The Practical Applications of Quantum Fiscality

by  Alejandro Fernandez

As the mayor of the quaint Villaescanciada, Otilio had numerous responsibilities. He laid back in his armchair and scratched the battered survivors of his once wild mane. He stared at Marcial, the young engineer recently re-assigned to be his Economics and Science advisor.

Otilio thought about the thriving village with its crowded bar, the Renaissance church, warehouses, orchards and the primary school. Their inhabitants worked hard on making the most of the land, the village and each other. Energy oozed, such as in the fierce political debates between Otilio, Celestino and the councilors that crowded the village hall for forty odd years. Such enthusiasm was once described as being like a bunch of maggots feeding on a rotting limb. 

This heritage and activity had made Villaescanciada eligible for a developmental national grant (or a tribute, for some Councilors) that populated Otilio’s thoughts for two weeks. It was why he was consulting with Marcial, his agitation contrasting with the younger man’s amusement.

“So, according to this condom theory…” Otilio said


“quantum… this paperweight would be here,” Otilio pointed to the left corner of his desk. “And at the same time, here.” He indicated the right side.

“Not quite but that’s close to reality. So long as it moves at sufficient speed, the paperweight is considered to exist in two places at once. If nobody measures it.”

“So…” Otilio added “if the grant moves fast enough… and nobody is looking… and we consider the possibility of parallel universes…”

While Otilio designed his critical application of quantum theory, in a decrepit medical consultation elsewhere, two steeled-eye figures gazed at each other. The elder one dressed in a white coat with locked hands on top of the table. His name was Manrique, the village doctor, and the main reason for everybody to be healthy: nobody wanted to submit to his saw.

In front of him was Heriberto, the priest, who was rumored to have learned the office from Torquemada and the old inquisition. 

They were sanguinous enemies, the proud heirs of an ancient feud between science and religion that nobody else in Villaescanciada remembered.

Manrique started, with a blank expression. “I didn’t see any letter from the County council on Otilio’s desk.” 

“I don’t know what letter you are talking about. Otilio doesn’t have a two-page letter half hidden there.” The priest stopped corroborating, looking at some point behind his listener’s left ear.

A few seconds of uncomfortable silence brought the lack of information into each other’s thoughts.

“Indeed. It would be disloyal to suspect that Otilio would hide a six-digit grant. There isn’t a mayor vile enough to do such thing.”

“Otilio could take it personally if we doubted his morals.”

Some more staring before the conversation continued:

“Did you see the amount that wasn’t there in any letter?” Manrique asked.

“I did. And you, did you notice that there wasn’t any concept as to where that disbursement should go?”

“Of course not,” Manrique twisted his face in contempt. “It didn’t say anything in any letter.”

“We should then check with Otilio and ask, how come he hasn’t received any grant yet.”

“For the first time in your wretched life, you are right. What about the rest of the councilors? This is a big issue, should they know?”

A commanding knock threatened to break Otilio’s office door.

“Wait” he replied, hiding the papers littering his table in a drawer. “You can come in now.”

“Hello, Mayor” Manrique greeted him as the two conspirers entered.

“What brings you here?” Otilio replied coldly.

“You see Mayor,” said Heriberto, smiling wolfishly. “We have been talking and we were stricken that even though we in Villaescanciada are honest, hard-working people with exemplary behavior, we haven’t received any economical help from the County Council. It would be so handy to patch some problems in the village!”

Otilio gazed at them. He calibrated his chances and understood the looming certainty in those four confronting eyes. “The only time religion and science join forces is to screw me” he thought.

“You, hyenas…” he thought but he said. “You, dear citizens, know we are simple, yet proud people who don’t accept charity. We are self-sufficient…”, Seeing his speech wouldn’t lead anywhere, his demeanor changed to a defeated stare. “Did you tell anybody?”

“So, there was a grant!” Heriberto exploded, his eyes fixed on the wall. “What ignominy, keeping it from us, your trusted Councilors…!”

As Heriberto ranted, Manrique answered“Nobody else knows. Yet.” Otilio added. “There wasn’t any grant, however. None. What you think you saw was different, so stop trying to account for it it. However… since you are here, I will tell you about a concept that will boost your political careers.”

“What is it?” Manrique asked.

“Do you know about quantum fiscality?”

“A birth control plan?”

“Quantum, Heriberto. Q-U-A-N-T-U-M.” Otilio spelled.

Their expressions were answer enough.

“It is a novel, yet intriguing concept with plenty of practical applications; I will explain it slowly.” Otilio pulled a stash of bank notes from a drawer, letting them rest on top of the table. “Here are six thousand Euro. They exist at once in the Town Hall treasury and in your pockets, but only if they move fast enough and you don’t look at them. Now, shut your mouths and enjoy.”

Although the theoretical explanation didn’t find a welcoming neuron in the intruder’s brains, the practical aspect in the shape of bank notes cut an eight-lane highway to their pockets. Both men left the office, forgetting they had been there and any discussions about grants. The velvet night descended on Villaescanciada, clothing its neighbors in the placid dream of a day like any other.

Alejandro Fernandez is a Spanish writer looking forward to building a writing career. His first short story, “The Blackened Emerald”, will be published in the “Down in the Dirt” magazine in March 2024.

Sleeping is His Superpower 

by Cynthia Bernard

He can drop off anytime, it’s an easy, familiar trip; no need for a map or the Google lady, almost never any slowdowns on that road.

I live in a different kingdom, where sleep is a rumored destination almost never reached—the road meanders, forgets where it’s going; maps aplenty out there but I can’t seem to unfold them correctly, and there are so many detours along the way.

Bumpety-bump… a flat tire?

My little snort, not exactly a snore but not a delicate-princess sound either, jerks me away from the edge of sleep. Dream images, half-grasped, linger then fade: trying to steer from the passenger seat next to my Looney-Tunes mother who holds up a newspaper in front of her face and randomly presses the pedals…

Soft light diffuses though flowered curtains, speckling shadows on the wall. The wind sets aspen leaves quaking. Cawing crows argue above. He sleeps deep and long, fully surrendered, right leg thrown over the covers, one arm reaching up, the other down.

I lie there next to him, lost in a maze of half-paved streets, fighting the urge to drive up beside him and force him off the road.           

Cynthia Bernard is a woman in her early seventies who is finding her voice as a writer after many decades of silence. A long-time classroom teacher and a spiritual mentor, she lives and writes on a hill overlooking the ocean, about 25 miles south of San Francisco.

An Open Letter to Eowyn of Rohan, Regarding the Amazingness of Her Hair

by Rivka Crowbourne

Dear Mrs. Faramir:

Congratulations on your recent nuptials! It was a lovely wedding—obviously less lovely than Arwen and Aragorn’s, but lovelier than Samwise and Rosie’s by several tactfully understated orders of magnitude. And although one might quibble over the precise definition of “something borrowed,” it’s nice that you found a way of upcycling the Witch-King’s kneecaps.

And, speaking of everyone’s favorite ex-Nazgul—can we talk about your hair? Seconds before you-go-girling your opponent in his event horizon of a face, you doffed your helmet to reveal quite possibly the most luminous tresses this side of Numenor. I venture to touch on the subject because, despite my resorting to such extreme measures as occasionally not riding a horse for three full days with a steel pot on my head and then fighting elephants for an hour and a half, my own hair seems borderline frumpy next to yours.

Am I going about the whole thing wrong? Should I forgo shampoo and curlers in favor of tactical anti-pachyderm close-quarters combat? Is there some secret virtue in smelted haberdashery that brings out the luster in one’s locks? Perhaps the intense heat and pressure of trapped sweat fuses the sedimentary layers of hair into an obscure species of diamond, radiating feminine perfection when exposed to wraiths on smelly pterodactyls. Perhaps—just as the color we see in a physical object is actually the one color reflected away from that object—if one’s scalp becomes sufficiently unkempt, beauty bounces off it and becomes the attractive blonde photons that strike the retinas of outside observers. This hypothesis gains credence from the fact that your brother Eomer, who (presumably) spends even less time on his coiffure than you, has amazing hair as well. It could be sheer genetics, I suppose, but even Gimli turns out to be primed for GQ on the rare occasions when he de-helmets.

Is it the pipe-weed? It’s the pipe-weed, isn’t it! Theoden, of course, was unacquainted with hobbitic smoking habits—but you had Meriadoc in your saddle the whole way to Minas Tirith, hot-boxing you with second-hand fumes. Could Longbottom Leaf be the key to healthy follicles? The anti-tobacco lobby is not going to like this, Mrs. Faramir. Nor will my pulmonary apparatus thank you for my new practice of vaping into a hardhat on the way to work.

But I really mustn’t put the blame on you. Clearly, you just can’t help having infinitely gorgeous hair at all times, no matter how hard you try. It must be a terrible burden. Well, I’ve taken enough of your time. I hope your husband enjoys not being King of Gondor.

Rivka Crowbourne is an aspiring poet, an aspiring writer, and an aspiring master of the martial arts, who wishes you infinitely well. At time of writing, she is still vulnerable to handheld weapons.

The shape of things to come

by Glenis Ann Moore

You know how it is. Unable to sleep you are surveying the contents of Amazon when you catch sight of one of those ads and, before you realise it, you’ve ordered something alongside a paperback copy of Moby Dick to replace the one you dropped in the bath last week.

Your paperback arrives in days but, because your surprise purchase has to fight its way from the Far East, you forget about it until late one night when the door bell rings in the middle of a rerun of the original ‘Halloween’. You grab a frying pan and hesitantly open the door to find an Amazon box and a fast retreating white van.

Wary about opening an unknown box, but reluctant to phone the Bomb Squad, you peel off the layers of tape to find your purchase packed in six layers of bubble wrap. Your mind spirals – I can’t remember ordering this, but your Amazon order list reveals all.

That’s probably how I have ended up with a dog-shaped cushion that terrifies the cats and an ornate metal bird bath, which, in the summer, could stew a sparrow within thirty seconds of submergence, if any of our local sparrows were stupid enough to get in it. Luckily, in this cat infiltrated village, most sparrows would make a Mastermind contestant look senseless – I am sure that I’ve heard them discussing logical positivism over peanuts and pumpkin seeds late at night, but then insomnia does that to you!

Anyway, maybe that is now why my partner keeps my laptop shut away at night and stashes the key in some place known only to the sleepy. After all who knows what I might order tonight when sleeplessness and a lack of sugar kick in.

Glenis has been writing since the first Covid lockdown and does her writing at night as she suffers from severe insomnia. When she is not writing she makes beaded jewellery, reads, cycles and sometimes runs 10K races slowly. She lives, with her long-suffering partner and three cats, just outside Cambridge in the flat expanse of the UK Fens.

After S’mores

by Susan Gilbert Guerrant

My father sweats through his undershirt, perspiration rings blooming around his neck and underarms. He pounds in stakes with a rubber mallet, the final step in erecting a tent under the lone maple tree in our backyard. His efforts serve as a siren call to Linda White who lives in the house behind us, who I saw watching us through her upstairs window, who now beelines over to the fence dividing our yards. Linda believes herself a worldly ten and seldom find eight-year-old me worthy of notice, but on this hot afternoon, she pokes the toe of her dirty Ked though one of the fence links, slings her arms over the top metal rail and motions for me to come talk to her.

I approach her by hopping over on one foot and then another, all the while hoping that her attention is because she’s realized I’m someone who would be fun to play with. But even as I smile up at her, I understand it is probably the tent with its promise of outside sleepovers that accounts for her newly acquired enthusiasm for my company.

It turns out thought that Linda has a desire that goes way beyond wanting a new

friend or even a yen to sleep under the stars.

What Linda needs on this August day is an audience, an appreciative audience, an audience with the capacity to be stunned. She has recently come by some very important information. What’s more, her mother has told her not to talk about this very important information with anyone. So that afternoon while Linda is telling me my tent is “really neat” and asking do I want to come have cookies at her house, she is burning with missionary fire to share all she knows.

      Linda becomes my best friend for the day. She does feed me cookies at her house. And then she comes to my house and plays Monopoly with me. When I show her my bedroom, she is careful to compliment the evening gowns I’ve fashioned out of Kleenex and toilet paper for my collection of small stuffed lizards. Of course, after dinner, I ask if Linda can spend the night with me out in the tent.

