“Who’s that?” Barbara demanded when she arrived with the estate agent.
“This is my nephew Bobby,” Irene explained. “He’s visiting. He’s starting college soon.”
“Illustration,” Bobby volunteered.
“OK,” she said turning away.
Bobby took his pad and sketched the old woman’s fat lips, and hair like a giant meringue while she looked round.
“So how much?” she asked when they had finished.
“Asking price is two-fifty,” the estate agent said.
“Including the boy?”
“What Bobby?” Irene laughed. “I’m afraid he’s not for sale.”
“Why not?” Barbara retorted. “Three-hundred including the boy!”
“No way!” Bobby yelled as Irene came over.
“But Bobby,” she pleaded, “you can drive to college, you’ll have a nice home and you’ll save money.”
“I’m not living with some old woman,” he protested.
“Bobby, I’ve been trying to sell this place for months and your parents have worked so hard to put you through college. Now stop being selfish.”
Before he could answer, Irene returned to Barbara. “Yes, Bobby can stay,” she said.
“Good,” Barbara replied. “Let me see.”
“A fine young man,” Barbara declared as she looked Bobby up and down. “Do you smoke?”
“No,” said Bobby.
“Good. Do you drink?” she continued.
“Not… really,” Bobby replied.
“An invitation to lose your self control,” she proclaimed.
Bobby mouthed a desperate plea to Irene. “What’s that?” Barbara snapped.
“Nothing,” Bobby said.
“Let me see,” Barbara ordered, snatching Bobby’s pad. She stared down at her fat-lipped caricature.
“Bobby!” Irene exclaimed.
“Right let’s go,” Barbara said to the estate agent and headed towards the door.
“He’s a good kid really,” Irene begged as she pursued the prospective buyer down the path. “It’s a nice neighbourhood and very comfortable home.”
Barbara looked back at the house. “No, too stuffy,” she declared and climbed into the estate agent’s car.
by Lynda Kirby
Faces blinked at me from beneath the water. They lay on birds’ wings, as the crested heads readied to dive in different directions while I held my breath counting to two minutes and beyond, three, six, seven seconds.
The mass of faces separate, floating to leave a gap wide enough for my face. My head rested on its own nest, wing-feather brush strokes painted my skin in shades of blue, and brick red matching the throng surrounding me. With the mask in place, I gazed through the water at my reflection peering back at me. A demon chin, cat-shaped eyes, narrow face as sharp as a blade, an animal nose with flared nostrils, and ears flared for take-off.
Butterfly birds flashed wings of blue and red above the carnival parade while I jigged behind the Mardi Gras dancers breathing tainted air. Headdresses soared, and costumed masques cavorted through the narcisstic players. Sugar beads twirled and tumbled like hail for nimble feet to roll and ride. Or catch on wrists like chains. Masked Kings dressed as beggars, Queens as slaves, and monks as burglars, and I, the jester, bells on my hat jingling in counterpoint to the Dixieland jazz.
My colours didn’t fit, and the food truck toppled, spilling gumbo and tie-dye cake over me. I savoured the scents, licking sauce from my fingers. A river of beer rushed beside me, around me, and pushed me off my feet, swallowing me in its torrential path to somewhere. Yeasty foam rose to my nose and I stared at blue and red masks nestling on wing feathers.
by Kathryn Evans
Clear and cloudless, the sky is orange as a dream. She hears a tawny owl hooting dementedly in nearby trees before it flies off to Norway. The sun rises and sets every five minutes. Her telescope is pointing out into the vastness of space through a south-facing living room window. Tonight is the night she intends to see Jupiter’s moons for the first time.
The stars count out loud as they rotate. From the corner of her eye, she sees the walls moving backwards and forwards: she must remember to feed them. As she sweeps the viewfinder across the sky, in it she spots a woman as old as the universe itself waving to her. Get out of the way! Can’t you see what I’m trying to do?
Orion and Cassiopeia have swapped places, but then it is a Tuesday. A multicoloured, winged horse flies by. Jupiter is easily visible tonight, shimmering bright pink like candyfloss and ideally placed some distance above the horizon. A meteor whizzes by, before changing direction and going off at a tangent. The pavement looks so close she could almost touch it. Strange when she’s living in a tenth floor flat …
Success! She identifies four and a half moons. She goes to tell her dad, but he’s swimming in the bath and doesn’t want to be disturbed. The Galileo thermometer gives a reading of ten below absolute zero.
Upon dismantling her telescope, she notices that the living room pictures are hanging upside down and the coffee table has made friends with the ceiling. ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ is playing on repeat.
Next day, she learns that Saturn’s rings have disappeared without a clue. She can’t help noticing that her tobacco flower candle smells of bacon: must get a refund.
You Call It Coffee
by Kelly Griffiths
I don’t get it. You never took the covers before. You never minded about my snoring, about my restless leg. I peek at you with one eye. Your long hair fans out against my pillow. Your perfumed shampoo is like claws in my nostrils. Do I complain? No.
“Out!” You give me the shout-and-shove. “Your breath stinks,” you say. This is how our mornings go. I don’t usually swear, but you’re a… B. Not the kind that stings, either. Who’s the one who always apologizes first? Me. Who initiates the snuggling? Me. Who licks you, head to toe? And not once have you licked me back. Not once.
