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.

Toad took lunch

by Bob Brussack

He took lunch, as was his custom, in the dining room of the River Haven Hotel in Kinnelcubby. In years past, he would have been joined by the other members of the Kinnelcubby Round Table, as they styled themselves — a circle of local wits that could be counted on not to leave any topic, worthy or otherwise, unflayed by largely harmless abuse. More recently, however, Toad had lunched in the dining room alone. He had lunched alone because the Round Table had shriveled and then dissolved, beset by deaths, emigrations to Spain, and a certain collective ennui. And he had lunched alone because he had come to appreciate, in his advancing years, the virtue of public solitude, the phenomenon of being in the midst of others but apart from them, free to enjoy his meal and follow his thoughts unencumbered by the responsibility to say anything and surrounded by the somehow calming background hum of indistinct small talk.

Mary Grace brought Toad the menu. She brought it because the bringing of it numbered among the rituals of courtesy and attentiveness in which she took so much satisfaction as a front-of-the-house professional. And she brought it because she knew that on the day she failed to bring it, Toad would decide on that day to have something other than the beetroot salad with goat’s cheese. Not that she would mind a departure from the tedium of his utter predictability. She would welcome it. But she would not be caught up short. She would not have failed to bring the menu. “The usual?,” she asked, extending the menu slightly toward him. “Yes, please. And a glass of the Casal Garcia.” He spoke in a deep, subdued, faintly raspy voice. “Of course,” she said.

All would have been well, except that someone on the dining room staff — certainly not Mary Grace — had decided to bring the room’s piped music into alignment with the current tastes of young Dublin, as Toad supposed, and at a volume suitable for a wee- hours romp, as he further supposed, not having attended a wee-hours romp since Thatcher. Gawd. Must they?

Toad hadn’t quite caught Mary Grace’s eye to press for a return to the cafe jazz playlist when a family entered the dining room — the Pleasant family, as it turned out, on holiday from Upstate New York. Mary Grace welcomed them and escorted them to the table farthest from Toad, as a precaution.

In Toad’s transmutation from local wag to connoisseur of calm, Mary Grace knew, he had devolved in his capacity to endure noise in general and gratuitous vocal excess in particular. And the Pleasant family included a young child — a blond girl in a blue dress, four-or-so years old — who carried the potential, in Mary Grace’s estimation, to be a “screecher creature.”

Having seated the family, Mary Grace turned, noticed Toad with his hand up, and knew without having to ask. She nodded and intervened to return the piped music to the soft jazz. She then brought Toad his wine from the bar, and Armand emerged a few minutes later from the kitchen with the beetroot salad. Not long after that, the American family had been served and had begun to eat. All seemed sorted.

Then came the undoing of the peace. The little girl was on her feet and fast-walking through the dining room, looking back, pursued by her brother, who must have been six- or-so. As she scampered, she emitted a relentless high-pitched scream. The mother said something that must have been meant as cease-and-desist, but it had no discernible effect. Meanwhile, the little girl entered Toad’s airspace. With a flick of his tongue, he grabbed her at the waist and popped her into his mouth headfirst. She screamed louder, but the screams had a muffled quality, as one would expect.

The father neither said nor did anything, unable to process the situation. The mother leapt from her chair and closed in on Toad, yelling “spit her out! Spit her out this minute!” Mary Grace, hovering nearby, reached Toad first, extracted the girl, and began wiping her face with a serviette. “You’re all right, lass. You’re all right,” she said.

Toad was as mortified as anyone else by all this. He apologized immediately and profusely, explaining that his tongue had something of a mind of its own, that he was on medication to suppress the reflex, and that he had supposed it was working, given that he hadn’t snatched anyone for several years — not since that fellow who had been insufferably loud watching the rugby on the big screen TV over the bar in the first few months of Mary Grace’s employment. (It was this incident that Mary Grace had firmly in mind when she seated the family well away from Toad.)

The father, having gathered himself and become indignant, wanted the Garda called and something done. Mary Grace, however, employed her considerable diplomatic skills, saying there would be no charge, of course, for the meal, and the family were welcome to enjoy the evening’s trad as guests of the River Haven. In the end, the authorities were not brought in, and the family thought better of an initial determination to “sue the pants off” the River Haven and Toad. A generous settlement might have been involved.

