This week’s artwork is by Shadowlance.
Coffee Shop Encounter
by Steve Bates
Dom remembered the first time he saw her two months ago, sitting alone when he came into the shop after moving to the city. He returned every Saturday, and she was always there. He’d nod, and she would smile. Today the place was crowded, people weaving and chattering like caged squirrels. His usual table was taken. When he asked if he could sit down, she said, “Alright, I’m leaving anyway.” It was the only time they’d spoken. As she walked toward the door Dom sipped his drink, then pulled out his phone to search for other coffee shops nearby.
by Benjamin Marr
The boy in the corner was visibly frightened. He shivered even though the fire roared just four feet away from him. Even after his mother wrapped him in a blanket, he continued to shake.
“This hot soup oughtta cure ya,” said the pirate at the stove. He wasn’t a real pirate. He was an old family friend who liked to dress as a pirate.
“Yes it shall,” a voice bubbled out of the soup. A tiny man swam to the surface. “Our whole village has never felt such warmth.”
The pirate sighed as his mind drifted back to sea.
by JR Walsh
There’s ways out of squabbles, even trapped in Nissans. The smallest bladder shall lead to salvation. Gas up first. Ask if chocolate will help. Two grunts for savory? Clenched jaws unclench. It’s the worst time to buy the amethyst rhinestone sword. Settle for a friction folder with bottle opener tang.
by Margret Wiggins
When you left you took the paintings and the blue chair. Half of the glasses, a shelf of books, a bottle of twenty-five-year-old whiskey. You took the Italian restaurant on the corner of 10th street and the ramen place on 2nd. The bar down the block, the museum, the coffee pot. You took entire neighborhoods. You left me plates I never liked and a sagging couch. Empty dressers and the sushi joint that gave you food poisoning. You left me the right side of the bed. But each night I stretch out, creeping over.
Change of Plan
by Keith Hoerner
Every time he checks the blueprints, something’s different. When he questions the architect, he sneers, as if to demand “What are ya talkin’ about bub; you were on board with the designs – just yesterday.” But upon today’s examination, the roofline has taken on a monstrous fortress-like appearance. Worse yet, each day, it continues to grow in strangeness. Now, as the house is complete, he does not question its organic shapeshifting. He lies in bed aware—as walls fold and floors slide around him. The house lives, takes on new forms, and against his will, locks its doors and windows.
Big in Japan
by Andrey Pissantchev
Sandra was already a nervous mess, but the pilot’s tinny voice sent her over the edge.
“Our slight diversion will take us over Japanese airspace. In a few minutes, you will be able to see the southern tip of Kyushu Island to our left.”
Sandra whispered to the stewardess, then pleaded, then shouted. Her fellow passengers found themselves having to restrain her as she yelled “we need to turn back” again and again.
It was all futile in the end. As they entered Japanese airspace, Sandra grew four times her size. The plane’s pieces rained all across the tranquil Pacific.
The boy is quick to sleep while her waking mind remains stubborn. Twilight through the window illuminates his long aquamarine locks. Its strands slide through her fingers like seawater sluicing—her mind floats to his snow globe gift.
“It’s Rome,” he’d said, knowing she loves traveling.
Beneath the dome, Santorini’s blue roofs mimic its turquoise waters. She knows she’ll never witness the whitewashed walls or feed the island’s famous feral felines with the boy as he’d promised, which was fine.
Because she would again feel the sea on her fingers—sure as she feels his silky hair at that moment.
by DB Cox
A passing breeze lifts dead leaves and scatters them over a tattered rag doll lying beneath the statue of a bronze soldier—forever frozen in an intrepid pose of war movie bravado.
Summer tourists stare at the pathetic apparition wrapped in an army overcoat, nose-down in a pool of piss. Baptized—purified–crucified in the mute humility of his own guilt. An unconscious monument tangled in green, triple-canopy dreams. While inside crusty ears, the noise of city traffic hums like a Huey. Spectral MedEvac searching for a soul—lost more than fifty years ago, somewhere along the Mekong river.
by R.T. Raynaud
Despite what it looks like, the old mental hospital isn’t that scary of a place. Sure, every so often, groups of people will come out of the surrounding woods to attack me. But, they aren’t that hard to kill.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why they always seem so focused on taking selfies and writing things on the wall in spray paint. It makes it too easy to get the jump on them.
