Night Before Zombiemas
By E.S. Wynn

I’ll never forget that light, that pulsing strobe of red and green as it lit up the snowy night sky like some tainted swarm of impossibly flying patrol cars. It was terrifying, eerie as it played among the blistering, pockmarked shadows clinging to the faces of the zombie mob, the shambling horde of eager corpses that yawned on into the night, moaning as they sought every sleeping body nestled snug in its bed, checked every house for survivors twice. My house was no different; they came in through the doors, the windows, the chimney. My only hope of escape was the second story, to climb out the window and onto the snow covered roof, to find up there some way to get down or get across to the next house before their prancing feet and pawing hands could find me.

But I was not so lucky.

No sooner did I reach the slope of the roof than what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a brilliant light that stabbed down at me from the heavens, blinding and hot against my skin even as I threw my arms in front of my face. There was a whistle, a shout, a crack of a whip, and then in the haze I heard his voice, knew the terrible laugh of the one who had spurred on the zombie horde, the one whose whip drove them forward and into the sleeping streets, kept them hungry, eager for human flesh. I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick, vicious overlord of the northern skies.

There was no time, no choice– I ran, but quickly realized that running barefoot on a frosty, angled roof is no vision of sugar-plums. I lost my balance almost immediately, slid sideways and then spun on the curve of one foot right off the edge and into snowy infinity. The ground came up at me like a flash, tore open my leg and slashed up my hands. In an instant, I knew I was done for, could hear the horde as it closed in on me, hungry to taste the bruised and broken flesh that my fall had opened for them. Cruel, talon-like fingers reached toward me, and for a moment I saw my death, whole body stiffening, chilling with the harsh realization that I was about to die.

And then Mrs. Rosenschwartz appeared.

She came hurtling out of nowhere like a flash in the night, her blood-stained walker and gnashing dentures a vision of salvation, the swinging, reusable shopping bag at her side crammed with goodies meant for the zombie horde. In one swift movement, she plunged one gnarled hand into the sack and tore loose a brown bottle whose white, plastic lid was no match for her porcelain chompers. I caught the twinkle in her eye as she bit free the cap and hurled the bottle into the mob, spraying countless numbers of the undead with a clear liquid that bit into their rotting flesh with foamy violence, dropping them in agonized heaps of writhing, screaming putridity.

“Here, take one, sonny.” She said suddenly, pressing one of the brown bottles into my hand with a grin. “Closest thing left on God’s green earth to holy water when it comes to these rotting punks!”

She didn’t wait for me to respond, just smiled that iridescent, be-dentured smile covered in the stains acquired in countless years of hard reps with a mug of coffee and a dedicated patience to the tutelage of a cigarette. In another instant, she was pushing her way back into the fray again, tossing bottles of the stuff right and left, draining each plastic carcass out upon the convulsing flesh of the risen dead. Awestruck and amazed, I looked at the label of the bottle, eyes wondering after the name of the magical liquid I clutched in my shivering hands. I found the name almost immediately. Hydrogen Peroxide.

I looked up in shock, saw the foaming carnage all around me. With a few well aimed tosses, old Mrs. Rosenschwartz had leveled the endless march of undead under a hail of writhing, bubbly torture whose burn fed upon the rot and disease inherent in every inch of corrupted flesh. Those zombies still under St. Nick’s control quivered in fear as Mrs. Rosenschwartz pulled another bottle of the magic liquid from her still bulging sack, but they soon lost even that speck of nerve and retreated like a host of holiday shoppers going home after Black Friday. St. Nick grumbled and hissed and gathered them all, then he hitched up his ship as his fiery engines gave a whistle and the whole horde flew away like the burning, rocket-powered down of a cyberpunk thistle.

But I swear that I heard him say as he roared out of sight;

I’ll get you next Christmas, kid; you just got lucky tonight.

- - -
Santa Claus believed in E.S. Wynn when he was a child, but later found out that the man in the khaki shorts and loud hawaiian shirts that wrote novels on the wall on Christmas Eve for an offering of cheese danish and Doctor Pepper was actually just his father in disguise.


Collision Error
By Kayla Al-Shamma-Jones

Nobody—save for the overly flirtatious mailman—seemed to notice when Jenna started falling.  I don’t mean that the ground opened up and began swallowing her whole, as if a pool of burping-swirling quicksand had opened up under her hand-me-down Skechers .  No, that’s not it at all—what happened to Jenna Barker is much more treacherous than that.  In the video game world they call it a “collision error” because objects start to pass right through you, almost as if everything (except you) has turned into some kind of hologram; everything looks and seems real, but as soon as you touch something, the jig is up! and you pass right through it.  Most of the time you (the player) won’t notice it for a while, but then it happens:  you’re running around in the game, trying to kill zombies or rescue a damsel or something like that, when bam! you trip and you fall, but instead of landing flat on your face you go right through the (holographic) ground and you fall
and you fall
straight through the crust of the earth and all the way through the planet’s red-hot center until there you are—
floating, completely and forever alone,
in space. 

Usually the only way to fix this sort of thing is to restart your game, but poor Jenna didn’t have that option so she just had to live with it.

Thankfully for Jenna the whole process happened slowly, at the rate of just a few inches a day, so she had time to try and figure out what the fuck to do.  But even though Jenna was one of those (annoying) straight-A girls, the best thing she could come up with was to ask her friends or (gulp) maybe even her teachers—but that was a bit of a problem because (like I said) nobody seemed to notice Jenna’s plight—or Jenna herself—at all, save for the mailman.  When she went to school that Wednesday, half of her shins had fallen through and she was significantly shorter than she’d been on Monday, but even then, her best friend Elly didn't notice; she just passed right by poor Jenna in the hallway before the morning bell.  The day went by and Jenna went from desk to lousy desk and nobody said a word to her.  Jenna knew she should say something, or cry out for help, but she didn’t want people to think she was crazy

(“Women and children should only speak when spoken to”, Father had told her when she was three and making too much noise at the supermarket),

so she went along with it and tried to be as normal as possible, which worked because nobody addressed her or even looked at her her at all that day, not even once, even though by lunchtime half her legs were gone.  Then there was cheer practice, which was depressing because of course Jenna couldn’t do most of the exercises during warm-ups or really participate at all; all she could do was stand there and flail her arms around which made her feel like an idiot.  The only person who spoke to her all day was the mailman, who was standing on the porch when the school bus dropped her off that afternoon.
“What the heck’s happening to you, Jenna?” he asked as she wobbled up to the front door.
“I don’t know.”
“It’s like you’re slipping through the cracks.”
Jenna looked down and noticed all the hairline cracks in the sidewalk and imagined all those tiny skittering bugs deep down in there and tried not to think about what it would be like if she continued falling and her head got stuck down there.  Would the bugs and worms crawl all over her eyeballs and nest in her hair and poop on her blouse? 
“Should I take you to a doctor?  I have a guy, real good, named Dr. Felp…I’ll give you a ride.”
Jenna knew that a doctor couldn’t help her, plus she didn’t want to go anywhere with the mailman, even if his offer was genuine and he was only a little creepy, so she just nodded and mumbled her thanks before walking-tottering past him and shutting the door.
When she got inside she did what all teenage girls do when they’ve had a rough day: she went to her bedroom and flopped on the bed.  Or, rather, she tried—but she couldn’t hoist herself up onto the bed because her legs were stuck.  She gripped the edge of her bed and pulled and wriggled and twisted until all her veins popped blue-purple against her porcelain skin, but it was no use.  Exhausted, she slumped over and decided that she’d just have to weep standing up.
But all that struggling must’ve done something because then she started to fall much more quickly, just like you do in video games. 
down she went.
The whole earth rushed past her: she tumbled right past all those bugs and worms and went straight through the earth’s crust, then she slipped through an ocean of oil and passed through the sunshine-bright molten core (Jenna was thankful that it didn’t hurt—she actually didn’t feel the heat at all).   Then she did it all in reverse and fell through the sky somewhere around rural China and continued falling until she plummeted through the atmosphere and finally came to a rest somewhere in outer space—Jenna didn’t know where she was because she always fell asleep when her parents took her and her stupid sister to the observatory.  Nope, she was lost
and alone
            in outer space, and all she could do was float there,
                        and stare down at the big blue marble beneath her,
limp as a forgotten doll,
            and wonder why nobody noticed
when she started falling through the

- - -
Kayla Al-Shamma-Jones was a pretty weird kid, which is why she’s now a writer. Long ago she studied literature at the University of California at Davis and is now a full-time author of dark, disturbing, and fantastical fiction. She currently resides in Los Angeles, CA with her fabulous husband Orion and her two cats.


There's such a thing as being too adaptable
By Erika Price

Scheherazade ran out on the bastard, retired someplace temperate, and started writing flash fiction on her shins and forearms with Bic rollerball pens. Every day, she squinted into the rising sun and narrated on herself while taking fortifying sips from a big plastic cup, until every limb was covered in jagged handwritten henna, which she’d then survey with brief pride, and forget.

She’d take a swill from a slurry of Kristoff and Crystal Light and ice. And another, and another, until the ice went from thick rocks to small, crispy meteoroids, and the liquid became more water than not, and she’d drain it and chomp on the ice and the sun would burst into swells of purples and oranges and fizzle into navy and she’d find she couldn’t re-read the story on herself even if she wanted to. Then, by morning, a crest of water’d crash over her passed-out drunk-ass and wash it all away.


