Sometimes The Sea – Jennifer Harvey

She has loved him, and he has loved her in return, of this, she is sure. They have known happiness together. But there are mornings when the sea calls to her. When she lies in the grey of the room and feels the pull of it ripple through her legs, her own internal tide. And though she tries not to listen, there is no way to silence the shushing of froth on shingle, or the quiver of waves rolling ashore. The sea calls to her, a lament which rises over the cliff tops, flits across the fields, and finds its way back inside.

‘Come to me,’ it calls.

Day after day, she lies beside him and tries to catch the rhythm of his breath as he sleeps, tries to match his breath to her own, and hopes the rise and fall of each inhalation will still the sound of the waves and pin her down. She would fold herself into him, become one with him, if she could, but the sea always wins. The ocean roils like a storm in her veins. It is the blood of her. Impossible to ignore.

When the storm comes, she slips from the bed while he sleeps and walks the path back down to the water’s edge, where she sits for a while by the shore, and watches the day begin. She listens to the waves clatter on the pebbles, breathes the iodine tang of bladderwrack and spray, and dreams.

She dreams of the two of them below the waves, entangled in blue, diving deeper and deeper, and turning to look up at the light which slants and glows but cannot touch them there in the depths. Though she sees him reach for it, for the sky above, for the air, and holds him close, drags him under, drags him deeper, for fear of losing him. And descending, she asks the water,

‘Is he mine now? Is he mine?’

The answer skitters towards her like the rush of a breaker on shingle and rouses her from her foolish daydream.

‘Hush, hush,’ say the waves. ‘Sit still now and listen to me.’

It soothes and calms her, then commands her. And she nods, searches in the rockpools and among the tangle of seaweed, until she finds it. Sleek and oily, her true self, her true skin. She pulls it on and feels her heart swell like the incoming tide as she slips between the waves and dives deep. She is home.

Above the waves, a siren song quivers and wakens him. He opens his eyes and turns to face her, but the bed is empty, and he feels his heart heavy with longing as he listens. Listens to her calls out to him.

‘Come to me,’ she sings. ‘I am here. Come to me.’

And he rises and follows the song to the shore. Follows her song to the sea, feels the waves pull him under, back to her.


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The World’s Worst Alchemist – Michael Grant Smith

The consensus was that Zelig had transmuted a potentially happy life into one of shame and disappointment. He even managed once to change gold to lead, and the other alchemists never let him forget it.

“By the Caduceus of Hermes!” puffed Frederick, an important alchemist, whose beard tended to gleam with spittle. “A competent practitioner of our arts should, at minimum, understand the difference between The Four Elements and The Seven Metals of Antiquity. Our associate Zelig does not. He calls them The Eleven Important Things and is unable to name eight of them at one go.”

As proof even a bad alchemist can get lucky and accomplish something of value, a day came when Zelig inexplicably invented the Children’s Wee Alchemy Playhouse. Thousands of the fully outfitted workshop pop-ups were sold in shops worldwide, and their popularity did more to promote proto-science than anything since the introduction of opium.

“We are stunned by Zelig’s achievement,” said the twins Udo and Uwe, co-chairs of the arcane organization of alchemists of which Zelig was a member. They said it in unison, which some found unsettling but the habit of speaking that way had cemented the twins’ position as powerful overseers of pseudo-scientific goings-on.

The twins continued: “Despite our order’s devotion to the mysteries of neo-magic rather than constructs of the marketing persuasion, we hereby recognize Zelig’s feat. For the first time, a base material’s metaphorical transformation into gold will stand as if it were literal.”

To Zelig’s credit, he was eager to admit that the Playhouse idea had come to him in an elixir-induced trance. This may or may not have been the case, but was an example of how readily a chronic underachiever can refuse to believe that they actually did something right for once.

Humility or no, Zelig used his newfound wealth to indulge a secret dream: he had his silk underwear, the only luxury he’d ever possessed, remade into handkerchiefs. He wore one folded in the breast pocket of his newly tailored suits.

“Hello, world,” he’d say to the mirror each morning. “Arse before heart. That’s the wisdom of the ages, isn’t it?”

Zelig was determined to surpass the grudging acceptance he had won from his brothers and sisters allied with Esoterica. This mission increased tenfold when he became acquainted with Mary, the recurrently widowed and highly esteemed Mistress of Panaceas.

“My affection for you is sudden and profound, my beloved Mary,” Zelig said a few weeks after they met. “Surely you have plied me with one of your efficacious formularies!”

Mary smiled. She couldn’t believe that her new amour was unaware of the rumors concerning her previous spouses’ premature deaths and that she had allegedly tested her potions on them. In fact, Zelig was well-versed in all of the dark innuendo. The expressive movements of Mary’s hands, the intelligence etched upon her brow, the sensual arc of her perfect ears, evaporated any misgivings he may have harbored.

Their nuptials were the organization’s social affair of the decade, performed under starlight at the local marble quarry. Thousands of candles floated on lily pads scattered across the bottomless lake. Alchemists from even the world’s edge were in attendance, and everyone agreed that the refreshing punch, transmuted from fruit juice and soda pop, was an event in its own right. On that day, Zelig and Mary proclaimed their perpetual love for each other.

Years passed like pages torn from a calendar. Zelig, whose ardor for his wife burned fiercely as ever, began to feel the bone-crackling effects of aging. He did not speak of his concerns about a narrowing future on Earth but instead spent hours poring over ancient texts, which he read forwards and backwards in the hope of gaining special insight about extended life.

One morning, Mary found Zelig in his library. His face was wet for he had wept in his sleep. She placed an exquisitely sculpted hand on his chest. “Why the tears, my love?”

Zelig opened his eyes and his sadness dissipated, as it did whenever he gazed upon his wife.

“Darling, I will tell you now,” he said, “I have concealed from you my despair that someday we must become separated by the doom of all living things, and I do not want our bliss to end!”

“Oh, sweet Zelig!” she replied. “I, too, have a confession, and your concerns are my own. The thought of becoming separated from you is unbearable, and I have endeavored to find a solution — ”

From behind her smock she produced two small, plain vials. In a flash, Zelig visualized a more eye-catching container and perhaps brightly colored labeling, but his marketing impulse fled from the mounting excitement.

“Is that — is that what I think it is?” he stammered. “Have you done it, my darling? The Elixir of Immortality?”

“Indeed,” she replied. “A life’s work, fortuitously in the service of my heart’s deepest desire, which is to be with you always.”

“It’s the remedy to my misery,” said Zelig. “With this we can gain eternal happiness. The perfection of body and soul is at hand!”

Mary’s devotion to her husband was matched only by her dedication to the alchemic precepts. Bride of the alembic long before she met Zelig, she was her generation’s brightest star in the pursuit of the ultimate panacea, and her ascendance was at hand.

“Let us not speak of distillates and essences,” she said. “The acids and pyrites; the camphor, vitriol, arsenic, and salt. Our love provides the catalyst that binds these compounds and bends them to my will. Are you ready?”

“Of course.”

Mary did not declare her innermost uncertainties — that the contents of the two unmarked vials were both similar and dissimilar because doubt had infected her final calculus. She reasoned and hoped and dreamed that passion must prevail over all. At last, after four feckless marriages, the fifth would be the one that endured.

Zelig and Mary each uncorked a vial and without pause consumed the contents. The husband kissed his wife as if to seal this newest wedding vow — to live forever.

A glow spread from deep within Zelig’s gut and it surged to his body’s extremities. Euphoric, he felt he would burst if he did not sing or laugh or cry out with joy. And then he burst anyway. Puffs of ashes and vapor escaped to rejoin the plane of Earth. Depleted, Zelig’s shrunken remains slumped into a tumble of fine clothing, capped by a red silk handkerchief.

Mary collapsed to her knees and sobbed. How could her formulation have gone so wrong, when even now she could sense its alternate version spreading vigor and longevity through her own veins? It seemed that fate had decided to send Zelig back to his former personae, that of the hapless and unfortunate failure.