      Once we are there, Linda is not given to subtleties. She has waited all day after all. So after we’ve eaten  s’mores, while we are lying on top of our sleeping bags listening to the sawing song of the crickets, Linda readies, aims, fires. “Do you know what men and women do?” 

      Well, I think, I’m no dummy. Dads fiddle around in their workshops, make coffee every morning and yell encouragement at the television whenever Joe Namath plays. Moms rearrange furniture, make cookies and talk to their friends on the phone while they wrap the long, curly cord around one finger and then the other. These scenes flit through my head like a soothing movie montage. But Linda cuts right into my little picture show and says, “The man sticks his wiener into her.” Assuming my stunned silence is interest, she elaborates.

            Like errant bullets, questions ricochet in my mind.  What?  What is she talking about?  Why am I here in this tent with her?  And oh god, what is she going to say next?

Linda has turned on her side, extended her elbow out and propped her head with her hand so she can study my response. I see her triumphant stare, so despite my ping-ponging thoughts, I glare right back at her and say, “You’re gross. And a liar. You’re a gross liar and you’re just making that up.”

      “Oh yeah?”  Linda says and pulls out her trump card. “My mother is the one who told me this.” She utters these words with such authoritative certainty that I know they are true. When I can’t think of anything to say, Linda takes advantage of my silence to reiterate, “His wiener . . . right into her.” 

      Later, we do tell ghost stories, but it’s a lackluster effort. I can’t whip up any real fear. I just can’t be spooked by haunted houses or the hook man, even if he does attack Girl Scouts who camp out. All I can think about is wieners.

      So the stories die out and soon Linda drifts into an easy slumber. The tent fills with the satisfied slow and even breathing of one whose mission has been accomplished while I stare out into the dark, turning Linda’s words over in my mind. Try as I might, I cannot imagine the mechanics of what she has described to me. Even more of a puzzle is why anyone would want to do such a thing. It just doesn’t make sense.

I listen to the tiny muffled thuds of June beetles and moths bouncing off of the tent’s canvas walls and wait for my eyelids to grow heavy. What finally comforts me and brings on the enveloping peace of sleep is the certainty that despite the fact that some people might do what Linda has described, normal people, specifically people like my mom and dad, would never, ever do such a thing. After all, I reason, they are my parents.

S. G. Guerrant is a giant book nerd who’ll read anything from Sedaris to Satre. She is a writer and library worker who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her work has appeared in various venues including McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Albemarle and Salon.

Harrison’s Release

by Tessa Kjeldsdottir

I was giving the Qtip a final twirl when my cousin Jonny hollered up to tell me that Harrison had been released from prison. At first I’d heard “Harry’s song had greased the prism,” which made no sense at all. But then I remembered the Qtip in my one good ear.

I dropped the waxy cotton swab in the trash and hustled to the front door, which I keep locked all night to keep Jonny out of my supply of home-brew. Yep, screen and front doors were locked tight. But there was no one out front.

I turned then, and hustled into the kitchen. There, at the back door — also locked — Jonny was pressing his nose against the screen, his fingers spatulate on the wires, like a fly on lukewarm potato salad.

He looked worried.

I’d told him to always call first and give me a head’s up that he was coming, but he wouldn’t listen most times, and certainly not when he was in a panic, so I decided to unhook the latch straightaway. Jonny surprised me then by stepping back from the door, his nose cross-hatched with pollen and rust. He didn’t want to come in all of a sudden. It was like nothing I’d even seen before.

Jonny’s lip trembled, and for once, his words came out in a whisper, rather than a shout. “Harrison’s been released from prison, Mae. And he says he wants to see you, first thing.” He dug both hands into the front of his overalls, and scratched his bare chest nervously. “He says you’re holding onto the treasure and he wants his share.”

I pulled the screen door open and stepped out onto the porch. I noted the scree of crickets warming to the rising sun, in the long grass just past Maisie’s tire swing. Jonny’s story seemed like it made about as much sense as what I’d heard with that Qtip in my ear.

I cupped a hand around my good ear and leaned in. “What are you talking about? What treasure?” I must’ve hissed at him, because his eyes went wide and he stepped back.

Against my better judgment, I moved toward him and grabbed his bony shoulders. “Jonny, he swore to me he didn’t do the crime!” I shook him some, and his teeth—the few he still had—chattered in his head.

“I don’t know,” Jonny started to blubber, tears, snot and spit gathering on his chin. “But it can’t be good coming from Harrison.”

 “Merciful hemlock, Jonny!” I never could understand why Jonny was so frightened of Harrison, but there you have it. Jonny comes from a long line of men who tend to marry their first cousins. I guess I was lucky I’d met Harrison before cousin Jonny had hit full puberty.

“Where is Harrison now?” I let go his shoulders and pushed him away from me.

Jonny ran a hand over his close-shaven scalp and bit his lip, and peered up at me sidewise, his eyes slit and mean. “He’s on his way. Just you wait and see. You shoulda married me, Mae. I don’t give anybody any trouble. And I woulda been here for you…and for Maisie!”

“If I’d married you, Jonny, Maisie wouldn’t even exist,” I softened my voice and offered up a smile. Sometimes I forget that there’s basic goodness amidst all his foolishness. “And wouldn’t that be a crying shame? You love Maisie just like she was your own.”

“If she’d married you, Jonny, she’d have had an idiot child from an idiot husband.”

I turned around. Harrison stood in the shade of the kitchen, no smile on his handsome face. No lock could keep him out when he wanted in. Why did it surprise me that he jimmied our front door open without making a racket?

“Go home Jonny,” I pushed open the back screen door and stepped inside. “And thanks for the warning.”

 Jonny fled across the grass, arms now pulled out of his overalls and reaching toward the sunrise, his bare heels flashing in the growing light.

“Where’s my treasure?” Harrison growled.

“Maisie? She’s not up yet,” I eased the door closed behind me, “Can I fix you some breakfast? Or would you like something else?”

His eyes twinkled as he reached for me and pulled me into his arms.

Tessa Kjeldsdottir is a Midwest dabbler in fiction, folk and fairy tales, and poetry. Her work can be found in the occasional chapbook/anthology, but mostly on her flash blog and sketchbook, Valley of The under the pseudonym Liz Husebye Hartmann.

Front Desk

by Susan Whitlock

“What should I put for my address?” the chubby boyfriend, introduced as Trevor, asked. He stared at Beatrice with glazed, muddy brown eyes.

            “Excuse me?” she replied to his hundredth question.

            “ I never filled out a job application before. Do I put where I stay in Ada sometimes, or my girlfriend’s place here in Neosho?” he continued, tipping his head in the direction of the petite new housekeeper, Allison.

            Allison swallowed some emotional soup but said nothing.

            “Just put where you want your mail to arrive,” Beatrice said. “I really need to get this paperwork done.”

            Trevor was not impressed with her professional needs.

            “Well, I just don’t know. I never had a job, so this is all new to me.” His pasty white face was covered with perspiration, oozing oils, and a film of dust from the hot, Missouri streets.

            Beatrice attempted to ignore him now, busily typing in statistics for the general manager’s monthly report. She had just completed training for the assistant general manager position at Neosho Residence Inn.

            A sigh escaped her pretty, pouting lips.

            “What?!” Trevor glared at her, raising his voice so all the lobby could hear him. “Am I bothering you?”

            He emphasized this question by slamming his fist down on his application.

            “Do you have a problem with me because I am dating Allison? Is that it?”

            “Please, lower your voice,” Beatrice whispered, leaning over the front desk to calm him down by staring gently into his crazy eyes.

            “I am not shouting!” Trevor shouted. Now heads were turning to watch the drama unfolding in their hotel lobby. One grey-haired woman began fanning herself with her visitor’s guide.

            “Pipe down,” Glenna, Beatrice’s head housekeeper and favorite employee said. She was on her way to the laundry when she caught this blast from old Trevor.

            She glanced at Allison standing helplessly behind the front desk. They exchanged meaningful looks, which Beatrice made a mental note to investigate later.

            In the meantime, strange things were taking place in Trevor’s soul, evidenced by a little prancing in place and some random arm flings.

            “Sheeite! You are just like my last job…judging me and acting all high and mighty!”

            Spit was starting to fly from his foaming mouth and his eyes were beginning to bulge like a severe thyroid problem had evolved right there in her hotel.

            “I am confused,” Beatrice let slip, “I thought you said you never had a job before…”

            Trevor began jigging up and down, looking like the world’s oiliest marionette. A throbbing moan began issuing from his throat. Beatrice was reminded of her neighbor’s horrid pit bull, and she inched back a bit in self-defense. Allison inched with her, a little whine singing out from her own throat.

            “If you would just finish the application over in the dining area, Allison can take a few minutes to help you finish filling it out,” she offered the jittering boyfriend in a professional tone.

            Allison started to step around the desk to guide Trevor to the area indicated when a fresh storm began to swell his sails.

            “Oh, hell no!” he announced to one and all. “You mothers are not going to put that on me. Like I can’t fill out your damn application by myself. What do you think I am some moron or something?”

            His decibel level now was reaching people out on the front walk. Beatrice’s maintenance man, Tim, slipped through the automatic doors and glided over behind Trevor.

            “Keep it up, fat boy,” he growled. “The cops are on their way.”      

            Trevor whirled around, smashing into Allison, and sending her reeling. This caused Tim to grow about four inches and loom over Trevor, prepared to end this nonsense once and for all.

            “Tim!” Beatrice hissed, “Don’t do it.”

            Tim bristled but rocked back on his heels.

            “O, no, no, no, no way!” Trevor sputtered in response.

            His feet stopped dancing and began pedaling rapidly towards the doors. Bursting into the summer sauna, he crashed into his little Pinto, which he had left running at the curb. The key fob in his jeans pocket must have been accidentally depressed because the doors suddenly locked. Trevor spent frantic minutes alternately clawing at the door handle and screaming for the Pinto to let him in.

            Inside, Beatrice suddenly snorted in a knee-jerk amusement at these antics. The little cavalcade of onlookers moved as one person towards the glass doors and windows to watch the conclusion of this unexpected entertainment.

            Trevor’s head shot up at the sound of police sirens careening toward him in the distance. With one more forlorn look at his traitor car, he began racing like a madman down the street. His long, greasy braids were hip-hopping to some tune as they streamed along behind him. His gangster jeans began slipping downward, causing one hand to grip his back pocket, the other flailing over his heated head.

            Beatrice could not help it. A grin spread over her lips, over her cheeks, and wrapped around her soul. She began laughing merrily and simply returned to the front desk to finish her paperwork.           

            “Meth heads,” Tim sighed as he joined Beatrice at the front desk, “Gotta love ‘em.”

            “Do I now?” Beatrice hummed a bit as she clacked away at her keyboard.

            “Are we safe?” the granny inquired when she sidled over to join them.

            “Of course!” Beatrice assured her. “Here, a coupon for one coffee and a muffin at our bakery – for your trouble.”

            “Does this kind of thing happen a lot?” another guest asked, after receiving the extra towels he had come down for twenty minutes ago.

            Beatrice gazed straight-faced into the gentleman’s eyes and lied her head off.


            Her smile warmed the man, as did her sparkling eyes. This was her bailiwick – her forte – making people feel safe, welcomed: downright loved during their brief stopover from the road of their lives.

            This was her kingdom – Residence Inn. Neosho MO. Assistant general manager: Front Desk.

Susan Whitlock lives in southeastern Kansas. Grand Dame will publish her tale entitled The Archer’s Ball online on 7/11/22. Until Then, the Garden was published by Heimet online on April 15, 2023. Her first novel will be published by Indignor House in Spring 2024.

My first driving lesson

by Helga Gruendler-Schierloh

As a teenager — years ago — I often imagined how wonderful it must feel to operate a car. So, one day, an expectant smile on my face, I walked into a driving school.

After the formalities were completed, the receptionist handed me a timetable and wished me well, I was ready for my first hour of instructions. In those days that still meant learning how to handle a stick-shift.

A dark-haired young man — who resembled the star of a popular TV commercial —approached me with, “Hello, young lady. I’m your instructor.”

He motioned toward a light-green VW.  

His grand looks and charming demeanor already making my heart beat faster, the sight of the automobile increased my excitement even further.

I sank happily into the soft cushion of the passenger seat.

