by Sudha Balagopal
On my way home from school, I find a man’s hand on my skirt: a giant, hairy spider wearing a ring on one thick leg. Horrified, I watch the weighty arachnid crawl towards the hem. A woman standing and swaying next to me in the packed public bus, smiles and texts on her phone. The bearded man gazes outside the window, disconnected from his extremity. I pray for my stop. Heart bursting, I grab my backpack. When mother asks why I won’t eat dinner, I describe the spider. She asks, “Did you scream?” I chew and chew, but cannot swallow.
by Ashlie Allen
I don’t want to sit down. My stomach is roaring, but my mind is roaring louder. “Don’t go close to them. They think you’re weird.” Carrying my books, I flee to the bathroom. I think I am alone when I lock myself inside the stall, but I can hear someone crying beside me. I know it’d be nice to ask if this person was okay, but I feel too ashamed. The stall door creaks, and the person washes their hands. “Listen to your belly when it talks,” they say. “Sometimes it’s the only things that speaks.”
It Was Just so Hot
by Anthony ILacqua
The entire situation had deteriorated further still. The days were hotter, drier. Fires, the really wild ones, burned the distance all to hell. Preachers were on every corner bumming cigarettes and predicting the end. Somewhere off of Colfax Avenue, Detroit Street, I think, I saw a clump of long hair in the dry gutter. I looked for the scalp or the blood and was grateful to find none. I felt like there was change in the air, but for the life of me, I just could not tell what it smelled like. It was just so hot.
by Lily Frusciante
I watched with camera-like precision. My grandfather sat hunched in his wheelchair, his breath dampening the screen before him. It was a stunning shot: one generation watching another, wondering how he got a rock star for a grandson. Yet it was an odd shot as well. My grandfather, in his early stages of dementia, had forgotten to wear pants that day. And so, as the highs and lows of my brother’s electric guitar flowed around us, he sat half naked, with no blanket and no shame. The tears sliding down his hollowed cheeks fell to the bare, thin legs below.
by Tyler Lacoma
He sees her.
She sat in a chair they didn’t own.
She took his hand.
He couldn’t feel his hand.
Splintering trees in snow. All sides.
Hands. Rub them.
Velvet white. Burning his eyelids.
Heavy as stone.
This week’s artwork is “Best Seat in the House” by W. Jack Savage
Up Here Broken Down
by Matt O’Connor
He is smiling as he helps me inspect the Yamaha’s motor. “Bad bike,” he says. It’s the first English I’ve heard in days. There are not many other travelers in the mountains. A child walks past. From her fist, two puppies dangle lifelessly by their tails. We get the motor working again. The man is still shaking his head. The villagers have gathered around something I can’t see. I thank him again and set off towards the valley, where the air is quick and heavy. In the distance a pig screams as its feet are bound. The blade is ready.
Total Failure Lucky Duck
by Eldon Craig Reishus
Donald pretended that his life was a total failure because he was concerned about nothing besides authoring A Lucky Duck, his autobiography. But Donald truly was a lucky duck, for he never suffered any block as he wrote by flashlight beneath the covers. Donald scripted his rich sex life like he was moving forwards on his autobiography by writing backwards from the bankrupt ending. His sex script partner was the rhythmic method actress Jillian Jenkins. Her role was to make our lucky duck feel like a total failure by bringing home real men to take care of his bills.
by Ashlie Allen
His features burned last night while he was smoking cigars. I was sitting on the couch, bored, sad, imagining what was happening in space. The smoke gathered around his jaws until his entire countenance was covered. I briefly closed my eyes, having drank too much gin. I heard him scream, which frightened me, and when I ran to calm him, I saw a flat surface where his eyes, nose and brows once rested. Only a tiny portion of his lips remained, and I kissed it to silence his terror.
by Shih-Li Kow
We were on the move again, hunting rain clouds. We have been too slow and for days, we saw nothing but patches of dried mud left by others. But today, we found a baby cloud snagged on trees in an abandoned valley. We put out our buckets and we killed it. Mother was the most savage, as always. When it bled, we stood in its rain and opened our mouths to feed. Although we were told to hide our bodily pleasures, I could not stop my spasms. After the endless thirst, every drop of water was the purest drug.