As for Toad, he withdrew himself entirely from public life, taking his meals at home, having his groceries delivered by Tesco, and entertaining himself listening to cafe jazz on Apple Music and the generally and tastefully diverting offerings on BBC 4. He read, of course. And he delighted in the weekly visits from Mary Grace, who had taken it upon herself to make sure he was not alone. When he opened the door for her and invited her in, she always stood at the threshold for a moment, looked directly at him, and said, “Now mind your tongue, Toad. Mind your tongue.”

Bob Brussack is an author of poetry and fiction who resides at the moment along the south coast of Ireland. In 2007, he retired after a career on the law faculty of the University of Georgia in the US.


by James B. Nicola

If you have a son or know a boy who is twelve years old then you are on the verge of witnessing one of the great unsung mysteries of human existence.

Recall the age of ten. Visit a sixth-grade classroom and you may see rows of little angels sitting as angels are wont; if they are horsing around, shoving, or name-calling, it is with the (relatively) expert harmlessness of a little kid.

By the time the kid turns twelve, that angel is gone.

You can see this if you walk from the sixth-grade section to the seventh-grade section of Tenafly Middle School which, quite wisely, separates the sixth grade class rooms from the seventh and eighth-grade class rooms. It is also probably why, in the old days, Grammar School went through grade six and Junior High started at grade seven, just when things start to get peculiar the way I am talking about.

This seems eminently sensible when you are that age. At twelve, name-calling starts getting serious, and boys utter inventive yet meaningless phrases like “Ah, your mother’s vomit.” In a flash, they know everything about everything, regardless of whether they have any way of knowing, heaven forfend actually finding out; and whatever they say, whether true or not, is so.

The age of twelve is a turbulent time for a boy.

At age thirteen, an even stranger thing happens. A boy still knows everything but is suddenly damned if he is going to let anyone know he knows.

He is now to be treated as a supercilious house cat. Just nod when you enter a room he happens to be in. If he nods back and leaves you alone, consider yourself lucky. But say his name out loud, or hello, or try to shake his hand, or hug him goodbye when you leave, and you will not know what hit you. If he’s outathere in a flash, again, consider yourself lucky.

This is because at age thirteen, the American boy is invaded by an alien spirit. Probably from just past Saturn or thereabouts. The most diligent, industrious, studious, or kindest boy is now in the thrall of the Master Alien of Coolness and would rather die than have attention called to him—other than his suddenly acquired black and red, generally angular, wall postings. Not that this invasion and possession happens precisely on his thirteenth birthday; the phenomenon may occur a week or two before or after.

If you are his mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, or uncle, you must have patience. Fasten your safety belt and hope that Billy or Jimmy gets through the next several years alive and without a serious police record. But be comforted with the knowledge that when he turns twenty (again, give or take a week or two), he shall return. That alien now has to find its way back through the astral plane to wherever the bloody heck it came from, but you have your boy back. Do not ask where he’s been, he won’t acknowledge that he was gone, even to himself.

By the way, the Jewish Boy, when he turns thirteen, is surrounded by his entire extended family to remind him (and warn the alien spirit), “We’re watching!” The Bar Mitzvah may be the most effective ritual ever devised, religious or otherwise.

Now you may think this whole talk is silly. It is your right to do so. But I have heard from more mothers, fathers, sisters, aunts, uncles, neighbors, friends, and occasionally brothers (though mostly brothers don’t notice anything), and an inordinately high percentage have come up to me seven years later and said, My God, you were right! Their words. So if this model is not necessarily true, it may nonetheless be useful, if you don’t want your teenager stomping, screaming, slamming, and hitting things for no apparent reason. Or at least, if he is going to carry on stomping, screaming, slamming, and hitting things, rest assured you are not insane. At least, not yet.

You think that being a caring person can be helpful to a thirteen-year-old boy? Well, if you can’t help yourself, go ahead and care—but for god’s sake don’t let him catch you at it. And pray for him if you must—silently. Again, DO NOT let him know what you are doing. Double-check your safety belt, wait seven years, he’ll be fine. Most likely.

Meanwhile, be complacent, if not content, in the certain knowledge that there is nothing else you or anyone else can do for him.

James B. Nicola is the author of eight full-length poetry collections. In Australia, his poetry and prose have appeared in Pure Slush, Science Now, and The Antonym. A graduate of Yale, he hosts the Hell’s Kitchen International Writers’ Round Table at his local library branch in New York City.

Sticks and Stones

by Deborah Sale Butler

From our ‘Meet the neighbors’ series.

