“Paradise Etc” by Geoffrey Heptonstall


One day I walked out of paradise. It was something that I did on a hot July day when the horizon shimmered as if the earth were burning. Then there was a sudden change.  

It was noon beneath a cloudless sky when I felt the unexpected, unaccountable chill of a wind blow across my face so that I shivered even in the sunlight. I can feel that tremor now.

I was walking in a public garden, botanical with unusual trees, and I reached a high wall with a gate that opened by the sudden wind. What could I do but walk through the gate? My curiosity overtook my caution. I thought I’d nothing to fear. Looking back, I could see the gate. I carefully marked the exact location, expecting to return.

There was a feeling in the air. It was about something I had yet to discover. Now came the clouds that darkened the sky. The gust of chill wind had been the first sign. Something was happening very fast. Time was accelerating. It had been noon a moment ago, now it was three. A moment later it was dusk. There was a bright moon and a panorama of bright stars across the sky.

A clock struck midnight in the deep resonance of its bell. I could see no clock tower, but the chimes were clear to my ears. As each chime of the hour sounded the earth shook. I heard the sound of crockery breaking, of stones falling. I heard screams and sirens.

Someone gestured to me to run for cover. There were searchlights casting their beams over the area. Sporadic gunfire could be heard. ‘Don’t you know there’s a war on?’ the helmeted warden asked of me angrily. Someone offered me a cigarette in the bomb shelter. ‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘That’s all right, son,’ the sergeant said. ‘These trenches can be a frightening place at times.’ I looked down at the others in khaki uniform. ‘Which war is this?’ I asked. ‘Why, it’s the war to end wars, of course,’ the sergeant said.

Then the firing stopped as the snow fell. And we all played football to the background hum of Silent Night. The music faded as I made my way through the mist, looking for the others. There were fallen comrades. There was smoke blending with the mist so that I choked my stumbling way entirely alone in the desolate place at sunrise.

There was no-one else to be seen. There was nothing except miles of sand as far as the horizon that seemed to be the end of the earth. Another hot July had risen suddenly.

I woke about nine, remembering my dream. I had dreamed of peace and of war. ‘It wasn’t a dream, was it, Sarge?’ I said. ‘And you’re dead, aren’t you? But I’m not.’ That was my one certainty, that I was alive. Whatever was happening, I was alive. If I held on to that certainty I knew that I could survive.

I looked round, but the sergeant had gone. I was alone in an empty room. There was no window. There was no door. With neither entrance nor exit I was entombed. So I was not alive. But I knew I was, no matter what they were trying to make me believe.

There was a window, after all. It was a very small and in a corner by the ceiling I couldn’t reach. There was a door of sorts, barely perceptible, no more than a hole through which one could crawl. But the hole was blocked with a heavy stone I could not move.

The room was cold, very cold. I began to shiver. And as I shivered the walls began to shake. I put my hand to the stone, only to discover it was not stone at all. It was mist again, as before when the battle raged.

The battle had not ceased. The redcoats were charging past, bayonets before them. Someone pushed me down so that I would not be seen. There was a glow of fire in the distance. The redcoats were burning everything in sight. There was so much brutal noise and the confusion of violence and panic. I feared for my life.

Yet I found I was able to walk through the chaos unnoticed and unharmed. I was not here. It was as if I were a ghost. I saw people I knew well who were passing by without a hint of recognition. And when I spoke they looked away. Here we were on the street of my home town in daylight on a summer’s day. And nobody knew who I was. Nobody saw me.

Nobody saw me because I was the only living presence on that street. When I reached out to touch my hand passed through. And yet they believed it was I who was dead even though I was flesh and blood while everything else was insubstantial and subject to sudden change.

And who was making these changes? I was the one responsible for all that I saw and heard and felt. It was happening to me. It was happening because of me. Once I understood that I saw how I could change things. Everything could go back to the way it was.

It was a hot July day when the horizon shimmered as if the earth were alight. I looked at my watch. It was noon. The clock struck the hour. But it failed to stop at twelve. It did not stop. I could not make it do what I wished. I was no longer in control. Perhaps I was no longer alive?

Was that why the mourners passed in their sombre expressions and dark clothing? They were singing a psalm in plain chant. Tears flowed from everyone’s eyes. They watered the flowers which were scattered on the floor of the vault where the body was laid to rest.

No, that was not how it was to be. The body was to be burned. They were preparing a pyre. Nothing less than a sacrifice would do to appease the anger within the hearts of the mourners. They sought vengeance and retribution. They sought to dismember me limb from limb and feed me to the rats that scurried across the floor of the vault.

They were not rats. They were people, but not people as you and I know people. They were speaking in a strange language that was akin to animal sounds, like the chatter of chimpanzees, like the cawing of ravens, like the growling of tigers, like the swish of trees in the wind.



‘Tempting isn’t it?’ a voice says. Looking round I see someone uniformed. He has been watching me, observing everything I do. ‘The botanical gardens,’ he says as if to explain. ‘There’s a back way if you know about it. Tempting to go in that way and not have to pay.’

There is laughter as he speaks. The laughter is in the air. The uniformed official has disappeared. The laughter is fading. Dust falls on the stone floor at my feet. Looking upward I see darkness where there is stars. It is a moonless night when the only light is the candle that flickers and splutters, throwing shadows on the wall.

The shadows are not shadows. They are spaces in the wall. I can walk in so easily now. But the other side of the wall is not a garden.  There is only an empty space, an arid land of cracked earth and withered grass. I walk on shards of glass among the scattered concrete blocks. This is not what I expected of paradise. That left me no choice but to walk away.

One day I walked out of paradise.


Geoffrey Heptonstall is the author of a novel, Heaven’s invention [Black Wolf 2017]. Recent publications include fiction for Adelaide Literary Magazine, Between the Lines and Black Dandy.

“Galaxy Forgotten” by Stephen Ground


Ever feel like you’re vanishing?



One second. Let me send this text.

I sigh, slurp my beer.

Sorry, Nick says. What’re you saying?

He’s still staring at his phone.

Nothing. It’s not important.

He’s down another rabbit hole – email, Tinder, gambling on lumberjack competitions. Slack-jawed, he flicks a nimble thumb. I gulp the rest of my beer and stand.

Where you going? he grunts.

The pisser. Do you mind?

I step into the washroom when my phone buzzes in my pocket. I fumble it out and it slips, splashing in the toilet. I slam the lid.

Did you get my text?

My phone, I say. It’s wasted.

Yeah bro, let’s get wasted. He chugs without raising his eyes. I grab my jacket and a beer for the road.

Going to the phone store, I say. Probably already missing messages, tweets, breaking news bulletins. Can’t afford to fall behind.

I’m out the door before he responds. There’s a Cell-o-Phone near our place, and I hurry, crushing the beer crossing the empty lot towards the shell of a shopfront – neon OPEN sign dark. I rush the door and yank wildly, escaping a haunted house – a siren blips and I spin. An old security guard leans on her car.

What you doing there?

I need…a phone.

They shut all those Cell-o-Phones down last month, she says. Brick and mortar can’t compete. They’ve gone di-gi-tal.

I sprint home. He doesn’t notice when I barge in.

I need your help, I say.


I need you to order me a phone.

He chuckles vacantly.



Can I use your phone? Mine’s wrecked, and if I don’t get one I won’t be able to check the weather, my bank balance, or work schedule. You know how it is.

Use your laptop.

Don’t have one, I say. Come on, man. Help a brother out?
He’s gone – YouTube, tuned out.