“Battered wife syndrome my ass. I’ll haul out whenever I want, and that’s now, or later today, I’m serious.”


“I’m telling you, I got my bag right here and I’m putting my shit in it, and that’s it, I don’t need you to pick me up, huh uh, I’m out.”


“‘Financial domination’, they called it on the hotline. Like I’m a child. Like I’m a concubine. Like money justifies the thousands of, of like, women who stick around watching their kids get slugged for decades. Why? Because they need the fucker for a check? Like I need a job first?”


“Yeah, they’re the ones telling my ass to hold my horses. Get some financial security, get a safe space set up with a friend, you need a parachute. Legit, they said that. But, no, that’s not true.”


“I don’t need to work on a thing. I’ll eat bananas and sleep on the beach. My hair and skin and sand all the same color, all taupe everything, all warm and dusty-dry. I can live there, fuck it. I won’t get skin cancer from it, I don’t burn, not hardly ever, except at water parks. That’s it. Just me and the sloshing sound of the water and a pen. I’ll live, like, forever in the now.”


“It’s that practicality crap that kept me hanging around here in the first place.”


“What, no, I’m not drinking.”


Once you’ve written a story, it doesn’t belong to you, even if you get credit for it. It reads in your head like something said by a sibling: it has your patter to it, but not your essence. So why try to own it? Why own your babies like an animal hoarder or a parent of helicoptered children?

There’s about three ways that can go. One, you can cling to what you’ve done in the past, while slowly losing your grasp of it nonetheless, failing to identify with your prior self more and more. Two, you can jump hoops and ride unicycles in parody of yourself, trying to get your own tone right. To keep sounding like the person you once were. That didn’t work out so hot for James Patterson or Cormac McCarthy. Three, you can keep shitting work out, stories as disparate, ephemeral, and unfocused as selfhood truly is, while paradoxically claiming all those mis-matched productions came from the same source.

Or you can do it up real, that storytelling thing, and throw out your loose ends with each coming night. You can murder your children and feed rocks to your forebears until their bellies burst and you’re the only one standing. You can come up with really hasty climaxes and put all your energy into composing catchy pitches and premises that beguile the listener until he passes out in a drunken stupor on the dog’s bed in the living room at four AM before he gets the chance to go all surly and whale on you. You can get really heretical with it, if you want, and tell stories not for their craft, but to save your crafty hide.


If someone writes your ass-saving stories down, and retells them, you might become mythological. But it’s little comfort. Trust me: people think Scheherazade’s story is a love story, for chrissake, because she marries her would-be murderer in the end. People know all about Aladdin and Sindbad the Sailor’s adventures, but they don’t think about how it’d be to pace around the palace every day with the scythe hanging over your head, being forced both to bang your be-header and tuck him in with swash-buckling, cliffhanging narratives every night.

Sounds like a hell of a writer’s retreat, though. It obviously did Scheherazade’s career wonders. See her there, hunched over herself on the beach, ostensibly free— but still married, somehow, to her old adaptations. She clutches to the drink and the tireless unwinding of narrative, those vestigial structures that kept her above the crest so long. You can’t swim very fast with your water-wings on.

Watch her sip, and write, and perhaps learn: Abuse is the art of turning gifts into weapons.

- - -
Erika D. Price is a social psychologist, writer, and eternal student living in Chicago, Illinois. She writes all her first drafts on the Notepad app of her iPhone, which sounds insane but is actually quite a convenient way to bang out ideas on the go while simultaneously looking like a vapid, perpetually-texting woman-child.


The Scorpion
By Michael Fontana

I missed work Friday because a scorpion had grown from my spine. The scorpion was actually an extension of the vertebrae, with a stinger and claws to boot. It didn’t like people seated in too close proximity so it would sting their ass but good if they crept too close. You know how that is, someone who’s not respectful of personal space and wants to touch you before they decide that there’s room enough for both of you. That’s when the scorpion lashed out.
“Scoot your buttocks over,” the scorpion said in a distinctively brassy and feminine voice.
The recipient of the sting took a hop but definitely away from me, which won the scorpion plaudits from me.
“Who’s next? Huh? Huh?” The scorpion was on a roll now, bobbing in and out of my spine, snipping claws in the air. No one was going to mess around with her now.
Except for Monday, when I returned to work. My boss was all over the tale of my tail. My boss had hair slicked back with Brylcreem, strictly out of the sixties, all of it gray as well as his thin little risqué beard. He had beady black eyes and a nose striped with gin blossoms. Not a pretty sight.
“What’s this growing out of you then?” He said, pointing at the scorpion but not daring to draw close.
“She’s my bodyguard,” I said.
“Very funny. But let me tell you, if anyone gets hurt you will bear the legal liability alone, got it?”
Oh, I got it all right. My boss was probably one of those with a wee peccadillo for such critters, spent his bedtime animus dreaming of the formations he might make in a dune with such a beast.
“She’s in my custody,” I told him, even though it was a blanket lie.
“This is a meager excuse at best for missing work on a Friday afternoon,” my boss said. “I’ll expect a doctor’s note.”
“You’ll get one,” I promised. I sat at my desk but the scorpion was not amused. She chewed into the seat backing of my chair, she whipped her stinger around at anyone who passed. She was spoiling for fun and I was bringing none her way.
So I finally lifted myself off my seat and took a walk. It eased the pressure on my spine to move a little anyway, and it certainly freed the scorpion up for whatever gig she surmised. On this occasion the gig was to pierce the water cooler with her stinger so the liquid all ran out and she could have a splash in it. It embarrassed me because it soaked my clothes to make me look incontinent.
Other employees circled us and it was plain to see my distress at the incident. They were amused. They laughed and pointed fingers at my wetness. I pictured them shaming small children in a similar condition, they were so pleased about it. The scorpion soon began laughing as well, high pitched and squealing with it.
My boss hurriedly blustered onto the scene. “What’s this?” He said. He grabbed the scorpion by the tail, which prevented his being stung, but that didn’t mean the tail didn’t whip around and by default, him with it. He was like an untethered balloon there, bobbing up and down with the reflex motion of the scorpion’s tail.
“What’s the meaning of this?” My boss said.
Everyone, including me, was now laughing at him. The scorpion was having herself quite a time, flapping him around like a stale newspaper.
In the end this wore me out for the scorpion was still attached, after all. I seized her little head and squeezed and that caused her to drop my boss. He stood up, beet faced, and adjusted his tie before slinking away. I released the scorpion’s head but she wouldn’t sting me because it would be a lot like suicide to do so.
“Let go of my head,” she said, trying to deepen her voice to sound more masculine and menacing.
“I won’t. You need to control yourself. You’re going to get me fired.”
“Your boss is a blowhard anyway. What do you need with him?”
“His money every other week.”
“You should show a little more gumption and strike out on your own.”
“Well until I do, you need to exercise a little restraint.” I squeezed her head just a smidge harder.
“All right then, let go.”
I let go. She took a couple of random clicks at me with her claws but otherwise did no harm.
We went through what I would consider a sort of 12-step program for scorpions, informally. Every time she meant to lash out with her tail, I squeezed her head. It was training for both of us. She hated me gripping her that way, said I was violating her, but somehow still seemed to put up with it.
In time the scorpion started hanging off my back more, being less intense. She took up knitting and crossword puzzles. She crafted herself the cutest little caftan. Long story short, I was able to slough off the Vicodin and returned to work a happier and yes, far more productive, employee.
My boss meanwhile, learned the trick to her. He began to flirt. Severely. “How’s my pretty today?” He would ask the scorpion. She couldn’t quite blush, being severely red already, so she curled her tail up and down invitingly.
I objected the first time he asked her out for cocktails. “I won’t be part of this. This is crossing some employer-employee boundary.”
“You’ll be crossing the boundary over to the unemployment office if you don’t cooperate,” he said.
I cooperated. I sat at a bar nursing a beer with my back turned to the happy couple, who were drinking bloody marys like to beat the band. During their first kiss I heard the scorpion hiss with pleasure and I knew I was in deep trouble.
After a few months of this, my boss asked her to marry and she accepted. He liked the little stinger in the ass every now and again, I knew from far too personal experience, listening to the old monkey take his turn on the needle like a slab of wax. So on the wedding night I had to lay on my side, back turned to them, while they went through the motions of their kinky and bestial love.
“My darling,” my boss said with jowls flapping.
“My love,” the scorpion whistled like a tea kettle.
“My god,” I said. And I considered myself a heathen.
Thankfully they didn’t or couldn’t reproduce. But I was still part of this cracked relationship, flipping my backside to them whenever their passions overtook, which was far more often than you would expect from a codger like him and a critter like her.
That’s when I elected surgery. I spoke to my doctor about separating myself from said scorpion. She objected. “You can’t! I’ll die!”
“Modern science is full of miracles these days,” I said. “They’ll find a way to keep you alive all on your lonesome.”
“I like being attached to you,” she said coyly.
“Because it’s fun to do it all behind your back.” This made her titter with delight.
It was enough to provoke me to sign up for the surgery. They were able to remove the scorpion and keep her alive courtesy of myriad tubes and wires.
Her first independent action was to sting me in the ass.

- - -
Michael Fontana is the author of two novels, Sleeping With Gods and The Sacred Machine. He lives and writes in beautiful Bella Vista, Arkansas.


The Job
By Tony Rauch

- Hungarians? Would I have a problem shaving one down? Maybe even several? No sir. No problem at all.