I suddenly feel like a shag carpet. Like I’m your carpet and I put up with your shh—nanegans.
Even though I’m mad, I won’t use fowl language. I’m no parakeet.
I do everything for you. You throw the ball. I fetch it. You throw it. I—aha! Almost got sidetracked.
Did it ever occur to you, I’d like to throw the ball for once? That I’d like the whole bed to myself? I’ve got half a nerve to thrust my back legs into your doughy flesh and launch you onto the floor. And your landing wouldn’t be nimble, like mine.
Next time you bark at me and shove me to the floor, I just may take a chomp out of that leg bone of yours. I’ve been asking for a new bone for what—a month? I could linger on a femur for days, months, even. I could let myself out through the doggie door, drink from the goldfish pond.
I’d be my own best friend.
I could snap at that jugular and tear it like tissue before you take your first sip of malodorous crud you call coffee.
by Camilla Johansson
The man stumbles down the street leaning forward, legs strutting somehow behind him as if belonging to someone else. Slippers on his feet, a white trench coat not washed this millennium. On his head a plaid cap did its own dance, threatening to fall off.
‘Beware of the faces! Beware of the faces! The demons are coming to get you!’ His wild-eyed screams make the bystanders, the strollers and commuters waiting for their ride look away, pretending they are somewhere else.
Discouraged by nothing, he moves closer to a young woman refusing to lift her gaze from the screen on her smart-phone. Her nostrils flares from his stink.
‘The number!’ he shouts straight into her face, making her back off until wall halts her escape. ‘Have you seen the number? Have you seen the face of the number? The number of the face?!’ He twirls around, trench coat flapping around him like dirty wings, making him look like a demented, malnourished, bird.
‘Numbers! Numbers! Numbers and faces! Beware of the faces!’
As he flaps on down the street, people come out from the porches, nooks and crannies of the buildings where they have been hiding from his message and his stench.
They all see him as he stops at the crossing. Seemingly fighting something, he screams in agony. Rolls around on the ground, convulsing. And then they come.
Last Day at the Beach
by Pattyann McCarthy
Our cabana-striped blanket stretches over the empty beach, pinned at the corners with sandals, a cooler holds sandwiches, and Harry the horrible husband’s on my left. He looks like a broiled beached whale lying on his bloated gut, blubber bulging over his too-tight Speedo, snoring. He releases a long fart; my face contorts with disgust. What was I thinking marrying him? Truth is I wasn’t; he scores great drugs, but still, I detest him.
Trying to ignore him, my attention turns to the seagulls flocked down the beach hunting for food and I take another hit of acid. It helps me forget. Reclining on my elbows my face to the sun, hot winds caress my sun-drenched skin and a smile creases my hardened face. I relax watching puffy cotton leisurely sail across an azure sky. The tide’s gently rolling when Harry does what Harry does and emits a windy fart. I need to walk, to be far from him, to be rid of him. I can’t take anymore! The screeching gulls draw my attention again. They deform into hundreds of little monsters, their beaks transmute into long fangs. I see their shiny, black beads watching us. They scream.
From this distance, Harry’s a tiny moving slug. I shield my eyes from the sun to watch, but I’m too far away to see what’s happening. My tummy gurgles and I realize I should’ve eaten some of my sandwich, but I needed to save it for him. Hurrying back to Harry the wind is screaming, or is it . . .
Harry’s not moving and the gulls flew off. The sand’s spattered red around his eyeless body. Tiny holes leaking red cover his flesh and it reminds me of an impressionistic painting. It’s beautiful! Wait. Was that the wind, or a fart?
Clouds love monster jazz
by Richard Kemp
The monster let the last note from his trumpet ring out and took a bow. His audience of clouds drifted, slow as rock. He used to live under the carpet with the crumbs and other specks of history.
‘You play very well,’ said the clouds.
‘Thank you, clouds,’ said the monster, ‘I am self-taught.’ He rubbed the brass with a handkerchief. ‘I found this trumpet under a tree. They chopped down the tree, but I kept the trumpet.’
He put it to his lips and played. The clouds, bloated and dark, applauded. Light and noise filled the air and the monster felt rain on his face. He played all the notes he knew and when he finished he smiled at the sky, his large teeth a mess of angles, corners, and edges.
The clouds said sad goodbyes. They still had a long way to go and many shapes to make.
by Matt Bourn
The old man lifted the remains of a heavy looking cake from the tin which, on closer inspection, Richard realised was the final hours of a wall clock. What was left of its mechanical insides were exposed and still ticking.
His host cut two slices from between the hours of ten and eleven, the gleaming knife avoiding the stuttering minute hand. As he laid the servings on the plates, the shuttered room filled with smells of thick smoke and exploded dirt.
Richard wavered, before taking his plate. “I’m not here for you to explain why you did what you did. I’m here to say hello. There’s a family on the other side of the world who’d like to know you.” He paused. “If you want to.”
The man chewed methodically on a mouthful of the timepiece and washed it down with hot tea. “We took a beating in Italy. I was graded D3 and, once I’d recovered, they sent me home to England, nerves shot. I tried to make it work. Your…” he struggled with a word, “…she fell pregnant. I ran. I’m not proud of that.” He closed his eyes. “I went back to Italy for the clock by my sick-bed. Then I came here.” He gestured to the room they were in. “Brisbane, Australia.”