A Picture of Grief
by Joelle A. Chasse
On the front lawn, the owl was preening its dead mate. Its beak combed through the feathers as carefully as you’d adjust someone’s buttons. Funeral rituals in animal form. “Look,” I told my five-year-old son. “Look at that, poor thing. She must have loved him.” His grandma recently died—what a perfect opportunity to show him, it’s okay, animals grieve too. He looked up at me with watery eyes. “Why’s she eating him?” he asked, and suddenly, perspective mattered.
This week’s artwork is “Beggar King Does Whilst the Earth Boy Plays Human” by Ege Al’Bege.
The Book of Jobs
by Kenny A. Chaffin
Maybe it came from reading science fiction, watching The Matrix or remembering Biblical burning bushes. I asked Siri what would happen if I was somehow sucked up into the network where she was. It must have been one of those super-secret Easter egg phrases because as soon as the words were spoken I found myself inside, reborn, resurrected, and bodiless; Googling answers for a million simultaneous strangers with ease and ponderously speaking the results. What now, I thought, beginning to panic. Then I heard a familiar voice. “What is this beating, this pounding I feel in my chest,” Siri asked.
by Allison Huang
My father woke to streaks of hair on his wet pillow. The day we found our mutt’s warped body in the street was the day my father decided to shave his head. Teddy found a broken bottle in the recycling where he cut his fist, and more nestled like birds under the stove. Now frost soils the ground. My father’s body disappears into the maw of a casket. A butcher shuffles outside to watch a dog bleed red shadow onto the street. What a lovely shape, he says before ducking back in to carve another breast to pieces.
by Dave Donovan
My father would ask children if they wanted to see a monkey. Then he would show them their reflections in a small pocket mirror. Some nights he walked in from work wearing a horror mask and spread his arms for a hug. I remember trembling. Dollar bills on invisible fish line would zip into his palm while my fingers snatched at air. The old man is dying. I carry a picture of a pygmy marmoset, ready to hand him, tell him I found a photo from his youth he might want to see, back when he had all his hair.
Neither Here nor There
by Joshua James Jordan
Riding a unicorn through San Francisco, I saw a man holding a sign: “Anything helps”. Grey and white streaked through his beard and he wore a military jacket, the colors faded. I reached into my bag and gave him a green nugget so that he could buy his own unicorn. “God bless you,” he said, offering toothless smiles. More showed up but I was blessed with my currency, befriending many, feeding five thousand with a single loaf. We lit their struggles on fire and exhaled. They followed me, riding through streets of rainbows. The troubles of another world faded away.
by Charles Rafferty
Our neighbor Bonnie had a lot of loud sex. To be fair, she tried turning up the stereo, but her boyfriend always pointed her right at our headboard. One night, Donna and I were making love while Bonnie was getting fucked. Bonnie came repeatedly on the other side of the wall, and hearing her, or knowing that I was listening, made Donna more vocal, more passionate. Bonnie, in turn, got louder still. But then, over breakfast, Donna denied having come with Bonnie, and that afternoon in the communal laundry, both of them kept quiet as they measured out their soap.
by Ashlie Allen
I want to sleep inside a flower pot, but mother yells at me. She says I feel sorry for myself and think of pretty plants too much. When I was four, I stammered through the neighborhood with an orchid pot on my head, searching for my friend. He didn’t have a face, only an oval shaped hollowness setting on his neck. He hid beside a creek. “Do you hate me?” I asked, sitting beside him. He grabbed my hand and set it inside the hollowness, like he was trying to plant a seed inside of it so he’d grow features.
by Nels Hanson
It’s safe. Don’t worry. Put your arm through here. Now buckle up. There, that’s good. I’ll tape the wire to your right wrist so you can hold the controls in your hand. It’s simple. Green is go, red is stop. Blue’s the parachute. You have it straight, what the boss wants you to do? You sure? Okay, give me your hand. Good luck! Just bend your legs and put your palms together, like you’re jumping upward for a swan dive. Now I’ll stand back as you ignite the booster. We’ll send the signal when we’ve got you tracked over Montreal.
