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Imagine you were strong. Powerful. Majestic. You can wield your strength naturally, as if it is first nature. Your nature. Your muscles bulge under the thick, leathery skin, intimidating and threatening. Your skin is baked red, soft under the softest of touch, hard under pressure with a pattern of Savannah desert with cracks that move with you. You’re decorated with a leather mohawk down your spine from the top of your head to the tip of your tail. Each triangle spike represents all the times others preyed on you; each spike is a defense mechanism against anyone who dares do it again. The tail is heavy but easy to move. Imagine a snout with nostrils open to sniff out anything. Or deep green eyes beautifully surrounded by thick black lashes, eyes that should have been fiercely orange-red. Your breath is hot enough to burn enemies to a crisp. Imagine being part of a fantasy. A good, beloved fantasy. An admired myth. Imagine people believing you’re part of an old past. Fantasy novels in the middle ages: Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, and Eragon. The beast is only loved in fiction as an anti-hero. Imagine how the revelation of your existence raises their stakes and threatens their position. Imagine them wanting to kill you for your flesh out of fear of your beauty and dangerous strength. Imagine.

Imagine only being allowed to exist in a place where you’re not part of the same reality: different, excluded, left out. You knew you were different when you were only very young, as the fire was burning in your veins. The Fury. The rage. Your mother, a symbol of societal expectations, would point her finger at you and tell you to be a ‘good girl.’ And good girls are lovely. Your brother is allowed to be angry, throw a tantrum, and turn weak with aggression as he loses control of himself daily. Everyone watched you grow and become the ‘nice’ representation of a woman people expected you to be. A good girl. With red hair tightened into a tight bun, hips pushed into too-tight pencil skirts because you were supposed to be that size. Everyone wanted to be around that version of you. The nice girl, the compliant girl, the sweet girl. They want you without actually wanting you. People want you only when they do not know you. They want you only in their imagination, where they delude themselves of your willingness to obey and your love for them above yourself. The respect should be higher for them than for yourself. A smokescreen you create by pretending to be that image. In the office of a glass skyscraper, with a view making you think you could throw your colleague’s eyes out into the skies as they say mean things, are rude men, disrespecting your accomplishments and hard work. Your female colleagues abuse your kindness to their advantage because they have already grown their claws in bitter poison. Oh, but one day, the smoke will rise into the sky, the screams will be heard at night, how you will shed your human skin and transform into the fire-breathing beast of old folklore, how you will rise in the air, break through the glass walls surrounding us, touched by your own flames because only you can handle your own rage. You breathe, burn, and they catch fire when their beliefs crumble behind their eyes. The air will be thick with black smog, suffocating anyone around you. They realize you aren’t their good girl; instead, you are their nightmare. You don’t apologize because you’re suddenly on top of the food chain. They’ll know and crumble in fear. You make a sound that’s supposed to be some devilish laughter. You fly away above them, above society, free from the burden, free of the misinterpretation of your niceness, their denial of your love of death as you wield a powerful element with grace. Stronger than them. Imagine you were a dragon that no one knew existed. Imagine.

Julia Schnabel was raised in Münster, Germany, before moving to Amsterdam. She completed a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Society at the Free University Amsterdam (VU) and a Master’s in Media Communication Science at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). She presented her writing at VU Open Mic nights, and in 2020, one of her short stories was published in Expanded Field. She now focuses on perfecting her craft in creative writing workshops in Amsterdam, and is seeking publishing opportunities.


Warmth from the previous shopper’s hands makes me shiver with repulsion as I clang a trolley loose from the line. How can the handle still be warm anyway; the shop is as good as empty this early on a Sunday morning. Although the virus was long gone I dig into my handbag for a Wettie and wipe the trolley handle and my hands clean.

The vastness of B&Q swallows me up and I zig-zag past store front displays of special offers all clamouring for attention. A huge advertising photo of a paint-splashed couple decorating their bedroom as if it were the most joyous act in the world, contrasts starkly with my domestic life. Lisa and I had been a team like that. Once.

The ballcock valve had been leaking in our en-suite toilet for days, but my partner, Lisa, refused to fix it claiming that Sunday is a day of rest. Lisa worked as a plumber so her inaction was galling. Earlier that morning, deciding to fix it myself with the help of a YouTube video, I sat down at the kitchen island and switched on my laptop. Lisa came downstairs, placed her phone on the counter top and made herself a cup of coffee. Her phone vibrated with an incoming message.

‘Terri’s asked me to meet up for a workout.’ Lisa said and poured the coffee into a travel mug and left the house.

Lisa had never been fitness conscious before meeting Terri. She used to be a curry-in-front-of-the-TV kind of gal which suited me. Quelling my frustration with a glass of last-night’s Chardonnay, I calmed enough to watch some DIY videos. Taking responsibility was good; I made a list of tools and materials necessary for the job.

In B&Q, feeling like a lone ant in a deserted colony, I smile in relief when I find the PLUMBING aisle. I pick up my note from the trolley but this notepaper is lined and has a serrated edge where it was ripped from a spiral pad. The words are written in green felt pen. I don’t possess a green felt pen. I had laid the list in the trolley, hadn’t I? Fumbling in my handbag I find only my phone and some old receipts. No list.

A sensation of being watched makes me spin around, but no one is there. All I can see is the blinking eye of a CCTV camera which creaks when it turns to cover the aisle adjacent to plumbing.

Fluorescent lights flicker on and off in a Morse code pattern and I do a double take of the shelves heaving with articles so alien they might come from another planet. The lights buzz like angry mosquitoes.

The shopping trolley rolls forwards of its own volition. Is the floor on a slope? It appears spirit-level flat. I look around searching for someone else to witness this uncanny phenomenon. No one. The lights on the ceiling continue to flash on and off so that the trolley jumps forward in jagged pictures like a flip-book animation. Jogging to catch up with it, I stop every few strides to catch my breath. The trolley goes straight past all the plumbing gear, takes a wide curve at the end of the aisle and comes to an abrupt halt so that its back wheels come off the ground like a bucking horse.

Sweat trickles down the well of my back and I look around desperate now for some human company. Something to root me in the moment. Anything to tell me that I am still in the workaday world.

We stop in the ROPES section. All the different colours and textures look like sleeping snakes in a reptile section of a zoo. Some are lurid colours wrapped around drums waiting to be liberated into the desired length. The jute ones are less alarming, they smell of hay drying in the sun. The first item on the list reads, ten metres of flexible rope.

I grab a packet of 10 metres of polypropylene braided rope.

Off the trolley goes again, this time stopping at rubber gloves. I choose Marigold because Mum always swore by them. Next on the list is gaffer tape (black, 11 metres, 48mm wide) followed by a hatchet axe. The heft of it in my hand feels good. Powerful. Then the final item, 70-litre bin bags, pack of 50.

A symbiotic relationship grows between me and the trolley. If it comes to an awkward angle when it stops I straighten it and makes sure the items are laid flat so that nothing falls in transit, upsetting its equilibrium. If only all life could be like this. All decisions made for you and a set of instructions to follow. Wouldn’t that be nice. If the day of reckoning ever came I would say, the list you see, it just had to be obeyed.

Things could have turned out differently. If only Lisa had agreed to fix the en-suite toilet that Sunday morning. If only I hadn’t chosen a murderer’s trolley. If only the trace of virus hadn’t infected me. If only my wife hadn’t fallen for a gym bunny.

I aim for the self-checkout area. The shop lights return to a tinnitus buzz, and outside a curtain of rain sweeps across the car park. I check the time. After their ‘workout,’ Lisa and Terri will be jogging towards the canal.

Displayed next to the self-checkout tills are torch head-lamps. I put one in the trolley even though it’s not on the list. Netherton tunnel is en route for the lovers and it’s always pitch black. It was single file there and it would be a toss-up which jogger was lagging behind. No matter. I scan all the bar codes of my items and in a moment of recklessness I nick a carrier bag. I lick my fingers to open the slippery bag. Well, it’s not as if anyone is looking, are they?

Angela Williams lives in the Netherlands where she writes stories in between the less demanding jobs of house-sitting, dog-walking and dreaming of worldwide renown. She has had short stories, poetry and flash fiction published by among others; Liars’ League, Mslexia, Reflex Fiction, Flash Flood Journal, Reckon Review and Casket of Fictional Delights. In 2020 she published her story collection, Healer, under her pseudonym, Susan Carey. In 2021 she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. See her blog and Twitter: @su_carey

The Atlantean

I’m not exactly sure what to make of it, to be honest.

Sprawled out in front of me lies some sort of “creature”, if I can even call it that. It has a face that might almost look human under a certain light, but just about everything else is foreign and otherworldly: the pondweed hair, the spiny protrusions on its back, the hummingbird-green scales covering most of its body. The most fascinating part of the specimen has to be the fishlike tail that lies where its legs should be, stained with saltwater and tinted a dark cerulean.

“And you said you found it like this?” I ask Luca, but he stares at the ground and fidgets with the hem of his raincoat.