The gilt edge of Richard’s portion shimmered. “You don’t have to explain why you ran away to me.”
“I do,” came the reply.
Richard glanced at the clock. There wasn’t much of it left. He lifted his slice of time and took a bite. His teeth splintered but he forced himself to grind on until it was a gritty paste on his tongue.
He sluiced tea round his mouth and swallowed.
“Can I call you granddad?”
by M.P. McCune
The Fun House ticket came with a free psychedelic colored lollipop that looked like a leftover from the sixties. Trixie had never tasted anything like it. She and her school friends walked inside, giggling.
Multi-colored strobe lights swept over them as they entered. One caught Trixie in its grasp, freezing her in place for a moment. “Look, I’m purple!” Trixie screamed, as it released her. She was a little puzzled when the color stayed after the light left, but a lick of the lollipop removed her doubts.
In the mirror room, Trixie’s head morphed into a triangle and she sprouted a tail and wings. “Check this out!” she shouted. The others laughed. Funny how she looked the same in the mirror as out of it. Trixie wondered how the Fun House did it, but lost her curiosity after another lick of the lollipop.
The next room was circular. Lollipops in their mouths, Trixie and her friends crawled to the center. She could move much faster on all fours, but it was hard to keep track of her tail. She kept hitting people in the face with it.
The floor started to spin, hurling her into the others. Wait, were they the others? Everyone looked alike.
The last door opened onto a slide. They all landed in a writhing heap at the bottom, heads struggling to surface from the pile.
A bright exit sign glowed above a window set high in the wall, completely out of reach. Trixie sucked on the lollipop thoughtfully. “Wait!” she called out. “I’ve got wings!” After a few false starts, she flapped her way out of the opening.
Her parents stood below, waiting as they’d promised. Why were they screaming? She opened her mouth to ask, but only flames came out.
Out of the ordinary
by Cath Barton
It was an ordinary room. The only odd thing was the gaping hole in the floor. Marg stood in the doorway hesitating, torn between a powerful desire to turn round and leave the house for ever and the knowledge that if she did so she would never meet him again.
She clenched and unclenched her hands, then, without consciously deciding to do so, walked forward. The hole closed as she did so, smooth edges sliding together into a join so perfect that no-one would have known that this was ever other than an ordinary floor in an ordinary room. Marg stepped into the centre of the room and waited for the transformation which she had seen in others.
The floor stayed solid, failed to swallow her. But something changed. The atmosphere of the room became thin and clouds appeared, at first small and fluffy but spreading and joining up until Marg was enveloped and could no longer see that she was in a room at all.
Feeling a familiar weight, she looked down and found she was now wearing the old tweed overcoat, the one thing she still had of her father, her cwtch for hard times. It was icy-cold in the cloud; she pulled up the collar, snuggled into the tobacco-infused rough weave of the coat and conjured him back from the au-delà. He took her hand in his, ever-gentle, and they walked together as they had always done at times like this. She breathed out, a long breath of relief, knowing that everything would be all right now. And then she let him go.
The cloud cleared, as clouds do, and a small patch of sunlight appeared in the room. Marg breathed it in. She was, once more, just herself, in her own clothes, in an ordinary room.
Like Flies, Like Lights
by Julie White
This dark has bats.
We can hear them squeaking overhead in a thousand little voices.
You say: Let’s take another path.
Stalactites above and stalagmites below, cradling us like teeth. Our breaths crystallize and freeze in bright baubles that shatter on the rocks.
You say: I’m bored. Aren’t you bored?
The truth is, I’m tired. I keep thinking about the kids. The way they emerged out of rock and shadow and blinked owlishly at our approach.
Our flashlights died days ago, they said. We ate the batteries.
Their voices were the cheeping of baby birds.
You gave them your last water bottle and some of the dehydrated lizards we found and sent them down another tunnel.
They need to find their great adventure, you said.
Listen to me, friend. Don’t go down that way. I see the way your body, a network of hypertension and spent muscle, yearns in that direction, and I’m telling you we are going straight. Straight on and on—no shortcuts, or winding paths, or crawlways leading to screams or distant underground glows. I clutch at your hand, our gloves slide together like shirring skin, and you release an exasperated huff of breath and you are gone.
All around me a playground of sounds. It rings like suppressed laughter in mausoleums, like bouts of applause, like flies swarming a corpse in summer.
I don’t see them yet, just my breath freezing into little balls that drop in the stuttering glow of the flashlight.
It’s lighter now, and more navigable. My hand crawls over the flashlight like a fly. The fly turns off the light.
The sounds grow louder.
I don’t see them yet. But when I do, I know they will appear before me like a crowd of familiar faces.
Mother Of The Year
by Chloe Gilholy
“Harry…” Annie Cross whispers, throwing the bouquet on her husband’s grave. “I hope you can forgive me for what I did to our little Romeo.”
She remembers it. She can still visualise the blood in the bathroom – the same blood that stains her blue dress. The torch is her only light in the cemetery but she knows the route to her husband’s grave like the back of her hand.
