Love’s Wrong Turn / Winter Made the Trees Suffer – by PEGGY TURNBULL

Love’s Wrong Turn

 

She seeks portals

places prone to wormholes

where time travelers shift between planes.

She seeks answers in objects

touched by geniuses.

She trudges across airports

to end up gazing

at Hemingway’s  desk.

or at an animal skull

on O’Keeffe’s hearth.

She longs for a molecule

from the other worlds

that great artists visit

and she’s learned

how to feel her way

towards that particular magic.

There are clues in place names:

Manitou, Sleeping Giant, Spirit Lake.

She took Dan to a park the locals said was haunted.

They wandered side trails.  Dan saw his first blue bird.

He wanted to turn back but she persisted

until she saw it at trail’s end:

a gray weather-beaten structure

shaped like a tepee.

She paused

stunned by the strength

of its protective force field

while Dan foraged for litter

one of many reason why

she loved him.

When the particles dropped their charge

she moved respectfully forward.

Dan was gone.

There was no sign.

And now she wanders

alone

seeking  that place

that portal

that will bring them together

again.


 

Winter Made the Trees Suffer

 

Ice encased them,

then the weight

of a foot or more

of dense wet snow

drifted

onto dry branches.

 

The trees grieve

as any would

who lost their beauty

on a day of slow torture.

Burdens were exacted

until limbs ripped off.

 

Amputees now

they wave phantom boughs

into the wind

expecting to feel it.

 

Had it been?

Had they once been graceful

their needles

shimmering

in the sunlight

moving

to the breath of the earth?

 

Like betrayed lovers

searching for kindred souls

the trees noticed me.

 

And that was our first meeting.


***

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Peggy Turnbull is a Wisconsin poet and librarian.  Her work has been published in I Am Not a Silent Poet and Rat’s Ass Review: Love & Ensuing Madness Collection.

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Kaleidoscope – by PHILLIP WENTURINE

Kaleidoscope

By: Phillip Wenturine

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”  – Abraham Lincoln

 

Envision blackness.

Stagnant, trapped, immobile.

Imagine clawing your way out of your body.

A spirit cemented inside a physical habitat—helpless to the mercy of bodily transportation.

Escape yourself.

Channel your natural energies. Crawl all the way out. Don’t lose focus on yourself, your earthly skeleton. Mind over body.

Now, you’re free. From yourself.

Imagine backing away from your being. A stereotypical figure. Picture yourself from afar, from above, watching your spirit. A shiny mist, floating over you, like an exhale.

You are watching you watching yourself, with your eyes closed. Imaging all of this.

        Imagine a camera.

Now, be the camera. See yourself from the lens from high and away. You are still watching yourself, squinting through the fisheye glass. Tunnel vision.

Fixate on something specific. The recess of your earlobe. The skin, made up of a million particles smaller than the smallest particle known to man.

Zoom out.

Zoom further out. Further. You’re distancing from your body and receding upward, and away.

You see your roof, the weathered shingles covered in grit.

You see the city, the Xeroxed neighborhoods with the matching yard plans, the model citizens, the stepford children.

Continents pan into focus: One, two…seven.

The Galapagos and the Strait of Gibraltar; the Black sea, impenetrable to skin; the country shaped like a boot; the Garden of Eden.

You defy gravity. Soar backwards, higher.

        A chill ripples through you as you traverse the ozone. Transparent. Like you.

        You spot the tip of Orion’s belt.

        Continue zooming out. Past Saturn’s rings. Micrometers of rocks, of ice. Perfectly balanced disks orbiting the sun, floating on the absence of anything. More.

You see blackness. Rather, you are blackness.

You see nothing.      

Can nothing be seen?

For a moment, time stands still.

Far, in the back of your head. A memory—or, a dream? It’s hard to get to. Like trudging against thick molasses. But you find it.

And then, your spirit exhales, and a droplet of moisture plummets.

Through the gap of Saturn’s rings, it passes Orion, and parachutes downward. Through the ozone, toward the oceans. Life’s layers reflect; her light shimmers. It shines back upward, like a kaleidoscope. And plop, on the weathered roof.

Right above yourself.

And everything that goes up, must come down.

Darkness fades to technicolor as you descend.

Throw away the camera.

        Imagine a golden, plastic cylinder. Inside, filled with tiny shards of neon glass that point inside your mind. Go through it. Cock your head. Adjust the focus. The colors are everywhere, and there’s no sense to them, and it doesn’t matter. Zoom in. The lens, a guide.

        Twist the narrow tube. Shift perspectives. Subject the subjective.

You see a surface like the moon. Craters. A floor of compressed, solidified lava stone.  The speed of light refracts on fragments of mirrored glass. Zoom in. Past the absence of gravity. Back the way you came.

