by G.J. Williams
It’s in his face: no dog and twenty old ghosts. It’s in the way he sits, his clothes shining with years of ingrained dirt. Been in those clothes so long they’d have to be surgically removed, layer by layer. A man without. Muttering into his beard. And that muttering of his can fire up and things get noisy. Many’s the scuffle he’s had with thin air. Leathered on god knows what gutrot. Been at the end of his life for years kind of bloke. Always on his tod. With a bunch of ghosts. And like I say, no dog.
Ninety-year-old bare skin is crepe, crossed with turkey’s wattle and if you lightly bump or grip too tight it bruises like an evil has been done. My mother hates that her arms, her neck, her décolletage look this way.
When I hug her I can see Mum’s scalp through the thinning, flyaway hair now worn short, as her fingers can no longer manage hair ties. Mum was always proud of her hair so she hates that too.
Worse still is the oedema, the fluid retention that merges her ankles and calves into one inflamed whole. Anyone would hate that.
EVERYTHING MUST GO
by E. O’Neill
The hands of a thousand brides carry the life’s work of Saul Bergman. Stone tokens of love everlasting, each expertly cut and polished under his watchful eye. Now, the sign in the store window announces the closeout sale. The sign’s reach goes far beyond the store’s inventory. Its message has roots and limbs. It grows like ivy and covers all.
Four rows away a lawnmower rumbles, drowning out the rabbi’s prayer. Ida grieves but doesn’t weep. She steels herself to the weather’s chill and the uncertainty of the future. She’ll move to West Islip to be closer to her sister.
The Merest Crack
by Philippa Bowe
Syl balances on the Waterloo Bridge balustrade, waits for a sign, body swaying though there’s no wind, battered by gusts of forever-anxiety, and there! the last city lights stutter and go out, snuffed by the night’s dark, time to let go, plunge into the water below, wet cold shadows enfolding her, time to sink and rest, but no, up she floats on pillowing wings of clothes and lungs, face breaking the surface, tilting up to a seeping cleft in the sky, a finger of light beckoning as a solitary star – tiny, determined – eyeballs her, and she says, Well okay then.
This week’s artwork is by G.J. Mintz
by JW Goll
I’m on my second vodka and ginger ale. Delilah has had five, but as always, she’s steady and lucid. We sit in cheap plastic chairs near a greasy motel pool in Sturgis. We talk about Vietnam and she mentions a cousin killed at Hue, a childhood friend crippled at Dac To. She opens the second fifth, ignoring the ginger ale.
The light turns golden as does Delilah’s skin. A large praying mantis lands on a nearby table. It’s a love animal she declares. She takes a long drink from her tumbler. I wonder who it is here for, she says.
by Tim Frank
Why did the lonely boy from the high-rise estate, with his scarred wrists and nicotine breath, kill the dead-eyed drifter with a machete in the local park?
Why did the community act shocked and alarmed when behind closed doors they claimed he had it coming, like all the boys with infected tattoos – that they were a stain on the neighborhood, and deserved to have their stomachs carved up like pizza dough and then left to rot in a hole, forgotten forever?
by Betty Stanton
“Talk to me about one time you saw God’s hand at work in your life,” his counselor prods him. Doctor Jim is a small, serious man with milk-colored hands.
He could be a hand model, Andrew realizes, and then he bites his lip until he tastes the copper of his own blood and tells Doctor Jim that he doesn’t believe God has hands.
Presumably for stepping on things.
The Last Flight of the Honeybees
by Michael Anthony Fagan
The terminal honeybees cut their wings off, forcing their bodies through the compact wire fence. Their bodies fall onto plastic flowers (doused in peppermint and sage); their journey is in vain.
Her eyes command a tempest. A queen no more. The world around her is dying. She is picked up by leather fingers, crushed into a frosted glass, and smeared onto a faux Kandinsky painting by the bald bourgeoisie artist whose father owns the mill house.
by Kapka Nilan
Back then when I used to have a father and there used to be snow for as long as I remember before my memories turned into slush and the future became all too real without the intricacies of snowflakes and with the knowledge that all Santas are temporary but melting into nothing is a bonus as that way they would never get old and develop a catalog of illnesses that can only leave one half-alive.
by Matthew Corbyn
The sun poured champagne into the ocean. Pristine water bubbled on the white sand.