I thread the sidewalk, past swarms locked into screens, magic watches, step-counters – eyes down, lips murmuring or slack, meandering like first-time walkers; dodging mailboxes, trashcans, chained-up bikes and bus shelters, never glancing from their handheld miracles. A video chatter collides with my shoulder, lurching me but continues unaware. It’s simple to fall into the wind-up rhythm of the procession, to weave like a mouse through the walls of a crooked manse, unseen – I slip into a shop near home and snag a Red Bull, pepperoni stick, gum. Paul, the owner, is engrossed in the tv behind him – someone leapt off their balcony in a condo near the Dome. I drop my goods and patter a flourish on plastic-cased scratchers, but he doesn’t turn – the cordless phone he’s clutching falls, arms limp at his sides. I drop a five and scoop my snacks, sit outside and chug my drink, belch loudly and grin at the woman next to me – she doesn’t glance from her e-Reader. I inhale my pepperoni, stuff the plastic in the can, wave a hand in her face then slide my trash in her purse. I pop six sticks of gum in my mouth and wander, stuffing the wrappers in some guy’s backpack then crossing the street. I poach a slice of pizza from a child lost in Pokémon GO!, bum a smoke off a Snapchatting cook down an alley, then, bored, head home – Nick is stretched across the couch, headset on, the dark room blued by his FPS.

Hey, I say. Can we talk?

No answer.

Nick. Can you please pause the game?

Nothing. I leap between him and the tube.

Can you pause it one fucking second?

He’s off the couch like a mama grizzly, the tube her favourite cub – grabs my shoulders, lifts, slams me through the coffee table. I possum in the rubble, and Nick returns to the couch, slides on his headset and grunts something to his team, then plays. I crawl to the hall, searching for a sane person, uninfected; struggle next door, knock, the door cracks – my neighbour, baby on hip, framing the three of us with a selfie-stick.

Rachel, I wheeze. Help.

She snaps a burst, slams the door. I stand and lumber next door, and the next – behind each parasites, leeching from their hosts. I shake them, shout in their faces, but not one looks up.

I’m catching my breath in the lobby when it hits me.
I approach a teen, madly tapping his touchscreen – I can tell by screen proportion, multiple lenses, and casing that it’s the newest model, the one I desperately need but can’t source. I hover, wait for my moment, then lunge – try ripping it away but he fights, small but vicious, snarling, swiping at my face. I raise my fists, but he calmly returns to typing like a supercomputer.

I skulk home, ignoring Nick, into my room to the balcony that costs an extra two seventy-five a month for the privilege. I lean, listen – my city roars like a distant army, cache of millions impossibly out of reach. I step on the ledge, brace on the wall, peer into a pit of twinkling flashes – LED whitewash of a world that no longer knows the dark. I dangle a foot over nineteen stories between me and the sidewalk, just to see if it fits; breathe deeply, bend, wobble, prepare to release when I hear a voice from the lip of the void.


I turn – Nick, drinking a juice pouch, holds a small box.

What’s that?

Just came, he says. Courier.

I clamber off the ledge and take it; he ambles to the couch without another word. Whatever it is, someone bought it online and had it shipped to me – zero human interaction. I tear it open – inside, a note: Happy early birthday, Sweetie. Love, Mom.
Something better than all the gold in the federal reserve – the newest model. My hands shake as I undress it – clutch my prize, saviour, charger in hand.


Stephen Ground’s work has appeared in Dark Ink Magazine, Temenos Journal, and Flumes, among others, and is forthcoming from The Flexible Persona, The Sunlight Press, and Flash Fiction Magazine. A graduate of York University’s Theatre and Community Arts programs, he has migrated back to his hometown of Milton, Ontario after a seven-year retreat – first in Canada’s far North in a remote, fly-in community, then the prairies.


‘III Poems’ by Mike Andrelczyk


Buried 66 feet beneath the backyard swimming pool is the biggest deposit of dinosaur bones that civilization will never see

Losing all my money on an eight-legged horse I turn instead to be hypnotized by the woman with the rose on her neck and the Minotaur in her hair. There’s a cloud leopard out her kitchen window. Y stands for walking in the sky and the dogs are barking at the rain. Her eyes are like the clenched fist meme as she waits at the bus stop on the Scottish moor and everything is backwards so that’s her room. I have nothing to pay her with. But she doesn’t seem to mind. We

are always walking above undiscovered treasure. She throws a lasso and disappears. The 8 Ward bus pulls up, hissing and I get in, still broke.


I ran over a bunny

with my dad’s lawn

mower. broke its legs

I cut the engine.

grabbed the shovel.

made a shadow

over the bunny.

But I couldn’t

smash its brains out

and end

its suffering.

I just went back to mowing my dad’s lawn

and feeling

like a worthless asshole

A Beginning

I pressed the button to turn on the tv

Then it was on

We sat on the worn-out blue recliners

The smoke hung blue in the ping-pong room

The rusted blue refrigerator on the porch was broken

The screen on the door was torn and the spring broken

And it was spring

And it was blue

And broken


And the tv was on

And I could feel in the place where my other hand used to be

I remember

A lion roared.

“Roadkill” by David Estringel


(previously published by Expat press)

      Sitting and swiveling, lazily, in my broken leatherette desk chair, I looked around my office, searching its contents for some sense of purpose for being there, but much to no avail.  Brown bookcases lined the walls, squeezed tightly together in uniform fashion. The shelves were concaved, virtually choking on artifacts collected (hoarded, really) over my three-year tenure at the university.  A great deal of my interests adopted since graduate school were also sufficiently represented: old English textbooks, manuals on psychotherapy, stacks of literature–mostly of the poetry and “dirty realism” ilk–and guides that promised to convey all one could ever want to know about qualitative research methods and their ethical applications. They were more distractions and dalliances than anything, really, that–in lieu of slowing things down and actually reflecting on my life for a change–occupied my mind and most of my free time. Despite the random bursts of clutter that, strategically, were left untouched so as to add a sense of “busyness” to the room, it was a pleasant space to be in with its dark laminate wood furniture (in their varieties of almost-matching hues) and motley knick-knacks that, while decorative, gave visitors little to no information about the inner-workings of my head, leaving them a bit disturbed and slightly off-kilter. The main culprits were a gold-leaf Ganesh statue that doubled as a paperweight; a plaster skull that served as a makeshift bookend; a worn copy of the Zohar on the console table by the door; a metal dachshund on a wooden base, peeing on a fire hydrant; an earmarked book of daily reflections on stoicism; and a vintage toaster from the 1950s that sat atop the bookcase near the office’s rear window that immediately pulled one’s attention towards the back wall, where multiple degrees were mounted like stuffed deer heads but with no sense of pride or accomplishment attached to them. Stopping mid-swivel, I eyed the few shelves dedicated to the field that I not only currently taught, as a full-time assistant professor, but had dedicated a good portion of my adult life to, social work.   

Many titles rang familiar, as I had immersed myself in the profession (clinical practice to be exact) for more years than I cared to admit, hitting heights in my career that even I had never anticipated.  I smiled and nodded to myself, as I scanned book spines for titles I was particularly fond of and found most useful. Most of them centered around cognitive-behavioral therapies and developmental theories: the subjects that had lent greatly to my success as a therapist and college instructor.  Other titles were observed, however, inserted willy-nilly amongst the familiar, that fell upon my consciousness with a dismally lackluster thud.  I had no recollection of where they came from or even why I bought them in the first place.  Their subject matters were relevant enough, spanning everything from family therapy to mindfulness-based practice to the “science of compassion” (whatever that was), but I had certainly never handled any of them nor flipped a single page between any of their crease-free, paperback covers.   Must have been bought last year when I still gave a shit…or at least tried to, I thought to myself, disturbingly unmoved by the assumption. 

