Double Vision – J L Moultrie

Not fitting in with
the misfits has gone
a long way to sharpening
the angst. The water is
red and I can’t. Let. Go.
I’ve survived, somehow –
flitting and twisting through
the years; seething inside
days meant for someone else.
The serpentine sky, violet
and blue, is lodged in
my throat. The swarthy
city streets are redacted
from my memory. Each night
is a vestige of solace –
circumstances purged of change.
I am a guest in my own
body, subsisting on the sight of waterfalls.


J L Moultrie is a native Detroiter, poet and fiction writer who communicates his art through the written word. He fell in love with literature after encountering Fyodor Dostoyevsky, James Baldwin, Rainer Maria Rilke and many others. He considers himself a literary abstract artist of modernity.

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Bite Down On The Bit – Scott Bryan

“So, is it true they torture you for energy?” Susan asked point-blank. Her green turtleneck complimented the shade of her lipstick and her dangling earrings.

The mashed potatoes hadn’t made it all the way around the table before my family started in on me about my new job. I should have expected it. My employers were all over the news, the debate over working in PHS is mired in political and spiritual stigma, and there has been both enthusiastic support and moral outrage over the decision to open the flagship factory here in Middleton.

I’d hoped to avoid the topic entirely, which I suppose was naive. At an Emmett family gathering, any weakness draws out the wolves.

I held my wine glass in front of me and swung my jaw in small, deliberate circles, slowly chewing cud, absorbing my mother’s dry turkey, while I sized up Susan.

“It’s not torture,” I said once the clink of silverware on good china had quieted. “It’s science.”

She pounced like a desert predator. “Some of the worst torture in history was conducted in the name of science.”

“What’s all this?” my mother asked as if the story hadn’t been on the news every night for the past six months. The company brought 8,500 jobs to a former coal-mining town, a place where people were hungry for a new start.

“It’s just a job,” I returned, trying to sound nonchalant. “I punch in, provide a service, collect my pay, and go home.”

“Yeah, but what do you actually do?” Susan had been the brainy, driven one of we three kids. This interrogation was motivated as much by a desire to retain her status as any concern for my well-being. She was speaking on her own behalf, but her blunt aggression also represented the table’s curiosity.

“I keep a roof over my head, Susan,” I said. I’m sure the rest of the assembled family could feel the temperature rising at the table. Paul, my kid brother, sank into his seat. Grandma Josephine continually lifted steady forkfuls of assorted mush toward her denture-filled gullet. My father watched with detached interest. “I make more in a three-hour shift than I made working full-time at the old facility.”

“Because that’s all they can legally allow you to work!” Susan nearly yelled. “I can’t believe you actually sound grateful for the opportunity to get tortured for three hours a day.”

At the mention of money, my mother finally came to my defense. “I’ve heard all sorts of industries are starting to use the PHS batteries to fuel their automation. The meatpacking plant. The plastic plant. The sewage treatment facility.”

Susan scoffed. Now we were entering literal dark waters. “The sewage treatment facility? You mean the one that’s still dumping into Lake Douglas?”

“Oh Susan,” my dad finally breathed from under his bushy mustache. He returned his attention to his plate, leaning in and pressing his gut against the table.

“I’m just showing an interest,” Susan said, spreading her hands wide. A glob of bean loaf she had prepared and was consuming unaided fell from the fork still positioned in her hand. “This has been a big deal in our town. We have a man on the inside! People are saying it’s torture, saying this company figured out a way to harvest energy produced by pain and turn it into electricity. So what’s the scoop? What are they doing to you in that place?”

I adjusted myself uneasily. My hips ached, and my fingertips tingled with increased sensitivity brought on by the treatments, but the real discomfort came mostly from good old fashion lack-of-approval.

“We show up for our shifts,” I began, hoping she would let it go. I wanted to give her a soft approximation of the process, but the fierce look on her face, and that of interest on my mother’s, told me I was locked in. “They wash us, give us an I.V. and a temporary catheter.”

“So, they don’t have to pay you for bathroom breaks or meals?” Suddenly Paul wanted to be part of the family. I gave him a look that was the emotional equivalent of knuckle sandwiches I used to serve up as we played in the backyard.

“We lay on a table,” I continued, struggling with this part, “and they give us Wand treatments. That’s it. You’ve read about it, I’m sure.”

My mother shuddered and looked to my dad, non-verbally suggesting he put an end to this. His eyes were steel. The man had been the foreman at the packaging plant until the facility was shut down, replaced by an automated factory in the city. Rather than go back to square-one and reenter the job market, my father had taken early retirement. His pension had been cut almost in half.

“You just lay on a table?” he finally remarked.

“The Wand emits intense ultraviolet pulses, like a laser that stimulates the nerves. There are loud pops and, I don’t know, it feels like…”

“What?” Paul was hungry for apt descriptors.

“Yeah, we’ve all seen the PR stories about how safe and effective it is. What is The Wand actually like?” Susan was legitimately, morbidly interested in this. “What does it actually do?”

“It’s like getting punched by a thousand tiny, well-trained ninjas or something,” my attempt to downplay the brutal, invasive nature of the procedure was met with a tone of repelled pity.

“Ninjas?” Susan snorted.

I continued before anyone could probe further. “They concentrate on different parts of the body during each treatment so as to, you know, not damage anything. You just bite down on the bit and stare up at the hood.”

“That’s it?” My father was still searching for something.

“I mean, no,” I said, scrambling. “We surrender to the process. They tell us not to hold back, like, in feeling the sensations. Then there’s this hood, like the one over the stove.”

I accompanied this detail with a spared look to my mother, making sure she was still engaged before I continued. “The hood absorbs our vibrating energy, converts it, and stores it in the batteries.”

“But your job in all this is to lay there and scream?” Susan smiled.

“They don’t like us to scream,” I said, eyes downcast. “It’s bad for morale and it makes the energy less concentrated.”

“So you just lay there?” my father repeated through obvious disappointment.

“Okay, look,” I knew I was going to give Susan what she wanted, but I couldn’t lose face in front of my father. He had worked so hard. He looked at the world, and our purpose in it, in a certain way. Good, honest labor was an important part of his worldview. “It hurts really bad. It’s excruciating.”

The table was silent.

“But this is renewing the legitimacy, the importance of individuals in the workplace,” I addressed my father directly. “All the automated machines replacing hard-working people like us, they suck up a lot of energy. Natural resources are at critically low levels. Solar power can’t keep up. This is important. The pain I go through, what I endure, what I contribute, is keeping the economy afloat. We’re the new backbone of the heartland.”

“Jesus,” Paul murmured. “You sound like you’ve been brainwashed.”

I banged my fist on the table and everyone leaned back in a move of collective submission.

Gathering myself, I took a breath and tried to rebound.

“The technology is amazingly innovative. It’s melding science with new-age philosophy. It’s based on the idea that individual human beings are, themselves, an energy field, capable of producing and releasing their own electricity. It’s true. It’s the energy that, you know, hippy-dippy people see when they talk about auras and junk.”

“Or halos,” my mother piped up, trying to help.

“Yeah, right,” I agreed, feeling less-than supported. “Only the PHS technicians have found that our bodies produce much more measurable energy when we are experiencing trauma.”

“So pain is more profitable than happiness?” Susan snapped, attempting to deal the finishing blow. Quiet seared our gathering like molten metal. The only sound was the slap of Grandma Josephine’s gums.

“Pain more profitable than happiness?” my father pushed himself away from the table, taking command of the room. He spoke quietly but firmly. “Hasn’t that always been the case?”

He stared at Susan until she averted her eyes, then he turned to me and gave me a curt nod. I smiled.

I searched for the right words.“Maybe it’s not the best job in the world, but…”

“But sometimes you have to do what you have to do,” my father finished my statement and, I hoped, the conversation.

“Well, good for you,” my mother smiled in relieved approval and lifted her glass.

We followed suit and made a toast. Even Susan conceded.

“And after all,” my mother said, dabbing the wine from her lips with a cloth napkin. “You probably still have time for other things if you’re only working three-hour shifts.”

“Well,” I shrugged. I have always been unable to quit while I was ahead. “I mean, I still work 40 hours a week.”

Everyone stared at me, trying to process the gravity of my statement. Even my father didn’t seem to know whether to be proud or concerned.

“What?” I said happily. I shrugged, feeling as if I had found my place in the world, a place where I could finally feel useful and unique. “A guy’s gotta pay the bills.”


Scott Bryan publishes the online novel/zine Get It Away From Me and penned the screenplay for the feature film Drunk. His fiction has appeared in Soda Killers Magazine, Coffin Bell Literary Journal, Variety Pack, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and Trampset.

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Qs and As (Storm Story) – Ursula Troche

The storm is out. Out there, everywhere. The birds are tumbling up! Considering the laws of gravity apply to us all, one would assume one can only tumble down but right now it’s difficult to do so. The wind outdoes the laws of physics, waves take temporary flight in the water frequently, on the coast there are duels between waves from different directions, battle fronts emerge by force, gale force, wind stream lines. The tide is high and the waves are high. We are holding on, and the birds and bushes too. Everyone and everything is trying to counter the wind, stem the tidal air-flow, the high tremors.

The answers may be blowing in the wind – that’s what Bob Dylan promised us – but they fly by too fast for us to catch them, so their messages are unheard and overblown. Interwoven with unknowing like waves blowing because wind is blowing. It’s a blow-up, tumble-up, an up-rising, I get wet. Oh tumble, can’t you dry me! Now I’ve blown it, the waves had got to me. I escape, going home, blowing home, being blown, now the wind is helping me, I get home faster. there at last, now there, now there, now here, and stop, keys out, this is my door! My friend, the answer is out there, blowing in the air, but did you manage to hear it? I couldn’t.

The following day, even the following week, there is still storm – though it’s not keeping still, but it’s still out there, well oh, not still, we go round in circles, we don’t know what to say but it’s still, erm, persistant. Even the house is loud with storm. Storm had been going on for a while now, blowing, whistling by, and by, repeatedly.

I am thinking about the distance one again between places, and how fast the storm gets from A to B, wherever that may be – and how long it takes for us to do the same, less elegantly so but more kindly!

