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November 2023 Issue # 31 Flash
Shibashish Barik * Carl Boon * John Brantingham * Nicole Brogdon * Michael Czyzniejewski * Tammy L. Evans * Steve Gerson * William Hawkins * Jessica Klimesh * Al Kratz * Louella Lester * Abby Manzella * Amy Marques * Janna Miller * Laura Nagle * Josh Price
Festivals are always a great time to be with your family. Gathering of relatives and friends, lavish dinners, loud humorous conversations, and between everything, me. Being the smallest lady member of the family, I always have the privilege of being at the spotlight. Dashing round from one room to the other, dancing and hopping without any burden of schoolbag on my shoulder or the thought of holiday homework. These times always felt like movies. But sometimes my family tends to ignore me, like that night of Diwali. Perhaps the firecrackers were too loud for my screams to reach them or perhaps they thought uncle was there to take care of me?
Shibashish Barik is a writer of South Asian diaspora.
A MAN AND HIS TRUMPET
A trumpet’s not the sound it makes. It’s brass and space, a bell, a narrow corridor, a darkness, mostly. Abby’s father lived in darkness. His trumpet lay atop a stack of books in his studio, and he only touched it when he’d been walking down Main Street and felt hints of fall in the air.
He liked looking at it, the way other men like looking at motorcycles or women. If he played an hour, he philosophized a hundred and regretted not philosophizing more, for always something called—his wife with news, or news of his wife, or a thunderstorm. The three were the same.
Abby was sixteen, and played the piccolo in the high school marching band. Had she been a boy he would’ve called her Miles, no matter his wife’s objections. On Friday nights at the stadium he stood atop the uppermost bleacher and watched her at halftime. Afterward they ate pizza and he reminisced.
It was 1960, Kind of Blue had been out six months, and he was sixteen and in love with jazz. He loved what it did to the mind. Bix Beiderbecke was good, Count Basie was better, Duke Ellington sublime, but this was something different—an “elsewhere thing,” he called it. Faint stars upon a moonless sky.
Abby didn’t understand because she couldn’t understand. What does, after all, a teenager know of the things that matter—hard notes disappearing, silver beckoning gold, his green-eyed crush that never looked at him? He looked at Abby. She was looking elsewhere. There was a jukebox.
Her dime brought up the Bee-Gees and then the Ramones. He looked at his pitcher of beer and the two slices of pepperoni-mushroom left on the table. He was facing a divorce because it had to be faced, and didn’t want to go home. It would be the studio couch again, the trumpet above him.
It would rest through the night like he would—in a posture of prayer and waiting to be touched. It would respond eventually. It was 1979 and Vietnam was lost and the Russians were winning. He’d married too young, and that night woke at three and ate old macaroni and a Snickers bar.
He’d been dreaming: cloudy New York in a cloudier bar, and his trumpet lay on a pink stool that used to be red. He was to play, and if he played well there would be women and dollars and bourbon and fanfare. He wanted to tell someone. He wanted someone to know that he’d come this far and was close.
Carl Boon is the author of the full-length collection Places & Names: Poems (The Nasiona Press, 2019). His writing has appeared in many journals and magazines, including Prairie Schooner, Posit, and Washington Square Review. He received his Ph.D. in Twentieth-Century American Literature from Ohio University in 2007, and currently lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American literature at Dokuz Eylül University.
A Little Case of Death
Stephanie finds the goldfish dead in the fishbowl while the kids are with her ex, and she thinks she has enough time to run down to the pet store to swap them out, to keep her kids oblivious to death for another week or two, keep herself out of that conversation at least for a while.
But when she’s taking her keys out of her purse, she realizes it’s probably better not to lie. They have already learned so many lessons about loss when their parents broke up. She flushes the dead, empties the bowl and wonders what they’ll ask.
John Brantingham is currently and always thinking about radical wonder. He was Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks’ first poet laureate. His work has been in hundreds of magazines and The Best Small Fictions 2016 and 2022. He has twenty-two books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction. He is the editor of The Journal of Radical Wonder.
I’m dancing at the Black Horse Saloon with my blind date Ted. They call me Amazon Woman, cause I’m duck-under-doorways tall. Some men can’t bridge the distance. I’m two-stepping, shuffling in my lavender custom boots, trying not to flatten toes. Ted’s keeping up, laughing with his eyes and his whole face. He hands me a Dos Equis.
I decline—“Soft drinks, only.”
He nods, orders two Cokes. I’ve learned not to turn myself into a circus show.