Not that I’m complaining, of course. They always make sure there is plenty to eat around here.
It’s not that difficult to get things into the ground, my grandma had told me every spring. It’s getting them to come back up, to reach for the sun, that was the hard part. I hoped she was right, and that what I’d just buried would never see daylight.
Dinner alone was strange, but something I felt I could get used to. I was draining a second glass of wine when I heard the thunderclaps, followed by the rush of a murderous downpour.
Time will tell, my grandma would have said. I sincerely pray it doesn’t say a word.
by Tim Goldstone
She keeps a dream in which she looks out of a window onto a wide avenue where a hundred yards away uniformed men are advancing, smashing their way into every house they pass. There are charred, smoking tree stumps down both sides of the avenue. She has a baby in her thin arms. Two hours old. The only way out is the front door. She clamps the baby to her and runs out into the avenue. Freezing wind shakes her eyes. She gasps and runs towards the horizon. They fire. She wakes. She knows others who didn’t.
by Voula Labos
She saw herself in New York City.
Sawing through the moving bodies, toward her destination, coffee cup in hand, mint suede shoes, try to not get stepped on, nearly unavoidable at 7:54 on a Monday morning, but it was all in the attempt.
The rain, the shoes all muddied, coffee spilled, burning, and she was two and a half minutes late but it was New York and not okay but half expected and was what you had to do to be a part of the city and she’d gladly trek through quicksand to continue with this life.
by Kent Oswald
Never believing his mother’s repeated reassurances he was just a late bloomer, Mark had always regretted what seemed a burden of terminal normalcy until the day he hid from work in a toilet stall and timed himself reading Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” for an hour and three minutes. Thinking “who else would do that?” he resumed his accounting with unbridled optimism, unaware—and finally with no concern—that nobody else noticed nor cared.
Under The Eight-Mile Bridge
by DB Cox
Most nights he slept in the silent space between freights that rolled overhead like a storm. Rocking concrete pillars planted along hidden fault lines—under the eight-mile bridge. Where gods spoke through broken wine bottles and drunken-tongued stumble-bums coughed up old tales that colored the air blue. Haunted faces, like hopeless ghosts, tallying old mistakes under the eight-mile bridge.
His mind was gone when they brought him back to the county home—where he lies under nights too quiet staring up, restless and confused, wondering what happened to the thunder under the eight-mile bridge.
Dish towers sway beside ornithology magazines; a shoe gathers mold in the sink. He tries to be better, like a skunk trying to fly. Junk-winnowings, selective, sparing more than he trashes. Useful items, never used. Still, mail lurks in the bathroom, pamphlets avalanche the unwary—his wife mourns old checks, dated 30 months prior—artifacts from the past, never cashed.
“Let’s see a couple’s therapist,” she says. They don’t. Instead, when they drive to the city two years later, it’s to meet a divorce lawyer, who draws up the paperwork her husband later shoves into the gap behind the sofa.
Silver Years Self-Discovery
by Laxmi Vijayan
Didn’t have the cash nor the courage to leave country, so I kept my ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ near Virginia. My granddaughter says local is en vogue.
I ate my way to my stomach, and through its lining, at them Korean places? It was authentic cuz none o’ them understood a word I said.
Y’know, I meant to find God at that temple in West Virginia. But He wasn’t worth driving through 200 miles of mountain roads, so I settled for Buddha at Luray Caverns.
At my age, I can find love right here, playin’ board games at the Senior Center.
by Maggie Childers
Oh, who am I when I listen to vinyl? My old boorish vinyl—the stories behind these records must be rich and telling! Oh, who am I when I gingerly flip through these stories, pressing them onto my player? Some 70’s song playing intricately in the background, surely the soundtrack to a movie! A glimpse into this room is a glimpse into a cinema. A film of a girl with a record player plays under stars, under bed comforters, under parents’ arguments. She believes in this song. This dance. This subtle nod at all that’s happy. Amongst a wretched summer.
by David Henson
She dreams moonlight turns to frost in his lungs, and he scrapes his breath from the mirror when he shaves, coughs up hail.
