romantic or…? Help me out here.”

He shrugged. His shoulders made a sound. A pop almost, and it echoed, and for a second I thought there might have been a bat in my hair. “I don’t know,” he said. “My theology teacher told us there’s a skeleton under the altar. Some Greek kid or something. He didn’t go to the king’s birthday. They whipped his ass with boiling lead.”

“Even better.”

“You can’t see him, but I don’t know. I guess I thought maybe you could.”

I can’t explain it, but something made me put my hands over his eyes. We took a couple of steps forward. His arm found my waist. There was pressure on my hip and a finger underneath my shirt. We heard somebody walking around up above our heads, but we didn’t pay that any attention. I guess I figured maybe they were looking for us, and maybe they weren’t, and what the hell did it matter anyway when we were both of us there. Both of us alive. Both of us picturing silk scarves, and orbital bones, and the way there’s all these places you just really wish you didn’t want to look.

A painting of a nude white man with red, dripping wounds at his joints.


Janelle Cordero

Brett Biebel teaches writing and literature at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. His (mostly very) short fiction has appeared in Hobart, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Masters Review, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. It’s also been chosen for Best Small Fictions and as part of Wigleaf’s annual Top 50 Very Short Stories. 48 Blitz, his debut story collection, is available from Split/Lip Press.

Janelle Cordero is an interdisciplinary artist and educator living in Spokane, WA. Her writing has been published in dozens of literary journals, including Harpur Palate, Hobart and North Dakota Quarterly, while her paintings have been featured in venues throughout the Pacific Northwest. Janelle is the author of four books of poetry: Impossible Years (V.A. Press, 2022), Many Types of Wildflowers (V.A. Press, 2020), Woke to Birds (V.A. Press, 2019) and Two Cups of Tomatoes (P.W.P. Press, 2015). Stay connected with Janelle’s work at and follow her on Instagram @janelle_v_cordero.

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