The porcelain woman lay on dark mahogany, shaded by postcard palm trees. Her oversized sun hat and sunglasses, a polite ‘do not disturb’.
She had meant to leave two days ago.
Her phone buzzed. She ignored it.
A local walked by early evening. She didn’t return his greeting.
Even as the crowds gathered under the full moon, followed by red and blue flashing, revealing the deep, dark ocean. She dared not open her eyes, lest another sight would be her last.
If I Could Give My Former Self a Fortune Cookie
Five years from now, you will live in a modest home, in a small town, with a fulfilling job, and a new partner. You will have a golden retriever named Lucky.
But right now, you are alone, crouched on the floor in the last bathroom stall, your head in your hands, sweat droplets running along the small of your back, your knees pulled up and pushing against your palpitating chest. You smell urine and Japanese Cherry Blossom, and a layer of coffee stagnates in your mouth. You keep lifting your feet to feel the slight pull of the sticky floor.
Hug Me Once
by Tim Frank
As a child I refused hugs, always offering a firm handshake instead – even to my mother who watched sadly as I grew into a frail teenager with perpetually clammy palms.
On her deathbed, grandma offered my greatest challenge.
“Give Nana a hug, darling,” she said, with dull grey eyes, stretching out her arms. “Not long for me now.”
Reluctantly, I leaned in, pressed my cheek against her wiry purple wig until I heaved contented sighs that turned into tears.
Then I burst into flames, incinerating my grandma, leaving her charred remains glowing on the mattress.
“Oh, right,” everyone said.
Amongst the Heaps
by Micah Castle
Endlessly we toil before the fiery maw, feeding the flames coal under towering smokestacks, billowing thick, black smog.
The world trembles and rattles with each step of the crude titanic legs, tearing the earth asunder as it mindlessly journeys.
Heaps of brittle, blackened corpses lie in the dark corners, half-hidden by shadows. We take from the piles, too, throwing them into the fire. More fuel, life for our home. Terrified to look below; horrified to see the dregs of humanity.
We futilely fill its blazing belly, staving off death, until others take our place and we’re amongst the heaps.
His mother called him “Willy-Lump-Lump” when she was angry. She was angry often: at his father who vanished long ago, strangers who said *smile*, colleagues who laughed when she recalled her beauty queen days. She still had the shoulders and cheekbones, but her hair had turned gray in her fifth month and her waist went the way of the boy’s father. The boy devoured Karo syrup sandwiches after school; spooned jelly under the covers; shoplifted Butterfingers, TastyKakes, Doritos. Now, he is six-foot-three and mostly muscle. He works on Wall Street, has a postcard-perfect family, guzzles Jagermeister after his mother visits.
by Josh Cohen
I didn’t wear flip-flops for the excursion from patio to parking lot. There was no need—the path was paved, and I just needed sunscreen from the rental car. But had I known the vole’s morning routine, maybe I would have donned footwear. Either way, the result would have been the same. A flattened creature pleading for swift mercy.
With an unread USA Today, I swept the evidence into a garden bed. I didn’t bury it. Or eulogize it. There was no time—I could already hear the clang of the next trolley bound for the beach.
by David M Wallace
In August were buttercups, lady slippers, snapdragons. Bluebells, cockleshells, eevy, ivy, over. Hopscotch and skipping rope. All around the mulberry bush and the ice cream truck. Then September and polka dots and am I pretty? All those tears and scattered leaves.
by Justin Rulton
I watch them through the jockeying parade, merging with the walls, pinned like prisoners awaiting execution. Hidden in plain sight, hoping without precedence for something good to happen.
They just want to be asked, “Would you care to dance?”
Instead it’s more likely to be, “Wanna go to my place?”
The corpse of romance trampled underfoot, bleeding out under the pulsing lights.
Desperately numb, they aren’t even considered. Buttressed by my own wall on the other side of the hall, all I can offer is my empathy.
Leftovers go cold if they’re abandoned for too long.
The Empty Cupboard
by Jim Latham
His pantry held two kilos of chocolate, two kilos of coffee, two bottles of mezcal.
The chocolate ground with almonds, cinnamon, and sugar and pressed into discs the size of silver dollars.
The coffee grown in the shade by people who preferred the language of their ancestors to that of the Spanish invaders.
The mezcal distilled from wild magueys in small batches by gray-haired masters in villages beyond the reach of paved roads.
