by G.J. Williams
Poorophelia is a condition commonly found among the middle-classes, and is characterised by an excessive fondness for the more plangent manifestations of mental illness. Generally, the more winsome and fragile the sufferer, and the more broken her song, the greater the degree of sympathy accorded her; and it usually is a her.
Pooropheliacs are known for their hearts; they are often to be found bleeding. Pooropheliacs tend to hover; their faces search yours. Furrowed brows also feature heavily.
For pooropheliacs a rose is not a rose, never was. As for twilight, it bleeds, and the rivers they run lonely.
by Ana Cotham
We set his ashes and a profusion of leis—orchid, pikake, ti leaf—adrift on the outgoing tide, an oil spill of tropical colors. Then we bring her inside and prepare for a new day. This grief, these new days, are ours alone, because four days ago she stopped asking where he was; like a whirlpool, the drowning in her eyes, as sixty years of marriage simply drained away. We don’t insist; we keep her warm and happy instead. The next morning, we comb the beach for dislocated strands and sodden orchids, and add them to our sandcastle.
The Man with the Wooden Beard
by P J Rice
In the town of Warton-on-the-Mold, a man named Dwunt failed to grow hair from his chin. The solution: to carve a fine, solid beard from an oak log; suspend it from his ears on leather straps.
When Dwunt held up his head–chin out–the wooden beard stayed firm to his face; but usually it hung and swung like a pub sign.
The wood’s weight dragged Dwunt’s head, stooping him. Stretching his neck. The straps pulled his ears forward, two cabbage leaves. Dwunt didn’t care. He had a well-made facial appendage. His manly-man’s beard. A solid piece of his own.
by Madison Randolph
Pipe smoke swirled and tickled Tam’s nose as he puffed. The dirt path he walked undulated through the corn to a crossroads.
The smoke thickened two spirits appeared: a hooded figure stood to his left and, to his right, a veiled woman.
“You must choose,” they said in unison.
Tam turned, but the road had disappeared. Horrified, he fell to his knees before the veiled apparition.
It lowered the veil, rotting skeletal teeth smiled down.
The hooded figure sighed with a shake of his golden curls.
Life may be shadowed in mystery, but to some, death will always be inviting.
by G.J. Williams
The state he’s in, you can smell the rot. No question Big Aitch knows it. The aroma unmistakable. And where Big Aitch goes the rot goes. He tries to disguise it of course. Comes on all radio rental; rolls the eyeball, makes much of his fingers, puts on airs, pulls faces, has it out with his own shadow, calls a spade many things but never a spade. Makes up his mind so that his mind’s made up; tralala. Watch your words; watch his. There’s no telling. The state he’s in. You can smell the rot from here.
Switchbacks on the Pacific Crest Trail
by Ana Cotham
We’d heard a Trail Angel was four miles ahead, so we kept hiking. Shin splints knifed me with every step; Lisa gritted her teeth through blood blisters. We found the cabin, where a silver-haired woman greeted us with stew, coffee, hot showers.
Clean, fed, soothed with bandages, we shared stories over steaming mugs of cocoa. Sunset glowed, making a silhouette of trees, and she told us the storm had passed.
Lisa said uncertainly, “But—the weather’s been clear.”
“No, my love,” the woman said kindly. “The storm took you both by surprise. How else do you think you found me?”
Number 4 was Born at Home
by Shannon Hare
After a sleepless night, each crunchy step reminds me of granola. I swat at blackberry brambles with spoon arms. It helps to get scratches. To ground me. To pick at until tomorrow.
“I’m asking for ten minutes a day.”
I was too far away now to hear the baby crying. Still, the rush comes to me, just at the thought of it. Milky circles on my shirt.
Women and Girls
by David M Wallace
My dear wife. I have your letter and the joyous news. The army winters in Gaul but will return to Rome come spring, gods willing. I will send money soon. If the child is a boy, name him Lucius. If a girl, leave her to the elements. Greet my mother for me when next you see her.
by Ken Poyner
The guards at street’s end swing quart bottles of blood. It is not their blood. It is not your blood. With these exceptions, it could be anyone’s blood. When guard is changed, the new guards bring new blood. In your house you worry how the blood is collected, in what province or block, from which political party; with tubes and needles, or by sopping it from the floor. No one speaks of it, yet everyone worries. Slowly, it is marveled at less. It is assumed each rotation of guards will have new blood. It is normal. The experiment is done.
by Thomas Henry Newell
The house smells of new paint, but the stain remains. It’s all too much for the director of a cleaning company.
The employees he demanded come out on the weekend are running late. So, he stares at that blasphemous spot.
What if he bleaches it?
He pours chemicals into a rag and dabs at the darkness coming through the whitewash. His fingers start to burn and blacken.
The workers resent the boss. When they enter the house through the open door that was not answered when knocked, they find there is no work for them. Just nothing.
