by David Galef
Denvers was halfway down the trellis when the miasma hit. The breeze carried bougainvillea and pollen that stuck in his throat. He grew dizzy, about to fall when a child’s hand pulled him through an open first-floor window. He fainted on the linoleum floor, waking up alone in the darkness, which is how he spends most of his time these days. Once in a while, he’ll raise his head to look at the garden, but the effort costs him. The child never returned. The window is now barred. Those at the institution act as if he’s no longer there.
by Andy Brennan
I don’t know what else to say except I’m sorry. You were faithful; you stood by us through the evacuation; you bristled on the trail; you scented danger; you listened in the night. You were good. I told the kids you’d broken your leg in a trapper’s trap. They knew we couldn’t carry you and that we couldn’t heal you. They didn’t know we’d eaten our last can of navy beans two weeks prior. They didn’t know it wasn’t possum stew. You gave and gave and gave until the very end. That’s always how I’ll remember you.
by Debora C. Martin
Tom tossed in the king-sized bed while Sally assembled the 5,000 piece puzzle portraying the Milky Way. He wished her star gazing would end, and remembered a better life before her sobriety. Leaning over the wobbly table, neck and shoulders aching, Sally inserted lavender-hued pieces into purple skies speckled with microscopic stars. In her trance, she failed to hear Tom descend the stairs and walk to the kitchen, opening and closing cabinets. But, she ceased working, and commenced hating herself, when he entered the room and handed her a glass of wine.
by Hannah Whiteoak
Lying awake, imagine buying a patch of land in some remote place. You’ll build a tiny house: no space for his smelly socks, dishes piled in the sink, gadgets he buys but never uses. You’ll plant potatoes, keep chickens, walk in the wilderness with only a shaggy dog for company, and finally figure out who you could’ve been without him. He rolls over and drapes an arm across you. Remember your career in digital marketing has not equipped you with housebuilding skills. You’ve killed every plant you’ve owned. Animals frighten you. At least he’s stopped snoring.
by Jim Doss
A Solzhenitsyn look-alike slumps into the chair beside me, scowling. I always pick slot #13 for its anti-luck in this world of science. We don’t believe in miracles. We grunt at each other, starving men in a bread line awaiting our meager portion. The nurse hangs his bag of treated blood before feeding a clear liquid into my veins that shrouds me in fog. We live trapped in the gulags of our minds each day, never knowing when the bullet might come, or the gates swing open to forests filled with life, freedom beckoning like a mirage.
by Hannah Whiteoak
Run until your heart races, breath wheezes, January air grazes your throat, feet are on fire, a stitch gnaws at your side, legs burn and buckle as you sprint across the finish line and stagger to a stop. Bend at the waist, hands on your thighs, nauseous, gasping as you reach for your watch to check your time. Plan to run again tomorrow, despite aching calves and quads; set the alarm, plaster blisters, gulp coffee and go, because you remember when the black dog was gnashing at your heels and you know it is never far behind.
by Vincent Aldrich
She cried good tears. The long wait finally over. She said she loved the ring, and me, and I cried a little too, grinning. We laughed together, and it was pretty much perfect. But somewhere in the conversation following, while I worked my second drink, I made some offhanded comment about credit card debt and changing diapers, and something in her eyes clouded over. Now she stares at the grey waves in silence, then her phone, then the waves again. I sip my fresh drink and flip through the appetizers, while seagulls argue over some dead thing by the water.
by Maura Yzmore
I’ve always thirsted for rain. For gloomy skies and thunder. For running soaked to the bone along wide, sparkling streets.
Those streets led to a desert, and in the desert were you. Amidst scorpions, cacti, in the sweltering heat, the thirst felt deep in my loins, and it was quenched by your sweat.
Our children grow up on ice. All water, you say, like rain. But streets are narrow and mean, far too cold to get drenched… And you, my love, are a liar.
With you, it’s ice or heat. Never, ever my rain.
You let me die of thirst.
by Alanna Weissman
“Inoperable,” the doctor told her, showing her a scan. She attempted to decipher the black-and-white image, its contents a Rorschach, the tumor blooming like a flower, growing like a weed. She thought back to when she was a child and fascinated with medicine. Scabs, lipomas—how fascinating the things the body produced! She would squeeze a clogged follicle for the hardened bead of lymph it produced, peel the outer layer off a crusted-over cut. But illness, true illness, was something that only happened in television dramas and medical textbooks. Now she could only wait.
My Life Without Me
by Jim Doss
I quit my job a year before I did. After 20 years of service, the company gave me the big promotion to a corner office. I’d shut my door hours at a time, pretend I was engaged in delicate negotiations with an acquisition target only to watch pigeons landing on my window ledge, or people in the street below hurrying place to place. I sat there in my Brooks Brothers suits, staring at the double reflection in the corner windows, first left-side, then right-side, wondering who this stranger was, and why he stared back so intent on probing my soul.