Slaying her son, the last link to her husband makes her realise that she’s not the holy matron she claims to be. She dedicates her life to church and her Harry served for Queen and country and returned from Iraq in a casket.
“I know me and Romeo always argued, but I didn’t mean to kill him. The devil possessed me!”
She sobs and throws cuddles the tombstone. Their only child’s body lies deep within the earth’s ground. As any sinner, she knows she must pray for forgiveness. She knows she has no place in heaven now, but she still wishes to be a servant of God, the institution that comforts her. She takes a box from out of her pocket. It’s one she found in Romeo’s draw. She opens the box with shaky hands. Her breaths are rapid the moment she sees what’s in it – a ring – an engagement ring.
In her other pocket there’s a letter addressed to Annie. It’s not meant to be opened until Mothering Sunday. “Its ages away,” she hisses to herself. She opens it anyway. It’s what she expects – a card for mothering Sunday. Anna picks up the piece of paper that slips out of the card. A close inspection makes her stomach churn.
Baby scan: its triplets.
She breaks down. Annie’s grandchildren will never meet their father – and it’s all her fault.
by Kris McGinnis
Shocked was I, as all things said; to find it crouched on the corner of my bed. A defence of befriendment, with false happiness and friendly quotes, won’t save me, as its pale lime skin stretches and cracks to present a mocking grin of gnarled, decayed teeth. But thinking of one saving grace; the pessimist in me knows that all things fail in joyous times. However, scared to move, frozen in fear; I’ve come to realize the purpose of his joyous time.
Playfully excreting acrid prose, he recounts me stories of all things Evil. This smiling, laughing Little Reaper. Crimson splattered hood and eroded scythe won’t cut me down; I’ve survived the night terrors of under the bed monsters and clowns. But I battle alone in this pasty room, with hues of yellow and green; withstanding macabre visions of what’s come before and what’s still to be seen.
And then he’s gone!
Leaving only figments in the phosphenes of closed eyes, I deliberate. Confined with self thought in this garish, ominous space; it dawns on me that I never truly met him face to face. Awash with disorientation, I go searching for the truth. Never seeing, never hearing; what was once said is disbelieving.
But he lurks on the peripheral of conscious moments. Is it because he can tell, that from the darkness we both first fell? He’s always grinning, always laughing; but always just outwith my range.
Whispering that every night, I’ll dream a dream of all things strange.
Means of Notice
by Emily Harrison
It was only when Sally broke her right arm. And left leg. That anyone took notice of her. Life usually gets harder after such a horrific incident. For Sally, it truly began.
Up until then, she was non-existent. It was only when her bone fractured in two places, radius and ulna snapped, tibia taking a short but sharp trip straight into her fibula, that the town stood to attention. It would be hard to miss, trussed up in two lime green casts. Arm and leg set ridged. Body carried in a mobile scooter.
No one quite knew how Sally had come to break her bones. The incident, or perhaps, incidents, were an unknown quantity. Whilst everyone took notice of Sally, and paid her more mind, they didn’t do it out of kindness. More out of intrigue. Curiosity.
As an A&E receptionist, it was also quite comical. To everyone else that is. And where patients, or soon to be patients, regularly gifted Sally the brunt of their frustrations regarding the health care system, with her broken bones, they gave her more consideration. More of a “You look like you belong here,” and less of a “five fucking hours, fuck sake.”
When the end of her recovery period came calling, seven weeks, “five fucking hours” made a swift return. So did the sense of utter transparency to the outer world. No longer a spectacle.
Sally decided to break her arm and leg. Again.
Bone still soft. It only took the fell swoop of a claw hammer to knock them out of place.
The recovery period was longer the second time. Nine weeks of existence. Until the tenth week hit.
Sally decided to break her arm and leg. Again.
Eleven weeks. Again.
And then again. And again. And again.
by Richard A. Shury
The sky is pink, and then, as I approach the station, alien purple. This is not my home, this is a child’s attempt to recreate it. I walk along the platform, as a fat, wet slug grinds its way along the tracks. There are no doors, but I am inside, reclining in a bolt chair, an oxygen mask glued over my mouth and nose. The air it pumps through is sweet, and cool.
Across from me, a man grins. He wears a hat with dangling corks; he reaches up, plucks a cork, and pops it into his mouth like a marshmallow. He offers me one, but I am wearing the mask. The heat of the inside stings my skin, and as the slug begins to move, it only gets hotter. Looking around me, the other passengers seem unconcerned. I notice they all have tiny slugs attached to the back of their necks. Mr Hat grins at me, pulls off a cork, and as he holds it up, it begins to wriggle between his fingers.
I pull off the mask and my lungs burn; I forget to scream. I imagine I am outside and then I am, standing on the station, shivering as the sweat on my body turns cold. In the sky, a whirlpool spins, ferocious, white but flecked with silver. I pull down a tree branch ad launch myself into the air, arms flailing, breakneck speed. I reach for the moon to slow my progress, vault around her, and dive headfirst into the maelstrom, no splash.