Zelig’s widow spent uncounted time — she had plenty of it — pondering her loss and triumph. What now? Her personal tragedy negated alchemy’s, and her own, greatest achievement. The complex tincture lingered on Mary’s lips indefinitely. She had not created the Elixir of Immortality, but instead divined the Potion of Living Too Long.


MICHAEL GRANT SMITH wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared in elimae, Ghost Parachute, Longshot Island, The Airgonaut, formercactus, Riggwelter, and others. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. To learn too much about Michael, please visit and @MGSatMGScom.

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Lizzie – Michael Wade

As Papa lifts them, the lantern-lit river bream have all the colors of the five-a-penny candy in T-Dot’s store. These flash bright on their cheeks and backs and stiffened spiky fin-tips as he twists out trotline hooks. Then fade fast as fireflies.

Bony silver-green meat is what splats, flopping, to join my wrinkly feet in the johnboat’s warm bilge.

Would you look at that, Papa says. Hold the lantern higher, Lizzie.

In the river a ruby eye winks.

Old cottonmouth, Papa says. He must be following our light.

A long S of scale-sheathed muscle shows behind the eye. The S pushes, from its apex near the boat, a silvery V in the black water, the S and the V trailing us, always in motion but somehow unchanging. In front of these letters one eye then the other catches the kerosene glow, winks out.

*         *         *

It’s Bill’s eyes I feel now. This good man who deserves everything fine, and will have it again. He’s watching me labor for air.

I have no strength to turn my head toward him. But there’s no need.

A while ago I called him with a throat-sound, then spelled with my eyes C-A-N-T-B-R-E-A-T-H-E on the letter-board. I looked only at those letters. Not at his face there, amid smudged clear acrylic and the big white characters. He wanted more words from me, and some time passed before he lowered the board.

I heard him put the kettle on and phone, voice low. He returned with his tea, and told me Dr. Grand said I should relax. This is normal. This will pass.

If I could love Bill more, I would have in that moment, because of the strength in his smile.

It’s here, then.

No hospitalization, no intubation. Those were my wishes. Are. Still, there’s a writhe in my belly I must manage.

I feel so light. My skin-and-bones body seems to rise from the valley it molded in this dear old rust-colored chair, where most of an impossible eleven years has passed. At diagnosis the first neurologist, the only one of the three who ever smiled in our presence, told us two years. Though you never know, she said.

I claimed so much more, Bill says, because I’m stubborn, and would see the kids grown.

Yes. Donny, my beautiful youngest, is fourteen, taller than Bill. I worry most for him. But he’s strong enough. He digs into things, especially the worst things, until he finds where laughter lives. I picture him traversing burrows and chambers, as in the fantasy games he adores, hunting laughter. Sometimes his finding it has saved us all.

Tim and Shannon and Mary, adult or practically so, have been leavened, much more than wild-spirit Donny, by my illness. I know they’re angry, still, all three of them. They believe in fairness, and explanations. Here our youngest, the gamer, is wiser.

Bill pretends to watch a game on TV now, the hypnotic back-and-forth of a soccer match, rather than my respiration. We’ve said everything. We said it all years before they brought the computer my eye-blinks operated, to speak sparse words in that 2001 voice, and give me the Web, too. Until this last year, when even my eyelids weakened, leaving only the letter-board.

We said everything, and we had everything. We had everything fine. And Bill will have it again.

*         *         *

By its sound, Hypoxia might be a Greek island. Of course I scouted this destination long ago on that computer. The way we once did with Fodor’s and Lonely Planet. I’ve relived our family journeys, endlessly. Donny, who was too young, doesn’t remember. But soon his own wanderings will begin, and I hope they’re sweet.

I do wish Bill could know this last small side-trip of mine. In the boom of his laugh, I’d hear his delight at the thought of my unblemished, untroubled girl’s body, returned to me. At Lizzie watching stars play hide-and-seek behind the limbs and leaves of river-fed trees, strong lungs bringing clean smells of plowed bottomland and Papa’s sweat and fresh-caught fish, ears tuned to the little boat’s creaks.

Thrilled and scared to see old cottonmouth. Swimming after what? Surely not just our light.

Papa was dead a year past that night on the river. And Mama, in and out of “hospitals,” mind too delicate for this world, never got out after he was gone, and I went to kind Aunt Rose. Until Bill. Lucky, then luckier.

When I remember Mama I think of her round lively body, never still the rare times she was home, swirling dresses gone pale from washings. Even in sleep she swirled the sheets, Papa said.

Swirling lively body, and a mind that weakened and failed. The bitter portion of my ration was to know the reverse.

In truth, I did not accept, do not accept, this portion. No more, I suppose, than Mama or Papa or the river bream accepted theirs.

But peace, a grace, arrived in spite of me. That I did accept, long ago.

I rise still farther. I see all my penny-candy colors. Beautiful.



Michael Wade is a writer in North Carolina. His fiction has appeared in Easy Street and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. He has worked as a journalist, critic, research scientist, and biotech executive, among other things. Find him on Twitter @michael_mwade.

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i only think of the night – linda m crate

the gauzy spell of night
fell with a swift, peaceful magic
that calmed even the branches
of anxious trees;
and i stood beneath the silver moon
listening to all her psalms—
it was the type of night that you want
to share with someone,
but when i turned to say something you
were already gone
as you so often were;
if you weren’t physically unavailable
you were emotionally out of my reach
though you claimed to love me
i’m convinced it’s something you just said
to keep me there—
but when all is said and done
my mind carries me back to those nights now
not the man who left me behind
to satiate the ever hungering tongue of his lust.


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Preservation and Restoration Part III – Andrew Maguire

ICabinet Of Heed Contents Drawer 10.15

IICabinet Of Heed Contents Drawer 11.16


Dear Rose,

I wonder as I write these words how it is that you’re reading them. Perhaps it’s something we’ll discuss – the eighteen year old you and the (I wince as I type) fifty-two year old me. I hope that by writing them I can soothe myself and that it pleases you to read them; though I accept the two will not be mutually exclusive. For now I suppose there is a selfishness to it, because a listener is a great thing to have for ones problems, and sixteen years of silence is a great trait in a listener.

Sixteen years. Such a length of time, such scope for change. And that of course is why I write, because tell me, Rose – was it worth it? Is any of what I did remembered, was it of any note? Or would I have been better sending this e-mail, turning off my computer and leaving all this work behind?

I can ask this question because I know it would be impossible for me to do that. You might wonder how. How it is I can leave you, beautiful you, each morning, and feel so much pain in doing so, yet never leave this, this which takes so much of me and for which I have received so little professional success in return.

Can I tell you a story? It’s about you.

No, actually, I’ll start with something else, if you’ll bear with me, something that is just happening now, has happened today, while it is fresh with me, while I can think of it aloud, as it were.

It’s news that just reached us late this morning: A creature has been found in Africa. A leopard. Does the word mean anything to you? It was thought there were none of them left in the wild; there are only six in captivity. What’s more, they are all male. Now here she is: she simply walked into the shot of a wildlife photographer, strolling across the plane.

Have you in fact heard of a leopard? If they are gone by the time you read this, then perhaps you haven’t. The Golden Toad, The Pyrenean Ibex, The West African Black Rhino; all of these extinct by the time I was your age, and for a long time I hadn’t heard of them. Extinct. A word we haven’t fully grasped yet. Extinct. Gone. Forever.

Biology is so strong, Rose. So resourceful, proud and vigilant. Species that live, die, but replace each other. Reproduce, recreate, resolute. Extinct. These things are contrary to one and other and it is us that make them go side by side. We do not know the meaning of the word.

Is it worth it? That question: the chorus of my career, it echoes through my life. The leopard, have you heard of it? Or does leopard to you belong in the same column as polka-dot and striped? I hope not. But if it does, I don’t blame you, it’s not your fault.