- Moon the President of Paraguay? Not a problem. Heck, I practice at home all the time – different angles and techniques. I enjoy mooning visiting dignitaries and hope to do so many times in the future. Yes, I enjoy dropping my pants. For sure. Definitely.

- Steal a pie from a church? Maybe even several? Not an issue with me. Not at all.

- Run off with a drunk man’s trousers? No worries. None whatsoever.

- Throw a fit in a monastery? You only need to ask.

- Wear my pajamas to the library and spend all day there? Yeah, sure. Why not? Is there anything better to do?

- Berating the elderly? I look forward to it.

- Fire bomb the liquor store our rivals frequent? Not a concern. In fact, I keep several incendiary devices in the trunk of my car at all times, along with several other little beauties – just in case, you dig?

- Kick a hobo in the groin while he sleeps? No problemo.

- Push a nun into the mud? I can’t wait. I see no problem with that either.

- Throw a handful of monkey feces at a sidewalk reporter or people waiting for the bus? My pleasure. Can do.

- Kill a man with my bare hands? Really getting right up in there, all close and personal? Just getting in there real close and tight like? Yeah, sure, why not?

- Steal a wagon or tricycle from a kid? Glad to. Often. Count on it.

- Dress up like Ethel Merman and parade around the town square? Thank you, I would enjoy that most specially. That may be my finest hour.

- Run naked through the supermarket? I couldn’t be happier. I keep myself in tip-top shape. Top notch. They’ll never know what hit ‘em. They’ll never catch me. Just grease me down. Grease me up right now. Let’s go. Right now.

Yes sir. Yes sir, you can count on me, sir. For sure. When do I start?

- - -
Tony Rauch has been interviewed by The Prague Post, Oxford University, and Rain Taxi. His books have been reviewed by MIT, Savanna Collage of Art and Design, and Rain Taxi, among many others. His stories have appeared in numerous literary journals. Rauch has four books of short stories out –

- “I'm right here,” from Spout Press (funky/jazzy/arty experimental short stories)
- “Laredo,” from Eraserhead Press (funky/jazzy/arty fairytale short stories)
- “Eyeballs growing all over me . . again” from Eraserhead Press (fairy tale surreal fantasy action adventure sci-fi short stories and story starters)
- “As I floated in the jar” from Eraserhead Press (fairy tale surreal fantasy action adventure sci-fi short stories and story starters) [to be published in the next few weeks]

For more info and story samples, refer to his website: http://trauch.wordpress.com/


Dragon Science
By Dave Hughes

"Fact of the matter is, your rooster is actually a dragon," said Dr. Horace. His lips were tight and his brow was chiseled in place, and he stood a mere foot from Mrs. Stanislaus's nose.

She wondered for a second if this was some new way of saying "you've got a nice be-hind at 35, wanna cheat on your husband?" Which Dr. Horace had said before, but this time, thankfully, he was sober. His gaze turned from Mrs. Stanislaus to Ernesto, the portentous black-bodied red-crowned rooster in the three-foot cage below, a high source of income and blue ribbons for the Stanislaus family.

"Oh," said Mrs. S, taking a step back, "thank you. Ernesto appreciates the compliment. Don't you, big guy?" she snuck a finger into her prize-winning cock's cage and Ernesto pecked at it in either curiosity or suppressed rage at being owned.

Dr. Horace sighed and slicked back his brown toupée. "I'm serious, Mrs. Stan. I've talked it over with my colleagues at the school."

"I don't follow."

"Yes you do, it's not hard."

Mrs. S scoffed. Dr. H had overstayed his welcome fifteen minutes ago, and the amount of grace annoyances had been whittled away to almost nothing. "Sorry, it's just, why is he a dragon? He looks like a rooster to me."

"You see, Miss Stan, we've been looking all over for a dragon. That's just the sort of thing cryptozoologists do. And were there any dragons?"

"Komodo dragons, maybe."

"Yes-- but they're not nearly awesome enough. Nothing like a fire-breathing reptilian monstrosity with wings that St. George would fight. We haven't been able to find anything of the sort. But I realized just the other day, while looking at porn for scholarly reasons-- we've never seen a dragon. It could look like a chicken for all we know. So," he pointed to the black rooster picking at the lock of his cage, "we hypothesized that maybe Ernesto and other roosters like him were dragons all along. Such fine black plumage, great size at such a young age, a look in his eyes that means business-- and chickens are closely related to reptiles."

"Don't be ridiculous, Mr. Horace. Ernesto doesn't breathe fire."

It was then that Mr. H had that sort of grin that made actual dragons cower. "I'm a scientist," he said. "I test these things."


The blue flames of the stove came on and a waft of heat spurted at Ernesto's face. Mrs. S. held him like a rifle.

"Now all we need him to do is exhale with all his might to see if his breath can catch fire," said Mr. H.

"This is asinine," said Mrs. S., as she stroked the nervous chicken's back, despite holding his twitching face inches away from an open fire. It was at times like this that she wondered why she said "yes" to so many things that involved her prize roosters and Dr. Horace.

"Yes, and if it's true, it'll make us asininely rich," said Dr. H.

Relaxing her hold on Ernesto, Mrs. S. glared in surprise at the scientist. "Us?"

"Well, yes, us."

"But it's my rooster. My husband's as well."

"And I discovered it. I'll get money on my own accord."

"All right, Dr. Horace, I believe this has gone way out of hand."

Horace smelled something resembling sub-par coq au vin, looked down, and pointed in horror. "Certainly has. The dragon's on fire."

Mrs. S. looked down and saw that maybe loosening her grip was a poor idea over an open flame.

She shrieked and dropped the also-shrieking bird as its crest ignited, then the plumage around its head, and within only a few seconds Ernesto the rooster had become a cheap knockoff phoenix that doesn't come back to life. It howled a flaming-rooster howl as it sped across the kitchen floor to the back room to find a better place to die. He left a trail of shag carpet behind him as Mrs. S. ran after the poor bird with a wet towel.

Finally, the blazing rooster found a suitable place to lie down and die- next to a propane tank for the outdoor grill.


As firemen doused the last fires of what was left of the Stanislaus residence, Mrs. S. and Dr. H. sat on a bench outside.

"This is all your fault," said Mrs. S. with a sigh.

"Me?" Dr. H. pointed at himself in indignation. "You should have seen it coming, Mrs. Stan. You were the one with a pet dragon."

- - -
I'm a college student with a love of Finnish metal and Winnie-the-Pooh.


The Awakening
By Amy Pollard

You tighten your grip on your wind-battered umbrella and huddle beneath its protective wing. The headstone before you is dark and impending, mimicking the distant mountains, almost glaring at you as you bend over and arrange your store-bought daisies in the little built-in vase.

How your grandmother loved flowers. Already you can smell her rosy perfume serenading your nostrils. You remember the garden she kept in the back of her house and how she would let you inside it. She would name all the flowers, stretching around you like an endless rainbow. After you had seen all of the buds, she would fetch her watering can and feed the flowers, all the while telling you how important water was in sustaining life. “Water is the key to any garden,” she would say. “Without it, there can be no growth.” Then she would go on about the beauty of the flowers and the satisfaction of tending them. She’d given you some seeds, once—pansies, your favorite—and encouraged you to plant them in your apartment window tray.

But you didn’t listen back then. You never listened. Always too busy. Always something else on your mind. What was growing a bunch of skimpy flowers compared to getting your rent paid a month in advance? What was a watering can compared to a raise at work? What was a homegrown garden compared to a house—a real house? You gulp, a teardrop swelling in your eye when you remember the cold, callous funeral procession, full of intoxicating well-wishes and sobering hymns. It wasn’t until the dust accumulated on your unopened pansy seeds that you began to wonder if a garden might do you good. You started thinking about the seeds and how you’d never planted them or given them water, how you’d never given them anything but a dusty existence on the corner of your shelf. Your head felt unusually jammed as you mulled it all over. A garden wouldn’t hurt. In fact, you rather liked the idea. Maybe you could plant the pansies. Maybe you could start over. Rising to your feet, you glimpse the daisies, still strangled by their price tag, and you sigh. It will do no good. You’ve forgotten to pick up the gardening tools on your way here. You have no shovel. You have no spade. You don’t even have a watering can. What a fool you’ve been, thinking it was that easy, that simple to nurture life. Now those cheap daisies are the best that you will ever do. Biting your lip until it bleeds, you swallow and turn away from the gravestone. And then a drop of water splashes onto your cheek.

The umbrella slips out of your palm and sprawls on the grass, sticky and shriveled. You take the packet of seeds out of your pocket. You get down on your hands and knees and start tearing open the earth. The soil cakes your fists as you dig further down. You hadn’t stopped to examine the packet or read the directions. But what four-by-four inch packet could explain how to coax flowers from the ground, how to wring water from the skies or how to hold the sun’s potent gaze long enough to make it all possible? What could ever explain any of that to you?

You feel the rain spilling over you and suddenly you can see. The trees become an emerald carpet spread over the mountains, distant and knowing, veiled in cloudy starlight. The rain dares to whisper its secrets to you as it drums across the grass. The moist, grimy earth mixes with the cold, crisp water as you empty the packet into the man-made hole before hastily packing the dirt back in again. A paid rent, a raise at work and a real house are the last thing on your mind now as the water soaks your face as surely as it is soaking the pansy seeds, lying in wait beneath the earth. All your life, you’ve waited for this garden. You gaze up at the sky, a chalky silver, and see the clouds unfurling. The radiance splashes onto the graves around you, shedding light onto the unborn pansy seeds as if to wake them from their slumber, enticing them to bloom a season early.