His shivering awakens her, his body spooned to hers. She piles blankets. So cold, he says, darkness separating him from his voice. A shiver slithers up her spine. She tries to make her thoughts July.
After he’s gone, she looks through memories on his phone, finds a photo of herself standing near the water, whitecaps riding her shoulders. Her face is shadowed, and her head blocks the sun, its light flaring through her hair.
by Yash Seyedbagheri
Cynicism never abandons you.
It’s easy to laugh at smiles and contemplate what pills people take to induce jocundity.
It’s even easier to laugh at Mercedes and BMWs, imagine that some so-called family man is compensating for extramarital affairs. He doesn’t know his kids’ favorite bands or wife’s worst days.
It’s very easy to dissect Leave It To Beaver reruns.
Ward’s beating Wally and Beaver off-screen. June plans to abandon them, plans disguised within starched smiles and nicknames.
At dusk, I absorb long bursts of tangerine, pale blue, and lavender. I almost smile.
But there are layers beneath clouds too.
by Rebecca Ford
He knew the importance of fastidiously picking out his clothes each morning. Crisp tangerine shirt, ironed khaki shorts and matching orange shoes donned with a crisp and donning a gray tweed ascot cap. Moisturize. Reflection. Reflect. He grabbed his gray Irish terrier, locked the door and went out for his walk. This is what kept him from falling into tatters. He had been fractured once. His body – limp and lifeless. Enraged and polarized. His skin had sagged. His bones had crumbled and his organs and fallen into themselves. Turned to powdery ash. Of course he knew this at the time.
Jon the Watchman
by Harman Burgess
After many years of experimenting Jon has managed to capture the nature of time within himself.
He did it with rubber bands.
The true meaning of each second writhes around inside Jon’s stomach like a hungry serpent trying to devour its own tail.
It is quite uncomfortable.
Space, responding to time, acts on Jon’s body; folding his physical form in on itself in a mandala of cosmic light.
This is also uncomfortable.
The movement of Jon’s consciousness is one with time. It ticks forward from hour to hour with the world changing around it. All Jon can do is watch.
by Nydiir E’ries
No one would rescue him now. Blue veins protested to the surface like lightning breaking out of the clouds. This was a reminder of life’s cruel torment. Rocking, he watched the sky and eavesdropped on the conversations around him.
“Ma, we did miss you.”
“Driving down is hard.”
“I want to go home.”
“Will you disappear like Grandpa?”
“Why is that old man sitting alone?”
“His family will visit.”
“Ol’ man ain’t go’ no family.”
“Who would leave him alone during the holidays?”
“Should be, ‘what’d the ol’ man do ta be left ‘lone?’”
Long Term Storage
by Cara Nighohossian
Lisa’s new neighbor, Marcy, sat on the bed chattering about swings and highchairs. Lisa opened the closet to arrange her sweaters on the shelf and noticed a black dress. As she grasped the old wooden hanger, her fingers brushed the fabric. An arm appeared in the sleeve, pulling her inside the closet, inside the dress. From her black lace prison, Lisa saw herself smiling, hand atop belly, coveralls spattered with blue paint. She screamed. Nothing. Marcy prattled on, oblivious.
New Lisa leaned forward, whispering, “Thank you. I’ve been waiting such a long time.” The door creaked on its hinges. Darkness.
by Alexis Gkantiragas
Today is the day! After only two years, I’ve officially been promoted to volunteer at my firm! No more paying to work – I’m breaking even at only 26.
Maybe my parents will let me have my room back now they don’t have to rent it out to cover my employment. Goodbye futon!
by David Klotzkin
When I was a kid, my father read me a novel about lost explorers in the Brazilian jungle. A native boy saved their lives repeatedly but the explorers sailed back to Europe without him, leaving him to the jungle.
I was thunderstruck by the cruelty of the author who left the boy there! I wrote my own ending on the flyleaf, where the explorers civilized the native and brought him to England, and he became a famous soccer player.
