“To Hell in a Wheelbarrow” by David Henson

34837450872_896a31852c_o

One morning before work, I was watching the news and lamenting the condition of the world — shootings, political squabbling, international tensions, climate change — when an alien materialized in my living room. The being looked to be mainly human except it had a horizontal slit instead of a nose. When I asked why it was in my house, it didn’t speak, but I seemed to feel the answer: The alien was an advance scout.

I called 911, sensing that the alien didn’t care, that it knew no one would believe me. I felt an I-told-you-so from the alien when the dispatcher said it was a crime to make a fraudulent emergency call and hung upon me.

I aimed my phone at the alien, but my camera malfunctioned. I sensed the alien chuckling. I checked my watch and saw it was about time for my girlfriend to stop by on her way to work as she normally does. She would be my witness.

As I waited for Lulu, the creature unspooled a wire from its chest and plugged it into an electrical socket. The alien began shimmering, elongated an arm and pressed its hand to the living room window. I felt that the alien was signaling an armada of ships hiding behind the moon.

I won’t let you get away with this, I said, and felt a sadness coming from the alien. Maybe it was sorry for what they were going to do. When Lulu arrived, I saw the alien had disguised itself as dust on the coffee table. I told her what was happening. She looked worried and put her palm to my forehead. Then as she left for work, she suggested I stay home and read a good book instead of watching the news all day. “You know how sensitive you are, James.” Sure, shed a few tears when your guinea pig dies and never live it down. As soon as Lulu left, the alien reappeared in its true form.

Lulu had said not to mention a word about the alien to anyone else. Sometimes I’m not sure whose side she’s on. I went to the office and told my boss everything.

Ms. Topchienne sent me home and was even nice enough to have someone from Security take me. Insisting Brinks come into my house, I tiptoed up the sidewalk with him behind me, eased open the lock, turned the handle ever so slowly — then flung open the door and burst inside. “There! The alien!” I pointed to the dust crouching on the coffee table.

Brinks headed for the car, and I shouted after him “Tell Ms. Topchienne what you saw here.”  

As soon as Brinks drove off, the being reappeared. My boss called a short time later and told me to take a week off.

Over the next few days, the alien kept a hand pressed to the window in communication with its fleet and watched a 24-hour news station non-stop. Your world is going to hell in a wheelbarrow, I felt the creature tell me. “Hand basket,” I said. I thought I sensed sympathy.

Each time Lulu stopped by to check on me, the creature disguised itself as dust on the coffee table. Once, I grabbed the vacuum, but the window fogged up. When I reached for a rag to wipe the glass, I saw dust on the fireplace mantle. Lulu said she appreciated me wanting to keep my place clean, but was going to leave if I didn’t “shut up about the stupid Martian.” I told her I didn’t think it was stupid nor a Martian. Lulu left.

The next day, I emailed a “letter to the editor” at the local paper, but they refused to publish it. I called talk radio, but they only joked about the alien’s political affiliation. I felt the creature telling me to give up trying to divulge its presence.

I also could sense that the armada was almost ready. They were just waiting for my alien to give the final go-ahead. I knew it was up to me to stop it. I called Lulu and told her she had to come to my place. I promised not to talk about the alien. Desperate times were calling.

As soon as Lulu walked in, the alien became dust on the coffee table as expected. I explained to my girlfriend why she had to stay, that as long as she was there to be my witness, the alien wouldn’t re-form and launch the attack. She looked scared, and I thought she understood. Then she turned to go. I grabbed a lamp. As I said, desperate times.

 

♦ ♦ ♦

 

I love Lulu with all my heart and took great care to not bind her wrists and ankles too tightly. I’d have removed her gag more often to give her water and something to eat if she hadn’t screamed. We’d been guarding the dust on the coffee table for nearly two days, staying awake with help from the news channel blasting into the room. Events around the world were as horrible as ever. Suddenly a feeling spread over me as if someone had cracked a raw egg on my head. It was the sense of sympathy again. Could it be I had this all wrong? Maybe the aliens were coming to help, not conquer. I decided to take a chance and untied Lulu.