You scrape the tears from your cheeks and gaze at the smooth stone in front of you. She has never been this close before. You feel the rain spilling over you and suddenly you know that the world will keep turning, the water will keep falling, and the flowers will keep blooming. Your lips break into a smile. You can’t believe it’s taken you this long.

- - -
Amy Pollard is a poet, writer and student. She maintains a book review blog at cafereads.blogspot.com. Her poetry has appeared (or is forthcoming) in Emerge Literary Journal, Eunoia Review and The Copperfield Review.


The Jackpot
By C.J. Johnson

The pile of bills sat innocently atop the kitchen table. Not a letter bomb among them, they each still had the same devastating effect when opened. Not ten minutes earlier they had taunted Sheila needlessly with their contents, causing her heart to flutter in panic and anxiety.
Tears shone in Sheila's eyes and she suddenly whooped loudly. Laughing and hugging herself, she began to dance around the kitchen table. The telephone conversation with Harry, her husband of 12 years, played and re-played in her mind.
"We've won the Lottery babe," he'd told her. "I'm on my way home now with the ticket!"
He'd walked out of the office to come home!
That must mean a substantial win.
Sheila, exhausted from her delirious antics, sank onto a chair and grabbed the pile of bills. One by one she tossed them around the kitchen, squealing in happiness.
No more debt collectors, no more worrying.
Sheila spent the next twenty minutes daydreaming of the wonderful life she would soon be leading when the sound of Harry's key in the front door sent her heart pounding in excitement and caused fresh tears to gather in her eyes. She raced to the door, throwing herself at Harry who stood holding his briefcase and grinning at her.
"I can't believe it," Sheila gasped, her words muffled as she hugged him tightly.
"Believe it babe, we've won on the Lottery!"
He handed her the ticket from his left pocket. Sheila could barely focus on the piece of paper as her eyes constantly filled with fresh tears of happiness. Once she managed to focus however, her happiness turned to confusion. She looked at Harry.
"You...you," she stuttered.
Harry began to laugh. Hearty laughter soon gave way to hysterical peals and wails as he bent over and clutched his sides, the sounds sending wave after wave of crippling disappointment over Sheila.
Haaa haaa haaa, Ahhhhh haaaa haaaa!
The almost psychotic laughter stirred a dark place deep within Sheila, a dark place that she had struggled to contain for years. A dark place that had whispered unspeakable things in her ear during the course of her marriage to this cruel man. An hour seemed to go by, but it was likely no more than thirty seconds. Regaining some sort of control, Harry stood straight and began to adjust his suit and tie. Sheila again looked at the ticket in her hand. They had indeed won the lottery, Harry had not lied.
They had won £10.
"You should see your face," Harry told her before bursting into a fresh round of laughter.
"But you left the office," Sheila muttered, feeling completely detached and numb.
"Left some important papers here this morning, just popped home to get them."
Harry laughed as he went to his study to retrieve the papers, laughed as he brushed past her frozen figure in the hallway, the ticket still clutched in her stiff fingers.
"Classic!" he yelled at her before leaving the house, his laughter fading as he walked down the garden path.
Sheila sank into a heap on the floor. Through her numbing disappointment and shock, the dark place, once again, began to whisper to her.
Six months later...
Sheila sprawled on the sun lounger, soaking up the sun as she gazed at the view from her balcony.
Harry's life insurance had made her a rich woman. A car accident had claimed his life, faulty brakes, the official report claimed.
It was amazing what one could learn about cars from the Internet, both how to fix them, and how to disable them.
Sheila grinned, then began to laugh.
The dark place slumbered within her, satisfied.
For now.

- - -
My name is C.J. Johnson and I'm 30 years old. My first horror novel entitled Female of the Species will be released shortly in digital format and I'm currently writing my second novel, which is a thriller. My first Flash Fiction story will appear on Linguistic Erosion on 27/8/12. I can be 'Liked' on Facebook for anyone interested in my work.


Casey Jones and the Naked Hippie
By Newamba Flamingo

The hippie and I walked briskly out of the movie theater, into the moonlit parking lot. Sirens blared as a cavalcade of cop cars, ambulances, fire engines, and media vehicles descended onto the scene. A SWAT team rushed by us in single file.

We arrived to an empty parking space.

“Some sumbitch stole my van!” the hippie shouted, his Mississippi drawl barely audible over the sirens.

“What?” I shouted back, more out of surprise than not being able to hear him, because I did hear him.

“The van! It’s gone! I had all my gear in it!” the hippie screamed, this time even louder.

I realized by gear he didn’t just mean his favorite electric guitar. He meant more his book of acid sheets and tub of homegrown.

The hippie stared down at the ground in disbelief for a good few seconds. His long, curly red hair and bushy red beard blew around in the wind, which seemed to be picking up.

“Over there…” he pointed, across the street, to a dimly lit public park.

He slung the acoustic guitar he’d been carrying over his shoulder and ran across the intersection, through oncoming traffic, into the park’s direction. Cars honked and swerved out of his way. I waited for the stoplight and followed him. Off in the distance, from the movie theater’s parking lot, I could hear gunshots.

The hippie stopped and stood in the sidewalk in front of the park, put down his guitar, and tore off all his clothes.

His tall, obese frame was covered in red body hair. His skin was pale as a ghost, and he had a protruding beer belly that hung so low it obscured his privates. Nearby pedestrians who’d been rubbernecking at the scene across the street shrieked and scampered in terror upon sight of him.

Picking up his guitar, he strummed and sung “Casey Jones” horribly out of tune for about a minute, then took off running into the park. I again followed him.

I heard someone from the park yelling “fuck you!” over and over. The farther we ran into the park, the louder the yelling got.

We ran into a forested area. It was dark. I could barely see anything except the hippie’s red mane and pale flabby ass, between the trees, fading into the distance.

Finally we got to a steep hill and the “fuck you” yelling was now deafeningly loud. The hippie ran up the hill way faster than someone his size should, hurdled over a thicket of bushes, and disappeared into the night. Just after he disappeared, the yelling ceased.

I took a few steps back but stopped when I bumped into something large, warm, and hairy. It was the hippie. He was behind me and still naked and had a flashlight in one hand and his acoustic guitar in the other. He shined the flashlight into his face, under his chin, and stuck out his tongue. On it was several hits of acid. He then withdrew his tongue, shut his mouth, made a gulping sound and smiled.

Then he shined the flashlight to his left. Another hippie was there, who looked sort of like him, red hair, tall, obese, but with a shorter haircut and a goatee instead of a bushy beard.

The other hippie wore two garbage bags as clothes and had plastic shopping bags tied around his feet. The garbage bag hippie began to yell “fuck you” at the naked hippie. Then the naked hippie threw the flashlight at him and proceeded to beat him over the head with the acoustic guitar.

The guitar hummed as it broke over his head. After it completely split apart, the naked hippie bludgeoned him with the fretboard and stabbed him in the throat a couple times with it, too, and, soon enough, the garbage bag hippie looked pretty well dead.

Halting his murderous assault, he turned slowly to me.

“I know who stole my van…” he said, pointing to the hill, the top of which now appeared to be on fire.

“I know who stole my van…” he repeated and he ran back up the hill, into the spreading fire, singing “Casey Jones” and waving his bloody fretboard triumphantly in the air.

- - -
Newamba Flamingo likes dragon fruit, alien abductions, and trying to talk to John Cheever via Ouija board.