Just a generation later, my daughter found the book and asked, what Eurocentric cultural elitist wrote on the flyleaf?
The Turquoise Typewriter
by Liz Dickinson
The turquoise typewriter was not bequeathed to me,
but donated after your house clearance.
“We thought you’d like this,” not,
“She’d have wanted you to have this.”
A gift of vintage typography, in lieu of love.
At my wedding, you refused to sit at the top table.
“I’m not family, seat me near the fire exit.”
I picture you, typing on your keys,
And I wonder, upon seeing my long, piano fingers,
you knew then, I was not worthy
of your typewriter.
When my piano fingers type, I hear music in the typeface:
The reciprocation of an unsolicited gift.
Four Hours More
by Jenna Baker
Shifting on the mattress, she contemplates when she’ll fit in dissertation edits with an overflowing satchel of unmarked essays.
Before sunrise, she smooths concealer under her eyes, blending stress into skin.
Now, Miss Berkley claps, requesting peace from pre-teens. Instead: “She did what?” “Why is this assignment dumb?” “Restroom, please?”
Counting questions off on fingers, she answers. “Don’t care, it has real-world relevance, not till I’m done with instructions.”
Aubrey sneaks over to her cluttered desk while pencils scratch paper. “Your dress is pretty.”
Smiling, she silently thanks the Big Man for small compliments. “Your work’s finished?”
“I got bored.”
by Ken Poyner
He sets his laughter down, but never out of reach. He has harvested a goodly mass of laughter for one day. He has been thinking all morning that for days which are this productive, he should start carrying handled sacks. Yes, two or three sacks in each hand. No more stacking the laughter and stuffing it under an arm. He looks over at the two girls on the next bench. He makes a droopy face and they begin to smile. He wiggles his ears and they begin the tiniest of giggles. He thinks, this is almost too easy.
by Ron Hartley
People at the nursing home said her whistled renditions of Lutheran hymns were always on key. She walked out naked except for a bathrobe and slippers, unnoticed by attendants overwhelmed with Covid-19. She moved like an automaton on low batteries, emitting squeaky whistles like she needed a lube job; then jaywalking back and forth, causing a van to swerve and smash into a parked car.
“Nutcase,” the driver screamed.
“Meant no harm,” she said. “Just looking for a house on a mountain where I was born. Lots of piano-playing there,” she said, “and songs of praise are most often sung.”
by Adam Chabot
During our daily walk, Colton admires everything in the quiet cul-de-sac: the yellow dandelions in our front yard, the concrete sidewalk marred by snow plows, the oscillations of water from the sprinkler in Mr. Heward’s lawn. Colton turned three last month.
He finds a sewer grate in the street. He’s examined it before but today he squats and gazes into its darkness.
“Circles,” he exclaims pointing at the holes.
“No, squares, buddy.”
“Oh. Squares,” he echoes.
With this, he tugs on the strings around his ears. He’s learned not to fight me about the mask anymore.
Our walk commences.
Business as Usual
by Brooks C. Mendell
“Got this buddy,” said Miller. “Used to wear corduroys with lobsters on them.”
“I know who he is,” I said. “Heard he screwed the high school French teacher.”
“No idea,” I said. “But with him, you think it could’ve happened.”
“That’s him,” said Miller. “He heard you have a quarter-ton pickup that nobody’s using.”
“Well, he got that body disposal grant from the county,” said Miller. “So, he’s huntin’ a spare truck.”
“Happy to talk to him.”
“Great,” said Miller, not moving.
“We’ll cut you in, don’t worry.”
Miller winked over his mask and walked away.
This week’s artwork is “Writer at Work” by Chuck Taylor
by Yash Seyedbagheri
Once, we called people coming to the hills visitors.
Virus spreads. They’re invaders. Carriers.
Beige RVs and trucks rolling resemble tanks.
We defend the market. Wrap ourselves in the royal we. Sterilize, stock toilet paper. We don’t see frightened families, young couples wearing naked impulse and fear.