Nothing gets your attention like a rock being thrown at your head.

Devon was the kid next door, lanky for a four and a half-year-old, with lightly tanned skin, and white-blonde hair in a crew-cut, like his dad’s. I was just four, short for my age, with golden-blonde hair to the middle of my back, which my mom tried, unsuccessfully to work into braids each morning, and which, by day’s end, would be a loose, tangled mess. We were cute, we were almost the same age (Devon always reminded me that he was four and a HALF), we were next-door neighbors, so our parents expected us to be best friends.

In those days, we were allowed to walk to nursery school by ourselves, through my back yard, across the yard of the neighbor behind us, to the crossing guard in front of the school. We held hands to cross the street, once the crossing guard, Cookie Dare, said it was OK. Every day, Devon would say, in his best Southern drawl, “That Dare’s a COOKIE!” and we would giggle our way across the road. His hands were always a little sweaty and sticky with grape jelly from breakfast, and once he had a tight hold of my hand, he’d swing his arm as high as he could, pulling me off my feet a little, and he dragged me, bobbing, through the crosswalk.

The nursery school was a series of rooms in the First Presbyterian Church basement. Devon and I were in different classes, where we would sing our songs, eat the snacks our mothers packed, and take a nap on little throw rugs we brought from home. By four, I was long-past napping in the middle of the day, and I would spend the twenty-minute nap-time picking at the pink shag rug, until they told us it was time to get up. Preschool was only about three hours, but it was an eternity to a little girl who wanted to get home to play with her plastic horses.

On this particular day, the pull of my new, Breyer Collection horse was overwhelming. I knew I was supposed to wait for Devon, but I just had to get back to play with the tiny, black foal with delicate legs and splash of white on her forehead. She had a graceful, always prancing pose, and fit perfectly in the palm of my hand.

As soon as we were released, I ran from class to Cookie Dare. She asked where Devon was and I lied, telling her his mom had picked him up. For the first time, I crossed the street all by myself. I was feeling pretty slick about giving Devon the slip. He’d just want to play tag in the backyard, or climb the cherry tree again, and make me wait even LONGER to play with my new toy. Devon was always showing up, whether he was invited or not. He’d come over when we had the splash pool, or were riding trikes on the patio. Today, I just wanted to play by myself.

The neighbor’s yard, behind ours, was slightly elevated, braced by a loose, stone wall. I had just skipped past the wall, and was about to run home, when I felt the thud and then, something wet on my head. I touched the wet spot and withdrew a hand covered in blood. The scream was automatic, not from pain so much as shock. I turned to see Devon, seething with anger and panic. He clearly hadn’t thought this through. He wanted to let me know he was mad, but I’m guessing he hadn’t planned on the screaming. Devon glanced behind him, like he might run, but his feet seemed to be frozen to the wall, from which he’d just grabbed the stone. “I’M SORRY, I’M SORRY! ARE YOU OK?!”

“No I’m not OK! You threw a rock at my head!”

My mom was in the back yard now. I could hear the metal screen door slam as Devon’s mom dashed over to join her.

Devon and I were both crying now, and our mothers tried to tease the story out of us, between sobs. It would probably come as a shock to modern parents, but there were no accusations, no threats of lawsuits or punishments. After they put together what had happened, both of our mothers demanded that we apologize to each other.

We were four. Mistakes were made. I got stitches and I’m guessing he got a spanking from his ex-Marine dad. And that was the end of it.

The next day, we walked to school again. Devon was quiet as we climbed past the wall towards the crossing guard. I grabbed his sticky hand and said in MY best Southern drawl, “That Dare’s a COOKIE!” He smiled, and proceeded to swing me across the street.

Deborah Sale-Butler has lived in six cities where she was an animation voice actor, speech teacher, professional puppeteer and mom. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, son, dog and cat-familiar.

Dr. Ambrose

by Derek McMillan

From our ‘Meet the neighbours’ call.

Doctor Ambrose lived in an unremarkable house in a pretty nondescript street in an unfashionable part of town. He was anything but ordinary however.

Nobody knew where his money came from, what he was up to at any particular time and exactly what he was a doctor of.

At first we, his next-door neighbours, were mildly interested. Then we took an interest. By the end we were downright nosy.

“He roams his garden in the twilight.”

“Strictly speaking, that is not illegal, Oscar.”

“I know that, Sara. It is just highly suspicious.”