We walk whilst the wind flies and the world is in motion! It gets everything going, the trees, objects, and, repeatedly, the waves in the sea. Wind manages to make mountains out of molehill-waves, and ephemeral walls appear in the water. Now, are they water-walls, or sea-walls, wave-walls, or what? Waves and walls are so frequent that they make ridges among them – ridges until they break. Break open like some kind of volcano, or is it an implosion rather than an eruption? This is the view from the promenade, here is the wave-show from a safe distance (and I had been wondering about the distance – between places, hadn’t I?) Here I can see more than just a rough dance and a roaring wave-rave. The whole sea like a jaccuzzi, or as if there’s a whale underneath, or as if it’s trying to give birth. Wild birth on a wild sea caused by the wild wind, exaggerating the high tide. What now? What more can the wind throw at us but itself, its energy which is too much for us.

Wobbly from the gale force, I let myself be blown homewards. I am on way to seeking refuge, from the waves to the cave of my home.

The week after that, it’s cold outside and the wind is – guess what, strong! And once, again – I am now on repetition-mode – I can hear it, seems that I can feel it too. It sounds like it wants to come into the house. Or break in, make its way through the wall, this time the house-wall, not its own water wall, as if it wants to tell me something important, and it’s very urgent. The message is blowing in the wind, getting more and more intense, now screaming. Maybe it’s an answer, blowing in there. I think it’s possible that it might have all the answers, the wind, but I have to be able to decipher them, and to decide what I want to know, what questions I should ask it.

Though it might not need me to ask. That’s wisdom for you: it tells me what I need to know. If I could only identify the meaning of its blow. I guess it wants to blow our minds, open them up, refresh them.

The wind, the message, the mystery. What has it got to say when it’s speaking in blows, must we communicate, us and the wind.

This storm, it could blow our mind easily! It does feel refreshing.

It’s so cool!

But is it, really, I ask, and might even be bold enough to wait for the next wind that’s blowing for an answer. This is the kind of stormy communication I got used to. Airwaves, and waterwaves too, like radiowaves. The transmission is enormous, the radius reaches wide and far – though it’s doubtful whether that has really answered any questions we have. I think after the storm- even after so many storms, reinforced by a multitude of waves, we still don’t know very much.

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Image by Ursula Troche

Heart – Aldas Kruminis

It supplies with birth the instrument
of mind and body – the human life.

It echoes in the mind when it goes blank;
skips a beat with a kiss or a smile
with born babe’s first breath or “I do” long awaited.

It toils when it suffers, like a sponge
scraping away at grimy burned dishes, it soaks
up the misery and pain to clean the soul.

It speaks with beats when mind fails
to articulate. It knows more than thought and hurts
the most when it no longer bleeds.


Aldas Kruminis is a writer from Dublin, Ireland. He holds and MA in Creative Writing and dreams of a career as full-time writer. His work has been published in Iceberg Tales, Terrene, Idle Ink and elsewhere. His website:

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A Punishable Offence – C J Dotson

“So, ah,” he said, leaning on the merch table a little bit, and she hid a smirk. They always started like that, the boys who were about to use the worst pick up line she’d ever heard – and she’d been around a while. “So, ah,” like it was a compulsion. He half-smiled and finished, “Are you for sale?”

Nothing too wrong with using a cheesy line, Natalie reminded herself. Lacking originality wasn’t a punishable offence. She smiled brightly, jerking her thumbs over her shoulders to point behind herself as she answered, as always, “No, but the tee shirts are!”

She showed her teeth just a little too much in her smile as she watched him, waiting to see how he would respond, waiting to see what she’d get to do tonight. Don’t let me down, baby, she thought.

He leaned further over the table, his smirking expression not shifting so much as intensifying, and before he even spoke Natalie felt the bubble of excitement in her chest. It was in his eyes; this would be more fun than the time the lead singer of the last band she’d toured with had stolen the tip jar to dye her hair purple, and then refused to return the money, citing it as a “business expense.” Natalie had caused all of her hair to fall out, and if that was a little on the nose it was also fucking hilarious. Especially when the silly little bitch had gone and sold her soul to make it grow back — Nat had gotten partial credit for that transaction and a tidy little reward. It wasn’t often a girl in the revenge department got a bonus from acquisitions, and she preened a little every time she thought of it. The fella leaning on her merch table seemed to think her unconscious posturing was for him, and Natalie had to stop herself from laughing and ruining the whole game.

“Come on,” he said in what he clearly thought was a seductively persuasive tone, “Are you sure you’re not for sale?”

Natalie flipped her long, dark hair over her shoulder and pursed her lips, schooling her expression into one of blatant distaste. She didn’t want him to mistake her avidity for interest — she was trawling for the ones who knew they weren’t welcome and pressed anyway. “Yeeah. I’m sure I’m not for sale,” she said with a chill in her voice, “But the tee shirts are.”

“Don’t be like that, come on,” he said, and Natalie rolled her eyes with an expression she’d perfected over eons, calculated to convey exactly the right balance of scorn and boredom.

“Tell you what,” she said, “why don’t you take one of the free stickers and get out of my face.”

She’d been working the revenge gig at music festivals since togas were fashionable, and throughout all of human history the most reliable call for vengeance was on people who didn’t listen to “no.”

“Seriously,” he said, “I’ll give you money to go home with me tonight.”

Natalie’s predatory thrill soured. If he was serious, if this wasn’t a pushy pick up attempt but a real offer, that complicated the revenge business. Soliciting a prostitute wasn’t vengeance-worthy.

“Listen, buddy,” she said dismissively, “I’m running a merch table here, not a brothel. Take it somewhere else.”

She expected him to retreat at this point, misunderstanding cleared up, and turned her gaze out to the passing crowds in search of a new target. And she’d been so sure that this guy –

“I’ll give you two thousand dollars,” he said, anger creeping into his tone.

Natalie’s interest returned. Soliciting doesn’t warrant punishment, but trying to force the issue… she might be back in business.

“I said no, man. Go away.”

“What, you think you’re too good for that?” The young man was beginning to raise his voice, still trying to crowd into her space in spite of the plastic-topped folding table in his way. “You think I don’t have it? Two thousand dollars!”

Natalie smiled inside as she watched him escalate, and she let her mind wander just a little. What would the punishment be? She could go with old classics like thumbscrews or hot irons, but fuck that was boring. Let the amateurs stick to the tried-and-true tortures – Natalie liked to mix it up, tailor the punishment to fit the crime. Like that small-time band who’d abandoned her in the middle of nowhere at a gas station after their first tour fell apart halfway through; they were still missing, and Nat would guess that they hadn’t figured out where they were yet, either.

“You think you’re better than that? You think you’re better than me?” The guy was really shouting by now, and at that moment the rhythm guitarist of the band she was currently pretending to work for arrived.

“This guy bothering you?” the guitarist asked, and Natalie had to stop herself from laughing at how far into human cliche this conversation had spiraled.

A new group took the nearest stage, and in a dreadful attempt at comedy they launched into a death metal cover of “Baby Shark.” Natalie’s mirth was temporarily buried beneath an avalanche of disgust. I will think of something terrible for them. Later.

“Not anymore. Your set done?” Natalie said to the rhythm guitarist, and when he nodded she grabbed her tight leather jacket and pulled it on. The rest of the band would arrive soon to take over the table, so she could split for the night. (She’d have to find someone new to work for soon, these guys were alright. Too alright; they gave her nothing to work with. Sure, they had more than their share of little human ego problems, but they never did anything actually wrong. Boring.) “He’s your problem now,” she added, and fished her tips out of the jar, blew the guitarist a kiss, and then for good measure she threw a last dirty look at the guy still leaning on her table. “I’m heading home.”

Natalie didn’t glance back as she walked away, smiling to herself. She didn’t need to look back, she could feel it. She was being followed. With an anticipatory grin, Natalie paused under the light above the women’s room door and lit a cigarette, being sure to take her time. The festival wasn’t one of the really big ones, not like Rock on the Range or Ozzfest, and it didn’t hold a candle to Woodstock (what fun she’d had there); it was mostly local acts and the crowd reflected that, but it was just busy enough that if she wasn’t careful she might lose her pursuer.

There were two ways she could go to reach the festival gates, through the crowded and decently lit thoroughfare or down a little alley between the buildings housing the restrooms and then between the backs of the food vendors’ stands and merch tables and the chain link fence marking the perimeter. If Natalie had really been who she was pretending to be, she’d have taken the former option.

She blew a cloud of smoke straight up at the muzzy yellow lamp above her, hid her grin, and slipped into the trash-riddled little alley. She moved lightly in spite of the high boots, never seeming to touch the mess she walked through even though at least once she should have stepped right into it. Behind her she heard the crunch of a shoe on broken glass, then the crinkle of paper being stepped flat. She took a last drag of the cigarette then ground out the cherry on the brick wall, dropping the butt to join the rest of the garbage on the floor.

“Hey,” the voice behind her was less smooth now, there was less in it of attempted seduction. But he didn’t sound nervous or uncertain, either. The tone was familiar to her; he was eager.

Natalie had been doing this since the first Pythian Games, when she’d been summoned to take revenge on the winner of the music competition (it is not a crime to win fair and square, but if the rules are loosely interpreted — Natalie’s favorite way to interpret rules — then it is a crime to try to summon a demon to kill someone for winning fair and square, so the sore loser that long ago day had really lost twice) and she knew what it sounded like when someone was contemplating doing something bad for the first time. This was not the young man’s first time deciding with ill intentions to follow someone.

Natalie’s smile briefly showed all her teeth. All of them. She pulled her mouth back to a human smirk before she turned around.

“Are you following me?” she demanded.

“Don’t be so hostile, sweetheart, I just want to talk.”

Something rustled through a discarded sandwich wrapper near Natalie’s foot, and she toed the greasy paper aside to see a fat rat blinking up at her.

“I don’t want to talk, I want to go home,” she said, half her attention still on the rodent.

“Well that works out, I’d love to take you home!”

Nat leaned slightly, extending a hand to the rat, who watched her quizzically.

She looked back up with a shake of her head. “By myself, dude.”

“Don’t be a stuck up bitch,” he scolded in a deliberately patronizing voice, stepping closer. The rat inched nearer to Natalie as well, and moving so quickly that rat and man couldn’t follow it, she leaned down to snatch it up. It heaved itself against her hand once and then, at her whispered command, became still. “What the fuck-” Natalie was amused to finally hear a tone of uncertainty in his voice “-trying to act like a weirdo or some shit?”