Invasions are easier.
by Ursula Hoult
Her perfect paw pushes the coupon over the real estate ads. “25%-off premium cat food”.
Pandora is the adult in our relationship. I’m the one who buys lattes and smashed avocado on toast. She’s the one who cancels the Netflix subscription because we don’t use it anymore.
I know she has a goal. She hasn’t been happy in our fifth-floor apartment for some time. When I watch her at the window, her whiskers twitch and sometimes she mutters “Birds” under her breath.
Under the coupon is an ad – “two bedrooms + garden”. Pandora tells me we now have enough.
by Jeffrey Griffiths
Grandpa’s face pointed out to the ravine that dropped beyond the street and lawn and picture window to a dirty creek that my uncle once saved a drowning friend from. The grass was brown and the sky was grey. I saw a gold foil wrapped Easter egg on the window sill behind the Jade plant that my sisters must have missed four weeks ago. Grandpa touched his chest, two fingers between the buttons of his pajama shirt where white tape and gauze covered the opening that would, if given time, become a bumpy pink line.
by Jeff Burt
Listening to sirens, I stood on my good leg, dislocated leg held up like a triangle, sole of right foot stuck to the knee of my left, making the number 4. The sun had turned my skin a brilliant pink. Lips cracked and bleeding, each word had become a razor.
Riding a bicycle furiously towards me, smiling, was Walter Schenk, naked, holding a glinting silver suitcase, sunglasses atop his head.
We had stolen forest and river, made a fortune and lost it. The DEA was burning the crop.
But we had the seeds. That was all that mattered.
The Reverse Curse
by David Henson
The reverse vampire is cursed with a body that produces too much blood. It swells his veins till he feels about to burst like a balloon full of tomato juice. When he can stand it no more, he draws the excess, filling his syringes. Men and women awaken the next morning with a single puncture in the neck and a flush in their cheeks. He returns again and again, bringing them to the point of aneurysm, wishing them no harm, but obsessed with finding the one who can take all he has to give.
A Wish Come True
by Suzanne Samuels
“Make a wish,” Mother says.
Always, the same one. But when I try to blow the candles out, I start to cough. Pappa leans in, pinching the wick of each tiny flame.
I cut the ribbon. Unwrap the gift. A castle. Rapunzel, in the witch’s tower. Belle, in Beast’s mansion. Me, in this body.
I see the problem right away. The castle is cardboard. Hardly indestructible.
But I let my fingers meander along the drawbridge. The turret. The walls. This is a castle. A haven, for as long as it lasts. In that moment, there’s wholeness. A wish come true.
by James Gaskin
I could not sleep there long. Too many things that were not mine. Every door exposed more bones. A cabinet of used cups. A drawer overflowing with silverware. First timers never want to share.
Towns like these take a dozen of us each coming of the snows. We come from places where no-one knows our names. One cycle of the seasons and we’re gone. The possessions gathered are always too heavy to move.
We all end up here, in walls like these. Every room looks alike. Sooner or later, we learn not to bring anything with us at all.
This week’s artwork is by G.J. Mintz.
Not Enough Yesterdays
by Christopher P. Mooney
Come in for a cup of tea? I ask, unreasonably pleased when she says she will. I let the bag stew for longer than she likes, knowing it will mean more time.
While she drinks it, I want to ask her to remember that during all of this, whatever this is, I am loving her. And that she loved me, too.
Afterwards, when she’s gone, again, I’m glad I didn’t say anything, didn’t ask. Because the awkward pity in her eyes – that used to see me – and in her words – that used to tell me – would have been too much.
A Peaceful Jane
by Raymond Sloan
Her complexion was busy in loud, uneven colour. The dress on looked musty and flooded her body. The room rung of a thick hush of condolences that Jane’s husband relished in behind the grief.
On cue, his eyes welled. Sorrow swelled. Words choked in the middle of a memory as he put aside his lies, affairs, the years of misery he put her through, to play the distraught husband.