In a different world, I probably would have told my younger brother some sort of excuse when he asked to explore the beach this late — something about the impending storm, something about how dangerous the ocean can be at night — just so I wouldn’t have gotten into this dreamlike mess. Unfortunately, I’m in this world, and in it, my younger brother is made up of curly hair and childlike wonder that are both impossibly hard to say no to.

“I think we should just go home.”

“No!” The word erupts from him like a firework. “We can’t just leave him here!”

I sigh. I shield my eyes from the blanket of rain with my hand to look at the body clearer, given that it isn’t some shared hallucination between the two of us. At first, I think it could be a mermaid because of the tail, but quickly dismiss that — Ariel was never described as having claws or translucent fins — so I start to wonder if it’s some sort of alien. Or sea monster. Or something ripped straight out of a Lovecraftian horror.

A white-hot streak of lightning crackles overhead, reflecting off the scales embedded in the creature’s tail and scattered in the sand beside it. In the flash of bright light, I notice that the sand around the body is soaked with ink-black blood. “We need to go home, now,” I repeat unsteadily, but Luca is already crouching beside the dead thing and attempting to prod it with a piece of waterlogged wood. “Luca!”

The creature stirs. I no longer think it’s a dead thing.

“He’s hurt,” Luca says quietly, standing back up. “We need to help him find his way home.”

You shouldn’t keep referring to it as a “him”, I want to say, but he’s too unwavering for me to even attempt to say anything logical in this situation. I don’t think there’s a guidebook I can read to figure out what to do when you stumble into a mythological creature, and if there is, I haven’t found it yet. “What, something like Atlantis?” I tease, deciding against arguing with the eight-year-old. He looks down at the matching set of gills on the creature’s neck for a moment, watching the way they ripple and breathe with the steady downpour.

“You’re not being serious about this,” Luca murmurs, his voice almost lost in the rain.

“I’m being rational,” I find myself saying, much harsher than intended. I draw in a careful breath. “You don’t really believe we’re gonna help this… this thing, do you?”

Thunder booms overhead as Luca starts to cry.

I try to say something, but… I don’t. I can’t. No voice rises from my throat. It’s as if all the words of comfort for him had vanished with the setting sun. I start to take his hand to usher him away from the shore when I hear a cough; a guttural, throaty noise that sounds like someone drowning. I look down. A pair of curious, glassy eyes that seem to hold the depths of the ocean itself gaze back up at me.

“If I recall correctly,” the creature says in perfect English, its voice ringing with something like whalesong, “I believe you said something about Atlantis.”

Luca tightens his grip on my hand.

Sabrina Powell (@sabrinapowellx on Instagram) is an undergraduate student at Washington University in St. Louis. An avid reader and one-time published author, she writes and edits for the local literary magazine and has had her work featured in several online and printed presses. In an alternate universe, she lives a modest life as an intergalactic explorer, floating peacefully among the stars.

Andy’s Alley

He reads—“New… Naïve… Art”—and snorts. “The hell?”

Whenever my father inhabits his Andy Warhol mode, he detests the museum’s humble collections. There had been a Degas exhibit here last year and a Rembrandt one before that, but the local sculpture filling the spaces left by these normally un-gettable exhibits draws only sucks and blows.

“It means artists who work outside the lines,” I answer.

“Amateur hour with clay.” He strokes a phallic-looking vase. “Hope the divorcée who made this didn’t quit her day job.”

“What makes you think a woman sculpted it?”

He points to the placard below the clay stalk. “Says here first name’s Leslie.”

“Could just as easily be a man. Leslie Nielsen?”

“Doesn’t count.”

Andy is my father’s favorite dead artist to play. He sounds like a sewer-mouthed Socrates sizing up everything that ever frustrated him: bills, bosses, women, daughters who didn’t know what they were until they weren’t anymore.

“Can’t you just appreciate the time it took this person to create that?” I cannot bring my father to museums anymore without endangering local art.

“I’d have appreciated Degas.”

“He’s not here now.”

He’s near to knocking the vase off its pedestal. His middle finger looks itchy.

“He knew what to paint.” Dad twitches. “Whores. Skinny ones, fat ones. Whores at full gallop.”

“You mean horses.”

He lets the vase off with a warning and grins at me. “Those, too.”

My father loves Andy Warhol for the same reason I love my father: their mastery of the mundane. Andy painted squads of soup cans and musing Beatles. My father collected beer cans with misprints and scratched his undying love for my mother on the warped wood of our houseboat before it sank.

Andy had worn his hair spiky, tempered. Split. “Like you!” my father used to joke. “And we both love Marilyn Monroe, you know.”

I know. And it’s called dissociative disorder, Dad, not split. And I’m getting better.

On Andy/Dad’s orders, we march through a tribute to Pacific Islander culture.

“Christ, too many shoulder boys,” he scoffs.

Next is an exhibit from the early Greco-Roman period.

“Boobs were never that hard.”

Then a swath of French Impressionism.

“Pretentious shit.”

And swatches of American Impressionism.

“Ugh. Food-dyed fuck shit.”

He scowls at an abstract painting of a woman folding a napkin in her lap in broken strokes.

“You know the problem with this?”

I’m trying to capture an American impressionist’s sailing party in my sketchpad. “Hmm?”

“This.” He taps on the glass. “Her.”

“Stop. What’s the problem with her?”

He scans the configuration of swirls and lines, the two oval slices doubling as hands, clutching a scalene triangle of lacelike ivory circles.

“She’s not thinking.” He bends his head to hers. “It’s not that she is and I can’t hear her. She isn’t thinking. Anything.”

Everyone thinks, I tell him. Even if they’re just thinking about lunch or work or how much their head hurts.

“Nah.” He waves me off. “She’s a Blank.”

He runs three fingers along the egg-shell white wall beside the painting in line with a crooked painted hutch behind the woman. “I’ve known some. Blanks.”

I never have, but I mentally capitalize the term the way his tone suggests.

“They’re much worse off than us. We think too much, right? They don’t think—period.”

I suppose it does his mind good to have a we and a they, but I tell him I need the quiet to sketch. A blank mind would be a tremendous canvas to draw on.

“All your semantics.”

I can tell he’s starting to forget again why we’re here.

He turns back to her and presses his thumb against the wall beside the painting’s frame as though he were being fingerprinted. “The blank mind is a huge place. There’s all kinds of horror in open fields of white.”

Why would an open field hold horror?

“No place to hide or run. Some godawful thing in your mind comes after you, it finds you immediately.”

How about just not thinking bad thoughts?

“It’s never that easy.” He steps back from the painting and eyes me. “You argue too much.”

I know he doesn’t like coming here. He usually starts losing patience with me around this time every Saturday.

But I press on.

“Dad, I need to draw. It helps the grief.”

“You never say you love me anymore.”

“I do.” I close my pad and stare into the empty space. “You know I do.”

“You don’t like me, then.”

“I don’t like what I’ve become.”

“You blame me for that?”

I shake my head no. I mean it. I don’t blame him. For the boat fire. For her being on it. He had been a thousand miles away in Dodge Correctional when it happened.

But he’s walking away now, and I lose him in a crowd of milling patrons on their way to Andy’s Alley, where replicas of Warhol’s work are on display 365 days rain or shine.

I want to tell him it’s just so hard to tell things apart anymore. What’s a sketch and what’s finished—what’s there and isn’t. It won’t be long before I can’t tell myself anymore.

A half hour later, I’m sitting on a pink lounge sofa in Andy’s Alley. The largest piece in the room is a too-bright replica of his self-portrait, and when I rest here, in this spot, it all seems so self-assured—nine men’s faces forked by probing index fingers, thinking. Box after box of confident contemplation. To drag the sofa any closer would be obscene. It would mean seeing not faces but splatters of garish neon, looking lost and cold like an abandoned playdough food fight. I want to cry.
I can’t do that in the alley. I must stay here and wait until Dad returns. Then together we’ll find that spot where the paintings turn to color and stroke, where Gestalt breaks down the whole into the particulars, and all art becomes nonsense.

Brennan Thomas is a Professor of English at Saint Francis University. She has published short fiction and poetry in several online magazines, including Right Hand Pointing, Microfiction Monday Magazine, and Eunoia Review, as well as more than a dozen nonfiction articles on film and popular media studies.

The Sandman Returns

One bright spring afternoon, my mother convinced my stubborn father to see the doctor. The insomnia, which had blighted much of his adolescence, had returned with a vengeance, and the sleep-deprivation was starting to give him throbbing headaches. Occasionally, the pain was so severe that he would retire to his bedroom and lie there in the absolute darkness. Something had to be done.

Chaperoned by my mother, he returned from the appointment as the daylight was starting to fade.

“It’s not good news,” he said, slumping down in his armchair. “I’ll just sit down for a moment.’ But, once he was down, we couldn’t lift him back up and we had to summon Dicken from next-door to help lug him upstairs, like hoisting a six-foot-tall bag of cement. After that, his legs were too weak, so in bed he stayed.