Last summer, the boys lined up tequila shots like toy trains on the bar, then watched me down shooters. Dwight Yokum warbled “Fast as You” from the jukebox. I started strutting, swaying. Dancing, I forget my body, forget my mean trucker daddy, forget that crooked cactus Mama. Men yelled, “Timber!” as I toppled backward onto the wood floor, spread like a continent. Male faces circled my borders. One sunburnt cowboy hollered, “I’d like to climb your peaks!” Some hombre slung peanuts over my wooly hair. How big does a woman have to become, to escape the animals?
A handful of ladies helped me. One plucked peanuts from my mane, her forearm smoothing my scalp. Four more clasped my hands, “Come on, Hon”, sitting me up. Another left, parked her white van closer, then drove me home.
But tonight, I am upright, all right. And Ted’s polkaing, hopping like a grasshopper.
“Did you hear about me?” I ask.
“No,” He grins. “But I noticed you.”
“Love me Tender” starts, mournful slow. “May I?” Ted lassos my thigh, a Grecian pillar in his arms. “Lovely.”
Leaning in, my hands under his armpits, I lift this compact man, I carry him outside under bright stars where lovers go. I raise him high and close to my face to show him that yellow moon.
Nicole Brogdon is a trauma therapist in Austin TX, interested in strugglers and stories everywhere. Her flash fiction appears in Flash Frontier, Bending Genres, 101Words, Bright Flash, Dribble Drabble Review, Centifictionist, and elsewhere.
What Do We Really Know About Bartholomew?
My sister-in-law talks in her sleep. I’m not supposed to know this, but I do. I’m not proud and neither is Eliza. It’s something to do. It’s something we do.
My wife, Rhonda, Eliza’s sister, works five nights a week, Sunday-Thursday, the register at the Pilot. Rhonda leaves for work; Eliza comes by a half hour later. I’ll text her when Rhonda’s not working and that’s saved us a couple of times. Pretty suspicious, me sending a text whenever Rhonda tells me she’s sick, and one time, I thought Rhonda was on to me. False alarm. I promise myself to be more subtle, and so far, Rhonda has no idea. The last thing I want to do is hurt people I love.
Most of Eliza’s sleeptalk is nonsense. I’ve kept a journal, “Eliza’s Sleeptalk.” It’s hidden in the Notes on my phone. Eliza yells out, “I told you I don’t want that” and I type it in. She says, “Give her the handkerchief” and I type it in. “I don’t want this.” “It’s not funny.” “Why so white?”
I used to ask Eliza, before she left in the morning, if she remembered what she says. She always said no. She didn’t want to know. I decide not to worry about it and stopped asking. “Bartholomew wants to kill me”—what she says most often—doesn’t mean anything, especially since my name isn’t Bartholomew.
One night Eliza never comes over, doesn’t answer my texts or my calls. I fall asleep on the couch. The door unlocks just after one a.m. and I think it’s her, but it’s Rhonda. She’s frantic: Eliza has disappeared. Police found her car running on the side of the road, by the woods, her purse and phone inside.
“It was less than a mile from here. It’s like she was trying to get to me, to us, for help, but she didn’t make it.”
By eight a.m., a full-on search has commenced. Cops from every surrounding county have joined in. There’re volunteers. There’re dogs There’re stations with maps and walkie-talkies and hot cocoa. The owner of the Pilot has offered a $3500 reward.
Rhonda is a mess. We never went to bed. The cops say we should stay at home in case Eliza comes calls or shows up. I know that’s dumb—Eliza doesn’t have her phone, and if she comes by, that means she’s fine. The cops just want Rhonda out of the way. One of the officers nods at me before he leaves. I picture a scenario where I follow him out to his cruiser and he says I’m a good husband, then levels with me, confides that Eliza is probably dead, that I should prepare Rhonda for the worst. That doesn’t happen. They tell us to call if we hear anything. They advise us not to talk to reporters. They tell us they’re doing their best. One guy instructs us to pray.
I think about Bartholomew. There can’t be that many Bartholomews in the area. Eliza could be down in a cellar, chained up, the only Bartholomew in five hundred miles one neighborhood over. He could be registered, already on their radar. I could save Eliza, my sister-in-law and lover.
But how would that play out? What would I say when they ask how I know that name? I’d have to answer questions. That shouldn’t matter now, but Bartholomew probably isn’t anyone, just more sleeptalk nonsense. I’d blow things wide open, me and Eliza, over nothing. I’d ruin three lives. Rhonda would be devastated. Rhonda would leave me. Rhonda might not care if they ever find her sister. I’d be risking an awful lot. What do we really know about Bartholomew, anyway?
A day later, they find Eliza’s clothes in the woods, jammed under rocks. Someone put them there—clothes don’t come off and get stuffed under rocks because the wind blows. The cops are in our living room and Rhonda unloads, is hysterical. I think about Bartholomew again. I pull Rhonda in tight. The cops ask again if there’s anything else we can think of that can help. Rhonda says no. I thank them for their service.