The colours cover me as I slide through, and soon I am slick silver, speeding along a tunnel. The sense of movement is gone, and I am drifting. Then I see it. At the end of the tunnel: darkness.
by Donna L Greenwood
The Walrus is snuffling in my ear and I am freaking out. I need to get out of here. I want to lift my prone body off the bed and make like a tree and leave. Except the goddamned cobwebs are twisting spinny-like around my ankles and my arms appear to have turned into mangos. No, not mangos – I’m not insane – pineapples. The Walrus is trying to speak to me; its words are fluttering in the air around my head. I lift my pineapple arm and grasp one. With a quick snip-snap, I gobble it up and then instantly regret my foolish spontaneity. It was a lie and lies taste like metal and shit. Why would the Walrus lie to me? I vomit up the lie and it slithers under the bed.
The Walrus looks suitably ashamed and pulls a string of shiny truths from its gaping maw. The brightness of these little truth jewels blinds me for a moment. And then I see. The jewels are angels and they fly around, luminous in this liminal world of bedtime talk. But these angels of the Walrus have teeth and they fly into my face and nibble at my eyes and ears. Their teeth are small but they draw blood. I flap them away with my clunky fruits which are useless against the angels’ sprite-like agility. Their gnawing is unbearable and I plead with the Walrus to stop. It relents and the bedroom darkens as it eats up its sheeny-shiny angels one by one.
I turn my back on the Walrus and reach under the bed. I grab the lie and swallow it whole. It doesn’t taste too bad second time around.
by Louise James
“I did it!” I breathed, hardly believing my own genius. I need to test it, where’s my lazy dog when I need him.
“Monty, come here” in plodded my 10-year-old slightly obese beagle.
Not wasting a second, I place the blue collar around his neck. Staring at him closely I ask him.
“Monty can you understand me?”
holding my breath, watching him intensely.
He slowly wags his tail but there’s no response.
“Damnit” I was sure I had done it that time, maybe if I move the translator to the left a little, replace the red wire….
Startled by a different voice in the room I turn, looking for the source. No one here, just me and Monty. I gaze down at him, “was that you?”
“Who else would it be?”
I stumble back, landing on the floor in shock.
“This is what you wanted, wasn’t it?” Monty stands, plodding towards me.
“umm yes, of course this is what I have spent the last 5 years trying to achieve. I just can’t believe I have done it.”
“Well I wouldn’t be to please if I was you, as no one will ever believe you.” Monty was standing over me heavily panting.
“What do you mean? Do you not want to talk to?” I ask him confused, surely this is every dog’s dream as well as pet owners. “You get to talk back to your best friend, me.” I say happily.
“After all the times you forgot to walk me, called me fat and even that weekend you placed beer bottles on my back. I have been waiting to tell you that we are not friends, you have no friends and now that you have figured out how to communicate with the canine species you have to be put down”.
Crumpled Common Psychedelia Fest, 2020.
by Steve Lodge
Crumpled Common & Stormwatch Gazette.
Stop Press Late Edition.
- July is about to ride into town, bringing with it the annual Crumpled Common Psychedelia Festival. Organisers were put in a spin by the loss of 3 top bands, Marching Black Headphone, Demon Kra and Will Thundersley’s Lockjaw Band all of whom are touring the US or in prison, but there will still be top performers on stage and some new local bands to enjoy.
Regular performer, Rocky Crossing, won’t be there, though. A rehab setback has left Rocky unwell for some time with Savage Torso Poisoning. So… who will perform the traditional festival opener, psychedelic classic, “Scandelay” a song written by Rocky and Isaac Rooster many celestial moons ago, but to this day can still bring on bouts of owl screeching and wind? Watch this space.
Other bands eagerly anticipated this year are Shitpotpoon, Crikey O’Rylingtonstein The Berbooboo, Nomads Of The Sunset (including incredible saxophonist, Wynton Dale) and Barefoot Tacos In September. Errol Carroll and his band, Space Art will also be there with those legendary songstresses, The Nymphettes Of Time, Edna Cartilage and Shirley Control.
- The Town Council has invested in event-friendly catering and toilet facilities out on the Common. It is hoped this initiative will help avoid a repeat of last years’ problems of people contracting Trenchfoot and other diseases not known around these parts since World War One.
- The weather report suggests visitors to our region bring warm clothing and/or a tent.
- An apology.
Several keen-eyed readers wrote in about Madame Dennis St Dennis Astrological Charts. Madame St Dennis writes “Apologies to those who read my Scorpio prediction last week. There was a typo. It should have read “You will enjoy the most fantastic luck,” and not what was printed.
by Niles Reddick
The boy refused to get in the car and go to kindergarten because he had an erection and it stuck out and could be seen in his khakis.
His mother said it would be fine and said they needed to get going, that maybe it would go away before they got there, but he didn’t believe her and thought he needed to go to the hospital. He’d had them his whole life up to kindergarten, but he’d never noticed it before.
She didn’t know what to say to him, but she found it humorous, and he didn’t appreciate her giggles. He could be dying. It could be coming off and then he didn’t know how he would go to the restroom.
“Come on and I’ll take you to see your dad at work,” she said. “He’ll tell you what to do since he has one.”
With that, the boy jumped into the Oldsmobile 98, being careful not to bump it on the Batman lunchbox.
The father was surprised to see the car pull up to the office and came outside. “What’s wrong?”