“You think I caught a rat,” Natalie asked flatly as she stroked it behind the ears, “to make an impression on you?” She let half of her mind slip out of mortal existence and into the workings between places, silently beginning to unlock it.

“It’s not gonna work, sweetie. Crazy’s a bonus for hot chicks.” He stepped closer, trying to loom over her, but no matter what the physical height difference is, it’s very difficult to loom over an ancient demoness in the process of silently invoking a gate. The uncertainty in his tone crept into his eyes as Natalie, though remaining half a foot shorter, managed to smile down at him.

“I said I’m going home,” she repeated, and though her voice was sweet it was the way that rotting meat smells sweet — it wasn’t a clean sound, it had corruption in it. “You ought to leave a girl alone when she says she just wants to go home.”

Let lesser demons fool with chanting and sigils, Natalie needed only a few moments of focus. Oh, and blood. The gate pushed at reality, trembling; she marveled that the human couldn’t feel it.

“Hey, I’m not stopping you from going home. I’m just keeping you company.”

“You don’t want to follow me home, baby, you really don’t,” she chuckled, her voice dropping a little in both volume and pitch. Her eyes gleamed with terrible light, but he was looking somewhat lower than her eyes.

“I think I do,” he said, still trying to sound menacing, not realizing that he was completely outclassed in menace.

“Suit yourself,” Natalie rumbled, and he looked up at last, the light in her eyes catching him, her teeth showing — and showing — and showing. Then there was something writhing, there were claws, and the rat died before it even felt the piercing. The blood fell and the gate shattered the boundaries of the world in one small back alley.

If the crowds at the festival thought they smelled sulfur, thought they heard an untold number of faint screams and one not at all faint scream, those details slid out of their minds, shrugged off with the thought that weird shit always happens at shows.


CJ Dotson is a rustbelt native who’s been reading for as long as she can remember, and writing almost as long. She’s a lifelong lover of SFF and horror. CJ’s a stepmom and mom who enjoys baking and painting in her spare time. Visit on twitter @cj_dotson, or at

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Dale’s Shoe Emporium – Amy Barnes

I steal feet souls.

The back-of-store shoe pile — the one people think is for charity — is for me. I love sniff-smells of sweaty footprints left behind in tried-on piles and bronzed discarded baby shoes holding up my Bible and Shoes of the World books. When I measure room-to-grow shoe lengths, I have to resist snapping off toes and heels in my hands.

People deserve to have their souls pilfered: never playing tennis yet wanting tennis shoes, dusty Eleanor Roosevelt orthopedics worn by trendy young women, brown leather pumps with devil-red soles spooning with outdated mom-chosen saddle shoes and pointy-toed witch shoes. I catch soul bits on my medieval wooden shoe stretchers, heel pushers, shoe devil horns and discarded shoelace nooses.

Shoe-needing children are the easiest to steal from: baby tip-toe feet in the shoe sizing, growth-inhibiting x-ray machine and distracted parents mean their tiny feet are mine. I love stinky teenager feet too but have to ask perpetual Johnny Hates to Wear Shoes to take off the back room plastic hooker heels and for his mom to stop taking wedding day shaming pictures.

I could guess shoe sizes with a quick thumb press estimation; but dislike the feel of still-not-solid kid feet moving under my hands like too-far from death skeletons. I guess radiated feet sizes like part carnival barkery, part snake oil quackery. They’re amazed when I announce to no one and everyone.

You’re a size 6.

It’s easy to steal from suspicious wives who know the blue suede Lothario loafers and boy band boots will be under someone else’s bed. I briefly feel for those women but really want their pink pedicure flip flop souls. Satin pink ballet slippers make scorned feet look angelic, trapped-wrapped in pretty pink ribbons. Gladiator sandals wrap carefully up their Cleopatra-worthy ankles and knees as I fasten each buckle.

I wrap shoes in brown paper boxes with brown-paper-paper, tied with favorite-things-shoe strings like dirty magazines. The split-soled, broken-down-arched shoe cast-offs line up like soldiers.

Ushering out customers and impatient nap-needing, lollipop-wielding children ten minutes before I really close, I smell the familiar musk of leather, foot sweat and blister blood crawling into my nose. I take quick breaths and count my daily prizes. The customers will be back in six months; feet regrown, pushing through shoe fronts, begging me to steal again.


Amy Barnes has words at a variety of sites including McSweeney’s, The New Southern Fugitives, FlashBack Fiction, Popshot Quarterly, Flash Fiction Magazine, X-Ray Lit, Anti-Heroin Chic, Museum of Americana, Re-side, Detritus, Penny Fiction, Lucent Dreaming, Lunate Fiction, Spartan Lit, Perhappened Mag, Rejection Letters and others. She volunteers at CRAFT, Fractured Lit, Retreat West, Taco Bell Quarterly, NFFD and Narratively.

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The Baby With The Open Back – Katie Piper

“They’ve got one for us!”

Jo calls her husband, organises the house, and waits.

She opens the sliding door to the patio, lights up a ciggie and exhales into the sky until the nervousness in her stomach has no oxygen.

The doorbell rings.

Jo tosses the smoke over her shoulder, shooing remaining swirls outside before scurrying down the hallway to the shadow behind the door. The latch opens effortlessly, a woman stands on the doorstep with her phone and file. The baby is in a capsule on the porch, her eyelashes printed against her brow bones. Wide eyed and silent. This is baby Amelia.

Jo carries Amelia inside. The baby unblinking, eyes fanning. She lifts her out of the capsule, gently unwrapping the swaddles, releasing the smell of Amelia into her home. Jo can tell from the weight of the baby; this one has an Open Back. She turns her over, and there it is. Her back is cold to touch and open from her neck to her iliac crests. Her organs are grey and cracked. The handles of her spine are spinning to keep the bats out. The draught around Amelia’s back is bitter and brittle.

Amelia drinks some warm milk and Jo cautiously wraps her up. She huddles behind the baby in her bed, her own chest freezing.

10 days. 10 days is all she has.

Each day she cradles Amelia to protect her Open Back. When Amelia’s cries, it’s in drones and whimpers, her spine spins and spins but the bats claw and tear at her organs, stringing out her ligaments, her tissues, until they are tattered flags of flesh. Organs cold and orphan grey.

By day 4, Amelia’s organ cracks seal. They begin to turn the colour of pale flesh. They begin to moisten and shine. Her spine slows, swinging back and forth on its hinges.

Then day 5 – parental access. Amelia returns, wide eyed and still. Her back freezing and open, again. Organs embossed in a dull top coat. Matte crack-pipe-grey. This time Amelia doesn’t cry, yet bats tangle in the threads of her tissues like a pornographic cat’s cradle.

Night 6, Amelia wines all night, Jo swaddles her with her bare chest, bat wings protruding and elbowing the baby’s skin, stretching it until it’s translucent.

Day 8.

Back almost sealed, self-zipping from cervical and lumbar spine. Thoracic still gaping. Heart still not pink enough, but bats have migrated to find another Open Back.

Day 10.

The lady with the file shadows the door again, Amelia’s back is closed and warm, she coos and babbles, eyes blink, and she cries without her back unzipping. Jo hands her over tenderly, a chill swirling around her own neck. A tiny hole opens just above the collar of her cardigan. She shuts the door, shudders, and pulls her cardigan up to cover the hole. She glances at the photo of her with her own mother; the only photo she has.

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What Coming Home Looks Like – Aisling Keogh

I do the school run when darkness fingers the light-
gently giving two to the idea there will be any sun today.
That grey half light forgives my no make up face
and those tiny pink purple veins around my nose,
inherited from my mother.

My black coat touches off bare ankles,
sock less inside walking shoes, and forgives my saggy breasts.
Bra-less, they sit on a stomach that should be smaller.
I always wear earrings to look more put together
than I actually am.

This morning, I did the school run like this, in my pyjamas.
And came home to you, a visitor in my house, in my kitchen, in your pyjamas.
And instead of yelling “be with you in a minute”
and running to change, I kicked off those shoes
and stood barefoot on my unwashed floors.

I unzipped my coat without a thought for my forty-something body
and wondered how many times we’d done this before?
Even though this was a first.


Aisling Keogh is a psychotherapist and a stay at home mother to three young children. Her short stories have been published with The Irish Independent, Crannog Magazine, Wordlegs, Ropes, Bangor Literary Journal, A New Ulster, and “Story Cities” an anthology published by Arachne Press, in June of 2019. Her first published short story, “How to Save a Life,” was shortlisted for the Hennessy Irish Literary Awards 2011. In 2018, Aisling finished writing her first novel, which she is currently submitting to agents, and in January 2019, she was shortlisted for the Doolin Writer’s Weekend Short Story Competition. In her free time Aisling likes to write and sing.

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The Treatment – Susan Earlam

In the round of the arena, black pumps settled on a dusty floor and a face turned toward a canvas sky. He was on the front row in his usual spot and in his usual state; transfixed by the trapeze rehearsals. Despite his constant gaze upwards, neck strain was never a problem for Pierrot. Sometimes he brought a sketchbook and graphite. Clothed in his loose costume, it was the only way his fellow performers recognised him, the Clown. The white makeup given a rest when not on duty.

“Have you nothing better to do, Pierrot?” Artem asked him from above. Pierrot ignored the man, gave no sign he had even heard the question.

This was the only thing for him to do. There was nothing else. Other than being clean. Bathing was Pierrot’s first love. It had been too long since the last time. The folds in his flesh were littered with a rash. Dusting powder no longer enough to stave away the damp, or the smell. He’d begged the boss to organise something for him at the next town. The next town was this one. He should go and check again. After the rehearsal that is exactly what he would do.

Below the trapezes, stagehands began setting up the spinning ring. The ring was a huge draw for the attendees of the circus. One of a kind; a metal frame that spun on the ellipse and was mounted on a support frame at either end. Tracks on the frame enabled the chair performers, whilst plenty of bars and joints supported the aerial silk team. A feat of mechanical engineering.

Pierrot sighed as the trapeze practice came to an end. Boris and Artem leapt down, they always made it look so easy. He watched them carefully. Another heated debate. These were happening increasingly often. Artem wandered off but Boris came toward the clown. Pierrot sat up a little straighter and placed a smile on his face. Don’t come too close, my sweet. I don’t want you to catch a whiff of the aroma I carry around.