You recede though the ozone, transparent no more. The cotton candy of the sky, the sunrise’s decadent decorations.

Striations, swirls, swivels.  

You pass between Mother Nature’s ice crystals. Cirrus, cumulus, then stratus.

        You see the aqueous areas covering three-fourths of the Earth. The glossy turquoise; the briny solution. A dark spot—a sea turtle taking a break.

        Inhale, life

        Exhale…

Spy what’s beneath. The low rumbled song of Beluga birthing. A new starfish limb’s pointed rise with the tiny beat of suckers on a painted desert of coral. The yearning trumpet of a bottlenose searching the deep for its lover.

Zoom out. Pan left.

A boy in Namibia dying from AIDS. His parents, skin and bones, sit idly by watching him deteriorate. Helpless.

Pan left. Zoom in.

A reflection in the water. Your face, but not yourself.

Pan left once more. Zoom in. Further.

A patch of green. A scarlet critter caresses the top of the blade—good luck.  

Zoom out.

A flock of birds frolics around you.

Violet tufts splotch their underbellies; their tails elongated. Sunflower seeds pop and crack under their beaks.

Their ululations and whistles move through you, while you watch yourself with your eyes closed. Imagining all of this.

The sun gleams on the back of your neck.

***  

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Phillip Wenturine is a middle school English teacher, where his job description is to change the world, but the reality is fighting the endless struggle to end comma splices. He has published other essays in Aurora magazine, The Talon Review, Intrinsick Magazine, and Potluck Magazine. He completed his MFA from Eastern Kentucky University where he attended residencies in Lisbon, Portugal, and he just received a Fulbright Scholarship to go back and teach. Phillip enjoys traveling to foreign countries, consuming a large goblet of sangria on the weekends, and the color orange makes him smile. Read more on PhillipWrites.com.

The Basket – by SOPHIE VAN LLEWYN

The Basket

A loose straw pinches the tender flesh between my nail and the tip of my middle finger. I hesitate, unsure if I should withdraw my hand or if I should let the pain linger for a bit longer. I am unloading the basket my husband had received from the bone marrow society as a compensation for the holes he got in his ilium. That’s just a fancy word for the pelvic bone, one I learned when the doctor explained to us what they were going to do to him so he can help a very sick stranger. I remembered it because it sounded just like the name of one of those characters in World of Warcraft. I would lose my husband to it on a regular basis. I’ve lost him now, too, but it’s a bit more permanent. I won’t be able to wrench him back by turning off his computer.

One after the other, I discard the contents: homemade raspberry jam, pickled beets, a fancy tomato sauce, tiny chocolates in a golden package. The kind of jars which make you think of somebody else’s very rich grandmother. Though I’m sure no rich grandmother bothers to make her own jams.

I feel like desecrating a tomb, though by now they have all long expired, just like gratitude. The only thing that I can rescue is a bottle of red wine.

His bone marrow went to a seventeen-year-old in France. At least, that’s what it said in a letter from the bone marrow society.

Try to Google ‘donating bone marrow’ and let your cursor hover for a moment, like suspending your foot in mid-air. Look at the suggestions. ‘Donating bone marrow risk’. ‘Donating bone marrow pay’. ‘Donating bone marrow pain’. In this order. I can tell you the pain is excruciating. After the teeth grinding at night, for weeks after the extraction, the days spent with his eyes on his watch, calculating time left until his next dose of painkiller, my husband could never bring himself to open the basket. It was a somewhat of a rowdy reminder, resting on a cupboard, that he was actually a good man. He would pass by it every time he would go to his room to play some WOW.

Nobody asked about the pain. They all wanted to know how much he got paid. As if doing something noble is another privilege reserved for the rich. A concept foreign to a construction worker. Nobody believed him that his reward had been a goodie basket. And knowing that a teenager would be able to eat as many croissants and foie gras as she wants to, for years and years to come. His pay had been giving the gift of life.

I look at the bottle in my hand and barely don’t smash it against the floors. I barely don’t press its severed neck against my wrists. He had donated so that she can have fresh, healthy blood. Old blood in a young body.

Half a year after the first letter, they sent us another one saying that the young girl didn’t make it.

The disease had returned to her blood.

Without the bottle, all that would be left of my husband would be an empty basket and an inactive character in a game. Empty carcasses.

I carefully put the bottle down, willing it to break. But it doesn’t. Some things are meant to endure, even against their will. I press the flesh under my fingernails against the loose straw in the basket. I’d like to keep the splinter buried there for a few days, just to remind myself that no pain lasts forever.  

