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.”
by Tiffany Grimes
Goldfish were thought to be like freshly cut wildflowers. Decoration only.
I don’t know what to do with my pet goldfish while I’m gone. He will slowly suffer, his tiny body rotten when I return.
I pick him up. It takes a few tries but soon I can predict his movements. I squeeze his golden body between my fingers.
I place him in my mouth. He squirms down my esophagus and then my only friend in the whole world is gone.
I don’t have to stop for lunch.
by Kirsty Holmes
The first thing I notice is the absence of birdsong; a thudding silence as my heart fights, as the panic closes hot, dry hands around my throat; the room shrinks around me until, Alice-like, my awkward limbs fold and my too-big elbows shatter the windows.
The only thing to do is run; choking on vinegar tears. Out; the field. I strike toward the sun; barefoot, dishcloth in hand; one two, nine ten; count the steps, my breaths, my heartbeats. Stare at the sky until it sears into my vision forever, the pain just about clean enough to hold on to.
by Leslie Cairns
I was ribs, bones, and sulking hallways.
Feeding tubes, and a skeleton weight.
A man who would later save my life and buy my graduation gown, would pull in one fluid motion. And, in the same sentence, reminds me of the other girls he’d seen and done the same. He used to call us the tools in his toolbox. Screwdriver, he’d laughed with abandon at that. I was, with some affection, the hammer.
Dashed lines, jagged cliffs, lost rocks. Wandering back, barefoot.
I’m a crevice, a flight path, a steady pattern of people coming and forgetting where they went.
What I Did for Love
by Roberta Beary
At the bar we bonded over favorite musicals. When I went home with him I knew it could turn weird. And it did. His hallway was filled with whips and chains masquerading as shabby chic wall art. He steered me to red silk sheets. It was over before it had started. He said It was good for me was it good for you, before rolling over and falling asleep. His armpits still had that yeasty smell. Like when we were married. Before I left I grabbed $500 from his wallet. For the kids’ music lessons.
On the Right Track
by Mark Reels
She resolved to do three laps around the walking path every day.
She trudged past the blooming daffodils in April.
In May she walked beneath the delicate flowers of a crab apple tree.
A teenager pointed and laughed at her as she jogged and panted past in June.
By July she was running with her earbuds in.
In August the apple tree was producing hard, tart fruit. When the jeering teenager whistled at her and yelled, “Lookin’ good, mama,” she picked an apple and beaned him in the head with it.
He gave chase, but she easily outran him.
by Mark Reels
After Nathan argued with his wife, he retreated to the garage.
He would rewind the quarrel in his mind and alternate between being hurt by his wife’s words and being disappointed in his own anger.
How long could he lie to himself and call this place his home?
He considered the peg board with each tool hanging in its place. He saw the power tools sitting neatly on their shelves and felt the limits of his own power to build or repair his very life.
He looked at his perfectly maintained vehicle and realized he had nowhere else to go.
by Sarah Freligh
After the man died, the authorities carried out the bones of the six girls who’d gone missing and X’ed the front door in yellow tape. The neighborhood lit up with television cameras and microphones tethered to women with glossed-on faces who talked about what a nice neighbor the man had been. The cleaners came and tore down the walls of old newspapers, the hills of clothing, and left the whole mess by the curb for the trash men to take away. The daffodils came back in the spring; the new owners planted roses. No one remembered the girls’ names.
Big Girls Don’t Cry
by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
Mother’s in the kitchen, holding a bottle of wine like a microphone. Dad’s car speeds away, the sputtering fading, fading. Radio blasts The Four Seasons. Mother sings, doing pitch-perfect Frankie Valli falsetto: Big girls don’t cry. She repeats it over and over. Nick asks if she’s all right. She smiles, keeps imitating Frankie, waving the bottle. They don’t cry-yyyyyy. Nick tries to tell her it’ll be all right. They’ll move on. Things that seem empty and false. She keeps on singing. Voice cracks and for a moment Nick doesn’t know if she’s laughing or crying. Perhaps she doesn’t know either.
by Kip Knott
I live like a murderer who has contemplated the death of my numbness for months.
When I am alone in my house for too long, I hear the oranges in my refrigerator carrying on long, bittersweet conversations. They say another man lives inside of me. They say he is a man so full of sadness that he moves as if covered in tar. They say he lives just below the skin.
I love oranges. I love how when I peel them their juice runs down my fingers and palms and stings the small cuts running across my wrists.
by Beth Balousek
1969. It was Vietnam, and men coming home without the legs they left on. Her boys played with cap guns. They pledged allegiance to the flag and killed each other daily. So, she fed them. They crunched down sugary bowls of Kaboom. Lunch boxes filled to bursting. Dinners became debauchments. Gleaming shanks of lamb. Slabs of beef. Biscuits, breads, and rolls to sop up the blood. She gave them borderline diabetes and mild hypertension. She swelled them to sizes that were difficult to shop for. They grew uncomfortable, but dependent. They would not get her babies. Not her babies. No.
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by Jean Straton
She was half-fish, half-human. “A mermaid.” Jack whispered.
She wasn’t moving. Could she breathe?
“Hey, are you alive? Please be alive.” He grabbed a nearby stick and jabbed it at her.
The mermaid coughed and seawater shot out from her mouth.
“Are you okay?” Jack asked.
The mermaid groaned and rubbed her eyes. “Where… am I?”
“You’re on land. Do you want me to help you get-“
“Oh, thank God.” She blurted and pulled her legs out from the mermaid tail.
Aunt Edna’s Stuffing
by Bill Diamond
Aunt Edna loved the holiday season: the decorations, music and food. Even the crowded shopping brought her joy. She especially liked the family gatherings.
So, the family was surprised, but not shocked at her will. It requested she be stuffed and displayed each year from Thanksgiving to New Year’s to enjoy the celebrations and camaraderie.
It was weird at first. But soon, decorating Aunt Edna was an annual tradition. The children rubbed her nose for luck and wished for presents.
Edna was an island of seasonal cheer. She beamed regardless of the chaos, family traumas, or how outrageous her costume.
by Annalise Grey
“What are your plans for the future?” Dr. Madden asked as he sipped his fourth cup of coffee.
George shrugged. “Marry a pretty Martian girl and raise a green family.”
Dr. Madden laughed before turning to leave. “Extraordinary sense of humor, son. I’m sure the new hyperdrive we’re developing will make your fantasy come true.”
Glancing over his shoulder, George carefully shoved his Martian porn comic into his desk’s only lockable drawer.
by Mark Reels
The calendar featured a scene from some exotic location above each month’s blank grid of days.
Nathan dutifully added his work schedule, his son’s soccer games and his daughter’s swim lessons to the grid representing June.
Ayers Rock sat above the timetable for his daily life. The monolith sat beneath a full moon in a velvet sky streaked with starlight.
Nathan recalled a documentary about Australia. The contrast between its vibrant coral reef and the desert that makes up most of the continent had left him melancholy for days.
Next year he would get a calendar with puppies or something.
From This Distance
by Ed Higgins
Can you remember now? How we could each disappear completely, connected despite fault lines; subduction zones all our own. Lie protected. Surfaces sliding under failed recognitions as overlying sediments accumulate under pressure transforming into anthracite or other hardened evidence. Reminding me of a nearly lost premise: Once we sang so goofily out of tune we may actually have laughed out loud. Uncertain now are favored wines: zinfandel, chardonnay, oaky pinots we declared made just for us. Little suspecting some later taste, like treachery, say, calculated–or maybe only through regret, conveniently overlooked. While staring into one another’s eyes.
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.