Leaving the city’s traffic jams behind, we arrived at a quiet road in the suburbs, where that long awaited magic moment finally became reality.

After the gentleman traded seats with me, I gripped the steering wheel.

Then I paid careful attention to my advisor’s explanations. And — SUCCESS—the vehicle screeched, hummed, and moved. A triumphant feeling flooded through me.  

When it was time to shift, I couldn’t find the gear lever. My foot slipped off the clutch, the car bolted forward — and stopped.

The instructor chuckled, then helped me restart the car. The engine hummed again, but my enthusiasm had sunk several degrees.

In addition, my instructor’s voice now went into overdrive:

“Keep to the right! Drive straight ahead! Don’t zig-zag! Avoid the ditch! Stay on the road! Shift, please! Ouch, that hurts my ears! Wrong gear! Turn on the blinkers before you turn! Watch out, there comes another car! Step on the brakes, now! Yes, but much less brutal!

Within the confines of one hour, that man had transformed from a fascinating prince charming into a nagging, yapping frog or, at the very least, into an insufferable grouch making irrational demands. Didn’t he realize I only possessed two hands and two feet?

As I was desperately fumbling through buttons, switches, and handles, my self-confidence took a nose-dive. Gone was my euphoric anticipation, destroyed my vision of zooming along at ease, and shattered my innocent faith in the desirability of technology.

Upon returning to the driving school, my head buzzed with anxiety, my body oozed with perspiration, and my knees shook.  

I decided right then and there I would never again be impressed with supposedly experienced drivers’ proclaiming how they were swinging themselves behind the wheel, gunning the engine till it roared, and then cruising along at 100 miles an hour.

When I eventually got my license and became the owner of some modest vehicle, I had been chastised into being a rather humble driver.

To this day, I calmly start the engine, allow it to warm up, then drive carefully, because:                      

“A car can be definitely useful,

that goes without much talking.

But if your nerves are frazzled,

You’d better stick to walking.”

Helga Gruendler-Schierloh is a bilingual writer with a degree in journalism. Her articles, essays, short stories, and poetry have appeared in the USA, the UK, Canada, and South Africa. Her debut novel, Burying Leo, a Me Too story, won second place in women’s fiction during Pen Craft Awards’ 2018 writing contest.


by Karen Walker

Originally published in Bright Flash Literary Flash, April 2023.

Mimi. My greyhound. I find her luxuriating on Mom’s chintz settee, where no human ever sat. Mimi probably pricked her ears at the mess, but wouldn’t have created it. She’s black and white. Clean, never wrong.                                                        

Phil, wily stripey whippet. He greets me at the front door, wagging his side of the story before I see the mud and debris, the disaster.  He loves me and missed me. He’s not responsible. It was Andrew.

My big white cloud of an English setter. Andrew lies among the broken fronds, his plumed tail swishing and clinking shards of shattered pot. I point, I yell. He’s droopy-eyed. Wut?

The plant was Mom’s. A Golden Palm. During her last days, she sat beside it in the sunny front window. When I told her about needing to move home, she picked at the leaves’ yellow tips and tsk-tsked. Disappointed, I think, in the plant’s growth and mine.    

The carpet was bisque. Plush. Mom raked it daily like a zen sand garden. Her vacuum marks live on in the far corners of the living room. 

Pop. I find him in the basement among boxes of Mom’s Royal Doultons. Smoking his pipe. Did he not hear what was going on above? He puffs smoke rings. “No, o, o, o.”

I help him up the stairs, squeeze his hand, show him what’s happened.

Apologies. I’m so sorry about the palm and the carpet. I’ll root a piece and get a steam cleaner, rake and vacuum like Mom did. Promises. And, while we’re here, teach them better manners. Not that we’ll be here long because I’ll find a rental that allows three dogs. Pop, you were right about Josh. Mom was, too. Confessions.   

Granddogs. As I call them. Pop doesn’t. He feels bad about pointing fingers, but whispers it was probably the striped one—”What’s his name again?”—that did it. “The skinny little devil never listens, just like his mother.”

Karen Walker writes in a basement in Ontario. Her work is in or forthcoming in Brink, The Viridian Door, The Hoogley Review, Overheard, Blink-Ink, and elsewhere.

The break-up

by Lisa Roberts

No one has ever dared tell you this, but, I am done drinking the Kool-Aid and pretending. Word Perfect, you are a tyrant, a bully, a devil working overtime. You interrupt me with pop ups like a three-year-old demanding ice cream. You have yet to suggest an edit or correction that is any kind  of improvement. How can you be so pompous, so arrogant? You don’t know me. Most of your suggestions consist of throwing dice. “I think she means to say.” I know what I mean to say and I can say it myself. Thank you very much!

Our relationship mimics the one I am forced to have with my brother-in-law who explains every Thanksgiving that Martians gave him the recipe for the mashed potatoes. “The Martians secret ingredient is b-u-t-t-e-r,” he whispers in a low voice, afraid someone else will hear. I only have to deal with him on holidays. I am forced to interact with you on a daily basis.

I am in my sixties and I remember life before you. I remember typewriters. A typewriter works with you. Yes, Word Perfect read that sentence again, I know it’s a foreign concept it you. A typewriter says, “Set your margins, I will respect your choice.” We will prepare contracts, and pristine wills. “Together we will help you get the promotion and raise you deserve.” We had a warm and loving relationship until you bullied your way into our lives.  Total domination is your only goal. And yet, you must admit the ability to cut and paste has not cured cancer, abolished war or saved humanity.

You have even created a wedge in my relationship with my husband. He is younger and has only known you. He is exasperated that I cannot work with you.

“Take the time to learn to use it.” He pleads as though the fault is mine. I know better, I know there is no working WITH you. You will not tolerate a relationship of equals. I know in my heart no matter what I learn, no matter how hard I try to make this relationship work, you will never stop interrupting me with pop ups, changing my words, running out of power at a crucial time. We are done, finished, over.

I sit on the couch and anxiously wait for the deliveryman. I hear the knock and open the door. He is six feet, 27 inches tall, built like a refrigerator. The box weighs 3620000 tons and he strains to keep it upright.

“Please, put it there.” I say pointing to the kitchen table.

“Please open it for me.”

He pulls a knife from his back pocket slits the tape on the top of the cardboard, lifts it out. He grunts, strains and starts to sweat as he places it gently on the kitchen table.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
“What is it?” he asks.

“It is a 1978 IBM Selectric typewriter.” I announce proudly as if I have just given birth to the messiah.

“What are you going to do with it?” he asks, puzzled.

“Live in happiness for the rest of my life.”

“Great.” he says rushing for the door to get away from this crazy lady before she can turn him into a cat.

I plug her in, listen to the hum, run my fingers over the keys. Her response is light and quick, exactly like I remember.

“Oh baby, I missed you.”

Lisa Danny-Roberts is a recovering lawyer. She lives in a small town in Colorado with six chickens, a cat named Max and her husband.

A Different Kind of Dead

by Obsidian

I’m dead.

Okay, maybe I’m not. I have just made the dumbest mistake of my life, and the fastest route any human would take out of it was to die, or bury themselves six feet under.

I’m dead. I’m very dead. My mom says to say things over and over when you want it to stick, to pray over and over for things to happen. Because words repeated can morph into answers. So, when I’m saying “I’m dead,” albeit, loud enough for my ears only, I mean, I want answers from the universe.

It’s one of the days, when the universe, instead of blessing you with wings for flight, or interfering auspiciously in your life, only mocks you. A mockingbird is singing in the distance, and the Earth is orbiting the normal way.

Biggy pulls me up by the collar, snarling at me with lettuce-stained teeth. “Why you write my girl a love letter? You deserve beating.”

Biggy is the tallest in our class, and the strongest. One of his best fighting strategies is to sit on his victim and stuff their mouth with sand. He is known for his frequent visits to the staff room for punishment, and his tendency to leave his shirt unbuttoned, and his shoelaces dragging after him, as though they are reluctant to follow him.

Hear me out, I know she is his girl, I just feel as though she needs saving. Even Biggy needs saving from himself.

Penelope stands at the corner of the classroom, her eyes filled with concern and a hint of dread. Coloring book and crayons discarded, she walks to Biggy, her braids bouncing off her back. “Biggy, don’t.”

Biggy snarls at me again, reducing all my thought up attempts to fight back to zero. He backs away, and pointed at me. “I’ll get you, prissy boy.”


Penelope and I are on the swing, waiting for our parents. I watch out for both Biggy and my mom’s silver Buick. This isn’t the first time we have waited for our parents together. We would wait together, talk, and wave at each other when we see the red paint of her father’s Camry, or the glinting silver of my mom’s Buick.

We sit side by side, the knight and his damsel in distress. She slips a hand into mine and looks away, like she is afraid to see if our hands fit perfectly. Her braids are brown, matching her brown eyes.

“Do you need saving from Biggy?”

Her head whips around to look at me, and she retrieves her hand in a hurry. “No, I don’t. You know he’s been moved from one foster home to another? He doesn’t have a real daddy and a mummy like we do. Biggy is a good boy, he just needs someone to see him for who he is. ”

“And you’re that person?”

She doesn’t speak for a while, as though contemplating, then nodded. “I’m that person.”

“What if he finds out that you pity him?”

Penelope stops swinging. “I don’t pity him, I see him.”

“You don’t have to see him up close, you can do that from afar.”

“Why not?”

“Because you can be my girl.”

She spluttered into a cough, one that I had to pat away from her back. “Oh, Adam,” she says, the side of her lips tugging up in a smile.

I press a kiss to her forehead like my mom does to me, smoothing her braids while at it. I fish the plastic ring I had bought from the stall close to our school, and hand it over to her. It is red, with a love shaped candy attached to the top of it.

“You’re so dead, Prissy boy,” I hear someone say. I don’t have to look to know it is Biggy. I really am dead.

Obsidian is a writer with an eye for poetry in nature and the mundane. When she isn’t writing, she can be found listening to Sade and Asa, scouring the internet for memes, or wondering why everything she needs cannot be brought to her doorstep. She has had her works published in Brittle Paper, Fiery Scribe and Backwards Trajectory, and another is forthcoming in Eunoia Review.

Escape from Christmas Island

by Cheryl Ann Farrell

“Ho, Ho, Ho,” Kris shouted to begin the annual festivities on Christmas Island – a tradition for as long as anyone could remember. The week-long party included dancing, running about, and plenty of drinking. One big “hurrah” before the Christmas work began.

“Are the mermaids invited again this year?” Mrs. Claus asked.

“Of course! Mermaids love a good party.”

“And Halia?”

“I don’t know. I’ve not seen her since last year.”

Halia – a blue tailed mermaid – flirted heavily with Kris last year which led to a romantic liaison. Consequently, she gave birth to 100 eggs. These eggs hatched into little tadpole-like creatures – hideous though as each had the head of Santa – beard and all – and Halia’s blue fish tail. Mrs. Claus schemed to scoop up all the creatures and kill them, but Halia prevailed by taking them all out to sea. And vanished.

By day three of the festival, both forgot all about Halia and her brood. Until a drumbeat was heard in the distance approaching with the chant: “HO! HO! HO! HO! HO! HO!” With each stomp, the “HO!” got louder. Kris woke from a stupor, “What the f—?”

The sea shimmered with movement of hundreds, if not thousands, of these sea creatures from his spawn. They were a cross between a mermaid, Neptune, and Santa – each holding a spear as they headed inland stabbing everything as they went. “Where’s our PAPA? HO! HO! HO!”

These creatures slithered and propped themselves up to stab at anyone of the Kris Kringle Crew. Kris grabbed his pants, flipflops, his red suit, and headed for his canoe.

“If I don’t escape, Christmas will be gone.”  Once in the canoe he headed for the North Pole. He relaxed until he heard tapping. Kris turned around. One of the spawns made it aboard!

Quietly it squeaked out “Papa?”

“Papa?” it said again with a wide grin that showed off his Piranha teeth while tapping his spear on the bottom of the canoe.

Back at the manic barber’s

by Ron Hardwick

I was back at the manic barber’s again. There was only one of the girls on duty. Her toddler son was at the far end of the salon in one of those cradles with wheels that force the child to stand upright and thrash his legs around like a fly stuck in a pot of jam. The child was sucking on something sticky, so that seemed to take care of him for the time being.