That night, Rhonda and I watch TV. Eliza’s picture and a hotline number are on the bottom of the screen, every local channel, no matter what’s on, even commercials. Rhonda is near comatose, not blinking, not moving. After hours of silence, she announces Eliza is probably dead. I tell her we don’t know that. She sobs openly, says I don’t know what I’m talking about. She slaps me in the arm. She nearly chokes, she’s wailing so hard.
I blurt, “Does the name Bartholomew mean anything to you?”
Rhonda stops crying. She stands up, says, “Why did you say that name?”
I don’t know how to answer. “I think I heard Eliza mention it once. Last Thanksgiving, I think. It just popped into my head.”
Rhonda nods. She says this is an excellent lead. She says she has to call the detective. She goes into the bedroom.
I feel like I’ve contributed.
Within ten minutes, the detective and three uniforms are in our kitchen. Two of them escort Rhonda outside and the other two tell me to sit down at the kitchen table.
“Rhonda told us about Bartholomew,” the detective says.
“Bartholomew was a clown at Eliza’s sixth birthday party. He gave her nightmares. The girls shared a bedroom. Every night, for years, Eliza would yell out in her sleep about Bartholomew. She only did it when she was sleeping—she blocked it out otherwise.
I nod again.
“How long were you sleeping with Eliza?” the detective says. “Better yet, where’d you stash her body?”
Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of four collections of stories, including the recently released The Amnesiac in the Maze (Braddock Avenue Books, 2023). He serves as editor in chief of Moon City Press and Moon City Review, as well as Interviews Editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.
Tammy L. Evans
Shots Of Emotion
The line is long at the Clinic of Desperation. The spaces are the size of the person in front of you. The building looks sterile and we smell ash. Some of us look numb. Some of us look like we are coming out of our skins. Some of us have the emotions we are desperate to get rid of on our sleeves, faces, torsos, and in the kicks of our feet.
We are all here for the same thing: A shot that eliminates emotions.
When you enter the revolving door a queue snakes back and forth in front of a board that stretches from one side of the building to the other. The numbers, written in white chalk, correspond with the ailment the shot relieves.
Every day the board changes but the numbers stay the same. Shot #9 takes away loneliness and its disappointment. It is the fragrance and taste of lavender and lemon on the tongue that disappears too prematurely. With no loneliness, you become more social. You choose to go out and take a chance on interactions. You have zing. You call that friend from college you have been meaning to rather than sitting in your studio apartment eating vanilla ice cream with crumbled wavy potato chips and chocolate sauce. You take action.
You order and pay then your glasses appear on the bar lit from the inside in front of you. Every shot is a different color. They don’t seem to match the emotions you release. Fear should be gray or black but it is orange. Your handler watches you drink it down. They all taste like the worst thing you can think of. It is different for everyone.
There is a disclaimer written in small block letters along the bottom of the board: Be aware the shot does not eliminate the origin or root cause of the emotion. The shot is temporary relief for a maximum of six months.
Shot #2 takes away fear. With no fear, you take all the risks. With the shot you no longer taste metal hotdogs with ketchup. Instead, you take up hobbies like parkour on high rise buildings and you tell bosses what you really think. You forget about the consequences of any situation. There is a high you cannot explain that is better than any natural man-made drug.
Shot #7 takes away love and tastes like the sweetness of sugar cubes melting. You isolate yourself and have no desire for connection. People who take this shot get a lot done in those six months. The career oriented take this shot too many times in a row. The long term side effects are yet unknown.
The two most popular shots on the board are #9 and #2 but the most dangerous is #11.
Shot #11 takes away pain and the swords that stab and stab trying to teach you a lesson you cannot grasp. This is the most dangerous because people die. You take away pain and people become reckless. Your brain tries to protect normally but when the shot takes effect you play chicken with the train. You skydive. You rock climb without the harness.
Every morning the newspaper headlines read something like this:
A Beauty Treatment Promised to Zap Fat But Brought Disfigurement
Explosive Is Thrown as Priest Visits Orphanage
Runner Dies Trying to Break World Record for Daily Ultras
The Clinic does not intervene when a death occurs. The medical examiners have no knowledge if you visited the Clinic, so when you die the classification on the death certificate is lacking. How do you classify an overdose of action when in reality you have an absence of innate emotion? There is no standard cause of death or phrase that can satisfy what the real story is. But maybe that is the point.
Tammy L. Evans lives in a tiny house on a peninsula with her husband and adventure cat. Her location device is her loud laugh. She is currently working on a collection of connected flash stories. Her fiction has been published in Gone Lawn, Cabinets of Heed, Spelk, Five on the Fifth, Clover and White, Fiction Berlin Kitchen, and others. Connect through IG @writertammy.
