In the Solitary Confinement of My Mind – by John Yohe

In the solitary confinement of my mind


In the solitary confinement of my mind

I sit on the cement floor cross-legged

breathing softly keeping my back straight


In the solitary confinement of my mind

I listen to music on a radio I’m given for good behavior

and pace for hours wall to wall to wall

I try to do push-ups

I sing

I construct a chess board with thread and lint that gets taken away

I write letters that no one ever answers

I read books

and leave notes in the margins because I know guards don’t read


In the solitary confinement of my mind

my wrists and ankles are chained

I wear the same clothes every day

I am allowed outside one hour a day into a cement courtyard by myself

I am angry

I have nightmares

I sleep twelve to sixteen hours at a time

with the lights on

I listen to the obscenities of others

I listen to the obscenities of the guards

I jerk off thinking about women I can’t remember


In the solitary confinement of my mind

I count the noises

the creaking door hinges

the slamming metal

the scraping bars

the breathing

the screaming

the crying

the praying

the fly in the corner

how did I get here?


In the solitary confinement of my mind

I lose track of time

and I think I’ve been forgotten

I pound on the door so that people will know I’m still alive

so the guards come to my cell to remind me

and my music is taken away


In the solitary confinement of my mind

I scream at the guards for not feeding me

I scream at the guards for not handing me my food tray in the correct way

I write poetry on the walls with my shit

I set my mattress on fire by shredding it and jamming the light socket


In the solitary confinement of my mind

I try hanging myself with the bedsheets

I stop up the cell door with socks and smash the toilet bowl

flushing until I’m standing in two feet of water

then I unstop the door


Born in Puerto Rico, John Yohe grew up in Michigan and lives in Oregon. He has worked as a wildland firefighter, deckhand/oiler, runner/busboy, bike messenger, wilderness ranger, fire lookout, as well as a teacher of writing.


For the Love of the Chase – by David R. Ford

Nowt much to do round here. Boring. ‘Gan play out,’ me parents say, ‘Where? we can’t in the street anymore, man,’. Old gadgies dinnit like the look of us, forget they were kids once. Can’t blame them, it was about a million years ago.

We run around beside their gardens, kick the ball near their windows, ride bikes next to their cars, and you’d think we’d killed their kids!

“Get away from my car! You kids these days, nee respect!”

“Aye, well why’d we respect you? All ya do is shout at us, you old tosser!” we’d shout at them and they’d run after us. That’s when we found out that getting chased is the most fun we ever had.

Us, was me, Jinkie, and Chambers, and from that first night Mr. Davenport ran up the street after us, we did everything to get into trouble, just so we could run away.

We’d pelt stones at windows, nick stuff from the newsagents, we even legged it from the police if they caught us. I still felt great getting took home by a copper, him telling me mam I’d been cautioned. Topper laughs.

Our favourite though, was always the park keeper. She was a chunky thing, never looked comfortable on her feet, like her legs would collapse under her belly weight at any moment.

“Park shuts at sunset, lads,” she told us the first time.

“Where are we meant to go, like?”  Chambers said.

“It’ll be your bedtime won’t it? Cannit play out in the scary dark,” she replied. Prick. Chambers pushed her over and we ran back into the trees. She chased us for hours that night. It was epic. Sneaked out the back when the bizzies turned up.

Eventually though, the boredom found us again. We were sitting in Jinkie’s porch one night, doing nothing. Then, I had an idea.

“Jinkie, gan get a bottle of vodka from ya cupboard,”

“What ya thinking, Benno?”

“Get drunk in the park and see if that makes it easier for her to catch us,” it wasn’t a great idea, but it was better than doing nowt.

So he grabbed it and we ran to the park.

It was dark that night. The trees lurched over us and their roots grabbed at our ankles as we made our way out of sight by the light of our phone screens and cracked open the drink. It was a rush knowing she didn’t know we were there but she could find us anytime. Or maybe she saw us hop the fence.

“Benno, Jinkie! Shush! I think I hear something,” Chambers shouted like a mouse. We zipped our lips and peeked through the bushes. There were a couple of men with torches dressed in hats, wearing reflective jackets that screamed ‘POLICE’ at us. We stayed dead still, till one of them flung his light in our direction and in my panic I stumbled back and fell, whacking my head on something hard.