Boris stopped as if he’d heard Pierrot’s thoughts.

“Are you okay? You look a little strained today, is something bothering you?”

“I’m alright. Thank you for asking though.”

Boris nodded in acknowledgement and continued past him and outside.

Right then, nothing left but to remind the boss about his dire need. He rose slowly from the seat, the faster he moved the more smell he’d give off. Even his gowns had started to yellow, especially around the crotch and armpit areas. He was alternating three of the costumes but they all needed a deep clean. Some of the knees and elbows were grubby and he didn’t know what else to do.

His place in the hierarchy of the circus was low. Very low. He needed permission for everything. Onward to the boss’s office. To Pierrot’s surprise the boss was expecting him.

Gemini Bathhouse; someone would be waiting for him there. He was to bring all his clothes for laundering. Everything. Excitement filled Pierrot’s bones as he packed his costumes into a bag. The boss said there were steam rooms, an exfoliating treatment, and a massage he could look forward to. Pierrot became aroused thinking about the touch he longed for. The pressure of palms on his body. He was overdue this treatment and the boss knew it. That would explain why it seemed so indulgent this time.

Pierrot left his caravan, making sure he had the map within one of his pockets. This time the circus was set up on a wasteland outside a greying town. He wore his only set of civilian clothing. The boss didn’t like townies making connections to the performers, Pierrot hated these clothes.

“Going somewhere nice, P?” Artem shouted from the backstage area that grew outside at every town. The performers’ caravans formed layers of concentric circles around a bonfire. Most would bring out camping tables and chairs to sit and chat between performances. Pierrot never joined them.

“I’m off on an errand,” he shouted back to nosy Artem.

Pierrot quickened his pace and found himself within the grey town sooner than he’d expected. He looked down at the map his boss had given him. He was close, the bathhouse was on this side of town.

Today is my day, everything is going my way.

He had five hours before the performance later that night. Plenty of time to get himself back up to scratch. He was going to enjoy himself. As if on cue, it was there again: the excitement clutching at him, and that feeling deep inside his pelvis.

The place was two streets away. The town was quiet, only laborers milled about getting food from street vendors. The shops and restaurants must be on the opposite side of town, he thought. The land is always cheaper to rent on the rougher edges, it was the same everywhere.

He arrived. Hardly able to contain himself he reached to ring the bell, but a voice stopped him.

“Pierrot, wait. You don’t have to do this.”

He turned to see Boris a few steps behind.

“What? Why? You followed…?” Pierrot felt confused, but flattered. What was Boris doing?

“You don’t have to do this. I’m sorry for following you, but I can’t stand back and watch this again.”

So that’s what the arguments were about with Artem. He’s losing it, not cut out for a life on the road.

The civilian clothes enhanced the acrobat’s beauty rather than diminished it; Boris couldn’t even pretend to be normal.

“Boris, I’m overdue some TLC that’s all this is. Nothing else.” He congratulated himself for not stumbling over his words. A truck trundled down the grey street, its inhabitant leaning out to get a better view of Boris. Pierrot wasn’t like other men, not like that anyway.

“Do you think I followed you here to stop you from having a wash? Don’t you see, Pierrot, it’s more than that, what they do here… in these places…”

“I’ve never been to this town before, I’m pretty sure you haven’t either…”

“It’s a set up, I know the boss’s scams. How long have you been in this circus?”

Pierott paused, his finger still above the doorbell, “Longer than you,” he pushed down. The bell reverberated into the walls beyond. The siren call of the bathhouse overwhelmed him. The thought of a clean body, face, feet, costume all too delectable. A buzzer sounded and Pierrot pushed the door open. He looked over his shoulder at Boris. “I’ll be fine, see you tonight. I’ll be looking up for you.”

“I’m sorry. I should’ve told you sooner, I wanted to—”

The pleading faded as Pierott made his way into the building. He followed the signs pointing downstairs. The humid air hit him along the staircase. The smell of tea tree, lavender, then camphor filled his nostrils. He began to perspire, the itch, the folds of his skin covered with sores, screamed at him. He hoped the staff here could help. He hoped he wouldn’t disgust them.

“How are you doing today?” A man dressed in blue cotton at a desk at the bottom of the stairs asked Pierrot.

“I’m okay, excited to be here,” the clown replied. “My boss arranged for me to attend today, I am Pierrot.”

“Yes, we have you here on the schedule. Welcome!”

The corners of Pierrot’s mouth turned upward as his shoulders relaxed. He left his laundry at the desk and followed the man to the changing area.

“Someone will come and collect you shortly. Put one of these on.” The man pulled a white waffle cotton robe from a shelf where they were folded on top of one another. Pierrot wanted to touch them. They were so white, so perfect; so clean. The man left Pierrot alone, leaving behind a fresh, grassy aroma. The clown made a mental note to ask for its name on the way out, he’d love to smell like that every day. If it were sold somewhere nearby he could go home via the perfumery.

The changing room was all terrazzo. Four cubicles on one side and a long row of benches opposite with mirrors above. He didn’t bother with a cubicle, being here alone, there was no point. He tugged at his civilian clothes and shoes and placed them on the bench.

Standing straight, he examined himself in the mirror; his beastly skin marbled with the pinky-red rash. A wave of worry washed over him; what if the treatments here stung, what if they made his skin worse? He couldn’t bear the reflection any longer and grabbed the robe. As he put it on he realised it was far too small for him. He went back to the shelf near the door to try and find one in a bigger size. He felt sick. This should be an enjoyable experience. There was a knock at the door.

“I’m not quite ready yet,” Pierrot said as he rifled through the robes. He took one that seemed bigger and put it on. It was still on the small side, but at least this overlapped and covered him up. Opening the door, he found the therapist waiting for him.

“Sorry about that, I had some issues with the robe.”

“No problem, you aren’t wearing it for long so there are no problems.” The therapist had an accent he didn’t recognise. They walked down the corridor and then directed Pierrot into a shadowy, small room.

“We start with massage.” The therapist explained. “You strip, lie face down on the treatment table. Put your face through this hole. This towel is for your modesty but I’ll be moving it around as I work on your body.”

“Thank you,” was all Pierrot managed to say. The therapist left the room. Pierrot trembled as he hung the robe up and climbed onto the table, following the instructions exactly. He lay there grateful for being on his front, the anticipation was almost too much to bear.

The warm room made him sweat, the itchy crevices of his skin pleading for attention. He gazed at the floor below the table, his features squashed into the face cradle. A knock at the door and the therapist reentered.

“You are here to relax, I will help you.”

“Thank you.” Saliva dropped out of his mouth onto the tiles below as he tried to speak.

“You don’t need to talk.”

He felt a pair of hot, damp towels on his neck. They pushed along his spine and down to his buttocks. It gave him goosebumps, his skin felt alive where they’d passed over. Then again, this time from the tops of his shoulders down his torso, over his ribcage and to his waist.

He flinched. “Sorry, I’m a little ticklish there.”

“No worries. We need to loosen you up.” The therapist ran the cloths over him more delicately this time. Then collected fresh ones for cleaning his arms and legs.

“Now we start the massage. We fix this rash for you.”

The kneading began. Around his neck at first, then across his shoulders. There were lots of knots, lots of clicking. The borders between pain and pleasure blurred. He felt the therapist’s elbow under his shoulder blades loosening things up.

The therapist brushed down his arms and legs with a steaming body brush. He couldn’t tell if his skin was stinging anymore, everything felt on fire.

“Now we do your facial. Roll over, please.”

Pierrot did as instructed. He covered his enlarged groin with the towel and closed his eyes, waiting for the more precise work on his face. It was then he felt a needle in his neck, his eyes sprang open and he tried to get up.

“Don’t worry, this is normal. You’ll be fine in a moment. You won’t feel a thing.”

The therapist held him down, he was losing any power he’d had. He couldn’t feel his hands, nor could he tell if he was even breathing. The numbness travelled quickly through his body. He tried wiggling his toes and then he was out.

A second therapist came in dressed in similar clinical scrubs. They wheeled in a tray of surgical tools and a large bin.

“Is he slackened?” They prodded Pierrot’s abdomen.

“Yes, very loose now. It shouldn’t be a problem removing this one.”

“Good work, this a hide replacement only, they want him to keep everything else.”

“We still remove some memories though, right?”

“Yes, yes of course. Let’s begin.”They worked with a skill that came from repetition. The therapists sliced into Pierrot and removed his skin. Every part of his epidermis was peeled away, revealing a milky, near transparent flesh. Underneath was a steely mechanical structure: Pierrot’s skeleton.

“The silicone is starting to rupture.”

“That explains the rash, we should seal that. We’ll have to add it to the bill.”They set about their work, Pierrot’s old skin was thrown in the bin and its replacement wheeled in.

Later, Pierrot woke up on a lounger. The robe around him, fitted him like it had been made to measure. He must have dozed off. He felt groggy, but oh so clean. The therapist came in, smiling this time.

“I was about to come and wake you. It’s time you were getting back to the circus, there’s sure to be a queue forming.”

“Thanks. Yes, I was wondering what time it was.”

“Your things have are all laundered and are waiting for you in the changing rooms. We cleaned everything you brought with you.”

“Wonderful, thanks for everything.”

“No problem.”

At least he wouldn’t smell anymore. He was ashamed for letting it get as bad as it had. He dressed in the clean, civilian clothing and packed away the costumes. He headed back to the circus site, consulting the map more than he’d care to admit.

Artem spotted him arriving back into the camp and came straight over.

“Have you seen Boris? He’s not come back yet.”

“Come back from where?” Pierrot said.

“Didn’t he leave with you earlier?”

“No, I haven’t seen him since this morning when you two were arguing.”

“Yes, of course. You’re feeling much better now? You look it.”

“I am like a new man.” Pierrot said as Artem turned away. “Are you worried about Boris? Does the boss know he’s missing?”

“Yes, and no. I’d better go and tell him.”

Pierrot got back to his caravan and put his bag on the table inside. He went to the mirror and pulled off the T-shirt. His skin was beautiful, so smooth, there was no sign of the rash, nor the odor from before. The bathhouse had performed a miracle. Something did smell though, the caravan needed a clean. He hung the costumes up and opened the windows wide. There was an hour before the performance time.