Truth be told, I was no stranger to orchestrating a life based on what I “should” do, though the origin of that narrative really was never quite clear to me. The pursuit of upward mobility and goal attainment had become second-nature, making alternate options tantamount to failure or—at the very least—proof that all the things I had been trying to convince myself that I wasn’t were, indeed–after all–true.  To ponder too long upon such thoughts was unacceptable.  “We don’t do that”, my father used to say to me (when we were still speaking, anyway), after any suggestion of doubt or surrender was made audibly known, as if he were speaking to one of the many faceless football players he had coached during his long, acclaimed high-school teaching career. The radio silence between the old man and me should have made things easier for me to find a way out of my current sojourn into limbo, but it didn’t.  Some specters follow you no matter how much time has passed.  No matter how many skins you’ve shed and brushed under dusty carpets, they stick like birthdays or the need to breathe.  No, those thoughts just didn’t do.  They were weak.  Dangerous.  After all, what would chucking it all have meant in retrospect?  All those years of graduate school. The years of training.  The late nights and weekends working in the ER until sun-up.  My private practice.  The systematic sacrificing of what little personal life I had had.  All wasted?  No.  That wasn’t an option.  From a practical standpoint, it made absolutely no sense to shift gears this late in the game—much less, start over from scratch. That meant giving up everything I had talked himself into thinking was important and that couldn’t happen, even though I—more than anything—wished it could.   

As the silence of my office began to stab at my ears, I was overcome with the urge to feel tethered to something—anything. The groundlessness of what seemed like a constant free-fall was beginning to wear on me.  I was always in my head, and when I was lucky enough to be present—really present—I felt pressed by the weight of it all—my life==and hyper-conscious of the meat that burdened my leaden bones.   

My work had brought me a decent amount of security over the years, opening enough doors to help me coast through life. Up until a few months prior, that had been the most important thing in my small world, but—more and more—the prospect of more years of automaton-like productivity had begun to grate on me, gradually tearing away at the illusion of my career and its once-held platinum-card appeal.  Maybe it was because I never really wanted to become a social worker—and clinician—in the first place. After all, it was just a means to an end: a way to prove something, though I wasn’t sure to whom.  Maybe that was what came from expecting too much, or too little, or nothing at all.  Maybe it was what came from forcing a purpose in life and not letting one just unfold before me. To have expected a different outcome seemed silly. In truth, the glamour had faded and, ultimately, I was left navigating a cold world of hard edges and empty space.   

Leaning my head back onto the cracked leather of my chair’s headrest, thoughts pulled me back to the summer of 1977 when I drowned in my apartment complex’s swimming pool; I always went there when I found myself walking that thin line between depression and numbness.  School was out, so my sister and I had gone down to the pool to let off some steam and cut the boredom of the day.  I remembered my father was there, reading a newspaper on a nearby bench with his usual cup of black coffee.  My sister, Lisa, a pretty and slightly chubby girl, was laying on her stomach in a black Woolworth’s one-piece with sash-like fuscia and turquoise stripes that wrapped around her thick waist, flipping through a–then current–issue of Tiger Beat magazine with John Travolta on the cover. I aimlessly dog-paddled about the shallow end of the pool, enjoying the warmth of the sun on my back and the silky coolness of the water that glided around my legs.  After a while, a boy about my age—probably from another unit in the complex—entered the pool gate and headed to patch of grass near the water. While close to the same height, the boy was much bigger than me.  He threw his towel in the grass and dove in, surfacing close to where I was treading water.  It wasn’t long before a friendly exchange took place, and both of us shot-the-shit, chatting about everything from Legos to what pains-in-the-ass sisters were.  Eventually, a game of tag ensued, and we flopped about, darting to-and-fro, launching ourselves from the rough-surfaced pool walls in relentless, individual efforts to make the other ‘it.”  I remembered one of my ankles being grabbed and then being pulled down, hard, but not before an excited laugh escaped my lips: a moment of true, unadulterated happiness.  I remembered being underwater for a long time, not being able to breathe or rise above the surface.  There was thrashing and kicking. The pulling didn’t stop.  I remembered the play of shimmering webs of sunlight on pool walls around me.  I remembered the distorted world above the surface that seemed miles from where I was.  I remembered panic and the color light blue.  Then black.   

When my eyes opened, I was on my back; the silhouette of Lisa’s head looming over me, as the noon sun beat down in a relentless assault.  Instinctively, my eyes searched around for my father, but he was gone.  It was just Lisa and me. She had given me CPR and saved my life: a fortuitous perk of her working part-time, as a lifeguard, at the city pool that summer.   

“Oh, my God, Jacob!  Are you ok?  Are you ok?” Tears filled her eyes. 

I was disoriented and had taken in a lot of water.  I was too busy coughing up what seemed to be an endless supply of it to answer her.  Each cough set off a fire in my chest, as small trickles of warm liquid splashed upon the concrete under my left cheek.  “Where is dad?  I want dad!” I cried.  

“He’s getting help.  You stopped breathing, Jacob.  We—I couldn’t find a pulse.  Oh, my God! You scared us to death!  Are you ok?”  Barely navigating her way through the too many emotions she was having, she pulled up my limp body from the ground and hugged me, tightly: something that had never happened before.  “That fucking asshole!  Was he trying to kill you?” 

“What?  Who?”  I asked, laying back down on the warm, wet concrete, finding its hardness soothing. 

“That kid.  That asshole you were playing with!  He pulled you down and wouldn’t let go.”  Lisa began to cry, stifling her sobs, as she continued.  “I—we didn’t notice what was happening until…We saw you under the water.  You weren’t moving!” 

Lisa moved away to give me some air, leaving me even more muddled and blinded by the sun. I asked, “What happened to him?” 

Lisa looked confused.  “What are you talking about, Jacob?” 

“The boy. Where is he?” 

“I dove in and tried to pull you away from him, but he just wouldn’t let go.  He wouldn’t stop. Asshole!  That fucking asshole!” 

“So, how did you—” 

“I kicked the fucker in the stomach! Hard! That’s how!  He wouldn’t let you go!  I snatched you away and he took off, crying.   I don’t know where.  I pulled you out and…you weren’t breathing.  You weren’t breathing!”  she sobbed, wiping hot tears from her cheeks.  “I checked after I got you out.  You didn’t have a… Are you ok?” I had never seen her look at me with such care before.  For a moment, it felt nice. 

About a minute passed before I could speak, as I clutched the hard ground beneath me, waiting for the world to stop spinning, as if I could be flung off into the blackness of space at any minute.  “I think so,” I said, still in shock, shivering.  I raised myself onto my elbows, slowly, with my eyes—like my chest—burning with chlorine.  “Where is dad?  I want dad!  Where was he?  Did he see?” I asked, wishing it had been him who had saved me.  Looking over my shoulder, I saw the bench where he had been sitting: a newspaper was neatly folded on its surface and his coffee cup was gone. 

I rarely thought of that summer day: it, essentially, remained wiped from my memory, except for when things got low–really low–which happened every so often, but still more than I cared for.  I chuckled to myself at the irony of being saved only to live a life that didn’t seem like mine anymore.  Guess God wasn’t done with the show yet. At times I felt like maybe things were so hard because I did come back, almost as if I wasn’t supposed to be here, anymore, and the world let me know that at every turn.  Or maybe I didn’t come back all the way—a jumble of remnants that couldn’t quite be properly pieced together, again. It was all so tiring, but that is what happens when you live life on a dare: the words “want” and “can’t” just don’t exist, so there is no choice but to keep moving and trying until the day you just don’t anymore.  Truth be told, I longed for that day, sometimes, but that wasn’t up to me.   

I could hear the custodian cleaning the office next door: he would be in my office soon.  It was almost six in the evening, according to the clock on the computer.  I let out a long, drawn-out exhale and gathered a stack of ungraded papers from under my keyboard and stuffed them into my satchel, powered down the computer, and prepared to lock up for the night.  I turned off the lights and took one last look around the space for anything I may have missed.  Turning to leave, I slightly hesitated, noticing how peaceful the room was without the electric hums of fluorescents and a running computer.  It was time to go, though.  Papers to grade.  Dogs to feed.  Sleep. 