***

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Sophie van Llewyn lives in Germany. She is an Assistant Editor at Bartleby Snopes. Her flash fiction has been published in The Molotov Cocktail, Sick Lit Magazine, 101 Words and is forthcoming in Flash Frontier.

Muesli – by KATE JONES

Muesli

After you leave, I sit and stare out of my rain-dotted window, that used to be our window.  I stare out at the red-brick buildings.  I watch the raindrops drip from the telephone wires like the tears of jilted lovers.

I stare into the windows of the apartments opposite, at the contemporary kitchenware and wine racks.  Things I thought we might own one day.  Grown-up stuff.  Earthenware dishes.   A juicer.

The couple opposite, the ones we used to make fun of together, sit at a granite-topped breakfast bar, eating something grainy.  Muesli.  She still wears workout gear; Lycra pink leggings tighter than a snake’s skin, and a black hoodie.  No inch of her arse hangs over the sides of the black and chrome stool she perches on, like a delicate bird ready for flight.  She brings her loaded silver spoon to pink lips.

As I sit on the floor eating leftover pizza, I try to imagine transmuting myself into her skin and wonder whether you would have stayed if I’d worn skin-tight Lycra and eaten muesli from a spoon.

If my arse had fitted neatly onto a stool.

The man gets up now.  He’s wearing a brown wool suit and ironic tie.  He puts on his jacket.  It’s one of those suits that make him look slightly creative – definitely not a banker’s suit – and I remember how we used to make up jobs and names for them.

He leans across and kisses her on the forehead.  She smiles up at him showing perfect white teeth.  Her blonde ponytail bobs lightly.  (How does it stay so perfect when she’s been exercising?)

He picks up a soft, brown leather briefcase from the floor and leaves the room.  She sits on, reading the newspaper and sipping her orange juice.  I watch her wait there for a few minutes, until she’s sure he’s gone.  Then, she pulls a pink mobile from her pocket and taps a message into it.

I watch for a few more minutes, biting my nails, a habit you hate, until I see her jump from the stool.  She’s running out of the door, which I know leads to the hallway where the outside door is.  I know this because it’s the same set-out as my apartment – the one that used to be ours.

I can’t see her now.  But still I know what she’s doing.

I know that she’s kissing you and tasting that unique taste you have, of mint and a hint of garlic, even when you haven’t eaten it.

I know that you’ll be tasting muesli on her tongue.

And I know that you’ll be wrapping your thick arms around her slim waist, as I let my tears splash onto the glass, mirroring the raindrops on the other side.

 ***

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Kate Jones is a freelance writer based in the UK.  A regular writer for Skirt Collective, she also writes features and reviews for The State of the Arts.  She has also published flash fiction and poetry in various literary magazines, including Sick Lit Magazine, Gold Dust, and 101words.  She has been long-listed for Flash 500, and won the weekly AdHoc Fiction contest, as well as being nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Kelly Coody of Sick Lit Magazine for 2017.

Find her on Twitter: @katejonespp

She also blogs at: writerinresidenceblog.wordpress.com

 

Double Trouble – by VOIMA OY

Double Trouble

Doubles were supposed to make things easier, weren’t they? The truth is complicated. Jack and Jeri were the perfect couple, but that’s not so surprising. They were compatible even on a molecular level. What is surprising is that they were not happy.

They wanted more time together. Jack’s job as a data miner kept him busy for days on end. Jeri, a dream developer, was equally career-minded. It was so hard to get together because of conflicting schedules.

Doubles were the answer. That’s where I came in. You see, I am Jeri’s double, jeri. I have her memories but different abilities. I am Jeri, but I am also me.

Jack has his double, too, of course. His name is jack. The four of us spent lots of time together, at first. We played bridge and tennis. It was fun to get to know each other, like dancing in a house of mirrors.

Then, Jack and Jeri would go to work, leaving jack and me to keep each other company. Oh, the fun we had together! Unlike Jack and Jeri, we don’t need to eat or sleep. But jack has a surprising talent for cooking, and my talents are more, well, athletic. I do things Jeri would never dream of.

Now, jack makes dinner for Jeri and Jack, and I help them relax after all those long hours of coding. But what about jack and me, don’t we have needs and feelings? Sometimes I look at him, and I know he is thinking the same thing. We are perfectly compatible. There is no need for words.

We plan to run away, jack and me. We’ll hop a ship somewhere. He could work as a cook. I could dance and teach yoga. This was our dream, anyway.

But lately, I see Jeri has been spending more time with jack, devouring his tasty offerings. He knows just what she likes. And Jack has been doing stretches with me. Last night, he said, “Let’s dance.”

It is so confusing! Why is Jack kissing me now? I’m not so sure I like it.