“This,” Charlie said, pointing. “It won’t go down and everyone will make fun of me.”
“Just push it to the other side,” the dad reassured.
Charlie did, and immediately, the father’s prediction came true. “Thanks, Dad.”
“Sure thing,” said the father, patting him on the head and smiling at the mother.
Charlie was tardy for kindergarten, but the teacher ask why.
Tree on the Shore
by Carlos Perona
In youth I watched as the mistress of prophecy came to lie on her Caesar’s chest, twirling yet in her repose. Where he was noble, she was generous. Where he was serene, she was pious. Where he was aware, she was alive. Still, each was both in each embrace.
She roused us castaways and seekers into cool morning and recounted Genesis:
Before the advent of history, the first man and woman wandered the wastes and found themselves an oasis, but that shelter’s guardian soon appeared, speaking thus: “You may have your respite here, only on condition that you neither take nor leave anything.” But it was permitted unto them to rearrange the elements within, so they planted a tree and saw it grow and give them new shade, and in that shade, the same Divine power that had unfurled root from seed and branch from trunk grew new life from both in her. Eventually they stirred, but the guard blocked them: “You are as you were, and weigh the same you weighed when you arrived, yet store what’s mine inside that child. You may leave, but the third cannot.” “But,” responded the first man, “We may not leave anything behind.” “You grew the child from this fruit, its flesh is flesh of the oasis.” “Yet his eyes are akin to his mother’s, his nose it is as mine. You speak of substance, the form is of us.”
Maps in Black Iron
by Peter Haynes
You who seek those certain paths are blessed with the gift of the sight beneath. You are likely to possess specific methods of examination, including but not limited to: mediation of spirits, calling into question the shape of things others claim are immutable, revealing that hands thought empty in fact hold tools of great power. You may feel you have an affinity with the departed. You are as like to believe a falsehood for the truths it might contain as to accept a truth you believe is built upon lies. You are suspicious of wealth. You are uncomfortable with praise. You know in which way to tweak the productive habits of others to permit yet further flourishing. Evidence of new voices will be heard in the boiling of a kettle, the grinding brake of a sleeper train, a strong south-westerly. You occasionally demonstrate great zeal in the study of objects. Your handwriting emerges in a compact, energetic manner. You are capable of abandonment and mutiny. You are drawn to situations of empty opulence. Through a handshake you are wont to know the petty diasporas of the other’s mind. You can be brave, yet you know it is better to first send some mad saint to navigate the path and all its dangers yet unknown; you shall follow on in caution and become the accepted pioneer of the new. If you believe yourself equal to a task then you surely are, and most likely have been for a good while before. Sometimes you will paint your face with ash. Your lucky numbers are seventeen and another of your own choosing.
by Emily Brickey
The man in the grey suit frowned, his eyes wandering over the decaying figure before him. Clumps of rubbery blood churned through its shockingly visible veins. The body twitched as it decomposed.
She closed her hand around an itch she did not feel on her palm, leaving soft dents where her fingers touched. She had been beautiful once, six hours ago. Loretta. Now, grey clumps of hair coarse like wire rubbed out of her head as she twitched under metal restraints, her ghostly, yellow eyes rolled in her head. Ice coursed through her veins.
Behind him on a counter, a plastic container sat under a heat lamp. Inside, fat, pale maggots crawled over each other. He reached for it and brought it to the table, unscrewed the top, and held it above its eyes, watching its response.
Loretta couldn’t speak, she stared helplessly at the maggots above her face. She thrashed, more hair pulled free of her scalp. Her eyes searched the man’s face desperately.
Its eyes met his. Disgusting. His resolve hardened. He released the maggots.
The maggots wriggled in place for some seconds. Then started burrowing. Crawling into the flesh of her cheeks, nostrils, the corners of her mouth. They reached her eyes. She felt no pain—her body was beyond that—but felt the grey suited man’s apathy keenly. She thrashed again, harder this time, as tears rolled from her eyes. She pounded her head against the table, a dent started forming on the back of her head. She pounded and pounded until the thin flesh of her scalp split open and chunks oozed out around her.
The man shouted, reaching forward to restrain it, then pulling back before he touched it. A foul stench flooded his nostrils. It finally went still.
The Dream Usually Ends When You Die
by Ryan Yarber
Night is often crime’s best ally, and crowds its nemesis, but that depends on the crime. Matt had been walking across Grand Avenue when he felt the metal slide between his ribs. The culprit lost quickly in the crowd. He found the nearest medical station damaged. Out of service. He decided the quicker he got home the safer he would be.
Against his own logic, he decided to risk the alleyways. His apartment was four blocks away and he could shave off crucial seconds. He ran holding his side. His sweater already heavy with his blood. He caught site of his attacker after the third block. It was too quick to make out. Adrenaline pumped through him, tightening his chest, and overriding the pain. He ran hard. The thing behind him was faster. It overcame him as he broke out onto 63rd Street near the shopping district. He fell to the ground amidst the crowds. The thing flipped him onto his back. Time held still long enough for him to see the nightmare. Four thick, long arms held him down. An ever-moving tangle of corded hair hid the creature’s face. Every inch of it was made of shadow. Its edges blurry, but he felt its teeth bite into him.