Seated next to me, awaiting his turn, was a fat, greasy chap in a disreputable suit that was as shiny as the Vanderbilt diamond. The front of his pate was bald.  At the back of his head, lank, oily hair swirled down over his collar. I shuddered when I realised that the hairdresser would be using her implements on me after him. Fortunately, he grew fed up of waiting and left the shop.

The hairdresser was working on a nervous-looking teenage boy with protuberant ears, and seemed to have been doing so for an inordinate length of time. She was cutting his hair in the modern style, that is, to make it look as if someone had lightly passed a strimmer over his head.

She eventually called me to the chair. The girl was about twenty-five, short and inclined towards dumpiness.  She had close-cropped, peroxide-blonde hair, through which you could plainly see crow-coloured roots.  She wore an immodest red patterned blouse and beige trousers. I asked for my usual eight on top and four at the sides, although I can never remember which way round it is. One day, I’ll get it wrong and come out looking like the late Sir Bobby Charlton.

I soon found out why a haircut took so long. The hairdresser was extremely garrulous. I was quite unprepared for the avalanche of words that spilled from her lips. I hardly managed to get a word in edgeways. A fragment of the monologue, rather than conversation, went like this:

‘Do you log onto Facebook?’

‘Not very…’

Well, they’ve got a group for selling things. I sell lots of baby clothes on that.’

‘I don’t like…’

‘Anyway, I won’t let the buyers into my house. I wrap the stuff up and leave it on the doorstep, put an arm out of the door, get my money and close the door in their faces.’

‘Is that…?’

‘Anyway, a friend of mine sold a lawn-mower, I think it was, yes a lawn-mower, to a bloke. He was weird. She let him into the house and he refused to leave. Three hours later, he was still in the passage, staring, like.  Really weird.’

‘Why didn’t she…?

‘Call the police? Yes, that’s what I thought. She ended up having to get a neighbour to remove him. A big bloke the neighbour was, a bouncer at a nightclub. I think they called him Geoff, or was it George?  The weirdo soon went. He could have had a knife or a machete or anything. She might have been viscolated.’

After twenty-five minutes of similar flapdoodle, she picked up a mirror that was lying on the shelf and held it up behind my head.

‘That do you?’ she said.

‘Fine, thanks.’ I replied.

I gave her a gratuity because it was a first-class haircut.

‘Thanks,’ she said, pocketing it. ‘You’ve had a good haircut and a nice little chat into the bargain.’

I’d had that, all right.

Ron lives in East Lothian, Scotland. He has written well over two hundred short stories and pieces of flash fiction. He has
a Masters’ Degrees in both Literature (distinction) and Creative Writing (merit) from the Open University.

Reasoning with Azalea

by Robert Knox

i. [A cool day in November]

I know it’s cold, Azalea. 

I don’t like the cold either. 

But you’re not going to spend the winter indoors this year spooning with your buddy, electric heater. 

Not this year. 

He’ll miss me! You think you’re the reason he gets hot!

The only reason, you must know, why I brought you indoors the last two winters was you were looking peaked.

Have you taken a good look at me lately?

Really, Azalea, it’s about time you cut the cord –

Why don’t you cut the cord, Mr. Natural? Where have you been lately? Don’t like the good old shorter days? Temps overnight in the low forties? Take a look at the mirror, Bud. Five minutes out here and you beat it back indoors wicked pronto. It’s as if somebody’s just wrung the dinner bell! Bet you can make it for a quarter hour under that bare-assed Norwegian Maple. TRY SIX MONTHS!

– and learn to live outdoors where you’re supposed to, because, Azalea, frankly… you’re a plant. A flowering shrub.

But we were so happy together, Bud, you and me, inside your toasty warm study! I have such memories!

Well, to be frank, Azalea, you do take up a lot of space.

Me? Have you looked at yourself, Mr. Natural? Ever?

[Sighs. Shakes head. Walks indoors.]

ii. [Later, in the garden, once more…]

Really, Azalea, you are being a little ridiculous over what’s really a very natural stage in our relationship. I’m the gardener. You’re the flowering plant…  Now I’ve picked out a very nice spot for your new home –

I’m not talking to you.

–It’s right here behind the transplanted Iris and right next to where the tomatoes will be planted next spring.

Tomatoes? Those pathetic overrated annuals. Here today, gone tomorrow… I hate tomatoes! Nasty viny things! They’ll crawl all over me!  

I thought you weren’t talking to me?… Really, Azalea, it won’t be like that at all. You’ll see next spring.

That’s if I’m even here next spring! What makes you think I’ll survive six months in this outdoor refrigerator?

You are a perennial plant, Azalea.

Perennial millennial! I’m me!

You survived those first couple of years outdoors – you remember? when I planted you next to the driveway? – just fine.

Oh yeah? ‘Fine?’ Then why did you bring me indoors?

Well, I confess, I thought you had more to give… I was hoping for a whole new unfolding of beauty.

That is just so selfish! So you, Bud. You used me! And what happened?


Wasn’t I beautiful enough for you indoors?

…[hesitation]… Well, maybe not quite so spectacular as I hoped.

Beauty is as beauty does, Bud. And what you’re doing to me now, man, is positively ugly.

Azalea, we’ve been through this before.

Yeah. We have. And you brought me indoors!

Well, this time I think you can make it on your own. You’ve grown. You’ve matured. You’ll show the world you can produce beautiful flowers next spring right out here in the garden!… Where you belong!

Easy for you to say, Bud!… I bet you say that to all the flowering perennials!


You do, Bud, don’t you?

You’re forgetting who you are, Azalea. You’re Azalea Ericaceae. 

A popular medium-sized shrub…

And you, Bud, pure and simple, are a scrub.  

Robert Knox is a novelist, short story writer, poet, and freelance journalist. His stories have been published by The Tishman Review, Lunch Ticket, and Eunoia Review, among other journals. He is a contributing editor for the poetry journal Verse-Virtual and his poems have appeared there and in other journals.

The Cake Remains

by Abigail Swanson

White frosting gleamed like bird poop in the middle of the road. Wrinkles from when she pulled off the tinfoil squished the cursive “Jenna and Jeremy” to an indecipherable black mass in the center. But hey, it looked pretty good for a three-year-old piece of cake. Better than she did.

Trees lining the county road chirped with birds. Robins swooped over the new offering. Could birds get sugar rushes? Jenna vetoed rice at the wedding to avoid having bloated birds on her conscience, no matter how much Jeremy’s mom complained. Maybe she should clean up her mess afterward, just in case.

Jenna reversed the car a few yards down the county road. She hadn’t wanted to save the stupid cake anyway but Jeremy’s mom insisted.

“Soak it with bourbon and it’ll keep like a dream in the freezer. You’ll want it for your anniversary.”

The woman cut their names straight out of the center of the sheet cake like she was afraid the five guests who showed up would claw right past the cut and plated side pieces and ruin any hope of a lovely anniversary.

So what if they did? It was just a court wedding. She didn’t even wear a white dress.

At least Jeremy agreed with her. He threw that slab of cake to the back of the freezer and forgot it existed. She only rediscovered it yesterday.

Jenna put the car in drive. And back in neutral. What would Jeremey’s mother say?

“If you didn’t want it, you should have said. How will you handle kids if you can’t even take care of a cake?”

Of course, she’d never say that. The woman just pinched her lips and aimed thought daggers at Jenna’s soul.

A bird landed beside the cake. Greedy thing would stick itself in the frosting. Jenna hit the horn and the bird flickered back to the trees.

She would make a great mom, whatever Jeremey’s mother said.

Jenna shifted back to drive, but kept her foot planted on the break. Was it really worth covering the car in cake bits? She’d come this far. What would she do, wrap it back up and return it to the freezer? That would make Jeremy’s mom judge her more than just murdering a cake.

The woman kept strong opinions on decision making. “Go right or go left. There’s too many flat birds in the middle of the road.”

Well then. If anyone asked, Jenna just followed Jeremy’s mom’s advice like a good daughter-in-law. 

Her foot landed on the gas. Birds scattered from the trees. The car flew into the cake like an airplane hitting a runway. The front tire plowed a pass through the white sugar and the rear tire impressed perfect tracks through their black frosted names.  

She should have done this sooner.

The ruins glowed like Grecian architecture in the rearview mirror.

Jenna grabbed the crumpled foil from the center console and swung the car door open. She walked back to scavenge the cake remains.  Hey, she might need it again next year.

Abigail J. Swanson edited the 2021 edition of Tenth Street Miscellany. She writes across all genres and is currently teaching English as a second language in the Middle East. Abigail loves cheesecake and climbing trees.


by Roger Chapman

Apart from the carpet, the stove is the oldest inhabitant of our house. It was here when we arrived fifteen years ago and it’s dominated my culinary life ever since. At first I liked the novelty of cooking on a hob the size of a small airfield. It was an imposing presence: six burners powered by a nine-kilo gas bottle which filled our largest kitchen cupboard. The oven itself was so wide and deep that it was difficult to make out the back of it, even with the lights on. The array of clocks, dials and buzzers told me whatever I wanted to know (except, as I discovered, how long it took to cook anything).

Perhaps it’s unwise to anthropomorphise one’s appliances; at the time it seemed a reasonable way of fostering good relations. Unsure what gender the stove was, I settled on a safely androgynous name—Casey—without giving much thought to the stove’s opinion. In retrospect maybe not a good choice, but it’s too late for regrets now.

I’m no Luddite, but there’s no concealing the mutual antipathy which household appliances (especially those residing in the kitchen) and I harbour towards each other. Their paramount agenda is to make me look foolish and only incidentally—and grudgingly—to perform their assigned tasks. This applies to dishwashers, toasters and the like, but it took me some time to realise that Casey was an ally of theirs.

There were early signs that stove management might not be straightforward when the manual, thoughtfully left by the previous owner, proved to have been translated from Italian by someone unconversant with English idiom. Then I found there was no warning when the gas was about to run out: the flame simply died in mid-omelette.

It took me longer to work out that Casey’s oven had an irremediable problem: its south-western quadrant was distinctly hotter than the north-east. This emerged only when one thigh of the supposedly roast chicken was still a vivid pink while the other was fully cooked, and when the Christmas cake turned out underdone on one side. I could counter this by rotating the dish/tin 180 degrees halfway through the cooking—if I remembered, which I seldom did.

Yet these were minor inconveniences, mildly irritating but part of the ever-evolving fabric of kitchen life. The first indication of serious trouble didn’t emerge for a year or so, when the gas pressure began to drop. Before long, I found I could set a pot of water on the hob, then shave, shower and dress before it boiled.

I called Reg the gasfitter.

‘It’ll be the regulator,’ he said.

‘What’s that?’

I won’t attempt to reproduce his explanation. The only part I understood was that I’d need a new one. And, by the way, the gas bottle would have to be moved outside, with a connecting hose piercing the wall linings and the weatherboards. New regulations, he said.

‘While you’re here, Reg, one of the burners isn’t working.’

He twiddled a few knobs.

‘Looks like the igniter’s stuffed. Happens with these old stoves.’

‘Old? How old?’

‘Twelve, fourteen years, maybe. Nothing I can do. Can’t get the parts anymore.’

By the time Reg left, I had a useless burner, a hole in the wall, and not much else to show for his visit—though, admittedly, if I wanted to get back to the kitchen before the water boiled, I’d now have to shave and shower a lot faster.

Next day, the light bulb at the back of Casey’s cavernous interior failed. I had to put up with cooking in the Black Hole of Wellington for the fortnight it took me to buy a replacement. Which lasted three days. Followed in short order by the demise of a second burner. A third of the hob was now useless and I needed a torch to penetrate the darkness below.

But Casey wasn’t finished with me yet. Torchlight revealed a caking of thick black gunge on the cavity roof. As I’m sure you know, to clean the back of an oven you need to remove the door. Or grow longer arms. Whereas the door had previously yielded without fuss, it now firmly declined to budge.

I politely requested Casey to stop messing about. Nothing happened.

I raised my voice. Nothing.

I shouted and swore. Still nothing.

Twenty minutes later, after taking a break to consider how to extend my arms half a metre or so, I succeeded in wrenching the door free. It didn’t seem like a victory.

Once, removing the door had been easy. Refitting it after the ritual purification had been a more delicate operation, calling for surgeon-like precision and a look of intense concentration; otherwise it wouldn’t close correctly. But it wasn’t all that taxing and I wasn’t expecting anything to go wrong.