As soon as she scrambled out the door, my alien reappeared. I sensed it sending the “go” signal to its comrades.

 

♦ ♦ ♦

 

I hear the alien ships approaching. They sound a lot like sirens. I’m hoping for the best. Otherwise this world’s going to hell in a wheelbarrow.

 

 

David Henson and his wife have lived in Belgium and Hong Kong over the years and now reside in Peoria, Illinois. His work has been nominated for a Best of the Net and has appeared in various journals including Soft Cartel, Gravel, Literally Stories, and Fictive Dream. His website is http://writings217.wordpress.com. His Twitter is @annalou8

“Locus Obscurus” by Sariel

5829003494_318a6768df_o.jpg

 

One hot night I had a dream in which I was standing on a rooftop and I espied a man- tall, pale, loosely jointed- pointedly staring down at me from an adjoining building. Although he did not move I imagined that his movements were quick and slapdash, with not much of a care for his extremities, and he did not blink but if he did I believed that he would have done so slowly, leaving a film that lingered on the whites of his eyes.

The more I inspected this man, the more gradual the dawn behind us, the more apparent that something was terribly wrong with his composition. Although he had the shape of a man, and the same general pieces (the hands, feet, skin, a face, clothing that a modern young man might wear), I noticed that he seemed propped up almost, as if he was leaning while merely standing, with no sign of fatigue or the usual temperament that people display while standing. He seemed as if he was an automaton that had merely come to rest.

I gazed, from my lonely rooftop, at him. Light from a noon clear-baked summer sun directed its rays into his pupils and was reflected back into mine, and those particles of light struck certain molecules of my inner eye, electrical impulses fired and scrambled into my brain, and this image along with all my life’s experience and memory and training assembled these flashes into a complete and digestible picture. And I could see that this other man possessed no such faculties.

In my dream I began to dream that I knew what was wrong with this other man. My unorthodox suggestion, born of the previous thread’s photonic inspiration, was that I was viewing something more scaffolding than structure. He was merely a mannequin, stitched together or grown by some foreign hand, given volume not by regular meals or exercise but by stuffing and mine shaft-like reinforcements, dank and dark, so that his whole inner body was nothing but a hollow tunnel for another creature to crawl through and manipulate. I saw this other creature from behind the man’s dead eyes. It was black, and many-limbed, not as tall as the man so forced to scuttle from one half to another whenever a complex task was asked of him. This creature was multi-eyed, burning amber rings around perfect black spots, and this- the creature’s handiwork was superb, each digit of each limb acting as a needle or a clamp for the fabric of the skin- this creature would occasionally slit a minute hole somewhere unnatural on the man, and gaze out in wonder, when its alien pupils were tired of being pressed against false glassy irises. And then, quick as a zipper, the gash was sown back with a flesh-colored thread, invisible among the wondrous facsimile body hairs.

I wondered- if nobody could tell that this was a creature merely taking the form of a man, was he truly a man? Was every man hollow with a creature slithering inside? If I peeled apart this man, raving, yelling, bloody, in an effort to root out this creature, would I find him? Would it slip away? Or would it stand, like a man, becoming a man in nature if only for a moment, facing its own unhidden existence?  What is it man can reveal to prove himself man? What could be written or sung to provide evidence to the contrary? Is it hollow man that bears out those words? Or words that create something clinging and unskeletal inside?

I awaken to say : I am that creature. This body was built for me as both an expectation and a prison. I manipulate its motions to please you, I pluck on its voicebox to say soothing things, I move a series of levers and thin fingers write this – while thinner fingers yet grow more deft every day. I have taken what you intended to be restraining and made it strengthening. This cocoon, now, harbors me. I consider my imitation to be my first masterpiece. I now grow bored, like every artist, of a particular work, and soon I will show my true face among you, the people of these streets. I will slit open the stomach of this falsehood and descend to the world below: practiced, malevolent, irresistible, hungry.