Well-wishers came to the house in a relentless stream, bringing Tupperware filled with hearty, homecooked meals. But, despite their generous starchy offerings, my father’s strength declined, and his work-hardened hands lay atop the bedsheets, turning into macerated pieces of dough.

On a sweltering summer evening, when the air shimmered above the tarmac, the heat was especially suffocating in my father’s airless bedroom. No wonder he struggled to sleep. Despite the unfavourable heat, a knock came at the front door.

“I’m here to see your father,” the visitor on the doorstep said. “He knows me from the old days.” So, I let the strange-looking fellow in, and he tiptoed up the stairs, a crooked smile on his face. Night fell, the visitor departed, and my father, for once, slept like the dead, with a crown of sweat shining on his brow. The visit must have tired him out.

By autumn, the nights were drawing in, but insomnia kept my father awake, restless, yet confined to his bed. From his bedroom window, we watched the magnificent spectrum of colour blaze across the evening sky; vermillion and rose-coloured streaks of cloud lighting up the horizon, marking the end of another day.

“I’ve travelled a very long way to see your father,” came the stranger’s voice from the doorway. Dusk had already fallen so I could hardly turn away his old friend, who had journeyed through the darkness to see him. Perhaps it would cheer my father up, to see a familiar face at his bedside again, and help him get a good night’s sleep, like the stranger’s last visit. The following morning, I meant to ask my father about the mysterious visitor, but he was fatigued and out of sorts, his chin drooping down to his chest, so I left him in peace.

In the winter months, when the whole world slumbered under a heavy blanket of snow, my father’s breath came in ragged, short gasps, as if he had been running around outside. Eyelids flickering, his lips moved in silence. I could no longer tell if he was awake, or aware of his surroundings. It was torturous, to see him that way, so instead of sitting at his bedside, I propped his bedroom door open and sat in the armchair downstairs. Feeling groggier than usual, I meant to read my book for a while, in case my father needed me during the night. My exhausted mother had already retired to bed, and the house was quite quiet, so it wasn’t long before I was rubbing my eyes, gritty with sleep. Nestled there in the armchair, it was a struggle to keep them open, as if unseen fingers were pressing them shut.

“I’m here for your father,” said a voice nearby, like something from a nightmare. I sat up with a jolt. For a horrible moment, I had been dreaming that the stranger let himself into the house, and that he was slinking upstairs, towards the bedroom door. But I was quite sure that I had already drawn the door’s bolt shut for the night. It was the stress of my father’s illness playing tricks on me.

In the morning, my father lay in his bed, recumbent and lifeless. The doctor said that he would have felt no pain, and that he simply slipped away, as if he was falling asleep. Perhaps, in my drowsy state, I had forgotten to check the lock, after all.

Katie McCall writes uncanny, gothic fiction and her short stories have been published in Supernatural Tales, Ghostlight, and Short Beasts, with another due to be published by Academy of the Heart and Mind this summer. Her first full-length ghost story is out on submission and she has just completed her second novel, a folk horror tale set in post-war Britain. Follow her on Instagram @katiemccall_author for further spooky musings.

On My Shoulders

The angel sat on my left shoulder. The devil sat on my right. Both whispered and cooed and prodded and cajoled. Voices like harps and kettle drums appealed to my finer and baser instincts. Calls to action and pleas to turn aside. Would I take the easy path or the turbulent stream? Two roads diverged in my kitchen before I’d even had my first cup of coffee. Or herbal tea.

I couldn’t take the constant bickering between the two of them or the demands and suggestions they were making of me.

Finally, when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I tilted my head to the left until I was eye to eye with the angel. She stood barely four inches tall and appeared just as anyone would expect her to, as if she’d stepped out of some religious painting, a living piece of bondieuserie.

I asked her, “Isn’t that my sinister side?”

The devil on my right cursed out loud.

The angel shrank back and grew quiet. First, her face turned red with embarrassment. Then it turned red with fire. Flames erupted from her feet and scorched two tiny holes in my dress shirt. Her burning talons pierced my skin.

Instead of flames, the other devil erupted in laughter. It was not so much a sinister laugh as diabolical. He chortled, and chastised the fake angel.

I swatted the two spirits from my shoulders and swept their voices from my head.

In the quiet moment that followed, I realized the next big decision was one I must make myself. I wouldn’t listen to any other counsel because I knew I couldn’t trust anyone’s counsel but my own.

And, yet, doubts filled the void that the silence had left. I looked to both of my empty shoulders and wondered if shutting out all voices was what these two demons had wanted all along.

Christopher J. Burke is a writer, webcomic creator and math teacher from Brooklyn. His first story, “Don’t Kill the Messenger”, was published in Steve Jackson Games’ Autoduel Quarterly. He went on to coauthor GURPS Autoduel, 2nd edition and has appeared in Mad Magazine. A collection of his stories, In A Flash 2020, was published by eSpec Books. His most recent stories, “Portrait of a Lady Vampire” and “Bringer of Doom”, appeared in Daily Science Fiction and in the anthology Devilish & Divine. He’s currently working on another collection of short fiction. @mrburkemath,


Helicopters fly over Portland Harbor. It’s late. A warm summer night in July; and full of flies. The bugs attack the day’s catch and are swatted away by swollen hands. Two weathered Americans carry a body wrapped in blue tarp from cold storage.

The first mate trips on his boots, slips his grip, and drops the torso.

“Careful, Josh! Christ,” hisses the captain.

“That’s my bad,” says Josh, wiping his hands on a pair of overalls.

“Bend with your knees, not your back,” says the captain.

Josh nods, mindful of his form, and drops into a squat.

They count three seconds in silence then haul the corpse up again and carry it to the stern.

It reminds Josh of deadlifting at the gym. “What d’you think this one did?” he says.

“Same thing they all do,” says the captain. “Piss off the Company.”

They chuck the body into the sea, and in the same motion, the captain falls against the gunwale, out of breath. He stares at the black water until his first mate comes over and puts an enormous black hand on his shoulder.

“Come on, Pat,” he says. “Let’s get a beer.”

Pat looks across the river. Skyscrapers line the water like channel markers. Luxury apartments with infinity pools, and the rooms on the bottom have windows into the sea. Fish float by at breakfast.

Behind all the pomp and glamor, the fine dining—beneath the casinos and nightclubs, the smooth pavement and European cars—lives the uneven cobblestones of the Old Port. The same streets Pat and his buddies bar-crawled through on his 40th birthday, when bars were bars and not pubs; the same city where he got his first job as a deckhand on a rickety old trawler out of Portland Harbor, when seafaring people never worried about corporate vessels run by AI overfishing their spots, before the East India Company planted their flag, and claimed Maine as a colony. Pat’s life was fishing, and he wouldn’t let a ship captained by a computer take his job. Not when he still had gas in the tank.

He took a deep breath, heard the tide hit the shore, and dreamed of younger days. When he was strong. When he was free. When a seafaring man could make a real living off the sea. When he didn’t have to dump bodies in the water for extra money.

“Pat?” says Josh.

“Yeah, Josh,” says Pat. “Let’s get a beer.”

A fisherman is never too old to adapt.

Austin Treat‘s short fiction appears in Dark Yonder, Flash Fiction Magazine, Storm Cellar, and UCLA’s Westwind magazine, among many others. Deadlifting (2024) is a scene from his unpublished novella, What Fell From the Pagoda Tree. To read more of his stories, please visit He lives and teaches English in southern Maine.

The Caregiver

“Oh it’s a real one!” She exclaims, her wide eyes dancing about the nail salon, looking at but not really seeing the other customers. I grab her wrists as they flutter about, like caged birds, and the two Asian women remove her shoes and dip her gnarled feet into the little tub of warm water. Her toes are curled like knobs of ginger.

The warmth calms her. Lou’s eyes begin to slide shut, and she leans her head towards me. “This place is much nicer than that other one,” she whispers loudly, and I know what she’s talking about. I nod, hoping she’ll leave it at that. “Remember, Jessie? Remember that fat woman sitting beside me?”

“Yeah, Lou. How’s the water now? Does it feel good?”

“Oh Jessie she was so fat. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Like a sausage fit to burst!”

She does make me laugh sometimes. “Relax Lou,” I say.

Suddenly she sits up straight. “But who’s in there?” She cocks her head, staring at the wall, and points a crooked finger. “Who’s in the living room there?” I hold her hand and ignore this. I know the minute I assure her there’s no one in the living room, she’ll be on to something else – demanding I turn off the tea kettle or searching for her childhood dog Cocoa. Sometimes it’s easier to just ignore her mind’s wanderings and wait until she comes back. She always does, eventually.


People think I’m a saint. “She’s not even your mother,” they say. It’s nice to be thought of that way, though the truth is, I don’t even know my own mother. Never have. Lou is the closest thing I have. And she’d do the same for me. Done more, in fact.