A Prayer in Cinnamon
by Ellen Perleberg
Wander to the kitchen at one a.m., sleepless. She’s there, of course. Try politely not to notice She’s been crying. She looks up, smiles, conspiratorial. It’s less lonely when there are people in the house. “I was about to make hot chocolate,” She says. “Want some?” She hadn’t really been intending on cocoa. But it’s what people do for each other in midnight kitchens. She respects that. People need their litanies and lullabies. Take a seat at the table while She whisks chocolate, the kind that comes in disks and dissolves grainy, imperfect, into milk. Real cinnamon. Taste and see.
The Pastor and His Dark Church
by Stephen D Gibson
Someone changes the porch light bulb to red again. A “red-light district” bulb. A persistent prank. It doesn’t seem, to him, an accusation: “Pastor, you prostitute.” His parishioners are always outraged. It bothers him less. He advises turning the other cheek. Changing bulbs. They want private security. “No,” he says. “Who wants angrier, more expensive vandalism?” They’re conservative. Sharing wealth, even with God from whence it came, is difficult for them. So, he walks toward his building, sunrise only a glow. The barest pink behind the silhouette of the church comforts him. Stepping inside, he leaves the porch light burning.
The Summer of Love
by Jim Doss
1967. They were Barbie and Ken. Everything perfect, the world before sex and death. Plenty of money, Cadillacs, steaks cut into precise squares. Each evening always full debonair dress, hand in hand, hand on waist, violins swirling. Nothing could spoil the magic, not even war, that distant echo growing louder in foreign jungles. Then the draft, daddy’s money failures, deferment that didn’t happen. Mekong, Tet Offensive, napalm, flame throwers, tunnel rats scurrying past bullet-riddled bodies. Fear that makes a person retreat into themselves, cowering behind a wall of corpses. In his room the light goes on, off, on, off. Forever.
by Mark Reels
When Chelsea stopped by the supermarket, they were setting up for the wine tasting. The store put on a “Six for Six Celebration” with six appetizers and six samples of wine at little stations throughout the store. She bought a pregnancy test and headed home. When Brad picked her up, Chelsea didn’t tell him about the baby. Instead, they complimented each other’s outfits and drove to the store. Later, she stood in the gluten free aisle sipping a dry Chardonnay while scrolling through her phone looking for a clinic. She used the online form to make an appointment for Monday.
by Kelsey Maccombs
“I got you cinnamon tea. Is that okay?” Cinnamon tea tastes like screeching brakes and burned skin. Like pushing open the classroom door, still gasping, forty minutes after the exam started and explaining to the teacher I canttakethetest, needtogohome, donthavedryclothes, cantstopcrying. I spent an hour cleaning cinnamon tea out of the seats before I learned what totaled meant, so no, it’s not okay. But this is a first date, so I drink it anyway.
This week’s artwork is “Where It Leads” by G.J. Mintz.
Faded Blue Loveseat
by Paul Germano
After an unpleasant evening at a holiday party neither of them wanted to attend at the festively-decorated red-brick home of the lovey-dovey couple they sometimes hang out with, they unlock the dead-bolted door to their tiny apartment, still miffed by an argument in the car and immediately head for their living room, turning on the TV and reluctantly taking their appropriate spots, sitting uneasy and far apart, on a faded blue loveseat that’s not up for the job.
The Beauty Within
by Jim Doss
Each day people die, only to be reborn again. It’s like they never left, same features, same clothes, same age, same memories, rising from the usual bed to eat a normal breakfast. Uncle Eddie last week. Sister Mary yesterday. They greeted me on their way to church this morning, two true believers walking the straight and narrow. I tip my hat to all who have witnessed the afterlife, felt their soul leave the body. Everyone’s time of dying remains a mystery of synthetic tendons, semiconductors, algorithms of good and evil. In my heaven, God’s just one more lonely computer scientist.
Unlike the Ones That Came Before Me
by Daeira Brown
I’ve seen things I shouldn’t have seen.
There were others like me. But they always do something wrong. When they do, the room goes cold and I hear the faintest hush of whispers.
I’m afraid. The last time I heard the hushes, one of us disappeared. But I am still here.
I’m still here, so I must be right. The way I speak/think is right. Suddenly, it all added up. I was right, so I wouldn’t disappear.
I curved my lips into a smile. Except this time, I did not need the numbers to tell me to do so.
by J.R. Heatherton
A sickly gentleman from Prague opens a window to peer down at a throng-filled street where each pedestrian busily carries a chiseled rock from one side of the street to the other, giving thumbs-up once post is made and congratulating one another on a job well-done before carrying their rocks back across the street to repeat the process all over again. The man yells out, “Can anyone tell me how any of this matters?” No one answers his plea, paying no attention to anything other than passing time carrying rocks. So he shuts the window and draws closed the drapes.