Then while we were sitting down to tea, there was a noise and it was definitely coming from Dr Ambrose’s house. Through the party wall I could hear that it was a voice and it was a good octave higher than the doctor’s. We couldn’t hear any words.

The next day I loitered in the garden and casually asked,

“By the way, what are you a doctor of?”

“Philosophy,” said Dr Ambrose and walked smartly away.

This is a useless answer. PhDs are awarded for many things like Physics, Chemistry or extracting moonbeams from cucumbers.

The doctor turned at the corner and raised his voice slightly, “My thesis was on extracting moonbeams from cucumbers,” he said.

Mind-reading is a myth or a trick but what dastardly trick the doctor had performed to give me that answer I did not know.

“So what have we got so far?” I asked

“Nothing?” Sara answered unhelpfully.

“1) He walks in the garden in the twilight, 2) We do not know where his income comes from and 3) He was able to say exactly what I was thinking.”

“1) So what? 2) None of our business and 3) Ah,” she said.

“Ah indeed.”

And there we left it until a month later I saw my old friend Declan.

“I saw an advert in the paper for a Clare Voyant. She claimed to know things about me I didn’t know myself and she offered online consultations. Her rates were very reasonable.”

I may as well mention now that Declan is as gullible as a herring but on with the story.

“I went online and I couldn’t see her. There was just a crystal ball with a heart of fire which held my attention. Then I asked questions and she answered. I spoke but her anwers came up as text. She really did tell me some amazing things.”

“You remember my Uncle Jed?”


“Well do you know she was able to tell me all about him, like ‘did I have a relative with a name beginning with J’ and then she said that all his money had disappeared when he died. How could she possibly know all that? What do you think, old man?”

I kept silent and encouraged him to continue.

“You see I heard from my cousin, Jed’s erm..”

“Daughter,” I prompted.

“Yes, how did you know that?”

“Lucky guess, do go on.”

“Anyway Selina told me that when Jed died all his money had vanished. What do you think about that?”

I knew for a fact that most of Jed’s money had vanished behind the bar of the Duck and Shovel but I kept that to myself.

I then asked one question and the answer to it got me thinking. Apparently Selina contacted Declan by email.

First I did an extensive search of my email account. Sure enough, ten years ago I had an email with the phrase “extracting moonbeams from cucumbers” as an example of proverbial nonsense.

I did a little discreet research into the world of cyber-security

Sara and I arranged to question “Clare Voyant” the next day.

The crystal ball was impressive and Clare answered every question about myself that I asked. When I thought I had enough written down I ended with,

“I expect this beats extracting moonbeams from cucumbers.”

Silence reigned.

Now I had chapter and verse that “Clare Voyant” and Doctor Ambrose were one and the same. They had been hacking into email accounts which was a criminal offence.

I presented the evidence to the local nick and then patiently explained it.

“So now we know the good doctor had a PhD in cyber-security and we know where he got his money from.”

“And his roamin’ in the gloamin’?” Sara asked.

“Just a foible, as far as I know.”

Hollywood Beat

by Shé

October 4: She stepped out of the shadows, as ship-shape and shapely as the percolating piece she held in her bejeweled, bespangled hands.

Yes, I knew this voluptuous vixen. It was Lucky Lola LaRue, the love of La-La Land. Siren of stage and screen. Top hot box-office draw. Media minx. Star of stratospheric magnitude and meteorological mayhem. Stately symphony of form and function. Bright as a brilliant day in the San Bernardinos.

I tried to stay smart, but me in a room full of Lola–

My brain took a walk and locked the door behind.

She cocked the Glock, glad-handing the rambunctious rod. “Well?”

“I’m thinking,” I stalled, stuttering and stumbling back over the body.

“Think fast, friend. The next siren call’s for you.” She aimed, arms out, heat to my head.

I staggered to a stop near the sofa. Surrendered. “How can I help?”

“Good boy, Getchell.” She waved her wicked wand. “Out the back door. My way’s on the highway.”

I stepped over the overblown blow-hard, careful not to crush Cal’s corpse. I opened the back door, holding it for Lola. Despite the deadly weapon, she inspired my chivalrous side.

She gestured to the Jag, parked perfunctorily to the side. “Let’s jet. You drive.”

On the road in a sporty sports car, low slung and lethal as Lola’s laugh. I snaked onto Sunset, motoring toward Mulholland.