I’m not certain how long I struggled. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the door both level and closed. One or the other. But not both.

After half an hour I settled for the closed-but-lopsided look. Which is how matters remain. At least I can still use the oven, although hot air (and sometimes smoke) issues from the top right of the door. Each time I close it, metal graunches on metal. Occasionally a screw or washer falls to the floor, but I don’t know where they’re from or how to put them back. I’d probably have to remove the door again…

I’m cutting my losses. I’ve ordered a new all-electric job. It should be here next week. Then I won’t have to worry about running out of gas ever again. Meanwhile, I gently coax Casey along, occasionally adjusting a knob or relighting a burner, hoping the old contraption will make it through the next week—much as you would provide palliative care to a dying relative.

That’s why I’m sitting beside Casey right now, watching tonight’s casserole cook—and wondering when the door’s going to fall off.

Born in London, Roger Chapman counts himself lucky to have survived the twin hazards of wartime rationing and post-war British food. Only his parents’ decision to emigrate to New Zealand in the 1950s saved him from lifelong indigestion. After 45 years practising law, he abandoned the courtroom for the kitchen: since then he’s tried unsuccessfully to improve his cooking and confront the malice of his kitchen appliances. His blog The Erratic Cook at documents some of his numerous culinary debacles.

Sales Tip #27: Dealing with Difficult Customers

by Lin Morris

So, there I was, no electricity, mid-hurricane, awaiting my shotgun wedding to the woman I’d met fifteen minutes ago.

And that was just Day One on the job.

Before knocking on the farmhouse door, I snuck a quick look at my corporate sales notebook. Sales Tip #5: Park on the street – if they don’t see you coming, they can’t pretend nobody’s home.

Also: Sales Tip #19: Wear a hat so you can respectfully remove it.

Check and check.

Okay, I was selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door, not glamorous, but, hey – I was in college and tired of eating ramen. Plus, I got to finally explore the area.

I’d been in Alabama three months and hadn’t ventured any farther off campus than the one pitiful gay bar in town. Mostly lesbian students and some closeted farm boys who jumped at every noise like it was a police raid.

And Pete, my cute-as-a-puppy, every-weekend hookup with an accent like molasses on gingham.

My assigned route was Waldo County. This was backroad country: farmhouses, satellite dishes, cars on cinderblocks, every cliché one’s mind conjures upon hearing the word Alabama. My boss promised me fifty bucks if I made a first-day sale, a bonus I planned to win.

Wait, was that a raindrop?

Before I could decide whether to double-check my car windows, two things happened, fast: it began pouring, and the farmhouse door flew open, revealing a wild-eyed young woman in a white shift, hair in curlers.

“You’re early!” she growled violently. “I said four o’clock!”

She shut the door before I had the chance to remove my hat.


Out came the notebook again.

Sales Tip #21: Don’t be afraid to ask twice.

Okay. Since I hadn’t even asked once, there was no harm in trying.

I raised my fist before the door.

But before I could knock, two things happened, fast: the door flew open again and she pulled me into a dark, windowless hallway.

“Get in before he hears ya!” She’d removed the curlers and was brushing her hair up into a poof.

I removed my hat and smiled.

“Good afternoon, I’m–”

“Yeah-yeah-yeah, I know.” She smacked my hat back onto my head and shoved two suitcases at me. “Here! Go put ‘em in yer cab.”

As she turned the knob, a powerful wind pulled the door from her grasp and crashed it against the wall.

“Lilamae!” came a gruff voice from the next room.

“Spit on a cat!” Lilamae hissed. “Now look what you done. I told you to wait outside.”

“Actually, you—”

“Now we’re in for it.”


“You woke up Pa.”

“I didn’t—”

“Shh!” She glanced back nervously. “Maybe he’ll fall back t’sleep.”

“LILAMAE!” Or not.

Lilamae put her weight against the door and tried to open it slowly. The wind pushed back hard; her pumps made a little skreek on the linoleum.

“Hurry! I’ll be right there.”

She shoved me out into the rain and shut the door behind me.

Now what? Fat chance selling Lilamae or her Pa anything. Something told me they weren’t breathlessly awaiting the next Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue.

What would my notebook say?

Probably, Sales Tip #99: Head home, you walnut, before this storm gets worse.

But before I could check my notebook, two things happened, fast: the door flew open and a meaty hand pulled me right off my feet and into the house.

“Gotcha!” Lilamae’s Pa shouted. He was short and stocky, strong enough to pin me to the wall with one arm.

“Pa, stop!”

“Think you kin knock up my daughter and sneak off to elope?”

“What?!” I couldn’t laugh, not with a rifle pointed at my sternum. Instead, I removed my hat.

“Pa, how’d you find out?”

“I seen the emails, Lilamae!” He sneered at me. “I’d blast ya to Kingdom Come ‘cept it’s obvious she loves ya.”

“Sir,” I croaked, his arm on my throat creating quite an inconvenience, “I think there’s been a mistake.”

“And you made it.”

“Pa,” said Lilamae, “this ain’t my beau. This here’s the taxi driver come to take me to the bus station.”

“Actually,” I rasped, “I’m not.”

“Hesh up, both o’ya.” He hollered over his shoulder. “Jimmy Ray!”

“Yeah, Pa?” someone shouted from the next room.

“Git next door, tell the preacher we need ‘im.”

“Okay!” I heard the whooshing foul weather outside as he opened a door.

“Pa,” pleaded Lilamae, “I don’t even know this guy.”

“Yer gonna marry ‘im alright. But y’all ain’t runnin’ off nowheres. Gonna do it right here all legal so’s I can witness it myself.”

“Sir, let me give you my card.” I reached for my sample case, but lickety-split the old man raised and cocked his rifle. At least his hands were off my collapsing windpipe.

Just then the power went out, because of course it did.

A perfect time to run, except the old man’s Popeye arm was back on me.

The only sound was rain hitting the tin roof.

At long last the back door opened.

“Pa, the preacher wasn’t home! Hey, what happened to the lights?”

“Jimmy Ray, bring a flashlight!”

Crashes in the dark, then a beam came swinging around the corner.

“Here ya—”

But before Jimmy Ray could finish his sentence, two things happened, fast: the electricity came on, and there, handing his Pa a flashlight was—

“Pete?” I blinked in the sudden light.

Pete’s puppy dog eyes turned big as hubcaps.

“Pete?” Lilamae turned on her brother. “That’s yer name this month? Well, Pete, if I’m a-going down, yer comin’ along. Pa, I’m not sleeping with this guy. Jimmy Ray is!”

Pa dropped the rifle, his hands now otherwise occupied with clutching his chest and all.

That’s when they all started shouting at once.

And that’s when I threw open the door and ran out into the storm.

I didn’t stop until I reached my car.

Not even for the guy at the end of the driveway, asking me who’d ordered a cab.

Lin Morris lives and writes in his hometown of Portland, Oegon, USA. His work has appeared in Unlikely Stories; Trembling with Fear; Flumes Literary Journal; Little Old Lady Comedy; Meet Cute Press; Second Chance Lit; Suddenly and Without Warning; and in the anthologies Flash of Brilliance, Coffin Blossoms, Breathless, TWF v. 3, and Bullshit Lit. His novels Spot the Not and The Marriage Wars are available on He won the 2020 YeahWrite Micro Fiction Competition.

Check, please

by M. Nathan Robinson

When the check comes, I review it item by item. Luckily, there are no mistaken additions and, unfortunately, no omissions either. I place my credit card on the tray and let it hang over the edge to ensure the waiter won’t miss it. He misses it. He passes by three more times, eyes averted, before I pick it up and create a makeshift turnstile with my arm he can’t squeeze past.

He returns fifteen minutes later with two receipts printed on the narrowest of flimsy thermal paper.  They curl up on sight. I smooth them straight and use my fingers as paperweights. The twins share pink, end-of-the-roll warning stripes and uneven jagged edges.

I am not one to penalize waitstaff when calculating the tip. It’s a grueling job for little pay and the few times I was pressed into service, I’m sure I did nothing to earn my gratuity. I multiply by two and move the decimal. I write the amount with the bleeding, hairy-nubbed pen provided and place the total below. My nine looks like a seven and the five could be mistaken for a six, so I cross out the number and write more precisely in the margin up along the side. As taught by god knows who, I go back and initial the crossed-out portion. I’m left with a space the girth of a string bean for my signature. I do my best, but it mimics a child’s depiction of an ocean wave or, perhaps, an inchworm in flight.

Only then do I realize I’ve accidentally filled out the customer copy. It’s indicated at the very bottom in three-point type with the “ner copy” sheared off. I know enough that it doesn’t really matter and so I simply keep the merchant copy for myself. I crumple it in my hand and stick it in my pants pocket so the dryer has a nice snack for later in the week. As I get up to leave, I stir the air and the half-ply, featherweight parchment rides the draft onto the floor and under the table. It continues on until it comes to rest with the lint and filth between the booth and the wall. Thank goodness I’m here to witness it and rectify the situation. I retrieve it, along with a set of chopsticks, a straw, and a linen napkin, even though the restaurant switched to paper two years prior. I place the receipt back onto the tray and pin it down with the salt shaker.

But as I make my way to the exit, something doesn’t sit right. I see no sense of urgency. There is no meticulous procedure being employed. My documentation, with my precise calculations, my initialized and certified corrections, my requisite signature authorization, just sit there fully exposed. No one is racing over to assure a chain of custody, inspect the integrity of work, or rush it into processing.

I assume the amount of the gratuity and the final tally need to be resubmitted to my credit card company to verify and finalize this financial transaction. But, it now dawns on me that I have no idea how that works. This procedure that I’ve performed more than any other binding financial contract I can think of in my life, actually makes no good, goddamn sense to me. How does the tip get applied? What stops them from adding in any amount or changing the total? Am I expected to review my statements and remember all these amounts? If I choose to dispute the charge, will there be a hearing? Will a forgery expert be called in to testify? Will my hairy squiggles be distinguishable from all other hairy squiggles? I mean, what the fuck?

Or have we just been operating on the honor system all this time? Upon reflection, I’ve never had a waiter or waitress I’ve suspected of wrongdoing, but surely, they’d know not to grin, wring their hands, or laugh maniacally in front of us—their victims.

Where’s the protocol—the systematized bureaucracy that creates a series of hoops, red tape, and crushing penalties as a deterrent? I mean, am I mistaken or are we all exposing ourselves to fraud, forgery, and embezzlement on a daily basis? And our only protection against these crimes is—what? I can hardly imagine.

Would I be expected to testify? Coached to say something like “That’s not my hairy squiggle of my first initial followed by what looks like it could be a smudgy smear of my last initial!” or “Yes sir, I am very confident that my hand is incapable of making a line with humps and dips in those precise locations!” And where is all this paperwork being cataloged and stored for trial? Good god, man—I’m picturing an undertaking bigger than the colonization of Mars!

Is the only solution to lunch exclusively with notaries who travel with their stamps and embossers? Or is it as easy to forge their shit too? Maybe it’s hopeless. Like so many problems we seem to be facing these days, there’s probably no good solution. Maybe the answer is to join ‘em—or, at least, get in the game. Can I go back and dispute all my credit card charges from the beginning? What evidence do they have that my signatures and my initials were not forged? I don’t know about you, but the only person on the planet who may be incapable of forging my signature is—me! My nervous hand forces a signature that is sometimes tall and loopy and other times flat and pointy, or anywhere in between.

So, why not? Go ahead! Have at it! Give yourselves two-hundred percent tips, add eight more items to my bill, leave room to type in a litany of extra fees and surcharges. I guess all I have to do is deny them all—every last one! Hooray! Yippy! Oh, who am I kidding? We’re all screwed.

M Nathan Robinson is from Philadelphia, PA, USA who got the bug to write creative fiction rather late in life. He’s published one suspense novel, RIFT, in 2020 and has a collection of short satirical fiction and essays coming out in 2024 entitled, “I Don’t Like to Complain, But…”

The Snow Diagnosis

by David Fryer

“Hello, it’s Jerry from Enchanted Forest Urgent Care.  How are you enjoying your retirement?”

“Retirement is great.  I do a lot of hiking these days.  In fact, I’m on a winding trail right now having some Gardetto’s snack mix.  What’s up?”

