After the Gazebo by Jen Knox

She felt it in her toes that morning, dread that she would shove into ivory heels and dance on beneath heavy clouds. He felt a surge of adrenaline that he thought must accompany every man on his wedding day. Everything had been set in motion four months ago, when they adopted a pug that had been abandoned in a nearby apartment complex. They were unsure they’d have the time to devote to the puppy, but the pug’s bunched face and little square body seemed perfect. It would be a responsibility test, a sort of trial run before they had children. The pug had dermatitis between his folds, which cost money to correct, as did his shots and medications. It was enough to tear a small hole in their new car fund; they had to reevaluate the year and model. The lesser car they picked had good reviews, and the salesman—when he realized they weren’t the best negotiators and had told …Read More

The Prize at the End of This by Jen Knox

Coworkers laugh it off from the safety of their cubicles, call out easy answers: cockroaches, death, heights, death, public speaking, death, and not death but dying. I shrug and say nothing in particular scares me most, so probably death, yeah, probably that. I am brushing my teeth, and the answer taps me on the shoulder. I am jogging, and the answer rests on my feet like weights I must lift again and again. I know it will remain until addressed, haunt me until spoken, but I run faster and concentrate on my burning quads. I set out to make a list—a sort of bucket list. As I begin writing, however, I think of Diana. Then I think The Voice is on, and I should go watch that. I set out to write another day and realize I should call someone about something that suddenly seems important. The answer, meanwhile, is now inside of everything: my husband’s snoring, my worry over …Read More

In China by Nathan Alling Long

IN China they recently completed a dam that will flood a hundred villages.  I read about it this morning in the paper while Mom was sleeping.  Everyone was forced to relocate, but their houses remained behind. Every day I read the paper, looking for such disasters—new piles of bodies found in Rwanda, an earthquake in Chiapas, a derailed train outside Copenhagen.  The worst news always makes me feel a little better, always lessens this feeling that I’m the only one with loss. Once, while I was reading about an apartment that had collapsed in New Delhi, I heard Mom start coughing, a dry and sore morning cough.  I waited to see if it would stop on its own, without having to feed her a teaspoon of cola, or lift her up to massage the tiny cords of muscle that still straddle her spine. Because of a structural flaw in the steel, one of the I-beams that spanned the basement of …Read More

Flies by Nathan Alling Long

Flies. Lots of them. All over the table, in my coffee floating, landing on my arms and legs, buzzing around like a hundred toy planes. I’m trying to enjoy my breakfast, but I feel like King Kong. So I roll up the newspaper and start swatting them, until one lands on my plate. Then I cover my plate and coffee, put away the butter, jam, and bread, and go back to swatting. Thwack, thwack, thwack. I have to say, I get pretty damn good at knocking these things off the wall. The real pleasure is hearing them land on the floor like tiny bits of paper, a faint sound, like a fallen angel. Killing is not so bad in tiny amounts, it strikes me now, and I wonder if I might be able to kill a person this way, one gram at a time. What if these flies are really one body, just broken up into tiny soldiers? A horrible …Read More

Monstrously Unfair by Rich Larson

“You have to move out,” she tells him, pink nails kneading Hello Kitty bedspread. “I don’t want you touching all my clothes. Or seeing me change.” Her eyes are hard now, an eleven-year-old’s glitter-dusted eyes, they told him this would happen. “What if I want to have a sleepover? Or if, I don’t know, a boy came over?” If a boy came over he’d lose his trachea, he wants to say. “Sorry.” She wouldn’t believe his snarls, so he lumbers out of the 28 by 48, slithers out the window. Static of her stuffed animals still crackling in his fur.

Like Chlorine and Night by Rich Larson

With our legs flotsam in the deserted pool she tells me things aren’t going to work. Her legs kick and wobble pale in the cyan, only hint at discomfort. My leg hairs swirl like feelers. “Can I kiss you at least?” I ask, passing her the cigarette. After a pause she says yes. Her head smells like chlorine and night. My hand finds the shrapnel of her hipbone under skin. It traces clammy thigh, our cold lips mash together. My head: flick her cigarette into the water, like drowning a firefly. Baptize her, find flushed warm parts under ripples. Spark her. Realtime: we bisect, there are freckles under her eyes. She looks quizzical. Her tongue tiptoes her teeth. “Whatever you need,” she says. “Whatever helps.” The cigarette goes back in like punctuation. Shiny scar tissue on her thigh, a tetanus shot age five—her parents knew she’d be the type to climb rusted pool fences. It fits under my thumbprint. We …Read More