Toxic Nostalgia
By Kyle Yadlosky

I have to wear a mask to make sure the present doesn’t kill me. I’m sitting in my apartment, and a grey haze drifts through the window. I’d shut the window, but what’s the point of getting up?
I don’t have cable, so I’m staring off into nothing-at-all. It’s not too bad. My mind keeps me busy. My memories keep me occupied.
Life used to be so good.
I remember I was one of the last kids wearing bellbottoms. Everyone at school called me gay for it. It was eighth grade. Melisa, a school slut, liked the bellbottoms a lot, though. She whispered it in my ear during gym: “I’d like to see what’s underneath them.” It was a victory over every bully in the world that day.
She blew me.
I have those pants in my closet. They hang on the inside of the door, so I can look at them while I get dressed. They don’t fit, anymore.
Industrial equipment sounds from outside. It’s a construction site out there—all around, really. The grey mist is from the wrecking ball wrecking everything. It swings, and there’s a deafening SHATTER. Then, more grey haze wafts in. It’s the mist of what-once-was soaring up into eternity.
I wonder if the workers remember I’m here.
Grey mist—I had a grey mutt. His name was Scout; I named him, myself. That made him mine, even if my mom fed and walked him. We were always together. He’d bark and roll around, and we’d play. I was seven. I lived in a town where no one was afraid to let their kids play alone outside.
Now, it’s dangerous to leave your apartment.
There’s a WHOMP of the top couple floors of a building near mine being wrecked. I’m on the sixth story of an eight story building. The WHOMP is drifting closer. I can hear its steady fall closing in. My eyes go to the ceiling. The visor to my mask fogs up with my every exhale. The WHOMP hits, turning to a CRASH, SHATTER, and BOOM. The light falls from my ceiling and smashes on the top of my blank television. I can see myself, hunched over on the couch and clad in gasmask, reflected in the screen.
There’s a steady sifting sound above. Then, there’s a CREAK, and my ceiling tears back and cracked concrete rubble plummets through, exploding my television to sparks, glass, and plastic.
Now, I live on the top floor.
My television was an old fat-back. I bought it when I was seventeen. It was my first purchase with my first paycheck slinging burgers. I remember I stayed up three nights straight trying to get porn to show on it. I eventually unscrambled the end of a sex scene, saw a nipple, and then the movie had ten minutes of dialogue and ended. The station scrambled again, before anything else came on. I was still excited by the little I saw.
There’s a banging on my door. It’s locked. Workers are calling through, “Are you still in there?” “You have to get out!” “The building’s gonna cave in!” There’s a pause, then, “We can hear you fucking breathing!”
They can. I breathe in that serial killer way through the mask, making sure the fumes of now don’t seep through and change me.
I rented this apartment three years ago. I pulled together all the cash I had working day-and-night as a manager of a burger joint to make the first month’s rent. I’d see this apartment complex driving to work every day, and I’d tell myself I’d live here. It was an exciting day. I felt like my future was opening. That night, for the first time since eighth grade, I found a woman and made love to her. I did it in this apartment.
We made love in my train-shaped bed. She thought it was strange, but it’s a big bed. I got it for Christmas when I was six. This was before my parents were divorced. It was the last time I saw them smile together.
I sleep in it every night, completely at piece.
There’s a yell of, “Shit, we gotta go!” then they’re stomping down the stairs. The CREAK presses the ceiling down; it strains further. I inhale, exhale, and my eyes fog over.
The manager told me four months ago that the complex was being torn down, changed into a retirement village. He told me I’d have to find somewhere else to live. I remember how I stared at him; my eyes shook. I pushed him against a wall and told him, “No.” It was simple and direct, and I marched away.
It was the bravest thing I’ve ever done.
The fact is that a cut on girl’s tongue transmits herpes, men in baseball caps will shoot your dog in the woods, televisions shatter, parents divorce, and hookers charge extra for fucking in weird beds. The place you spent your life working to live will get torn down no matter what you do.
The fact is that the past is and always will be better than the future, because you can forget the parts of the past you don’t like. In the future, the parts you don’t like are all you have to look forward to. I had four months to think about the end of my past, and I couldn’t deal with it. I fought against it.
I breathe in and out more quickly, beginning to hyperventilate. The CREAK turns to a steady RIP. The ceiling is tearing under the heavy slab of concrete property. I stare, and I stop breathing. My vision clears.
For a second it’s silent.
Then, there’s a CRACK and a THUMP and a CRASH. I SCREAM, and the rubble of what-once-was buries me alive.
The fact is that the future will always move on without you.

- - -
Voodoo, sideshows, and a good ghost story—if it’s outside of the everyday, Kyle Yadlosky revels in it. He lives in-between corn fields in Pennsylvania and has been published on Dorkly.com and in Shoofly and Essence literary magazines.


Heart Hunting
By Michael Dwayne Smith

Her name was Emma. She asked if I was from the south, and I wished I was. The way you wish the prettiest girl in high school secretly longed for someone shy, sweet, chivalrous. I was just in from the city, putting down for the night, square to drive out first thing and meet up with old friends, and she was a full surprise.

Emma’s long blonde hair made me tell the truth. She said we’d get along just fine and dandy.

I felt oblong sitting at the table, my sister-in-law Karla angling around the kitchen, half-circling around her three-legged lab. The honey-color down on Emma’s arm captured sunlight from the breakfast nook window. Her teeth were so white, so perfectly sculpted she could’ve been on TV.

When Emma said she was on TV, Karla snorted one of her snorty laughs at the dumb face my raised eyebrows and O! mouth made. They had a confederacy.

Karla knew Emma from college. Emma stole her boyfriend, but they became BFF after Emma dropped out to model, leaving my loser jailbird brother to Karla and her frizzy black hair.

That night I dreamed Emma’s sassy, southern-belle cooter was with me at the triplex. We were sitting on the café patio, a geometry of stars overhead, some constellation I kept trying to recall from school—Orion, I decided, and we were chatting about movies, Chasing Amy, I think. “She” had the same sugar and molasses drawl as Emma, deliriously pink lips, and would call demurely to couples walking by, “How ya’ll doin’?”

Emma’s vulva wanted to know about hearts.

None of the passing lovers thought this was odd. They smiled or said, “Fine, thanks for asking,” holding hands.

In the morning Emma was lying next to me, golden locks curled around the pillow, like silky storybook ribbon.

When she opened her lids, emeralds fell out, but I couldn’t look. I’d stolen away with her vestibule last night while she slept. After we’d made love, Emma, her vagina, and I, I had cheated on Emma by running off and wild with her Eden-naked sugar truffle, without even leaving the guestroom bed. I’d kissed those delicate labia, made those tender promises under the stars—about a future I didn’t really see Emma’s cooter and I could share.

Karla appeared in the doorway, pink robe half-open, carrying a tray of black coffee and burnt toast, sat down between Emma and me. Karla slathered butter with a gleaming knife. Wanted to know, How did I like the heart position?

I rubbed my eyes, asked if this was love.

- - -
As Michael Dwayne Smith, I did not invent the English language, but I have messed it pretty well. Mastermind behind stories, poems, hybrid works found at Word Riot, BLIP, Monkeybicycle, >kill author, Orion headless, Northville Review, Phantom Kangaroo, Right Hand Pointing, Short Fast & Deadly, and wow just so many rock candy stores or stereophonic outlets near you. Lastly, rumor of my being abducted by aliens untrue, though I am a meat Popsicle.


. . . and Void
By T. Fox Dunham

“Particle by particle, I’m flying apart. I see you no more. My eyes dissipate. The protons fall away like dried grapes in the bunch. The electromagnetic charge fades. I’ve lost my Higgs.”

Mars beats his ears till they bleed to block the cry of the worm waiting down the corridor. Quotidian, he is brought to the worm, to lay prone beneath its aphotic face, its rapacious lips that suck and chew. His healer is named The Good Doctor Sullivan. He vowed a cure for chaos gone wild in Mars’s blood.
Athena clutches Mars’s arm, but she can’t feel his skin, muscle bone or hot blood. The chemo burned her nerve endings.
The worm sings down the corridors of Athena’s love, her need. It has burrowed into their flesh, sipped their souls:
Soul seeks sensation.
“Sorry,” Athena says.
“Don’t let them take me,” Mars says.
Nurse Wolfe hunts at the threshold to the private limbo waiting zone of the Oncology Ward. She juts out a three jointed digit and beckons Mars. The mouth waits. The mouth hungers.
Master mouth mutilates.
“It’s not so bad, God of War,” Nurse Wolfe says. “Just a few minutes a day under the black face. It growls, and you’re on your way.”
“Keep me close, Athena,” he says. “Don’t loosen your fingers.”
“My fingers don’t feel your flesh,” Athena says. “I try to hold on, but my arm grows weak. You’re flowing away from me like a melt water stream from the mountains. I long to see mountains again. I can’t climb anymore. My hammer is melted. I’ve lost it.”
The portal vortex sucks his body into the corridor of the Radiation-Oncology department. He holds to her arm for traction, foundation, but her wheelchair yanks forward.
Fingers feel faint.
“If you let go, they’ll shoot their rays and beams through my molecules. I’ll fade and break apart, and my atoms will dissolve and become energy; and the energy will lose form and drift apart to void.”
“Forgive me,” she says. “Or I’ll float in Hades a mindless shade.”
Her hands slip. He collapses into the row of uniform plastic seats, into the magazine table and box of children’s toys. A ratty puzzle box flips over. Its pieces rain on the brown rug, scatter and fall in a random pattern close to the paradigm for which they’d been designed. He discerns a mountain river flowing away in the vision depicted on the visage of the component cardboard motes.
Wanting water wanes.
Mars gazes on the mixed motes, on their inchoate visions, and the image fluxes, changes and rearranges. He views his life before his white cells went wild, when he was not a victim of thermodynamics and chaos. Cancer infects other people outside his borders, characters in books and on telly who were born to be nailed to crosses, to suffer and be called martyrs then forgotten. His crimson hair flowed in wild strawberry fields, now burned clean. He owned his name. They’d taken it, stolen, ripped it away and promised him it was for a salubrious reason of a new healing season.
“I blame you, and I might forgive you,” Mars says to Athena. She’s lost her name, also. “I’ll try to forgive you. I am flawed.”
She turns her wheels and looks away. Her hair has grown chemo, and it glows in the sallow halogen lights like dying daffodil flesh trampled by careless boot.
Nurse Wolfe holds her hand out to him. It curves and flows with snake’s body, grooving and oozing to her triple jointed finger, calling him forward, to face the face that spits radiation lace.
Fear fiery face.
“Find my name,” Athena says.
Nurse Wolfe guides him from the waiting room, down the corridor. Shadows bite his feet. He stumbles when he walks, weakened by the toxins and cosmic rays the healer employs to devour his temple, chipping the marble, smashing the altar and burning the fig leaves laid out for him in sacrifice.
She leaves him at the linear accelerator chamber. Minions in black lead garments lay him on the block of ice. They strip his depleted body and chain him to the frozen table. The worm emerges from the ceiling, vomiting its ebony face, eye lining to eye. In the screen, he sees his future—buried beneath black soil and the roots of an apple tree digging into his flesh. The sun shines on his grave. The snow falls on the grass. No man or woman weeps at his marker.
Leave low love.
“A woman I loved. I remember her. A goddess. Her hair flashes like sunlight and blinded my eyes. The high priests burned away her legs and grafted wheels to her hips. They stole her womb and ripped away her name. I loved her soul, but she is fading. Why can’t I remember?”
Obsidian screen growls. Crimson fingers emerge from the worm flesh and burrow into his forehead. It cracks his skull, drilling deeper, trespassing on his mind and deeper yet. Below it seeks the core of his crystal dreaming. It sucks the marrow of his night reveries, drinking high and wobbling from intoxication. It has no dreams in its manufactured mind.
Dreamed delusions.
Lost loves.
Memory miracles..
The worm soaks him in cosmic rays, curing and killing, healing him if he can endure the holistic poison. He burns anew, hollowed and reset, sans his dreams.
“My molecules rip apart. The magnetic bond breaks. Gravity. Electromagnetism. Strong and weak nuclear forces. The weakest force. She felt so real.”
The worm works. His skin fades, dissipates to chunks of muscle and bone. The chunks break into motes, and the motes spread to atoms. He rides the cycle. Void. Matter. Man. God. Man. Matter . . .
. . . and void.