As dusk fell the music of the circus boomed through the speaker system for the waiting guests. Pierrot put on one of his laundered costumes. It no longer irritated his skin. The caravan was clean and his face painted back to its chalky Clown White. Everything felt right again. Sitting back down at his dressing table he started to attach the ruff around his neck and heard a tap at the door.

“It’s open,” he called out, as he fiddled with the fasteners. The small door to the caravan swung open and in stepped Boris.

“Good evening, Pierrot.”

“They found you then?”

“I don’t know what you mean. I’ve not been anywhere.” He sat down and put his head in his hands.

“That’s exactly what I said. Artem tried to tell me you’d come with me to the Baths.” Pierott finally fastened up the ruff at the back of his neck and looked up at Boris through the mirror. He looked beautiful; covered in gold sequins with scarlet feathers entwined in his black curls. Was he crying?

“I’m scared, Pierrot. My head feels strange, I thought you might have some painkillers here.” He lifted his head off his hands and swooned, then his chin began to judder. He tried to speak but it was gibberish. Pierrot turned on his chair as Boris’s nose began to bleed. His body slid off the small cushioned caravan settee and began convulsing. He banged his head on a cupboard on the way down to the floor, scraping the side of his face up to the ear.

Pierrot jumped off his chair and tried to lift him onto the seat again. The acrobat’s head lolled around on his neck. Pierott called out for help while Boris convulsed in his arms and the gold sequins flew everywhere, covering the inside of the caravan. Then Pierott saw the scrape had caused the ear to be severed from Boris’s head. He stopped convulsing. Pierott knew no one was coming. No one had heard him over the loudspeakers. He placed Boris’s body on the settee and stood. Blood covered the front of his costume and the sequins clung to the red like stars in a claret sky.


Since 2010, Susan Earlam has written for a wide variety of media outlets. But, the call of the strange and unusual has grown irresistible. Now, she mixes words like potions at her laptop in South Manchester. Currently, looking for an agent for her first novel, she procrastinates by writing shorter, and weirder, stuff.

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Soap Opera Digest-ion – Marie Gethins

Cerise nails moved across her lap. A finger tarantella. Digits knitted, released, flexed. I took one hand, pressed it flat between my palms. The other, now partner-less, danced solo, gathering dress fabric into tufts. Five digits of chipped Fuchsia Fantasy creating a landscape of navy cotton mounds.

Her ancient eyes clouded years ago. ‘Ocean blue’ she used to self-compliment to the mirror. Never mum, she insisted we were on a first name basis. In the Day Lounge, I called to her and she scanned my face. A smile flicker and she looked beyond me, beyond the chair, beyond the window. I stroked her hand to limpness. When shoulders sagged into the vinyl wingback, I returned the right to the left, both settled for whatever mental reruns she viewed.

‘You’re so good with her,’ the nurse said. She placed a cup of tea and two mikados at my elbow. I demurred with a coy head tilt. The prefect trio for this tableau: Caring Nurse, Adoring Daughter, Senile Mother. A script I found easy to write. Earlier roles, the ones my mother cast, were harder to flesh out. I was the niece, later the sister, occasionally the roommate. At eighteen I wrote myself out of this series, but family dramas run forever. Those frequent call-backs. I became a featured guest, now a regular player.

I pulled the tiny ziplock from my pocket. It dissolved like sugar, this dust from angel wings. An extra generous measure to send her on her way. I watched the whirlpool swirl, gave the delph rim two taps with the spoon. She frowned at the first taste, but coaxing was central to this role. Cup empty, I took a final bow, air kissed her cheeks, and imagined tomorrow’s credits.

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Burn, Baby, Burn – Sandra Arnold

Sophie’s head was deep in her book when her father came into the room. He stood in front of her with his closed hands outstretched.

She dragged her eyes up.

“A surprise for you,” he said. Guess which hand.”

She pointed. He opened his fingers to reveal a fat red worm wriggling on his palm. Sophie clenched her teeth to keep her scream inside.

Her father laughed. “Didn’t specify the surprise, did I?”

“Not as hilarious as your spider in my bed trick,” she deadpanned.

He laughed again, “Learn to take a joke, baby. Humour gets us through life.”

The teacher asked the class a question. He said there’d be a surprise for the child who answered it correctly. Sophie’s hand shot up. When she gave the correct answer the teacher called her to the front of the class.

“Bend down and touch your toes,” he said, swishing his ruler.

She stared at him, tears welling.

“Now don’t be a cry-baby,” he grinned. “Enjoy your surprise.”

The whole class exploded with laughter when he tapped her bum three times with his ruler. She dug her teeth into her lip so hard she drew blood.

She hid in the bike shed after school. She was surprised at how easy it was to break the classroom window with a brick and strike the match and light the ball of paper and throw it through the hole.

She was reading her book when her father came home from work. She heard him tell her mother about the fire.

“Arson,” he said. “Lucky the whole school didn’t burn down. They know who did it.”

Sophie stopped breathing.

“That little sod in Sophie’s class. Caught watching the flames. No surprises there. Parents as thick as pig shit.”

Sophie turned the page of her book.


Sandra Arnold lives in New Zealand. She is the author of five books and her flash fiction has been widely published and anthologised.

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Stained Lass – LindaAnn LoSchiavo

Religion classes taught us to behave:
Defer fun’s gratification. Submit.

The patriarchy ruled the afterlife — —
Along with most improper things. Obliged.
Coerced. Imperfect those Confessions, stained.

Could any child prevent assaults or blab?

Each catechism lesson drilled down deep,
Swore death would be “the best day” of your life.

Meanwhile, your body was a sacrament,
Impure of thought and deed upon command

Swift holy water dip on the way out.


LindaAnn LoSchiavo is a dramatist, writer, and poet. Her poetry chapbooks “Conflicted Excitement” [Red Wolf Editions, 2018], “Concupiscent Consumption” [Red Ferret Press, 2020], and “A Route Obscure and Lonely”‘ [Wapshott Press, 2020] along with her collaborative book on prejudice [Macmillan in the USA, Aracne Editions in Italy] are her latest titles. She is a member of The Dramatists Guild and SFPA.
An interview —

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Bad Things and Good Socks – Haley Magrill

“Just be patient, Otis,” Ma says. I ignore this and keep tugging her long, blue skirt. She isn’t having any of that. Ma kneels down and gives me a look that says, ‘back-it-up-Buster-I-am-not-messing-around-right-now-also-I-saw-you-put-those-chocolate-eggs-in-your-pocket-they-better-be-back-on-the-shelf-in-three-two-’

I hate errand days.

Ma turns back to the green beans, muttering about prices that are ‘through the roof,’ and how the fat man is ‘robbing her blind.’

I’m very hungry by the time we finish the shopping and the little man in my belly is pinching me. Sometimes I like to imagine that he looks like Mr. Lagharty from next door and that he stomps around my belly throwing newspapers at the crows.

I want dinner immediately when we get home, but Ma says I need a bath first. I go upstairs and run the water, but I don’t go in. I wait just long enough that Ma won’t be suspicious and then I slink back to the kitchen, feeling only slightly guilty.

“Is it almost dinner?” I ask Ma.

“Did you clean behind your ears?”

“Is it dinner?”

“Just be patient, Otis,” she sighs.

“Where’s Jordy?” I want to know.


“Out where?”

“Set the table, Otis.” She slops something horrifying onto a plate.


The belly man hisses and says the word I’m not supposed to say but sometimes I do when no one is listening. I pretend to enjoy it so I don’t hurt Ma’s feelings.

Ma doesn’t talk at dinner. She never does when Jordy’s out. She thinks I don’t notice. I do. I notice these things.

“Will you play army men outside?” I ask her when she’s done washing the dishes.

“It’s too dark, you can play in the morning.” Ma says.

“Will you play tomorrow, though?”

“Who’s going to do the chores if I’m playing with you?”

Ma makes me wear the scratchy pyjamas to bed because she hasn’t gotten around to cleaning the other ones.

“I just need one more glass of water,” I tell her.

“You’ve already had three, you’ll wet yourself.” Ma snaps. The vein on her forehead is about to pop.

“I’m not tired.”

“Yes, you are.” Ma says and shuts the door. Only I can’t sleep because my neck is itchy and the blankets are twisting me into a knot. I wait and listen for Jordy’s boots to crunch down the driveway. Only they never come.

Ma is acting funny when I go down for breakfast. I know this because she has cooked my sock in with the eggs. I move the laundry basket off the counter and away from the frying pan.

“Where’s Jordy?” I want to know.

“Eat, and then go play.” Ma says. I notice around her eyes are quite red and I think now is maybe not the best time to tell her that my egg smells a bit like burnt foot.

“Will you play with me?” I ask her.

“Not now, I have to go out.” She’s all in a huff and running around the room like her head was chopped off, stuffing pens and loose coins into her purse.

“Ma, where’s Jordy!”

She stops for a moment.

“Jordy has to go away for a while.” Her voice is squeaky.


“He did a bad thing.” Ma’s chin wobbles. “I left a message on Mr. Lagharty’s machine and asked if he would come over and watch you. Don’t growl, Otis. He’s doing us a favour.”

“When will you be back?”

“Later,” Ma says and I’m not sure she realizes that she’s wiping down the counter with my pillow case.

“Later when?” I want to know.

“Just be patient,” Ma sighs and pushes me out the door.

When she’s gone, I line up my army men along the front porch, carefully, two finger spaces apart. Then I load up the slingshot Jordy doesn’t know I took with rocks and bits of bro-ken glass from under the steps. “Just be patient,” I tell my men as they wait in line to die. I’m wondering if Mr. Lagharty ever got Ma’s message because he hasn’t come over to watch me and he isn’t in his yard screaming at the crows or cleaning the hats on his little garden gnomes. I do not like playing army men by myself. I can’t do the voices the same way Jordy can.

Oh, please don’t kill me. I’ve got a lasagna in the oven! My parakeets will die!

I kick the porch because I’m angry at Ma for leaving and I’m angry at Jordy for doing a bad thing and now I’m angry at my dumb toe for hurting a lot. I say all the bad words I know be-cause no one is around to hear them and I stomp across the yard, growling at Mr. Lagharty’s gar-den gnomes. That’s when an oily little voice slithers out from the darkest part of my head and makes me load up my slingshot. I let the rock go. There’s a sickening crunch and the face of the purple hat garden gnome falls off.

For a moment I feel the most alive ever.

