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.
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.”