- - -
T. Fox Dunham resides outside of Philadelphia PA—author and historian. He’s published in over 100 international journals and anthologies and writes for Team Obama. He’s a cancer survivor. His friends call him fox, being his totem animal, and his motto is: Wrecking civilization one story at a time. http://www.facebook.com/tfoxdunham & Twitter: @TFoxDunham


By Alina Yudkevich

There must have been a surge in piano thievery, and now
the pianos and pump organs are all chained to the wall,
huddled in solidarity against their captor, Ramona -
of Ramona’s Antiques N’ Things,
where I’ve returned
to stare
death in the face.

I run my hand over the peeling whites,
woodgrains that look like they were licked
and dunked in dry, red, Georgia dirt.
I hear Ramona rasp me a greeting
every word out of her mouth creeps along the air
like smoke from a crushed cigarette
She drags her yellowed fingers on the counter,
iron wool on rust. I dread
handing her my money.

The faint scent of brush fire
extinguished summers ago
hangs over the aged books
they’re the shade of shipwreck wood
hidden under desert sands, with skin 
sure to disintegrate under my touch,
and I hate very much when my touch
robs the world of old wisdoms.

Once I was 6 years old here
and I ran my fingers along
bloodstained lunch tins
from the Korean war,
haunted grandfather clocks
from lightning-struck manors,
and chalky cracked-porcelain dolls,
their sinister, uncalibrated eyes
watched me count how many dark secrets
could be hidden under such tiny petticoats.

My mom slapped my hand away
knowing I was six, and therefore had
an inferior understanding of microbiology.
She told me that all the treasures before me
came from one big house – as I suspected.
“Everybody in that house had small pox,”
she said, inspecting a framed cross-stitch cat
“And you’ll get it too, if you keep touching.”

Remembering this,
I note
that some of these books
appear to be ill. Suddenly,
I want to be the clergyman
at an old book’s deathbed.
to be pulled closer by his frail pages
tickled by their slow, yellow flutter,
to say, “Yes, my child?” and inhale
the letters spiraling off his pages
as he gives one last mighty stretch
ripping his spine, liberating pages
to spin and ebb with fan-blown air,
and finally out the window,
free of meaning at last.

I’d feel my new letters dance,
like little spiders on my bones,
and learn to slap my forearm
as though to kill a mosquito,
when the words that formed
under my skin - were misspelled.

bottoms of S’s would join tops of N’s,
making me shiver with oooh’s
V’s flip over, halves of I’s in hand –
the ahhh’s – first, the visceral noises
of overdue consonant combination,
vowels writhe, indecent.
Time and place!” I’d say,
knowing they lack the letters
to craft a catty response

disenchanting books must have
been banished to this very shelf.
shoved between ripped-spine, tea-stain strangers,
whose spurned sentences peel off their pages
like sunburnt skin - chapter headings wiggle out
like the last baby tooth - faded illustrations
smearing like henna caught in a monsoon -

or so I’d imagine. heeding the warning
and leaving dying books unopened, I just-

stopped touching.  An era of no splinters,
and a debilitating phobia of ancient microbes.

And here I am.

“You don’t know where that’s been, baby,”
creaks Ramona.

“Time and place” spells my kneecap
 and I pull my face out of the 1953 Reader’s Digest

- - -
Alina Yudkevich is a 17th grader at the University of Georgia, studying English and Film Studies and working part-time at a particle accelerator lab. She enjoys pugs, video editing, running, b-horror, and exploring the unknown via Google street view.


Like A High Badger
By Billy Coté

When I was in the far hills I came across a badger.
We ran for hours.
That badger became my wife.

She moved to the city to be with me.
I loved her more than you know.
I would have liked for you to meet her,
but she was high on drugs.
You see,
badgers don't take well to city life.
They tend to stay high as shit. Who knew?

My firm has a branch in Badger, New Jersey.
We thought this would help,
but were mis-lead by the name.
There are no badgers.
What's worse, you have to drive everywhere.
Badgers can't fuckin' drive—not when they're high as shit.

What she needed was a place to run, to be among other badgers,
do badger shit.
Our marriage was a nightmare.
We were in a tight spot.

Then I started in on the pills.
I lost my fucking job.

Now I’ve got no stamina.
Each day passes.
Pleasant. Bland. The thrill is gone.

I am slack.
I don't fucking talk to anyone.
I’m trapped in this house on drugs,
when I should be out running wild in the city;
leaning in,
claws out,
like a badger.

My wife started killing dogs and cats in the neighborhood.
There was blood on the porch.
And fur.
They put her down.
What could I do?

Jesus. I sit and fucking think about my wife...
I see her tearing through fields,
ripping rodents apart with her teeth,
biting the shit out of deer.
I choose to remember her this way,
not as a high badger.

What were we thinking?
I ponder this and I want to rip my own head off.

I would, but I'm high as shit.

- - -
A short story of mine will be published this summer by a journal called Literary Juice. Beyond that I have been a working artist for many years. In the late 90’s and early 00’s I was principal songwriter and guitarist for a band called Madder Rose. We recorded four albums for Atlantic Records (three of which were good.)


By Karishma Shetty

Mouth to mouth
I breathe out
And fog up the reflection.
Soundless droplets of mist
Cling to mercurial glass
And sit there, holding on
To words that haven’t
Been conceived yet.

There’s a twinge
In the pit of my stomach
A seed of life
That has promised to sprout.
My innards have coiled down
With a patchwork of bulky nerves
Thatched together to create
That perfect nest.
As I collapse into the sink
And vomit yellow bile words
But no one hears a thing.

I walk into the closet
And lift up my tee shirt.
Cupping both palms
Around my navel
I look through
That kaleidoscope of life
Where the umbilical
Connects to the netherworld
As I resign to sleep.

- - -


Midnight Tea
By S.R. Buckley

Thirteen to twelve. The roar of the kettle, slow-growing, a gradual roiling, filled the kitchen and faded to boiling. Lights on, setting out the windows as black squares. Whole world outside in dark blues, purples, browns. Ghost of a moon. Pleasant night. Stars obscured in the dulled electric glare.

Check: time getting on. Afraid almost to touch the dampened windows. Leave everything as is. TV off; laptop off, put away. Any difference? Who knew. And there, yes, kettle boiled, forgot to scald the pot first but still hot from the last. Heaped spoon of leaves plus change. Perfect.

Friends out—how would it affect them? Shouldn’t he be out? Who knew. Have to cut it short at the wrong time, after pubs but before clubs. Former only just chucking out now. Would be chaos out there. Decline of moral fabric. Hell in a handcart. That sort of thing.

Tea better. Nine to twelve. Tea good in four; he’d time it to perfection. Who knew when the next one would be. Like those huts on the a-road: last hot drink before the motorway. Last burgers. Now there was an idea: would the takeaways be staying open? Donner meat would stay hot for a good while; he was willing to take his chances. Perhaps.

Five to twelve and measure of milk in the bottom of the cup. Perfect amount. Sip a little to get it at just the right level. Bad etiquette to add milk first? Who cared. Milk faded to brown. Perfect.

At three to twelve he sat down, sipping a searing taste of the tea, and let his eyes zigzag unseeing across last Sunday’s paper. Soft yellow light; fridge was humming in the kitchen. Ever so slight rush as the wind took the trees outside.

There was a tiny dim flash, off white, and a few moments past midnight a slow, deep thunder, rolling and stretching, quieter with each echo, drowned by the squawk of a boy racer’s car. The sounds broke, faltered, disappeared.

Bigger gulp of the tea. Throat halted, then yielded. Slight twitch in the eyelid. When was Mick getting back to him about the trip to Sheffield? Never mind.

Another tiny dim flash, off white. Even smaller, now. Like a storm moving away. Long pause, then another roll of slow, deep thunder. This one deeper, more profound. Tiny rattle in one of the windows. Nothing like the thunderstorms you got in May or June, sometimes, or at the end of one of the dog days. But there: a minute tremor, perhaps. The lights flickered off and the fridge cut out in the kitchen; the orange glare fell from the sky and stars began to reveal themselves, with blinking wing-beacons arcing lazily between. What a lovely sky. Tea was perfect, still hot; maybe another left in the pot. Would the mobile networks still be up? Who knew.