Must’ve knocked me out cos next thing I know, the lads are over me, panicking.

“Benno! Benno!” Chambers shook the life out of me.

“I’m fine lads, it doesn’t even hurt,” I said just as a twig snapped behind them.

“We can’t let ‘em catch us! We’ve been cautioned, we’re drinking. It won’t be a slap on the wrist for this!” Jinkie said, hysterical.

“Cut it out, Jink, we aren’t even that drunk, man,” I said, but he wasn’t paying attention.

“They must be down here. Hey! Come out!” the police shouted and we jumped up.

“Ha’way, we’ve gotta run, another chase,” Jinkie said.

“What about…” Chambers started.

“Leave it!” we told him about the bottle and we bolted out the side.

“Oh my God!” the coppers screamed “Get after them then!”

Another chase.

We ran for our lives, up banks, through trees. I didn’t know why, it was just a drink. The coppers didn’t let up though, they followed every step, my mates were struggling but I coulda ran all night.

Then, mother nature rugby tackled us. Chambers tripped then spewed all over the path. Lightweight. Jinkie couldn’t just leave him so we stopped and let ‘em have us. The bizzies grabbed them two and arm locked them. I just gave up and followed as they dragged us back to our cubby hole.

“You’re in big trouble, boys,” one of them said.

“I see you’ve been drinking. You don’t really look old enough, lads,” the other oppressor said.

“I didn’t know there was an age limit, officer,” I said. They weren’t in the mood to joke.

We stopped at the clearing they found us in. By now it was so dark you could see their torches working hard to cut through the blackness. An abyss waited behind the trees.

“So, what happened in there?” my mates stayed silent. I spoke up.

“Nowt, we were messing around, I slipped and banged me head but that was all,” They weren’t interested in my story.

“We’ve seen it. Care to explain how it got there?” he said with a bit more force. All this over a vodka bottle? Police brutality.

“I guess we’ll just have to show you it, refresh your memories,” they said and then Jinkie started crying. He could be soft as hell when it suited him.

They pushed us in and shone their lights, not on a bottle though. It looked like a log, but as I got closer, it was wearing clothes. ‘Oh God!’ I thought, ‘there was a body here the whole time and we had no idea!’ Then I got closer and the bright arms of the torches lit up more, they rubbed his eyes as I rubbed mine. That body was me.

The lights turned around and the four of them left among sobs and Miranda rights, leaving me there, the darkness surrounded me and crushed me and I lay by my corpse, as lifeless as it was.

If only Mr. Davenport let us play outside his house.


David R. Ford is a writer from Sunderland in the North East of England. He has been writing for six years and has had pieces published in various magazines and journals including Down in the Dirt, Centum Press Anthology, and Dark Gothic Resurrected. He is currently working on several projects in various stages of development, but you can keep up to date with them on his Instagram page @davidrford

The Rothmans Job – by Mitchell Toews

A STORM LIKE THIS was rare. Snowflakes blocked out sky and sun and moon and stars. The flakes – as big as baby fists – had been falling for three days. Light and dry, they flew, then settled, then flew again – whipped by a dodgy north wind. At night, the tops of buildings disappeared except for the occasional glimpse of a red tower beacon or a snapping row of flags, like those atop The Bay.

And the people, knowing about these storms, stayed home. In the downtown core, only buses, snow ploughs and police cruisers were out. These motorized vehicles, accustomed to roaring at will, crept along the blanketed streets in peevish silence, their motors and tires muted by the all-enveloping snow.

No humans, no dogs, no birds. It was up to the storefront mannequins – who must have longed to sit – to maintain a watch over the streets. Vigilant, they gazed unblinking through the plastered glass at the frozen lunar streetscape.

Through this otherworld trudged Waxman and Thunderella. The diminutive Waxman led. He wore two snowmobile suits and his knees could not bend more than a few degrees. A bearded Weeble, he waded roly-poly through the drifts ahead of his towering accomplice, Ellen Thundermaker; aka “Thunderella”.