***

voimaoy

Voimaoy lives on the western rim of  Chicago, near the expressway and the Blue Line trains. Her writing can be found online at Paragraph Planet, Visual Verse, 101 Fiction and Unbroken Journal.  Follow her on Twitter, too— @voimaoy

The Wish – by JAE MAZER

The Wish

       

        Warmth. Wet and gritty, pooled beneath my fluttering eyelids. I opened my eyes and the heat flowed out, trickling down my cheeks and soaking my shirt. I grazed the dampness with my fingertips, then held my hand in front of my face. Shimmering crimson stained the tips of my pallid fingers, the same red wetness that saturated the front of my shirt. My vision was cloudy, the combined product of head trauma and blood flowing over my eyes. I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand, and gave a few ferocious blinks to clean away the mental and physical haze. Time to assess the situation.

        The front of the car was akin to a crumpled accordion, wrapped around an oak tree at the bottom of the ravine. I was still buckled into my seat. The driver’s side seat belt was hanging in place, neglected at a time when it had been needed most. My husband was always obstinate when it came to things he didn’t prefer, one of which was to wear a seatbelt when the new laws came into effect. No harm no foul for decades, until this night. A stone’s throw from the car, beyond a gaping chasm in the windshield, the bottoms of his cheap loafers were staring me in the face from the forest bed.

        I released my seatbelt, and opened my door. It took a great deal of wriggling and contorting to get out; my knees had become intimately and forcefully acquainted with the dash. Once I had struggled free, I stood wavering on tentative legs, legs I wasn’t sure would hold me up let alone carry me very far. But they did, and I floated along on autopilot to what was left of my husband. He was dead. Very dead. Mangled, ended abruptly with such violence and force that he was no longer recognizable in the pile of inanimate meat that lay before me. This is what I’d hoped for time and time again throughout our marriage, but I hadn’t imagined it would be so terrible. Reality sank in, and panicked sobs erupted from my chest. I needed help. I wasn’t hurt—not badly anyways—but I needed someone. I ran into the woods, in no direction in particular, hoping to eventually intersect a road, a house, a person, anything.

        The darkness of the midnight hour was compounded by the heavy overhang of tree branches combating the glow of the moon, making an already treacherous and foreign environment even less navigable. The trail was disjointed, speckled with broken lunar illumination. I followed the most even ground I could find, stopping to gather myself each time I came to a clearing or an opening in the claustrophobic fauna. Every step I took brought me farther along the path that wasn’t a path, and deeper into lost.

        My mind needed to slow down, to process what had just happened, and the silence and solitude of the night woods the perfect place for reflection. A car accident. My husband was killed. Those were the plain facts. That should have been troubling enough, but no. What corroded my heart and nerves was the internal dialogue that had transpired within me just prior to our sedan plummeting down that slope. We had fought, as we typically did after a shindig where booze flowed like water, but my mind was fighting a battle cumulative of all the combat we had engaged in during the decade of our marriage. All the hurt, the disrespect, the mundane squabbles. I had decided at that moment, in that car careening towards our doom, that I hated my husband. I had wished, a whisper in my mind, that he would just die. And die he did.

        Now here I was, wandering in the middle of nowhere, heading deep into the woods to God knows what end. But it felt right, and I craved something that felt good. As I passed through trees and bushes, the branches and tendrils of leaves and vines groped at me with their coarse fingers, snagging my hair and clothes like hungry predators. Panic set in as I grew overwhelmed by the tactile assault. I closed my eyes, blindly thrashing forwards until the forest wall gave way to a clearing, and I plummeted into the moss.

        It was an odd clearing, out of place and unnatural. Set in the center was a stone cabin, warm light flickering in the foggy windows, a plume of smoke coughing gently from the brick chimney. Relief washed over me, and I stumbled up to my feet, anxious for consolation from another soul, but quickly retracted my trajectory towards mental solace. At first blush, the cabin had looked quaint and cozy, a veritable cliche of an innocuous hideaway off the beaten path. Now that I eyeballed it with more scrutiny, I found that this little haven had some eerie quirks, sideways enough for my mind to raise the red flags.

        The windows, flickering with what seemed to be the glow from an active fire, were stained a yellowish-red, as if fluid had been splashed on them and left to dry. Amulets and talismans of all sorts hung from the eavestroughs, dangling and clanking against each other in the wind. The pathways were lined by off-white decor which, upon further inspection, appeared to be bones. I was about to retreat and find another destination to conclude my wandering, when a crack rang out behind me, resonating off the surfaces of the forest.