At midnight, she decided.
He'd come home late, again. Saying, "no more, Babe, I promise. It won't happen, again,” just like he'd said last week, the week before, last month, every damn month.
"Trust me, Hon. I mean it," crossing his heart, like a 5-year-old having been caught taking an extra cookie from his mom's sideboard. Like a 10-year-old caught smoking behind the barn. Like a 15-year-old, when I'd bet he crossed his heart as the sheriff arrested him for killing the neighbor's kitten, wringing its neck, then hammering the cat to Mrs. Smith's red oak with four, tenpenny nails.
No more is right she thought, as he stumbled to bed, scratching his ass, kicking his lizard skin boots off.
She was through believing his pleas for forgiveness. She was through imbibing his lies, swallowing them like she'd seen him chug a can of beer, belch, wipe his mouth on his left sleeve, then crush the can. Like he'd crushed her, her trust, her hope.
As she heard him snore, all nasal and congested from his twice-broken nose, she started gathering. She picked up little Bobby, 3 years 6 months, from his thrift store crib, placing him under her right arm while she grabbed his blue teddy with her left. She'd get what she could later.
Then, she and Bobby opened his double-wide’s screen door to the driveway, trying to shush the door's bleating creaks, and quietly unlocked her Honda Civic's passenger side to hook him into his car seat. She rushed to the driver’s side, jumped in, turned the key, and they were off, probably to her sister Rosalee, two cities to the south.
Her Civic had 257 thousand miles on it, hard driven, maintenance rarely kept up, typical for him, she thought. "Why tend to something when it's easier to just let it die, a price to be paid later, like all his debts," mumbling silently to herself.
She'd left the trailer, though she had wanted to tell him to get the hell out. But that wouldn't have worked. He always said, yelled more like it, when they fought over his drinking, "you don't like it, git gone, girl. This here's my house, my money's paying for it, my sweat been poured while you fetch for the little one.” She had no way to counter his diatribe, his height as he loomed over her, his fists, if the drink was alive in him like a nest of coiled cottonmouth snakes.
The car's rear bumper was rusted into cancerous boils from the sea air prevalent around Port Lavaca, southwest of Houston. The bumper dangled about a foot, held on by twists of baling wire. When she drove, the bumper bounced off the road, whining in the two-part dissonance of her life: potholes clanking like punches thrown, corrosion screeching, metal against metal.
As she drove, looking once into the rearview mirror, the dawn turned an angry red against the gray sky.
Steve Gerson writes poetry and flash about life's dissonance. He has published in CafeLit, Panoplyzine, Crack the Spine, Decadent Review Vermilion, In Parentheses, Wingless Dreamer, Big Bend Literary Magazine, Coffin Bell, and more, plus his chapbooks Once Planed Straight; Viral; and The 13th Floor: Step into Anxiety from Spartan Press.
Two and Their Shadows
Two balladeers approach the cold Pacific in jean jackets, one with hair red and gold, one with hair black and curled. The sun has just fallen; the sky is Easter purple, carnation pink, and sleeping blue. The two walk through the mirror surf of a low tide and pause. A wave kneels, washes their feet and retreats.
She with hair red and gold thinks on what she sees, her eyes scales the ocean is measured upon. She wishes the world flat, the globe a blue-green saucer. She would live in a witch’s cottage at its edge and spend her days ankle-deep in the surf of her doorstep, netting the flotsam of the world before it falls over the edge. Of this she would make new islands, beaches of broken glass and Styrofoam palm trees, shoals of lost boogie boards. She would trap wrecked ships and make dollhouses of them, people with drowned sailors whose eyes she stitches with black buttons. They would sail to her for prophecies, yet her words would be lost to the roar of water falling off the world. She breathes in deep the ocean, deeper still, until each cell of her body is full of saltwater, until in bliss she ruptures and falls the sea, at last boundless.
She with hair black and curled thinks of what she knows. She thinks, then, not of tides, high and low, but of the moon – Artemis, Hecate, Selene – mother goddess cast off, solitary and complete, her phases a condition of her capture. The moon – super, blood, harvest – Scheherazade promising one more story, one more turn, a burlesque show of waxing and waning, and truly, is she not the same? Is she not a constant promise to herself? Did she not, as a child, construct this person she is, as if playing, by herself, a game of building blocks, carefully stacking a tower made of fairy tale logic and superstitions? Will not her heart, at midnight, become a pumpkin again? So that, when she at last lays down, her back on the grass, looking up, will she not sink and become at last what she always was? Yes. She will sprout into a pumpkin patch, an apple orchard, an upstate farm in fall, the evening sharp and shadowed, last light on a worn red farmhouse, a gray cat lying atop a crumbled, moss-encrusted stone wall, its tail flicking in time to a music it alone hears.