Thunderella towed in her powdery wake a red and yellow child’s sled. It was a Union Flyer and a likeness of flighted Pegasus was screened in reflective paint on both side rails.

Waxman, Thunderella and Pegasus pressed on like arctic explorers. Their goal was the unlocked side door of the Rothmans Cigarette warehouse on Harbour. Waxman had promised fifty bucks to Abie Wiebe – the inside man.

“Hey, Waxman,” Thunderella called from the rear. The wind had died and her voice only had to overcome the snow that coated every surface and baffled the air itself. This snowfall was ultra-absorptive, like paper towel brands promised to be.

“WAXY!” she repeated, straining to be heard above the zizza-zazza of his nylon pant legs. He was a heavy man with thick thighs.

“What?” he shouted straight ahead, unable to twist around because of his insulated entombment. He halted, breathing hard, his moustache and scarfed chin hoary with frost. Thunderella bumped into him as she slogged along, head down.

The collision, one of many rear-enders on that street that winter, was enough to push Waxman off-balance. He fell, landing in a puff of white. Cursing and then laughing, he walrused his weight over so that he lay on his rounded backside. He picked a package of Rothmans out of the top pocket of his quilted inner overalls.

“We gonna make it?” she asked, reaching for a smoke.

“No problemo, ‘Rella,” he replied, shooing her hand away. “Two blocks, then through the side door by Perkins Cleaners; then open up the cage. That’s where the expensive stuff is. Abie says that cage lock has been busted for a year.”


Roland Barislowski bent forward, touching the freezing cold steering wheel with the absolute least amount of finger skin required to maintain vehicular control.

He peeked through the tiny fan-shaped portal of clear windshield.

“Need a periscope, like Lindbergh,” Roland said aloud. His voice sounded muffled in the anechoic enclosure; six inches of stubborn snow capping the rooftop.

The call had come around two A.M. He had just fallen asleep after pounding Old Viennas with Art, his brother-in-law from Virden. Art was stranded in the city because the highway was shut-down.

“Warehouse alarm went off. Cops’re there,” said his boss, Pozzo.

“Where’re you?” Roland said into the phone, his voice phlegmy.

“Regina airport,” Pozzo said, placing an unenthusiastic Rollie in charge.

Roland’s bottom was warm on the quilt he had tossed into the front seat but the small of his back felt like it was packed in ice. He lit a cigarette and blew smoke rings at the windshield. The rings – twirling in languid slow motion – disintegrated when the blast from the defrost fan hit them.

His brother’s name was Paulos. Everyone called him Poland — Roland and Poland. Very funny, Roland thought. They weren’t even Polish. But nicknames were nothing new in the North End – everybody had one.

Just like Paulos, Roland worked at Rothmans. It was Paulos’ job to take calls like this – the wonky alarm was set off by rats every two weeks or so. But Paulos was out-of-town and so Rollie had been given the key on this cryogenic night.

“Man, there is no one out here!” he said in the coffin quiet of the car interior.

He drove west until he hit a major street that had been cleared. Heading north he came up on the warehouse. An empty police cruiser sat idling at the curb. The trunk was open a crack and a bungee cord, hooked to the underside of the bumper held it shut. He parked beside the police car and went in through the side door of the warehouse, which stood wide open.

“You Poland?” said the cop. There were two of them. This one and a little guy down near the cigar cage. Mutt and Jeff, thought Rollie – what his dad, Otto, always said when there was a big guy with a little guy.

“No, I’m his brother, Rollie. I work here too. Paulos is outta town.”

“Eh? Who’s this Paulos guy?” the big cop said, bleary-eyed.

“Paulos is ‘Poland’,” Rollie said, employing the ever-useful air quotes. “His real name is Paulos and he’s my brother. He’s away and I work here too and I got the job of coming out on this mother of a night.”

“Who’s a  mother?” said the little cop. He had walked over from the cage and was holding a few crushed packages of cigars and cigarettes. He saw Rollie studying the packages and said, “Gotta take these. Evidence.”

‘Yeah, fine,” said Rollie. “So, I guess you want me to do an inventory – see what’s been taken?”