Stopping to take the scene in for a moment, a feeling of betrayal arose when he realised every photo surrounding him was missing the one thing she now wore.
by John Barrett Allen
He inhabits the Invisible when his heart stops. No hovering over his hospital bed to gawk in shame at his whiskey-wasted body; no ambling down a bright corridor toward miraculously healed Becky, who offers a forgiving embrace. No. Instead, he wanders in fog-drenched darkness until his shin bumps metal. A rowboat’s stern. A river’s lapping edge. Infinite vessels, gloriously lit, the redeemed faithfully pulling the oars. Impatient, he clambers over the hull and everything disappears. He falls and flattens until a hard light pierces his tear-soaked eyes. Doctor says, relieved: “He’s back.” Another voice, Becky’s, agitated, follows: “Not your boat.”
At the Dinner Table
by Emanuel Hind
Scotch eggs, Cara surmised, furry and orange as they are, must one day hatch into highland cows, for they were very similarly clad and she was a very logical eight-year-old. Avocados, too, were surely the ova of fearsome scaly lizards. Naturally, then, an ordinary supermarket egg, brown and smooth, could never come from a feathery, squawking chicken: the two seemed nothing alike. Contemplating her thesis, her gaze fell to her hands, her arms. Brown. Smooth. Realisation. A canon of shrieks, a violent crash as the floor shattered the plate. That was the last egg her fork would ever touch.
Just like Weldon Kees
by Jim Doss
Class, that’s what he’d call it, seersucker suit, fedora with brim turned down, half-smoked cigarette between his lips, surveying Alcatraz at sunrise, plotting his escape into another life. The party ran late that night. One of the last to leave, he drove the opposite direction from home toward the Golden Gate, his keys left in the ignition to seed the mystery. Did he possess the courage to jump, his body drawn by anonymous currents out into the Pacific? Or did he swap identities, namelessly crossing the Mexican border, a gringo tolerating no questions? The trail of butts leads us nowhere.
by Janine Muster
The storm lifts the cover off their unfinished porch and blows down the ladder Hector had used to fix the roof. The sudden noise makes Elsa almost drop her bishop. Hector, ignoring her attack on his queen, moves his knight.
Elsa can hear the drops. Then something warm rolls down her back. She shivers.
“I thought you fixed it?” She takes Hector’s queen.
“Yes.” Hector takes her rook. “Chess.”
“Why is it still coming through the ceiling?” Elsa’s hand trembles as she moves her king.
“It mustn’t be the rain then.” Hector calmly traps her king with his rook. “Checkmate.”
by Ken Poyner
Six yellow dogs consider the long dirt road. There is the porch, the water trough, the food bowl, the dirt road. Grass comes and goes along the dirt road’s edges. Too few cars for six dogs. Too few cars for four dogs. Too few cars for two dogs. One dog would not feel slighted by the lack of cars. He could dream what he wanted to dream, rolling in his somnambulant readiness on the careless porch boards. The color of that dream would not matter. He might dream of six dogs, of being the one dog worthy of a car.
by Anastasia Kirchoff
“I named her Bessie!” He says, pointing a small finger.
I don’t tell my son that Bessie is more of a cow’s name than a goat’s. “Pretty,” I say instead. Tufts of their dichromatic winter coats have begun to shed, littering the pen in discarded heaps. Soon my hair will be like that—scattered detritus. Unlike the goats, I will not grow springtime fat. Though I suppose we are both near to slaughter.
But not quite yet.
“Let’s check on the chickens.” I watch his chubby legs carry him away, trusting that Bessie will be there tomorrow.
by Esther Zigman
Cucumber scented curls tickle my lip as my toddler falls asleep in my arms. The corkscrew curls that bounce happily when she runs, and glow chestnut brown in the sun. The ones that compel strangers to comment.
“What beautiful hair!” they say.
We smile. I thank them.
“Too bad it’s a pain in the ass to manage.”
She doesn’t understand, so she keeps smiling. She brings that smile home; the one that goes all the way up to her eyes.
One day she’ll understand. That day she’ll bring home tears.
And hair irons.