But back to the story: I got an e-mail this morning asking me to ring immediately. The leopard strolled in front of this camera, as casual as if her coat was indeed a mere fashion statement, and they had no idea where it had come from. It was as though from nowhere, from an arc, or dropped down to fix a mistake, a mistake that only a God could fix.

But I digress, and for your sake I will try not to. So the leopard is strolling…within minutes it’s in a cage, naturally. Sounds awful, I know. Or does it? Better a scientist than a poacher, better a cage than a bullet. They inspected the land around where they found her and two miles away they found a house: quiet. A garden: overgrown. A man: dead. They found a shed, which appeared to have housed the creature. A cage, with the door rusted solid, held well open and filled with straw. There was a water system to catch rain fall: pans, filters and pipes; huge barrels filled to the brim; a trough which had been recently used. The shed opened up to the garden, which though fenced in, would not have deterred such a creature from entering the great world. The man appeared to have died of natural causes, and the place, as a whole, appeared civilised and unharmed; there was little sign that the creature could have been detained there – I was told on the phone that it was at once more open and more comfortable than most zoos – but in an area of land heavily populated by poachers, she had to be hiding somewhere.

It was when all this had been established that I got the phone call. Because what to do with the leopard now? I try to be prepared for these things, but I am ill prepared for this one, it having seemed too much of a fiction even for me, us having continued to think of ourselves as Godly and underestimated the world around us. So I sit here in my study, and try and find a part of myself that can think clearly, that can come to some sort of thought – even an idea, if not quite a decision – and I find myself writing to you, even though I know you can’t help. Not by the time you read this anyway, but…I promised you a story, didn’t I?

As I sit typing, you are sound asleep upstairs, but you were with me not an hour ago, in the living room. We sat playing with the Lego, and with your little hands you were finally able to fit the pieces together. We sat beside the big house we have been making, and as I built the pieces up, one on top of the other, you lifted one of the little pieces, a tree, and looked at it, and the garden in front of the house, and leaned forward and placed it – click – into the garden. You smiled and I laughed; I cheered for you and you smiled even more. Then you looked for another piece, like you’d finally got the knack for it and were desperate to continue. You patted your hands on the carpet and scanned your eyes across the room. I lifted another tree and held it out to you, but it wouldn’t do. ‘Tiger,’ you said. I looked around but couldn’t find it. ‘Tiger!’ You began to cry and screamed the word over and over again. Your mother came into the room and lifted you up but still you wouldn’t stop. I searched around the room. ‘Tiger, tiger, tiger!’ you screamed, and you didn’t stop until I found the piece under the sofa and you had it safely in your hands.



Andrew Maguire has an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University Belfast and is employed at South West College, where he writes and edits ‘Way Out West’, which won best blog at the 2017 European Digital Communication Awards. He’s a primary organiser of the Omagh Literary Festival. His short fiction has been published in Blackbird, The Incubator and The Honest Ulsterman.

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Misfiring Neurons – Ashling Dennehy

I don’t remember falling.

The sudden shift of frosted earth beneath my boots is now entirely lost to me. I wonder if I reached for him, if I fell silent, or if I flailed and grasped for every unearthed root.

The doctors tell me the water was so cold it stopped my breath. That’s why I’m alive. They insist I was unconsciousness for days and show me PET scans to prove it.

But, I remember him.

He was braced against a tree, arm outstretched and rigid, wrenching me out of the icy current. I remember his voice, his breath in my mouth, the touch of his forehead against mine. With the bone-deep ache of surety, I remember his warmth at my back while we waited for someone to find us.

When I tell them this, they scratch a note in my file.

The rushing fizz of pen against paper leads me to an uncomfortable chair where I must speak with a new doctor.

She asks me to call her Gail. I stare at the glass she places in front of me and describe what I remember of those inclement hours to the sound of ice-cubes fracturing.

After our talk, they show me his body. His skin is translucent, frozen. I can’t bring myself to touch him, though my fingers quiver an inch from his unmarked face.

They’d found him downriver, neck and spine broken in the fall. They can prove this, too.

It’s stress, they tell me, my damaged brain misfiring neurons into shattered receptors.

But, I remember him.


Ashling Dennehy is a core member of Wicklow Writers, a group of writers promoting creative writing and poetry in County Wicklow, Ireland. She has been long-listed for the Fish Flash Fiction Award and Highly Commended by Morgen Bailey Flash 100. You can find her on Twitter @ashlingdennehy and at

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The Visitor by Jayne Martin

The sisters were unused to having visitors, their farm long cut off from the rest of the world by a wide swath of asphalt. Steaming tea swirled in their grandmother’s paper thin wedding China, sending up whiffs of orange and cloves. The Visitor’s lack of digits beyond his wrists made holding the prized heirlooms a precarious undertaking so the sisters took turns offering him sips in silver teaspoons, barely larger than a thimble. Finding primitive pleasure in doing so each sister, unbeknownst to the other, slipped one hand under the Irish lace tablecloth and placed it on the Visitor’s thigh.



Jayne Martin is a 2017 Pushcart nominee, 2016 winner of Vestal Review’s VERA award, and a 2018 Best Small Fictions nominee. Work in Literary Orphans, Spelk, Crack the Spine, Midwestern Gothic, formercactus, MoonPark Review, Blink-Ink, Blue Fifth Review, Cabinet of Heed, Bending Genres, Hippocampus and Connotation Press, and others. On Twitter @Jayne_Martin.

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Neighbor Tones – Jack B Bedell

All a musician can do is to get closer to the sources of nature, and so feel that he is in communion with the natural laws.—John Coltrane

In Coltrane’s circle, all tone
shares a common ancestor.
The vibrations between F and F#
wave in invitation. Tremolos
whisper desire, not dispute,
and every pitch shares a bit of itself
with its neighbor, like electrons
swapped during the intimacies of physics.

Even when scales cannot
reconcile themselves geometrically,
we can choose to hear them
together. We can transpose
the culture of sound, make room
for the diminished and the supertonic.
These connections yearn to be
made, even if our ears resist.

How much of ourselves
do we leave with each other
taking the same seat on a bench, or
grabbing the same spot on the handrail
to pull our weight upstairs?
We share the breeze, the noise
it carries. The space between us,
never empty, is full of us.


Jack B. Bedell is Professor of English at Southeastern Louisiana University where he also edits Louisiana Literature and directs the Louisiana Literature Press. His latest collection is No Brother, This Storm (Mercer University Press, Fall 2018). He has recently been appointed by Governor John Bel Edwards to serve as Louisiana Poet Laureate 2017-2019.

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The Passionate Ones – Jake Kendall

From the diary of Sir Thomas Kirby: Governor of Northampton 1646-1649; loyal Colonel to the Parliamentarian armies 1642-1646; High Sherriff of Gloucester 1637-1642.

Horton House, Oxfordshire. Sunday July 9, 1654

The initial passage of my day was as any other. Mine is a peaceable retirement typified by idle chatter, the company of my family, the laughter and gaiety of children at play. Plainly speaking it is hell.

Naturally we spent this morning at Church. The service was wholly prosaic, offering little by way of cerebral stimulation or spiritual sustenance.

Perhaps I wore my boredom too plainly. As we walked back home, my emboldened daughter proposed that I devote my afternoon to the appearance of the grounds and garden. She opined that I may discover renewed purpose tending to the flora.

‘Catherine’ I replied, as I lovingly struck her across the face. ‘I was consigned to this rural purgatory. I may have slowly acquiesced into a futile existence; but I will not squander what years God grants me on menial labour, like some common filthy oaf.’

Once home I took a modest lunch of bread and water to my study. Deprived of my work, the room holds no real avail; and yet I cleave to this space and to that name. A “study” commands privacy and respect; even the children dare not intrude. Oliver Cromwell is my only companion here. He stands and glares down at me; the heartless bastard looking more mutable in glowering oil than he ever did in the flesh. I intended to spend the entire afternoon staring back, the hatred mutual, and muttering ‘you… you did this to me, you spiteful maniac.’

I confess, it was not the most remarkable of prospects.