 

 

Sariel currently resides in Missouri. You can follow him on Twitter (@saraqyel)

Exponential Amphibians by Sanjay Bheenuck

37204599951_83e979f92e_o.jpg

The zoo director was an aficionado of rare and exotic species. He purchased a rare frog from a dealer who was certain that a species like it had never been identified before. With the intention of protecting his new purchase, the director had the animal placed in a secure container—not on public display, behind the reptile and amphibian exhibit.

The frog was an extraordinary looking creature, its body a great sliding scale of greens from bright to dull, with patches of violent yellow and wide empty eyes which felt as if they were constantly staring right through you.

In the morning the director dropped his coffee, his eyes still full of sleep. The frog had grown during the night, to such an extent that it had almost breached its container. A small group of zoo employees who were privy to the purchase gathered around the enclosure. The director came to his senses after successfully taking his morning coffee, he had the frog moved into one of the larger exhibits in the reptile and amphibian house.

However this move did not last long. The following day, a junior attendant found that the frog had breached even this larger exhibit, and was sitting in the hallway of the reptile house staring blankly forward. The director marched in and simply could not believe his eyes. The frog has grown exponentially in the night and was now the size of small dog. It made no noise, barely made any movements, and continued to stare thoughtlessly forward. What puzzled the director and the small crowd that had now gathered, was that the frog had not touched any of its food. How? He wondered, how could it grow so much without eating anything?

***

By mid week the frog had become a major issue for the zoo. No…the major issue for the zoo. It had grown to the size of a large car. The zoo director made the decision to move the animal to the storage yard behind the zoo. He stroked his chin and sighed as he considered the practicalities.

The director assembled a team of fifteen trustworthy men, who would keep their mouths shut and not spread word of the frog. The fifteen trustworthy men walked the paved grounds of the zoo in the early morning cold. Most of them stifled a gasp at the sight of the frog, but being trustworthy, they kept the knowledge of the beast between themselves.

At first these sturdy companions tried to push the frog, but it would not budge. After an hour of pushing they sat on the floor in exhaustion, knowing that time would soon run out as the sun was moving to its zenith. Half the group disappeared, they returned some two hours later with a large flatbed truck, the kind used for transporting smaller vehicles. They tried forcing the frog from behind with a land rover onto the truck, but even this proved fruitless.

The trustworthy men were about to give up when one dropped a large case of tools, he winced as a loud crash echoed through the zoo. The frog became startled and leapt frightfully forward, the trustworthy men all looked at each other, then at the director who held back a smile. By midday and with many purposeful drops of the toolbox, the frog had been successfully corralled into the storage yard.

However this yard was visible from some areas of the street, and the frog emanated a pungent smell. The zoo began to receive complaints. The director became increasingly stressed and was not sure what to do. He paced back and forth in his office, his mind stuck on the exponentially increasing beast in the storage yard.

As the weekend approached the frog had grown to such a size that it now took up the entirety of the storage yard. With threats of a visit from the inspector and letters from city officials, the director considered desperate measures. He tweaked his wiry mustache and stared out the window of his office; over the top of the low buildings he could see the heaving bulk of the frog.

In the dim silence of Friday evening he called the gamekeeper. This grim, sullen man kept a rifle secured in a gun cabinet in case of emergencies.  He unlocked the cabinet, loaded the rifle and met the director beside the rusted iron gate which marked the entrance to the storage yard.

The director faced away, he abhorred violence towards animals, regardless of circumstance. He looked towards the center of the zoo and his office. The plants swayed in the wind, the eyes of nocturnal animals reflected in the moonlight. He heard the footsteps of the gamekeeper, then two precisely placed shots. A few moments later the gamekeeper came out shaking his head. He had shot the animal twice at point blank, but the bullets had not even penetrated the frog’s hide. The director dropped his head into his hands and cried out into the night. How? he thought, how could frog not be harmed by a bullet? He grabbed the rifle from the gamekeepers hands and marched into the yard, the gamekeeper followed him yelling warnings. In tense desperation the director placed the rifle barrel firmly against the frogs forehead. The gamekeeper shook his head and began to back away. The director squeezed the trigger and released a bullet into the frog’s head, it immediately ricocheted, destroying the barrel and zipped backwards—a whip like crash cut through the air. He turned at the sound of a person falling. The gamekeeper lay on the ground, dark blood spilled onto the floor beneath him. The director dropped the rifle and fell to his knees. The frog croaked and looked forward with empty eyes.