Hopeful Old Man McFall by Chad Patton

I don’t remember Old Man McFall that good anymore, but I remember how he used to smoke his cigar—the one he’d never be caught dead without—on the porch, in the summertime where the townspeople used to walk by with their children and their dogs. He’d put the flaming stub in front of his face and pinch it with his lips, right at their pucker, and give a concentrated look as if he were blowing up a balloon. And sometimes, from the way the wrinkles formed around his face, it looked as if he were puffing his cheeks out, making a mockery of anyone unlucky to meet his eyes and see his face. I’m not as old now as he was in my youth, but my mind’s telling me that he had a stuffed creature he kept perched on his lap. It was an odd creature, something no man in his right mind would ever get stuffed, let alone keep perched …Read More

Sitting Room by Chad Patton

Oversized Arm Chair It felt like I was in a darkroom, sitting in an armchair that was somehow too big for me, maybe from a lack of foresight or a narcissistic idea that I didn’t need to “try on” an armchair. Nonetheless, it was too big for me, or at least it felt that way, and the room was black with a solitary light shining overhead, and all I could do was sip my tequila, because tequila turned me mean. But, being that I was alone, I wasn’t mean, but instead angry, seeing as there was nobody to whom I could be mean. And I wanted to feel angry. It was my right to feel angry. So I waited in anger with the television turned off and the phone by my side, and maybe, just maybe, if I had a dog I would have been petting it. But I didn’t have a dog, and a good thing too, because I …Read More

Internal Injuries by Marian Brooks

I hold your head in my hands, gently. Your face softens and I kiss you, just once. But it is enough. You turn away and I know. I want to bash your head against the wall until your brains spill all over the white carpet. I want to scream in your face about how you’ve ruined everything. I want to scream until my throat is raw. My journal falls to the floor, just out of reach as if the words themselves want to hide. I hear you slamming drawers and stuffing clothes into your suitcase. You go, leaving me with a cool draft from the future.

Iron Crosses by Marian Brooks

Carl and Joyce Walker could not imagine how they’d managed to create and cultivate a 24-year-old skinhead. Both were accomplished people in their own way. Curt taught math at Northeast high school in Philadelphia. He was a local chess champion. Joyce sang solo in the choir at church and collected spinning wheels. She took pride in preparing nutritious meals for her family. There were plenty of vegetables to go around. The Walkers’ political leanings were slightly to the left—conservative, in a liberal sort of way that was hard to explain. They lived in the western suburbs. The couple had three sons. David, thirteen, enjoyed spiking his hair and wearing peculiar outfits that looked mostly like Halloween costumes. He was an average student and had recently discovered girls. Steve, twenty, was finishing his last year at community college. He was engaged to a lovely girl, Jill, who was planning to attend veterinary school. Steve had met all of his developmental milestones …Read More

Desire by W.F. Lantry

  I’m not a good driver of horses. A black horse, a white horse, a chariot? No. The Greeks got it all wrong. I don’t want to pick between the two. I want to be one with both. Or rather, I want to feel myself feeling the experience of desire. Take strawberries. It’s not that I want to consume them, to enjoy the momentary taste. I love wanting them, I love the moment when I’m reaching out to take one in my hand, knowing its ripeness can be mine. Miranda says it’s a mistake to wish for specifics. I shouldn’t ask for strawberries, I should just pray for something to happen. Besides, I’m always asking for the wrong thing: horses or berries or jewel-tone skirts. Sometimes I wish everything golden: the trees outside, the voices of the birds, even the curve of her shoulder. There’s a certain stage of moonlight that seems gold in November. Miranda arrived at late morning. …Read More

Reason for Being by W.F. Lantry

It wasn’t Mexico, the coast of France. I was meeting a girl, somewhere near Beaulieu. I had an address in my pocket for some bar. The train from Nice was empty. Three pm. Out the window, limestone dust coated every blossom. We didn’t go near the Chagall Museum. She’d told me on the phone she liked the place, but it’s a long walk from the station, and besides, I was going to her, not the other way around. I counted the stations along the way: Villefrance, Cap Ferrat. You’ve seen them in movies without realizing it. To Catch a Thief, Casino Royale. The whole place is like a myth, but with traffic. Next stop, Beaulieu. I descended from the train. There’s nothing there except the cliffside to the north, and the midland sea to the south. Oh, there’s a goat path up to Èze, and you could go up the steps to the Corniche, but other than that, just the …Read More