The drive home was calming.  The lulling, rhythmic kisses of rubber treads on the road. The random selections of my iTunes on low.  The stale smell of cigarettes and sweat in my car that reminded me of my grandfather, who died forty years ago too soon, and his old, white Ford pick-up.  I took the backroads home, as I always did, which took a little longer, but they were rarely used that late in the day, so I could take my time driving when the inclination hit me. I didn’t mind.  I liked to drive, especially when the quiet in my life threatened to overtake me, granting license to thoughts and memories to rouse and scramble, looking for hints of light that seeped in through doors, opened ajar, hungry for recognition.  I reached my right hand over towards the passenger’s seat, threw back the flap of my satchel, and dug into its contents for a Marlboro, fumbling through the sharp edges of papers and uncapped pens with determined purpose.  Keeping vigilant, my eyes were fixed on the road, ahead, when I felt the edge of a cardboard box graze my fingertips.  I pulled out the pack and with my thumb flipped open the top, bringing it to my lips, where I proceeded to pull out a lone cigarette with my teeth.  I lit it with the lighter I had purchased that morning at 7-11: one more to add to the slew that I had, progressively, stockpiled at home in errant drawers, leather bags, and even the bathroom, where I ritualistically had my first smoke of the day, after dragging myself out of bed.  I always forgot them when I left the house—too many thoughts, too early.  I took a long, crackling drag and held it in my lungs for a while, exhaled, and then wrested my wrist on top of the steering wheel. As the cigarette dangled between me and the speedometer, I eyed the yellow-grey smoke, as it streamed from its flaming cherry, lost in how it rippled and curled like a fine silk ribbon.  I admired the graceful poetry of it and thought it a shame to turn it to shreds with another exhale.  

A loud ruckus suddenly broke my reverie, as the car and everything in it shook and shifted.  Shit! Did I hit something?  My eyes darted forward and found nothing but open road, then I quickly looked into the rear-view mirror, noticing nothing but a blackening sky that slowly melting into asphalt that was divided by intermittent dashes of vibrant yellow.  Pulling my attention back to the world outside the windshield, I noticed a shock of red among the dark hues that flooded the rear-view.  I squinted and focused, intently, into the mirror, noticing a band of red that stretched in tandem along the road’s surface, while my tires intermittently jarred and sounded, as if driving over stones and wet, rolled-up newspapers.  Confused, I clutched the steering wheel with my other hand—so hard I pumped the blood out of my knuckles—and scanned the road before me, noticing the same ruddy hue extending off into the distance.  Clumps of black speckled the highway, disappearing into the periphery, as quickly as my tires propelled me home. Intermittent bumps and pops from the road, below, reverberated within the cabin.  What?  I tossed my cigarette out of the cracked, driver-side window.  Something got run over.  I checked the rear-view, again, and saw no cars behind me, then decelerated to better see what was going on straight-ahead.  It’s blood…and fur.  Given the distance that the length of gore had stretched and the amount of carrion on the road, it appeared as if some poor animal had been hit and dragged along for quite some time.  As if in an automatic response, I turned the wheel, slightly, to adjust the position of the car within the lane, centering it directly over the deathly strip.  Off to my right in the distance, I spied a motionless black mass by the side of the highway, much larger than what had then been feeding the road and my tires.  I drove on and followed my “guide” until it minimized into sporadic smears and splatters that trailed off onto the side of the road, where the still thing lay.  Veering off, I parked just ahead of it, turned off the ignition, and just sat there, staring at it in the rear-view. 

A quiver possessed my legs, as I noticed my hands were still grasping the steering wheel.  I released them, my right hand instinctively searching for another cigarette.  Damn! Stopping myself, I remembered I had just smoked the last one.  It’s gotta be dead.  No way he could survive that.  I wondered why I had stopped.  What could I do?  It didn’t make sense, but something inside me knew I had to stop and take a look. Bracing myself, I released the seatbelt and opened the door.  The air that night was cooler the usual—chilly, almost.  I poked my head out into the dimmed light of evening and looked to the right, then left.  Still no cars. I—we—were alone.  I got out, closed the door, and took a deep breath.  I looked ahead of me at a field of cotton that flanked the left-side of the highway.  The stalks looked black against the evening sky with a peppering of stark white that punctuated the—seemingly–lifeless expanse’s absence of color. It seemed colder all of a sudden–the air more humid and nipping than before. 

I turned to my left and walked towards the heap, the crunching of gravel and clods of dried mud beneath my feet.  With every step, splatters of crimson and bits of meat and fur marred the path ahead of me. I finally came upon it.  The headless tangle of broken limbs—a dog, likely—had thick, black, wooly fur, that was stickily matted with congealing blood and gore.  It was sprawled out in an almost apologetic fashion, seeming to want to edge its way towards the shallow canal just beyond its reach, past a patch of chaparral trees some forty feet away from where I stood. Looking down upon the sad lump, safely distanced from it (though safe from what I didn’t know), I stood in silence and inspected my “summoner.”  Shards of bone and bloody, gray innards crept out of peeks of torn flesh.  Flies and ants had already started to feast.  Doesn’t take long, does it?   The smell of carnage hung in the moist air like the odor pennies that had been held in a sweaty fist for too long.  I thought of how much it must have suffered.  How long it must have taken to die.  All alone…out here.  I wondered if he belonged to anyone.  If he was missed.  If anyone even cared…or would.  No answers came.  Just the whispering of the wind through the chaparrals and black stalks of cotton, beyond. 

I wanted to feel sad but didn’t…couldn’t.  Something stirred within my chest: a burning.  I thought about what I would have done if I had found the animal alive.  I would have tried to save it–if I could.  Stayed with it–if all was lost–so he wouldn’t have to die alone: a prospect that made the fire in my chest rage even more.  I imagined it alive and what it might have looked like: a pair of pleading, brown eyes, looking up at me for comfort; a tail, furiously wagging.  In my head, I heard it whining and whimpering from fear and pain.  “We don’t do that,” escaped my lips before my consciousness could ground me in the bloody place where I stood. My eyes began to sting and moisten, but no tears came. Silent and fatigued, I hung my head, as if in prayer, and watched the fading sun glistening off dampened, black fur and red-tinted bones, finding my thoughts pulling me towards the comforts of home and six dogs that were very much alive.  

Before I got back into my car to leave, I pulled off the college ring I had bought myself years ago, after graduation, and tossed it onto the carcass, as if to show any passers-by that he—maybe me— wasn’t alone.

David Estringel is an avid reader, poet, and writer of fiction, creative non-fiction, & essays. His work has been accepted and/or published by Specter Magazine, Literary Juice, Foliate Oak Magazine, Indiana Review, Expat Press, 50 Haikus, littledeathlit, Down in the Dirt Magazine, Route 7, Setu Bilingual Journal, Paper Trains, The Elixir Magazine, and The Good Men Project. He is currently a Contributing Editor (fiction) at Red Fez, editor/columnist at The Good Men Project, and an editor/writer at The Elixir Magazine. David Estringel can be found on Twitter (@The_Booky_Man) and his blog “The Booky Man” at thebookyman.wordpress.com.

“Prominence” by Mike Lee


I do not belong here.

I check my compact, and see my lips are too red.

I slip it back in my clutch.

My hands, folded, rest on my periwinkle sheath dress with the lace bodice. My legs are closed. The dress is too tight. My knees sweat. I sweat when I lie.

I am like my father. But when we speak truth, the silences between the spoken is where the prevarications nestles comfortably, curled up undisturbed until suddenly roused with an unexpected follow-up question.

Everyone takes your word until they don’t. My father did all right until one silence between words betrayed him. They tied him to the back of a wooden chair and shredded him through his tan cashmere overcoat.

Through tears I learned: no false moves. When you talk your way into a situation, know exactly what to say to walk it back. Nothing is a full circle, just a high wire strung.

Do all these things, and you will die old. With what I intend to do today, this will not be my fate.

I slowly grow nervous. I shift weight, pulling my legs behind me like a child in class, ankles crossed. I went over the script in my head, visualizing the scene playing out as it was planned—and how I want it to happen.

Then the door opens, bringing forth a rush of wind with color and light splayed out around me. Through the light I see forms take shape to human, before becoming clear in my mind’s eye. From this formlessness I see fingers, knuckles, nails, and the palm gestures with an underhanded twist, fingers in unified motion. Fingertips elegantly turn inward to the person, an aging press officer with a sharp, straight hairline forming a short military haircut.