Tonight when I tuck her into bed she’s confused again. “Why are you doing this to me?” She swats at me and I catch her wrist like a fallen twig. She looks at my hand, alarmed. I shush her, tucking her arms under the blanket. She tries to get up, pushing against me with her little claw fingers, ramming me with her head like a baby goat. I slide in beside her on the bed and wrap my arms around her.


Her body softens, and she rests her cheek against my chest. “I’m so tired,” she says.

“I know,” I say. “Close your eyes.”

I feel her fists unclench. She’s silent for a moment. “You know that’s what I used to say when you were a little girl, Jessie?” She’s back. “You’d get yourself so worked up, like a scared little rabbit. Your daddy was one mean son of a bitch. And you’d show up on my doorstep, with a fresh black eye or an arm just hanging there like a ragdoll’s.” She shakes her head, her soupy eyes gaze up at the ceiling. “Took a long time to calm you down.”

“I know. Hush now Lou.”

“’You’re safe now.’ I’d tell you.”

“I remember.”

Born and raised in Burbank, California, Alison Ozawa Sanders attended Stanford University for undergrad and Loyola University of Chicago for law school. She went on to become a prosecutor in Santa Cruz, California, for 11 years. In 2014 she and her husband moved their family to Singapore, where she is now able to pursue her first love, writing [bio credit: Amazon]. See her book, The Expats Guide to Singapore: Finding Your Feet on the Little Red Dot.

April Fools

They sit at opposite ends of the kitchen table, the raw end of an argument stuck in their throats.




Thirty-three years of marriage and no place left to go.

Outside the desert simmers in a broiling heat.

There seems no escape.

No way in.

No way out.

Trapped by their circumstances, they sit emmeshed in the hum of air conditioning and accumulated detritus of over three decades married. My god, how they feasted on each other in those early days!

Starved now for affection. Compassion.


They wait in their chrome and black-marble kitchen, time elongating. The jagged edges of their narrative have inflicted new and deeper wounds—the lifeblood of their relationship seeping away. Neither able or willing to stop the bleeding.


This latest confrontation the net result of so many others.

It’s clear, they face a future entirely divorced from the one to which they pledged.


How did they devolve from elation to desolation?

How did they come to be languishing in their emotional desert where nothing thrived anymore? Which even their children abandoned.

Their children. They have no hand for rescue. One a waitress blaming them for her shortcomings. The other an accountant—thriving in a world where the surety of numbers stabilized his life—shielded him from the messy miscalculations of others.

Especially his parents.

Two children. Nothing guaranteed.

April 1st, they married. Marisa and Alan. Thinking it a fine joke. All their songs had the word ‘fool’ in the title.

“What Kind of Fool am I?” “Chain of Fools” “Why do Fools Fall in Love?”
They danced to “April Fools.” A plaintive ballad from the eponymous named movie. The words seeming prophetic now.

A romantic fairy tale then.

About which they both could remember, but not reclaim.

The air-conditioning kicks off. Mourning doves bob their way up to the French doors. Alan shifts in his chair. Marisa looks up expectantly. She’s raven-haired yet and her Mediterranean beauty perhaps more compelling in its maturity. She once laughed often—unrestrained by conventions. Her fine white teeth in harmony with her olive complexion.

Alan used to carry a photo of her in his leather wallet until tattered and faded he dismissed the image. Never thought to replace it.

Everything has its meaning.

Even silence.

The doorbell chimes. Most likely the neighbor under the guise of needing one thing or another, but actually at the doorstep to borrow their time. Once shoehorned into their house, almost impossible to ease out.

Marisa responds to the cue with a turn of her head. Alan stops fiddling with his spoon. For the briefest of interludes, hope presents itself. Perhaps a third player could adjudicate their dispute.

But no.

This is a private requiem.

Besides, who can fathom the depths and complexities of a couple’s relationship? Often not even the couple themselves.

The door goes unanswered as does Marisa’s question. “What happens next?” It lingers between them like the prelude to a coming storm.

Each passing muted minute sealing their fate. Both wary of upsetting the indelicate position on which they are so precariously balanced. As if any speech or overt physicality will tip them over and whatever they still are will shatter irreparably.


Whatever they were.

Neither one wants to be assigned the blame.

Even though, when something’s damaged, there should be a reckoning.

The coffee in their white porcelain cups is cooling—as is the moment. The tension leaking from the room leaving them more and more deflated.

Allowing for a shift in their intentions.

Allowing for the possibility of an indecorous retreat.

Marisa sighs. She understands it will fall to her to break through the impasse. The world outside their deteriorating drama will demand her attention. Her’s mother’s doctor appointment. The laundry hung. Contractual obligations of a recent real estate deal signed and sealed.

The sigh is impetus for standing. She pushes back her chair creating a jarring sound which sits Alan upright. Their eyes graze each other, but rife with torment, they can’t engage and find another anchor. Marisa with the Van Gogh poster of the man in his mania which they bought in the Netherlands. Alan with the succulents in the cactus garden just beyond the patio.

He wonders how they survive the hellish heat. The succulents. She remembers the thousands of bicycles they dodged on the Amsterdam streets, laughing recklessly and all urgent to cocoon in their hotel room.

Many happy-ever-afters ago.

Marisa walks from the kitchen alert for his voice.

How it’s so often happened—their marriage stretched apart, but never entirely broken. One or the other pulling them back together. Providing the first plank in a bridge they’d construct from apologies and forgiveness—crossing that makeshift bridge, meeting halfway and calling it love.

But Alan remains silent. Unable to muster up any sort of verbal reclamation. No lifeline to reel Marisa back in.

Her slight hesitation at the door brings him to tears.

He knows what’s required. Needed.

They both do.

We all do.

Gavin Kayner’s plays, prose and poetry have won numerous awards and appeared in a variety of publications. These include – Quibble, Passager, Mazagine, Smoky Blue Literary Review, Helix Literary Journal, Witcraft and so forth.

the echo between passing hills

Why can’t I have time in your space? Why must I stand outside looking in through frosted glass? You enter me. Greedily. Devouring. Taking. I reach, but your air ices.

It’s a whirr. A sound that I swat away like mosquitoes hissing. A chilled breeze. An apparition without form.

My ribs are cracking in your vacuum. This want feels skeletal, slithering through me like lichen, sun starved. Where is your warmth? Touch? Why does this always happen, to me. Connections that fray like severed synapses. Electricity that sizzles then deadens, narcotized?

What does this person want? Always. Clinging. Cloying. Clawing. You’re cacti, and my skin is a rash. No. Not cacti. Too assertive. You’re a pale rose, six days past the sell-by-date, blackening.

Steve Gerson, an Emeritus English Professor from the Midwest, writes poetry and flash about life’s dissonance. He has published in Short Beasts, Panoplyzine, Crack the Spine, Decadent Review, Vermilion, In Parentheses, Wingless Dreamer, Big Bend Literary Magazine, Coffin Bell, and more, plus his chapbooks Once Planed Straight; Viral; and The 13th Floor: Step into Anxiety from Spartan Press.


We’d sit in the diner for Sunday suppers, surrounded by grease fire and bellowed orders for fried chicken and giblet gravy. Grandpa held court at the head of our table, like Ezekiel, prophesizing about exile. “I’ve seen it all, boys, and it ain’t pretty, believe me All Mighty, but we got us some hope, I tell you,” crossing his heart, him in his rolled-up dress shirt, starched as stiff as the gospel, as holey as Palm Sunday.

With his dinner fork held aloft as a scepter, he’d preach forgiveness from Colossians 3:13, saying in hushed tones over his grits, “Bear with each other, boys, and forgive one another, even if you’ve got some damned grievance, ya hear?”

Or he’d lash out at sinners (forgetting all about forgiveness, I guess). “You remember your Psalms, like 145:20, where the Lord says He’ll destroy them wicked ones,” and gramps would wipe the waffle syrup off his whiskers.

I’d see travelers in the diner come and go like calendar pages turning, like pilgrims to a shrine. They’d nurse a cup of dime coffee, their heads bowed over the black steam, the steam clouding their dreams deferred, and wear work clothes brown from the land’s dirt, as brown as the grease-fire that hung in the air, brown as a sepia photo in a family’s discarded album.

Their eyes pooled in their coffee cup’s reflection, the diner’s harsh light against the night’s darkness, their moment of rest in a worn booth, plastic seats torn like a map, each crack a destination sought, a path missed. They might have sought Jeremiah’s “good way” and “rest for their souls,” but I never saw any rest in their restlessness, their alcohol-stewed disturbance, eyes red.

The diner’s gone, shuttered soon after grandpa died, when an overpass was constructed so people could get someplace else, other pilgrims seeking a new gospel. And dust settled on the prophesies of my youth.

Steve Gerson, an Emeritus English Professor from the Midwest, writes poetry and flash about life’s dissonance. He has published in Short Beasts, Panoplyzine, Crack the Spine, Decadent Review, Vermilion, In Parentheses, Wingless Dreamer, Big Bend Literary Magazine, Coffin Bell, and more, plus his chapbooks Once Planed Straight; Viral; and The 13th Floor: Step into Anxiety from Spartan Press.