She’ll borrow them from me.
by Howie Good
A woman named for a dead grandmother crossed her arms across her chest in a conscious attempt to hide her trembling. She thought the birds up in the trees sounded like they were asking, “Hey, you all right?” Most of her communications with the world were strained or superficial. It took a while before she realized that everything she was interested in saying was contained somewhere in a book. Now when she closes her eyes, she can see flowers, fire creatures, viruses leaping from the cracked tarmac. She hesitates to call them visitors. More like chasing pink, she found red.
by Ran Walker
Terry continued to unwind his kite as it sailed higher and higher against the burnt orange of the sunset. Coltrane, his Lab, had given up chasing after it, choosing instead to trot along the coastline, its paws tracking the sand like musical notes.
That evening Terry would get his weekly phone call from his mother and how she worried about him being single at his age. But she couldn’t see the sunset, the kite drifting toward the violet of dusk, or Coltrane nestling against his calves as he stood there with the sand between his toes.
He was just fine.
It’s Not Really the End of the World, Is It?
by Roger Haydon
This apocalypse doom thing really, really has to stop. Like now. My alter egos (yes, them, all of them) keep telling me that the world’s going to end. Without saying a date so I can’t prepare, the bastards. And then it doesn’t. I can’t trust them, liars and time thieves.
So, I’m outwaiting them. I’ve locked my bedroom door, closed the curtains, stacked the pot noodles, put on the headphones, turned up the music and I’m staying here until they turn up and tell me for sure, no messing. That was a month ago. I’m still waiting.
This Message Cannot Be Delivered
by Yash Seyedbagheri
“Old friends’ emails become inactive, enveloped by electronic monsters. My message cannot be delivered, electronic gatekeepers proclaim.
I can’t tell them of being alone. I can’t hear their off-color jokes about paraplegics and suicide, youth at its most delightfully stupid. Tell them of empty, sterile walls. I can’t confess I absorbed their stories of family, an electronic voyeur.
I keep trying. Messages come back.
I drive to distant homes. But staring through lit windows, I feel like a magazine, an obnoxious knickknack among order and precision. I imagine them discarding jokes, smiles replaced by starched replicas.
This message isn’t delivered.
by Louise Worthington
A piece of sheep’s wool snags on barb-wire. It remains there suspended, moving in the wind soundless, detached from its whole, a gentle reminder of what’s been and gone.
Mary pulls her wool coat tighter as the wind plays with her grey hair. January twelfth is the worst day of the year, her older sister’s birthday.
The barb wire is sharp and cold. It takes minutes to free the wool. Mary remembers the sound of her sister’s giggles as the wool tumbles and rolls along the grassy bank, skipping along until it submerges in the stream, succumbing to its end.
Graves with Periscopes
by Jim Doss
The needle in his arm injected a rush of white lightning throughout his body. First warmth, then a kaleidoscope of hallucinations overtook him, both terrifying and thrilling. Like other junkies, he slept the day off beneath park hedges, begged food and dollars in lucid moments, shot up at sunset, often found himself wandering miles from the park. Tonight he staggered past skeleton-shaped churchyard trees, tombstones rising into townhouses. The dead watched as his body separated at every joint, fell to the ground in pieces. His mother’s eyes blinked disapprovingly, as she silently swept up the mess she’d created in life.
What I Sow, Another Reaps
by Mark Reels
One spring morning, they told me the chemo had stopped working.
I spent the rest of the day planting pumpkins with my grandson.
We felt and smelled the warm dirt on our fingers.
We dreamed of the huge orange jack-o-lanterns that I wouldn’t see.
I taught him how to scoop out seeds from the mess inside and roast them with salt and cayenne.
Why would a dying man plant a garden he wouldn’t harvest?
Well, we also talked about saving some seeds to plant next year.
And maybe Abe will remember the day he planted pumpkins with Papa.
by Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon
Woodland trees spread proud, extend gnarled limbs. Wet winds prise leaves apart to stroke strong thighs. Breeze blown branches bathe as daylight dims; knotted rings fix fast amid old arboreal sighs. Lichen greens arched cracks and bark thickens, grey-ridged over stricken tree-trunk hearts. Hope crinkles each pillared hunk, to quicken wooden sentience. Meandering, splintered roots join separate lives; shared aquifers soak absences to meet in life-after-life. Still, Ents remember to yearn for their wives and blossom absorbs their cries. Connections recycle beyond memory and simple eyesight. Love moves along ancient pathways, far wider than tribes marooned in static silos realise.
by Brittany Hause
“It’s a sheep,” said Mike.