        I turned and saw them. They saw me—likely they had seen me all along—but now I finally saw them. I had the gut feeling that I hadn’t been alone during my short travels, but now I had solid confirmation. There, walking towards me, hip to hip, were row upon row of all manner of unearthly creatures the likes of which I couldn’t conjure up even in my most feverish nightmares. Jaws hanging haphazardly, skin torn and battered, limbs missing or otherwise rearranged. They were a sight to behold, so much so that I had to suppress projectile bile from spewing forth from my gob. I turned back to the cabin, and saw more monstrosities ambling towards the doorway. If I didn’t know better, not that I knew what was going on at all, I would have said they were forming a line. They didn’t seem interested in me at all. Regardless, I felt the urge to scream and run, until a cracking voice broke the groans and grinding of the march of the dead.

        “A right mess, and a fresh one at that,” the voice said.

        I looked to the stoop, and found what I presumed to be the cabin’s owner standing on the porch, leaning on the rail and surveying the mass of macabre before him. His hair was long but tidy, gathered in a wispy, white bun. His eyes were gold and his skin grey, the grooves and divots on his face suggesting he was many miles from youth. He extended a long finger, then curled it up to beckon me.

        “You.”

        I went without hesitation. If I strolled by him on the street I would cringe at his aesthetic, but out here he looked like a butterfly amongst cockroaches. I dashed to the cabin, traversing the stairs in a single bound, and stood in front of the door. I grimaced as the monsters continued storming the cabin in slow motion, but the curator seemed cool as a cucumber, so my mood followed suit. I looked at the door, and saw a brass nameplate bolted to the heavy wood, engraved with a simple title:

The Translator    

     The man swung the door open and stepped to the side, motioning me through with an open palm. I obliged. Once inside, I looked around and was pleased to find an average little dwelling furnished with floral couches, doilies, and ceramic ornaments one would expect in the abode of any octogenarian. There were pictures of scenery and geese on the walls, and a fresh pot of tea boiling on the wood stove. Perhaps I would find comfort here after all.

        “No,” he said sharply. “This is where I live, not where I work. We conduct our business downstairs.”

        Before I had time to question him, he spun around on his calloused feet and headed to the back of the kitchen, opening what I imagined was a door to the basement. I was in no state to argue, so I followed. Besides, deeper into the cabin meant further from those creatures outside. Unfortunately, the basement was what basements are; damp, dark, and terrifying. It was a single room lit by sparse candle light, the walls decorated with a hoarder’s share of knick-knacks, trinkets, and personal effects. I imaged the hundreds, possibly thousands of people attached to these items.

        “So, love, tell me your story.”

        I tried, I really did. I felt the muscles in my diaphragm expand and contract, and air propel out of my mouth, but the only sound I produced was a guttural growl that sounded like a grizzly bear in heat. Startled, my hands flew over my mouth.

        “It’s a bit off-putting at first,” he laughed. “To you, that is. Doesn’t bother me one bit, so don’t fret over that. I’m no stranger to your language.”

        I cocked my head at him, puzzled.

        “The din of the dead, lovey. Once you’re gone, you all speak the same language, and use the same tones. No matter what corner of this spinning rock you’re from, you’re all the same after the end.”

        I’m dead?

        These are the words I spoke in my mind, but it came out as that godawful, sputtering garble. No matter. He understood.

        “Yes,” he said, kneeling in front of me and taking my hands in his. “I’m so sorry. No one comes here if they make it out alive. I don’t exist in the real world.”

        But, why? How?

        “There’s no time to get into logistics, sweetheart. You were lucky enough to make it to me, but time is short. We must do this soon, or you’ll be cast out with the rest of the tardy to wander these woods eternally. If you are late arriving here, I cannot help.”

        What?

        “This is a transitional place—the lounge of the afterlife if you will—and those who are lucky enough to win this lottery get one final wish before carrying on to their final destination. Or returning to their life. There is no rhyme or reason behind who gets this opportunity. You are selected randomly, so don’t go thinking your high or low levels of morality earned you a spot past my doorstep. It’s a crapshoot, and you came out on top.”

        A wish?

        “Yes, you get one wish; one last kick at the cat before it’s all final. But there’s a catch. It’s not just a simple wish such as the open ended requests like the ones fulfilled by my brethren summoned from lamps. No, there are rules to my wishes. Your wish is a word.

        A word?

        “Yes, a word. You will wish to speak one word, at any time, in any place, from any set of lips, and I will make that happen. Only one word. You have but five minutes to consider, then you must tell me your word. I will translate it for you, through the speech of whomever you choose, at whatever time you choose. If you are clever, you might alter the course of your life, or your death. Choose poorly, and you’ve wasted our breath.”

        A daunting task, one muddled by having to simultaneously grapple with the knowledge that my life had been thrust into limbo. One word. What could change things? I could get us to take a cab home from the party, then the crash would never occur. But how could I be sure one word would make that happen? I couldn’t. Perhaps a word of warning, before the car loses control? Perhaps something to ensure that I drove.