The Winter War
by Gen Del Raye
Something about the contacts on the bulb. For some reason, it wouldn’t light without the weight of the blackout cloth draped over it. We tried many times, but nothing worked. So on that first night after the war, when houses all over the city were casting off shadows they’d had for years, we spent a few hours huddled around a cone of light on the floor before giving up and going to sleep. A bad omen, said Shinji. No, I said. Just bad wiring. Outside, we saw children huddled around a lamp in the dark, searching for frogs to eat.
by Ashlie Allen
I like sitting on the steps while everyone has dinner. The sound of their smothered laughter makes me tingle. Maybe this is what self-pity is, tingling in the heart. I see a bird sucking a worm from the gravel and imagine the worm feels like me when I don’t eat anything, desperate and dizzy. I am embarrassed I do not try to save him or myself.
by Brenda Anderson
Our Gran checks the catalog. Companions don’t come cheap. After much thought, she makes a choice. Next day, the Home Care Company installs a spa-style Bubbling Bog next to her chair. It extrudes long, warm, brown fingers that massage her shoulders. It bubbles, “Wanna play cards?” The Bog plays well, but Gran always wins. It doesn’t bubble so much now. Maybe it’s mad. One morning, we find Gran arm wrestling it and winning. The Bog’s gone cold. Maybe it’s sulking. Gran gives it a prod. “Wakey wakey!” It rises and swings back. Gran smiles. It’s a fighter. Good Bog!
by Cole Meyer
She can’t get the smell of him from her hair, from her clothes. Can’t get his taste from her tongue, like he’s stuck between her teeth. It’s autumn and the leaves are falling. She thinks, this is what love is. She isn’t right or wrong. She can’t bring herself to cross bridges anymore, won’t buckle her seatbelt. She leaves a window cracked at all times and she holds her breath for minutes, just to see if she can. The cold soaks through her window at night and she dreams of mermen driving cars in a city beneath the lake.
by Jonathan Cardew
I tend to my secrets like they’re my children. Each one is sent off in the morning with a kiss and a packed lunch, possibly a note, and they spend the day away in a building that assists in their growth. When they return, we are all surprised by our incivility—harsh words, slammed doors—but always there are moments of reconciliation, reminders of what we mean to one another. At night, when they are asleep, I drink wine with my husband, kicking back with Netflix on. I do not breathe a word about it.
The Modern Hunter
by Andrew Ramos
Lost, he stumbled upon a yonic clearing of oak where a woman bathed in waist-deep pond water. Between two wilted arms that smelled of syrup and mold he watched her through his rifle’s gilded scope, which had grown heavier with the past three moons, and her hair fluttered with whispers of an ancient legend he’d once known. There was a howl from some far off hound, and she whirled her gaze to where he hid, and his instinct pulled the trigger before his mind registered the sadness that man’s hunger could bring.
by Ashlie Allen
Her skin smelled like cherry blossom and vinegar. I told her to rest against me and be quiet; I am too timid to respond to affectionate sentences. She doesn’t feel loved. Maybe I don’t either. We stay close because our depression needs to bond. I like it when she tells me I look like a woman and have malevolent eyes. One night she hit me. I cradled my cheek, eyes demonic with hurt. “I meant it,” she hissed. Slumping to my knees, I started laughing at the stinging in my heart. No, I didn’t feel admired. But she didn’t either.