He looks like Albert Camus with acne scars.

My impression of him is he’s the type that brags in bars that he is a press secretary. He isn’t: a press officer is an underling used for passing messages, writing memos and working on first drafts of talking points. Also a sacrificial lamb when things go terribly wrong. Press officers are thrown down stairwells and machine-gunned for the cameras. Quite the Baader-Meinhof, but that was a long time ago.

Father remembered. Told me stories. He kept reminding me that he did not live them, only read and watched on television when he was an inspired child.

Eventually he joined the resistance with fanatic enthusiasm, pressing his luck until no more.

I hear a sting quartet playing in the distance. It’s music that conjures Mama. This provided the key to open the cipher—I never knew her. Shortly after my second birthday she was picked up in Peru and died in jail before I turned 7.

The permanent revolution is an eternal war. Generations pass ideas as grenades from one to another.

I feel a sense of disassociation when I greet the press officer, whose name escapes me. I forget everything, names, places, everything except the mission. This drives me further, encourages. Distance from existence focuses my attention on the goal.

He leads me into the large museum gallery. The strings reach for the crescendo.

Everything unfolds as I expect. I am calm to the point of deadness. I make eye contact, smile, and nod in pretend recognition. I hold my clutch close to my stomach. My message to the world is within.

We meet. He is a middle-aged man with tousled wavy hair, and an ageless face. His hazel eyes, however, betray a sad, weary expression.

I smile, inch closer to him and press hard with both hands on my clutch.

Suddenly, I’m thrust into the Gnostic divine. I reach to grasp the light.

Dad. Mom. Achieve dialectical synthesis.


Mike Lee is an editor, photographer and reporter for a trade union newspaper in New York City. His fiction is published in Soft Cartel, Ghost Parachute, Reservoir, The Alexandria Quarterly and others. Website: www.mleephotoart.com. He also blogs for the photography website Focus on the Story.

“Two Passing Galaxies” by Alexander Perez



Alejandro thought the last time he would speak with his father was at his college graduation party. Alejandro’s father served in Vietnam. He earned a Purple Heart. According to Alejandro’s father, God saved his life. One night, camped outside in enemy territory, while he slept, a band of Vietcong approached. They could hear the whispers, the swish of machetes cutting through the jungle bush. They were trapped. But Alejandro’s father saw what the others couldn’t see. A passageway of light. The light showed them a path out past the Vietcong. Alejandro’s father, Fernando Perez, earned a medal for his bravery in leading his unit out of a heavily infiltrated area. They could have been ambushed and slaughtered. But Fernando did not take the credit. He only gave credit to God. Alejandro knew the story, but his father never shared it with any other soul. It was their secret. He was trying to convince Alejandro to have faith, to recognize the presence of God in their life. But Alejandro was rational and thought of other reasons for the miracle. like survival instinct, or a keen sense of night vision, or maybe even the role of luck. Alejandro remembered as a boy that he was warned never to approach his father while he was sleeping. And once, when he did to ask for ice cream, his father awoke screaming and lashed out to strike him quicker than a startled snake. There was no recognition in his eyes.

It was twenty years since the graduation party when he had last seen his father. He got a call from his younger brother, Jose, that their father now had Alzheimer’s, was in a nursing home, and that Alejandro should visit him before he died. They had held the graduation party in the basement hall of the St. Mary’s Catholic Church. His mother (now dead from ovarian cancer) and his father saved a lot of money to be able to rent the hall. It was a joyous day since Alejandro was the first in his family to graduate from college. They were proud even though they were not sure what he was going to do with an English degree. They did not understand literature, or the value of fiction. But they were still hopeful that he might make lots of money and not have to work as hard as them (his mother cleaning offices and his father as a laborer in a construction crew). That morning of the party he had received his diploma with honors and afterwards they went back to the house to get ready. His whole extended family was going to be there, so he put on his suit and wore a white carnation in his lapel. He remembered the sadness he felt because he would have to move back home and find a job and his years of experimentation were over.

They went to the hall. His aunts served him his favorite dishes, cheese enchiladas and tamales. He drank beer with his brothers, cousins, and uncles, and everyone cheered his future success as a college graduate. But for him his future felt like a trial. It was as if he walked around with a fresh amputation, a ghost limb that he could still feel and caress but that was actually missing and he would now have to learn to cope without.

His brother was telling him about this girl Maria that he wanted to introduce him to. He tried to play along, but he was reminiscing about the first time he met Jack at the club. The DJ was playing Ricky Martin. He got up to dance and Jack followed him to the dance floor. At first they tried to pretend that they were dancing alone, but slowly, they started circling each other like two strange dogs sniffing out each other’s scent to see if the other was friendly or dangerous. By the end of the night, they were back in Alejandro’s car making out. He and Jack had been dating but they kept their relationship secret. Jack’s parents raised him as an evangelical Christian and struggled with the notion of sin. Alejandro had given up his Catholicism the minute he stepped inside the gay bar. That was his new church. At this graduation party these worlds came crashing together like two passing galaxies. And one was either going to absorb the other or they would intersect and continue moving farther away.

He drank more and more and the sadness was building. It was now or never. He took his mother and father outside. At first he wanted to thank them for the wonderful party. His mother was already crying. They presented him with a silver watch of his grandfather’s. Alejandro didn’t know what to do because the silver watch was the most valuable thing they owned and an important heirloom. It should have gone to his oldest brother Fernando Jr., but Junior was addicted to heroin and he would have pawned it the first chance he got. They had guarded the watch with their lives.  According to legend his grandfather had brought it from Mexico and when he enlisted in the U.S. navy it had survived the Pacific Theater. So here he was with the watch, the pride of his parents, the one with the most promising future, and what happens? He blurted out, “I’m gay.” His father slapped him. His mother screamed. His aunts and uncles heard the scream and his whole family came running. His brothers latched to his side because he was holding his face and blood was trickling down his chin from his bit lip. Then his brother Jose asked, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” and he could not say a word. He just handed his father back the watch and walked away. As he was walking to his car in the dark, he started to cry, but knew that he would call Jack as soon as he drove off, and then he heard his father yell out, “You’re not my son!”

That was some twenty odd years ago. His brother Jose and he were the only ones left (his brother Fernando Jr. dying of a heroin overdose at thirty-five) in his father’s life. He walked up to the window at the Ann Lee Nursing Home. They took down his name and walked him to his father’s room. Alejandro saw him for the first time. His father was sleeping wrapped up in a white blanket. Everything in the room was white, except the TV, the picture of his mother on the nightstand, a crucifix on the wall, and the silver watch on the windowsill. He didn’t know if he should wake his father up, so he had a seat in the corner in a plastic chair. It smelled like antiseptic and a faint odor of urine. He had to go to the bathroom, but he held it. He looked over at his father. His father had shrunk to the size of one of those Egyptian mummies they just discovered. His brown skin was dry and wrinkled and you could see the bones of his clavicle and hips poking up through the blanket. His father had been small to begin with, but he always carried a lot of muscle from working construction. He could not believe that this was his father. He could not reconcile his memory with the new reality. He wanted to leave right away before his father woke up. He wanted to call Jack who was minding their flower shop. They had opened their shop right after graduation and it was doing very well. Since gay marriage had been legalized, they had made lots of money providing flowers for weddings and parties. His father would never know what a success he had become. He got his hardworking gene from his father, but he could not share any details of his new life with his father. He especially wanted to tell him how Jack and he were planning on adopting a child. Fernando would be a grandfather.