        “Time is ticking,” he said, looking at his watch.

        My life spun a manic reel in my mind. One word, to anyone, from anyone. It was so much power, so little time. I wanted to live, but had my life even been worth living? Could I possibly change more than my moment of death, perhaps the course of my life?

        Then I knew. Instantly and conclusively.

        I breathed my wish to him in my new found voice, my din of the damned.

        He raised a bushy eyebrow at me, then shrugged his shoulders.

        “Creative, I’ll give you that,” he said. “Cold, but clever. Very well.”

        He yanked off my necklace, and mumbled some incantation while worrying it through his fingers. I looked at the paraphernalia cluttered on his walls, and understood what it was. I was one of many who had been granted one wish. A word.

        In a flash, I was somewhere else, watching a scene unfold though my spot in the unspecified dimension which I occupied. My mother- and father-in-law, many moons ago, slamming into each other on a busy sidewalk. After gathering up their spilled belongings, they stood and looked deep into each other’s eyes. After a few minutes of benign chit chat, he asked his question.

        “Hey, I’m only in town for one day on business. Wanna catch a flick? Or a coffee, maybe?”

        She looked at him with lust in her eyes, and parted her full lips.

        “No.”

        As the word passed over her tongue, she looked shocked and confused. Her mind hadn’t prompted her to speak that particular word, and her lips hadn’t formed it, but the word had been said. By me. I wished that word upon her voice, and in their ears. A word that would end their love before it ever blossomed into a life and a family. That ‘no’ would not just ensure that my husband didn’t die in that car crash, but that he had never lived in the first place. My troubles ended before they even began.

***

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Jae Mazer is a Canadian who was born in Victoria, British Columbia, and grew up in the prairies and mountains of Northern Alberta. After spending the majority of her life in the Great White North, she migrated south to Texas. Now she enjoys life as a writer, an editor, and a connoisseur and creator of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. A ferocious love of reading led her to believe she could weave a good tale herself, and now she is the author of four published novels that are available on all platforms world wide. She also writes the award winning series Chrysalis and Clan, available on the serialized fiction website, Channillo.com.

What If You Need A Pen? – by C R SMITH

What If You Need A Pen?

It will be different this year. The words scream out from the very first page of my journal — my hopes for the future writ large. But who was I kidding, this is the last day of the year and it has turned out to be like every other. I started the year poverty stricken and alone and that is exactly how I am going to end it.

A quick flick through the pages reveals my sprawling script, recounting tales of despair over the weeks and months, each entry darker than the previous one. I can hardly bring myself to fill in the final page. What more is there for me to say? Nothing has changed. Reluctantly, I pick up my pen and begin to write exactly that, but it is out of ink.

Rummaging through the drawer, I find nothing but a broken pencil. I close the journal and walk over to the window. It is so cold a layer of frost has crystallised on the inside of the glass. Scratching my name into the hard white coating, I peer down into the street. There are still heaps of snow covering the curbs.

I try to warm myself up with a mug of tea — black, no sugar. The steam mingles with my breath and hangs in the air. My stomach rumbles. The only food left is a tin, bought at reduced price because of a missing label. I just hope it isn’t dog food again.

When I pull open the lid, I discover peaches staring up at me. Their cheerful orange somehow lights up the greyness of the room; the only good thing to happen in weeks, maybe my luck is finally changing. I reach for my journal — if only I had a pen. I think back to the superstore on the corner of the high street, it has those small blue ones for customer’s use.

I pull on my boots and leave the bedsit, fighting my way through crowds of people spending money they do not really have. They are all here to see in the New Year. All I want is a pen. The crowd’s happiness is irritating to be honest — all that laughter and merriment. I want to tell them the future is bleak and already written. But why spoil it for them, they will find out for themselves soon enough.

Crossing the river, I stop halfway along the bridge and glance down into the black water. Spots of blurred reflections catch my eye, sparkling dots embellishing the rippling surface. They part in the wake of the passing boats. I watch my reflection’s fragmentation; watch myself disappear from sight as if my very existence is in doubt.

Leaning further over in search of myself, I hear the swirling depths calling my name. I imagine what it would be like to let the river swallow me up. How long would I last in the near-freezing water? Would I finally find peace?

My question remains unanswered. There is movement at my side. I turn and see a woman has climbed onto the stone parapet. She is sitting, feet dangling above the fast moving water.

  “Careful! You don’t want to fall,” I shout, acknowledging the irony of my words.

  “Go away. Leave me alone.”

I consider doing just that, but cannot walk away. Instead I move towards her.