“Do you have time to discuss a case with me?  I could really use your input.”

“Shoot, I have years of experience, and you just took over my practice.  I’m sure there are few tricks I haven’t taught you yet.”

“Oh great, it’s a really curious case.  We just brought in a patient.  Female, around 18 years old, quite beautiful, but completely unresponsive, in a coma actually.”

“Any history of epilepsy in the family?”

“That’s the thing, we have no family history, she was brought in by some acquaintances.  Several little people, or however they prefer to be called.  They had no knowledge of her background other than she was a rather agreeable roommate.  The name was Snow.”

“Hmm.  So how did they find her?”

“According to their spokesperson, an older gentleman named ‘Doc’, she had bought an apple, from another strikingly beautiful woman, ate it, then was out like a light on the floor.”

“Did they check her airways?  Try the Heimlich maneuver?”

“They said she was breathing fine, just seemed quite drowsy and then fainted dead away.”

“Ok.  Have you administered smelling salts?”

“Oh, we’ve tried everything.  There is brain activity, but we have had to put her on a nutrient drip to keep her supplied with food and water.”

“Did they question the apple merchant?  Get a sample of the fruit?”

“The seller only had the one apple apparently.  It was a New Zealand Queen.  A somewhat rare brand in these parts, but not too unusual.  My orderly mentioned she was the second most beautiful woman he had ever seen, next to the patient.  But upon hearing that, the merchant stormed off, maintaining she was much more attractive.”

“Curious.  Did you get a toxicology report on the remains of the apple the patient ate?”

“Yes, completely clean, no sign of barbiturates.  However, none of the little people would touch it.  Then they sang a peppy tune and left for work the day after they dropped off the patient.”

“So, what is the current status of this young girl, Snow?”

“She’s still in critical condition.  Oddly enough, my orderly spent hours discussing the patient with her roommates and apparently fell in love with the young woman after they played a couple of audio tracks of her singing.” 

“Now we are getting somewhere.  What is his genealogy?”


“Does he have any royalty in his background?”

“Hmm, let me check.  Frank!  Do you have any ties to royalty?  Uh-huh.  Really?  He says he owns a dog named Duke.”

“Close enough.  Have him kiss the patient.”

“But she’s unconscious!  Well, ok.  Nurse, can you remove the nutrient tube?  Oh my god.  It’s working!  She’s coming to!”

“Congratulations, doctor, you’ve solved the case.”

“Amazing, a kiss was the antidote to her condition.  It’s a medical miracle.”

“Anything else I can help you with?”

“Well, the office is packed with woodland animals anticipating to escort the girl back to her flat.  She no longer needs their direction.”

“Not sure how I can help there.”

“It’s a pest problem.  Would you consider adopting a deer or a rabbit?”

“Oh, no thanks.  I’m more of an animal huntsman than husbander.”

“No worries.  Well, while I have you on the line, maybe you can comment on a rhinoplasty patient we have with trust issues…”

David Fryer lives in Portland, Oregon.


by Kate E. Lore

We came to see the Amorphophallus titanium. We came to see the corpse flower. It’s one of the largest unbranched flowers in the world. It’s six-foot-tall. It blooms once every 7-10 years. It smells like death.

            “So is it like… fertilized by scavenger animals that come sniffing around wondering where the road kill is?” I asked. My girlfriend elbows me in the ribs. Somehow this is, apparently, a stupid question. I was half joking, part speculating, part guessing. The conservatory employee pretends he didn’t hear me. He glances sideways then away. I can see sweat dripping down his face. In his defense it is hot here in the greenhouse.

            And they arn’t wrong, as far as I know, it does smell bad. The bloom itself is an ugly thing. It looks like something only Tim Burton could love. The petals are thick, like a cow’s tongue. They are dark and big, looking wilted long before the bloom had even started.

            Everyone keeps leaning in as close as they can. They’re pushing at each other. Fighting to be up front as if this thing were the pope. People took pictures, scribbled down notes. One guy used a cue tip to take a DNA sample.

            I stood back and watched them.

            “Is this a reverse representation of life? The ugly bloom? The peak of growth backwards?” A man asked right before sticking his whole head inside the bloom. He wanted to hear it from the inside someone else explained.

            “Will this give us insight to the mysteries of the universe? Will we at least understand life, death, the experience in between?” A woman asked. The plant sucked the man inside like a straw, then swallowed him down like a snake. The woman who had asked the next question voluenteerily climbed in after him. She pulled her arms up, crossing them, as if she were going down a water slide.

            One by one people from the crowd stepped forward. One by one they went inside searching for answers. The plant grew six feet, seven, eight, nine, ten. It got too big for the table too big for the room.

            At last I found myself standing alone before it. The plant towered over me. Its vines reaching out for me greedily.

            I step back and shrug my shoulders.

            “I already asked you a question.”

Kate E Lore is a queer, neurodivergent, she/they, born to a single widowed mother and a writer of both fiction and nonfiction with many publications including Black Warrior Review, Longridge Review, Orsum, Bending Genres, and Door is a Jar.

Hair today

by Lee Hammerschmidt

“Whoa! Stylin’ ‘do there, Chalk,” Bunny Bellows said as I exited the company hair salon. “Where are they sending you, 1983?”

“’82,” I said. “Got to look the part.”

“Well, you certainly do. Business up front, party in the back. You’ll blend right in with the club crowd.”

Bunny and I were agents for the Department of Inertial Cosmic Kinesis. Our job was to travel through time, monitoring various current events. Observe and report. In order to fit in for their current assignments, D.I.C.K agents were dressed and coiffed according to the current fashions. Not always a good thing.

“That’s quite the beehive you’ve got,” I said pointing at the two-foot tall, heavily shellacked cone in a color of red not found in nature. “Let me guess… 1961?”

“Bingo!” Bunny said. “You sure know your eras.”

“Yeah, I’ve been around.”

“But this style is also practical. It’s covering a new high-powered antenna that will pick up radio waves.”

That was another thing with the getups – the concealing of powerful monitoring, recording and transmission devices and equipment.

“Pretty clever,” I said. “No one will ever suspect anything under there.”

“Right?” Bunny said. “So, tell me Chalk, what’s in your mullet?”

Lee Hammerschmidt is a Visual Artist/Writer/Troubadour. He is the author of six collections of short stories and illustrations. Check out his hit parade on YouTube!


by Geoffrey Graves

Note: “Larry” first appeared in the 2019/20 Winter issue of Calliope Literary Magazine, U.S.

A brownish bug, genus unknown, appeared on the kitchen counter backsplash presenting a spiritual conundrum for me. A believer in ahimsa, I revere all life, yet might the bug be a carrier of dangerous diseases? This I was contemplating when I turned to find my roommate readying to obliterate the insect with a dishtowel’s snap. Only my lightning quick whap to Carlton’s wrist saved the day.           

            True, I could have gently scooped up little Larry and freed him outside, but who was I to change the course he had chosen for his personal life’s journey? Should his fate not be in his own hands, or feelers, or pinchers, or whatever those thingamajigs are called, just as mine is? And, yes, I named my bug Larry because I wanted to imbue him with the makings of a personality that I word-painted for Carlton so he could understand how important every living being is on this planet. After all, who is to say bugs do not have unique individual personalities? And, not to boast, but given the complexity of all things known and un, and the keen Sherlockian cogitations for which I am oft praised, was it not within the realm of possibilities that I had accurately divined Larry’s personality? To answer my own question, yes it was.

            Next morning: Larry still hadn’t moved vexing Carlton mightily, but I explained some bugs are like bears in hibernation, and if our little new friend Larry hadn’t scooted along by same time tomorrow, I would respectfully transfer him to the flowerpot on our landing. 

            “Fine. One more day. But if he’s not gone, I’m squishing him,” Carlton threatened with a menacing dishtowel twirl. Clearly, he wasn’t buying my Larry personality profile I’d so carefully crafted which included parents, possible life partner, recreational activities and so on.

            Returning from work that evening, I discovered Larry missing and called out Carlton’s name with admitted temper-laced vehemence. He stumbled lackadaisically from his bedroom he’d named The Bunker per the inexpertly-whittled plaque on the door, sporting an ensemble of chartreuse fuzzy slippers and orange boxer shorts featuring Ken and Barbie demonstrating several of the more athletically demanding Kamasutra positions.

            “I was taking a nap. What?”

            I have learned when upset to linger a moment or two to collect myself before speaking. “You know what,” I said evenly.

            “Oh. You mean Larry?” he yawned largely, extending his arms with a slow windmill of a stretch in an uncaring display of languid impudence, one armpit shaved, one not for some uninteresting reason. He was really testing my imperturbability for which I am known and admired in certain discerning circles.

            “Yes! Of course, I mean Larry!” I exclaimed, my emotions unbridling themselves beyond my usual ability to expertly regulate their magnitudes. “We had an agreement. One more day. It hasn’t even been twelve hours! This is a betrayal of the first order, Carlton. You have spit in the eye of my spiritual beliefs! Dammit, man, don’t you understand? As a living creature, if Larry had followed a worthy path he could have come back as a much higher life form!”

            “Like a cockroach?”

            “Yes. Or a llama!”

            “Llama, huh?” He looked up at the ceiling while scratching his backside a little longer than one would have wanted. “I didn’t do it,” he said.

            “You didn’t…you mean he left? Of his own volition?” A ray of hope! I’d misunderstood my roommate.

            “Nah. Carmen came over today,” he said, now scratching the opposing cheek with the same vigorous simian thoroughness. Carmen is Carlton’s lady friend. Their relationship is of the break up, make up, break up, make up variety.

            “What’s that have to do with…Carmen killed Larry?” I sharply in took my breath. “But didn’t you explain to her about my beliefs?”

            “Yeah, I told her about that reintarnation thing you buy into.”

            “ReinCARnation!” I said at significant volume impressive to me as well as the inhabitant of the apartment above our heads who started jumping up and down on his floor/our ceiling. I took a calming moment to recenter and continued. “And did you tell her the part about Larry’s family and his life adventures and everything?”

            “Yeah, I told her all that stuff.” Carlton walked over to the trash bin and pulled out a balled-up paper towel he uncrumpled and upon which Larry laid, motionless, his mortal coil shuffled off. 

             I turned my head away and raised my hand. “I don’t want to see him,” I said, but given all the emotional loving energy I’d invested in Larry, I couldn’t help myself. I took a deeper measured cleansing breath, then looked back to stare down at the brown stain that was the remains of my teensy amigo with whom I will admit I identified as a compatriot child of the universe, a fellow stranger in a strange land. Indeed, I groked Larry, to borrow Mr. Heinlein’s term. At the sight of the departed, I crossed myself for I have taken what I believe to be the best parts of all religions and rolled them into my own personal brand of spirituality. I call it Buddhastentism. I used to call it Prostetudha, but got some negative feedback on that one.

            “Did you know Carmen has twenty-twenty vision?” Carlton asked.

            “What’s that got to do with anything?” I erupted vociferously, thoroughly disgusted with my roommate’s failure to hold up his end of our agreement.

            Stomp, stomp, stomp (ceiling).

            “Larry’s a coffee ground,” Carlton said, “and we both need glasses.” 

            My ophthalmology appointment’s Tuesday.

Geoffrey K. Graves’ work has been published and/or recognized in numerous national and international literary competitions including: First Honorable Mention (2nd place winner) 2022 Periscope Literary/Word Press (UK), Short-Listed 2021 Bath Flash Fiction Award (Ireland), Honorable Mentions: New Millennium 2022, Gemini Magazine 2022, First Prize in Writer’s Digest Short Short Story (2023), Longlisted – Disquiet Prize (Portugal-2023), and elsewhere.

Snowstorm in suburbia

by Laura Cody


This little stinker of a phrase was responsible for me standing outside the double glass doors of Hucker’s Food Mart on a freezing Saturday morning in February at the ugly hour of 8AM – even though my shift wasn’t supposed to start until noon. But, oh no. Any hopes for a respectable sleep-in went down the toilet once the stupid weatherman gave his stupid snow warning, and Huck ordered all the check-out girls to come in early. In we trudged while Huck did a ka-ching, ka-ching dance around the aisles of his store, and the poor milk cartons huddled in fear on the refrigerated shelves.