My thoughts, however, were interrupted by a knock at the door. My manservant informed me of two villagers – a man and wife – who humbly requested my attention with regards to their transcendent condition. Any self-respecting gentleman would indeed refuse such grubby company. Yet rather tragically indolence has deprived me of such dignity; moreover, such a coalescence of temerity and desperation had piqued my interest.

My manservant ushered them through. In they traipsed, an old dishevelled couple, she around seventeen, he a little older. They stood quaking in nervous silence awaiting my address.

‘Well?’ I asked, dismissing my manservant with a nod.

‘My lord…’ began the girl with a subservient curtesy.

‘Do not call me my lord. I am a knight, you shall address me as sir.’

‘As you wish sir. We have turned…’ I silenced her with a wave and turned to the taciturn wretch she called a husband.

‘You there – you let a woman speak for you?’

‘Please sir, he has taken a vow of silence. His mind is rich and fertile soil for all manner of sinful thoughts, speech only lends voice to them.’

A conversation with a mute. Dear God – what have I done to offend you so? Why must you invent such tortures?

‘Well then woman, pray tell me – why are have you chosen my floor to abase yourselves upon?’

‘Because sir, Jack is a capricious soul, drawn towards the darkness, but also the light. My face and body inspires madness within. He wishes for endless fornication – far beyond our duties as man and wife. Yet truly we are God’s children. We believe salvation can be achieved. Pain makes an exile of temptation: therefore we humbly beseech you, please help us atone.’

At this the man placed a birch rod before them. I stood from my desk and picked it from the floor, examining the weight and heft.

‘Our lord and saviour was purified by scourging,’ I mused. ‘And yet custody over another’s soul is not a frivolous matter. Have you proposed this recourse to the Revd Gibbons?’

‘He has refused sir.’ I was unsurprised by her reply. Gibbons duels Satan armed only with kindness and kisses.

‘I cannot beat him hard enough myself sir. Moreover he… he rather likes the pain I inflict upon him,’ she said it with a blush and a bowed head. I knew of what she spoke. My days among the martial were enlightening; they walk among us, the perverse and the degenerate.

‘You were a military man. Corporeal and spiritual discipline is surely within your capability. Beat the devil from him sir,’ she urged.

It was a long time since I last hit a man with any serious intent. I twirled the rod momentarily before swishing it so hard it split the air; it hummed most gratifyingly.

‘Very well,’ I replied after some consideration.

The man stood and removed his shirt. I bade him lean across my desk, looking downwards to present his back. He was a man in his prime. Long laborious hours had sculpted broad shoulders and a potent physique. The penitence would need to be powerfully administered.

I brought the rod down upon him once and then again, the blows gauche and frigid. He barely flinched.

I raised my arm for a hesitant third. I turned to his wife, almost apologetic for my rustiness and inelegance. Her pretty face provided a moment of divine inspiration.

‘The devil has absconded’ I declared. ‘To bring him hither, you must look upon your wife, break silence and speak plainly of your lascivious compulsions.’

I moved his wife to sit at facing us at my desk. Considered scrutiny revealed her features to be very pleasing to the eye.

‘Well then? Do you see nothing to admire at all?’

‘She is very beautiful sir.’ His voice deep, slow and tremulous.

‘Is that all?’

‘I am no poet sir. Just a simple farmhand.’

‘Very well. I will narrate myself. Observe her skin, pale as fresh-churned butter. Notice the way her green eyes shimmer; that luscious light hair cascading down below her shoulders; that position of that one freckle which sits so pleasurably above her lips…’ I found my attention lingering there, noticing how thin and perfectly composed her lips truly were.

I realised then how my blood coursed with vigour and whipped the rod across his back in ten strokes. They were hard, measured, and hit with precision so that they did not overlap or break the skin.

‘Will that suffice?’ I asked, breathless and panting.

The man continued to look up to his wife.

‘With respect sir, my flesh still cries out for her.’ ‘Speak Satan!’ ‘I would kiss her neck sir, caress her shoulders and lay her down upon my bed.’

I whipped him harder still as he yelped in pain.

‘And then?’ ‘I… I would rip off her top, kiss her navel… upwards towards…’

The man tailed off, I flogged him several times for his indecision.

‘What Lucifer, towards what?’ ‘Her… sir, her breasts.’ ‘YES – BREASTS!’ I bellowed, rather to my own astonishment.

My own wife passed many years ago, but I can still recall the joy of breasts. I would kiss my wife’s in those blithe days of our youth. We would tingle with feeling then, the surges and impulses of lust made wholesome by sacrosanct marriage bonds. Here though I was gripped by a frenzy of feelings that were anything but wholesome. I whipped at the man’s back – losing count of the strokes – until at last his resistance exhausted, the man collapsed to the floor in a fit of tears.

His wife was horrified at the blood.

‘Are you cured’ I asked the man as I pulled him back to his feet.

‘Sir I believe so. The pain is complete; I can think of nothing else.’

‘Indeed I am quite convinced of that’ I replied, unfastening my jerkin. ‘The devil has surely fled your body. Verily, he has taken refuge in mine.’


‘Any man who looks at another’s woman with lustful eyes has adultery in his heart. I too must repent. Do you have any strength left in those arms? Strength enough to cure me?’

I handed the rod back to him. He looked at it, then back to me and nodded. I removed my shirt, leant across the desk and stared into the eyes of his unreasonably beautiful wife.

And thus the remainder of the afternoon was spent before her. The two of us, taking turns endeavouring to thrash out every last trace of our carnal and impure thoughts.



Jake Kendall is a Creative Writing graduate of Cardiff University currently based in his hometown of Oxford. His stories explore the overlap between comedy and tragedy. He has had work included in Here Come’s Everyone’s Brutal Literature edition, and Burning House Press’ Identity edition.

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When Where Doesn’t Matter – Alva Holland

An old man in a bar in the village of Montalbano Elicona told savage Mafia stories, ensuring three sleepless nights they spent blaming Italian coffee for the fear that kept them awake, their heads swarming with stealth figures armed with hidden knives and murderous intentions.

He took her hand in his.

‘Are you ready?’

The neon-lit streets of Chicago and New York reached via the dull din of the Greyhound Bus traversing the arid plains eastward, jolted them into a reality far from the dream of their names in lights.

He took her hand in his.

‘Are you ready?’

They kissed under the crenellated arches of The Alhambra, Granada, giggled in the warm TGV carriage between Paris and Marseilles, shared a crooked hug lining up with the leaning tower in Pisa, and winced at the bitterness of a Guinness in Dublin’s James’ St. courtyard.

‘We could’ve done this in Trafalgar Square,’ he’d muttered, a fleeting sombre mood making him a little more attractive, the day they fed the pigeons in St. Peter’s Square when the Pope didn’t appear as scheduled.

‘Every square looks the same when covered in flapping pigeons.’

He took her hand in his.

‘Are you ready?’

‘We’re in Rome, but who’d know it?’ he’d added with a grin, transforming the Italian morning rain into a rejuvenating sprinkle, blossoming their love as they’d headed for the Trevi Fountain to wish for fame and fortune.

As the fireflies collide with the dimming porch lights, the faint scent of his cologne drifts from the faded tartan shirt draped over the wicker chair.

Her gnarled fingers grip the worn cuff. Her eyelashes drop for the last time. She places her hand where his used to be.

‘I’m ready,’ she whispers.



Alva Holland is an Irish writer from Dublin. First published by Ireland’s Own Winning Writers Annual 2015. Three times a winner of Ad Hoc Fiction’s weekly flash competition, her stories feature in The People’s Friend, Ellipsis Zine, Train Lit Mag, Firefly Magazine, Stories for Homes, and Microcosms Fiction.
Twitter: @Alva1206

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Mother, Her Babies, And Me – Lee D Thompson


The wolves wait. Even though no one else has lived in the neighbourhood for many months and the streets are as empty as a balloon, they know that I am here. They know I have been feeding myself well from the supplies mother had horded. She had planned to be in this for the long haul. She only managed two weeks, but that’s a tale for another time.