She rustled her revolver. Pointed to a pullout. A precipice overlooking the Pacific. My life on the literal edge. I complied, no hope for a hearing. I retained my composure, cheaper than a solicitor.

Lola licked her lips, eyed me eerily, referenced the repeater. “Here’s the plan, Dan. We meander to Mexico at midnight. We’ll stay at my beachside bistro in Baja. I was with you all weekend. Including the incriminating instant of Cal’s crushing curtain call.”

I looked into her gorgeous green eyes. A brief breeze ruffled her red-gold curls. “Why kill Cal?”

“Drop it, Danny. Do as I say, and no one gets gone.”

“Cal’s crushed. That’s not gone?”

She laughed. Low, luscious, and lethal. In her films, the guy always gets it after she lets loose a laugh. Signature signal of doom and death. “Just taking out the trash.”

I leaned out and looked at the luminous moon. “It’s not okay to kill. Even Cal.”

She hoisted the heater, flicking off the safety. “Know how many people will sleep soundly tonight, now that Cool Cal’s cashed it in?”

I sighed, surrendering the salient point. “Millions, most likely.”

Sailing south. Silently swerving past I-5 sights. The border by breakfast.

October 5: Surreal sensibilities. Felonious fallacies. Hellacious headlines. Lola LaRue Locked up for Life. Star Shoots Scum. History of Histrionics Halts Hollywood Harlot. Lola Looks out for Little People.

They caught us in Coronado. The peeping pansy next door phoned the police when Lola lost her lead. She saw the whole show from her shower. Lola loading me out.

The cops found my car at the scene of the crime, suspiciously clean of crud. Lola’s Jag left tracks. Slight, but noticeable to forensic Fran Filletti. When Filletti matched prints to specialized tires, made only in France for foreign-made Fords, she scratched her head and set us up.

In the immediate interrogation, Lola looked up and lisped, “I did it for Daddy.”

Factually, Cal was crushing her career. Dug up detailed despicableness, a frisky flick called “Nowhere’s Nymph.”

At the same time, Cal’s comrades, the cops, tired of his tortuous tentacles and terrible tomfoolery, were watching the house round the clock, trying to pin pervertedness and evidential errors. They let Lola in, armed and angry. Easy way to eliminate evil.

A sad day in Hollywood. No more Lola LaRue, locking lips at luaus or swaying with the suave sucker in the saloon. Swanson, Shearer, Sidney, Sarandon. Lola loop-de-looped their galaxy, surpassing seventy times that bevy of beauties.

And me? I’m back on the beat, looking for loonies and lost souls. Ready to spill the beans about born-again beauties and benevolent bad boys. Digging up scandal skank and printing perishable press releases.

Hollywood. Queen of the quick buck. Prince of Pentecostal producers. Shah of show and illusion. Mullah of movies and money. Somebody’s gotta cover it.

Shé’s work has been published by Seal Press, Running Wild Press, Vox Populi, Chiasmus Press, The Passionfruit Review, and Letter X and Evergreen magazines. Her novella, Letters to Lulu, hits bookstores in 2025

The Dollar General Doctor

by Travis Flatt

I’m confused to discover that my prospective neurologist, Dr. Les Winningham, is currently working an afternoon shift at Dollar General, backpedal to check the sign on the storefront. However, after the accident, I need a doctor who’s open-minded about insurance.

I don’t have any.

It turns out, Blue Cross is ill-humored about remodeling your neighbor’s apartment with a Ford F-150. Whether that incident relates to my current medical condition is what I’m here to discover. 

The receptionist, or, rather, the eighteen-year-old cashier, grinds her teeth and tells me my doctor will see me any moment, though she adds with a wink that he’s been in the bathroom for hours and it’s long since been her turn.

 Here I am, perusing the inventory, specifically the soggy twelve packs of Coke Zero. They catch my eye because they’re selling for eleven dollars. Given the dogshit condition of the economy, one might forgive even a physician the side hustle. I, myself, await the return of my driver’s license so I can resume Ubering folks to the airport. My full-time gig, Peaches, is cutting down to weekends, with so many of the dancers getting sick.

After several more minutes, I’m rethinking this plan, searching Facebook Marketplace for another doctor, but from the back strides a skinny young man. He’s hitching up his baggy, black work trousers, wiping his nose, and grinding his teeth like the San Andreas fault line. The cashier lets out an anxious squeal and sprints for the back, halts to whispers something in his ear, and disappears, leaving the register unattended.