  “Don’t come any closer.”

  “Tell me your name and I promise I’ll stay here,” I say.

She stares at me for a while before answering. “Jenny. My name’s Jenny.”

As we talk I gradually inch closer until I am standing right beside her. Close enough to see the dried tear tracks marking her face. She tells me her problems, I tell her mine. Holding out my hand, I persuade her to climb down from her perch. She laughs at my jokes and before we know it Big Ben’s ringing in our ears.

People hug and kiss and dance around us, wishing everyone they bump into a Happy New Year. We’re pulled along with the throng.

  “I only came out to steal a pen,” I tell her, laughing.

  “Oh! There’s one in my bag.” Jenny says, rooting around inside her hold-all. “Here you are, you can keep it.”

I look at the pen, and then at Jenny, a wave of optimism rushing over me. Everything will be different this year.

***

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CR Smith is currently working towards a Fine Art degree. She can be read on Paragraph Planet, VERStype, Visual Verse,  Zero Fiction, The Angry Hour Glass, Microcosms Fic and Ink in Thirds. She has also written for The Infernal Clock, an anthology of horror stories due out later this year. You can find her on Twitter:@carolrosalind and instagram.com/smith.cr/@smith.cr

Me and Karen – by BENJAMIN FINATERI

Me and Karen

I have intrusive thoughts of jumping in front of a train.

I take a step back. Take two. I listen to the Carpenters.

Karen, my Beloved.

Her voice soothes me, more than sex, drugs, or any friend can.

 

At the supermarket, I like putting my hand in the coffee grinder

as it grinds the beans.

I push the beans toward the stainless steel teeth

as if that will help the beans grind faster.

Will the woman next to me faint if the grinder takes a finger?

 

I like to stare at knives, imagine them cutting through tin cans, or bone.

I want to run my thumb along the blades.

 

I remember in high school, in shop class,

being tempted by the circular saw.

Bringing my finger so close, and closer, and closer, then pulling it back. Doing it all again, and later, at night, thinking about it some more.

 

Karen and I talk every day.

About what may have been, and what may yet be.

And though her voice exists only in my head, still she relaxes me.

 

I’m such an idiot that I want to drive 100 miles per hour, like I did when

I was 16. I miss driving like that so bad. I want to be airborne in my car again. I want to crash.

 

Giving blood turns me on. I obsess over fucking the phlebotomist,

a young Chinese woman who tells me she’s drawn blood

thousands of times already.

Take me, I want to say to her. Be my vampire. Make me live forever.

 

I think of Karen vomiting. Lying on the bathroom floor. Dead at 32.

So much more she could’ve shared with us.

I try hard to remember that her voice is immortal.

I have intrusive thoughts of stepping in front of a bus.

I take a step back. Take two. I listen to the Carpenters.

***

ben-finateri-pic

Ben’s stories have been published in Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Devolution Z, and Every Day Fiction. His poetry has appeared in sPARKLE & bLINK, the 2014 Poets 11 Anthology, and Clockwise Cat. Ben also reads his work throughout the Bay Area. When he’s not reading or writing, he teaches ESL at City College of San Francisco. Visit him at benfinateri.com

 

Job Creation – by KATE BRADLEY-FERRALL

JOB CREATION

 

HER: How’s the grilled cheese?

 

HIM: Fine.

 

HER: And the wine?

 

HIM: Also fine.

 

HER: Good.

 

HIM: So, what do you want?

 

HER: What do you mean, what do I want?

 

HIM: I mean, what do you want? You never cook dinner unless you want something.

 

HER: That’s not true.

 

HIM: Yes it is. Remember the last time you tried to cook ravioli and the label caught fire and almost burned the house down?

 

HER: It didn’t say “don’t heat up the can in the oven.” So not my fault.

 

HIM: That was the time you bought all those used board games and wanted me to help you sell the pieces online. Or the time you tried to cook–

 

HER: Okay, got it. But have you ever tried to play Monopoly without the dog? The dog is the best piece. The game is ruined without the dog. So my idea was good.

 

HIM: I actually like the iron.  And it cost more to buy the games than we got selling the pieces.

 

HER: So?

 

HIM: So.

 

HER: Sooooo, I just wanted to tell you about my new job.

 

HIM: Okay. Here we go.

 

HER: I’m going to be an underpants yoga instructor.

 

HIM: Huh?

 

HER: An underpants yoga instructor.

 

HIM: Is that like where you teach yoga to underpants?

 

HER: No. And that’s not funny. I’ll be teaching yoga to people in their underpants.

 

HIM: With clothes on top?

HER: Without.

 

HIM: Women?

 

HER: Yup.

 

HIM: And men?