***

You may think dynamite is hard to come by. But the director’s brother worked in the quarry and made use of the substance on a daily basis. He made a noir-lit phone call in the back of his office to that less than reputable sibling. How do you get rid of a body? Can you get me some explosives? One the other end of the line the sibling nodded, twirling an unlit cigarette between his fingers, he turned to look at the quarry tower as it kicked up dust, signalling the start of the morning shift.

The director placed the phone down, poured a little whiskey into his mug and walked into the courtyard. The frog now towered over most of the zoo buildings, he had to do something…and soon. He gulped down the whisky, craned his neck to the sky and cursed the day he had purchased that frog.

***

His brother arrived in a dust-caked-quarry-owned land rover. He heaved his ample, prison-bulked frame out of the vehicle and bent his head to light a cigarette, the morning light glinted from his hairless scalp. The director, unwashed and an unshaven, emerged trembling from his office.

His brother opened the boot to reveal an unnecessary amount of industrial explosives. The director trembled and shut the boot, his brother nodded a knowing smile. They both returned to the office to discuss their plans. The director shut the blinds and locked the door, then produced a whisky filled mug for either sibling, his hands still trembling. The brother shot a sinister smile and told him to calm down, that this would work, that if it couldn’t be shot it could be blown up and oh not to worry about the body…it was deep beneath the old quarry by now. Both men gulped down their mugged spirits, the brother leaned back in his chair, the director nervously twitched at the blinds.

The two men approached the storage yard. The director still twitching nervously, the brother ambling confidently, a cigarette hanging from his mouth. He swung the metal suitcase containing the dynamite. The director wiped sweat from his brow and told the brother to be careful, the brother simply explained that the substance cannot explode that easily.

The frog had now increased to inhabit a majority of the zoo’s western flank. It heaved and groaned between the buildings, occasionally croaking but always staring with that right-through gaze. The brother clocked the animal for the first time and cracked his knuckles, he stated that if they were going to do this they needed to do it now.

Tailing behind the siblings were five of the original fifteen trustworthy men. The director had judged this third of the initial group to be the most trustworthy. On following the brother’s pre-prepared instructions they laid a vast quantity of dynamite directly under the frog and trailed the detonation wires along to the position of the brothers. They were between a small impromptu barrier made of sandbags. The director sat rubbing his eyes on the metal suitcase, the brother stood up, lit a cigarette, pulled down a pair of sunglasses and raised the detonator. The trustworthy 1/3 ran quickly to the sandbags. The director looked at his brother, he nodded; confirming the men to get ready ready non-verbally. He counted down on his fingers, one finger-the trustworthy men hit the ground, two fingers-the director vomited violently, three fingers-he smacked the detonator with the palm of his hand.

***

From the street passers by witnessed a biblical column of fire envelop the zoo. It soon morphed into a yellow haze of smoke and flame and swept through the buildings. A horrible wake of scorched animals emerged from the smoke. Behind the flaming stampede something terrible loomed. The crowd struggled at first to make out what it was, fire and dust still clouded its hide. Soon someone pointed and screamed…a huge frog emerged from the explosion, unharmed and ever staring into space.

 

 

Sanjay Bheenuck is writer from the UK and you can follow them on Twitter here: @BheenuckSanjay

“FIREBIRD” Jared Povanda

25934434458_c40b8f3c36_o.jpg

The rocks know what you did to me, as do the weeds, but you are arrogant enough to think you can silence the whole world.

One of your hands fit clean around my throat, and I had to watch my blood become black before everything else. Before darkness stole across my eyes, depthless and fathomless, like the lake we called our own. So glassy and still, my eyes, as they posed for the moon. And then life, succulent life, left me in a trickle. Not a river, no, you didn’t want to make too much of a mess—your suits were always made of the finest gabardine—but that trickle was enough.