“Mr. Foster,” the scrawny guy announces. He gestures for me to follow him outside. It’s November and I wish I’d brought a jacket. We go and take up a spot at the corner, which I presume is his office. He straightens his cap and adjusts where his tie should be, a tic of fidgeting with phantom objects and clothing I begin to notice.

He prepares an invisible clipboard and pen. “What’s up?”

“I’m having seizures,” I say.

He shakes his head. “It’s just DTs, son–” this guy couldn’t be more than twenty-five “–ride’m out,” and seems finished.

To his back, I explain that he’s not far off, but it’s more complex. It can’t be certain what exactly occurred my first time. Witnesses reported seizure-like activity when I lost control of my truck and obliterated Shane’s porch. Or, it might simply have been the bottle of Fireball.

He turns, nods, and squints in concentration while pretending to write something in air.

“I stopped drinking. Months ago–” I’m not sure he’s listening “–but it happened again. At the store.”

It’s true. After that first one, which might have been booze-related, I seized bigger than shit in Piggly Wiggly’s, creating such a scene it made the Herald Citizen. They called ambulances and fire trucks. 

He halts his pantomime, looks skyward, and digests this information like an unsucked jawbreaker. Ponders. Says, “You got epilepsy?”

I’m growing skeptical, yet considering delving further when a gray Bentley SUV purrs into the parking lot. A pretty, yet scowling, woman with tight, gray hair hops out.  I’m certain I’ve seen her on billboards around town running for City Council.

Les-ter Winningham,” she shouts.

“Hello, Miss Roland,” the skinny guy, Dr. Winningham, says. He tips his ball cap, readjusts his non-tie, and straightens his spine soldierly.

“Dr. Winningham–my insulin,” she says. She thrusts out one hand while checking the gold Ferragamo on the other wrist like somewhere desperate calls.

            “Yes ma’am,” he says, unzips his uniform trousers, unbuttons, and pulls out a money belt. From the belt he produces two white-labeled vials of insulin, then gingerly places them in her waiting palm. She slaps a readied wad of bills into his hand in exchange, turns, and clicks heels away.

            I’m watching her as he continues like nothing happened. 

            “History of epilepsy, Mr. Foster?” 

            Call me crazy, but my confidence has bolstered, so I say, “No. This is a new thing.”

            “How many?”

“Three or four,” I say. “One yesterday. That’s why I’m here.”

            He glances furtively around the lot and motions me to follow; there’s a 90’s Accord beside the building that’s seen an accident or six, the passenger side pushed in completely.

            He kicks the rear bumper and the trunk pops open. Inside sits a small safe which weighs the rear of the car. I assumed the back tires were leaking. With a rapid series of slaps and fist hammers, the safe swings open, creaking like a cemetery gate in a Hammer horror film. Dozens of pill bottles.

            Dr. Winningham shoves three large rectangular bottles into my stomach. Before they fall, I cradle them. “This is levetiracetam–Keppra. Take 2000mg twice a day. Eat, or you’ll be ready to yank your shirt off and throw down. Neurologists call it ‘the Hulk.’ “

            As I’m wedging the bottles into my pockets, Winningham holds another one, small and orange, up to my face. It’s full of white tablets. “Clobazam. Take one at night before bed. Good stuff. Don’t snort it.”

            He slams the safe shut, rocking the car, then closes the trunk down, which requires him to jump and hang all his weight. He turns and rests his bony butt against the car and I see he’s sweating. It’s fifty degrees.  “Obviously, I can’t write you a prescription, so you come see me in… two months. You’re good ‘till then.”

            “Thanks,” I say.

We stand for a moment by his ratty car. He fishes in his pocket for something and produces nothing, mimes writing a final ghost prescription, tears it and hands it to me. I ignore this, and he ignores my ignoring it.  “Just go out the hall you came, take a left, see Julia at the desk–shit, nevermind. Just kidding.” He grins but his eyes twinkle with a hellish, haunted misery

“How much do I owe you,” I mumble.

“Oh, it’s cool. You’re free the first time.”

I walk home, pockets full of illicit hope.

Travis Flatt is an actor and teacher living with his wife and son outside Nashville, Tennessee. He enjoys Shakespeare and dogs and Shakespearean dogs.

It’s in the Bag

by Margo Griffin

One Saturday morning, a certain plastic shopping bag went missing. But it wasn’t one of the empty and perfectly-fine used bags Agnes collected. Instead, this bag of Agnes’ contained something quite personal and special.