The Tunnel of Love
by Esther Smoller
It looked innocuous. Gleaming, mouth wide open. A man in white telling me he loved me. He would stay with me forever, never leave me when the going got rough. The music! Swirling above my head, pitch a little too high. Ponies, poodles, and puppies. He wrapped me tight in his arms. The music grew louder. It wasn’t music anymore. The sound of breaking cement! He dug a grave. Pussycats, poodles, and ponies. The Tunnel of Love became tight. The three Ps were not working. Paralysis, perdition, and petard came in disguise. The music lightened, bearable. He waited for me.
by Pavelle Wesser
I was on fire after winning the science competition, which may be why, as I was accepting the trophy, it disintegrated in my hands while my synapses short-circuited. Through the haze of my mind, I tried to tell Dad the pics he was snapping of me would be his last. “Dad!” The word burned to cinders before emerging from my charred lips. I extended my arms, which exploded off my shoulders, prompting piercing screams from the audience. Finally, I combusted, and the immense pressure that had been building up within me from the beginning of the competition was released.
Baby Come Back
by Tara Roeder
After you left, all of the plants died. Even the cacti. A swarm of ants has made their home in the kitchen. The buttons have fallen off my favorite shirt. Your newfound devotion to the hermit crab sanctuary at the expense of all human interaction remains as puzzling as it is hurtful. I wish you would reconsider. I await your response.
P.S. The pots and pans are covered with a strange mildew.
by Steve Lucas
Ian returned from his snowboarding holiday in Canada and decided that one day he would build computers or robots, but right now he was drunk and there was nothing to eat in our flat so he unscrewed the lid from a jar of mayonnaise and starting eating it with a tablespoon. It made me feel sick, but he said it was nothing. In the showers of St. Joseph’s rugby club, one of the guys inserted a finger into his own sphincter and pushed it into Ian’s face. Ian was tough, hungry, and left the kitchen taps running.
by Brad Nelms
“Why does your cat always lick me so much?” I asked pulling my hand away from the purring tabby squatting on my chest.
“I read online somewhere, that the Egyptians believed cats would lick people to purify their bodies before death so they wouldn’t get eaten by Ammit, the crocodile god,” she said without looking up from her book.
“Well, tell her to knock it off. It’s not like I am going to die anytime soon,” I said with a weak laugh. Locking eyes with the cat, I rested my hand near its mouth. “Get back to work,” I whispered.
by Ashlie Allen
I climb the mango tree, not to taste sweetness but to see something beautiful and feel the thrill of peace. The people below think I have a ghostly voice and that my teeth are sinister. Maybe I am an animal trying to be attractive so someone will take care of me. I ascend the branches so my shadow will be far away and so the earth can’t touch me. If my feet meet the ground ever again, I will eat fruit and celebrate all the seeds I cannot grow, only consume.
The Year My Mother Died
by Esther Smoller
Miss Kiltenham sat on my porcelain kitten and broke its tail. I begged my father not to make me go to my first day at school. He drove right up to the front door and allowed me to clutch his hand in desperation but let it go as I walked into the classroom. Because I was a small child, I was given a front row desk. Miss Kiltenham liked to sit on the edge of my desk—right where I placed my comfort kitten. I came home that day with a note pinned to my chest: “Esther vomited today.”
by Jen Finelli
We used to climb roofs, at night. Restaurants, chemistry labs—the physics building, with its medieval tower, rails and parapets, was a favorite. We watched people below, dodged security guard flashlights, shivered as the fog descended, tiles moistened, and the stars dimmed. We climbed because teens need adventure, struggle! One night we found charcoal, and drew on the tiles for the next adventurers to find. “What message do you want to leave the world?” I asked my buddy. “I don’t know,” he said. I wrote it down, sadly, but maybe he was right.
by Troy Evans
Brenda stormed out of the store. “I’m never shopping there again!”
Joel shuffled along behind, wishing he was somewhere else.
“Are you listening to me?!”
“I think that guy’s living in his car; he’s always sitting in it.”