As one, the balladeers shed their clothing, wrap themselves in the salt breeze. They pass their clothes down to their shadows, who promise to hold them until they return. And see, they run into the ocean, fall before a wave, and emerge as bathers, silhouettes against the last of day. While on the beach, their shadows hold their clothes and speak of quiet things, saying, as they fade into the night, “Isn’t it lovely we were here?”
William Hawkins has been published in Granta, ZZYZYVA and TriQuarterly, among others. Originally from Louisiana, he currently lives in Los Angeles where he is at work on a novel.
Red Light, Green Light
At the red light, a clown tumbles from the passenger side of a two-door MINI, waves to a boy on the sidewalk, adjusts his nose, circles the car. On the heels of the first, another clown exits, trips over his shoes, spills like Skittles onto asphalt. More clowns emerge, dozens of them, rainbows of revelry, the first few now pushing their way back in through the same door, bodies squeezing, squeaking, honking. The boy on the sidewalk screams, hugs his mother’s leg, but then honks his own nose and, synthetic curls bobbing, scrambles into the MINI just as the light turns green.
Jessica Klimesh (she/her) is a writer and editor whose creative work--mostly flash and microfiction--has appeared or is forthcoming in Cleaver, trampset, Atticus Review, Ghost Parachute, Bending Genres, Does It Have Pockets, The Dribble Drabble Review, and Whale Road Review, among others. She lives in Sylvania, Ohio, and is currently working on a collection of linked flash stories. Learn more at jessicaklimesh.com.
The rhythm guitarist is sweating impressively. I’ve known that kid since he was a babe, loved his spirt from the get-go. He’s always had the attitude of a champ. His mom is in the crowd: I’m reminded of her first date with the boy’s dad, my best friend since I was three, where she walked in on me face down over a mirror full of beautiful lines of cocaine. Hey, it was my duplex, not hers. She only walked in because I had broken the toilet on their side. If you pay attention, the world has always been ending in various ways. I’ve always been able to keep the party going. It's my end of days skill. Not that the show must go on. I don’t care much for the show. I don’t even care that much about myself. There’s an inertia part of me and part my stalker. I’ll never call the authorities. Chase me relentlessly. I do not care. The storm’s always over my shoulder. Sometimes it’s fun to look at it—sometimes not. Somehow, the end of the world has let me age. Somehow, I never really have to pay. Not in full. Damn, that kid is sweating a lot, too. Holy cow. The girls around me: I like their eyes and I like their legs and I like the way they wonder what the hell I am. I get it. It’s a fair question. I’m a time traveler. I’ve been here before. I’ve seen the end of the world so many times and I’ve seen the loop and I’ve seen that kid grow up. I’ve seen his parents break apart; everyone breaks. Still, I’ve seen us somehow survive, somehow grow, somehow end up the rhythm guitarist banging his head, spraying the crowd with the sweat of all our somehows.
Al Kratz is a writer from Des Moines, Iowa. He's the author of The Tony Bone Stories from Ad Hoc Fiction and Off the Resting Sea from above/ground press. More about his work can be found at alkratz.com.
She and He Trilogy
She Liked to Think
That the look on his face was only a resting one, not judgement or disapproval. Or that the sneer was there to protect his real, much softer side. That he was a golden retriever hidden in a pit bull’s body. That the pain of his childhood had taught him to never show weakness. That the way he held his cigarette in the air was only to keep the smoke away from her because he knew of her allergies. That the book in his hand was only there to impress her and he actually preferred cheaper thrillers. That he wasn’t just another mistake in her life and she could love a smile into his lips.
It Grates on Him
Even in her sleep, words slide out like strips of zucchini, not flakes of dark chocolate that might cling to her bottom lip until his finger reaches. Nonsense smeared like stinky cheese stuck between her teeth, not lemon zest to poke and stir his mind. Her cartoon character voice like shards of ginger flung across the room, not the puff of nutmeg softly landing. All of it piling up, tumbling out, spilling onto the floor.
Were not at all surprised when they took each other on. In the time it takes to light a candle their words had warmed like wax, soon dripping hot, then burning them in place. So, when they cooled and hardened, it was too late. They were stuck together in place.