Fire in the Hole
by Jeannette Connors
Stanley lined them up for epic battles. Some pointed broken rifles, some had smooth nubby helmets, others were headless but fought anyway. A cracked bazooka balanced precariously on a saluting private. A water canteen sat in the grass just out of reach of a footless soldier. “Where’d you get all this crap?” a friend once asked. “A special place,” Stanley said. Each evening Stanley’s father came home with barely a chance to remove his scrubs before his son begged him for the day’s booty.
by Scott Bogart
She ducked behind the car. I snuck up and got her good. She nailed me in the groin. Reeling, I retreated, packing another snowball. I let it fly as she rounded the corner, striking her boob. She screamed and fled towards the house. Believing it was over, I limped into the garage. The shovel made a loud thwack against my back and down I went. I took out her shins with the skateboard. Back into the snow we rolled, with neighbors aghast, turning the yard into strawberry shortcake before exhaustion forced an amicable stalemate. Never argue before a snowball fight.
A Halloween Encounter
by David Henson
I’m raking leaves on a blustery Halloween morning when a green-skinned warlock appears. He tells me I can eliminate my life’s regrets with his magic rifle. With a wink and a hand wave, feathery things fill a bare tree in our yard. “I don’t want to shoot a bird,” I say.
“Not birds. They’re your regrets.”
Relieved, I fire. One of the creatures chirps and falls to the ground. Guilt engulfs me. “I should feel better, not worse. Was it truly a regret?”
The warlock flashes a wicked smile. “No. And now you have one more.”
by David M Wallace
After the stoning, no one could say for certain who had delivered the fatal blow. Sara was an adulteress. She had it coming. No one felt any guilt. As she lay bleeding, the men recalled her beauty. That night, the remembrance of the curve of her breasts fueled their fantasies.
by A. Zaykova
“Keep your eyes on that door,” Jim says.
Freddie, his new partner, looks green and nervous.
“First time?” Jim asks and bites down on a hotdog.
“Just do as I say and you’ll be alright.” Jim takes another bite and a splat of ketchup lands on his good pants. “Shoot!”
Freddie cocks his rifle and pulls the trigger. Some poor bugger falls to the ground with a red flower blooming between his eyes. Their target darts into the crowd and disappears.
Maybe Judith was right in saying there’s something off about a hitman who doesn’t use cuss words.
The Last Cigarette
by Scott Bogart
He took one last drag in the darkness, high above the city, savoring the moment, before flicking the butt and watching it fall. A stiff breeze tousled his hair, causing his cancer riddled body to sway. He gripped the railing. He’d quit years ago, but what good had it done? The bustling streets below were a noisy and glittering reminder of life’s indifference. He smiled at the thought then released his grip on the railing. As he fell back into bed he pondered what laid ahead. Maybe it won’t come tonight. Afterall, there’s still one cigarette left in the pack.
by Rebecca Iden
The trees are washed in morning gold and rain impregnates the air. My skin holds the shadow of his hands and my muscles are hot with blood. Leaves cling to the back of my liver-colored frock and I must hurry. A rabbit freezes on the path, eyes bright like coins.
by Natasha Dalley
Dad stands next to the shower holding a library book he will never return. When Mom asks, he swears he is clean. Mom gets stomach aches when she eats grapes but not when drinking them. Dad says if she would stop holding her breath she would feel better. He hands her a glass of wine. Mom belts out “super six pack shower hour” upstairs. The psychic tells her that there will be peanuts in the bathtub tonight. Or penis. Or perhaps a pianist though that is the least likely. When Mom gets out, she will swear she is clean too.
The Lie of Diving Down
by Frederick Charles Melancon
Those days, we believed the reef called just to us. The rocks and coral speckled with wave-cut light drove us to swim down. We even harassed the divers about their suits because they carried their air. Clearly, forsaking breath after plunging under was the only way. One time, we swam out to the deep. Down there on the bottom, an old ventilation duct lay on the sand. No one spoke of the game we played, but I was the only one to swim through it. The rest cheered when we got back up above as if touching bottom meant something.
Blood, Sweat, and Tears
by A. Zaykova
Gym-Bunny-Gill posts a picture of her butt on the internet. The caption says it took blood sweat and tears to get this look, but hard work always pays off.
Miri works hard to keep the lights on. She bled too when Dad, fighting his whiskey demons, broke her lip. She sure as heck sweated, washing dishes at the restaurant all summer because rent was due. She didn’t cry when they lowered her mother into the ground. Not until later, when there was nobody to witness the deluge. Now Miri feels cheated because she’s got no picture to show for it.
by Saaiqa Malik
Brown-hued leaves crunched underfoot like stolen crisps in her mouth, the crackle of secretly opened snacks in the dark.
Chill wind tendrils slithered down her neck and up her sleeves. The tingle of fear as the cupboard light flashed on.
The ragged gasping breaths persisted, except only one set now. Her feet pounded out the beat of the drum in her chest.
Spindly dark trees waved an enthusiastic hello, welcoming her away from the angry voices floating behind.
