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Priorities
Gary Clifton

     Neighbors called it in. The kid from the neglected frame shack at the end of the lane didn't attend school. Debris and beer cans littered the weed clogged yard. Cops responded, then called Child Protective Services.
      CPS came out on Friday afternoon, near quitting time. "Daddy run off...mama gets drunk...wants to get rid o' my dog. She's driving me crazy." the emaciated kid, 12, whispered, wary mama didn't hear. "Flu symptoms," the CPS lady jotted down. She promised to begin paperwork first thing the following week. Dogs weren't in the instruction manual they'd later say.
     Sunday morning the hysterical mother called 9-1-1. Her son was dead in bed. Homicide sent out Flannery and Hernandez. Tough old timers, they'd seen it all—so they thought. Mama was stumbling drunk at 8:00 A.M., a tall boy in one hand, a menthol filter tip in the other. The house smelled of mildew and urine.
     "She hadda call from next door...phone disconnected here," Flannery whispered to Hernandez.
     "Husband left...ain't had no money...not enough food," she exhaled a cloud of cigarette smoke. Hernandez ignored her slurred protest and opened a battered refrigerator. It was wedged full of beer, several cartons of cigarettes stacked on a shelf above.
     The M.E. bent over the pale, skinny body, studied the distended stomach. He pointed to a fat puppy sleeping beneath the bed beside a dog bowl. "Kid fed his dog...didn't eat. Starved to death."

Gary Clifton, forty years a cop, has fiction pieces published or pending with over sixty venues. He's been shot at, shot, stabbed, sued, lied to and about, often misunderstood and is currently out to pasture on a dusty north Texas ranch. Clifton has an M.S. from Abilene Christian University.





     “So today I was reading this book by Miguel de Unamuno, you know, the famous Spanish writer, called The Tragic Sense of Life, it’s this somewhat weird version of the existential dilemma, you know, how can life have meaning in the face of death, not that it can’t, but how does one cope with, you know, the fundamental nothingness, the Great fucking Void.”
     “Was this like for a class or something?”
     “Naw. I mean, I was just reading it. My roommate has like fifty books and I wanted to read one of them.”
     “Sounds depressing to me.”
     “Yeah, well, get this, Unamuno tells this little story about some guy is crying for the death of his child, and some other person says like, ‘Why bother? Crying won’t bring him back. Crying is pointless.’ And the weeping guy says—'Yeah, well that’s the point.’”
     “I don’t get it.”
     “The guy who lost his child had to weep even though it did no good to do so.”
     “Well, yeah. Is that supposed to be profound or something?”
     “It’s not profound, but don’t you get it? He’s saying to be fully human you have to feel things and express them, even if there’s no point. Not everything has a point.”
     “Yeah, okay, I agree with that. So, what, is that it? That’s what the guy says?”
     “I don’t know, I only read like one chapter.”
     “You going to finish it?”
     “Probably not.”

George Ovitt is the author of Splitting the Difference, forthcoming from Big Table. He lives in Albuquerque and he just got a dandy new pair of hiking shoes from L.L. Bean.




Slow
Cara Long

     Hal stares at the sink, blankly. He’s not bothered, like his wife is, by the slow drip. She has taken it upon herself to repair the faucet this morning.
     “I don’t know why I waited,” she says, “after all, my father was a plumber.”
     ‘Why would she mention that?’ Hal thinks. They’ve been married twelve years—of course he knows that her father was a plumber.
     “My father was an accountant,” Hal says flatly.
     “What?” his wife says distractedly, not looking up from the faucet.
     Hal stands up. “Where should I put my bowl,” he asks.
     “Just leave it on the table,” his wife says.
     Hal places his spoon in the bowl and walks out of the kitchen. He can hear his wife quietly cursing as he does so.
     He goes upstairs to dress for work. His clothes are laid out on the chair by his side of the bed, as usual. But today Hal doesn’t want to go to work. He wishes that he would have sprained his ankle on his way up the stairs. Hal thinks he would like a whole day to himself, without having to share it with anyone. He calls his supervisor and plays sick, but gets dressed just the same.
     He peeks his head in the kitchen to say good-bye to his wife. “Get some sleep before your shift,” he says to her.
     “Yeah, yeah,” she responds.
     Once outside, a rush of cool air greets Hal’s skin, sending an exhilarating chill down his spine.

Cara Long hopes the next Mayor of New York City will make the creation of affordable housing a top policy priority in her/his administration. Her work has appeared/will appear in Whiskeypaper, Halfway Down the Stairs, SmokeLong Quarterly and the Circa Review.