He’d eat and drink little else in his few remaining days. Life had been sweet. He wanted to leave it with his favorite tastes in his mouth.
The Letters Dance
by Oyeleye Mahmoodah
Miss Kenny hits the cane on the table. The sound makes me shield my eardrums.
“Read the passage,” she repeats, her gaze fiery.
“You don’t want to.” Her grip on the cane tightens.
Before she flogs me senseless, I’d like to scream, tell her I want to read, but the letters keep dancing across the page, outsmarting me.
My lung is also adamant. It won’t let out the pronunciations try as I may.
Whence the cane claimed my palm, I cried out, not in pain, but in frustration.
It is saddening that like everyone, the alphabets hate me as well.
by Ben Lockwood
The woods are silent when the old moose finally finds the clearing. Moss-covered stone walls stand in the center, surrounded by thick pines.
A breeze sweeps through the branches, and on it, the moose hears the sound of hooves from long ago. The air smells of resin and lingering history. He snorts and stomps as it passes.
Proudly, the moose stands near the ruins, his antlers raised as he gazes upon the woods of his forebears. He watches the snow begin to fall before lying down near a thicket of winter berries. Content, he closes his eyes to forever rest.
The Pink Sweater
by Helen Faller
He wore it on our first date, the viewing, when we compared profile pics to flesh. Gazing at him in besotted wonder, I thought, this burly man is comfortable in his own skin. He’s arrived. He mailed it to me one Christmas we couldn’t be together because he had to spend time with his ever-dying father. I tried it on then. The collar was too tight and the belly bagged, turning me into a whale. When he left us, I wanted to char it to ash. Then my daughter claimed it and made the pink sweater her favorite pajamas.
It’s silly, but I run down, in case ghosts still inhabit these stairs. Greens and browns swirl under my toes, camouflage for frogs that once leapt from my overalls. At the laundry tub, it has to be my mother—not the one fading at The Grace—but the one who read me The Castle in the Attic and sliced my cucumbers into coins. She turns and glares in that “What do you think you’re doing?” way of mothers. “Get back to my bedside and finish your homework,” she says, then swings her dripping hands into the sink and pulls the plug.
A Winter Gathering of Townsfolk
We gathered in the town square—each and everyone that lived within Mercy’s city limits. Jonas joked that it was like that one short story—that we were going to draw lots and the smallest number would be sacrificed to God.
My dad hushed him, frost rising from his breath. “We’re not savages like that,” he said with a coldness to his tone I wasn’t expecting.
I knew that he had grown up with the man standing, blindfolded on the gallows’ stage, but it never occurred to me that they might have been friends back then.
My Beloved, Humanity’s Bane
Prior to our planet’s implosion, we relocated beloved creatures where they could survive. I protect the Brosno dragon. A carnivore, like Earth’s Spinosaurus, ample perch and burbot sustain her, but she craves sapiens. Her first human flesh belonged to Vikings ruling the Kievan Rus’ state; their fierceness flavored the flesh.
Batu Khan lost many Golden Horde warriors to razor-sharp maws; she altered history’s course: terrified troops fled, saving Novgorod from the Tatar-Mongol invasion.
WWII celebrated her consumption of a German plane; she didn’t eat the plane, though its German pilots were tasty.
Today’s menu features hikers; all curious travelers welcome.
by Matt Weatherbee
“Are you as bored of being tortured as I am of torturing you?” the scientist asks, yawning.
Slumped in a chair, his clone says nothing. Its face is so bloody and swollen it no longer looks like his.
“I’ve always wanted to torture someone to death,” the scientist says. “You know that. But I never thought it’d get boring. Maybe I’d find two of you fighting to the death more interesting.”
“Maybe you’d find being tortured more interesting,” his clone says.
The scientist smirks. “You’re funny. I like you. I wonder what would happen if the police found your body.”
Never Forget the Dark
Say we had stayed. The open blue sky always ready to devour us, our dreams. The lumpy couch you found on the side of 2nd Street in November during the riots. How it crinkled under us. Or your arms, failing to bring me any warmth. There were the stars, your crooked finger pointing out their beauty, their ugly stories. Even your smile, so dazzling, kept me entranced for only so long. Yet you always ask what if? Two words you sought to bring peace; words I used to imagine freedom, to believe there was better out there. For you, too.
by Janet Sasaki
My great-grandmother tells me that fruits and vegetables once grew from low-hanging clouds. Back then, “air tillers” would fly around the roots to circulate the nutrients. Then the Great Submerge happened which caused the roots to turn downward into the earth. She said everyone would’ve starved to death if the farmers hadn’t thought to tear off the wings of a few air tillers and scorch their eyes so that they’d bury themselves into the earth. She says this whenever the butterflies come out in the garden. She smiles, but it’s difficult to believe in the necessity of her cruelty.