The nurse came in to check on them. She gently shook Fernando awake so he could visit with his son. She had seen this type of thing before when a relative does not know what to do with the new situation facing them. She felt sorry for Alejandro. His father woke up slowly and started to raise himself up in bed. He looked over to the corner where Alejandro sat, and he said, “Fernando.” The nurse said, “No hun, that’s your son Alejandro.” Fernando didn’t say a word he just looked confused. The nurse put on Wheel of Fortune. She left the room. Alejandro just sat there silent. Alejandro looked at the watch. He was surprised it was still there. He picked it up and his father started talking: “I always wanted to give that to you, but I was afraid you would sell it.” Alejandro didn’t say a word. His father looked at him. “Go ahead and take it. It’s yours now.” Alejandro did not know what to do. He did not want his father to wake up later and think the watch was stolen. But it was his inheritance as the oldest son. His father continued, “I am so glad you got off those drugs. They were killing you. I was scared every night.” Alejandro decided it was time to play along. What harm could it do? That was how the reunion was going to go. “Yes, dad. This is Junior. I am doing better.” His father looked at him. His face started twitching. Tears started streaming down his stained t-shirt. He started heaving and trying to catch his breath. Alejandro wasn’t sure what was going on. Maybe he should go get the nurse. “I thought I lost you. I wanted you to have that watch twenty years ago, but things got screwed up. I am so glad you are better and that you came to see me. I missed you.” Now Alejandro wasn’t sure who he was talking about. Was it him or Fernando Jr.? “I lost Alejandro, then your mother, and then you. I don’t want to lose anyone else.” “So, he missed me too,” Alejandro thought. “He still thinks I am Junior, but he said he lost me.”  He had an idea. “Well, Papa, if Alejandro were here, what would you tell him?” His father stopped crying and took deep breaths. He was still shaking but he could talk. “God sent me many challenges. I walked through fire. Now he is challenging me again. Alejandro was one of those challenges. But I would tell God that it was his choice he made Alejandro that way and that I cannot question God’s choice. I would tell Alejandro that God made him and that God loves him and because God loves him, I love him too and that I am sorry, I made a mistake, just like I made a mistake being too hard on you which probably made you do the things you did.” Alejandro was trying not to cry. He was holding it in. He would wait until he got in the car and he could talk to Jack. It would be hard to leave his father here like this but at least he got his answer. It was a hard compromise but at least he knew that in their way his family loved him. “Thank you pop. I will take the watch now. I have to go. But know that I love you and I will be back to visit.” His father turned to him as he was at the door and said, “Bring that husband of yours too.” And then he faced back to watch Wheel of Fortune.



Alexander Perez writes from his home in Schenectady, NY. He has a piece forthcoming in Furtive Dalliance. 

“Dog’s Eye View” by Brigid Hannon


I am cold, so I open my eyes, and I am under the kitchen table.  I do not remember falling asleep here. I never sleep in the kitchen.  I do not like the floor because it is cold and my paws click on it and they scare me.

I stand up and click my way to my dish.  It is empty, but the big bag is next to it and open.  This is not where it should be. It should be in the cupboard next to the bones.  I think that I can knock it over, so I bat at it and it falls, sending kibble everywhere.  Celia will be mad and might even get the newspaper, but that’s ok because she forgot to put the food in my bowl and she forgot to put the bag away.  I crunch on some kibble and go to get a drink of water, but that bowl is also empty, so I click over to the bathroom and get some water from the toilet.  Celia does not like this at all, but she cannot see me so I cannot get caught.

I walk into the living room with the soft rug and sit down on my big pillow.  I hear a door slam and I growl a little, but quiet, because there are always doors slamming and Celia says “don’t bark.”  But I have to bark, because what if it’s DANGER? Celia tells me to watch out for DANGER. Celia is my special person and I am her special buddy.   She asks me who her special buddy is, and I say it’s me, Buddy, my name is Buddy and I am special. And then she says “It’s Buddy” and I lick her face and smile even though I just told her that and why doesn’t she always understand me?  She makes so many sounds with her mouth and I can’t do that. Sometimes she knows what I want, though. Sometimes I can sigh and she’ll sigh the same and I think that she must feel how I feel. And if I lick the wart on her knee, she takes me for walks or gives me snuggles.  And I put my chin on her lap to tell her I want to go to bed and would she come too and pet my head until I fall asleep?

But sometimes Celia is hurt and I cannot help her.  Her eyes make salty water that I tried to lick away, or find the part that hurts her to clean that, but she never shows me.  Sometimes she hugs me so tight I feel like I can’t breathe, but I am a special buddy and I never snap at her, sometimes just a little growl to show she’s hugging too tight.  Sometimes we hide under the blankets all day, and Gracie comes and takes me for a walk. She rattles my collar and I come running, and Celia stays in bed. Sometimes Celia is in the office with her computer and then later in the day we go to the park together and that is more fun than walking to the corner with Gracie.

My big pillow is warmer than the kitchen floor and it is soft.  Usually Celia puts it by the couch so we can sit next to each other but today it is in the spot by the fire place where it goes when company is coming.  Celia is not very tidy but last night she cleaned the whole house and when I licked her knee she batted me away. “I have a lot left to do, Bud,” she said, and turned away from me.  I was sad, so I went to the kitchen. I must have fallen asleep there.

Buried in my pillow I find Ferdie, my furry friend that Celia gave to me when she became my person.  He has red feathers and they tickle my nose and I sneeze. I drop him on the table next to the letters that Celia takes to the big box on our walks.  There are a lot of them and I push them off the table with my nose. They smell like Celia.

When I was a puppy I lived in a cage in a room with a bunch of other dogs.  I do not remember my mother very much but she was in the cage with me for a while.  Then when I got big they moved me to my own spot, and that is when Celia found me. Lots of people came to play with me but no one ever took me home until Celia.  She came with Gracie, who is her helper, and we played catch and ran around the yard. I was used to this and did not expect to go home, so when Gracie said “Is he the one?” I didn’t know what she meant.  They took me back to my cage, and talked to one of the people that used to feed me and he said that I would make a good companion animal. I didn’t know what that was, but I heard the word “good” so I must have been a good boy.  That night they gave me a bath which I did not like, and then in the morning after I went outside Celia came and took me out of my cage. We walked to the car, and she opened the door for me. “Hop in, Buddy. We’ve got a long drive ahead of us.”

Celia and I rode in the car for a long time.  Sometimes we got out to take a walk, and sometimes she would leave and come back with food for us.  Then finally we arrived at a big building and climbed a bunch of stairs and then we were home.

Nobody really comes to our house except Gracie, who is Celia’s human friend and the one who told her she should get me to help her.  I don’t know how I help, usually I am making messes and Celia gets mad, but then she always snuggles me and tells me I’m her special Buddy.  

I look at the letters on the floor and think that she will be mad but maybe she will snuggle me after.  This makes me miss her, so I click-clack my way across the linoleum to the bedroom door, which is closed.  Celia doesn’t like to close the door because the bedroom gets too hot.

It smells funny.

One time, Gracie and Celia got a bunch of paint and put it on the walls and it smelled bad for days.  I would not sleep in the bedroom. Celia tried to drag me in by my collar and my nails scratched the wood floor.  I did not want to smell that.

Another time Celia threw out some potatoes and I dug them out of the trash can and hid them for later, and she found all of them except the one I put behind the stove and it smelled up the whole kitchen.  

Sometimes Celia lets me out on the fire escape and I can smell all sorts of things like food and flowers and smoke and garbage and sunshine.

I don’t know this smell.

The doorknob in the living room rattles and I run to it, growling a little just in case it’s DANGER and not Gracie, but of course it is.  She lets herself in and I wag my tail and pant at her. She scratches my ears and drops her keys on the table next to Ferdie. She sees the letters on the floor.  “Did you make this mess, Buddy?” I duck my head a little and try to squeeze under the coffee table, but I do not fit. She knows I did it, but she just smiles at me and picks up the letters.  She starts to look through them. Gracie smiles a lot, but she stopped and looked at a letter in her hand, then at me. Her voice was low and gravely, like my growls. “Where’s Celia?”

