Latest Stories

Deadlifting

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 austintreat.com. 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.

“Shhhh.”

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.

Speechless.

Depleted.

Defeated.

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.

Comprehension.

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.

Anymore.

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?

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.

Finally.

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

Me
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.

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

Me
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?

You
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.

Prophesies

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.

Homage

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.

TikToktastrophe

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.

Blocked.


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.

Outlaw

[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 (sittinuglysistahs.com), 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 JohnGerardFagan.com

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

1.
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.

2.
MY MOTHER
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.

3.
PETRFIED
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.

4.
SISTER
PAINTED STEPS
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.

5.
MY FATHER
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.

Gretchen

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 https://ericafransisca.com/.

Hyacinth

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 https://www.terrimullholland.com/. Twitter: @Lesley_Cat

A Study in Paisley

Ever look at a drop of water through a microscope?

—In biology class, like everybody else. Why do you ask?

Because I’m convinced it can’t be a coincidence.

—What?

The resemblance between the ciliated unicellular organisms you see frolicking in moisture under magnification and the figures on paisley shirts. Remember paisley shirts?

—Vaguely.

They were big when we were in high school. As a matter of fact, I happened to be wearing one the night I attracted the notice of a man with no lips.

—You exaggerate.

Not a bit. In place of a mouth, he had only the hint of a slit, so that I didn’t take it as a compliment when I caught him staring at me in the subway.

—I don’t suppose you were dumb enough to encourage him by sustaining eye contact?

Even as a kid, I knew better than that. On the reasonable assumption he was a lunatic, I looked straight back down at Madame Bovary.

—That’s not a book anybody of my acquaintance would have been reading in high school.

I wasn’t reading it, I was studying its cover, on which a greasy type with a twirled mustache and bushy side-whiskers was peering over the plump bare shoulder and down into the cleavage of a woman in a billowy dress.

—That’s why you bought it—for the cover?

Who said I bought it? It wasn’t mine. It belonged to Marian S., the girl I was returning from a date with. No, take that back. It didn’t just belong to her, it was an extension of her person. Every page of it was imbued with her fragrance.

—So you stole it from her—is that what you’re saying?

Nothing of the kind. She lent it to me, in connection with a commitment she’d made to raise my level of civilization.

—What made her think your level of civilization needed raising?

She lived in the Village in a brownstone. Her parents taught college. I lived in the Bronx in a housing project. My parents worked in the post office.

—I see. And it didn’t bother you to be condescended to in this way?

Not by her. I was only too happy to be pizza dough in her hands. Why do you think I was wearing that paisley shirt? For shit sure not because I liked it.

—But to get back to the lipless man who was also susceptible to that shirt …

By all means.

—I assume he was still staring at you the next time you raised your eyes from your book?

Worse than that, when I got off at my station, he followed me down into the street.

—It was night, you say?

And foggy.

—I bet you never ran so fast.

Alas, he turned out to be faster and ended up leaving me with no choice but to stab him with the pocketknife I failed to scare him off with. Luckily for me, the cops didn’t put any effort into clearing the case, no doubt because—as the papers reported—he was an escapee from Bronx State Hospital with a long record of assaults. I’m only confessing to the homicide now because the statute of limitations has expired.

—You seriously expect me to believe such a preposterous story?

Not for a minute. All the same, it’s a good deal more interesting than what actually happened.

—Which was?

Nothing. When I looked up from my book the second time, the lipless loony was gone, never to be seen by me again, except in an occasional nightmare.

—So what you’re telling me is that—apart from this complete nonevent—you made it home without incident from your civilizing date?

That’s about right. Since nobody had bothered to wait up for me, I didn’t even have to fend off the usual questions on my way to my room to snort Madame Bovary.


Stephen Baily has published short fiction in New Pop Lit, Bullshit Lit, Ink Sac, Mercurius, and some fifty other journals. He’s also the author of eleven plays and three novels, including Markus Klyner, MD, FBI (Fellow Traveler Press, 2021). He lives in France.

Just A Crack

The bedroom door was open again. Just a crack, a hair, as his mom used to say. Dim light from the hallway shone through, momentarily distracting him from the fact that it was open.

Hadn’t he closed it earlier, though? Not all the way, just slightly over the frame. Sighing, he got out of bed to close it over again, shutting if fully this time.

An undetermined amount of time passed.

He woke up to the sound of the door opening. Again, not by him. But not all the way, just a crack.
Now he was afraid.

But it was just the door, and his own hallway beyond.


Matthew Spence was born in Cleveland, Ohio. His work has most recently appeared at Bluepepper.com.

Raising Again

Both Eva and Girl, who was the human’s small, amber-coated mix of a best friend, howled atop the roof of the only place they’d ever known as home. For the man who’d placed them there before the waves had taken him away. For the rains that had broken for the first time in a week to come back and take them, too. But it was already done. The man was long gone, and the water was receding.

As they looked to the sky, the moon performed a miracle. It returned.

It seemed braver upon its arrival. Bolder. Somehow more alive than before. So alive that it didn’t stop when it filled to its brim with its splendid light. Soon, it spilled into the rest of the timid sky. Glowing. Burning. Like the sun.

There was such an abundance of brightness that Girl hid her eyes in the creases of Eva’s soaked jeans. When she peeked again, she saw that the light wasn’t only of the moon. The stars, which had been among the first to flee—after the birds—had found their way back, too.

But they seemed off. Weak. Confused. Forgetting to float overhead. Instead, they fell.

Crashing and bouncing. And, then, they died. Their light diminished.