Long Day's Drive
Dave Davis

     I stood perspiring and aggravated in the evening swelter of the Gulf Coast and knocked. It had been a tense, long day’s drive on rainy interstates tortured with construction, the claustrophobic lanes thick with orange cones and jersey barriers. I was running a couple hours behind.
     The door opened, my only grand child draped around her mother’s waist and neck, my daughter with an unsure smile. Our relationship had been strained since her mother and I divorced while she was in college, and we had not seen each other since the day my grand daughter was born. With her free arm, my daughter gave me a polite hug, while my son-in-law hung in the background. My grand daughter was now four and laying cognizant eyes on me for the first time. As I leaned in to receive and reciprocate my daughter’s hug, my grand daughter—unexpectedly and without coaxing—reached for me. I don’t know why; I was a stranger to her. Perhaps it was instinct. With some trepidation, my daughter let the child come to my arms, where she rested her head contentedly in the crook of my neck.
     A pissy smile greased my lips. “Take that, grandma,” I gloated in my mind.

Now retired, Mr. Davis dabbles in writing, fishing, and cooking. His work has been (or will be) published in Boston Literary Magazine, Eclectic Flash, Journal of Microliterature, and Pot Luck Magazine.




Too Soon
Emily M. Troia

     I cannot take back the corduroy jacket I bought the other day, the other day before our story changed direction. The jacket pockets are already littered with little balls of silver and pink foil, leftovers from those chocolate hearts I snuck from the receptionist at the doctor’s office. The pockets are already haunted by disintegrating shreds of tissue, soggy consequences of an incessantly dripping nose. The doctor couldn’t explain it, even doubted it was related, but I knew it was just another way my body was telling me something other than my will was in control. Sometimes your hand would slip out of mine and come to rest on my belly. Instead of going out, we would sit around the house and daydream about how his little voice would sound bouncing off the freshly-painted, periwinkle walls. “Does it feel weird?” you asked, “Like an alien invasion?” I pointed out he would, soon enough, be invading both of our lives. That was just a few days ago: my answer is different now. Now, I feel like my life has been abducted, not invaded. There are too many people talking around me. Now, the blue walls have a gray cast. The jacket cannot be returned, because the tags were off it a few days too soon. I reach for wine and let my imagination haunt me.

Emily M. Troia studied Physics and Philosophy at Wesleyan University and received her B.A. in Studio Art from Ursuline College. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Poetry from the NEOMFA Program in Northeast Ohio and works at the Cleveland State University Poetry Center. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in cahoodaloodling, Digital Americana, and other journals.




Family Album
Doug Mathewson

     We never had a family album, it wasn’t our style. No photos of picnics or birthdays, no graduations, Easter Bonnets or Christmas Mornings. We had a family envelope. That’s how we were I guess. Our envelope was tattered and old filled mostly with out dated papers and useless receipts. Hardly any pictures or clippings.
      When Mom died and the newspaper needed a photo for her obituary we cut their wedding picture in half. When Dad passed on two years later we couldn’t find his half! The best we could do was his drivers license. Too bad it had “Suspended DWI” stamped across his face.
      And wouldn’t you know it? Now the darn dog’s gone missing and not picture one of the old mutt! We’ll just have to use a picture of somebody else's dog to post on Facebook. Have ya seen him? :(

Doug Mathewson is best known for his mixed-media sculptures, certainly not his written work. The art-world remains unimpressed with the exception of his “Head-of-Goliath-a-Day” series. He portrays the famous image of young David with the severed head of the giant Goliath in dioramas contained within walnut shell halves. David could be a media figure, robot, space squid, film star, or just someone on the bus The artist is always the head. He works with Pandemonium Press, as well as Full of Crow Press and Distribution. More of his work can be found at little2say.




Dinner Conversation
Christian Aguiar

     He’s pressuring her a lot, he knows, but why complicate a simple life? He will cook and she will study English and soon they will move to Albany to live with his sister and everything will be perfect. This dinner at the Blue Train is proof of his love, isn’t it? Lobster and clams, a starlit night, the gentle caress of the Atlantic? Simple pleasures.
     It’s been weeks now, almost too long, and he feels restless for things to return to the way they had been. The tablecloth rustles where it is draped over his thigh and he looks down as if he might see the sea breeze touch him, but of course there is nothing there, just the crisp lines of the linen.
     “Excuse me for a moment”, she says, “I need to use the washroom.”
     He nods and smiles, thinking vaguely of something, perhaps the tablecloth. When she still hasn’t returned ten minutes later he goes to the front of the restaurant, where the maitre d’ gives him a little smile and a bow and wishes him goodnight. Puzzled, he walks to his car, scanning the parking lot for her face, seeing only old couples and pale seagulls. On his windshield, a note: “I do not argue with obstinate men. I act in spite of them.” Attached is a cigar with a baby blue wrapper.