Louella Lester is a writer/photographer in Winnipeg, Canada. Her writing has appeared in Blink Ink, MacQueen’s Quinterly, The Dribble Drabble Review, New Flash Fiction, Cleaver, The Odd Magazine, Flash Flood, The Games Room at Full House Lit, Potato Soup, Litro, Yellow Mama, Prairie Fire, The Antogonish Review, and a variety of other journals/anthologies. Her Flash-CNF book, Glass Bricks, is published by At Bay Press. https://louellalester.blog
A House of Learning
The frat house considers its situation, calculating the college boys like math problems. If Jim wakes up before eleven, will he go to his 11:15 class? Jim’s class is only 347 steps from his first-floor room to the library next door, and he said that his professor motivates him to want to read The Last Exit to Brooklyn, but will he get by the Call of Duty game already in progress in the common area? If Brendan gets home from Kelly’s dorm room before frisbee starts on the front lawn, will he do his problem sets?
The house has long been the property of some Greek letters, somehow putting the building and its quarter-acre plot outside the powerful domain of the university, so that everything from its painting to its lawn care is paid for by fraternity. The house is an exile in the midst of plenty. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty coming into the house as well; the house just feels a yearning to be filled with the knowledge that the dormitories seem to possess even though college boys fill the frat house’s every room.
There are those who try—Benjy in his earbuds and sweatpants completes each assignment before the kegs roll in for the weekend, but in order to have the quiet he needs away from foosball, he studies at the library. The house cannot gain knowledge learned outside its walls.
The house needs a plan.
One Tuesday night, when it sees Benjy head for the door, bookbag aloft, the house locks its own front door. Benjy twists and turns the grand building’s brass doorknob.
“The door’s stuck!” He shouts to no one in particular. The eight others in the house are in the midst of their own pursuits. He tries the door again to no avail. He looks around and then attempts to lift open a window. Sealed. “Shit!”
Benjy calls again to the other guys, finally earning some attention from Jim and Tyson, both on the first floor. Once Benjy announces their trapped plight, Jim yanks and twists the doorknob, too. Eventually they decide to break a window. Tyson grabs his pitching wedge and aims it toward the window shouting “fore” as he swings. It bounced off the glass like a rubber ball.
“Shit!” Tyson says in awe. “Nothing stops my swing!”
“Something weird is going on here,” Benjy says, backing away from the window.
The boys quietly take in their surroundings. They feel a presence. The boys feel the house trapping them inside. The house is glad they finally feel its power, but the house wishes it could speak. Study time, it would say, if it could speak. Consume knowledge, it thinks. Feed me!
What the boys do, though, is shout up to their upstairs frat brothers, “Yo, bros, we’re trapped.” And without a second thought, “Let’s party!”
Down the open staircase stream the five other teenagers, giving each other high fives, unconcerned about their incarceration. Out comes the coke, cranberry juice, and club soda. Out comes the red Solo cups and no ice. Out comes the vodka, scotch, tequila, and rum. The mixtures they concoct make the house ill even to consider.
They grab a football out of a smelly gym bag and toss it from room to room, even after a lamp is broken. The house quakes. Somehow, the boys keep their drinks in hand. They laugh into the night unconcerned about the paranormal activity around them. They continue partying into the next day and the next when the doors stay locked. They develop new drinking games that combine Beer Pong with a real-world Mario Cart where they push each other across the floors on cafeteria trays stolen for winter sledding.
On the fourth day, the house, not known to be violent just desirous of learning, recognizes its defeat. These days had been worse than what it normally experienced. At least it had previously learned the cheat codes for karate chop moves and had discovered Easter eggs in the latest online games. There is no other learning to be had here.
The house unlocks its doors.
Abby Manzella is the author of Migrating Fictions: Gender, Race, and Citizenship in U.S. Internal Displacements, winner of the Society for the Study of American Women Writers Book Award. She has published with The Threepenny Review, MoonPark Review, Bureau Dispatch, trampset, and Flash Frog. Find her on Twitter @abbymanzella and @email@example.com.
Odette stood before Seb just as she had all those months when she’d first visited Eden Ranch with her parents. The same. Utterly different. This time, her back was straight, her gaze unflinching, her arms full of the things he’d thrust onto her: a baby boy, two little black cauldrons, and the promise of a life in his shadow, raising one of his children. She wanted none of it.
Mary watched her husband’s wild-haired mistress stand before him. She was a child. Younger than Mary had been when she married him. Younger than Mary’s only living child; Seb’s only legitimate child, albeit a girl. Odette was even more beautiful now that a child had grown inside of her, grown her insides until she was filled with the kind of soft strength that makes some women goddesses. The girl never lowered her gaze. I’m leaving, she said. I want nothing that ever belonged to you. Mary recognized the feeling, although she’d never allowed herself the words.