We all knew it was going to be a day. And by that, I mean a lousy one. Already, cars were circling, jockeying for spots, dropping passengers off in front. People eyed me suspiciously as I stood outside the doors waiting for someone to let me in, like I was getting some sort of preferential treatment. Like I had a freakin’ backstage pass to a Taylor Swift concert, rather than a one-way ticket to all-day-stand-on-your-feet hell.

From the moment the store opened, it was game on. People came in droves, slogging through the automated doors, pausing just over the threshold while their eyes scanned side to side in Terminator fashion. Then, they moved to the milk because that’s what you did when you heard that a snowstorm was coming to suburbia. You bought milk. It didn’t matter that you never drank milk on non-snow days. It didn’t matter that there was a quart of milk somewhere in the back of your refrigerator already turning to yogurt at this very moment. The only thing that mattered is that you secured milk before it sold out.

My first check-out of the morning was an elderly bow-legged man in a ratty parka who race-hobbled to my register like it was the finish line of an Iron Man Triathlon. Winded from the exertion, he spent a moment expectorating, then grinned like the cat who’d just swallowed the canary and loaded a quart of milk, three frozen dinners, and a suitcase of Budweiser onto my belt. If I had to guess, I’d say the milk was just for show.

Next came moms with preschoolers, ladies in yoga pants, and retirees squinting over lists. The doors opened and closed in steady rhythm, and icy puffs of air trailed each shopper into the store, nudging them forward in this competition for survival. In suburbs like ours, it could take maybe 36 to 48 hours for all roads to get cleared after a big snowstorm (they were calling for 10-12 inches tonight), so the specter of imaginary starvation loomed large. This led to high anxiety and low patience. A rising cacophony of grumbles ensued.

First, a mob at the deli counter complained to Mr. Hucker that the new boy was taking too long on the slicer.

Then, a slightly hysterical woman began shouting, “Where is the almond milk? Where is it? My husband is lactose intolerant!” just like that freak-out scene Shirley McLane has in Terms of Endearment when her daughter needs the pain meds.

Next, a child shrieked uncontrollably for his mother (and where the hell was she, I’d like to know), drowning out the muzak soundtrack playing over the sound system.

At mid-morning, a delivery truck came in with more milk. Right on schedule since the roads were, amazingly, still passable. About twenty minutes later an announcement calling for a “cleanup in aisle six” interrupted the soundtrack after an overzealous customer triggered a milk jug avalanche that resulted in a frothy deluge. A woman in leather boots slipped, went down hard on her butt, and broke her tailbone.

The paramedics came. Huck stopped ka-chinging then.

At about 11:30 AM, a man in a hurry lost his shit when his cart revealed itself to have a bad wheel. He slammed it into a display of tangerines, and the fruit spilled across the scuffed linoleum. One bright orange orb got wedged under the pushcart of a tiny old lady, so tight that she couldn’t budge the wheel. This caused a logjam of carts in the copious flow off aisle two. Another shopper, hurling recklessly toward an open register, slammed into the unfortunate old dear, and she fell to the floor with an audible snap.

The paramedics came back. I don’t think they had gotten far.

Then the bread crisis began. Apparently, the only white left on the shelves was past-expiration, and where were the hamburger rolls? And what good was a hamburger if you couldn’t make it into a cheeseburger, and who could get cheese with that long line at the deli, anyway?

When there was no milk left to buy, people bought juice. When we sold out of apple and cranberry juice, they purchased bottled water. It was highly conceivable, after all, that the snow storm would lead to a shortage of potable water.

By 4:00, things were winding down because there wasn’t much of anything left to buy. The dairy case was empty, not a stick of butter or tub of sour cream to be found anywhere. A few lone yogurt cups still dotted the shelves, the ones in the flavors no one really likes, like lemon curd and pineapple kiwi.

The bread aisle was barren.

An unpleasant smell came from the produce section.

The deli counter closed down after the new boy succumbed to pressure to speed up and lost a chunk of finger on one of the slicers. When blood flowed into the pastrami, no one wanted it anymore. The paramedics came back again.

From my perch at the register, I watched my kindred snowstorm warriors drive off and prayed for their safety and Godspeed. The occasional flake of lazy snow still drifted in the streetlight haze, but the storm had – thankfully – come to an end.

All told, we got a little less than an inch.

Laura Cody is a forensic psychiatrist in New York. Some of her fiction has appeared in publications such as Lakeshore Review, Ponder Review, Coffin Bell, Bewildering Stories, and CafeLit, amongst others. She is currently working with a partner on a medical thriller that takes place in a hospital where no sane person would ever want to be admitted.

No Clue

by Craig R Kirchner

The mysteries and, of course, the murder, are all revealed in a parchment envelope marked Confidential, and placed beside Mr. Boddy along with his deceased wealth of knowledge in the cellar.

Professor Plum, the noted metaphysician, waistcoat, monocle, and purple bowtie, sipping sherry in the conservatory points out that we see only the tip of the iceberg and miss the berg. It’s there in the brain, filtered, unintegrated.

Colonel Mustard belting single malt, his seed larger than the kingdom of Heaven, is adjusting his gold cuff links and pocket square. He is preoccupied in the billiard room with the hiked, plaid skirt and incredible cleavage of Miss Scarlet who leans into a massé shot, reflectively pointing out that, reality only exists when it bumps into another reality. The Colonel in a whiskey rasp retorts Poppycock, balderdash, it’s all just deductive reasoning.

Mr. Green, looking pensive with a furrowed brow, is sure that matter is mostly empty, fluffed probability, more like thought than thing, and that the government knows all but refuses to tell, at least, tell this generation.

Mrs. Peacock with her fox stole and dozen bracelets is practicing saying, Good evening, in the mirror – says that she can prove who did it, if we all pour a brandy and join her in the library. She is also convinced, though she hasn’t said so out loud, that the height of arrogance is creating God in your own image.

Mrs. White arrived first, still has on her black pill-box hat and fishnet veil, is busy inspecting the table settings in the dining room, in case there is a desire to dine. She is convinced that while there is no out there, out there. independent of in here, her main concern is that no one suspects her of stealing the small shampoos and lotions.

Craig loves storytelling and the aesthetics of the paper and pen. He has been published in Decadent Review, New World Writing, Neologism, The Light Ekphrastic, Unlikely Stories, Wild Violet, Last Stanza, Unbroken, W-Poesis, The Globe Review, Your Impossible Voice, Fairfield Scribes, Spillwords, Bombfire, Ink in Thirds, Literary Heist, Blotter, Quail Bell, Yellow Mama, Ariel Chart, Flora Fiction, Young Ravens, Lit Shark, Versification, Vine Leaf Press and the Journal of Expressive Writing.

Teaching writing in Oregon

By Peter Wallace


I know you and Dad aren’t talking but could you PLEASE decide what you’re doing about Buffalo Bill? He bit the neighbor’s kid, and now they’re trying to track me down because I’m the only one who seems to have a phone.

I’ll be back from Oregon in a couple of weeks.




Here’s the insurance policy number. I don’t think it covers fire if you set it, but be my guest and ask. Can you stay with Lydia at Uncle Jack’s? Maybe offer to take care of the kids.

Oregon is going well. I really love the students.



Dear Mom,

Frankie told me about your skidding off the road. Are you OK? She said the motorcycle got totaled but that you walked away. Maybe your eighties is the time to get a car instead. Think about it. I wish you’d get a phone.

Lydia said you tried to evict her and the kids. You can’t evict someone from property you don’t own. Stay in the motel on 417, near the bar. They’ll let you stay until I come pay the bill.

The first week of Oregon is done, and I feel like I belong here already. I’ll show you pictures when I get back.




Enclosed is the check. It’s already made out to Samantha for $457. That’s what Frankie told me the bar said the damage total was. (And just so you know, that’s about a third of what I’m getting for teaching.) Tell Samantha I kind of hold her responsible for letting Dad have those martinis again. She knows beer is as much as he can handle. And you know better. But I’m glad you and Dad are talking again.

They have these mountains here that are amazing. We went up in them to see a sunrise. Makes you know that God exists.



Dear Mom,

You can’t sell Uncle Jack’s place. It’s not yours to sell. He didn’t leave it to you. And besides, Lydia and her kids are there until George gets out of jail next month. So please stop talking to that realtor. And get a phone.

Here in Oregon the kids are writing these amazing things. It gives me hope, especially after they closed the Valley View grade school back home and that crazy Reverend started homeschooling everyone, saying that dinosaurs were on Noah’s ark.




I’ll be back Saturday night, so sit tight. The folks at Salt Lick Memorial are pretty good, and Dad’s a tough old bird. When he lost his other foot in the shredder, he hardly blinked, remember? And Frankie says Buffalo Bill only took off two toes, so Dad will still be able to get around. Don’t let Eddy Slogan do the clean up again. He’ll terrify Buffalo Bill. And he charges an arm and a leg.

Oregon’s pretty much over. (And by the way, I’m teaching “writing”, not “riding.” When Frankie reads to you, tell her to enunciate. You hearing this, Frankie? You know I don’t get on bikes – or even horses – anymore.) We’re saying our goodbyes today. I wish I could be a fly on the wall of these kid’s lives. It’s going to be fascinating.

Have Frankie pick me up at the bus station. OK, Frankie?



Peter Wallace’s first novel, Speaker, was published in 2020. He has taught writing practices at universities in Myanmar, Turkey, and Russia through the Institute for Writing and Thinking, and is on the Language and Thinking faculty at Bard College. He now teaches playwriting and writes in the Pacific Northwest of the US.

A Sasquatch Sighting

by Russell Fee

Seen on a map, Highway 13 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula cuts through the Hiawatha National Forest from Nahma Jct. to Wetmore with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel. Seen through the eyes of a six-year-old boy from the back seat of a ‘59 Rambler, Highway 13 was a flat run of endless road through trees, trees all around and everywhere, trees as if the world was made of nothing else.

A hot wind, full of grit from the road, blew through the open windows of the car, smothering his face. His younger sister lay sprawled next to him, her feet periodically pedaling against his ribs, demanding more room for herself on the seat. They had made only one stop over an hour ago so his father could buy a case of beer. The twenty-four bottles of Schlitz rattled on the floor under his feet, sounding like a chorus of scolding nuns. He was tired, bored, and had to pee.

But it wasn’t any use complaining. He had tried until his mother had turned around, her arm stretched over the back of the seat, her finger inches from his nose and yelled, “Enough. Not another word. Not one. Do you understand?”

Eventually though, things got a little better. His sister fell asleep, and, a few minutes later, his father pulled off the road onto the shoulder and stopped.

“Stay in the car with your sister. And don’t wake her,” his father ordered. “Your mother and I are going to check out a campsite. We’ll be back in a bit.”

He watched his parents walk down the path to the campground until they were swallowed by the trees. That’s when things got quiet. So quiet that he noticed the silence; so quiet that he could almost feel the hush around him.

He was about to howl to banish the sensation when a horrible odor wafted through the car, choking him. He made a fist to punch his sister for farting, when out of nowhere there appeared at the window two huge opal eyes staring at him from beneath a thick knotted brow peaked on a grooved weathered face surrounded by coarse, thickly matted, mud-colored hair. The boy froze at the visage and his heart would have hammered from fright but for the warmth in the eyes and the thread of a smile stretched along the creature’s thin lips.

The face rose above the window and an enormous arm reached down to the floor where it grabbed the case of beer and pulled it out of the car. Then, with three strides of a loping gait, the creature and the beer were in the woods and gone.

Afterwards, time stood still for the boy, so it could have been mere minutes or more than an hour until his parents returned.

“We’re not camping here. We’re moving on,” his father announced, opening the car door.

“But Dad,” the boy stammered before his father snapped, “I don’t want to hear your complaining. Remember what your mother said. Not another word.”

As the car rolled onto the road, the boy bowed his head, not in contrition but to gaze in wonder at where the case of beer had been.

Russ Fee is the author of the award-winning Sheriff Matt Callahan mystery series. The second book in the series, A Dangerous Identity, won the Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Star 82 Review, Bright Flash Literary Review, and Hemingway Shorts, the Hemingway Foundation’s short story contest magazine.


by Ben Shiriak

Todd and I are minor celebrities. Very minor. You’ve heard of the A-List. And you’ve heard of the B-List. Well, we are sort of C-List, with a possibility of moving up to C+. Years ago, we published the first study of the ultra-Orthodox Jews of Lakewood, New Jersey where boys and girls ride separate buses to school, where the lakefront beaches are segregated by sex, where men and women are expected to walk on separate sides of the street, where a man is not permitted to hear a woman other than his wife sing. The book brought controversy, media attention, an interview on MSNBC, and a sale of movie rights to Netflix, which has not done anything with them.