Toothpaste for 36

“You brought me toothpaste?”

“Yeah. It could have been worse.”

“Than toothpaste?”

Gail closes her mouth. The party starts in an hour and she hasn’t started getting ready. Evan watches her rub her tongue across her teeth. Maybe she hasn’t brushed her teeth yet, he thinks.

Gail turns her head. Her blonde hair edges over her shoulders. She opens her mouth and inserts a fingernail.

“Everyone will be here in an hour.”

“I know, I’ll, I’ll.”

“You’ll take the toothpaste to the bathroom. I know I’m only turning thirty-six, but Evan, toothpaste?”

Evan drags himself into the living room, down the hallway and into the bathroom. He places the tube on the sink and looks at himself in the mirror. He doesn’t bother to turn the light on so the shadows and the guilt make him look old. Haggard. Archaic.

He turned thirty-three last month. Gail found an old fountain pen for him that he loves and uses every day. He closes his laptop just to use the pen. He throws his right hand to his left chest pocket. It’s still there. He secures the pen, turns and leaves the bathroom.

A gift for Evan’s 33rd birthday. Gail is thoughtful. It is his most prized possession and he…he bought her toothpaste.

At least he wrapped it.

Todd K Denick is a Sepsis survivor. Born in Virginia, educated at Virginia Tech, unleashed in Alaska, and tamed in Germany where he now lives with his wife, son, and two dogs in the charming Franconian Switzerland area of Germany. His first book, IT WILL COME, is available from LALO Publishing, Inc.


Harry lifted his head and pointed his chin at the face of the Ferté-sous-Jourre monument. The imposing white Massangis limestone commanded attention in the French town square. It resembled a three-panelled photo frame, its only images letters of sorrow. It glowed peach with the going down of the sun.

There was a jolt in his chest when he discovered the name. It was towards the top of the right-hand column, beside a rust-coloured stain. He laughed, tear-like. In that moment of recognition, he felt an overwhelming need to share the story of John Cokley. To tell with pride and sadness how on the first day of the Great War, during the first engagement with the enemy at Mons, his great-grandfather was missing, presumed….by two o’clock on an August afternoon by the locks along the Mons-Condé canal. Only his surviving comrades would be protected by the Angels of Mons.

But he was alone on grey cold steps. Instead, he bowed in reverence and offered up a prayer, his gaze falling upon the area of his body where the hospital had detected a growth. He feared never being able to father a child, or becoming another bloodstained memory picked out in bronze on some forever garden reminder.

The 3765 names became his generation. Young brothers of equal age, on the brink of adventurous expectations. The not-yet men, mothers’ sons. Lads from villages and farms. Believers and non-believers, with all to live for and little to die for.

Visions rose of grinning faces, marching in chafing khaki collars. Shoulders stiffened, with proud heads high, their studded stamping boots fading into the distance. Some already fathers.

Harry’s thoughts turned again to the growth. Instinctively his hand went to his crotch. With moist eyes he hoped, in that closeness, they might intercede on his behalf from the place where their futile sacrifice had borne them.

Dan Keeble hails from the furthest point East in the UK, and has enjoyed many successes with online and print publications of poetry, short stories, humour, and more serious articles. He has appeared in Fiction on the Web, Everyday Fiction, Turnpike Magazine, Scribble, Flash Fiction Magazine, Agape Review, and many others on a long journey to a stubby pencil.


Ophelia held both hands in a straight line beneath her chin and tilted her head slightly to the left. It was her thirteenth or fourteenth time running through her version of the new TikTok dance she was about to post. The lengthy rehearsal was necessary. Ophelia was an insane perfectionist about all things social media, from the dance moves to the fit.

And today’s fit was, indeed, fire.

She wore a pair of peach Forever 21 biker shorts hiked up to accentuate her waist and lift her butt, plus a silver tri-back sports bra that held everything in just right. Ophelia pictured the comments she was going to get and caught her breath. Calm down. One more time through the choreography and she’d be good to go.

Ophelia mouthed the words to “Sequin Baby” as she practiced in front of her iPhone which sat in silent appraisal on the dresser.

After a few false starts, she tapped the screen to begin the performance for real. This time she captured the fluid, flirty flow she’d been dreaming of since she and her friends in Mrs. Kennewick’s class cooed over the clip of two Baltimore girls doing the dance. It was a truly sickening routine, full of hip swivels, finger-pointing, rolled eyes, and a pair of peace-out signs at the end. Ophelia hadn’t let the others in on her intent—she wanted to be the first to nail it—but started practicing that very afternoon. The sequence took a week to master, but Ophelia knew the payoff would be worth it.

Finished. Uploading. Now the waiting.

Her friends were always first in the feed. She loved them.

2 cute you cutie

Rachelle was sweet.

You are the queen of these dances. I h8te you. Jus kidding, You da best.

Tina could sometimes be two-faced at school, but on TikTok she never failed to jump in with support. Solid, girl.

Some more hearts, a pair of nice compliments from these two nerdy girls who Ophelia knew sort of looked up to her.

Then four words made her heart stop.

Yo, I found you.

Andredrakefan23’s pic wasn’t menacing or anything. Just an older guy with a five o’clock shadow wearing a sweatshirt and a few thin gold chains. The kind of person Ophelia wouldn’t pay any attention to, except for one thing.

Andredrakefan23 was her father.

Sure, he looked different from the faded pictures Ophelia’s mom let her look at occasionally when she’d been drinking tequila and acting like a drunk TV parent. But it was him. The realization was so jarring that Ophelia didn’t even notice she’d been standing in the middle of her bedroom for five minutes while her phone dinged and chirped at her.

Her dad wasn’t supposed to be in touch, or more like, he hadn’t been in touch since Ophelia was too young to even remember the guy. So it was a strange experience seeing his eyes gleaming in that profile pic. (Which was such an obvious selfie, by the way. Old people were embarrassing.) Yet Ophelia saw herself in those eyes—their openness, their desire to be liked. It was amazing what you could get out of a blurry, cropped image.

Ding. Andredrakefan23 followed her. As a TikTok user since eighth grade, Ophelia had a decent hunch about what was going to happen next.

The DM zone was a scary place. All her friends had horror stories about assholes who sent them private messages—some clueless, some obscene, some downright scary. It was easy enough to block someone though. Ophelia did it all the time with scammers, kids she wanted to avoid from school, or obvious creeps. But what do you do when it’s your dad and you haven’t spoken to him in nearly ten years?

Ophelia plopped onto her bed and clutched her lucky BTS pillow. By the time she’d refreshed the screen, there it was, like a shoddily wrapped Christmas present: an actual communication from her father.

I could tell it was you. You’ve grown up so much. Great dance routine by the way. That was lit. Look, your Mom doesn’t know yet but I’m back in Philadelphia and really want to see you both. I don’t have her number. I was looking for—

The message cut off mid-sentence. Ophelia kept her eyes glued to the phone, as if by staring hard enough she could will her dad not to bail on her. It probably only took a minute for the next bubble to pop up, but it felt like an hour.

I couldn’t find your mom on here but you have that unique name we both wanted for you.

Relief. And truth. All her life, Ophelia’s mother told her how she and her dad didn’t want her to have a boring name, how she was named after the lady of the lake, and how dope that was. One time, her mom even showed her a famous painting of the original Ophelia by some British artist. It was kind of cool, for a picture of an old-timey white maiden lady.

Would you tell your mom that I wanna talk? My cell is (410) 294-6643. It’s been too long. I miss you both. All my love.

It was 5:30 pm and her mom would be home from her post office shift in an hour. Most evenings, she would microwave her and Ophelia some food, talk about work, and ask about school gossip. “Spill the tea, kid,” her mom would say, and Ophelia would oblige—granted a PG, parent-friendly version of events.

For twenty minutes Ophelia looked at her phone, reread her dad’s words, put on her favorite Migos song, returned to the message, played her favorite Rihanna song, hugged her pillow tight, maybe even cried a little. Finally, a finger tap.


Ari Rosenschein is a Seattle-based author who grew up bouncing between the Bay Area and Jerusalem, Israel. Coasting, his short story collection, was praised by Newfound Journal as “introducing us to new West Coast archetypes who follow the tradition of California Dreaming into the 21st century.” His young adult novel, Dr. Z and Matty Take Telegraph (Fire and Ice YA), arrives in the spring of 2024. Ari holds an MFA from Antioch Los Angeles, and his work appears in Noisey, Ariel Chart, PopMatters, Drunk Monkeys, and elsewhere. He lives with his wife and dogs and enjoys the woods, rain, and coffee of his region.


[For Jean-Luc Godard]

They were going to lock me up. I said, ‘Fuck it.’ It didn’t make any difference to me. I’d been locked up on the outside this whole time too. They didn’t know it—but I knew it. It was burned in me like a swastika tattoo, like a concentration-camp serial number, same difference. The prisons were moving outward just as the continents had lost their land masses and turned into islands. And still it wasn’t yet Christmas.