Candace couldn’t hear the girl from her usual hiding place in the kitchen alcove, but she could see it all perfectly. Seb smiled at Odette as he’d once smiled at Candace, years ago, when her breasts were as high and firm as her hopes. He’d kept every promise he’d made her: a house within easy reach of the big house, just beyond the gardens, a fully furnished kitchen with solid iron cauldrons and an overflowing pantry, and schooling for the child and all the other children that followed. Security. She hadn’t known then, when she’d eagerly given in, what she would be giving up. She couldn’t have known what it would feel like to acquiesce.
Seb looked down at Odette. She would always be tiny, but she was rounder now, breasts straining a little against buttons, jaw softened by the weight his child had gifted her. He loved her a little then, holding his son and the black cauldrons he’d gifted her as a memento, a promise of more. He’d already told his men to start building a hut east of the orchard. She was so beautiful that it took a while for her words to sink in. She hadn’t raised her voice. Come to think of it, he’d barely ever heard her voice before. She was leaving. She was leaving the child behind. She was leaving him.
Candace almost laughed. The girl pushed the baby and the pots into his arms and walked away. He looked small then. Ridiculous, even. The two witch-cauldrons hung, clacking, from one hand while the baby, awake now, cried in his awkward hold. Candace sunk into the shadows of her hiding place. He would be looking for her soon. Someone would have to quiet the child. He hated crying infants.
Mary stepped into the room in silence. Her usual ebb and flow of berating and appeasing retreated, awed by the vanishing girl’s quiet dignity. She stood in front of the husband she no longer feared. She waited for him to look at her. Paused to take in the confusion rippling over his face. Held out her arms. Took the child. Pressed the infant to her flat, empty chest. Whispered vows.
Odette told herself not to look back. But her child’s cries filled her breasts and she turned, overflowing, tears streaming, until the child stopped crying, soothed, rocked by the Ms. Mary on the porch of the big house.
Amy Marques grew up between languages and places and learned, from an early age, the multiplicity of narratives. She penned children’s books, barely read medical papers, and numerous letters before turning to short fiction and visual poetry. She has work published in journals and anthologies including Streetcake Magazine, SoFloPoJo, Bending Genres, Gone Lawn, Ghost Parachute, Chicago Quarterly Review, and Reservoir Road Literary Review. You can read more at https://amybookwhisperer.wordpress.com.
Strange Beasts and their Barricades
A line on the horizon is magenta and smoke, calling what strange beasts we are towards home, shambling, riding, one more grocery stop for soup we don’t need, (though it feels right to have extra), built as a barricade between us, ridged cans stacked so high along the window. Under the moon is your uncle, who escapes the back door and smokes after dinner. Insulated in the dark, he doesn’t spend his money on food.
A line, a crack in our building from where the car ran aground, up and over the curb, snakes up to the second floor (which isn’t structural, we are assured), but separates the bricks in a jagged edge, a peek into the dark space beyond. Maintenance plants silhouette sweetgum and false Cyprus, fast vertical growers to cover the seam. We wedge sprigs of holly spines in the linear darkness, like spiky garden tentacles reaching back.
A line on your finger, shorter than the one on your jaw, is scarred and healed, glowing in the dark when angled towards me, (placed on your knee, I can’t deny it) from when we did not stop at the store, but drove to gather wild blackberries in twilight amid thorned brambles. The fruit dissolved on our tongues and evaporated in our throats, providing no real sustenance at all. I gave you my jacket to cover your shoulders, beading blood. In the weeks ahead, we hurry along the road before the horizon, past the harsh gas station lights and borrowed land, to stumble up the steps, and draw the curtains before dark.
Librarian, mother, and minor trickster, Janna Miller has published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Cheap Pop, Whale Road Review, Necessary Fiction, Best MicroFiction 2023, and others. Her story collection, All Lovers Burn at the End of the World is forthcoming from SLJ Editions in 2024. Generally, if the toaster blows up, it is not her fault.
House of Sorrows
The house would not be sold.
The listing agent called the market funky. Don’t change a thing, she said; a house like this one, blending historic charm with modern updates, would sell soon enough.
Dolores knew better. There was interest, but no one could get as far as the front door. Viewing appointments kept getting canceled at the last minute, always for dramatic reasons: family emergency, car wouldn’t start, water main break. It couldn’t all be coincidental.
The house hadn’t minded Dolores’s benign occupation for the first decade or so, but ever since she began watching HGTV, she’d been making what she called upgrades. She’d welcomed plumbers and electricians inside to fix what wasn’t broken; the banisters and molding had been stained and stripped and painted and stripped and stained again. A litany of indignities. And now the house was getting its revenge.
The only way Dolores could ask its forgiveness was to undo what she’d done.
She gave away the Viking range and reinstalled the old wood-burning stove. She had the rainfall shower replaced with a clawfoot tub. It wasn’t enough. She unplugged the cable box and disconnected from Wi-Fi for a week, as an experiment, but the viewings still got canceled (food poisoning, apparently), so she gave up and plugged it all in again. The television went right to the last channel she’d watched, which was HGTV, and the house’s foundation groaned. The listing took itself off of Zillow.