 

HER: Yeah. Like, three guys have already signed up. Isn’t that cool? Honey? Are you okay? SHOULD I DO THE HEIMLICH?

 

HIM: Please stop squeezing me. And, no.

 

HER: Okay, good. I thought you were choking to death.

 

HIM: No. I meant, “no.”

 

HER: No?

 

HIM: No. No skivvies yoga instruction.

 

HER: What do you mean, ‘no’?

 

HIM: I mean, nooooo. As in, no teaching that, that, whatever that is.

 

HER: You can’t tell me no.

 

HIM: I just did.

 

HER: You don’t even know what it is.

 

HIM: I think I do know, which is why I’m saying no. Picturing the general idea right now. And it’s not pretty.

 

HER: It brings calm to people. Something you could use.

 

HIM: Okay, but I don’t need calm in my underwear. Underwear is so not calming. Underwear is, like, stimulating.

 

HER: But I’ve got the garage all set up. Music, mats…

 

HIM: And our kids?

 

HER: …curtains.

 

HIM: Go back to selling dice.

 

HER: We’ll get a babysitter. You can be in my class. It makes you flexible, you know. Something that is helpful for other things. If you know what I mean.

 

HIM: I do not want a bunch of people in our garage in their whitey-tighties, boxers, panties, whatever. And I certainly don’t want to join them. And I definitely don’t want you leading the class.

 

HER: I’m going to do it. You can’t tell me no. I went to the trouble of the grilled cheese and everything.

 

HIM: It is good. Hey, baby. Baby? DON’T LET THAT DOOR HIT YOU ON THE WAY OUT! Or wait, is it, I hope the door slams your ass on the way out? I can never remember. HEY! Hey, baby! Can you hear me? You’re not being very calm right now! TRY YOGA!

***

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Kate Bradley-Ferrall is an award-winning television producer and scriptwriter. She writes for children and adults, and her written work has appeared in the Colorado Review and AppleSeeds magazine. She is currently working on a middle grade novel. Find her on Twitter @KBFerrall

 

The Patch of Darkness – by MARIAH SCHLUETER

The Patch of Darkness

 

Purple cigar smoke choked the air, but the woman remained dead to the world on the corner frozen with the combined efforts of Jack Frost and General Winter. The nameless patch of darkness puffed again. He blew a smoke dragon. It slithered around the woman’s body.

 

The shadow saw kisses of rosy color blush into her cheeks. Her eyes fluttered open and she drew her first breath in over five hours. The shadow whistled into the wind as he flicked his hand toward the green shutters at the snow covered cottage across the cobble paved street. The shutters blew open fiercely.

 

A young man rushed to the window, his aim to pull them tight. Before he could, the woman fell into a coughing fit. This got his attention and alarm. The shadow watched as the young man pulled on his coat and boots, ran from the cottage and scooped up the poor woman in his arms to settle her gently by his fireplace.

 

This job done, his heels turned and silently clicked down the street. His soft black eyes darted from corner to corner. His lord would be pleased, and his lady, too. It was their gift in the month of feast – this stopping of death, if only given in sparse moments. The patch stopped and stared down at a little girl.

His heart broke at the sight. It was too late for her. Her pallid malnourished finger clutched an empty matchbox. Her whole face was frozen in the saddest expression. Little frozen tear tracks marked her cheeks.  

       

The patch cradled the child in his arms. He lifted his head and whistled softly to the moon. Beautiful, silvery spirited sleigh bells sounded gently down the cobble-paved street. The little sled was the incarnate beauty of the season, blue and clear with a silvery aura surrounding it. The patch of darkness nestled the child within the blankets. His warm lips touched her nose. Her cheeks stayed pale, but her eyes slowly opened.

       

“This will take you home.” Her smile bound his heart together once more. She stretched out her hands. He put the reins in her little hands and kissed the polar cub hitched as her steed. Then, the moonlight formed a starry patch and the child ascended into the night to be with her grandmother once more.

       

The patch caught himself waving. He lowered his hand, watching as she and her sled turned into twinkles in the winter night sky. Then he turned away, pleased that she was beginning the start of the dawn. He puffed his cigar once more, and then crushed it under his boot. Work was still to be done. His boots clanked silently down the cobblestones which wound through the lazy streets of Mont-de-Pellier. Finding no others to send along, the patch slithered into a corner of darkness beyond the street lamps and candle-burned doors.

***

mariah-schlueter-photo

Mariah Schlueter grew up in a Midwestern area that looked remarkably like Hobbiton. She is currently working toward her BA in Theatre and English. Her creative work includes photography, poetry, short stories, acting, and a current hiatus from her living statue alter-ego.
You can find her online at:
Twitter: @TheMariahNoel