The wolves whisper. Not sweet nothings, although to them they must be. Tales of what they are going to do when they see me outside for the first time. They joke to each other and say how well I am looking. And we all know that means ‘fat’.


The wolves watch. Their brown eyes look the same as mother’s on the day Dr Thomas came to visit: ‘fixed and dilated’, he’d said. Mother was a fine woman, who used to leave her milk out for the wolves and share stories with me about how they could eat twenty pounds of meat in a single sitting and how that was the same as a hundred burgers. Then, she’d take my unfinished plate of food and feed them gently, one by one as they waited in line.


The wolves wonder. As I sit and stare out of the window, I catch the eyes of their leader. They know about the traps on the doors and windows and the shotgun I keep by my side. But, says their leader: one day the larder will be empty, one day the traps will rust, one day the shotgun will fail.


The wolves wait. I heard mother’s voice this morning, in my dreams. She sounded tearful: ‘you promised you’d look after my babies’. And as a I step outside, I’m pretty sure I can smell her scent as her beautiful little children enjoy their first proper meal for a long time.


The wolves whimper. There was a shelf marked ‘Baby food’ in mother’s room. Canned elk, mostly. The wolves went straight to it. I just had to open the cans and tell them not to gulp it too fast. Then, the noise. The unbearable noise. I have never seen wolf tears, so I collect some in a jar for mother, which they don’t seem to mind. A couple of mine drip into the jar as I seal the lid, but I don’t think she will notice.



Lee D Thompson is a Nottingham writer, dad of 4 and an ex-cop.
He has had poetry published on Algebra of Owls, and writes for Memoir Mixtapes.
Twitter: @TomLeeski  Web:

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A Void – Gordon Pinckheard

Dragons can get lonely. Dan had been.

He had hatched on Small Skellig, off South West Ireland, and had just the gannets to play with. His mother and father did look after him, but they weren’t fun. And the gannets were only fun until he got bigger and better at flying. He had chased them around the island, skimming the waves, and soon they wouldn’t play with him anymore. Even though his parents were nearby, Dan had been lonely. He would sit up on the peak of the island, wings folded tight against his body, and stare over the lumpy sea to the mainland. He had expected things to be better when he left the family nest. They weren’t.

At school on the mainland, he was treated as an oddity. He had tried hard to fit in. He squashed himself into grey trousers, white shirt, and a jacket. He kept his wings folded inside his shirt, and, with it untucked, his tail could hang out over his trousers. But the children could see he was different. Sometimes they were nice and sometimes nasty. Sometimes it was “show us your tail, blow some flames”, and sometimes it was “go away, you’re weird”. They weren’t his friends, and Dan was lonely. He thought things would be better when he left school and got a job. They weren’t.

It was hard to find a job. All the employers seemed to be looking for third level qualifications. If he got an interview, he was treated differently than the other candidates. They might doubt that he was born and bred in Ireland – a true native – or they might emphasise his differences: “Your tail will bang into things. You’re green.” The last resort was to blame other people: “We’d love to employ you, but the other workers would go on strike if we brought in someone like you.” Dan sought help from the Guidance Counsellors at school. They told him that there was no legislation protecting candidates “like him”. Eventually, he did get a job, nightwatch dragon. He sat on the roof of a factory from midnight until eight o’clock. The industrial estate was silent around him; he only had the stars for company. When it rained, he didn’t even have that. He was lonely. He yearned for escape; a new life far away.

A flyer arrived through his letterbox. Ryanair was introducing a route from Kerry County Airport to Berlin. Dan was on the point of throwing it away, but changed his mind and put it on the mantelpiece over the fireplace. On one of his nights off, as he knelt to light the fire with his hot breath, his eyes drifted to the brochure. Berlin was pleasantly far away, well beyond his normal flying range. Would he?

At the airport, he passed through security without being challenged. No sharp objects, no liquids larger than 100ml, no metal on his person. Dan did his best to smile at the security officer, attempting to communicate his harmlessness. It was a tight-lipped smile, no teeth showing.

In Berlin, Dan bought a pass for the train. He was pleased to find he could get discounted fares with a QueerCityPass. For years he had failed to fit in, but here difference was being welcomed. He could let his freak flag fly! Immersing himself in Berlin’s culture from the bottom to the top, from the basement clubs to the glass dome topping the Reichstag, he would emerge the compleat dragon.

He was in the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, contemplating “Jute stuffed with rags” (donated by the artist), when – from behind him – he heard: “Excuse me?”

“Yes?” he asked, turning.

“You’re a dragon, aren’t you?” She was young, slim, and dressed entirely in black.

“Is it that obvious?” Dan replied, allowing smoke to drift out of the corner of his mouth.

“It’s nothing to be shy about,” she said. “Have you ever thought of modelling? You are green all over, aren’t you?” She added: “I would like to paint the way you shape the world around you. From wingtip to clawed foot.”

And so Dan’s days of loneliness ended. He had found his tribe. People who didn’t judge, who accepted him for what he was, a unique individual. He adopted the black clothes of the artists’ colony but refused body piercings. Nestled within his new family, he avoided contact with the wider world.

He was the inspiration for the masterpiece “From Skelligs to Strasse #5”, celebrating his self-actualisation. Of course, in such a non-representational piece, there is no sign of Dan at all; he remains hidden from sight.


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Ride Or Die – Betsy Housten

Seventeen and daring the darkness
for an adversary, you and I’d go driving
through the hills of the Delaware Valley:
the blind curves of 519, that stomach-
dropping dip on Rick Road. Every street
our own private rollercoaster. There were
particulars, of course, like how I’d first
settled for your best friend, how I let him
put his hand in my bra, kissed him while
thinking of you – that peculiar algebra
of proximity unrequited crush craves,
like between both of you I had everything
I’d ever need. And then the particulars
changed, and suddenly you liked me back,
and we sat on my porch and hashed it out;
we’d have to be careful a while, you said,
keep it under wraps. You were thinking
of your friend. I nodded like I agreed,
though really I was dying to get on with it,
our long-awaited joyride, knowing I was
probably a terrible person, not caring.
My ship had come in: your hand in mine,
finally, your laugh like dry leaves as we
flew through the night, wild, awake.



Betsy Housten is a Pushcart-nominated queer writer and
massage therapist. Her work appears or is forthcoming at the Academy
of American Poets, Bone & Ink Press, Cotton Xenomorph, Glassworks
Magazine, Lunch Review and elsewhere. She lives in New Orleans, where
she is pursuing her MFA in poetry and tweets @popcorngoblin.

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Bruising – Kathy Chamberlain

He picks her up at the same time every Thursday, when the curtains are drawn and half the street is asleep, sticky with heat. She re-touches her purple lipstick, then slips out of the front door to meet him by the lamppost at the end of the road. The car’s always warm – Harry keeps the engine running and the heat up. When she gets in next to him and shuts the door he drives on without looking at her. They don’t usually chat, so she examines her fingernails, tapping them gently on her bare legs, before tracing the yellow-green bruise on her right knee. His eyes flicker to it briefly, then refocus on the road ahead.

‘Rufus?’ Rob crosses the kitchen, peering behind each of the dining chairs. He hasn’t seen him all day and it’s past dinnertime. He rummages in the fruit bowl, looking for the back door key. Old receipts. And three hard, shrivelled satsumas. The key is underneath the third. Rob walks to the door and opens it. ‘Rufus…’ His voice is hoarse. He only has a fifty per cent success rate with getting the little guy to come in, anyway.

She can pick up the odd shape from the light of the streetlamps. A tall man in a dark tracksuit walking a very small dog. A torn black bin bag vomiting baked beans and paper on to the pavement. Harry takes the usual turning, speeding up a little. The houses fade as the streetlamps disappear. She presses her knees together and attempts to discreetly smooth her hair.