But then I start to get a rotten hole in my belly and I drop the slingshot. Drums go off in my ears and I’m panicked because Ma’s head will explode when she finds out. I tear across the yard and up the steps. I did a bad thing and I’m crying all the way down to my socks until I real-ize the water on the floor didn’t come from me. Ma left the tap on and now there’s a puddle where our kitchen is supposed to be. My thoughts pile on top of each other, all fighting to be heard, and all I do is stand in the water with cold feet getting colder.

“Mr. Lagharty, are you home?” I scream through the mail slot. “Mr. Lagharty! MR. LAGHARTY! I’m having a ‘mergency.” I wait but I don’t hear anything. I try the handle and the door is unlocked. The house is yellow inside and smells like the eggs I had for breakfast. Mr. Lagharty is fast asleep in a puffy chair. I poke his neck with my little finger but he doesn’t move. The belly man stabs me with his cane and reminds me to feed him and I wonder what Mr. Lagharty has got in his pantry. I find a big tin of sweets and I eat them all even though they make my tongue sticky and my mouth dry. Mr. Lagharty is still sleeping in the puffy chair and I’m starting to get a bit anxious because when I put my hand in front of his face I don’t feel any air come out. I shake him as hard as I can and scream down his ear but he doesn’t move even one inch. And now I’m very worried because he is dead and I wish I hadn’t beheaded his gnome. I wait in a knot in front of our house until Ma gets back. She says a bad word when she sees all the water, and her nose gets all sniffly. I go real quiet because Ma’s are not supposed to cry.

“Mr. Lagharty really isn’t having the best day,” I say to Ma in my smallest voice.

“Well, neither am I.” Ma huffs. She slams her purse down on the counter.

“Except that Mr. Lagharty might be winning on account of the fact that I think he is dead.”

“Dead?” Ma says and her eyes open really wide. And so I explain the ‘mergency, and how I went to ask Mr. Lagharty for help, and how the door was open, and how I waited for him to wake up from his nap, but he never did. Ma runs and gets the phone and tells the ambulance people to zip over quick. They pull up in our driveway with the flashing red and blue lights and I get to tell them what happened. Except I don’t say the part where I beheaded the gnome. Then Ma and I gather every towel we own and soak up the puddle. The floor is moldy and brown in some places but I think that is not the biggest problem of today.

Ma says that Jordy got into a tight spot with some bad people and now he has to ‘lie in his bed.’ Sometimes though we can see him if his behaviour is good. Ma says we are allowed to be sad for a while but eventually we have to ‘pick up our socks’ and get on with it. So I ask her how I am meant to do that if she keeps cooking them in with my eggs. Ma looks at me for a sec-ond and then she laughs, which means I start to laugh too. And we don’t stop for a real long time.


Haley Magrill is a Canadian writer and student at the University of British Columbia. She has previously published a short story entitled “Comatose” in Flash Fiction Magazine and “You Unloved Thing” in Mojave He[art] Review.

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House of Fun – Shelley Roche-Jacques

We hadn’t meant to steal the cat. And it would have got back home unscathed if Anthony hadn’t interfered.

It was a huge, white floofer – bigger than any ordinary moggy. We’d stopped and fussed it before on our way back from the 24-hour SPAR. One time I’d tried to turn it into a white rabbit, tapping it on the head with my fairy wand. We’d giggled like maniacs.

This time it had climbed from the garden wall and hauled itself up inside Trev’s duffel coat for warmth. That’s when Izzy shouted Run! and we all did. Gasping with laughter. We only lived a few streets away, closer if you cut down Flasher’s Alley.

The house smelt of burnt toast and Anthony emerged from the lounge looking cross.

‘The toaster should be set no higher than 5,’ he said.

‘Look what we’ve got for the stolen corner,’ squealed Izzy, and I helped ease Gerald Fluffington out of Trev’s coat. ‘Ta da!’

We don’t know what Anthony’s problem is but he always has to spoil things, to piss on the picnic and shit in the champagne. We were immature idiots, in breach of the landlord’s No Pets policy. And had we forgotten he was allergic to cats, and happened, actually, to be running low on his inhalers and…yawn, yawn, yawn.

We squeezed past him, laughing, and deposited Jeanette Whiskerson onto the sofa.

“Are you a hungry pud-pud?” asked Izzy. “Would you like some Billy Bear sausage face?”

I went and peered into the fridge. Not a lot of choice for a cat of this pedigree. King Furbert the Fird. Mayonnaise seemed the closest thing to cream. Helmans, not supermarket brand, and painstakingly labelled with a date and name. Anthony S. There was only one Anthony. I spooned it into a bowl and called to the others that Prince Percival Purford’s dinner awaited.

He had polished it off and was being helped along the top of the gas fire when there was a knock at the door. A loud, forceful knock, like when we’ve really pissed the neighbours off.

Izzy shouted Hide! so I scooped The Fluffmeister back into Trev’s coat, foisted it into Trev’s arms, and bundled them both into the cellar head, shutting the door.

It was the Fuzz! The Pigs! The Filth! The Bizzies! That nark Anthony must have phoned them. But their attention had been deliciously diverted by the big-leafed plants on display in Anthony’s very own bedroom window. They were draped with fairy lights, and growing there in brightly-painted pots, brazen as you like. That was the absolute genius of it, according to Izzy. Anthony had been persuaded to look after them, that they were simply decorative houseplants, that all the oxygen they would give out would help him breathe.

Our alleged cat-theft was suddenly nothing, and Anthony was being led dazed and wheezing to the cop car. As it drove off we heard bump – bump – bump – meow and giggled like maniacs.


Shelley Roche-Jacques’ work has appeared in magazines such as Flash, Litro, The Rialto and The Boston Review. Her collection of dramatic monologues Risk the Pier was published in 2017. She teaches Creative Writing and Performance at Sheffield Hallam University.

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Remora – Michael J Sacco

She was the six-two senior swim team captain and lead bassoonist in the school’s concert band, and I was the sophomore second bassoon. We performed a duet once.

Bassoons have six main parts: The bell connects to the bass joint that connects to the double joint which U-bends up to the tenor joint and finally ends with the bocal which curves down to the attachment of the double reed that she blew through. What makes double reeds so difficult to play is that both lips, more pursed than puckered, must be pulled over the teeth and engaged to produce a quality tone and sound. The bassoon is held diagonally across the body and is supported by the weight of the musician through a boot and strap mechanism that cups the double joint and extends under the player’s seated backside.

I wanted her to take me to the pool for swim practice so I could latch onto her belly as she swam laps – a remora attached to her underneath with my legs trailing behind me like seaweed or kelp as hers propelled us through the water. I didn’t even need her to pay attention to me – maybe just an occasional run through my hair as she pulled past the follow through of her freestyle stroke or a kiss on my forehead as she flip-turned into another lap. I didn’t want much.

Her legs came up to my ribs, and all I could picture was them wrapping around me like a lifejacket, keeping me afloat. I wanted to make love to her and be surrounded by her body and drown in her waters and not in some touristy way but like a long lost sailor’s welcomed homecoming.

She was my lifejacket, and she was the ocean, saving me and killing me simultaneously in second period. Maybe my haphazard splashing along her tides like some sort of capsizing buoy would end with my sinking, leaving nothing but a ripple across her molten surface.

The last two weeks of school were devoted to learning the commencement songs during concert band, but the seniors sat out because they’d be walking while we played. She was graduating that year, and I was alone for those two weeks, the only bassoon in the band.

But on graduation night, the seniors joined us for one last song. I waited next to her empty chair, until she swooped into her seat in her blue robe, her yellow tassel swinging at the side of her face like an anglerfish’s lure.

The female anglerfish has a luminescent organ called the esca at the tip of the illicium. The glowing is caused by a symbiotic relationship between the fish and bacteria. While the lure serves to attract prey in the dark of the deep-sea, it also serves to attract males for mating. The male anglerfish is significantly smaller than the female in an extreme case of sexual dimorphism, and both engage in a type of sexual parasitism in which the male attaches to the female for life. The male bites into the female and eventually fuses into her, allowing for continuous and multiple fertilizations while cutting the amount of resource consumption in their environment so that the female may thrive.

That could have been us.

I spent more time watching her lips than I did performing, trying to soak the image of her playing into my memory, each moment – each note she played – like a blot of ink dropped onto the canvas of my mind. The colors – the F-sharps a midnight blue, the A-naturals a crimson red, and the very few E’s a burnt orange – all melted together into a watercolor painting I’d never forget.

But we played, she returned to the rows of graduating seniors, and I picked up her bassoon that night and took it back to the school when everything was done and put it in her assigned locker that she never opened again.

I saw her four years later at our local gym in the lap pool. I hung over the floating dividers a few lanes away as she flip-turned back and forth. She was a marine biologist now, and I was a painter. Neither of us play bassoon anymore.


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Heading East – John Short

I left the rural town in Gascony
after camping in its graveyard
for a week with dog-eared poetry

then tobacco country, ratatouille,
tomatoes nabbed from fields
in the dead hours of afternoon.

At Lautrec, the Sisters gave out soup
and rustic loaves whose crusts
cracked and collapsed like old timber;

a madman with a shaven head
and heavy crucifix around his neck
persuaded me to drink with him.

Finishing one bottle he went off
for more – I thought to escape
but just sat there and made no move

and near my feet, our cigarette stubs
like spent shells buried in the dust:
one for each year of a misspent youth.


John Short lives in Liverpool and has had poems and stories in magazines around the world. Forthcoming in The Blue Nib, Sarasvati, Marble Poetry and Poetry Salzburg Review, his full collection Those Ghosts (Beaten Track Publishing) will appear later this year.

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The Library of Ice – Rebecca Harrison

“My mother taught me to dig for stars. She listened to the ice. I walked beside her but I only heard the sky – it was wind full. My furs felt thin. The world was night shapes. My steps made no sound, so I held her hand harder: I was afraid of turning into silence. The sky breathed low colours and I slowed to watch them. She said – Nishka, the stars we seek are below our feet.”

“Night lay on the ice. I tried to feel the stars through my footsteps but we walked over silence. The sky was moon melt. My mother pointed further than I could see, further than wind, so I shut my eyes until the darkness was just us. The plains were slow sounds and the mountains beyond were names I didn’t know. She spoke about star scent. But I could only smell the cold.”