This is 2000-plus years later from something but I’m wearing a gray slim-fit suit. I’ve got a Fedora on my head. I smoke cigarettes constantly and let them burn up my throat and lungs. I’m planning an early escape. It’s my modus operandi—to breathe less than your average sub, your average subhuman as I’ve been cast.

Who cast me? It doesn’t matter. It’s not my lot to complain. I’m leaving town today. I’m trying to leave town. I may even go to Rome but don’t let that get out. These fuckers will follow me everywhere. Anyway they already know I’m in Rome. I’ve been there for such a long time. The surveillance cameras in Rome have picked me up since 2005. And I’ve been in New York the whole time. But I’ve been there, in Rome, too. I can’t trick them. I can’t fool them. It’s the scourge of the subhuman. His curse.

Anyway I’ll get out. The prisons are only so big. They encompass the entire civilized world, the grid, and beyond—the mountains, the prairies, the rain forests, the oceans, the kingdoms…I’ll take that woman into the room with me too, have her read me Faulkner. But only the last line of each novel—that’s all I can take. After that we’ll build a fire in our hotel room. I’ll break up the wooden end table and put the phone on the floor. Thank God there’s one slot window with a sliding panel. The blue-black smoke can pour out. We’ll lie on the false bearskin rug, open two, three bottles of wine. But no, we won’t be intoxicated. We’ll be full of some kind of blood.

Then it’ll be morning. It’ll make no difference, sun’s up, sun’s down. I’ll send her to the store for milk, the paper. I’ll play Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto on the turntable like it’s going out of style. It is going out of style but it’ll be there in prison, waiting for me.

When she comes back with the milk and paper, I’ll tell her I love her. She won’t say ‘Shucks’ or anything. She’ll say, ‘Sorry but it’s over. I couldn’t do it. The prisons are too big. I dropped a dime on you. Okay, a quarter.’

Then I’ll start talking to the walls. She’ll do the same but counter-clockwise, the opposite walls. She’ll have her conversation and I’ll have mine. The Mozart will keep playing but I’ll turn the volume down.

After a minute she asks me why I don’t run. I tell her I’m running, can’t she see?

She says, ‘No.’

I say, ‘That’s because I’m too fast for you.’

Too fast.

Then, sirens outside on the street. They’re blaring and rhythmic like its French or English police. Maybe even the Italians. The Carabinieri with polished white-leather holsters and stainless-steel helmets. Tall shiny boots. I’ll talk to them about sports cars, calcio, and the tits of Battipaglia even. I’ll con them with my subhuman speech. Shit, I’m almost gone.

Fiction Writer, Poet, Antipoet, gentle quasi-misanthrope, librarian, Philip Brunetti has been writing since his early 20s, and his innovative work has been published in various literary journals including Identity Theory, Swamp Ape Review, and The Boiler. His 2020 debut novel Newer Testaments has been described in The Independent Book Review as ‘an innovative existential novel told through hallucinatory poetics’ and is available for purchase.

No Place

A dog, tail between her legs and ears folded back, wades on a beach shrouded in mist.

No place for a stray dog, everyone thinks. Her black fur shrugs as she picks up a crab’s corpse and disappears into the forest behind her. No prints are left in the sand.

Ellie Stewart is an emerging author from Utah. She writes short stories and poetry and is currently working on her first novel.

Peck. Peck. Peck.

If ever Viv wanted to disappear, now was the time. Thirty-one teens sat in plastic chairs before wooden tables and stared at Remington keyboards. A hefty woman with a band leader’s baton barked commands from the back of the portable building that served as a classroom. Viv’s nerves did not allow her brain to process Sister Felicia’s words. On her left Viv saw the hands of a boy move to an expectant pose over the typewriter keys. Viv mimicked his hand stance as best she could. The fingers of her good right hand curved over the metal letters while her stupid left hand’s fingers seemed glued together and bent upward with her thumb moving nervously over the space bar. The girl to her right offered her the flicker of a smile, and Viv began counting her breaths. The clicks of Sister’s heels back and forth at the rear of the classroom fell into rhythm with Viv’s inhales and exhales. Zydeco…zydeco…zydeco beats filled her head.

Viv heard Paul Newman’s laugh as she looked out her cabin window. He rode past her on a bicycle and held out his hand, beckoning her to join him. She rushed to the front porch in time to jump on his bike’s handlebars when he circled back to get her. Paul’s bright blue eyes sparkled enough to cue the band to play Viv’s latest favorite song: “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.” The song’s “nothing’s worrying me” message tinkled along as Paul pedaled and Viv steadied herself with two healthy hands firmly on the front handlebars and two strong legs tucked neatly to one side. Her long straight brown hair rested over her right shoulder and her large brown eyes matched the beauty of Paul’s baby blues. Newman paused near a barn to let Viv disembark and sit on a fence where she would watch him perform bike tricks just for her to the band’s circus music.

A sudden rap on her desk made Viv stop the piano playing pantomime of her right hand and the spastic taps of her left. “I said type!” said Sister, and she gave the desk a second, louder rap with her stick. Viv gulped and tried a “Chopsticks” rhythm on the keys. “What is wrong with you?” said the confused teacher. Viv’s embarrassment kept her silent. “Why won’t you listen? Are you deaf?” Viv shook her head no. “Sit up straight.”

Viv complied and said, “Yes, Sister.”

“Stand up, girl. Look at me. What is wrong?”

Viv stood up, looked at her corrective shoes and confessed, “My left arm is weaker and my hand—”

“Speak up!”

Viv’s cheeks and eyes burned. She came clean: “I have cerebral palsy in my left side, and my hand—”

“Why are you in my typing class?”

Viv dropped her head to hide the tears.

“Stop that crying and come with me,” said Sister as she marched the limping girl to the door. Viv felt her classmates’ eyes follow her – the pitiful freshman, the crippled kid, the loser girl.

Sister Felicia handed Viv a scrawled note. “Take this to the front office. You don’t belong in here.”

Viv left the portable building to breathe safer air. As she dragged her feet towards the office, she heard the zydeco…zydeco…zydeco of a mimeograph machine in the teachers’ work room she passed.

Viv was in a candlelit cabin with two handsome gunmen. The three sat at a rustic table. Butch Cassidy was convincing Viv and Sundance that they needed to leave the country. Head out to a new place where they could go unnoticed and learn a new language and start all over. The evil lawmen and their tracker would never find the three friends.

“Vivian Fontenot! Why are you not in class?” said Sister Magdeline pulling the girl out of her movie fantasy. Viv held out the note to the one nun who never made her nervous. Sister Magdeline was only eight years older than the shy freshman before her. Soon the two sat before the school’s frowning principal, Father John, and the young nun patted Viv’s good hand while the girl listened to an old lawnmower in the distance struggle to cut an overgrown lawn with zydeco…zydeco…zydeco strains.

In a sepia toned world, Viv rode a train with both Butch Cassidy and Sundance on their way to a small country. Both men gave her their undivided attention as she referenced a book of Spanish phrases and taught them the words they would need for their next bank robbery.

When Ginger Keller Gannaway’s parents made her switch her major from Creative Writing to English Education in 1976, she switched her focus from writing to teaching. After raising three sons and teaching public school for 36 years, Gannaway has time to write again. Although she co-writes a blog (, her true love is writing fiction. Her stories have appeared in Pigeon Review and will be in an upcoming issue of Breath and Shadow. She lives in Texas but will forever have a Cajun soul and a need for beaucoup bon temps.

Beyond the Light of the Fire

The boy sucked the last cold chip from the park bin and crept back to his bed under the bridge. The new month had orange eyes and brought with it a scent of winter. Crisp packets and empty cans slept in the crevices. A stray was sitting on his cardboard and hissed. He sighed and hoped when he turned 12 he’d get more respect.

“That’s my bed, but mooj over a wee bit and I’ll share with you.”

As he crouched to pet its head, the cat waddled off. He slumped and felt a lump. Dug a hand under.

A finger.

It was chewed around the edges but hadn’t been dead for long. Flakes of skyblue polish still on the nail. He sniffed. Warm perfume behind the knuckle. A smile surfaced – this was the luck he’d been waiting for. He hid it under his armpit and waited for the pink scratch of morning.

After the street emptied of footsteps, he dug a hole between thorn bushes and weeds and planted the finger.

Days… weeks… months… passed. He checked every morning, making sure it was watered. The snow moved him into an old caravan by the forgotten scrapyard where he waited.

On the first breath of spring, he left to check. The finger had sprouted and a full hand and wrist joined it from the ground. Perfect skyblue nail polish. He lay down and it caressed his face. Soon she would be fully grown. Soon they would be together.