Email from Athens by Jackie Davis Martin

You open your emails, excited that there is one from Ellen who is in Greece visiting a daughter in her forties, like yours was before she died, and you brace yourself for what you know already, which is that Ellen and her husband Robert will be traveling to Hydra or Mykonos or some Aegean island to play with their adult daughter and son-in-law on their bi-annual double-date, expecting that Ellen will mention the sun- drenched Plaka and reedy flutes of the streets or Souvlaki as holiday dinner, and so in this mood of braced anticipation you begin to read, even though you know already—how could you not know?—that words hit like bullets even the first lines where you  tense up reading that she has been sensitive to what you are going through and so hasn’t mentioned  her daughter much; and you think okay, but what’s coming now, and what comes is a goddam hymn of praise, a paean to her …Read More

How to Build a House by Jackie Davis Martin

First you go to Home Depot with your boyfriend and buy those funny little felt masks that he says you’ll need, and you cuddle and pinch and lean against each other in the aisles to the point where you make out in the car in the dark parking lot before driving to his apartment to do it again. That weekend you make your first crawl into the wreckage of a house he’s bought in the city—a shell, he calls it—in shorts and tee shirt and sandals and mask, digging in mud and god knows what as he bangs and pounds and walls collapse. The masks have to be exchanged twice and you’re dirtier than you’ve ever been when, back at his place, the shower washes over both of you in rivulets of watery muck as you do it in the shower, hotly and desperately, before relaxing with a gin and tonic and dry roasted peanuts, studying his sketches of your …Read More

The Daily Routine by Anne Sullivan

Germs don’t live in the cold. That was my first thought when I woke up in my frigid bedroom beneath starched sheets. Creases still ran from end to end where they had been folded in their packaging. I traced my finger up and down one of the ridges. My alarm went off moments later. I turned it off, careful to touch only the middle of the button. A little worn spot was beginning to develop there. Sarah would have to buy me a new one. I would tell her that when she came to pick me up, when we finally left the apartment together. We’d been working up to that for months. And today was the day. I sat up and slid my right foot over the edge of the bed and made sure it was in the white slipper before moving the other leg. I got up quickly and moved to the window framed in by the blank white …Read More

Blarney by Anne Sullivan

“I don’t want to do it,” Tommy said. “You have to,” Clarence spat back through the gap in his buck teeth. He held out a rusted key. Tommy eyed the crowd around him. They were all bigger than he was. “We all had to do it,” Danny said. “It’s only fair that you do it, too.” “Yeah,” Seamus chimed in, “otherwise, Clarence stole the key from his dad for nothing.” “It’s just a little game,” Clarence said. Tommy didn’t say anything. He stared at the clovers at his feet. Somewhere behind the trees hedging in the field where they stood, a sheep bleated. In the distance, surrounded by a moat of green hills and crumbled rock walls, the outline of an old square castle filled the sky, just as it had when he’d gone on his field trip there weeks ago. But he’d barely made it to the top of the turret. Mrs. O’Conner had held his hand the entire …Read More

Poser by Beth Bates

In a darkened studio, draped in an ill-fitting silk blouse, I sat on a wooden stool and posed. Girl parts aching, I contorted my face into expressions of purity. “How was your summer?” asked the photographer from behind his giant camera. He clicked away. He didn’t want an answer, but I yearned to give him one. Beneath my petite, dance team girl exterior resided a dumpy, used up chain-smoker in a housecoat. I felt weary and alone. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I said. He adjusted the umbrella to light my face and tilted my chin with tobacco-stained fingers. I needed to unearth the ache, to bring it into the light. A gnawing emptiness yawned, greedy to be filled. I needed help apprehending the adult turmoil that had slithered into my spirit. I was a baby, and fourteen days earlier I had given away a baby. Per specific instructions intended to reduce emotional trauma, and to minimize …Read More

Change of Plans by Beth Bates

Surrounded by ocean was where I was supposed to spend the sixth grade. On the last day of fifth, my mother confided her plan to move us to Kauai to live with her father. "For gym you’ll kayak," she said, "and after school, we’ll surf!" She didn’t plan on being murdered or leaving Birdie and me to live with a grandmother we didn’t know, in a Midwestern state we’d never visited. When Ruth met us at the airport wearing one of her designer tennis dresses, she insisted that we call her by her first name. Something about the single men at the club not wanting to hit balls over her net anymore if they found out she had grandchildren. “Call me Grandma in public and I’ll check you into an orphanage.” “The only orphanage I’ve ever seen was at the Boulder Dinner Theater in ‘Annie,’” I said. “Birdie played the littlest orphan.” “Well, then, I’ll ship you to live with …Read More