“Sweet baby Jesus! Where’s that damn bag?!” exclaimed Agnes.

“What bag?” asked her sister, Martha.

My bag! There’s an important envelope inside,” said Agnes. 

This particular missing envelope in the certain missing plastic bag wasn’t one of Agnes’ usual, recycled envelopes with lists and reminders scrawled across the back. Instead, this envelope contained a winning daily number lottery ticket worth almost a thousand dollars that Agnes saved for well over ten months.

“Bob’s winning ticket is inside,” said Agnes.

Your winning ticket, you mean?” reminded Martha.

“Stop saying that!”

“But it is! You bought the ticket!”

“Don’t sass me, Martha!”

“Sorry, I hate to break it to you again, but Bob didn’t wake from his grave and whisper his birthdate in your ear.”

“You’re a mean bitch, Martha!”


The sisters searched for ten minutes in a silence so angry it lashed at their ears like a whip.

“When was the last time you saw that bag?” asked Martha.

“Yesterday, when you were dusting! You moved it, I bet,” accused Agnes.

“I didn’t touch your bag!” sniped Martha.

“Well, we all remember my favorite readers…”

“I bought you a new pair! Why do you gotta bring that up?”

“…the bag said Stop and Shop or Hannaford; it’s beige or white,” Agnes yelled over to Martha as they continued their search.

“For the love of God, these damn bags all look alike,” laughed Martha.

 “You’re always organizing my things!” said Agnes, using bunny quotes as she said organizing.

“Have you looked in your purse or your…?”

“I’m not a moron, Martha!”

Agnes scurried around the apartment looking through the various bags, but wondered if she had actually put the missing envelope with the ticket in a plastic bag after all.

As Agnes hunted, Martha sweat as she watched Agnes open and close closet doors and kitchen drawers, pulling out dozens of empty used bags. Moisture beaded on Martha’s forehead and under her armpits while her heart raced, fretting over another plastic bag that she used earlier for the morning’s cooled coffee grinds. That bag had found its way into the incinerator about an hour and fifteen minutes ago.

“Dear lord, I feel hot as a paved driveway laid out in the summer sun,” complained Martha.

 “Oh, please,” snapped Agnes, looking visibly sweaty and red of face.

Agnes turned away from her sister and winced as she rubbed the side of her face that housed her bad tooth.

“If we find your ticket, Agnes, you should have that tooth fixed.”

“Mind your business. You will never understand. You’ve never been married.”

Agnes knew she stung her sister with her comment, but offered no apology.

As the sisters continued their search, more and more plastic bags tumbled onto the floor, adding to the chaos. Then, finally exhausted and worn out, Agnes collapsed on her recliner in the living room. As she wiggled about in her seat to get comfortable, she heard a loud crackling sound and reached down into the crease. Not a moment later, Agnes pulled out the beige plastic shopping bag that she had tucked into the side of her cushion a few days before.

Inside the first beige plastic bag was yet another beige plastic shopping bag wrapped three times around the envelope holding Agnes’ paper lottery prize.

“I knew it!” exclaimed Agnes.

“What a relief,” Martha cried out as she plopped herself down onto the couch exhausted.

The two sisters looked around the living room and peered sheepishly into the dining room and kitchen, staring at what must have been at least a ninety-five plastic shopping bags strewn about the apartment.

“I’m a horrid witch of a sister,” said Agnes

“Maybe we should sell that hope chest of Mama’s,” suggested Martha, ignoring Agnes’ admission.

“You must hate me,” said Agnes, paying no mind to Martha’s suggestion.

“I bet we could get close to a thousand dollars for that cedar chest. That’s more than enough money to fix your tooth,” said Martha.

Agnes reached up, touched her throbbing jaw, and nodded, giving Martha a small smile.

Finally, after several minutes of silence, the sisters got up and began the task of folding and repacking Agnes’ perfectly fine used plastic bags into the hall closet and into the kitchen and dining room drawers, never speaking of Bob’s winning lottery ticket again. 

Bio: Margo Griffin has worked in public education for over thirty years and is the mother of two daughters and the best rescue dog ever, Harley. Her work has appeared in Maudlin House, Dillydoun Review, MER, HAD, and Roi Fainéant Press. You can find her on Twitter @67MGriffin

Matching Pets and Owners Since 1997

by Thomas Finnegan

“But what breed?”