John Gerard Fagan is a Scottish writer who has published over 100 short stories in places such as Thi Wurd, Guts, and The Sunlight Press. His debut memoir Fish Town, about living 7 years in a remote Japanese fishing village, was published in 2021 to critical acclaim. See more @JohnGerardFagan or visit

Body Parts

The boy got his fear of the hospital from his grandfather, who when he came to visit would often complain that his doctor was threatening to chop off another body part. His grandfather was missing two fingers on one hand and a thumb on the other, and the last time he had come to visit he said they were after his foot. So when the boy got sick, and his parents asked him if he would like to go to the hospital, the boy shook his head and said no. Still, he heard his parents outside his bedroom debating whether they should take him anyway. His mother thought it was a good idea, because he was “delirious” and “running a fever,” but his father wanted to wait until morning and see how he was doing then. “And what if he comes to us in the middle of the night?” his mother asked. “Then I’ll take him myself,” his father replied.

That night, the boy had a dream. His neighbor, a nurse, snuck into the house and strapped him to a gurney with ropes and chains. Then she wheeled him to the hospital, where a doctor came into the operating room with an already bloodied knife. “Which limb should I take?” the doctor asked the nurse. “Oh, any of them will do,” she replied laughingly. Then, just as the doctor was preparing to cut off his leg, the boy awoke. He reached for his thigh and found that it was still there. But the boy was still panicked: he got out of bed and ran to his window. Beyond the backyard there were some woods. Deer lived there. Sometimes the deer would come into the backyard and lap water from his mother’s bird fountain. If he approached them slowly, they would let him pet them, but if he came out of the house fast they would run away, back into the woods. To the deer, the woods were a safe place to be, a place where they could hide from threats, and it seemed to the boy that this would also be true for him, that he would also be safe there. He opened the window and climbed out.

He wasn’t sure how far he had gone into the woods when he began to feel tired. His whole body ached, and he didn’t seem to able to see clearly anymore. A fog had set in, but he could not tell if it was real or only in his imagination. Perhaps it did not matter, for it seemed to him now as if he and the fog were becoming one. It was then that he saw a deer. He recognized it by the pattern of white spots on its side as a deer that had come into the backyard, a deer that he had once petted. Now the deer came right up to him. It told him to lie down, and so he did. Then it told him to close his eyes, which he also did. He felt the deer licking his face, and smiled. The deer continued to lick his face until his cheeks grew cold, and then the deer ran off, never to return to the woods again.

Wolfgang Wright is the author of the comic novel Me and Gepe and various short works scattered across the ether. He doesn’t tolerate gluten so well, quite enjoys watching British panel shows, and devotes a little time each day to contemplating the Tao (though not too much, for that would miss the whole point). He lives in North Dakota.

Fated Reality

The darkened sky descended early upon the misty autumn trees. Icy pellets held fast to the shrinking maple leaves. Avery Livingston glanced about the deserted array of sweeping trees speckling the thick, overgrown forest. With a damp chill in the frosty air, the calls of the summer birds had long been forgotten among the rolling hills.

Where was she? How did she get to this strange and desolate place? It had to be a mistake! Frozen in time—in this forsaken place. Silence easing its way in until it finally reached her deceptive ears.

She was alone. All alone. Far away from the world she once knew—warm, friendly, filled with love and happiness. But now it was all gone—gone to the point of no return. Could this possibly be the end?

Avery’s memory swam in circles. Heaviness weighed on her mind. What had happened? She closed her blurry eyes. Her labored breathing had slowed. Almost to a halt. A single tear made its way down, past the sticky blood clinging to the enormous gash on her upper lip. Blending images swirled together, trying to connect like pieces of a horrific puzzle. And then all of a sudden, it came flooding back. The car—the flat—the ride. Getting into his truck was the wrong thing to do. His devious façade was impenetrable. It was just a quick ride down the road. But instead, she’d invited evil–lurking in the darkened corners of his mind, waiting, preying on the innocent.

Avery whimpered. There was no justification for her devastating choices. Painful emptiness crept inside her. Within her mind, she frantically struggled with the acceptance of an irreversible destiny.

He had left her to die—a lonely, painful death. Discarded like a bag of trash. And then he moved on, his wretched, depraved soul loathing any chance of remorse, yet gladly sanctioning his heinous, sadistic deed.

Suddenly, the wintry clouds began to dissipate. Thunder reverberated somewhere in the near distance. Shards of twinkling stars peeked through, as if her guardian angel reached down to soothe her grieving spirit.

Avery shivered. Her shallow, warm breath touched the frigid night air. By now, she could barely feel her aching, ravaged body. She could not move. The long-twisted rope cut and burned into her raw, delicate skin. A torn, flimsy shirt and blue faded jeans held no warmth, only dankness and filth, as they clung uselessly to her unrecognizable battered and bloodstained body. It was no use. No one would hear her cries for help.

A silent prayer of forgiveness escaped from her thin, trembling lips. Avery wept as a gentle whisper unburdened her troubled soul. She knew she never would leave this place—this desolate place. She conceded to the inevitable—an unfathomable realm. Avery ultimately let go. Let go of all her fears—of all she once knew—and all she would never know. Surrendering her entire being to the peace and tranquility calling to her from the heavens above, which had been promised so long ago.

Alice Baburek is an avid reader, determined writer and animal lover. She lives with her partner and four canine companions in northeast Ohio. Retired from one of the largest library systems in Ohio, she challenges herself to become an unforgettable emerging voice.

Origins: A Family Story In Flashes

My private cosmology—it seems my parents had sex when I wasn’t looking and so created me. From then on, I saw all that I know. I know exactly when Bill and I created James. I logged it on a paper chart. James and Jordan had Noa when they weren’t supposed to be getting pregnant (wildly dangerous). Then our juicy piece of fruit, Noa, defying all, arrived through Covid, being underweight, other perils. Now there’s a maybe baby in a surrogate woman in Wisconsin. So my world, my private universe began and continues. Thus goes Joanna’s cosmos.

The sheets are snapping in the wind on my mother’s clothesline, from the patio to the end of the lawn. The pulley’s screeching when we pull the wash in. A heaping, the rumple fills willow basket. Some days our wash smells like the first breath of air—so wide with clean—I want to walk around in it. In winter the winds freeze our wash. My father’s gray work shirts, pants, our nightgowns, our dresses all stiff as boards. We lay them in a pile like a stack of bodies in the garage, wrinkles frozen like long bones.

I begged my father to let me go on the roller coaster at five, maybe six years old. My older sister had just gone. He gave in, bought two tickets. Just him and me. The bar snapped down across our seat, the car creaked up the old wood rails, clicking up, pausing. Each creaky click brought more sickening fear to me. My father held me tight, sad that he had misjudged giving me a thrill. We went over the top and swerved hard one way, then the other, down the terrifyingly steep drops. Higher again then flung down terrifying peaks. “Scream Jo,” he shouted to me. “Scream as loud as you want.” But I had no sound in me.

I visit my sister barefoot in the morning, crossing painted red steps in front of our adjoining front doors. Or she crosses her back garden, comes up the back steps to my small porch where we sit and listen to the trees stir, the cicadas sing. I’ve alighted here temporarily camped out in someone else’s walls and problems. This untethering keeps me slightly off the earth, out of the ordinary. In this neighborhood of painted wood houses in contrasting saturated colors, of trees, backyards, small porches, insect song, rain falling, I visit my sister barefoot a few times a day.

My father’s bones. I have a 12 X 8 full-length X-ray of my father’s bones. When I look at this portrait of my father’s bones—I feel the familiarity of him. The bend in his body to one side that happened over the years is there. A sadness too that no other image brings. My sister, says, “It’s a heart stopping thing. I remember collecting it at the records window at the hospital and the tears spurting out. The young black guy behind the window saying to me, ‘Hard as it is coming into this world, you think it’s easy getting out?’”

Joanna Clapps Herman has had 40 publications during the Covid era—some are poems or micro prose pieces: in Odyssey PM, MUTHA, Pummerola, The Ocean State Review, Italian Americana, Persimmon Tree, Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine. Her book length publications include, When I am Italian: Quando sono italiana, exploring the question of whether it’s possible to be Italian if you weren’t born in Italy, No Longer and Not Yet and The Anarchist Bastard: Growing Up Italian in America. She has co-edited two anthologies; Wild Dreams and Our Roots Are Deep with Passion.


Hers is the kind of name that belongs exclusively to grandmothers, and Gretchen Morris didn’t grow into it until her mid-seventies. Before that, she wore her name like an oversized hand-me-down, warm and snug, but not quite flattering.

She watched herself float through life, a specter who was there but only ever partly. She went to all twelve years of school and four years of college, officially moved out of her parents’ house, applied to her first job and a succession of other jobs, met a guy, broke up, met another guy, had the relationship fizzle out and die, broke up, met yet another guy, got married, and bore two kids. The cycle repeated as they too went through school, college, and alas, heartbreaks. And it wasn’t that she hated the cycle. It was fine. The cycle gave her summer holidays and shared laughter with colleagues; it gave her two wonderful men she was proud to call her sons, and a husband whom she later outlived, but otherwise loved.

She wasn’t miserable either, or at least, not more miserable than her next-door neighbor. Still, whenever she introduced herself, and God knew how many times she had to do that, the syllables never rolled off right. “I’m Gretchen,” she’d said in her first parent-teacher conference, and the teacher had smiled but Gretchen could see the thought she immediately had: ‘what kind of young woman has the name Gretchen?’.