He gives it a minute then disappears back into the house to find his flip flops. He toes them on and ventures into the garden, feeling the slight breeze on his bare arms. Rob walks past the gnomes and the empty fish pond, down to the row of hedges that borders the fence. He finds Rufus in the usual spot, pacing up and down. Prowling for prey. The bird’s nest on top of next door’s hedge is mercifully out of reach, but it still draws him here every day. Rob rolls his eyes and slides his arms underneath Rufus’ belly, bracing himself for the scratches. They’re half-hearted today.

Half a mile later he pulls into a small, circular gravel car park and turns the engine off. Then he looks at her. He really looks. It’s not like with Rob. He takes his time. From her short, fluffy hair, to the small gold heart nestled in her cleavage. Over the strap peeking out of her dress. Her pale thighs. He opens his door and gets out. She’s happy to be led, so she meets him in the back.

Rufus rubs his head back and forth across Rob’s bicep as he carries him back to the house. Rob can’t help but wonder what Rufus actually does all day. On rare occasions he’s seen him with some of the other neighbourhood cats, but he doubts they meet to socialise. Rob snorts, picturing Rufus exchanging bird chasing tips with the tabby three doors down. Does Rufus ever get lonely?

A cat wasn’t his first choice of pet. Oh, they love the food and the shelter. But they’re so calculating, cats. Rob navigates past the laundry mountain as they make their way through the kitchen. Spending time with Rufus is more important. He can’t help loving him, no matter how limited the rewards are. He lightly rubs the fingertips of one hand through his soft black fur, tickling his belly. Rufus lets out a little purr, his heart beating against Rob’s hands.

His hands are warm on her skin. He picks the necklace up between a thumb and forefinger, twisting the heart, examining it. He doesn’t comment or ask where she got it. She wishes he would. He pushes her dress down to her waist and slides a hand into a bra cup and she’s lost. The cool metal of his wedding ring grazes her leg as he pulls her underwear down and off. Sometimes he leaves it in the glove compartment, but he’s not normally that considerate. She lies back and counts the new bruises that form while they move in the cramped space. Her head smacks a door handle and she snorts. He bites her shoulder. Not gently. She focuses on his scent – musk meets citrus shower gel. And the weight of him.

Rob falls into the tall armchair and pops the lever to bring the footrest up. He pushes his back into the floral fabric and adjusts Rufus on his chest, letting his back rest against him so they can both see the TV. He’s still small. They didn’t know what to expect when they adopted him. He fitted in one of Rob’s palms then. He can still cradle him easily. His fur feels like silk when Rob runs his hands over his sides.

Afterwards he goes outside for a cigarette. She asked if she could join him, the first time. He told her that her lungs were too young, too pure, for that shit. She uses the time to straighten her clothes. Reapply her lipstick – she’s not cruel enough to go home with smudges. Then she moves back to the front seat and fiddles with the radio. He lets her, afterwards. It’s no surprise that he’s more relaxed then.

He knows a surprising number of the correct answers to the quiz show filling the screen tonight. Rob likes to say them aloud, so they’re playing together. For a minute he lets himself wonder when Fay will be home, but then Rufus digs his claws into his stomach to use it as a springboard, jumping on to the floor soundlessly.

They sit for a while, listening to an old-fashioned comedy. At least she thinks that’s what it is. He lets out a quiet, half-formed laugh and she wants to ask him what’s so funny, but she knows better by now. He might answer her, but it’s fifty-fifty that he might give her that sideways stare, lips a flat line, before looking away and turning the keys in the ignition.

Maybe they should have a clear out. Rufus is making him nervous, traipsing the perimeter of the living room. He’s not worried about the piles of American literature books under the window. It’s when Rufus leaps on to the mantelpiece that Rob is drawn out of his chair. The cat manoeuvres through the ornaments and photo frames, but Rob knows Fay doesn’t like him up there. The last time she caught Rufus there, she shooed him away and picked up the frame on the far right. She froze for just a moment as she looked at Tom’s face, then went out for a long walk. She doesn’t like to talk about her brother.

She can’t follow the jokes coming out of the speakers. It starts to rain. Thick, heavy splats on the soft fabric of the roof. The drops come faster, as a rhythm that drowns everything else out. The noise in the car and the noise in her head. She lays her head back against the headrest and lets her eyes close.

Rufus is pissed off when Rob lifts him off the mantelpiece. This time the claws hurt and Rob flinches. That’s what I get for looking after you, is it? Rufus leaves the room without a backward glance and Rob trails after him. He always does. He can’t face him disappearing through the cat flap for the entire night. He finds him on top of the folded t-shirts in the kitchen. He really can’t take those upstairs now.

When she opens her eyes the car’s turning out of the car park and back on to the path home. It’s late. They pass only a handful of other cars. Even with the streetlamps, their passengers are a mystery. Without the radio and the rain, the only sound comes from the heater. A shiver runs through her in spite of it as they reach the halfway point. She fingers the bruise on her knee. Again, the action draws a glance from Harry. His eyebrows pinch together for a moment. These little injuries remind her she’s still alive.

He’ll get him some dinner. That’ll appease him. Rufus is only metres away, but Rob knows he can hear the can opening from the bottom of the garden. He must like this brand of cat food. It does promise to be ‘meaty and delicious.’ It smells like fish and vitamin tablets to Rob. He wrinkles his nose as he empties it into the bowl on the floor. Rufus is eyeing him from laundry mountain, making no move to come and eat. And she’s the same. Coming to the table late. Pushing her food around the plate.

When they turn on to her street she feels her stomach tense and swallows the unease. She usually does a pretty good job of it, she knows she does. But today when she lifts a hand to the car door handle she finds it’s shaking. She tries again, but can’t get her fingers to still. She lays them flat in her lap and takes a deep breath. She can’t bring herself to look at Harry. Can’t really care what he’s thinking.

Their standoff continues until finally, finally, Rufus comes down from his t-shirt tower and over to his bowl. He shoots Rob a look as he passes him, tail swishing forcefully towards his legs. Rob can’t please anyone. He leaves Rufus to eat and looks out of the window. He can’t make out the edge of the garden any more. It’s properly dark out now. Rob used to love nights in summer.

That first picnic on a June evening. She wore a polka dot dress. The dark green fabric brought out her eyes and he looked into them and thought about moving in together and getting married and making babies – at least three. She was beautiful that June. How many summers ago?

She prepares herself for another slow breath in but she’s halted by warm palms covering hers. Harry’s fingers are gentle when they squeeze hers. She can’t help but look at him in surprise. For once he holds her gaze.

Rob boils the kettle. It’s cool enough for a cup of tea. His hand hesitates as he moves to pull out a second mug. She should be back by now. He could be nice and make her a cup. Or he could leave her to it. Hell, he could leave the house altogether. But there are ties that bind him. They’ve got Rufus to think about.

Dazed, she waits until he slowly withdraws his hand. Pushing the handle down, she climbs out on to the pavement and makes the twenty metre walk back to her front door.

Rufus follows him back to the living room. Rob sits down and then her key is in the lock. Tea in one hand, he holds out an old string in the other. Works like a charm. Rufus starts batting at it instantly, adorably incensed. Rob hears Fay pause in the doorway but remains engrossed in the simplicity of the game.



Kathy Chamberlain moved to Swansea in 2011 when she embarked on her postgraduate studies. Her doctoral thesis consisted of short stories characterised by isolation and anomalousness, reflecting her interest in all things quirky. She’s a fan of circular narratives and plain style prose. Kathy teaches undergraduate classes in Creative Writing and English Literature.

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Ice Water – Dorian J. Sinnott

We are all frozen—blocks of ice. We start off thin, fragile, easy to mold and shape. To turn into sculptures of crystalline perfection. With a chisel and hammer, we can become beautiful works of art, if the hand that crafts us is kind. In our frailness, however, we can easily crack. Be splintered. Crushed beneath the heavy feet of those above us: our sculptors.

I suppose that’s what happened to you.