Footprints of My Father
by Mike Kiggins
My portion of our father’s ashes arrived in a pewter urn. The pewter urn was small but heavy. Small but heavy like the kittens. The kittens are brothers. My older brother and I are no longer on speaking terms. The terms of our relationship have changed. Changed like the composition of my father’s body into cinders. Cinders I find scattered on my bedroom floor. The floor in the hallway tracked with paw prints. Prints the kittens, curled up on the couch, are licking clean. So I clean their newest mess, sweeping up what remains of my father and his urn.
Your Body Is Gone but You Never Left Me
You’re the bird that comes to see me. The bird that perches on the power line above my letterbox and looks in. Your arrogant tweet pierces the air at random. You just watch me, stick your nosy beak into my private affairs as if I don’t know it’s you. I confront you, tell you I know who you are. You deny it. But I can see through your feathered cloak.
Who would’ve thought you’d be reincarnated into a starling? That you’d make your nest in the neighbors unmaintained spouting. Make your new life at the bottom of the sky.
Season of Lights
by Jeremy Nathan Marks
It is the season of lights.
In my window is a nine-fingered lamp. It is powered not by coal, hydro, oil, or gas. It is a lamp of feathers.
Blue jay. Cardinal. Junco. Chickadee.
Some feathers in my lamp repeat.
Finch. Finch. Tweet-tweet.
My neighbors prefer electric lights. They say Jesus was swaddled in a dream coat of electric colors. They cover their home with so many bulbs no bird can sleep. The lights wink like beaks.
Our street has become a mosaic of tails which, when stood upright, could be mistaken for candles.
by Sarah Dabous
I used to crave an adventure that I never got to embark on, for there was nothing to seek out to begin with.
The mysteries faded like a fine layer of mist abating under the unforgiving heat of the sun. Rather than being surprised by a rewarding revelation, I was met with disappointment. There was nothing waiting there to begin with.
There is no mystery, there is no grand adventure waiting to begin. There is only nothingness under a scorching sun.
The Almost Invisible Man
by Tom Baldwin
He was short, with untidy hair and nondescript clothes. Few people noticed him, and women ignored him. He didn’t mind.
He found it hard to catch the eye of waiters and barmen, who usually served him last, if they noticed him at all. He didn’t mind.
When he spoke to people they soon forgot him, or at best would be hard-pushed to describe him. That pleased him.
Only he, and a shadowy government department, knew he had infiltrated and foiled the worst terrorist plot the country had ever faced. Now he was looking forward to his next assignment.
I Never Gave Her a Name
I remember my synthetic baby girl. Like me, a smiling-sad little thing. My childhood doll was a plump thermoplastic form dad had brought home one unusual night. Unusual because he wasn’t in the habit of walking through the door holding little baby dolls in his big hands. He was thrilled I wanted a doll. My first. My only. My younger sister’s flaxen-haired, bow-lipped dollies had never bothered to kiss away my tears. My brown-haired baby doll was beautiful to me, a full-bellied, coffee-eyed friend. I never gave her a name. Then I gave her away.
by David Henson
A golf course snaked around the facility where they cooped the old woman after her name flew away from her. One day she snuck out behind the mail carrier and meandered the fairways and greens, snatching balls — eggs to bake the chocolate cake that once lured family to her home.
A foursome tried to corral her, but she out-maneuvered their carts and crouched among a gaggle by the hazard on seven. When the golfers charged, the birds honked into the sky and wedged away.
They found her housecoat floating in the pond, but Grandmother Goose was never seen again.
by G.J. Williams
There was no Dexter Mahon. He was made up, to account for the sinister edge that entered proceedings. He was never anywhere near. His matter-of-fact approach was the fruit of agonised retellings, each word honed. He’d no link to the lower echelons, no say to speak of. What daylight there was found him out, as it was bound to, of course, there being no such person. He was not even in the shadows.