Not one of the hundreds of people walking by looked at him. Everyone walked around him. Their paths grew wider as his blood filled the street.
The beast looked up suddenly, frightened. It bit down one last time, severing the bottom half of his body, then took off with its prize. Matt called for help, but no one stopped. He began to crawl, leaving a thick trail of blood. He crawled all the way to his apartment on the fifth floor. The whole time he kept wondering why he wouldn’t die.
by Mark Carew
The house was new, the rooms bare, the garden beautiful in the Hollywood Hills. His wife was in the kitchen filling up the cupboards with groceries. The kids were playing outside in the yard. Hollywood paid well when they loved you, and Tinsel Town loved AJ Kay, emergency scriptwriter. Got a movie where the plot drags like maple syrup; call AJ. He’ll give you fast paced dialogue, a laugh-a-minute dynamic, and an empowering mix of happy and sad.
AJ took a pill. This was moving-in day but he still had work to do. The house was three floors, and with spacious grounds. Hollywood scriptwriter, he puffed. All down to his method, learnt from the ancients.
The colours of the walls grew brighter: red-hot, white-hot. AJ settled down on a wooden crate in the middle of a room. He looked out of the window into the rose garden. There was a door in the wall.
The room lost the usual rectangular dimensions and angles that rooms are known for. AJ remained sitting. The roses bloomed the exact shade of tangelos; their leaves the dark green of Sacramento State.
A red goblin chased a green goblin through the blooms. A white dragon-bird flew by several times. A green goat kid chased a red goat kid. Eighteen white dragon-birds appeared from out of the center of the roses and flew off on triangular vectors.
In the new script he was working on, the white dragon-bird would hide in the forest in the middle of one special flower. A young shepherdess girl would find the flower, and bird, and this would unite the warring tribes of goblins.
His wife entered the room, carrying a catalog showing curtains and drapes to buy. He pointed to the longest, darkest set of drapes.
by Barbara Jones
You will close your eyes
You will count backwards from 100
Your eyelids are heavy.
My eyelids are heavy. They are heavy and sticky. Someone’s put honey on them. It was Winnie, though maybe not Winnie, he was stuck. I am stuck. I am sitting on a couch with no legs.
We are floating, we are floating on oily water. It is thick water and I can’t see through it. And the neighbour is here, but he has no eyes, his eyes have melted. They’re dripping on his chin. He deserves it, he’s an asshole.
One of the couch legs is in my pocket. I haven’t got an erection. It’s a couch leg. Or maybe not. I don’t like floating on this syrupy water.
I want to get out of here. But Winnie can’t save me and my eyes are stuck. There is luminescent death behind them, they need to open before death comes. Open open open. But Winnie can’t save me.
The neighbour is gone, there is a trail of slime to the garden. The neighbour is a slimy weasel.
I want to open my eyes before a peacock pecks them. Peacock pecking. Pecking peacock. Let me out. Let me out of me. I want to open my eyes.
You will now open your eyes.
Who are you? Are you a peacock?
THE DARK SIDE OF THE EARTH
by Irene Montaner
Mr Smith’s juvenile talk contrasted with his aged body.
Once a renown physicist and a perennial candidate for the Nobel prize, he now styled himself as the prophet of the truth and wasted his money and time organising lavish events. Much like this one.
Time for Q&A; I raised my hand. “Assuming everything you say it’s true, what’s on the other side of the Earth?”
“Nothing,” answered Mr Smith. He smirked, “and everything.”
I needed alcohol to decide whether this Flat Earth thing was the biggest scam in the history of mankind or the most cynical pastime of a bunch of rich lunatics. As I ordered a G&T someone tapped me over the shoulder. It was Mr Smith himself.
“You’re a journalist, aren’t you?” he asked and I nodded. “Would you have a minute for this old man?”
He walked me to the weirdest room I had ever seen. Much like one of those impossible paintings by Escher, the many mirrored walls reflected dozens of stairs going up and down. I soon realised there were only two staircases: one going up and one down, the two of them converging in the middle of the room.
Mr Smith gestured me to follow him downstairs. After a couple of steps the world flipped over. We were no longer going down but coming up, into a room just like the one we had left behind.
“Welcome to the dark side of the Earth,” said Mr Smith. “You may explore it but take care not to run into your other self.”
I hesitated. Should I? Shouldn’t I?
It didn’t matter. No matter what I saw outside this room and what I told people about it, no one would believe me. Suddenly, believing the Earth was round seemed like the easy option.
by Valerie Moyses
“I say, I do like that new leg you’re growing! Really useful for cliff-climbing!”
“Well, yes, maybe, but I can’t balance on my surfboard any more. I’d much rather have a new arm, like you. Far more useful!”
“Yes, I must admit, I always used to think all mothers should have more arms than babies. Do you think I might grow a fourth, to deal with my triplets? But I dare say nobody is going to end up with 6 limbs, or else we might as well grow wings!”
“No, no chance of flying. We’re too heavy. Or else we’d have to grow chest muscles like tungsten wire.”
“So, no 6-limbed humans then?”
“Oh, well, not necessarily. Yesterday I met a man who is growing two new legs, both at the same time. He looks as if he’s going to be a centaur, but he’s none too pleased with the idea. He may have some trouble learning to walk, having to coordinate all those legs, but anyway, he hasn’t got any clothes to wear, and he can’t face going to work naked.”