“Well, let’s make a list. Of, you know, attributes that are important to us.”

“You mean, a list of ‘What are we like?’”

“Yeah. Isn’t that the sensible way to start looking? As opposed to letting some adorable secret-keeping monster with an abusive past steal our hearts?”

“Good point. OK: we are . . .”



“Loving. Affectionate.”


“Yeah. Move ‘intelligent’ to the top of the list.”

“Well . . . I’d rather keep ‘friendly’ at the top. . . .”

“All right.”

“Develops very strong connections.”


“Speak for yourself!”

“No, I just—I’m just trying to be honest.”

“OK. But how are we going to know how ‘opinionated’ some sweet bundle of—”

“Good point. Scratch ‘opinionated’.”

“Quiet nature.”

“Sure, but . . . let’s be honest. We tend to get a little noisy ourselves, don’t we?”

“Sometimes. Sure. We’re all like that.”

“So how about ‘quiet nature, but can be enchanting when noisy’?”


“And not malicious.”


“So, that’s a pretty good list.”

“Where do we start looking?”

“Should we just go to Persons ’R’ Us?”

“I hear the People Pound has a good selection. And they’re a nonprofit.”

“Um, I suppose this is a good time to bring it up. . . .”

“You’re going to ask if we—”

“Yeah. Listen, Han, are you sure you want a person? Not, say—”

“If you’re going to say ‘a bird’, then stop. We’re not getting another bird.”

“You’re right. That wasn’t a happy situation. My bad.”

“I mean, how can anyone expect to really communicate with a bird?!”


“Chong, stop that. You’re not always funny.”


“So. What kind do you think you want, this time?”

“Mmm, I’ve been thinking of getting a writer.”

“A writer. Now, that’s an idea. They’re pretty quiet by nature, although . . .”

“Well, even if they get noisy, it’s written words.”

“The neighbors would probably have no idea that we got a writer.”

“Yeah. But please, no more—”

“I know what you’re going to say—”

“That rugby player, that was the worst.”

“I know. But he was so cute!”

“OK. So, let’s go to the People Pound first.”

“Great. Get a leash.”

“Yeah, good idea; take our own.”

“I’ll go brush my hair, and I’ll be right back.”

“Aw, Han, can’t we just get going? That’s gonna take—”

“No it won’t.”

“It’s just that I want to get going.”

“Can I have my green leash, the one with the little brass bells?”

“Sure. And I suppose, to be safe, I should take a Depend or two along, right?”


“Don’t want a public spectacle, depending on what they fed him this morning.”

“Fed her.”

“Right. Anyway, good idea. Accidents can happen.”

“Oh, and Chong?”


“If they ask, on the form, don’t say we’re ‘Beijingese’. You’re not always funny.”

Thomas Finnegan received a B.A. in fiction writing from Sarah Lawrence College and was a freelance writer for ten years, including authoring the nonfiction Saving Union Station. His flash stories have appeared in Five South and THEMA.

A deer in the kitchen sink

by David J. Tate

It started when I thought I saw a muntjac deer in the kitchen sink.

Or maybe it was when I woke to witness a blank of nothingness instead of my bedroom.

The deer rapidly reformed into a purple tree stump.

Thinking back there have been strange events for some time.

Boris Johnson, smartly groomed, told the truth.

A pretty dark-haired lady was striding onto the train I was departing, and ten minutes later, as I arrived home by car, was casually walking past my house.

I was speaking on the phone to a work colleague based in India as he walked, floated, past my bedroom window.

The Ocado delivery driver was also the postman, my barber seemed to be serving in the local supermarket and my doctor was my dentist.

The moon disappeared for a few minutes and the sky turned into a momentary yellow throbbing fuzz.

My next-door neighbour’s dog became a cat for a day, and then reverted to its original canine identity as its owner meowed with relief.

I put this all down to tiredness, a lack of sleep, depression. Well, that’s what a giant rabbit suggested.

My girlfriend said I should see a doctor and then she disappeared to reappear the next day as an actor in Line of Duty.

My dentist told me I needed an operation, while my podiatrist advised new sunglasses.

The doctor told me that a scan had shown I have a brain tumour.

I have no recollection of having a scan.

David J. Tate lives in a small village in Hampshire, UK, and is a retired career civil servant. He has signed a contract for his first novel
, just finished a second, beginning a third, and writing short stories in between.