            So, here we are at a department cocktail party in the San Remo, our backs to the view of Central Park and there’s Rabbi Jonathan Burnick approaching, his tzitzits drenched in tzadziki sauce, and then receding, as if borne backwards by the tides. The Rabbi is noted for his digs around Bethlehem and the Dead Sea. He teaches a course on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Rabbi helped us with our book. Now, he’s uncertain whether to talk to us since he absorbed a lot of flak from the Lakewood ultra-Orthodox.

The noise level is moderate, which is good since Todd hates noise, and the Greek catering is excellent. Todd begins with dessert, baklava this time, and usually stops there. A sweet tooth as long as your arm. He really should run a chocolate shop or a bakery. Or both. One of the highlights of his life was a week we spent in Bariloche, the chocolate capital of South America. Odd thing: all those chocolate-covered maraschino cherries put no weight on his lanky frame. Lanky? No. Surprisingly muscular for an intellectual. He claims that D1 schools recruited him for football, but he turned down places like Alabama and Ohio State. I’ve never asked Brad and Kathy, his parents. Don’t know why. Then again, his parents, particularly Brad, don’t have a helluva lot to say about him.

            On his face Todd wears his lost luggage look, as if he’s in a forgotten Greyhound station in some God-forsaken part of Alabama; oh, wait, all of Alabama is God-forsaken. He’s watching Professor Jessica Dunleavy canoodling with her husband–a man with lips and chin so thin they can’t support a grin–and laughing to himself. Years ago, before we married, he had a no-one-else-to-do affair with her. When we married, he invited her to our wedding, which I didn’t mind, having had my share of adventure. And she showed up with—not her husband—but another guy she was screwing. There she is with hands all over.

            A quarrel erupts. Todd’s ears perk up. We are close enough to hear every word.

            Professor Henry Sykes Bascombe says, “The Bering Land Bridge Theory is still one hundred per cent correct. Fifteen thousand years ago, the first Americans moved across the bridge into what is now Alaska and migrated slowly, a mile a year, effectively, southward, found happy hunting in the American West, and spread all over.” Bascombe’s voice grows louder as he speaks. He is an inconsequential sort, the kind of man foam-memory mattresses forget, for whom supermarket seeing-eye doors do not open, who disappears while you’re kissing his cheek, whose butterfly bush never attracts butterflies. His wife, Marilyn, a specialist in prehistoric languages, teaches somewhere in Virginia. Her mascara gives off an electric glow. Her false eyelashes throw shadows on her cheeks. She probably cheats at solitaire. Rumor has it that her housekeeping is so poor you wipe your feet when you leave her house.

            Professor Jennifer Bibb-Bannerman responds, “They would have frozen their balls and nipples off trying to migrate through thoroughly-frozen far-north northern America.” How she gets that mouthful off, I have no idea. She has the face that sent a thousand ships in the wrong direction, and is notorious for, well, let’s just say she is notorious. “The obvious answer is that the first Americans came via boat hugging the coastline from Siberia and then the Land Bridge and then the Alaska coast line. Obvious to all those who don’t have a vested interest in the perpetuation of an outdated theory.”

            Marilyn Bascombe says, “We do not have a vested interest in the Bering Land Bridge theory.” Her voice always reminds me of sheets of ice peeling from a glacier and falling into the sea.

            Henry Bascombe says, “The proof of the theory is the snow forest penis. It was found frozen in perfect shape on a frozen island north of Alaska, and has been carbon-dated to 15,500 years ago.”

            “Unfortunately,” Marilyn says, “it was stolen. But there are many photographs. It was a heavily used appendage, calloused, and remarkable when you see it.”

            “I suppose it served a term of penile servitude,” Todd interjects. Deadpan.

            “Todd Kelly, famous for his lousy puns,” Bascombe says.

            “Infamous,” I say. “How long was this remarkable penis?”

            “Was it erect or flaccid?” Bibb-Bannerman asks.

            Todd gives them no time to answer. “Have you ever thought that the Americas might have been settled from the south? Bottoms up, as it were.”

            “Preposterous,” the two Bascombes and Bibb-Bannerman say as one. Aha, the quarrel has changed direction.

            “Now that is truly where you’d freeze to death. Antarctica would mummify you,” Bibb-Bannerman says.

            Todd shakes his head, raises one eyebrow. “You should spend more time south of the Equator. Your focus would change.”

            I tug Todd away.

            Three baklavas and one grilled zucchini fritter later, Todd says, “Maybe that’s what we should write about next: how the Americas were settled.”

            I say, “We don’t know shit from Shinola about the subject.”

            He asks, “What’s Shinola?”

Ben Shiriak is a retired New Jersey lawyer.

Editor’s note: Shinola is a now defunct brand of shoe polish in the US and ‘you don’t know shit from Shinola’ was once a popular expression for ignorance.

Soup and a penance

by Ron Hardwick

My colleague Blanchard asked me to have lunch with him.  I occasionally dined with him at a charity shop that sold soup and rolls cheaply.  The charity shop was shut. 

‘We’ll go to the Good Earth Store,’ he said, brightly.  I recalled the place.  It had an Airstream caravan in the front yard and was as pretentious as Liberace’s hairstyle.  To maintain its planet-saving credentials (everything was ‘sustainable’), it was all brick walls, stone floors, stripped pine tables and uncomfortable chairs. It reminded you of a sanatorium for tuberculosis-sufferers.

The place was packed, full of earnest, middle-class women and bearded men who looked like Billy Connolly.  The women were all devoid of make-up. Many were reading socially acceptable texts.  A scattering of young children ran around the tables, making a terrific din on the stone floor. The staff were mainly unshaven young eco-warriors in shorts and sandals. 

The soup of the day was carrot, coriander and marrow. You had to pay before you could eat.

‘Don’t they do proper soup?’ I asked Blanchard. 

‘Only one soup left,’ said the cashier. 

‘Couldn’t you open another tin?’  I asked. 

Grumbling, I ordered the soup and Blanchard decided on something far more expensive; a panini sandwich of goat’s cheese, dill and parma ham.  The bill came to ten pounds ten pence.  There was an awkward silence whilst I waited for Blanchard to offer to go halves.  His jaws remained as tightly shut as a bull terrier’s.  Eventually, I handed over a twenty-pound note from my dwindling store.

Blanchard said: ‘I can help.’

‘Hallelulah,’ I breathed.

‘I’ve got ten pence here,’ he said.  Indeed he had and he handed it over.  I received the tenner change.  I turned my attention to the cashier.

‘Your prices are a bloody disgrace.  You’re supposed to be saving the planet, not bankrupting it.’ 

‘Our pricing strategy is generally enough to keep the riff-raff out of here.’  He looked pointedly at me. 

Blanchard picked up a huge block of wood and made for the one vacant table. 

‘What’s that for?’ I asked him, peevishly.

‘It’s got a number carved into it, and you stand it up on the table so that the waiter knows who to serve.’

‘For God’s sake,’ I retorted, ‘It’s not the Savoy Grille.’ 

The waiter, a bulky chap wearing a headband, sailed by the table twice, not noticing the wooden house brick standing on it.

‘Hoy, mush,’ I said, ‘I like my soup hot – I don’t need you to take it for a walk.’

He harrumphed, lumbered into the kitchen, returned and jammed my soup down on the table.

Amazingly, it was tasty, even if it did have some dubious-looking seeds floating around in it.  I didn’t much like the bread.  It had the consistency of a carborundum block. 

As we left, Blanchard said: ‘I enjoyed that.  We’ll have to do it again sometime.’ 

I gave him the most telling of glances as he reached in his pocket for a toothpick.

Ron Hardwick resides in East Lothian, Scotland. He has written well over two hundred short stories and pieces of flash fiction.

Giant Problem Solved

by Tessa Kjeldsdottir

Hugo’s belly pangs rumbled down the darkening mountainside above Heffinger Hollow. He was sorely tempted to nibble on a half-cooked morsel or two of the spunky spelunkers that frequented Carbuncle Caverns. This particular group of spelunkers had surprised the village by sneaking in to the Carbuncle and setting out to explore without a guide. They’d zigged when they should have zagged on that seventh leg of the descent, and had fallen deep into the bowels of the lowest cavern of Carbuncle.

This had proved deadly for them, but put their corpses within easy reach of Hugo.

But a bit of history, first…

Several millennia ago, the Hollow’s ancestors had agreed to a quarterly human sacrifice, demanded by the Weather Gods in exchange for good hunting, abundant harvests, a healthy populace, and the like. Then, a handful of centuries ago, Hugo had been dropped on them by an angry Goddess, who’d demanded he do something useful and make amends though service. No one dared ask what he’d done, opting instead to accept him as a member of the community, and the new middle man in the quarterly sacrifice.

The villagers were grateful that Hugo had turned out to be fairly reasonable (for a giant), as well as a terrific strategist for a modern-day tourism plan that now kept him fed, and the close-knit community of Heffinger safe from the prying eyes of the media and those pesky, intrepid folklorists. No tourist had ever registered complaint over the occasional roll of light thunder through clear skies; stormy weather always passed quickly. Dining, shopping, and spelunking plans were never canceled due to inclement weather.

And if Hugo and the Hollow had found a creative way to appease the Gods, feed the giant, keep the tourists and spelunkers coming and their local economy healthy, then that was best for everyone. After all, the villagers needed to change with the times.

But on this particular day…

On this particular day that was neither the beginning, nor the end of the quarter, Hugo was very hungry. His stomach was rumbling, and his unhappy belches began to fill the pristine sky with noxious green clouds.

UPS delivery to remote Heffinger Hollow was dodgy at its best, and Hugo had been late in getting out his bi-monthly order for HealthyMealz Krunchy Snackz ® (registered trademark). Not one to overlook an opportunity, Hugo had reached his long arm into the lowest cavern of the Carbuncle, fished out the dead bodies with his hairy fingers, and spitted the spelunkers. Waste not, want not, he reasoned.

Now the people of the Hollow looked up at the mountain with a little bit of terror as lightning ripped across the sky. The Weather Gods were clearly not pleased. Was this to be the end of their peaceful and prosperous life? 

Hugo quickly owned up to his mistake. He swore to the Weather Gods and Goddesses that he would do better next time, and never again be caught without a proper snack to see him through to his next meal. For that reason, and to demonstrate his sincerity and commitment, he had made himself wait, stomach rumbling and popping, as he rotated the sizzling spelunkers over his camp fire with the one hand, and shook the tiny canister of Hot Seasons Cheddar Sprinkles ™ (trademark, patent pending) with the other.

Forgiving himself, he felt he deserved an extra portion of the cheese seasoning since he hadn’t had a snack since the day before yesterday; the athletic spelunkers tended toward being quite lean, and more than a little dry. And for pre-seasoning food prep, he’d rubbed the bodies with lanolin from a couple of very large sheep he’d plucked off the mountainside, promptly replacing the dazed creatures back with their herd.

It was a brilliant bit of ethical and sustainable sourcing.

Hugo leaned backward into a nearby waterfall and drank deeply of its tumbling waters to soothe his stomach as he waited.

The Gods, intrigued by his culinary imagination, were appeased. No more lightning. Gone was the green cloud and noxious fumes, and a beautiful full moon rose over the mountain and into every corner of the Hollow to promise continued prosperity. The Heffinger Hollow folk raised their noses and marveled at the rich scent carried on the now-clean winds, and considered that a quick and immediate visit to the giant might be in order. They packed up their kegs of Heffinger Dark Brew and made it a party.

And of course, they all lived happily ever after, and considered a new supply chain for Hugo’s meals, as well as a different delivery service for snacks. And if Hugo had not finished nibbling spelunkers then, he is surely nibbling them still.

Snip Snap Snu, and now my tale is through.

Tessa Kjeldsdottir is a Midwest dabbler in fiction, folk and fairy tales, and poetry. Her work can be found in the occasional chapbook/anthology, but mostly on her flash blog and sketchbook, Valley of The under the pseudonym Liz Husebye Hartmann.