I turn and trot to the bedroom door.  Gracie knows how to work doorknobs. I have tried with my teeth once but I ruined the knob and Celia had to get a new one.  Gracie follows me, and when she tries the knob it won’t open. “Celia? It’s Grace!” Celia does not say anything. Gracie goes into the kitchen drawer and takes out some keys.  I only thought the door in the living room used keys.

Gracie opens the bedroom door and goes into the room.  Celia is sleeping on the bed, her covers pulled up around her head.  Gracie walks over to the side of the bed and touches Celia’s shoulder as I jump up and lay beside her.  The smell is stronger, something I don’t know and don’t like. “Celia?”

Celia doesn’t move.  I put my head on her arm.  Gracie makes a sound I don’t know and falls back against the wall.  She picks a tiny bottle up off the nightstand. One time I knocked it over and it rattled across the floor but when she shakes it there is no noise. “Oh, Celia…”  Gracie is crying. She has slid down the wall to the floor. She is making a phone call.

I put my chin on Celia’s shoulder.  She is the thing that smells different.  She does not move, not even the tiny bit she does when she breathes.  She is cold, like the kitchen floor.

Gracie is crying.  She is sad like Celia is sad sometimes, so I jump off the bed and lick away her tears.  “Don’t worry, Buddy,” she says, “I’ll take care of you.” I nuzzle against her. She is silly.  I don’t need her. Celia takes care of me.

Celia always takes care of me.


Brigid Hannon is a writer from Buffalo, NY.  She has previously been
published in the Ghost City Press August Review and has work
forthcoming at Street Light Press and Madwomen in the Attic. She can
be found online at hamneggs716.wordpress.com and on Twitter

“Tenting Tonight in a Four Poster” by Walter Giersbach [Non-Fiction]



[Pictured: Marion Fisk on the Chautauqua Circuit billed as “America’s Foremost Cartoonist.”]

I eagerly anticipated tales of Indian lovers and horrifying winters and camping with a horse-drawn wagon when my grandmother came to stay each summer in the early 1950s.  The rewards came when Moms let me sleep in her rope-strung, four-poster bed with the canopy that formed a tent.

I rushed to get in my PJs and pulled the comforter up to my chin while she unbraided her long gray hair and placed her false teeth in a glass of water.

Then the stories began.  My favorite was about a boy, born in New Hampshire years ago, “who would rather die than hoe beans.”

Moms said that with the boy’s talent for music, “He took a hollow reed and fashioned a flute.  His father felt that such genius should be encouraged.

“So, the boy and his sister learned to play on a pump organ.  They played everything they knew, then they made up their own songs.

“When the man was 21 years old, he went down to Boston, purchased a horse and wagon, and a little organ and drove through the countryside giving concerts in schools and churches.

“Then the time came,” she said, “when Uncle Sam ordered, ‘Come, follow me.’  It never occurred to him to seek an excuse why he shouldn’t enter his country’s service.”

I knew who Uncle Sam was, and the air raid sirens told me we were fighting the Germans and Japanese.  But she was talking about some long-ago war and I was quiet.

“He was away the night the summons came, and all the way home the words and music to a little song kept running through his mind.  When he had reached home he took an old violin and wrote a simple little piece.

“A few days later, he went down to Concord, New Hampshire, to report for service.  He was found physically unfit and was dismissed. But there was a demand for a song by which the soldiers might march and sing in camp.  The Oliver Ditson Company advertised for such a song, and the young man sent down the simple song he had written, offering to sell it to them for fifteen dollars.

“They were disgusted because of its simplicity and refused to have it at any price.  Instead, they hired a musician of considerable note to write a song for them. But, the soldiers wouldn’t sing it.  Then, they remembered the little song they had refused, purchased and published it, and in less than six weeks it was being sung by every Southern campfire and in every Northern home.”

Moms would make sure I was still tucked in — and still awake — before she continued.

“I remember when I was a little girl, seeing an eccentric looking man come into our yard.  He was driving a brown horse hitched to a pink express wagon, and in the back was strapped a melodeon.  My father and mother — your great grandpa and great-grandma — received him with joy in the kitchen.

“I was allowed to sit up late while I listened to them talk, often about things I couldn’t understand.  But I liked to listen to his kindly voice. At last they sang songs, and he told us this story of his boyhood and sang the song he had written the night of his draft, the song that made Walter Kittredge known and loved all over our country.”  And she began to sing softly, sadly.


“We are tenting tonight on the old camp ground,

Give us a song to cheer,

Our weary hearts, a song of home,

And the friends we love so dear.


“Many are the hearts that are weary tonight,

Wishing for the war to cease,

Many are the hearts, looking for the right,

To see the dawn of Peace.


“Tenting tonight, tenting tonight,

Tenting on the old camp ground.”


Moms passed away in that bed in 1961 at the age of 86.  The bed is now in the guest bedroom of my house.

Marion Ballou Fisk — my Moms — had traveled the Chautauqua Circuit across the country week after week between 1906 and 1926 to support her family.  She was billed as America’s Foremost Lady Cartoonist when entertainment and uplifting lectures were delivered under the large tents. In small towns across America, this was the only source of culture and respite from weary, rural chores.

I finally dug through cartons of her papers and found her hand-written stories — including this one — and a photo of her as she told crowds about Walter Kittredge who wrote one of the Civil War’s most famous ballads.

I’m sure that one of the most rapt audiences Moms ever had wasn’t a real audience at all. Just a small boy sleeping under the “tent” in her four-poster bed.



Walt Giersbach’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a score of online and print publications, including Soft Cartel.  He served for three decades as director of communications for Fortune 500 companies, helped publicize the Connecticut Film Festival, managed publicity and programs for Western Connecticut State University’s Haas Library, and now moderates a writing group in New Jersey.


“I am a Wolf Raising a Human Child and My Wife Thinks It’s Time for him to Learn to Shave” By Jason Gong


After a long day cooped up in a sweltering cave, I decide to meet up with my buddy, Buck, down at the watering hole like we always used to do on big moon nights.  It’s one of the few times a month I can just relax and not have to worry about the pack or the wife or the pups, including the one human we adopted after his parents starved to death in the woods and we ate their remains.

The watering hole isn’t a nice place to hang out.  The trees around it are hollow and decayed, and a thin layer of scum covers the murky water.  It’s so shallow that most wolves think of it as more of a mud pit than a respectable place to socialize.  But ever since we were young and trying to look cool for the she-wolves, it’s always been the place for Buck and I to grab a drink.  And this was one of those nights where I really needed a drink.

I almost never get to see Buck anymore.  As pack leader, I’m usually at the den pretending to give a damn about whatever bureaucratic shit is thrown my way, and as a hunter, Buck is usually out trying to find foode.  Buck isn’t his real name, obviously. We gave it to him after he let a big deer get away and Buck told us, “When I looked into his eyes, I saw myself looking back,” and Buck never says poetic shit like that, so we had to give him this nickname, so he could never live it down.

Buck is my go-to guy because he’s a straight shooter and when you’re the leader of the pack sometimes you just need someone to shoot the shit with.  My father always said, “If you’re gonna shoot the shit, may as well shoot it straight,” and hell if I know what that means, but the ol’ man was alpha so his word is law.   

So anyways, I go down to meet Buck, and when I get there, he’s already there drinking and for some reason his fur is all slicked back nice-like, and I see he’s put some dead frogs in the water for flavor.  I sidle up next to him and he takes his scruffy snout outta the water and says, “First rounds on me,” like a frigging big shot.

Before I say a word, I put my own big muzzle in the water and lap it up.  The frogs he found were pretty tasty, and with the right amphibians you can get a nice buzz going too.  I stay in there a while- I’m talking like my whole face, almost up to my eyeballs, which doesn’t even make drinking any more efficient since we lap up water with our tongues, but it feels refreshing.  When I’m finally done, I pull my head out and Buck says, “One of those nights, huh,” and I say, “Don’t I know it,” and he says, “So what’s up?”