“The world felt as if it was turning into moonsong. We stopped. My mother let go of my hand and crouched down. She said – the stars are here. I heard her cut the ice. But the mountains had changed the sky to shadow and I couldn’t see the lines she carved, so I tried to listen to the patterns. When she’d finished, she took my hand. I felt the ice fold and peel. Light struck through cracks.”

“The plain ice shook into dust and I saw a curve of sun colour. The star shone but it felt like coldness from long ago. It broke the night. I knew old stars turned into ice and fell, too heavy to stay in the sky. My mother told me to carry the star. It fit in my arms. I thought – I am stronger than the sky. She walked ahead of me, small against the star’s beams.”

“The plains were faster on our way back. I couldn’t feel my steps. My mother turned and talked to me, but I only heard the star’s glow. The sky shrank. The winds felt like far away. I didn’t look for our home in the distance. I knew the ice city was lit by stars my mother found – when I’d walked the passageways, the light had felt like it was mine. I jolted as my mother put her hand on my arm. She said – Nishka, let me have the star.”

“I stood under an archway but I didn’t know how long I’d been walking through the city. She took the star out of my arms. I felt dim. I stared up past the walls, over the jagged tower points, to the flowing night. I think I asked – will they all freeze? But she said nothing. Then hallways shone past and I was in my bed. Furs weighted me. I meant to scratch patterns on my walls. The sun came. I didn’t know I’d slept.”

Queen Nishka stopped talking. From the tower top, she looked across the night. Above her, over the peaks of the ice city, colours moved the sky.

“Later on, my mother took me here,” she said. “I climbed behind her – I thought the tower wouldn’t end, would go beyond the sky. The walls were falling light. I felt smaller than my footsteps. My furs were heavy. At the top, I wouldn’t hold her hand but I stood close so the winds didn’t touch me. We breathed night. The sky felt like sleep. She made me look at the city – it was moon-sharpened. Time was slow. She said – the age of ice is ending, Nishka; you will be the last. I knew then I’d never leave. I’m not going with you. You’ll find the others. You’ve been a good friend all these days.” She didn’t turn. She listened to the footsteps leaving the room and slowly descending the long spiral staircase. They sounded like long ago. They thinned into the distance and she heard empty pathways below. Her breathing was an echo. The city was filled with silence, but at the tower tops where she stood beneath fast skies, she heard the sounds of glaciers breaking far away.

She felt the world past the ice plains, beyond the mountains, unfolding and growing further away. The sky slowed. Over the city, the white towers and spirals, the wind faded into the ice. She breathed stillness. She moved without feeling her own steps, down the tower and out into the pathways. The air was cold gleam. Ice stars shone.

She walked along the starlit passageways, beside walls of ice as tall as winds. Above her, the city’s white peaks soared into the night. Her steps filled the silence. The emptiness felt solid. Below the towers and archways, her furs were moon-bright.

The paths wound in slow circles past hallways and spires under colours falling softly from the sky.

She stepped through a broad archway into a tunnel of glimmering ice. Her furs brushed the walls. The air was chill glow, but beneath the thickening silence she thought she could hear distant water sounds. Her breath was white. The tunnel opened into halls of cold stars and carved arches where spiral sheets of thin ice stretched to the ceiling, each engraved with tales of the city. They stretched back to the beginning of the age of ice. In the far reaches of the library, the sheets had already begun to melt, their words lost. She paused at a spiral and read:

‘Queen Drelder was old. Fearing the world without her, her people carved a hall to keep her voice forever. For a hundred days, they shaped the ice cavern under the blue glacier until any words spoken there would echo always. She walked the hall alone, her speech bright with wisdom. After she died, crowds knelt in the hall and listened. Many years went by. Other rulers reigned and passed and Queen Drelder was forgotten. Her words echoed unheard under the ice.’

She stopped reading. The air was weighted with stories of sky legends and long-ago Queens. She drifted slowly past the ice sheets, glancing at the tales. High above her, in the carved ceilings, the ice stars had begun to thaw. Light melted in soft silence. The ice ribbons twisted like white winds. She moved deeper through the halls. Star-melt fell on the ice sheets, lighting the words. She read:

‘Teakin walked in blue shadows. Before her, the glacier towered in chill heights. The air felt like waiting wind. The snow breathed silence. She huddled into her furs. The blue glaciers were once skies, but when coldness had cloaked the world, they’d frozen and sank. She picked up a small piece of the blue ice – it fit in her palm. She held it to her eye, peered through and saw long-ago lands and lost seas – the views from the ancient skies.’

Over the silence, the city creaked, and beyond the towers, the plains began to shift. She felt still among the stories of past ages. She gazed around the halls, her eyes full of the histories written on the ice. Pausing, she reached out and touched a melting sheet, running her fingers on the fading words. She turned to another and read:

‘The birds flew in the deep ice, our grandmothers said. They told us of flocks as wide as moon hush and fast as the skies, and they spoke of running on the ice plain while birds in colours too many to count flew beneath their steps. We looked for flock shapes below us and pressed our ears to the ice walls listening for wing beats. In my dreams, I saw birds the colour of night winds.

I closed my eyes when our grandmothers told stories. Sometimes, I fell asleep. Each morning, we watched the plains, but the ice was clear and quiet and only the winds had wings. I tried to guess how deep the ice grew. We wondered if the birds were flying far below us and we scratched patterns on the ice that looked like flight. We were afraid to ask if all the birds had gone.’

Nishka reached out and touched the sheet. It crumpled and fell. The air was damp with dripping starlight. She breathed in the glow. Her feet trembled: beneath her, the deep ice was stirring. Across the plains and the night, colours twisted from the sky, and through the city, in the passageways and over the tower points, star melt flowed through cracks in the walls. The spaces beyond the mountains sounded like slow water.

Moonlight swayed in the thawing air as chasms opened across the ice plains. The sky flowed into the city as walls of ice fell. The white spirals and hallways broke into strange shapes. In the library, starlight shivered into mist. The fading glow felt like slowed time. Nishka watched the stories and the stars melt together in the dim cold. The falling city around her felt like a long ago night carrying a star by her mother’s side.


Rebecca Harrison sneezes like Donald Duck and her best friend is a dog who can count.

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This Morning – Rickey Rivers Jr

Lynn called out for her husband. She ventured downstairs repeating. She had woken up late but couldn’t recall if today was a work day for him or not. The downstairs bathroom door opened, answering her thoughts. He stood there in the doorway smiling.

“Hey,” she said. “Didn’t you hear me?”

He scratched his chin. “Guess I didn’t.”

“Didn’t know you were off today”

“Yep, off day. Why are you yelling so much?”

“I wasn’t yelling. I didn’t know where you were.”

“You must have had a rough night, sleeping so late.”

Lynn rubbed the back of her neck. She couldn’t recall the previous night. “No,” she said. “I’m just tired.”

“Yeah, but you really slept late. It’s well past noon.”

“Yeah right, it’s not that late.”

“You think I’m joking?”

Lynn turned away from him and walked into the living room.

“What’s the matter?” he called.

She grabbed her phone from the coffee table. Sure enough the time read three thirty four. She put a hand to her head and thought. What was the previous night? The phone said today was Thursday.

“Did you reset my clock?”

He laughed. “What?”

She repeated herself, this time sternly.

He shook his head. “What kind of joke is that? I let you sleep and then pretend it’s later than it is? That’s a terrible joke.”

She smirked. “The kind you love to play.”

“You have nowhere to be. I couldn’t make you late for anything. So that’s no fun right?”

She stared at him, he seemed sincere.

“Did you take a pill?” he asked.

“What? No. I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so?”

“Anyway school should be out. Alec should be home soon so get dressed.”


“Our son”

He tilted his head.

“Don’t look at me like that.”

He approached her, putting both her hands on her shoulders. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes!” She pulled away. “What’s wrong with you? And what’s the point of this game?”

He took a step back. “Lynn, we don’t have children. What game are you talking about?”

She crossed her arms. “Are we really doing this?”

“Doing what?”


His face became tight.

“Answer me!” she screamed. “What’s going on?”

“Have you taken any pills? Answer me, please.”

She turned away from him and headed toward the stairs. He followed behind, grabbing her shoulders.

“Let me go!”

He did.

There was a thud. Not from her. She fell to the floor. The front door opened. She smiled, reaching out for what she wanted, hoping for what she needed. Tears came. The front door closed. She was home. She was free.

It was difficult to apologize for stumbling, and yet she had done it before. Those who knew expected the fall and the hoping ones hoped again.

“Lynn, you’re not in that hole anymore.”

She had heard this before.


Rickey Rivers Jr was born and raised in Alabama. He is a writer and cancer survivor. He has been previously published with Fabula Argentea, Back Patio Press, Cabinet of Heed, (among other publications). You may or may not find something you like there. His third mini collection of 3×3 poems is available now:

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Sweets and Chocolates – Aminat Sanni-Kamal 

I pulled my car into the parking lot at Sweets and Chocolates café. I was nervous as hell, I sat back in the driver seat contemplating whether I should get out of my car and carry on as planned or just drive away, I could call him and make up some excuse. I shook my head at the thought of it. I couldn’t do that… it wouldn’t be fair to him, because I was the one who had suggested we meet in the first place.

“What is wrong with you, Ivie?” I asked myself and sighed heavily. I was never this nervous with anything or anyone and it wasn’t as if I had never been on a date before. I guess I must have really liked him to have been so nervous.

“There is nothing wrong with you,” I said to myself again.

I picked up my purse and dug through it until I found my small black mirror, the one I always kept in my bag for times like this. I could have used the rear-view mirror but it didn’t come with a compact powder.

My makeup was perfect; I had opted for a nude look. So, apart from my highlight nothing else on my face glowed. I didn’t want it to look as if I was trying too hard to impress him. Even though we had been talking and chatting frequently on the phone for the past six months, we hadn’t actually met.

I sighed again, and finally got out of my car, it was now or never. If he found a problem with me, there was nothing I could do about it. Even with that thought, I was still nervous. What if we couldn’t connect in real life and our connection was just over the phone. I shook my head again, I was already out of my car, and there was no turning back.

I straightened my flare cream coloured mini-gown with my hands, normally a pair of heels would have gone with the gown and, I would have actually preferred heels because I wasn’t tall. But, I was not allowed to wear anything besides flats, so I locked my car and walked to the cafe in my chocolate ballerina shoes.