Maybe he wanted to break you. Find your weak points and stomp them out. Make you beg and plead and crack beneath his oppression. Ice is delicate after all. Or… Maybe it was that he strived too much for your perfection; beating the chisel too deep to the point it broke the surface, splitting your skin and fracturing your once smooth edges. Maybe he never saw that you were already beautiful. That driving the hammer deeper into your being caused your heart to freeze more. Thicken.

When we finally left that place, you poured ice water into your veins. You told me it was to heal the scars—wounds left open that you were afraid for the world to see. Fractured ice melts faster when it’s touched by the sun. Over time, the water filled in your cracks and wounds, but built the layers of ice surrounding your heart.

“I’m strong now,” you told me. “They can’t break me anymore.”

And you were right.

Chisels and hammers don’t shape you any longer. Your surface has grown far too thick for that. But in your strength, you’ve become a hollow shell—a bitter memory of what you were before the frost. Before the ice water. Before the sculptor.

The world sees you as a towering beauty—a symbol of strength and perfection. Of power. But they only see the tip of what I know lies beneath. After all, there’s more to icebergs than what rises above the surface. I know because that 90% of hidden pain dragging you down also lies in me. I just haven’t filled in the cracks yet.



Dorian J. Sinnott is a graduate of Emerson College’s Writing, Literature, and Publishing program, currently living in Kingston, New York with his sassy munchkin-mix cat, Scarlette. He enjoys horseback riding, playing violin, and cosplaying his favorite childhood characters at comic cons. Dorian’s work has appeared in Crab Fat Literary Magazine, The Pangolin Review, Alter Ego, and Terror House Magazine.

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She Who Never Sleeps – Lisa Tippings

Under a pewter grey sky I stand at the bottom of the lane, letting the churl of December wind claw at my face. Through the blur of smoky pearl the house is just about visible, its slate roof a dark, forbidding shadow against the dim light.

She will be there. Scathing and scolding, sending barbs of brittle poison into the air between us. Dad will dance his usual jig of embarrassment. A shuffle of brown corduroy and faded knitwear, he will already have been banished to his space in the corner of the kitchen. Like a naughty toddler he will scan my face for sympathy, but my expression will already have reshaped itself into the mask I wear when paying them a visit.

The curl of my fist as I knock on the door is met with silence. I am forced to knock again. She likes to keep me waiting. The keen edges of her disappointment in my failures have worn away to tolerance, but my yearly visits allow her to sharpen her taunts. Like long unused tools, she takes her recriminations out of their box and practises saying them aloud, savouring the flavour of bitterness as each word flies off her tongue.

“You came then?”

She has not properly opened the door before the question is asked, her voice a tinny croak, deceptive in its quiet. Behind the furred grime of the window, she has been watching and waiting.

“Dad in the kitchen?”

I try to keep my voice even, but I can hear the slight hesitation between words, the wariness that creeps in uninvited. There is no answer, so I head into the cobweb gloom of the corridor, repelled as always by the stale smell of damp, and the fustiness that will cling to my skin for days afterwards. Dad is blending into his space in the margins of the room, spectacles sellotaped at the bridge of his nose, tufts of grey hair curling unkempt behind his ears.

“Hannah, is that you?”

His voice has aged, crinkling like worn out scripture. He is too tired for this year’s test, for the annual trial she puts us through. He is ready to capitulate, to bend like a reed to her torment.

“Yes Dad, it’s me. How’re things?”

He glances towards the emptiness of the hallway, looking for the blur of her shadow before answering.

“The same. The same as always.”

He motions to a wooden chair, greasy and cracked which I pull from beneath the curve of the kitchen table. Sitting down strips me of my strength. I am thirty years younger, a girl of fifteen explaining away poor grades, a maths problem that evades me, a detention slip that sucks tentacle-like to the bottom of my school bag. The hand that grips my shoulder has fingers that claw into the pulpy flesh of my shoulder blade, my clavicle left decorated by long strips of blue. But now her withered hand is a mockery of past cruelty. As she passes my chair, she lets her hand reach for my shoulder, a gesture of habit. There is no strength behind her urge to bruise me, merely a sensation which has the power to burn my skin in spite of her weakness.

“Here you go, Love.”

Dad places a mug of black tea in front of me. He never forgets my intolerance to milk, always remembers to make my tea strong, in spite of the torture that coils itself around him. I smile as a take a sip, but the tea tastes bitter and is already cold. I place my mug back on the table and Dad’s small smile is full of sorrow.

I sense her glee that everyday rituals, cups of tea and tender offerings can be culled, but also her resentment that Dad’s smiles can be a salve to my wounds.. Her shadow lingers by my side before lurching towards the pantry. From within the wailing starts, low pitched at first, like a chorus of bees humming in the garden. It grows louder and higher until she appears in the doorway, her eyes a harrow of hatred. She fumbles towards me, fingers ready to pinch, but there is no substance behind her fragility. Instead, she drifts towards my father, whose body shudders as she passes.

“It’s best you go, Love,” he whispers. “There’s no telling what might happen now she’s riled. Easier for us both if you just slip away.”

“I can’t just leave you here, not again, not with her like this.”

He flicks my protests away and stands firm.

“I’ve lived my life. You must learn to live yours.”

Grabbing my coat and bag, he practically pushes me out of the cottage.

The path that takes me towards the station passes the local church. My visit home has been short and I decide to visit the churchyard, just to make sure… Through a tangle of brambles I find it. We had asked for the headstone to be placed away from other graves, unsure if death would be enough to stop the power of her poison from spreading. She was buried five years ago, yet our neglect of her grave has been long enough to cause an overgrowth of thistles and thorns, which only she can penetrate. My mother. The monster.



Lisa Tippings is a Welsh writer who is passionate about drawing attention to the lives of marginalised women through history. Her book on the suffrage movement in Wales will be published in January 2019.

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Work Passes – Patrick Slevin

I’d call them souvenirs. It’s not hoarding.
Not when you’ve the set. The full set (I think).
Sellotape – bruised with age, holds it together.
They’re here. Inside. Unblemished. Clinging on
to lives that didn’t stick. Vague markers
lining all roads
to now. Temporary
paper affairs. Sliding, writhing
in polythene holds. Shot against bland backdrops
in colour – not so modern now. Original sins
shading the soul, slowly
a little darker. A day here. Weeks there. Sometimes
months. Eyes fixed
beyond the lens in seasons
already revolving doors, as nothing changed
but everything, in fragile silent calm.



Patrick Slevin lives in Stockport and has been writing poems for many years. His work has appeared in The Interpreter’s House, The Manchester Review, Degenerate Literature and the Bangor Literary Review. He was highly commended in the Westport Arts Prize 2017 as well as the Gregory O’Donoghue and is a member of Manchester Irish Writers.

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New Regulations – Jo Withers

‘How much longer?’

The doctor cast a glance at the monitor beside the bed and clumsily rolled down the patient’s lower eyelid.

‘Hard to say exactly, a couple of hours maybe.’

Austin took his wife’s hand, so cold now, the flesh felt rubbery and artificial. He snatched his hand away again and began to softly stroke her hair instead. It felt nicer, her curls bounced softly through his fingertips.

‘You’re still so beautiful,’ he whispered to the figure on the bed, ‘I’ll miss your smile every day.’

The woman on the bed weakly mouthed something but no sound could be heard.

The doctor walked to the other side of the bed and solemnly checked the blood pressure sensors attached to her arm.

Austin continued to gently stroke his wife’s hair, ‘We’ve had some wonderful times together. She’s been a true soul mate. The website’s questionnaire was spot on. She’s perfect for me in every way.’ For a moment his fingers strayed to the curve of her neck but recoiled against the frigid skin.

With immense effort, the woman lifted her head slightly. She looked at Austin imploringly and tried to speak again.

‘It’s okay Laura,’ her husband soothed, ‘I hate seeing her like this Doc, can you raise her volume levels again.’

‘Are you sure? She’s probably going to say the same thing.’

‘I’m sure, I can’t watch her struggling like this.’

The doctor took a small remote control from his pocket, pointed it towards the woman on the bed and pressed a button.