“Good idea, Poland,” said the big cop, yawning. He yanked his police hat down low over his face, closed his eyes and leaned back against the fork lift. “You guys sure you wanna report this?” he said without opening his eyes. “Seems like a lot of bother, this close to Christmas, for a lousy coupla-hun worth of smokes.”

“We’ll see,” Rollie said, grabbing the clipboard from its spot on the cage door. He used the pencil that was attached by a string to check off the missing items.

“Hey, Officer! Flip the cage light on please – the switch is right behind you,” he yelled. “Close that side door too.”

The little cop stopped stuffing the cigar boxes into his overcoat and did what Rollie asked.


Rollie sat in his car, which was now uncomfortably warm. The plastic frost-guards on the windows were broken and while the rest of the window was clear, the section in middle was fogged. He keyed letters into his pager, holding his breath as he concentrated on tapping the tiny buttons. He entered Pozzo’s number and typed the message:

Many CASES RothM King missiong. Cops took stuff but don’t think they were in on it. Call me!! – R

It’s gonna be an insurance jackpot, Rollie thought. His boss was crafty. He’d shut up about the stuff that Officers Mutt and Jeff had swiped – including the loot crammed into the cruiser trunk – in exchange for their listing an inflated tally on the police report. Pozzo would use their complicity as “wiggle room” to alter the report as required. Pozzo would make money on the deal; his Caddy stuffed with pricey goods that were easy to sell to bar owners and smoke shops.

Rollie and Paulos would get a C-note or so to play along.

“Nice work if you can get it,” Roland said to himself. That nugget courtesy of his late father, Otto. Otto Barislowski had run a ramshackle sash and door shop – BARIS GLASS – for thirty years. Honest guy. Never made much but his family was fed and clothed. “You get a roof over your head and there’s coal in the chute,” the old man would say to Rollie and Paulos.

Rollie pointed the old Ford east and took side streets home. He coasted through the stop signs at each intersection, as stealthy as Santa’s sleigh. After a few blocks he killed the lights and prowled along at idle speed from streetlight to streetlight. Cranking down the window, he could hear the snow compressing under the tires. The air smelled clean like the laundry he would bring in from the winter clothesline for his mother – his t-shirts like stiff slabs of flake cod.

“Otto-Matic Windows,” Rollie announced to the empty park that abutted the road. He wound his window up a few turns and thought of his father’s invention – a house window that cranked open and closed like a car window. A year after Barislowski’s gadget came out, a big window brand from Minnesota launched a similar version – but more refined – and that was that. Otto Barislowski always believed the US outfit had stolen the idea from him. Disillusioned, Otto sold the company a few years later.


“Jesus H. Christ!” said Waxman. He panted as he lay on his back in a snowdrift, the heavy case of Rothmans Kings beside him. “It is frickin’ hard work being a criminal master-mind!”

Thunderella watched him. The Pegasus sled rested behind her loaded with its own case of cigarettes and also a 24-pack of Super-Fluft Toilet Paper Rolls. Three-ply.

“What the hell are you doing with that?” Waxman had growled at her when they were in the warehouse.

“They were in the bathroom! We are almost out at home – so, I figured, ‘Why not?’” she had explained, in reply.

“I guess we can get $3, maybe $4 per carton for the smokes,” Waxman said from the snow bank, bringing her back into the now. He held a mittened hand up so the big flakes would not land in his face. “So, we got 96 cartons – that’s three hundred bucks! Kids are gonna get some great presents this year.”

“No way, Waxy. It’s gonna be all imported cheese and fancy wine for you and me. Crab meat. Vienna sausages…” she said, stopping to let him join in.

“Ha-ha. Yeah – uhh, Heineken beer, Dijon ketchup, Swiss chocolate – or, you know, one of those giant bars, ahh,”

“TOBLERONE, TOBLERONE!” she shouted out.

“As if,” Thunderella added, suddenly serious. She pointed a gauntlet at the elfin figure below her, “you know the only two reasons I’m in on this stupid caper, right Einstein?”

“Yeah, and they’re both home sleeping, Ellen,” Waxman said, holding a hand up to her.

“It’s a bent-ass world,” she replied. It was her stock comment to the many philosophers who populated the dingy Nox Beverage Room where she worked slinging draught beer. It seemed to fit the moment.