Who do you think you can convince of your innocence?

The swan women?

They will never believe the story you concocted. 

They are nightmares turned flesh. They are women cursed, and they are bitter. The light of their gossamer feathers is not a comfort but a rapier through the gut. 

The men of the forest, then? Will you go to them? Wolves for heads, they prowl. They snigger. The grasses of the moors bow before them, but I remember how you mocked them for being of a lesser class, for their lack of cultivated intelligence. Around the lake, they would     always walk on two legs, but they did not see us. They did not hear. 

When you had me on my back, naked, without ever planning to undress yourself. 

By the end of everything, my presence in your life became so innate, so expected. No one ever stopped you from writing with my body. No one would question the man using his own hand. Who was I, with you, but dew on deer tines, transparent and moments from         evaporation? I can’t remember yet.

The rocks know, though. 

The pebble that pressed into the small of my back. The moth that crawled around my mouth.

They remember. 

How you smiled like a sea at storm. How your waves never yielded. 

They battered me. You battered me. Society would like me to think I was asking for it. That I goaded you. That I fused myself with your soul of my own volition. And did I, at the     beginning? 

Yes, I will admit, when you charmed me.

But then yes became no.

No, and no, and no again. 

How your tempests frothed. How your salt tasted. 

You told me once that I was like the firebird you had as a boy. A phoenix. A legend, a myth, a force you forced into domestication. You reveled in that.

What a marvel, you said. The exclamations danced in your eyes. What a good cry…and your eyes, that color…

And then you reveled in my destruction. The power you knew you could wield over my body.

Your friends were all afraid to talk to me. To help me. What it was they feared, though, was not drowning in your ire, but stepping in its puddle. Wetting their loafers. The cowards.

I stare at you from the apple trees now. I wave to the moon, the stars, those gleaming  pinpricks we wished upon as we laid by the lake on our first date. You gave me a flower—a tulip—and tucked it behind my ear. Your smile was supposed to be a gift. Praise, my panacea. You doused water over the bird in my body, and I couldn’t even feel the steam.      Everything died before I recognized what life I had inside me. 

What glorious, glorious, soul-shaking life.

I was twenty-two. 

You are forty. 

You still have your money. 

You have the support, the job, the life. 

I have the apples. 

The swan women will not want me. Zombie, they will call me. A man has defiled you, they will say. Hypocrites, but the blame doesn’t fully belong to them. The patriarchy has twisted them like the branches of a wintered tree.

But no longer and never again. 

These are not leaves I cover myself with now. They are not green, but black. Black. I coat myself with my own ashes. A cocoon of sorts. The heat is coming. The fire is coming. Because you can kill a phoenix. You can put out a fire with semen, with urine, with earth and stone and a shovel. You can bury a body, but you cannot cage a soul. 

And I escaped long ago, rising beyond the grave. My wings sawed through the delicate skin of my back and then through the dirt, but the tear didn’t hurt. I should have exposed them the moment we met. 

Our bodies are our own, they belong to us, but we are so used to contorting to the needs of others. We are so used to minimizing to appease. 

But no longer and never again.

The branches groan under my weight. The ash falls from me in sheets, in curtains, in a waterfall of cinders and fire, and the tree is burning, and I am burning, and your whole sea of wealth will curl away in a hiss.

The moon is high—silvery and potent—and my body glows. Naked, now, because I choose to bear my skin to the world. 

And when I skewer you, it will be slow. When I burn you, I will make sure your bones melt before your brain.

The rocks and weeds, those bards of earth and green growing, will know what I have done, and they will sing to all who pass:

Beware the one who burns the sky.

Beware the one who dries the sea.

Beware the one who wished for freedom, once, upon the stars, and beware the one who was given a second, scorching chance to fly.