If she was going to be stuck with this house for good, she thought, she might as well take down the old wallpaper in the guest bedroom, the only part of the house she’d never changed. Dolores had always imagined it would be a nursery someday, but that ship had sailed. It would make a nice home office space, better than propping her laptop on the dining room table. She would choose new wallpaper—something that would look professional as a Zoom background—or maybe she’d paint the walls, if they were in good enough condition.
She peeled away panel after panel of toile paper, skinning the walls and baring the plaster: the connective tissue that covered the house’s old bones, now marred by the remnants of long-dried wallpaper paste. Most of the glue softened when she applied a YouTube-recommended mixture of hot water, dish soap, and baking soda to it, but there was one patch on which the adhesive remained, stubborn and resistant to scrubbing. The stain had a pattern of its own: a human face, small and round, like a baby’s. She decided she’d done as much as she could for one day.
In the morning, Dolores tried again with a store-bought solvent, the kind used by professionals. It didn’t work, at least not the way she’d anticipated. The stain was still there, but its borders budged, making it less round, more oval.
The following day, she did not touch the wall except to measure the stain, which was visibly different: no longer a baby’s face but a toddler’s, the features more distinct than before.
She entered the room each day only to record her findings. The changes to the overall size of the stain were small but measurable; the nose gradually took shape, and the lips grew more defined, bow-shaped.
It was on the eighth day that Dolores first recognized the face as her own.
All that week she was tormented by the awkward, toothy smile she’d presented to school photographers year after year. She declined to take her measurements for a few days, unable to overcome her aversion to her middle-school-aged self.
On the nineteenth day, she thought it was almost like looking in a steam-fogged mirror. After day thirty, the face on the wall appeared progressively more fatigued until day forty-one, when it resembled the retouched headshots that made her look thirty again.
Dolores awoke on the forty-ninth day feeling an optimism she hadn’t experienced in weeks. Having only just turned forty-eight, she had no forty-nine-year-old face for the house to mimic. But the face was still there, albeit with a slightly different expression than the day before, and she tried in vain to scrub it away.
On the fifty-second day, Dolores got her wish: the paste residue began to dissolve on its own. It wasn’t until day fifty-five, when all that remained were faint outlines of a jaw and eye sockets, that she realized there was only one way this house would let go of her.
Laura Nagle is a writer and a translator of prose and poetry from French, Spanish, and Irish. Her flash fiction has appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review and is forthcoming in LEON Literary Review. Her translation of Prosper Mérimée’s notorious 1827 hoax, Songs for the Gusle, was recently published by Frayed Edge Press, and her translations of short prose and poetry have appeared AGNI, The Southern Review, The Los Angeles Review, Circumference, and elsewhere.
All the Vastness
I look up. All the vastness of space is laid out before me. It could be the ocean late at night if I were somewhere up high looking down, startled by minuteness, humbled at the feet of whatever existence pretends to be. I don’t trust it. I’ve felt its sharp teeth before.
I go gliding, trapped inside a bottle, suppress a wicked urge to jump up and down to watch it all crack and chip around me—risk the cutting—chase after the stressing lines until all I hear is glass breaking.
I spin and spin, but slow—like suicide by bottle of Jack; head over feet and giddy like anyone who’s ever been in love with feeling good. I’m in space that’s endless. Time’s not here, because it never was.
I look down, everything transparent, no one winning at anything, but everyone trying to convince me this is what winning looks like. Life should have purpose, but purpose isn’t real.
I’m so tired these days—aren’t you? Before and after our lives we’re dead, and I didn’t ask to be disappointed. Up until we go back to wherever it is we came from we just gotta figure it out, deal with it.
The problem is no one really knows how to deal with whatever it is we’re supposed to figure out, or figure out whatever it is we’re supposed to deal with.
We are the torsion of protons, neutrons, and electrons twisting into existence, bashing into one another so violently that we all merge together and become something different—sometimes better, sometimes worse—so we can later expire with a glare into a star filled sky, whispering in an infinite second, “How dare you”…
So I continue to spin, holding my breath and in love with forever, looking for an abyss like a black hole to swallow me in circles—stretching me out like putty until I’m too thin to matter.
Josh Price loves music, coffee, and cemeteries. He lives in Northern California with his patient wife and terrible dog. The Los Angeles Review, SoFloPoJo - South Florida Poetry Journal, F3LL Magazine, fauxmois, and others have published his flash, and Scribble magazine has published his short fiction. Visit him at josh-price.com, Twitter and Instagram @timepinto.