Thunderella helped Waxman up. “Ready to go?” she asked.


Rollie saw them about the same time they saw him.

“No sense in running, ‘Rella,” Waxman said without breaking stride.

“It ain’t a cop anyway,” his wife replied. “Maybe we can get a ride? I’m pooped.”

Waxman stopped. He dropped the case of cigarettes down off his shoulder and held it against his belly, arching his back. “Hell, yeah. My back is killin’ me, eh.”

“Fuckin’ A,” she said, tugging at the sled. “Let me go first.”

“Yeah, show a little cleavage,” he said.

Thunderella stuck her tongue out at him and strode; pushing through the fallen snow with purpose towards the approaching car.

“Jesus H. Christ,” Rollie said to himself. He rolled the window all the way down. It’s them! He recognized the “Rothmans” name and logo on the side of the boxes. He calculated: one case on the sled; one case being carried. “That makes two plus one that the cops had and the two in my trunk,” he said out loud. “Five cases of RM Kings altogether.” This was perfect, seeing as he had told the cops to mark down ten cases as stolen.

“Hi, honey!” Thunderella said to him as she neared the car. He shifted into park. She was a tall native woman. It looked like she was about six-months pregnant, but it was hard to tell because of the puffy parka she wore.

“Mother of a night, or what?” said the man behind her. Roland was surprised by Waxman’s appearance – short and almost round. He walked like a wind-up toy.

“Listen,” Thunderella said, fanning her face with a mitten. “We live maybe ten blocks that way, at Schultz Street,” she said, pointing east. “Any chance a girl could get a lift?”

“What’s that?” Roland said, feigning ignorance and pointing his chin at the cigarette cases.

“Well,” Waxman said, leaning sideways to speak around Thunderella. “We was shoppin; and then this buddy of mine, he got a deal on smokes. So we went down to his place and scored these smokes and then we had a few pops – well I did, anyway, she’s up-the-stump, eh.” Waxman spat the story out and while he did, Thunderella swiveled around so Rollie couldn’t see her face and gave her husband a cross-eyed look.

“Got a helluva deal on the ass-wipe – I mean toilet tissue,” Waxman said – a bit distracted – in conclusion.

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Rollie said.

Rollie rubbed a glove against the inside of his foggy windshield, thinking about what to do. The cops had left the warehouse by now. These two lived right on his way home. He peered ahead in the headlights – there were no signs of movement in any direction. Not a creature was stirring. He considered himself, Paulos, Pozzo and also Mutt and Jeff. He considered the little beaver of a man and the beautiful, imposing pregnant woman standing beside the road in the frigid, forsaken night with stolen cigarettes and toilet paper.

A minute later the old Ford crept down Flora Avenue, the snow-crusted roof bearing three cardboard boxes and a flying horse. The red taillights vanished in a flurry of blowing snow.


Pozzo walked into his office, tucking in his shirt and adjusting his tie. He sat down at his desk and then dialed the phone, pushing the little buttons with extra vigor. He was in a fuming swivet about something.

“Poland!” he said in a loud voice. “What the hell is wrong with that shit-for-brains brother of yours?” Pozzo listened intently to Paulos’ reply.

“What do mean, ‘What do you mean?’” he said in a sing-song voice. “First I get stranded in the bloody Regina airport then I find out we got ripped off. And then,” he re-gripped the phone and moved it close to his mouth. “And then I go to the can just now for my morning constitutional and guess what?”

“No frickin’ TOILET PAPER, that’s what!”


Mitchell Toews is a former advertising and marketing professional. He now applies himself almost entirely to literary fiction – writing it and also living a boreal primeval version with his wife Janice. They live beside a lake in Manitoba containing the precise point at which the top of the water meets the bottom of the sky. Mitchell’s short fiction appears in Red Fez, CommuterLit, Fiction on the Web, Literally Stories and Rhubarb magazine as well as several other worthy locations in print and online.