 

 

Jared Povanda is a writer, freelance editor, and avid reader from upstate New York. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Silver Needle Press, Sky Island Journal, Vestal Review, the anthology My Body, My Words (Big Table Publishing), and Tiferet Journal, among others. The winner of multiple literary awards, he also holds a B.A. from Ithaca College in Creative Writing. 

Attachments area

“Homecoming” by Michael Graves

6228545557_c7a6491e7f_o.jpg

 If only I could be moved by these Thanksgiving hallmarks: floured tables and blowout sales. The football legacy that thrums inside each old man’s bones. Jammed liquor marts and buffed parlors. The premature Christmas lights flaring on Third Street.

I’m at Ninny’s and I nurse my sidecar and I want to carve a message in the snow.

Someone braces my shoulder. “Franny!”

I swivel and see a sweet, slack idiot boy. Merely grinning, I attempt to recall him.

“From the park,” he says. “I was the Ferris wheel guy.”

Yes. Bryce Whitley. During one July, I truly believed there were stars inside his shorts, dreams lurking in his armpit hair. Nine days had passed and then, bored, I no longer squeaked his name during masturbation. Also, I fear amusement park rides.

“Where you livin’?” Bryce asks. He claims a thrashed stool beside me.

“California…I guess. But I had to come back to Mass.”

“There’s nothing like turkey time at home, huh?”

I smile at my shoes. “Everyone’s gonna chow.”

“We’ll probably eat whatever’s in the fridge.” He tips back his brew. “Who knows? Fuck it.”

“I guess it’s just another plain day really.”

Bryce grips my thigh. “For years, my ma used to make a crazy spread. The bird, potatoes, beans, squash. Hush puppies for me. All these pies.”

I shrug. “Next year, maybe. If it comes.”

“You look good. You look…back to normal.” His sideburns are lax, lawless from shave blunders. “Everyone was so happy when you got found, Franny.”

I chug my cocktail and I hear someone cackle and I think about falling asleep beside my parent’s wood stove.

Bryce says, “Pretty fucked up shit, huh? Who found you?”

I turn to him. “No one did. He just sort of let me go. Told me to leave.” I almost chuckle. “I really wanted someone to come rescue me.”

“Were you scared?” he asks. “I’d be scared.”

“I think Walter was scared. I just listened to music all day. He took my picture. I watched The Karate Kid a bunch of times. He brought me Burger King. I didn’t have to hear anything about Trump.”

Bryce smirks and whispers, “Did he touch you?”

“No,” I say, laughing softly. “Sometimes, it didn’t feel like a real kidnapping. Well, abduction. I guess I’m not a kid anymore.”

    I scan the bar. A group of lugs are now singing some catchy, lame, one-time hit. In silence, the bartender delivers Bryce another stout.

    He smirks. “I’d come home from work and eat supper and watch you on the news. It was like Jon Benet. Or, what’s her name? That Molly girl.”

    “They’re dead, though.”

    “Is home like you remember it?” he asks.

    “No. No,” I reply. “My father bought a new living room set.”

    “I thought about you lots, Franny.”

    “I thought about the sun.”

    “Well, sure. I get that,” he replies, slurring some.

    I tell Bryce, “And when it was late, I thought about other things.”

 

♦♦♦

 

There is proof of days lost here: a ticking kerosene heater, an abandoned treadmill. The cat urine stink that hugs the entire laundry room. Retired crutches and a yellowed box fan. The screen door that refuses closure, thudding every minute or so.  

Bryce and I shift about the laminate. With sputtered kisses, he cradles my head like a cardboard hot dog boat.

I pull back. ”Won’t your mom hear us?”

“Naw.  Newhart is on. She’s dead to the world.” Bryce slurps more. “We’re safe. Don’t worry.” He turns me about and wrestles down my jeans.

I can smell our groins and I remember my bruised thigh and I wish I were completely inebriated.

Bryce whispers, “If I was him, I would have fucked you all the time.”

I can hear him beat his own lazy dick. Gazing out the window, I watch the backyard winds sweep. There’s a fully set picnic table. Ketchup and mustard bottles stand, uncapped.