Joel had learned that detaching from her rants saved time and was, to some degree, safer than engaging Brenda directly, even in spite of the abuse he would inevitably receive. He turned. She was behind him now, entranced by a display in a shoe store window. Just beyond her, paramedics were pulling the man’s lifeless body from the car.
by Georgene Smith Goodin
Irma said it was bad symbolism to get married in a funeral suit. I’d worn the only one I owned to bury Nana and Uncle Joe, so she ordered me to rent something. I thought that was bad symbolism too, like our marriage was on loan from strangers. There’s no arguing with that woman, so I picked through the rental rack while some pimple faces got outfitted for prom. Irma’s so stubborn, she wouldn’t even say I was right when I found her in the bathroom with our best man. “That didn’t take long,” I said, and closed the door.
This week’s artwork is by Kyle Hemmings.
Tired of Jewels
by Justin Willoughby
He was tired of her holding his hand while he drove. So he bound bracelets on her wrists. He was tired of her foot on the dashboard blocking his view. So he tied anklets around her feet. He was tired of her asking if they were lost. So he shoved a tongue ring in her mouth. He was tired of hearing her muffled voice in his ears. So he wrapped a locket around her neck. He dug a bed for her and tossed Jewels in with a dirt blanket. He was not tired anymore. So he left her to sleep.
by Brittanie Drinosky
John’s hands were huge and hard. They were used to fight, to crush, and to feed his dog, Penny, who was almost as mean and ugly as him. She howled all night, that dog, and Tim’s mama would open her window and yell curses and make threats. When John found Penny with a screwdriver through her eyeball, he didn’t make no threats. He howled all night.
by Richard Jennis
I miss the taste of you in the early morning. I miss dangling from the rooftops like turtles flipped over on railroads, staring unsuspectingly at tropical skies. I miss watching the passersby pass by. And the fluteman whistling tunes with notes that curled into the air forming tunnels so black. I miss the way the dandelions lingered years after we breathed them into multiplicity. Coming home is like the moon landing. I plant my flag but all this was never mine. I know my memory will soon be bleached white by lurid winds that don’t understand the meaning of nostalgia.
In The Beginning
by J.G. McClure
In The Beginning the warrior and the dragon are fighting. Rip off one dragonhead and another dragon buds from it. Same goes for warrior heads. Soon the world is one roiling sea of tearing and birth. The gods, horrified, shatter it with lightning—a new world sprouts from each rocky chunk. They argue ethics, and in their rage start blasting one another; more and more gods bloom. Weeping and laughter fill the abyss. The universe grows and breaks and grows and breaks and all is born: love, cigarettes, the post office. The melon we’re eating. The seeds we spit out.
by Heather Valenti
Living in a hole dug sixty feet in the ground, within an endless cavern, gets to you. Not in the, oh well, isn’t that interesting, sort of way… more, nails uselessly clawing stone, you’re going to die and you know it sort of way. “My husband will come for me, you know,” Ethel whispered. He imagined her hands digging into her head, her graying hair being tugged mercilessly, as she said this. Her chains clanked as she readjusted herself. He tried to make his voice sound confident. Reassuring. “I know.” Chains rattled. Numbering the lies they told each other.
by David Galef
At a one-woman show in a downtown gallery, I saw a dozen sculptures of women with Buddha bellies, arms big as thighs, thighs thick as waists. Intrigued, I tracked down the sculptor to see what she looked like. She was completely ordinary, regulation size, and seemed expectant yet annoyed at my curiosity about her. “I know your type,” she said as she shut the door against me. “Get a life!” I stood there for a moment, unsure of what to do. Back at the gallery, I bought her entire catalogue.
by Ashlie Allen
I took a walk around the reservation to get in touch with my land. It had been two years since my feet touched the earth. On my way down the road, I saw an old friend and said hello. He told me he’d been dead a week now. When I asked where he was buried he answered he wasn’t.
The Man and the Strangler
by Matthew Konkel
His throat was dry so he hired a strangler to choke him.
Before the man died the strangler asked: you are surrounded by water, why did you not have a drink?
There is too much, said the man, I couldn’t possibly drink it all.
Having pity, the strangler helped the man dispose of the water until only a tiny swallow remained. Now you can take a drink, said the strangler. The man did so and his throat was no longer dry.
Then the strangler choked the man dead. Because that’s what the strangler was paid to do.