The morning breeze worked wonders on my hair. I thought the Alice-band would be strong enough to secure my wild, natural hair; how wrong I was. My hair had been like that since I was a child. My mother said I cried every time she took me to the salon to relax it. So she had given up and let it be. As I grew, the thought never for once crossed my mind to relax my hair, I loved the way my hair looked, last year I had the tips dyed into a dull wine colour. I wouldn’t trade my hair for anything in the world. My hair and bronze-brown skin were my prized possessions.

As I walked towards the café, I added choosing Saturday as a day for us to meet to my list of regrets for the day. Sweets and Chocolates was the largest café in the city and Saturday mornings were their busiest. And at that moment, it was as if everybody in Lagos was there, including people who had only come to take pictures for Instagram. By the way, Jamal and I met on the gram.

“What were you thinking?” I asked myself again although, this time in my head. It was already bad enough that people were staring at me, wondering why I was limping. It wouldn’t do for them to think I was crazy as well. When I stood, no one noticed anything, but when I walked the discrepancy between my legs showed. My limping was even more pronounced when I tried to hide it, so I had learned earlier in life to just ignore the stares and focus on my destination instead. It was a condition I was born with and when I was a child, I walked with the aid of a shoe raise, but when I grew older the doctors decided I didn’t need it anymore.

I spotted him almost immediately I entered the café, and I sent a little prayer of thanks to heaven that he had not chosen one of the tables outside the café. Inside wasn’t as crowded as it was outside. Still, I could have chosen a quieter place.

I could tell that he had seen me too because he smiled and stood up as our eyes met. I smiled nervously back at him. I was irritated with myself, why was I so nervous?

I looked good, I owned and managed my own salon, I drove a very expensive car, I had a life many girls would die to have, yet I was nervous because I was meeting a man. But, Jamal wasn’t just any man; he was a man I really liked. And, as I walked over to his table, I concluded that if he was the man I thought he was; my limping would not matter.

“You look amazing.” He said when I got to the table, and his deep rich voice, the voice I had fallen in love with over the phone made my nervousness disappear. A combination of his voice and his smile could make a woman do anything.

We hugged and I sat at across him at the table. A young dark-skinned waiter came to our table and took our orders. I was glad that our connection wasn’t just over the phone, it was real and I enjoyed every bit of our breakfast date. He made me laugh and I enjoyed staring into his dark brown eyes. I never in my life thought that I would fall in love with a light-skinned man; I considered them too fine and too dangerous.

Jamal could pass for a model with his high cheekbones which perfectly complemented his face but he also had a depth to him. It was what drew me to him, it was something that made me kind of curious and awed about him; he wasn’t like other guys I had dated in the past. I also liked that he was not a part of the beard gang trend; I liked his clean-shaven face.

I enjoyed our date, but it bothered me that he never for once mentioned my limping and I was very sure he had noticed because he had taken a quick glance at my legs when I walked towards him.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked that he hadn’t really started at them. Although there was really nothing to stare at, they looked perfect until I walked. I also liked that he had not let it affect our date. But, I had hoped that he would at least ask me about it as he walked me to my car because I badly wanted to get that part off my chest. He still did not say anything when we got to my car; he only kissed me lightly on the cheek and waved at me as I drove out of the café.

Before the date, I had been worried that all he would see were my legs. After the date, I was worried that he had pretended not to notice my limping and hadn’t said a word about it. Even though I knew I was just working myself up for nothing, that didn’t stop me from worrying. I concluded that if he didn’t bring it up on our second date; I would.

Yes, we had made plans to meet again, and I am super excited about it.


Aminat Sanni-Kamal is an author, a lover of African literature and cats.

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Over The Hills And Far Away – Sutton Strother


The Lady Who Laughs looks like a haunted house, but she isn’t.

They say a girl died on the ride back in the 50’s, when the Lady was still in operation.

They say after the carnival took off, abandoning all seventeen tons of her in a field miles from any major road, some kids paid her a visit and were never seen again.

They say even now, if you go to the field where she stands and walk her maze of track, the papier-mâché dummy at the end of the ride – the Lady herself – will lunge forward to gobble you up.

They say if she doesn’t, she’ll answer any question you bring her.

Who knows how these rumors get started?

They say these things, and they come anyhow.

The Lady knows the woman stumbling through the stand of balsam firs. When she’d come before, the boy pawing her tits had called her Meredith. To count the years between that night and this one, the Lady must examine Meredith for clues. The new crease between her brows. The tight, white line of a mouth that on her last visit had been so pink and eager. Hair duller, flatter. Backside broader. Fingers calloused. The eyes are the same, almost black, twin blades glinting in the dusk. The Lady feels those eyes on her, grazing the tips of her turrets, dragging over her body for signs of danger, or signs of life. I’m here, the Lady would say, if she had a mouth to speak.


Of the three hundred dark rides built by Shiner & Co. in the early twentieth century, only two remain: the Lady Who Laughs and her brother, the Hell Hound.

Her brother’s spent the last sixty years in some dinky West Virginia amusement park. Sometimes, if she concentrates, she can see the Hound, though no one calls him that anymore. Years back, the park painted a blue sky over his black body, traded his flames for cotton-puff clouds. The fading sign that tops him reads OvEr ThE HiLLs AnD fAr AwAy! Smiling garden gnomes and forest critters fill the scenes along his track, so brightly lit you could scarcely call him a dark ride any longer.

The Hound was never much for conversation, but when he’d been himself, he would at least growl and pant and bark. The Lady hasn’t heard a peep from him since the remodel. At first she tried goading him, and when that didn’t work, she begged. Nothing ever came back to her, only the tra-la-la of the happy tune piped through his chambers, peals of laughter that ought to be screams.


Meredith’s fingers skim across a beam. The Lady wants to give her a splinter, just a little one to startle her. What she really wants is electricity. She can feel something like it at the heart of her, a current of magic she doesn’t understand, but it’s not the kind of juice she’d need to really wake up. Imagine it, after all these years, for someone to hear that hum and go slack-jawed at the sight of one rusted cart squeaking forward, eager to bear them inside.

But if Meredith is afraid, it’s not of the Lady. She steps over the first-story railing, powers on her cell phone’s flashlight, and follows the track into darkness.

Past the threshold, the track climbs steadily up to the second story before winding down through the Lady’s guts. Little remains of the old adornments. No more skeletons popping out of walls. No more smiling severed heads, dangling ghosts, grasping mummies. All looted, ages ago. Broken beer bottles, wrappers, and animal bones carpet her floors. Her walls are clogged with bullet holes and graffiti. TERRANCE + KIM 1994. R.I.P. KODY. FRANKIE J. WUZ HERE. FUCK. SHIT. YO MOMMA. Every letter is a scar. Each one still smarts if she thinks on it for too long.

Meredith turns the last corner of track, where her flashlight finally illuminates a row of grinning teeth and a nest of dark curls. The Lady, if she could, would squirm. She hates this part.

“There you are,” Meredith whispers, but it isn’t true. The Lady is not this lady, though it’s an easy mistake to make; it’s why the laughing dummy remains the one piece of her no one has dared to molest. The true Lady is everywhere, all of it, track and tunnels and graffiti’d walls, rusted carts and, yes, the laughing dummy, too, but only just a little, in the way that a person is also their own big toe.

With a swipe, Meredith ups the flashlight’s brightness, revealing the rotting black lace of the dummy’s gown and the mold-dappled fingers that clutch its belly. Breath steady, she waits. For what? Movement? Sound? Does she expect the fingers to reach for her? For the mouth to stretch wide enough to swallow her whole? A footstep? The rustle of a dress? It’s too bad, thinks the Lady, because thinking is all she can do.

A minute passes. Another. Another. Meredith checks the time on her phone’s screen then asks her question: “How do I get out?”

There ought to be more to it, surely, some clarification forthcoming. When others visit, mostly they over-explain, so that by the time they’ve run out of words either they no longer care about their question or have worked out the answer for themselves. Not Meredith. Her sharp eyes scan the tunnel impatiently. It feels like a test, as if the answer will only be worth a damn if the Lady can puzzle out the finer points of the question. Not that an answer is possible. She’s a carnival ride, not even a haunted one. Get out of what? she’d like to ask, if only for her own edification. There’s a gold band on Meredith’s left hand and spit-up down her right sleeve, but there are plenty of traps a woman could find herself in, predicaments the Lady, settled in her field, can only guess at, some she cannot even imagine.

Outside the crickets are chirping. An owl beats its wings against the air. Miles away, a chainsaw sputters to life. The Lady knows Meredith’s ears are reaching past those sounds, eager to pluck out language beneath the chatter. In this moment, the Lady would say anything at all, just to be heard.


A boy did almost die here, once.

This was years before Meredith, one summer afternoon. The boy and his friend had driven out to explore and to get high. They’d made it halfway inside when the boy stumbled and impaled himself on a broken piece of track. The Lady remembers the warmth of slipping inside his guts, not just the heat of blood and viscera but the sensation of contact. Connection. She would’ve liked to stay inside him forever, but his friend pulled him free and held him, weeping, as he called an ambulance.

Days later, some men in suits came to inspect. They talked about bulldozing her finally, maybe just burning her down. The boy had died from blood loss on the way to the hospital. A pity, and a waste. If he had to die, the Lady wishes he’d have died in her arms. She would’ve welcomed the company.


Meredith’s car is out of sight, but the Lady hears its engine rev to life and the crunch of gravel beneath its tires. She follows the sound until it disappears, until there are only the night sounds and the bruised twilight sky and the firs stretching up to meet it.

More than six hundred miles lay between the Lady and the Hound. In the stillness, she reaches across them. Can you hear me, brother? She can see him there beneath the park lights, in the hours before closing time. Tonight he is inundated with sticky-fingered children chaperoned by doting parents, young lovers, squealing friends. They wind through his tunnels like marching ants. Happy. They are all so sickeningly happy. Happy as his gnomes and his critters. Happy as his tra-la-la music.

The Lady pushes all of it aside and reaches for the black mongrel heart of him, for the flames beneath the painted clouds. There, under everything, she would swear she can hear him breathe.

Sutton Strother is a writer and English instructor living in New York. Her work has been featured in SmokeLong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, Jellyfish Review, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. You can find more of her work at

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 33 Contents Link

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