Disaster Relief – by Caleb Echterling

A National Weather Service are-you-crazy-for-the-love-of-God-get-inside warning coughed from the idling trucks’ tinny speakers. Twilight darkness captured the noon sky. Hailstones fell from the sky like ticker tape at a Yankees’ championship parade. Molten lava provided emergency track lighting along the roadway shoulder. Highbeams twinkled from the stalled National Guard convoy. Soldiers – ripped from their day jobs as teachers, accountants, or porn stars – lashed the final pontoon into place next to the washed out bridge. Raging red water rocked the makeshift crossing.

“Move out,” the commanding officer yelled. “We’ve got tornado activity coming our way.” Soldiers packed up tools and scrambled into truck cabs. The caravan rumbled to life. As the lead truck reached the midpoint of the swollen river, the ground danced the Charleston. Two front tires dipped into the water. A clown car cavalcade tumbled from the cab, and ripped open the truck’s side awnings to save precious cargo before it disappeared into the flood.

Soaked-to-their-underwear soldiers ditched parkas that held as much water in as they kept out. “Sir, we can’t go on. There’s no road. We’re driving through a swamp.”

The commanding officer dumped water from his boot. “Dammit, we’re the Army National Guard, not the Quittersville Quitters’ Quorum. Quittersville needs us. Hurricane Jim Bob knocked out their power, bridges, and mothers. We’ll get through, or die trying.” A far off rumble brought a red flash as a volcano sent distress flares of magma into the sky. A nearby rumble brought a rushing mass of brown fur topped with nacho-scoop antlers. Viscous foam poured from every orifice on the animal’s body. “My God. It’s got double super rabies. Get the moose tranquilizer.”

The zig-zagging moose crashed into a truck, which flipped on its back like an angry beetle and burst into flames. A two ton anvil, with ACME embossed on the side, dropped the moose with one blow.

“Sir,” wailed the sergeant. “that’s two trucks and five men we’ve lost. At least stop for a proper burial.”

“No can do. A plague of locusts is working its way north from Bergtonville Town. We’ll be eaten alive if we stay.” The convoy revved to life. Wheels nestled into mud-track ruts. Off-road driving strained shock absorbers and bruised asses. Pounding hail gave way to sporadic rain punctuated with thunderclaps, lightning flashes and volcanic ash. The sky lit up as though the sun had popped by to borrow a cup of sugar. A deafening blast assaulted the soldiers’ ears. A charred skeleton of a truck gave off the stench of burned food and charred hair.

“Sir, please. Turn back.”

The commanding officer shook his head. “The only way out is forward. Headquarters says the river’s teeming with frogs. Not nice frogs like Kermit, or the ones you can lick to get high. Mean, grumpy frogs. Roll out!”

The convoy tires found blacktop. Ultra-low friction mud driving gave way to slippery ash-on-asphalt driving. The convoy’s speed clicked up from glacial to tortoise. Clouds parted to reveal patches of blue sky and a fleet of silver discs speeding toward Earth. Red bolts poured from laser cannons covered with angry spikes. The laser shots homed to human targets. Each laser strike raised a constellation of weeping boils.

“Corporal Jenkins, break open the alien invasion kit.” The corporal smashed a glass cover, and pulled out a black box with a video screen on one side. An antenna sprang from the top. The box beeped and whirred. The sounds of Celebrity Apprentice shoved aside the thumpa-thumpa coming from the laser cannons. The cannons fell silent, and spacecraft pulled out of strafing runs.

A giant fist appeared in the sky, and shook at what was left of the Guard unit. Unseen speakers blasted a message that sounded like a duet for gagging wildebeest and reversing dump truck. The ships blinked from view. All eyes turned to the commanding officer. “Everyone spit on your boils and load up.”

The convoy stopped at a saltwater marsh. The dark silhouette of Quittersville sat on the opposite side of Prudence Bay. “What do we do now? The hurricane knocked out all the bridges,” the corporal asked.

“Boat. Find us a boat,” said the commanding officer.


“Every boat within fifty miles is a pile of splinters. That storm had hundred-sixty mile an hour winds. Fifteen foot storm surge.”

“Then we’ll make a bridge from that pile of lice, diseased livestock and firstborns. The bay’s not that deep.”