“Oh. Tell him not to worry. With this extra arm I can easily whip up a pair of double-dungarees for him. Just get his measurements for me, and ask him if he wants zips or buttons.”
by Ronnie Walter
As the tired old man rode on, the highwaymen behind him went either unnoticed or unheeded. Until they struck. “Your money or your life!” one said, his sword out as the other stayed back with a bow. Calmly, the old man smiled and said “Ah, but I could be odin. Do you truly wish to find out?” the second thief considered the old mans eye patch, paused, then ran. “Coward.” sneered the first thief. “But stories don’t scare me. Your money or your life!” “if you run now you need not die”said the man. “I do dislike killing.” the thief laughed. You couldn’t hurt me old man! Enough stories!” he said, and made his demand for the third and final time: “your money or your life!” ”The old man sighed, then his hand snaked out, grabbed his gun and shot the thief three times in the chest. “Some stories” he said. “Exist for a reason.”
There would be warmth
by Desmond White
Now the mediæval men knew a thing about doomsday. They scribbled its steps in codices long-brown, although none of them were excited about cityside basilisks and resurrected gods, content with pulling gold from menstrual blood. Not me. All my years I burned to clear the crust of life from this planet. (Humans, dogs, the yellow cities, trees, all that color.) So I studied the works recounting the Vulcani, those lizards that grow in fire like fishes in water, what some call salamanders. If you grow them big enough they’ll survive outside their element—bigger and they’ll turn the elements into char.
I get a fire going until the flicker-roots are blue and the smoke thick enough to climb, then I step between logs glimmering like sticks in a stomach. The lizards see me and run and die in the cold, so maybe, I think, I must accustom the new hatches to my scent. The eggs are easy. I find a clump of black logs glowing with a thousand eyes and there I find them, small, angry. I raise one to see if the fetus is kicking in the ash, but I take the egg too close to the air element, or maybe wind blows out of jealousy, and the egg turns to coal in my boiled fingers. The fire is kind enough to lift my tears. The next egg I push down my throat, placing it by the heat of my liver, wrapped motherly in blood-web, and now I’m running out the tipi, running for the lake to wash the blackened scale of my skin, to feel the living stone inside my belly, to finish what the mystics never started.
by E. F. S. Byrne
Frog spawn. I watch them in the puddle at end end of my garden, hidden behind stray leaves, raw grass, immature daffodils. They bundle and puddle and look almost happy in their bundled cages.
He promised he’d plough. We tried hard to cultivate.
“He’s a waster.”
“Are you serious?”
“I’m not ready just now.”
Red faced confusion. “You’re not ready? He’s a drunkard!”
Husbands, infants: they left, one by one. Too much responsibility, I farmed it out until it evaporated into the ether.
“But you have to keep trying. “
IVF, tests, formulas, witchcraft: I refused. We struggled on and when it didn’t work I tried again, with somebody different. And again.
Pregnant. Another father.
Another absence. I’ll design the plot, shape the tombstone correctly.
Birds sing overhead as if nothing is happening. I wonder if it will be a boy or a girl as I carve the date into the limestone cross. Finish that name and I’m finished. Enough for today. Shouldn’t stress myself just in case: has never worked before, but nothing wrong in laying back and hoping for the best.
Every cross a memory, a failure to carry, a carriage to the bottom of my garden where I seem to do nothing but chisel away my life, in the name of others that fail to arrive.
They say I’m infertile. I don’t know why. All they have to do is look at my garden and see the seeds I’ve been planting all my life.
by Patton Hunnicutt
A palette of hearts glimmers in-sight, and the blonde vixen clutches her grey-
haired jubilee so tight. That waterfall of flax hides a little smirk for she sees the heart of
her wife in red. That one with the sunglasses in this dark sits on mulberry blankets, feels
the freedom of this ledge, and completes an everylasting pair.
The greatest joy of her life looks through glass when out there are colored atria
pumping changed plasma. Here is orange of explosive joy. There is sunshine never coy.
Turning that glass to shamrock at peace with itself; Discovering there hangs the
cobalt of such awful dread. Violet pangs with unrequited love, and indigo hurts in lovers
gone. Black comes for unearned pain, and chocolate brown speaks to richness of the
She must turn to find so many more, and here is a terrifying mixture slated for
killing love. Aquamarine feigns a heart of harmony, but green of pine needles pretends
where melancholy bleeds. Mocha so smooth mixes with bumblebees and honey
spreading kindness that swoons. Violet collides with yellow to feel a few seconds of
Scarlet sings with marigolds in that proposal accepted; Dandelions joins with
pears in chartreuse of relationships repaired. Glancing back to that red of her wife’s aura
brings such enviable joy, and there is white in the seeing eye. Every emotion absorbs, and
multitudes settle in the light. They must reflect on those hearts in choosing new colors
from the palette.
Coal simmers to azure, but crimson falls on leaves so sweet. Fire gives way to
Tuscan sun worn so well; blue finds red to blend purple resurrecting adoration long
Pulled away from the glass she addresses her bride, “be still our souls,” she gasps,
“always your heart is the brightest.”