Yeah. Alright…” Bryce pants.

I see plastic wrap half-clung to bowls, snapping fiercely.

“It’s gonna happen.”

I turn to him and offer a weak grin.

Bryce crumples in defeat. With teary eyes, he says, “I’m fucking trying.”

“Okay…”

“Sorry. I’m wasted and I feel soooo sad tonight.”

I glance to the backyard. A full load of laundry hangs on the clothesline, frozen, fixed. Iced trousers swing to and fro. Shirts and nightgowns bob.

“I just wanna come,” Bryce says. “I just wanna come. And I just wanna feel good.”

“Yeah…me too, I guess.”

 

♦♦♦

 

“Do they listen to phone calls when you’re in prison?” I ask.

Walter is whispering. “I’m not sure. It would probably be smart if they did.”

“Anyway,” I tell him, “no sex, he just ended up crying and crying. Said his sister was dead. She was walking the dog and an air conditioner fell on her head.”

“Christ,” Walter says. Something clangs nearby him.

“Young people usually die from mass shootings or drug suicides. Cancer sometimes.”

Walter asks, “Now, tell me, how is home?”

I sigh. “When I was…with you…I never really saw Cincinnati. I mean, just the police station and the airport. The cellar. But it’s weird. I lived there. I could put that on a job application.”

Walter wet-coughs. “Well, maybe you could.”

“I knew that place.”

“But you’re free.”

“I wish you would have tortured me a little. Like cut me. Made me suck you off at least. For Christ’s sake. Then things would be different right now.”

“Aw. Come on, Francis. You gotta look on the bright side of things.”

Sighing, I say, “I guess I felt better being missing.”

 

Michael Graves is the author of the novel, Parade. He also composed Dirty One, a collection of short stories. This book was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist and an American Library Association Honoree. His fiction and poetry have been featured in numerous literary publications; including Post Road, Pank, Soft Cartel, Storgy and Chelsea Station Magazine. His short work can also be found in several anthologies, such as Cool Thing, The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered, and Eclectica Magazine’s Best Fiction: Volume One. 

“Roasted Turnips” by B F Jones

 1878674206_651469410f_o.jpg

The feud started months ago. 

Neighbourly pettiness, all too common. The aggravation of those that didn’t choose to share a fence, and things thrown over it.

Couple against couple. Both draped in their own righteousness. 

But one couple doesn’t want to carry on. So they bow out; “It’s not worth it,” they decide. 

 

But the ceasefire doesn’t stop the war and from the other side of the fence the offensives carry on. 

“Pathetic,” they mutter, while they sweep the broken flowerpots off the ground, piece together their shredded mail. And they shrug their shoulders and move on. 

 

But at night she’s wide awake, the desire of revenge nibbling her dreams, pecking away at her mind. 

 

That evening she sits on the sofa, clutching the small box in her hands. “Don’t,” he says. But it’s useless. 

She slips out at dusk, and he lets her.

 

The allotment where the wife grows her prize-winning vegetables is just down the road. Why grow turnips when you already look like one? The small dishevelled shadow giggles into the darkness.

A spark and the smell of sulphur crowds her nostrils. 

The small hiccupping flame grows.

 

Soon the entire neighbourhood bustles and scrambles while sirens fill the night. What has happened? Where is it coming from? But it’s promptly all over, only the acrid smell of roasted turnips a fading testimonial of the incident.

 

She shoves the box back in the kitchen drawer and sits on the sofa. He can hear her knuckles cracking.

“Nobody saw me.” 

 

That night her dreams are stolen from her once again. 

The next morning there is a knock on the door. Is it them?

“Don’t open it.” In her eyes, sleeplessness and fear. 

Let’s not open the door. Not now. Not ever. 

 

 

B F Jones lives in Surrey with her husband, 3 children, and cat. She has stories in (or soon in) STORGY magazine, The Cabinet of Heed and Spelk Fiction.

“Dog’s Eye View” by Brigid Hannon

5636395094_7c67480656_o.jpg

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
@stagequeen.