by Kerry E.B. Black
Wesley’s fitapp screeched concern over his elevated heartrate. Muffling didn’t stop it, and though he tugged, its clasp held. He slammed his wrist against the stone until it silenced. Darkness embraced him as he scrambled deeper into the tunnel. A woman sang into his hiding place. “You’re being silly. Are you a man or a rabbit?” Her footfalls crunched dried leaves. He wriggled against stone, held his breath, and squeezed his eyes shut. The leathery feel of her kiss lingered, dry as a corpse, deadly as the viper she revealed within. He trembled. “I’m no rabbit, but you’re a snake.”
by Brenda Anderson
Upstream, we’ve got unicorns. Downstream, we’ve got problems. Our kids swim in the river, don’t they? The pride of the village, kicking, ducking, diving. But magic rubs off: all that splashing about upstream. By the time the water reaches us, it’s brim-full of magic. Our boys start rubbing their foreheads, like there’s something missing, and eye the girls, as if maybe they want to be tamed. So we make sure all the kids wear wetsuits. Trouble is, now we’ve got seals and otters in the mix, eyeing the kids. Would it work if we got the unicorns to wear wetsuits?
by Jenny Darmody
Sunshine in my face. Crystal clear water splashing across feet. A beautiful face staring back at me. The next day, afternoon tea in a beautiful hotel. Gorgeous lighting, delectable desserts. Bubbles. This is the life. Next, a birthday banner. Friends everywhere singing Happy Birthday. Presents and drinking games and laughter. The next morning, breakfast in bed, pancakes. They look delicious. Can almost smell them. Enough. Close the phone. No more Snapchat. I don’t know them; I shouldn’t look. I’ll just head out for a new carton of milk. I can never seem to finish one before it turns.
The man takes a seat that isn’t his. He reads a paper borrowed from the lady next to him. He’s pleased when she says she doesn’t mind him completing her crossword. Her crossword. He’s on the last clue when the train pauses. A short pause, announces the guard. The man borrows her mobile phone. No battery left, he tells his fellow passenger. He makes the call. They’re in the quiet carriage. She buys him coffee. I’ve no cash. Only a card, he says. Which he’d rather not use if it’s okay by her. Politeness, it seems, will get you everywhere.
Collects Only Dust
by Michael Buckingham Gray
He stands by the desk in the study. Drops his head and cannot find his glasses. Wanders into the kitchen. Follows the curve of the worktop. Passes coffee-stained cups and a stack of dirty dishes. Walks into the living room. Pulls the cushions off the couch. Leaves them littered. Plods down the hall. Pushes on the bathroom door. Picks up the toothpaste tube from beside the sink. Drops it. Drags himself to the bedroom. Runs his hand along the top of the dresser. Collects only dust. Sits down on the bed and wonders what his wife would have suggested.
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.
Special thanks to Jessica Standifird for her editorial assistance. This week’s artwork is by Marylea M. Quintana Madiman.
by Brenda Anderson
Prydyl’s one remaining doctor had seen mushrooms growing from the eye sockets of the plague victims, but kept trying to save lives. When tiny spots appeared on his own hands, he whispered, “Find food elsewhere. Leave this place,” and stumbled home to die.
Next morning, another sufferer dragged himself to the doctor’s door only to find his skeleton lying in bed. Starving, he picked the mushrooms growing from the doctor’s eye sockets and ate them, raw.
Now a monster taps his way through the streets of Prydyl, white stick for guide and mushrooms for eyes. Hungry, he searches for food.
Thick and Thin
by Van G. Garrett
Trees punched like we slept with their wives and girlfriends.
“I’ve never tried so hard in the dark,” Elmore use to say.
We’d laugh, knowing we’d had women scattered like thorns on vines. Loving them in Buicks. Alleys. Motels. We never worked hard to get them; should’ve worked harder to keep them. Coons—another story, hard to find. Harder to keep.
Elmore’s jokes lightened the dark.
“There’s only three times you’ll find me on my knees. Two of ’em are chasin’ the invisible.”
We chased the invisible. Blood and burlap cut us at the knees.
Lights On, Nobody Home
by Aline Carriere
Knock. No response. She shuffles in her slippers from one foot to another, watching the light under the bathroom door.
“Anyone in there?” she asks in a harsh whisper trying not to wake her sleeping roommates.
She turns the knob, and pushes the door open a sliver, the light slashing across the hallway. Hearing no objection, she enters the empty room. She shuts the door and sighs at the mirror.
“Creeping myself out,” she says, but the lips of her reflection don’t move. When she wipes the glass with her sleeve her image disappears.
Then, she hears a knock.
by Kate Ryan
We ushered through the fair gates quickly. The stalker pursuing, only few steps behind. Reminiscent of a police sketch, no definitive features- only a hoody, sunglasses, and transfixed. My breaths increase, and deepen. Flashing glances into the distance, with accompanying hair tosses over the shoulders, checking his presence. Visually consuming the children, I try to divert him. He is always behind, children in front, unaware, and safe. Fourth check forward, children are gone. Standing in front, the stalker, removes his sunglasses, revealing his bright blue eyes. Presses an invitation into my hand, “Ma’am, wouldn’t want to miss this.” He vanishes.
The Tiniest Bit
by Rachel Ambrose
The monster plucked my brain right off its stem, like it was picking a ripe raspberry. The world went white for a moment, then green, purple, black. I could see no more, taste no more, touch no more. Except for that tiny beating part of myself which breathed in its own time to its own music, the part that watches from above and knows all, God-like, star-like, as we are all made of stardust. It knew. Its knowledge frightened the monster in its rubbery soul. And it screamed, deep into the crushing black, knowing its cries would not go unheard.