Every bell in Quittersville, whether church, dinner, or Taco, peeled as the convoy weaved up debris-strewn streets toward the town center. Soldiers sprang from cabs. Awnings cranked from truck sides to reveal signs reading ‘Tacos del Tío Samuel’. Propane grills came to life. Professional knives dismembered onions, limes, and cilantro. A mob surrounded the trucks. The commanding officer commandeered a megaphone. “Attention Quittersville. The United States Army 49th Mobile Taco Distribution Battalion is open for business. Carne asada or carnitas.”


Caleb Echterling is a founding member of the Vuvuzela Chamber Music Society. He tweets funny fiction using the not-very-clever handle @CalebEchterling. You can find more of his work at

Oreo – by Kristine Brown

“No, it’s not candy.” Ms. Shoestack giggled as my eyes grew big. Four rubber moulds, all a pastel shade. I thought of the bubblegum on sale at the Sanrio store, Hello Kitty and friends dancing across boxes of blinding tin.

“She’s always holding her crayons in a fist. I know it’s not part of the curriculum, but the other kids are writing, well, the ‘right’ way. She needs to know the grip.”

My mother didn’t quite understand that list of all I was supposed to know by age six. But she knew I wasn’t doing what they wanted me to do. “Listen to your teacher.” She pointed her chin to the grips on the table.

“Slide the pencil through the holes. It’s kind of like that horseshoe game you play at recess. Also, like beads you slip on a string. Keep going.”

I only spoke in class to tattle on Matthew, who insisted on cleaning his ears just to smear earwax on perfectly good construction paper when yellow Crayolas ran out. Otherwise, I nodded. Blankly stared. But I almost always took away something to apply in the hours after, whether for good or naught.

Ms. Shoestack placed the aged, grip-hugged pencil in my soft hand. She smiled as my fingertips fumbled around the rubber, finding their proper place. I drilled the lead onto a lavender Post-It note.

I wrote my name, my favourite colours, favourite food, and pet of my dreams. Ginnee pig.

Come to think of it, I did speak in class, as a friend of Matthew’s. His hair the texture of Raggedy Ann’s, his cheeks like peach fuzz I’d pinch in curiosity. Megan, Matthew, and I often sat on the bus together. Hematite stones aligned, our gravitations in persistent feud.

“Are you my friend? Are you sure?” I would amble about the playground, kneel with a classmate, give away marbles my mother told me I was only to share. The more I’d ask, the quicker they’d flee. But Matthew would sweetly reply that yes, I was his friend.

“And you’re a girl. So you’re my girlfriend.”

So I asked, everyday, if I was Matthew’s girlfriend. He granted validation as freely as I did with my trivial orange catseye. Of course, Mother didn’t find it so trivial, and Megan wasn’t pleased that Matthew no longer shared his Reese’s cups half-melted in his lunch sack.

And boy, was she angry when Matthew professed he would get me a guinea pig for my birthday.

Ms. Shoestack deliberated deeply over morning lessons. Aside from holding crayons, pencils, and markers properly, life’s milestones were worthy to teach. For a week, we sat cross-legged before a blinding easel. Eduardo said his mother was having a baby. Ms. Shoestack was always one for overextension, so when the last kid who got to bring the class hamster home reported he had left it in the van to sizzle, she improvised the memoriam.

“Some people like to be buried in the earth. Others would rather be cremated, or burned to ashes. We’ve decided to cremate Rusty.”

So we stood outside, by the American flag the fourth graders were tasked to prop up every morning. We opened our palms, receiving a handful of lima beans we were told were bits of Rusty’s body. And we spread them. Because Rusty’s favourite place was the pasture in front of the school. Dandelions wild and flowers named like a mouse in a book we listened to many times over.

“Don’t worry. You’re gonna get a pet.” Matthew squeezed my hand, as Megan stood on the other side of our modest mourning circle. “Porky,” she mouthed. My nose, too small for my face, was dripping with the tickle of mountain cedar. Nostrils flared. Piglet was sad.

In the neighbouring class, Oreo was a common subject for oohs and ahs. A splendid ivory splashed with ink, he grunted when brushed and quivered as little hands blessed his sensitive ears. We all got to visit him once, though the cage where Rusty frolicked and slept remained a vacant prism.

As far as anyone knew, no one took Oreo home. But the day the door that joined our rooms creaked and stood ajar, a search party convened.