And before I come out and tell him how I’m on double shit duty between the pointless pack meetings at work and the rowdy pups at home, I ask him, “What’s with your fur, you dress up all fancy just for me?” and he grins, as much as a wolf can grin, and says, “Nah, I saw Cassidy tonight,” and I say, “If you saw Cassidy tonight, what the hell are you doing here?” and he just shrugs, as much as a wolf can shrug, and goes, “Tonight wasn’t my lucky night,” and I say, “Me neither, brother, me neither.”

He doesn’t say anything.  He has this rule where if he asks “What’s up?” or “What’s wrong?” and you don’t answer the first time he doesn’t ask a second.  So we take a couple more swigs from the water and I say, “Mel thinks it’s time for Cain to start shaving.”

“What’s shaving?” he asks me.

I furrow my brow and say, “I’m not really sure.”

And then I tell him how Cain has started to grow more of his long fur on parts of his face and crotch that he never grew long fur on before, and Buck says, “That’s great, that kid has almost no fur,” and I say, “I know, he only had it on the top of his head for the longest time,” and Buck says, “I didn’t want to say anything, but I always thought it was weird,” and I say, “It is fucking weird!”   We both howl with laughter.

A few coyotes in the distance howl back.

“But anyway,” I continue, “Mel says that humans aren’t supposed to let their fur grow too long, and that for Cain to become a man he has to cut some of the fur off, and that’s shaving.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Buck says.

“I know,” I tell him, “But apparently it’s a human ritual and if a human male wants to become alpha they must learn shaving.”

“I dunno,” he muses, awkwardly raising a hind leg to scratch his scruffy chin, “Sounds like a myth.”

“That’s what I said,” I say, “But then she pulls out these papers with pictures of humans on them that we found near his human parents and points out all the male humans and how none of them let their face fur continue growing too much.  She always notices stuff like that.”

So Buck thinks about it for a while and says, “Okay, but how do you know when the right time to start shaving is?”

And I say, “I don’t know, but I think it’s too early, Cain is just a pup.”  And Buck says, “Right, how old is he again?” And I tell him Cain is 12 human years old, since humans count four seasons passing as a year.  And Buck says, “That’s not that old.” And I say, “That’s what I told Mel, but she says that 12 human years is like 53 wolf years,” and Buck says, “Wow, Cain is old as fuck,” which made me snort frog water out of my nose.

“She says I need to be the one to teach him,” I say, and suddenly I find myself staring at the ground, unable to meet the gaze of my own reflection in the murky water, “But I don’t even know how to do it.”

“Right,” says Buck, “Is he supposed to use his teeth?”

“I have no idea,” I say.

And then we don’t say anything for a little bit, and my head is still drooping, and Buck breaks his rule and asks, “What’s wrong?”

I sigh and tell him quietly, “I don’t get Cain sometimes.  Sure, he hunts with us, and eats with us, and suckles on Mel’s breasts with the other pups.  But other times he picks up things with his paws instead of his teeth, and climbs up trees, and turns rocks and sticks into helping things, and I just don’t get it.”

“No father ever fully understands his pups,” says Buck, in spite of having no pups of his own, the lucky bastard, “But you’re trying.”

“I don’t wanna try.  I just want to raise him right.  But I don’t understand these rituals.”

“Look,” Buck says, looking at me, “The shaving ritual may not make sense, but the fact that you’re worrying so much over it means that you care.  That’s the most important part of being a father.”

I shake my head, “My father never did rituals with me.  He was so busy he couldn’t even take me on First Hunt. But that just made me stronger.  Strong enough to be pack leader.”

And Buck says, “Not everyone wants to be pack leader.  Most wolves would rather have a good father.”

And I feel a pain in my chest.  I glance down and somehow see in the water my years as a pup.  My father, returning to the den angry after a hunt turned up empty.  Me running to Buck’s small cave, where his family let me stay whenever my father bared his teeth at me.  Buck’s oldest brother by my side during First Hunt, as if I was his own pup. It reminds me of why I adopted Cain in the first place.  I decide then that I will teach Cain shaving.

“I will teach Cain shaving,” I say.

“Good,” says Buck, “You’re a good father.  We’ll think of a way to do the shaving.”

“A sharp rock or stick,” I suggest.

“Yes,” Buck replies, “Or maybe fire?”

I nod my head.  Fire could work.

“The next time I’m on a hunt, I’ll keep an eye out for a sharp rock, or stick, or fire and let you know, and you can perform the shaving ritual with Cain.”

“Thanks, Buck,” I say.  I find myself saying that a lot.

We hear a howl from the distance, and Buck’s ears perk up.  We both howl back, along with all the other wolves within earshot, but we all know it’s for him.

“That’s Cassidy,” he says, “She wants to know if I’m still awake.”

I look up at the moon.  It hangs high and bright in the sky now.

I grin at him, “You dog.”

He starts to turn away, but shoots me a final sly look and says, “I guess tonight’s my lucky night after all.”  Then he bounds off into the darkness.

I turn back to look at the water once more, and no longer see the pup I once was.  My reflection looks older than ever. My whiskers droop, and my once dark scruff has started to fade.  This doesn’t come as a surprise though. My son is old enough to shave.



Jason Gong is a Philadelphia-based writer and professional technology guy.  He has written for Points in Case and Philosophical Idiot, and co-written several short films.  He runs a podcast called Page to Frame, where he and his friends read books and then watch movies based on the books, and then talk about them.  You can find him on Twitter @page2frame. 

“La Torera” by Aila Doyle


Cheers roll in the distance like the thunder of an impending storm. The faint rumble reminding me it’s time for battle. The muscles in my arms tighten and my heart pounds in my chest. I force myself to move forward. Force myself to face it again.

The chanting grows to a roar as I enter the stadium. My name on their tongues beckoning me into the arena. At first, the faces blend together. Fleshy masses without independence. But I strain my eyes, forcing myself to focus on each one. My mother. My father. My brother. Aunts. Uncles. Cousins. Ancestors lining the bleachers like a parade in Dante’s underworld. Friends with concern and curiosity lean their bodies forward in anticipation.

A door across the arena slides open. The scratch of wood against wood makes my heart race faster. The revealed room is dark. Sweat drips into my eyes as I await his arrival. The horns are first. Then a snout breathing so heavily the sand of the arena floor kicks up into the air. His brown eyes leer at me, and I swear I see a glint of recognition. We’ve met before. Numerous times. He’s studied my moves and fine-tuned his attack. He’s grown stronger.

I let him charge me. His hooves shaking my soul with each blow of the ground. Coming for me, ready to bowl me over. Just to dodge him at the last moment, with a flourish of the cape. A twirl, a dance, the beast and I do. A triumphant feeling floods me as the bull runs pass and trots around realizing his failure. Closer and closer he gets with each attack. His horns scrap my skin, the heat of his breath falls on my arm. The triumph fades and the fear grows. Both of us cannot survive the fight.

In the corner of my eye, I see a tall, bearded man leaning against the wall. He nips at his thumb as he watches me. Looking at him I feel a hope I haven’t felt in a long time. He holds the sword I need to end my dalliance with the beast. I run to him. Closer and closer I get. With each step, his smile grows, summoning me forth. But as I touch his hand, he dodges. Twirling and dancing away with each pass I make. I plead with him. I tell him I’m worthy. But his sideward glance reflects my own skepticism. Desperate, I chase him—knowing he’s the one that can save me. But he ignores me. I look to the crowd for the support. I wait for their jeers. But the bleachers are now empty. What remains is a deafening silence that is only broken by my own voice.

I feel the ground shake behind me and I prepare for the inevitable. The horn pierces me. The sharp pain catches in my gut. My breath is sucked from my body. I look up at the man. His grin deepens and he walks out of the arena—my hope evaporating as he fades into the distance. The horn of the bull vacates my body, leaving an emptiness searing in me.

Sated, the beast trots back into his pen. Alone, once more, I recount all the prior loses, pray for a single victory.


Aila Doyle resides in Chicago, where she currently is working on two novels. She tweets from @ailadoyle2.