A friendly root tipped her into the warm embrace of forest debris. Burrowing quickly, she left the cold and horror behind.
by Raydon Barrow
The creature was bipedal and moved on stubby legs. Dr. Martin watched from a stool, his pen inches from his notebook, eager to record unusual activity as it bumbled around the lab, occasionally fixating on smoking vials or dissection charts. Once, it tried to vocalize, but he could not decipher the jumbled mess of sounds.
“This isn’t what I meant when I said to watch her.”
Dr. Martin jumped and spun to face the woman in the doorway. “It’s marvelous, Julia. We’ve created life!” He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and smiled.
Julia rolled her eyes.
by Jean Buie
We moved to the farm when I was nine. To keep Dad from the taverns. Mom drove the school bus while he looked for work.
At first, Dad was really trying. But then, he just wasn’t.
He showed up at Little League. I heard the snickering from the stands when he came onto the diamond.
“I’ll show you how it’s done.”
His arms around me, his hands over mine. He tapped the bat and lifted it into position.
He took a practice swing. Stumbled. Fell. He took me down with him.
He always took us down with him.
by Michael Harper
The writer sells his soul in a Faustian treaty for the perfect book. A book which the power to change the world. Words pour out of him with the scaly tingle of the devil still lingering on his skin. As The End falls onto the page, he weeps, regretting nothing. Like Prometheus, his suffering will be for humankind.
Finding a publisher is easy. Not big five, but reputable. They generate buzz. Get decent reviews. Sales don’t soar and the book disappears without a whisper.
“Try again,” says his agent.
“I poured my whole self into that book.”
“Try adding dragons.”
by Benjamin Marr
I married my dishwashing machine and we had triplets. These half-machine, half-human babies had a dishwasher with a door latch instead of a stomach. They had hoses for arms, but their heads and legs were human. At first, they could only wash one plate, but they grew to accommodate more. All three of them together could wash the same amount as their mother and they would whenever we needed a date night
One day, I opened their bedroom door and caught them with their friends’ heads in their dishwashers.
“We are washing away traumatic memories,” one said, “so many memories…”
On Commissary Consumptions (and Cautions)
by Jen Schneider
Penelope was a good neighbor. Sweet to greet. Quick to tidy trash. Perfect, but for her perpetual musk. Her owner was reserved. Stayed mostly inside their RV. Penelope viewed soaps through the window. Attentive from dawn to dusk. During commercials, she’d barter for sustenance. Closed exchanges with a snort. Her fears were relatable – commissaries often came up short. The RV Park was as safe as any. Skies heavy of robins and larks. Each of us woven in the year-round flock. I wonder if Penelope ever contemplated the differences amongst us. Born and bred a piglet, on sublet she’d always be.
The blancmange was electrified, had joss sticks wafted over it, was shoved through a scented cheese grater, was surreptitiously attached to a Rastafarian’s dreadlocks, had a bucket of whey poured on it from a height of thirteen feet and nine inches, was subjected to loops of bagpipe music simultaneously with having the silhouettes of Jim Bowen and the Nolan sisters projected onto it, and then photographed and put on a poster offering a reward for its safe return after being smeared on the inside of a mouldy pair of tartan trousers.
Before I lost interest in experimenting with it.
by Ken Poyner
He has been told of the potential danger in buying antiques. No one warned him when he was just buying old furniture; but antiques, being more expensive, had their own exaggerations. Sometimes, previous owners do not want to give up their possessions, attach their ghosts to challenge anyone who might repurpose the piece. There could be multiple ghosts in the construction, contending no matter who currently owns the piece. How could he know before purchase? Quibble moves each recent acquisition into his mother’s home, waits a week, calls to see if she is sleeping well and without newly minted nightmares.
There Is A Light, But It Will Go Out In Flames
St. Andrews, 2001, winter’s night céilidh: she blazed a furnace burning peat from Scotland’s earth. Bright hair swirled, tinged hottest fire, point-and-click camera flash, faceless smiling, bright eyes, she singed the ballroom with American heat. Sheathed in a body-hugging, glowing-orange gown, train scooped up in her fist, she danced out heartbreak. Peeling her body from sweetest sweat and joyful dress, she disembarked from that fragrant train. For one night, ticket punched, her porcelain shoulders gleamed against film’s negative dark, sharp-edged bones long buried under now middle-aged still-pale softness, aching feet. Then—a torch, a neon sign: Do Not Touch.
Tea for Two
by Pamela S. Kelso
Enid sat on sagging steps of a bedraggled farmhouse. Her hair pin- curled and wrapped in a chiffon scarf. She painted her lips with an old Tangee lipstick bought at Woolworth’s in 1960.
Enid and Edna shared that lipstick. They wore it on special occasions. They turned 100 today.
Ezekiel, their mailman, would arrive at the same time as always, he would check. He’d tell the others.
Dressed in her calico dress that matched Enid’s, Edna was on the broken bed in their ramshackle room off the kitchen.
Enid quickly drank from Edna’s teacup and joined her twin.