Ricardo sang the Ghostbusters theme, while Claudia asked Ms. Shoestack who Sherlock Holmes was. She said it was a story they covered on Wishbone, but it seemed too grownup.

Several hours later, on the bus that day, my backpack wriggled. The jacket stuffed inside must have provided a comfort that stifled any protest for air. I pulled the zipper, and there glowed the eyes. Glazed, red, and blinking.

Matthew grinned, patted our friend. Megan’s face, a plastic bag. Crinkled and indented with disappointment. Two months ago, Matthew would have done the same, for her.

I thought of Rusty squealing in the oven that was a locked family van. I cringed, ripped out a piece of paper from my notebook, and grabbed an orange crayon.

“I’m sorry.” Too haunted to embrace proper form. I handed the note to Matthew’s mother upon finding her at the bus stop. Oreo kicked, scratched, let out a squeal, but she perplexedly took him. Matthew tried to explain, but her mouth remained set in a firm line. She didn’t really know what to say, how to say it, but knew this wasn’t the time. Not in front of the other wives she’d see at the next PTA meeting.

Several weeks after, Megan was his girlfriend. I practised my grip on worn pencils, and shot marbles alone. Fastidiously contented.


Kristine Brown is a freelance writer and editor who makes drink coasters in her spare time. In January of 2017, her first collection of poems and short stories, Scraped Knees, was released by Ugly Sapling. She can be found blogging at, and her writing has appeared in Thought CatalogForage PoetryRambutan LiteraryBurningword Literary Journal, among other publications.

Bones – by Natalie Crick


I have to go back.

I have to keep searching


For something alive

Among the dead.


I am yet undecided

How to arrange


Her bones.

I want to conjure


The dark red throbbing heart.

Regrow her hair and teeth


The way they used to be.

Her legs are in my hands,


Cool to the touch

Like bottled milk.


Better, perhaps, to leave her alone,

Unfeeling and without question.


Natalie Crick, from Newcastle in the UK, has found delight in writing all of her life and first began writing when she was a very young girl. She graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature and plans to pursue an MA at Newcastle this year. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in a range of journals and magazines including The Chiron Review, Rust and Moth, Interpreters House, Ink in Thirds and The Penwood Review. Her work also features or is forthcoming in a number of anthologies, including Lehigh Valley Vanguard Collections 13. This year her poem, ‘Sunday School’ was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Yorick / God and Murder – by Paul Ilechko



The children kick the skull down the

road. It’s how they play football in a

war zone. Alas, poor Yorick. We never

knew him, or the million others who,

like him, lost their heads to violence in

these years of murder and disgrace.


Alas poor Yorick. Perhaps you were an

intellectual, targeted with others of your

type by the fat, sweaty men who do the

dirty work, rags hanging from their back

pocket to wipe the blood from their

hands: your blood, shed for no reason.


Or perhaps, Yorick, you were only a child.

A soldier before your time, given a gun

and sent to maim and kill, a terrifying

force of pure immorality, chosen and

trained; a simple machine that somehow

lost its wheels, was wrecked and burned.


Whoever you were, you lonely skull taken

from a pyramid of bones, a hundred or a

thousand feet high: we pity you, and all

your kind. We send our pity, we send our

sorrow. It’s all we have to give. The last

remaining gift from the living to the dead.


God and Murder


They came in covered wagons with God

and murder both in their hearts. God

on the left side, murder on the right. Both,

but separate, kept apart by a wall.


God told them where to go. Through the dusty

plains of heat-stricken Summer, through the

chilled mountains of ice-coated Winter.

Always moving, never ceasing to progress.


Murder told them who to enslave; murder

told them who to kill. In support of God,

but not God. Murder with its own private

voice, speaking from its own private place.


They crossed the entire land with God on

their flag and murder hidden deep in their hearts.

They knew themselves as good people; clean,

God-fearing – well distanced from murder’s song.



Paul Ilechko was born in England but has lived most of his life in the USA. He currently lives in Lambertville, NJ with his girlfriend and a cat. Paul has had poetry published and/or accepted recently by Third Wednesday, Gloom Cupboard, Red Fez, Muddy River Review and Slag Review, among others.