by Gage Banks
Decades of growth led to a beautiful forest blossoming along the clouds. Shrubbery, so vibrant yet calm. Footsteps among the wood are not heard but felt under the ground through thousands of sap-filled veins.
Elder trees speaking through the roots, telling tales of fallen friends. Some speak of men with spinning maws. Maws biting and ripping the flesh and bone of wooded kin, leaving a spray of arboreal viscera. Limbs split in twain, burnt to ash like old garbage
Minutes of pain, thrown to the ever-hungry flame. No stories to tell, only crackles of charred limbs torn from elder trees.
Sleek, cold bar under her right hand. Legs bent at an odd angle. The tips of her toes pointed to the floor. One breath of air, then two. The mirror reflected her face. Her tired smile. Thin, rosy cheeks. Hair in a tight bun, her fly-aways slicked back.
One breath, two. Her tutu felt soft on her hand. Her arm lifted over her head, her legs went down in a plie position. Her ankles cracked. She fell down the rabbit hole. Dust, that’s the only thing left of her now.
by Yash Seyedbagheri
I carry the eggs home.
When I open, rows of white ovals stare up at me. Except for two cracked open.
So much for a dozen.
There are ten eggs. I have to make them last a week. Along with the remnants of an onion, some sardines.
I pick up the fragments of shell as if I can put it all together again. Sweep away the temper, the reduced salaries, the subtraction. Fridges rife with expensive booze.
Now, the yolks glimmer, naked, unabashed.
I get a spoon. Take my first bite.
It’s a little cold. Raw. A beginning.
by Tim Boiteau
After he doused her with the pot of boiling water, he fled from the screams, drove for hours, mind a white haze. Pulled over at a grocery store several states over and wandered the aisles. Filled up his cart with Vienna sausage tins. The sound of them clattering together soothed his nerves.
“I didn’t really.”
He paid, loaded all those cans into his car. Headed back home, picturing the broth sloshing over those pink tubes of boiled meat.
His wife was gone.
Must’ve imagined it.
Except for the cold puddle on the floor.
The Owls Go Round
by LM Zaerr
Antibiotic ointment glistens on his bald head, but the gash won’t heal. “Mary? Did you feed the chickens?”
“I’m not Mary.”
He scritches a fingernail on the kitchen table and chips off another piece of varnish. The patch of raw wood grows. He rotates his coffee mug, gritting the remaining varnish. Ceramic owls glide round and round, winging me back, from granddaughter to sister. “Neighbor’s windmill squeals like a stuck pig. He won’t fix it. I’ll climb up in the night with a bucket of oil.”
The crack in his mind sends his past flooding over me, an unexpected blessing.
Waking to the nothingness, there is void outside the viewport and a deep space emptiness within us.
“Take me away from it all,” you said, desperate, and so here we are, on a one-way trip to the research station on Titan. Now you’re bored already, blame me for losing the social life you didn’t want, and dread the routine of the work to come.
We’re both carefully avoiding saying that we can’t see an endless future together, even as we head relentlessly towards it.
Desolate, I’m trying to decide which of us, if either, will survive the trip.
by Louise McStravick
Her hands would move quickly, without thought as she watched television. The hook pulling the wool through. I would watch it grow, widening.
I wrap myself in the colours of it. Fall asleep to a programme I’m not watching.
I dream I am wearing the blanket, in the woods. Somewhere we’d visited before. I cannot find her, so I walk deeper, unspooling until it is nothing. I am naked, cold, alone. I am running, following the thread back home to where she is sitting. Hands gathering wool.
I wake up. Alone. Held by the blanket.
Larry attended a knitting circle with his cellmate. He learned to hand-knit scarves and blankets, weave supple yarn with stocky hands. He looped soft thread around calloused fingers, was lulled into daydreams. Knitters smiling and chattering about neighbors or children. Knitters boasting of spouses and jobs, houses and cars. Knitters not shoveling gravel or swinging sledgehammers, not scrounging to survive. Knitters not getting blackout drunk and burning things, not beating a man and getting scared of who they’d become. Knitters not swearing they would change or be better, not breaking promises and knuckles as warm wool comforted their unstained hands.
She was down to a single Rome Beauty. The last apple for her last day. Later, she’d run naked through the frigid forest to finish what she came to the cabin to do. Go out as she came in. Bare ass moonlit naked. She counted down her time an apple a day for thirty days. Time to live. To think. Laugh. To remember. Or not. To howl with wolves. Dance the hot potato. Burn camp chairs in the fireplace. Hang pots and pans from blue trees. Sugar rush deer hardcore. Practice run to the cliff where winter skies wait.
by Yash Seyedbagheri
They bid me howdy in their white trucks with their easy smiles, scents of Camels and tar. The Eagles play from radios. They welcome me. Ask if there’s anything I need.
I smile. Wave. I even tip that cheap cowboy hat I bought.
It’s been months since I’ve heard that word. Fuck off has been my constant companion.
Every time I try to reciprocate, my words seem flat, like months-old Diet Pepsi. They nod in understanding. They must think me shy. Or weird.
But when they say goodbye, I reciprocate with desperate ease, word echoing like a hundred goodbyes before.
by Jeremy Nathan Marks
I bought a broom that lets me sweep up spiders without breaking their legs. I can deposit them gently into my garden. My garden is like a coliseum of displaced insects. Some have all of their limbs, while others are missing one or more for mysterious reasons. How is it that insects are threatened with extinction? I find them wobbling around, waiting to grow new limbs. They prove the point that life is more than fight versus flight: it is autosarcophagy. A fox will chew off its leg to escape a trap. There is a future for the maimed.
by G.J. Williams
The man who gave you a helping hand has had his fingers broken, and the woman who gave you shelter is homeless. Is how it stands at the moment.
And those kindly fruitsellers at the park? Picking stones, somewhere north. As for your ornithologist friend, she’s finding the dusty basements hard going, old dental records not being her bag. And your neighbours? They keep to themselves, and are happy enough to do so, aware as they are of the various alternatives.
Is how things stand at the moment.
by Iain Rowan
Even though he doesn’t get letters anymore, because who does these days, he still looks forward to the post arriving.
He picks each envelope up from the doormat and holds them tight in his hands for a few moments before putting them into the recycle bin. Even though it’s only ever junk mail, to reach him it has passed from one human hand to another, and in that there is something.
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.
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.”