Christian Aguiar was born in Worcester, Massachusetts but currently lives in the mountains of northern South Korea, where he teaches and writes.




Wings
Andrew Stancek

Like lightning the mirror crack flashes down. A bolt of sunshine blinds me. A broken slat fires rat-at-tat in the wind. I pretend I’m defending the castle from Visigoths, machine gun ready. I am six. This attic is mine. Nobody but me creeps up the rickety ladder. It smells like mothballs and Grandma, before she went to heaven, and dry mushrooms. I found a tray of mushrooms that Grandma must have sliced and forgot. They were chewy and made my tummy scrunch up but I liked them anyway. I like chewy things.

     Up here I play with a giraffe, a zebra and a rhino. The zebra is best at hide-and-seek but the rhino likes dominoes. I had a puppy once but he got squished by the neighbor’s wagon, and the bunnies Grandma kept in cages disappeared the Sunday of the May Day feast. Nobody can take my giraffe.
     I crawl in the shadows but I’m not scared. In the chest with the broken lock I found a forrester’s hat with a feather and a scabbard and a board full of soccer pins and Grandpa’s picture in soccer uniform.
     In the morning bright sun, I read my “Perutenka” book. I know the story by heart but I like to read it anyway. When I close my eyes, my arms stretch out and they’re wings. I squeeze through an opening and soar and when I land in a field of daisies and boys and girls, we eat cake with chocolate icing.

Andrew Stancek was born in Bratislava and saw Russian tanks occupying his homeland. His dreams of circuses and ice cream, flying and lion-taming, miracle and romance have appeared recently in print in LA Review, Windsor Review and New Sun Rising: Stories for Japan. Among the many online publications are Every Day Fiction , Gemini Magazine Flash Fiction Contest Grand Prize Winner , fwriction, r.kv.r.y. quarterly literary journal , Tin House , Flash Fiction Chronicles , The Linnet’s Wings , Connotation Press, THIS Literary Magazine, and Pure Slush.




Apollo 1
Margaret Sessa-Hawkins

     A few weeks before, Gus had hung a lemon in the capsule. “Big boss Shea was livid,” he told her, laughing. “Then he said I was immature. Immature! Honest to God Betty, I don’t know how that thing will ever go into space.”
     The crew was doing a practice run when a spark ignited the pure oxygen of the capsule. It created a vacuum, pulling the door shut so no one could get out, so no one could get in.
     Afterward, Shea came to see her.
     “It was incredibly quick,” he said. “Gus wouldn’t have felt a thing.”

Margaret Sessa-Hawkins is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Glasgow University in Scotland. She spends her time trying to balance the demands of free-lance writing with the temptations offered by Ceilidh's, castles, and celtic music.





     The hunter tosses his beer can into the meadow, leaves his wife in the passenger seat of the pickup, (a rental), and his twelve gauge on the hood—the stakes of the dare. The bank repossessed their farm, their tractor, their chickens, but not their spirits, never their sense of adventure. The Bull Moose drinks from the marsh as the hunter staggers nineteen feet away, fifteen, seven. The hunter stops. Breathes in the hay-smell of dead vegetation. His own heartbeat fills his head. He doesn’t even know she is behind him until a bullet strikes his shoulder, his chest, his throat.

Emily Dawson lives in New Hampshire with her husband, their two sons and two very loyal puggles. She enjoys doodling and seashell collecting.




Two-Stepping
John Gifford

     “You just got here,” says the man, adjusting his cowboy hat. “Have another beer and enjoy the scenery.”
     “I need to get home,” says the other man, his eyes following a tall redhead shuffling across the sawdust-covered floor to the sounds of fiddles and a steel guitar.
     “You used to love this place.”
     “Yeah, when I was single.”
     “You still got eyes. You ain’t dead.”
     “I might be if I don’t get home soon.”
     “Man, you got to get out once in a while.”
     “Not here. Not anymore. I hate this place. It makes me wish I was single again.”

Letter to Next of Kin
John Gifford

     Three times he’d begun the letter and each time he got as far as the second sentence before terminating his correspondence. What could he say? He simply didn’t treat enough stroke cases to have mastered the intravenous procedure.
     “Dear Mrs. Smith,” he wrote for a fourth time. “I was informed yesterday of your husband’s passing. I’m the physician who treated him in the emergency room.”
     What else could he say? The hospital’s imaging equipment is outdated? We were unable to determine the exact time of symptom onset?
     He continued. “Please know that the hospital bill has been taken care of.”

John Gifford john-gifford.net is a writer based in Oklahoma.







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