- - -
S.R. Buckley is a student from England and writes extensively in his spare time, whether long quixotic science fiction novels or shorter stories and sketches. He has previously been published in the Cadaverine Magazine.


Define: Vespertine
By Andrew J. Stone

1. Of, pertaining to, or occurring in the evening.

2. Opening or expanding in the evening.

3. Or remember that time we danced in darkness? Your lips were painted red and your eyes buttoned black. In between shadows you whispered something into my ear. Your golden breath lingered inside my drum. And do you remember the murder of crows, fleeing from their tree?

- - -
Andrew J. Stone is a pseudonym for life. Andrew J. Stone is a pseudonym for death. He hates the sun, sleeps under its shine. Previous publications include: Phantom Kangaroo, Full of Crow, Danse Macabre, Crack the Spine, Yes Poetry, The Toucan Mag, Magic Cat Press, The Rusty Nail, Negative Suck, Thousand Shades of Gray, Four & Twenty, With Painted Words, Short, Fast, & Deadly, and many more. He recently finished an ekphrastic chap of poetry and is seeking publication. He dwells where the graveyard is always full at: http://andrewjstone.blogspot.com/



The loud buzzer announced my arrival as I stepped into the store. He turned to face me and before we’d even made eye contact I knew I was about to take a bullet.

It’s true that when staring death in the face everything slows down. In fact, everything slowed down to such a ridiculous speed I can’t believe I didn’t get out of the way.

I saw him pull the gun out from his jacket and I even saw the bullet leave the weapon. I had time to look at his face and think how attractive he was, dark haired and unshaven; just my type. I thought about my cat, Ted, who’d be watching out for me by now. My car, parked outside in a fifteen minute only spot. The hole in my sock that my big toe was peeking through. My boss would complain in the morning about my lateness, then hear the news and tell everyone what great friends we were.

So there I stood, rooted to the spot for what seemed like an eternal second waiting for the bullet to reach me, incapable of doing anything except think pointless thoughts. But it came, and knocked me to the floor.

The gunman’s handsome face appeared above me. There were tears in his eyes and I actually felt compassion for him. Dropping to his knees he reached out his hand to me, it hovered above my forehead not daring to make contact. Only when I’d closed my eyes I felt the soft touch of his fingers on my face. The pain was fading and I didn’t feel in the least bit afraid. He took hold of my hand and pleaded with me not to die but there was little I could do. Then I heard one more noise; the sound of another gunshot.

I opened my eyes to find myself hovering inches above the scene, looking down at myself. A pool of blood had spread across the floor from where my lifeless body lay. My dead hand was still holding my ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ keyring. Blood was silently creeping away from both our corpses, spreading further out across the already dirty floor.

The gunman was floating beside me. Sensing his gaze I looked over at him and in an instant knew everything there was to know about him. All the things in his life that had led him to this point. But most importantly I knew that he wasn’t a bad man, foolish maybe, but not bad. I also knew all of the thoughts that had flashed through his mind during his final seconds and no doubt he now knew mine, how embarrassing.

So there we were, suspended above our own corpses and I should have been angry with him, I should have been really fucking angry with him. But taking his own life told me everything I needed to know. As we continued to stare into one another, more and more information exchanged between us. Like some sort of spiritual speed date we came to realize why each of us were in the store that day. I hadn’t been in the wrong place at the wrong time, I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Fate had been laying down stepping stones my entire life, leading me into the path of that bullet.

I was out of milk because Ted knocked it off the counter. Toni, my friend had left it out that morning, she’d crashed over last night after an impromptu get together. I met Toni when I first started my job, the job I took in favor of a position up north. Back in school I had wanted to study architecture at college, but switched to law instead. As I looked back over my life I saw the reason for everything. We like to think we make our futures, but they are already out there just waiting for us to reach them.

Today I crossed the finish line and found my soulmate. We won't have a first date, no movie or dinner and we won't meet each others families. Not quite how I would have planned it but this was my path.

- - -
British born and currently living in Slovenia. Writes flash fiction, children's poetry and has just completed her first novel.


Quiet Desperation
By Rob Bliss

Wake up. The first mistake. Go to work and see the same people who always say the same things. Look and act and believe and are the same. And you’re expected to retain your sameness. Spit in the face of a passerby, jerk off on a park bench, take a glorious shit right beside the dog doing the same. These differences are not allowed. They are against society.
Shooting a cop always makes the shooter look bad, the cop a martyr. A politician becomes a politically-motivated murder. A judge, a lawyer – they have connections and libraries of laws. No wonder people drive far out of town into the country, but nobody hitchhikes anymore. And most farmers are armed these days, coyotes stealing their sheep.
Suicide could be fun, but not if no one notices. I’d protest something, but I’m too lazy to buy the placard, a nail, a piece of wood. Gotta pay for a stick, so few littered on the sidewalks of the metropolis. Rape? My DNA and her possible disease make that impossible.
So work. Save up. Plan. Third World countries don’t have the same laws that we do. Save up enough bribe money in case the corrupt cops there catch you. Pay the cheap price for the forbidden thrill. Beware the man who flies with condoms in his luggage, or worse, in his carry-on. He wants to hit the ground running, ignoring the photo ops to become one with the people of the new freely-forbidden land.
Still, take the standard vacation photos for the water cooler back home. The other photos don’t keep on your phone or laptop – if you’re brave enough to take it, snuggled next to the condoms. Don’t give your nation’s border guards a reason to get to know you in a cramped room full of sweating bodies. They are too well paid to want your pennies.
Let out a primal scream on the beach before returning home. Out of the paradisaical tropical, back to the hellish winter. Home. Watch television. Stare at the wall, but don’t let it talk back. Mention the right shows and movies, then promise to see them again and again, they were so good, not a bad one in the lot.
Smashing the TV, the radio, the phone is anti-social. You need these to exist, to be seen as normal. The farmer doesn’t, but that’s why he doesn’t live where you live.
You sit, I sit, we sit together, and stay put for another working year. You show off your vacation, but keep tight lips about your real holiday. We don’t scream, we don’t tell the truth – the truth never sets anyone free. Just plan your next year’s vacation in silence.
I had a great time. Weather, scenery, friendly people, cheap beer and food and trinkets. Gotta go back. Do it again and again and again.
A nice place to die.

- - -
I am a Canadian writer with a degree in English and Writing. My stories are, or will be, published in Schlock Webzine, SNM Magazine, Pulp Metal Magazine, microhorror, and Blood Moon Rising.


Me All Over
By Jim Blanchet

To whom it may concern,

I will start by saying that this letter is an open ended cry for help, written by two very concerned people, Rational Me and Desperate Me. Rational Me has a heart full of fear and anguish, and Desperate Me is begging for any assistance you might offer. The two of them share a common enemy, who goes by the name of Drunk Me.

There are several players in this saga, and as you will see from their last names, they are all related. Despite this relation, however, I assure you that they could not be more different. This all must be very confusing, but I hope that brief explanation will help. My problem is as follows:

Drunk Me can never remember how much everyone else hates him. Hungover Me wakes up, rolls over, takes a minute to think and a look around, then punches himself in the balls- metaphorically of course. Somewhere during the mental anguish that goes with these metaphorical sack punches, Hungover Me performs a secret handshake with Ashamed Me. The two of them have developed a special relationship after years of meeting frequently, and I assure you the handshake is quite elaborate.

Hungover Me and Ashamed Me share a favorite question, and it is, “Why, you asshole?” Unfortunately, Drunk Me has his own favorite question, which is, “Why not, you handsome bastard?” Handsome Bastard Me does not actually exist, but don’t try telling that to Drunk Me, he will just take a swing at you.

If Drunk Me and Hungover Me ran into each other while punching their respective time cards, I’m sure that the dirty look on Hungover Me’s face would burn into his memory, preventing him from making such a poor choice again. Unfortunately, Drunk Me is never awake when such an interaction takes place, and Hungover Me continues to wake up in a strange places on Saturday morning.

Part of the reason why Drunk Me never learns a lesson is because all he remembers is drinking, dancing, lewd conduct, mercilessly hitting on vulnerable women and all the fun, dirty things that follow. He never has to deal with making excuses, cleaning up vomit, forcibly wearing sunglasses indoors or deleting text messages with Ashamed Me. That poor asshole has no idea what a regret filled morning looks like, and he probably never will.

Rational Me considered asking Bored Weekday Me to set up some sort of system that might prevent such behavior. Theoretically, this is a good plan since Bored Weekday Me never has anything important to do, but he’s also very lazy and would only put a half-assed effort into finding the right system.

Many of us wish there was some way to really get through to Drunk Me. Unfortunately, he is just too damned tenacious and cunning. His weaknesses are obvious and many, but so hard to exploit. I would need some sort of booby trap that Drunk Me couldn't see coming.

As you can see, we are at our wit’s end. Desperate Me keeps on coming up with spontaneous ideas, but they are far too insane to get passed Rational Me. If you think you can help us, please write. We can receive suggestions via email or phone call, during most weekday hours. Don’t bother sending a text message, however, since Drunk Me is a frequent texter and if he finds them, he will delete them promptly.

Best Wishes,
Rational Me and Desperate Me

- - -
Jim Blanchet is a freelance writer of fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry and satire from Philadelphia, and a Staff Writer for Fictionade Magazine. He lives in San Diego, CA, where he writes on a small wooden desk that he bought at a yard sale for $15.