Eva held Girl and tried her best to shelter the both of them as the curious fragments of the sky stormed upon and around them.

The celestial corpses dinged against Eva’s arms and dug into Girl’s back. Some smacked the tin on which the pair sat, and others landed onto the soggy ground and into the few oaks that remained rooted in the bleeding soil.

When the world went quiet, finally, Eva and Girl waited.

They watched above, below, and to their sides, their bodies so close they couldn’t tell which heart’s rhythm belonged to which body.

But nothing more came. Not in the immediate seconds that followed. Or in the minutes after that.

Eva got up and walked warily across the dented roof, and Girl trotted behind.

The human girl bent down and touched the just-gone stars. At her touch, they blinked. But went out again.

Girl nosed a few herself, becoming closer with the scent she had believed, only a few minutes gone, she and Eva would very well know.

Eva used her foot to sweep the surrounding stars into a pile, and, then, she picked them up—one and then another and collected them in the cradle of her small arms.

Slowly, these stars, sensing life, began to glow.

Seeing this, she added more. All those she could see and reach. Ones she, herself, picked up and ones Girl placed at her feet.
Eva, with her arms stuffed full of stars, turned to Girl and was so bright it looked as if she were holding the moon itself.

Girl howled at the stars her human had raised again. But this simple act of barking wasn’t enough. Girl put her head down and squatted against the tin. Then, she raised her head and called as far up into the sky as she could reach.

A prayer.

A thanksgiving.

Eva began howling herself, letting loose the fear and sadness she contained.

She threw her hands in the air, sending her bundle of burning stars back into the sky. And there they remained, floating higher and higher—all the way up until they were back beside the moon.

In their place. In their home.

At the edge of the roof, Eva and Girl looked out into their world.

Above the graveyard of flickering stars, bright, beautifully glowing ones were shooting back up into the sky. To try again.

Perhaps, believing that, with this time, it might be right.

Eva placed her hand softly on Girl’s head, stroking the insides of her friend’s ears and watching beautiful show. Of light. Of reclaimed life. Of the world being put together again by those who remained.

Eva and Girl were so very tired, but they knew what it was they had to do.

Although it was still dark and hard to see, the spreading light from above would guide their way.


Bradley Sides is the author of Those Fantastic Lives: And Other Strange Stories. His recent fiction appears, and is forthcoming, in BULL, Ghost Parachute, Psychopomp, and Superstition Review. He is an MFA candidate at Queens University of Charlotte and lives in Florence, Alabama, with his wife. For more, visit bradley-sides.com.

Can You Blame Me for Holding On?

It was the first of November. We sat in the drizzling rain on the hood of your broken-down Malibu. Parked outside the Taco Bell at the intersection of Secor and Central, I’d just overdrafted my bank account to buy you dinner for the last time. You ordered a Crunchwrap Supreme and cinnamon twists; I ate from the dollar menu. You wanted to share a drink, I wanted to share the past. The temperature set to drop any day, it was no secret what the end of autumn would bring: broken records and cell phone screens. The sharp chill didn’t stop you wearing a green dress, denim jacket. You wanted the night—the season finale of our failed history—to be cordial. The sun began its retreat behind the silhouette of the revival theater. Above us, a small patch of light in the clouds. A dry moment. An onset of violet and raw sienna. Fresh nails, Jack-O’-Lantern pattern, you sifted through the packets of hot sauce and read aloud their messages with the reverence of a fortune cookie prophet. “Do it with passion or not at all.” “I’m not just another pretty face.” “Can you blame me for holding on?” You couldn’t look me in the eye; I couldn’t release the breath trapped in my lungs. We waited for the dark. We waited for the rain to return and redeem us.


Nathan Elias is the author of the novel Coil Quake Rift and the short story collection The Reincarnations (Montag Press 2021/20).

Why read flash? Why write it?

We’re not here to convince you to write flash fiction, nor to read it. But you should. Upon first learning about flash fiction, it seems full of possibility for being annoying, fun, thought-provoking, and just maybe satisfying, for both readers and writers. At the very least, it can be a daily reading or writing ritual without requiring a major time commitment.

For a writer, flash might seem like an easy way to get published. But it’s not. Flash pieces must grab, arc, involve, connect, and conclude in an uber short story. It is a tall order.

At the same time, writing flash can be very productive, regardless of whether you intend to publish the works. It presents the opportunity to express the stories (or even just phrases) gnawing at the back of your mind without forcing a long-term time-suck.

For those who dislike writing traditional short stories, flash offers an appealing way to tell a story and inspire new perspectives. Plus, it provides the chance to explore different styles or craft techniques without messing up your in-progress book’s voice or flow.

Pre-reading flash pieces for another journal, I recall our team earnestly reading submissions, each person giving equal consideration to every story. Some stories connected, many did not. This is why flash is not necessarily an easy ticket to being published (which is where it can be annoying, especially if you think you eloquently hammered out something really good), for as with longer literary works, flash can be largely subjective. It either connects or it doesn’t.

We do our very best to choose pieces based on literary merit rather than subjectivity. Craft plays a role, as does heart, and by heart I’m talking about connection. And that’s the rub, the hard task of keeping subjectivity down while listening to your heart and mind, and feeling stories for connection.

That’s what Short Beasts wants. We don’t so much go for wow. We go for feel. Because we believe feeling is what makes flash work, what makes it worthwhile.

You decide what feel means. Adrenalin-inducing, heart-stopping electromagnetic word shock, romance or bromance or girlmance, mind-bending simulation, or what have you. (Just don’t be interesting.)

Short Beasts is open for submissions.