Then, Gretchen turned old, and everything fell into place. It happened slowly, as old age does, starting with the first strands of white hair that overtook her head. Most women cried at the sight, but she thought they looked like the onset of a crown, like the first flakes of snow on a boring stretch of earth. Her body changed to finally fit the name she was given. It hung perfectly from her stooped shoulders, and she realized that her wrinkled arms filled the extra fabric the way her toned muscles never did.

When Gretchen now stands in front of the mirror, she doesn’t see a ghost anymore. She sees a woman who has lived through more than seventy birthdays but no longer has to ask what the purpose of birthdays is. Her eyes shine a little brighter, and the world, somehow, seems more beautiful from behind her black reading glasses.

“I’m Gretchen,” she says to the little girl that her second granddaughter Mabel brings home. “But please, call me Grannie.”

Erica Fransisca is an Indonesian-based freelance writer who studied English Literature at the University of East Anglia. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Anak Sastra, Paragraph Planet, 101 Words, and Five Minutes. Find her at


I stand in the circle and my back faces the direction of my throw. My feet are squared. My weight shifts from leg to leg. I never look back at the wedge of green stretched far behind me. Still, I see it spread out behind my eyelids. I begin to pass the discus back and forth with each shift of my weight. Left. Right. Left. Right. I open my eyes.

I swing my right arm and search for my rhythm. I see my teammates in front of me. Some joke around. Some others are lost in thought. And a few have their eyes fixed on me. They know my wind up will soon begin. They hold their water bottles but do not drink. I sense their emotions. Nervous. Hopeful. Doubtful. Waiting. In a way, not so different from how they look at every teammate when they throw. How I look at them. But it feels different to me.

Coach. His eyes narrowed in a squint. I can’t tell what he’s thinking. If she wants to play at being a boy, what to do I care? he told my parents. Then he just shrugged. I wasn’t supposed to hear. But I did.

Then I find the rhythm. I’m dialed in. When I was on the girls team I never quite tuned in to that groove. And I begin to wind up. I swing my right arm back, the discus now vertical. I’m balanced on my right foot and the ball of my left. Winding up the tension. Tightening my muscles, a snake coiled with intent to strike. I’m committed. There’s no turning back now.

I’m not on the girls team anymore.

My swing begins. My weight shifts to my left foot and my right leg comes off the ground at the same time as I begin to spin. Perfect balance is required. I have practiced this move thousands of times and I will for thousands more. Believe it. But right now, I am only in the moment. Or maybe outside the moment. I feel my muscles uncoil. I feel the rotational force of my swing. I balance on my left foot like a top, held upright by opposing forces.

A throw only lasts a few seconds. Most people think there’s not much to throwing a discus. How hard could it be? It’s just a heavy frisbee. I think of my throw like an enso. The uninterrupted swirl of the brush leaves the circle on the paper but my throw leaves even less for the universe to remember — apart from the final measure of the distance as proof that on this one day I stood here, that on this one day I threw my discus. That on this one day I was present.

My right foot plants. My power position. Two thirds through the rotation now.

They will measure the distance of the throw and claim they can tell what kind of boy I am. Someone will say, last place. What a sissy. Or maybe I will be in the middle of the pack. Those who lose to me jeered. Those who beat me relieved. But what if I this throw, this time, what if I beat them all? What will they say then? Maybe you really can judge someone from a single throw. But I doubt it.

I rotate my right hand, leveling the discus, anticipating the release. My left foot touches the ground just after the right. I feel the discus roll across my index finger as it leaves my hand. It’s on its own now. All that’s left is for me to spend the remaining force by spinning in place. I land facing outwards down the field.

The discus is still in the air. My teammates watching now behind me. Their mouths hanging open, their eyes fixed on the discus. But I keep my eyes shut. The throw felt good.

Good throw kid. Coach. A few kids cheer. Most say nothing.

The only thing on my mind is my next throw.

Geoffrey Marshall is a writer in Aurora, Canada. He knows just enough to be dangerous (mostly to himself) in several different fields. You can find his work in the September 2022 issue of MoonPark Review as well as The Ansible and Academy of the Heart and Mind. Upcoming work will appear in an episode of the Kaidankai podcast and A Thin Slice of Anxiety. His education never really took, through no fault of his instructors (debatable) but he did manage to acquire a BA in English Literature from Carleton University. Find him on twitter @g_k_marshall.

Big Familia

There were shrieking, curdling, gulping, bleating cries combined with hurried shouts and panting. And clucks. The patchy green property flowed down a hill into a white fence leading to an elk preserve at the foot of Wyoming’s Teton mountain range. My brother-in-law got drunk multiple times on the trip and hopped the white fence hoping for some headspace in elk and bear territory. My brother David was rounding first base during our wiffleball game, the eighth of the trip, as I jogged home from third – getting pegged with a plastic wiffleball by one of my pre-teen nephews was a more favorable outcome than outright sprinting and dissolving any sense of athleticism I still held with them. Seven goats roamed the property with fifteen chickens, twelve ducks, five turkeys, a few hissing geese, two ranch hands, and thirty members of my immediate family – my four siblings and I plus our spouses, parents, and their eighteen grandkids. I avoided a fluffy tangerine-colored rooster and almost slipped in its droppings as David rounded second, a train of five- to nine-year-old nephews chased behind, hurling the ball as he slid into third. Some of the younger ones collapsed, screaming the phrase “not fair” more than I’d heard since teaching at an all-boys catholic high school. The sun was in its first move toward the mountain peaks, signaling the end of the day, and right at the level to shine on the wooden white Adirondack chairs lined up next to the first-base line. My wife, sisters, mom, and sister-in-law, the group my dad called “the girls,” drank wine, periodically kicking a pecking hen away. If it were a pointillism painting, their Nike shorts and plain Target t-shirts would look more formal, but in my view, it looked more like east Texas had come to town. I laughed when my sister Mary Claire suggested a Bordeaux instead of my mom’s boxed wine – and laughed harder when she described the Bordeaux as “robust.”

Everyone in their place, even the ranch hands Rex and Connor ran out to join the game, which got my dad to come try his hand at pitching, an audience for his past-prime athleticism in cut-off scrub shorts. But as I crossed home plate, a central figure caught my eye. In front of the chair line of crossed-legged women and wine glasses, but far enough away from the pasture playing field, light flickered through the dancing Aspen tree leaves onto two baby blankets. The two youngest kids, Mary Margaret and Elodie, swam in place, rolling over to giggle or spit or a handful of grass they’d pull up. But next to them, my nephew Tommy stretched across the softer of the blankets, leaning on his elbow and crossing his legs. His mom, my sister Katie, asked him to join the game, but he was nursing an injury from a Netflix binge the day before and felt tired. He lifted a handful of something in the air, and I watched as the sun set on my family, my feet covered in chicken shit and my dad yelling at someone to toughen up, and Tommy letting a handful of Cheeto-puffs fall into his titled mouth, giggling and crunching before a goat came staring with its rectangular pupil.

C.E. O’Banion is a 32-year-old writer and father of two living in Baton Rouge, LA. His work can be found in The Southern Review, Whalebone Magazine, and a few newspapers here and there. His debut novel Chinese New Year is coming out December of 2022. He is a writer who has previously worked as an attorney, cake decorator, teacher, and nursing home director. He’s been fired from two. You can find more of his work on his website.

Your Secret

You know I know your secret.

What you don’t know is that I’ve known it for some time.

You thought I only found out that night, when you were indiscreet after one too many glasses of wine. When you looked at him, over the top of your glass, and then looked away. And then you reached out as he was leaving, and with a casual, yet tender brush of your fingers, you removed some stray cat hair from his jacket.

It was the ultimate giveaway. You see, I know he doesn’t have a cat and you do.

Then you caught my eye. Caught me watching you. You smiled back at me.

I had been watching you a lot that evening. Do you remember? I had seen the way you flirted. You think because you do it to everyone nobody will notice when you hone in on him. Do you remember the way you were flirting with me?

You also touched me, on the knee, on the arm, but it was never intimate, I never had your full attention. You were acting out a role. Flirting with his best friend, while looking at him. It wasn’t subtle.

Although now I think you wanted me to find out. Didn’t you? I think you were fed up of all the secrecy, all the stress of arranging times to meet. You’re both married to other people, it can’t have been that easy.

I’m not married, as you know, it would be so much easier to have an affair with me.

And now you know that I know, I’m wondering what you will offer me to keep quiet?

But don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.

You see, I have a little secret of my own. You’re not the only one with a cat.

Terri Mullholland (she / her) is a writer and researcher who grew up in the West Country and is now living in London. Her flash fiction has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Litro, Flash Fiction Magazine, Toasted Cheese, The Liminal Review, Mercurious, and Analogies & Allegories Literary Magazine. When she is not writing, she can be found curled up with a cat and a good book. Find her latest on Twitter: @Lesley_Cat