“A unicorn,” Seb insisted. Squinting at the creature before them, he added, “Male sheep are rams.”
“A ram, then,” Mike conceded, “but nothing magical. It’s just missing a horn.”
Seb’s eyes gleamed. “Right! So how many horns does it have?”
“The spell calls for unicorn blood. Uni-corn: one-horn! This is it! The final ingredient!”
In the face of such unwarranted enthusiasm, Mike caved.
“All right,” he told the vendor. “We’ll take this one.”
Seb beamed in triumph even as Mike muttered, “You better be ready to eat mutton for a month.”
This week’s artwork is “Piety and Supplication, With Fishes, Sharks and Letting Agents” by Julian Cloran.
Katie Anne Dour’s, Tiny Family Snow Globe
by Dan A. Cardoza
She’s conflicted. If she insists the lights off, will that be seen as a compromise? Katie won’t be punished for sleeping in layers of sweat-soaked bedclothes and blankets. Mother is aware she’s not a sweet Vidalia onion. Sure she’s upset about school grades and fighting. They call her Sour Lemon Dour. But, that’s not the reason. Katie will be punished for making it snow all night. Mother says, “How dare you expect a perfect summer with all that white noise?” There’s not a vengeful bone in her body. There are none. Katie Dour is a delicate, porcelain dolly.
by Calvin Yorick
The gray beast is gnarled all over like dead bark. It sits in the sky over moonlit ruins and the tattered masts of shipwrecks. It sings. Branchlike limbs swings concentrically in a silent dance, and a great, tangled head quivers in a gentle orbit away from the rising moon, humming softly. Electrically. We fall to fatigue; this ghastly birdsong bids us to sleep. And in dreams overgrown with sunflowers we wake to the firelit shores of an empty city, waiting eternally for morning and the inevitable nightmare which follows.
by David Henson
A tattoo battleship plowed the gray on his chest. He hoisted an anchor on each arm. An eagle stretched from wing to wing of his shoulders.
One day we found a blacksnake. He grabbed a hoe, and we chose between watching the body flop in the grass or his cat eating the head in his lap.
After his wife died, he spent every evening in an old caned chair, told us he let the stars fly out of his eyes to their places.
That last night he surprised us when he laid back his head and flew out with them.
by Abigail Skinner
I stood there, feeling the crisp breeze prick against my open and exposed heart. And she laughed.
“Right,” I said. I snapped my ribs back into place and tugged at the muscle. Slipped back into my skin. “Heh, you’re right.” Covered now, but not enough. The wind still cut through. I threw on a shirt.
She chuckled. I kept adding layer after layer. A sweater. A flannel. A hoodie. A coat. Finally, a windbreaker. Too late. The wind was already inside me, the chill deep to my bones.
She sobered. “Wait, were you serious?”
Gone for a Song
by Simon Barron
From his lofty banyan perch, a honey-creeper struck up in joy and expectation, for the time was ripe. Notes fell like diamonds sprinkled on the air. Swelling, he pushed the gallant question further.
The island, bounded by sullen seas, gave no like return. Yet there was life enough, with furtive cats and sportive rats and braying goats in pens.
Another interloper – a solitary ecologist – sat on a log-pile near the banyan and wept to hear the exquisite song fall about her. She knew what the honey-creeper couldn’t.
He sang all day, and never so well.
by Roger Haydon
From the other side of the ornate doorway, I thought I saw a house with open shutters, lights on and smoke curling from chimneys. I heard voices, saw figures talking and laughing, saw a manicured garden, neat lawns and bright flowers and children playing. And then, eagerly, I stepped through.
Now, standing in a shell of scarred walls pierced by empty windows and vacant corridors, the fine rain turns the rubble to mud and tears sting my cheeks. I can see sunlight on the other side but don’t know if I can go back or if I should even try.