The woman strained forward again. ‘I love you,’ she whispered.

‘Can you turn it up Doc? I can hardly hear her.’ Austin leant forward, ‘I love you too Laura, I’ll miss you so much.’

‘Please give me a little longer then Austin. I’m begging you,’ her shaking voice rasped and caught in her throat, ‘I’m not ready, even a few more months…’

Austin yanked his hand from her hair and raked it through his own, ‘Cut the volume and keep it off. I don’t need this, it’s not fair, the decision’s been made.’

The doctor flicked the switch and the room was quiet once more with only the dull hum of hospital machinery beating its depressing soundtrack in the background.

Austin stood and beckoned the doctor to the corner of the room, ‘Mute her audio feed,’ he said quietly.

The doctor tapped a code into the remote’s touchscreen.

‘Can she hear us?’

The doctor shook his head.

‘Good. I’m really struggling with this, I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t apologise, it can be a highly emotional time.’

‘No, it’s not that. Damn these new regulations. It used to be so much simpler. They showed signs of wear and tear and we switched them off. Now we have to go through this laborious wind-down to respect “their awareness of their own humanity”. The world’s gone mad.’

‘How long were you together?’

‘She’s a twelve-year model and I’ve had her for eleven and a half, so I’ve had my money’s worth.’

The doctor nodded slowly and adjusted the controls beside the monitor, ‘I’m going to begin to slow her ventilation, it’s gradual and painless. What are your plans after wind-down?’

‘I can’t afford a brand-new model unfortunately; the kids are both in uni now. I’ve spoken to the surgeon already. We’ll keep the core structure although I’d like a few tweaks to the outer casing, just a brightening and tightening you know. We’ll keep the majority of the memories, I want to make sure she has the same bond with the kids, I haven’t mentioned the upgrade to them.’

‘No, they won’t notice, Dr Blackmore’s brilliant.’

‘Once she’s been reconditioned I’ll keep her on a six-year cycle until the kids finish uni and settle into their own lives. I’ve asked him to make her a bit less feisty too, I used to love her passion but at my age I just want an easy life. And I don’t want a dog lover this time. It was okay when the kids were little, but I don’t need something yapping around my ankles when I come home. By the end of her cycle, I’ll have hit retirement and I should be able to afford a complete renew, top of the range.’

‘That seems reasonable, shall I reconnect the audio feed and you can say your goodbyes. The light’s flickering slightly in her left iris, I think it will be less than an hour.’

‘Yes, go on, let’s get it over with. If it only takes an hour, I can make the soccer tonight then pick her up tomorrow morning.’

Bracing himself, Austin sat and took his wife’s hand again, it was even colder now.

‘Don’t worry my darling, I’m right beside you. Let go my beautiful angel. I’ll remember you always.’



Jo Withers writes micro-fiction, poetry, short stories and novels according to her current attention span. She regularly contributes to 50 Word Stories, won the 2017 Story for Children Prize at The Caterpillar and her middle-grade science-fiction novel, 5 Simple Steps to Saving Planet Earth, was published in 2018.

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No Woman’s Land – Hannah Storm

The airport roof is a no man’s land. I sort the papers for the evening news. There’s nowhere to hide from the heat or the hypocrisy.

To my left a village of tarpaulin skirts the runway. There, grey bird-beaked planes line up along the buckled tarmac. Trestle tables are pregnant under provisions. Men in fatigues rest on canvas chairs, sheltered from the sun by monster marquees. They smoke, play cards, throw dice and dark humour, staving off the boredom of waiting and the trauma of witnessing.

A man wearing a crew cut and combats walks by, a can of Dr Pepper in one hand, a satellite phone in the other. I interviewed him earlier, when he reeled responses to the camera that said nothing and told me everything. Now he’s smiling – talking to his kids perhaps – hearing about their school day, their softball game, their weekend plans.

“Pop misses you,” I imagine him crooning, when the wind whips his words across the wasted land.

He no longer seems to notice the boxes by the runway. They have been there since I arrived three days ago, growing higher, going nowhere. The ground shimmers like an oasis. I wish the boxes were a mirage.

But still the planes keep landing. And when they do, in marches an army of uniformed ants to pull out the packages and pile them here and there, wherever there’s space. Anywhere but where it’s really needed, I think, raising my head above the partition before I’m knocked back by the power of another plane. Adrenalin surges through my body and it feels like an aftershock.

I force myself further into the concrete, tighten my grip on the papers that hold my words to the world.

When I raise my head again it’s to look to the right, where a high stone fence skirts a factory long fallen into disrepair.

I’d pleaded with the peacekeepers to let me inside. But once past its rusted gates, it was hard to tell where the walls of the broken building began and were they ended, what was the result of disrepair or disaster, what collapsed in years and what collapsed in seconds. Empty cans and broken bottles, piles of rubbish, shreds of material stained in blood, all were thrown into stinking, shining relief by the unseasonal winter sun.

Even the trees were skeletal, but on their fragile limbs, people clung to life. A bag of saline hung from a branch over a small girl, her left leg twice the size of her right. It was splinted by a chair leg and she lay on a wooden door balanced on two metal drums.
In the shade cast by the tree and the doors, sat a young woman. On her lap lay a tiny bundle: a baby delivered in the dust.

The saline was running low in the bag above her. Some had spilt onto the good leg of the older child, a path in the pale skin.

Salt water tears streaked the grey mask of the woman’s face. She didn’t move when one plane flew overhead, or the next. I followed its arc as it disappeared, but the promise of its aid reaching her was as elusive as a rainbow’s pot of gold.

Back on the tarmac, the men play at dice like gods, deciding who lives and dies.

I write and rewrite my script on the scraps of paper I’ll use to tell of the baby born in the dust as her older sister lay dying.

It’s just minutes before I go on air, before the lights of London send me live. There’s another noise, a clang of metal and toll of heavy voices and three pairs of boots marching across no man’s land.

“I’m afraid we can go longer guarantee your safety, Ma’am. We need to ask you to leave,” says Dr Pepper. I nod, knowing his polite entreaties are political excuses. I pick up my papers, swallow my words. I’ll obey his orders, though I don’t believe them.

And I’ll leave the airport, but it won’t ever leave me.



Hannah Storm is a journalist and media consultant, specialising in gender and safety. Although she’s been writing since she was a young girl, she’s recently discovered a passion for short stories and flash fiction, thanks to an Arvon course with Vanessa Gebbie and Cynan Jones. Her Twitter handle is @hannahstorm6.

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To My Ex Who Asked if Every Poem Was About Him – Courtney LeBlanc

I wish you happiness, but the kind that makes you think of me
after your wife has fallen asleep. I wish you 2% raises and average
performance evals. I wish you casseroles and Bud Light. I wish you
vacations to Disney World in July. I wish you khakis and plaid
button-ups. I wish you sex but only missionary position and only
with the lights out. I wish you calendar reminders and capped
teeth. I wish you individually wrapped low-fat cheese
slices and turkey bacon which insults two animals. I wish you
mayonnaise and store-bought white bread. I wish you decaf
coffee. I wish you “sleeping in” till 7am on Sundays. I wish you
instant oatmeal microwaved each morning for your heart
health. I wish you a tie each Father’s Day and a birthday card
received a week late. I wish you a daughter who writes poetry filled
with metaphors about a complicated family relationship. I wish
you a football team that never makes the play-offs and a son
who’s an average soccer player. I wish you this poem popping
up first the next time you Google me.



Courtney LeBlanc is the author of the chapbooks All in the Family (Bottlecap Press) and The Violence Within (Flutter Press) and is an MFA candidate at Queens University of Charlotte. Her poetry is published or forthcoming in Public Pool, Rising Phoenix Review, The Legendary, Germ Magazine, Quail Bell Magazine, Brain Mill Press, Haunted Waters Press, and others. She loves nail polish, wine, and tattoos. Read her blog at, follow her on twitter: @wordperv, or find her on facebook:

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