Walls of Eden by Cezarija Abartis

“Man, I gotta get out of this place,” Denny says to the bartender who’s writing a novel. “Square root of nothing. Playing and playing in the bar, and all it’s leading to is more playing and playing. Where are the women who were supposed to be chasing me? Where are the chicks? See that brunette at the end of the bar with the red nails and rasta curls? She’s like a bored cat. She blinks her eyes and turns away.” “Where’s the money and fame? I’d settle for fame. And chicks.” Denny taps a brisk tattoo on the counter. “You can write that in your book. Page one: Denny’s leaving.” “Here, get me another mojito. I’ve got five minutes before the next set.” “But this is what I wanted. A life in music. Even when I was a kid, I dreamed about playing riffs and chords and tunes all night. To have music coming out of my fingers and going …Read More

MidLife by Cezarija Abartis

"I’m burning up inside." Harry shivered and coughed into his handkerchief. "But I’m cold." It seemed that all his students were coughing. The weather was changing. "Put on your jacket. You’ll feel better." Ken almost never caught colds. Harry closed his eyes and, behind the eyelids, saw flashes. "I was thinking of my mother when she was dying." "That’s no good. Drink your beer." Ken stared at his own beer. The cosmos was big, he thought, but here it was contracted to one glass. The nearest part of the cosmos was photographed as a velvet night against which flickered pinpoints of light that were eons away. Space was mostly a vacuum and increasing all the time. He’d seen a lot of shows about that on The History Channel and PBS. He raised his glass. "Here’s to us and to friendship." Harry snorted. "May it get us to the other side." He finished the toast their usual way, though he did …Read More

Honey Bee by Niya Christine

I mean really, if I had known!That being what I am actually meant living in a ‘female only’ tribe all my life… …that my fuzzy, leathered skin; my sensitive antenna and rickety legs would break so fast, so hard, so easily under a strong dusty wind. 
Wind, that would also have the power to roll me up and suffocate me in it’s treacherous, uncaring weight……never mind the trickery of the chlorine pool! That I’d be working all my life in one job. That every second of every day, every cell in my sexy striped body would not be able to get another job! That the singular effort of making a jar of the stuff would be equal to me flying around the world 4 times and pollinating 9 million flowers? But really, honestly, think about it, do you think if I’d known that the boys would be so beautiful, so yummy and tender to my young naked feelings and thoughts, …Read More

Little Orange Pills by Harmony Neal

Trapped in cycles, I see the patterns, but can never change them—stop that inevitable barf. I try to open my mouth and explain what is happening, and how I don’t want it, but it’s all I know. I look for a connection, one sweaty palm thrust out, but the fatherly faces go blank, admonishing, Fishing for pity, they say, grow up. What a disconnect from what I intend with my words and how they are perceived in someone else’s ear, and I can’t cross that bridge. So I slouch back down in my seat, confirming to cold ears what they heard all along that I never said. I reach down my throat and feel my organs, testing for failure, looking for the malfunctioning parts, an answer, but they are slippery and strangely cold like vomit that comes after drinking too many glasses of water. I feel I’ve gone the wrong way again. But then I try to live. The man …Read More

The Nursery by Harmony Neal

The Nursery lured us in, tiny seeds, with honeyed words and promises.  Come in and flourish!  The Drs of Horticulture said.  We will feed and water you and make you bloom.  We will help you perfect yourself.  We only accept the most promising seeds. I wanted to be the best Willow I could, and the Nursery seemed to offer the right tools and support.  They ushered me into a warm greenhouse with other seeds and saplings.  The Director placed me in a pot of rich dirt and patted me in with soft fingers.  He sprinkled expensive bottled water over me and cooed.  When I sprouted, he praised my progress and angled me so I’d get a little more light. The Dr. of Form pulled on fraying gloves and plucked out my limbs.  I cried, and he said, No no no, these are weeds, they are not a part of you. “But it hurts,” I said. No it doesn’t, it’s good for you.  Here …Read More

Broken Dreams at the Clover Leaf Hotel by Libby Cudmore

I sit on the broken concrete steps of the Clover Leaf hotel and light a cigarette. I know I should quit, they cost too much money and they’re probably killing me, but it’s the only thing I have that belongs to me, the tired smoke from my sticky lungs is my own and no one else’s. Waiting tables always means I belong to someone else, the cooks, the customers, Mary’s coked-out son who took over the place after she died, Hi, fine, what’ll it be? Millie, get your saggy ass over here and pick up your order! You got customers waiting, this is no time for a smoke! The Clover Leaf burned down years ago, but no one ever tore it down, what’s the point, it isn’t worth the money Warrensburg would spend when another dive will just burn down in it’s place. Jimmy used to live in room 405. The room was condemned, an old forgotten crime scene, blocked …Read More

End of The Line by Randall Brown

He reaches for the bottle of Wild Turkey. The cancer in his liver bites at his insides. He’s offshore, a developer of sonic flares, those flames on the oil rigs, his design preventing the flame lick that burns everything up. It’s the last oil rig in the rising waters of a world going under. He swallows the last belt of whiskey. The bird circles overhead. He hikes up his pants, spits something red into the water, pisses between the iron rails, waits for the whirlybird to take him home.