Why Kristen Misses Push & Turn
By Kwame Ivery

The bottle of pills wouldn’t open. No matter how hard Kristen pressed and tried to twist off the top. The bottle of pills wouldn’t open. Knowing she was doing it right but thinking maybe she was doing it wrong, she looked more closely at the instruction imprinted on the bottle’s white top. And she wasn’t prepared for what she saw. Instead of the usual “PUSH & TURN” the instruction read “SMACK YOUR 5TH GRADE TEACHER”.

Kristen called the pharmacist and asked him if it was a joke.

“No,” the pharmacist said. “The only way to open it is by smacking your fifth-grade teacher.”

“What happened to ‘Push & Turn’?” Kristen asked.

“There were some complaints about it,” the pharmacist said. “So the instruction was changed to ‘Smack Your Fifth-Grade Teacher’. People think it’s easier and they like it more.”

“Well, I don’t like it,” Kristen said.

“Really?” The pharmacist sounded very surprised. “You’re the first one to complain about it.”

Kristen hung up and tried to remember who her fifth-grade teacher was. Miss Chambers. Yeah, that was her name. She hadn’t thought about Miss Chambers since her last day of fifth grade 22 years ago. She tried to remember if Miss Chambers had been nice or not, and she remembered that Miss Chambers had been not only nice but very patient too, with a comforting smile; certainly not someone Kristen wanted to smack. But Kristen really needed this medication, so she decided to search for Miss Chambers so she could smack her.

Facebook led to an email address which led to an actual address. Miss Chambers, now 81-years-old, was living in a retirement home in Oregon. By the time Kristen finished the four-day drive she was so weak and in such dire need for the medication that it took every muscle in her body to make her smile when she greeted Miss Chambers. Miss Chambers looked pretty much the same, only grayer and more wrinkled. She hugged Kristen and touched her face and said, “Oh yes, I remember you now! You’re still just as beautiful as you were all those years ago!”

By now about half a dozen of Miss Chambers’ fellow elderly residents had gathered around as Miss Chambers put her frail hand on Kristen’s arm and introduced her to them. “Girls, this is Kristen Gazarri—I was her fifth-grade teacher and she was one of my favorite students. She was one of the sweetest, prettiest, smartest kids I’d ever had the pleasure of teaching…!”

As Miss Chambers talked, Kristen waited for an opening where she could smack her but an opening like that didn’t quite present itself. She took a deep breath and interrupted Miss Chambers: “And I can honestly say Miss Chambers here was the best teacher I ever had. They sure don’t make ‘em like this woman anymore.” And when she said “like this woman anymore” she lightly tapped Miss Chambers’ face with the tips of her fingers, hoping that it qualified as a smack.

Miss Chambers and the other elderly residents laughed. “You’re right, Susan,” one of Miss Chambers’ elderly friends said, “she’s so sweet and beautiful.”

As Miss Chambers and friends continued to gush over her Kristen said, “Could you-all excuse me for a minute? I’ll be right back.”

Kristen rushed to the restroom, took out the bottle of pills and tried to twist off the cap but the cap still wouldn’t budge. Apparently the smack she’d given Miss Chambers wasn’t smacky enough. Kristen started to panic. Her condition was making her weaker and weaker by the second. She really, really needed this medication.

Her face glazed with sweat, Kristen forced a smile and re-joined Miss Chambers and Miss Chambers’ friends in the lounge. They all sat down, with Kristen sitting right next to Miss Chambers. As Miss Chambers fondly told her enraptured friends about a daffodil that Kristen had made for her in Arts & Crafts, Kristen closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then opened her eyes, turned to Miss Chambers, drew back her hand as far as it could go, and, with all the strength she could muster—and even more than that—she hauled off and smacked Miss Chambers in the face so hard that Miss Chambers’ eyeglasses and dentures flew 14 feet across the room.

Palming her face, Miss Chambers gave Kristen a shocked, confused, toothless gape. Meanwhile Miss Chambers’ six elderly female friends tackled Kristen, threw her to the floor and proceeded to kick her, stomp her, spit on her, and throw a coffee table on her.

When the beating was over Kristen pulled herself from the floor. Through broken teeth she told the still-stunned Miss Chambers, “Nice seeing you again, and sorry.” Then she staggered out of the retirement home.

In her car Kristen yanked out the bottle of pills and twisted the top, which cooperatively popped right off. She quickly downed her usual dosage then headed back home.

- - -
I was born in Bronx, NY and was raised in New Jersey. I have an MFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts.


By Liam Lawrence

3:20 A.M. Distant memories plague, locusts on the wind, never ending beyond a point of no other change or possibility besides the ones that seem implemented into the unconscious.

A three year old baby girl, blond, trapped in a well that looks more like a sewer pipe and the harsh camera lights cheapen the rescue; a desire for sewer drains and so on to be as nice as the ones in New York, because living down there would be quaint; a woman giving birth to a sludge-covered demon child and mom not bothering to change channels and the age is three, also, maybe even four.

Memories so vague, yet the visual so vivid, and it allows for potential assumption that the experience had occurred just moments ago, and these memories become haunting revelations that only seem to exist as a reminder of a life before now, an existence otherwise unimagined.

Where has all the time gone?

A teenage girl’s life taken by two boys, who only treated her as a friend to aide their own morbid curiosity, which led to them shooting or stabbing or beating her to death, leaving her body in a field and going to eat at a twenty-four hour diner that serves breakfast day and night – which can never be visited again – and returning later to bury her remains. The field off a back road, and everyone who takes it voicing their remorse with an air of disgust for themselves, that it was almost six days later before her body was discovered, and the consensus was that no one could believe the number of times that road was traveled and in turn having passed her unintended burial site with no knowledge or regard whatsoever - a layer of filth that can never be washed away.

Phone vibrates.

Red eye blinks.

Unrecognizable number.

Probably deleted at some point.

Message reads “Sissy”, with an emoticon wink face.


Do not care.

At all.

Roll over, disenchanted, neck strained and stomach swollen.


- - -
I am a graduate of Texas Tech University, with a degree in Creative Writing. I call Texas home (for now).


Carbon-based Physiology
By Aaron McQuiston

The decision was made, and I was dead. No heart rate. No respiratory rate. The neurons in what is left of my brain have finished firing. The last real memory before this line was crossed was the handgun pressed to my temple. Blood and brain matter and skull fragments are now all over the place. My naked torso sticks to the carpet.
Temperature is more important to me now more than ever. The drop from 37 degrees Celsius to more ambient temperatures can determined how long I have been lying here, no longer a person in a conscious sense. Of course my consciousness left a few hours before I became physiological reactions, but it's too late to think about that now.
I know what happens next. Since my muscles have energy reserves, I use them. My glycogen makes my muscle fibers fire one more time, stiffens everything up, but there will be no way for them to retract, thus leaving my muscles tight and rigid. This will last for about thirty-six hours before the fibers turn to gel and everything really turn to shit.
There is no more pure thinking; there is no more past. Memories of mothers and fathers and friends and lovers do not matter anymore. I am reactions and bacteria growth now. I am a biology experiment. I am a test.
My former life did leave a mark, like the dragon tattoo on my right bicep, the scar from when my appendix was removed, the cut under my chin where I was shaved this morning. It makes me wonder why I well-groomed this morning, only to be face down on the floor this afternoon. If I can meet him somewhere, have him explain the situation that led up to him leaving me behind, to pursue another form of life, I will gladly accept the invitation.
I can speculate to pass the time. Since the bacteria in my intestines in starting to grow and take over, E. coli being an organism that grows better in an oxygen free environment, my abdomen is starting to swell from the gaseous byproduct, I can say that my former occupant had his problems, like everyone has his problems, but not everyone takes the quicker way out. Most people just hurt and live and hurt and live.
After my abdomen has swelled and stretched my skin to the limit, the gas starts to escape, finding routes of least resistance, turning the small apartment into a noxious environment. I start to stink. Now that I think about this, now that the blood inside of me is pooling toward the floor due to gravity and turning my skin purple and black, I should be more upset than this. I should not be in this position, but I cannot let anger and disappointment rule the rest of my short life.
Nobody has come by this room to find me lying here. It has been days. All of the blood splattered around the room has dried. The blood underneath me has fused my torso to the cheap carpet on the floor. I feel sick, but I remind myself that I'm nothing more than chemistry. I will eventually be found, I will be wept over, I will be put in a casket and displayed as a symbol of the person I used to belong to. All that is left of him in the eyes of those who still love him. I will be buried in the cemetery. The process of my decay will not stop until it is complete.
I don't have a lot of time. As soon as the E. coli really takes over, it will eat my organs, transform them into jelly muck. Realistically, the reproduction of this bacteria should not be my only life. I should still have consciousness, should still be walking around parks and watching TV. I should still be having laughs and drinks at bars. I should still be moving, still be using blood to transport nutrients and oxygen to my cells, still be unclamping my muscles fibers, still be living. I try not to be angry, but I am angry. I have been left behind.
I cannot stop thinking about what is happening with the other part of me, the part that left. I hope that he has found happiness, that he has found peace. I hope he has escaped what he was running from, and not living like the gas that is escaping me, continuing to find the path of least resistance.
Sometimes hope can be such a heavy thought.

- - -
I am a licensed respiratory therapist, and I help my father with his painting business. I figure this means when my lungs are shot from paint fumes, I can treat myself. I have a few published stories.

Help keep Smashed Cat alive! Visit our sponsors! :)

- - -

Older Weirdness