Mostly Wondering if She Left Her Phone On by Randall Brown

I tell her I can’t sit in the front row, that I have this fear I’ll jump on the stage. She makes a Mad Magazine sound—swizap—and sits front middle. I sit behind her.  She turns around as the lights dim, says, “It’s the actors, you know, who should be scared.” I whisper back, “Scared of me.” That unseats her, makes her restless as if she believes I might go up there. Imagine my whispering to her throughout until she has to stand up and shout Stop it!—and everything would have to. That would be irony. Can you yell irony in a crowded theatre? They’re putting on Mexican masks. What compels some thoughts into action, others not? Fear or sense? Stay in character. How many times must they tell themselves such a thing each act—ten—a hundred? Oh, another night ruined.  If I could see inside her mind, what might be on it?

Discovery Bay by Matt Stauffer

Mornings on Discovery Bay, three hours northwest of the din of Seattle, tucked away under the mouth of Puget Sound as it kisses the lapping waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, are peaceful, gentle affairs.  As the sun rises through the damp, chilly Washington air, a groggy bald eagle wakes, ruffling its feathers in the rays of sun speckled by the canopy of pines huddled together, surveying the curious and hungry fawns below.  The eagle cranes its neck over the rim of its meticulously crafted nest, watching as a twig falls carelessly to the soft brown earth.  Without pause, a fawn continues to rummage lazily, poking its friendly nose through the leaves of low-lying shrubs, surely waking a squirrel or hare from the night’s rest. As the sun blankets the bay, cutting pockets into the morning fog, the eagle stretches its talons as it prepares to break the fast of the night before.  Opening her wings, she glides …Read More

Bandon, Oregon by Matt Stauffer

When I was thirteen years old my grandparents drove me to Oregon: Bandon by the bay. I remember picking fresh blueberries in a field. I’ve had blueberries on my cereal for years. I remember undocking the boat, kicking off into the cold Pacific waters, my grandfather, Cal, and his friend Jack regaling me with their sea shanties of a life long gone by: the days when people wore suits to fly on an airplane. Jack told us about his home in Tucson— how it’s too hot to go outside during the day, but it’s perfect for sitting in your garage until dinner building rocking horses for your grandkids. There is a cactus in their backyard, a great saguaro, standing honorably in the sun. A heady woodpecker made love to it, boring a hole right through the skin. For weeks Jack and his wife Faye cursed the intruder and his vandalism of their beloved monument to the Old West. Every morning …Read More

Refractory by David Backer

The story we usually hear about Sir Isaac Newton is that one day, by chance, an apple fell and hit him on the head and inspired the theory of gravity. But it wasn’t chance that caused the apple to fall. On that fine sunny day, he was leaning against the trunk of a tree playing with a glass prism. Newton caught a ray of sunlight in the prism and, just as the spectrum of colors spread out before him, a genie wearing a tweed jacket and a powdered wig arose out of the light. "Hello!" it declared, "I am the Occidental genie!" Newton was horrified. The possibility of a genie contained within the properties of light was inexplicable to his scientific mind. But Newton, assuring himself that there is a natural explanation for any observable phenomenon, regained his composure. "Okay," he said, remembering something, "isn’t the man that frees a genie entitled to wishes?" "Wishes?" asked the Occidental genie. "Yes." …Read More

Lion and Leopard by Anne B Wright

She used to think of him as a lion, with his great bushy head of blonde hair, and his massive chest, and the large paws that were soft and cushiony when he held her head in them. The friendly lion, who loved to eat barbecued ribs slathered in sauce, ripping the meat from the fragile bones, then licking his fingers with a long pink tongue. Sometimes he licked her neck with that tongue, and it sent shivers along her body and she would grab him with both legs around his slim hips, and lay him on his back on the floor. Then he would smile at her, and his teeth, almost invisible in their sharp whiteness, would flash and he would play at biting her neck, just enough to tease. She knew he loved her, but she knew he wasn’t the one. She liked the slender black leopard man who lived on the next block. His hair was slick and …Read More