Major Award

Flash
Michael Snyder


Photo Credit: Judy van der Velden/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Some people really are as dumb as they look. Harold was one of these people.

He knew the alphabet, but sometimes confused the order. His face was slack, the muscles droopy, as if he were melting. But Harold did have a big heart. Literally. His blood pump was the envy of cyclists, mountain climbers, and sex addicts everywhere.

His real talents, in order, were: finding four-leaf clovers, blind taste-testing, and making razor-straight lines with a push mower.

But his proudest possession had nothing at all to do with his talents. It was actually a cartoonish-looking statuette that his estranged daughter picked up at a yard sale, yet another belated birthday gift.

Dumb as he was, Harold was not immune to irony. Though he’d learned that some things were better left ignored.

Harold was a creature of habit. Each night he brushed, flossed, and stepped into a fresh pair of underpants. He then slipped between the sheets and prayed for all the people he used to know. Once his spiritual accounts were settled, he would reach blindly for the nightstand until his fingers found the chipped scalp of his prized statuette. Next he rolled his bulky form into a sloppy fetal position and hugged the figurine to his chest, fingering the inscription along the base. Sometimes he cried a little. Only as his breathing slowed to an even hum would Harold dare to wonder if maybe he really was the world’s greatest dad.

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Michael Snyder lives in middle Tennessee with his amazing wife and children. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The First Line; Cease, Cows; Everyday Fiction; Greater Sum; Relief Journal; Lit.Cat; and various other online haunts. His first three novels were published by Harper Collins/Zondervan. Michael is not a big fan of reading his own work. Email: snydermanwrites[at]gmail.com

Ski Lift

Flash
Zack Peercy


Photo Credit: TMAB2003/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

We’re sitting on a ski lift and my butt is cold. I can’t tell you this because of what I already told you. So we continue to sit in silence.

We’ve taken this ride before. Every year, we come to this mountain and you try to convince me to wear the goggles, and I tell you to get a better hat, and we quote that ski instructor who was totally hitting on you. And right now, if I hadn’t said what I said, we would be making bets on who would beat who down the hill.

The sun is setting behind the mountain. The ski lift continues its ascension as we chase the remains of the day, chase yesterday, chase the moments before I said what I said.

You turn to me in the fading light. You say something I don’t want to hear. And I know that this will be our last time racing down the slopes.

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Zack Peercy is a playwright. He’s been published in The Sandy River Review, among others. Email: zackpeercy[at]gmail.com

What the Anemometer Measures

Flash
Becca B. Jenkins


Photo Credit: Mark Blasingame/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Her science teacher called them geodes, but she knew them as thunder eggs. To be precise, all thunder eggs are not geodes, and not all geodes are thunder eggs. But sometimes one and the other are the same.

This is the anemometer, her science teacher said. Do you know what it measures?

It measures the wind. The wind at her back. The speed of her feet. The space between where her toe last was and where her heel touches again. The space between the last letter she wrote and the next one she begins. The space that widens when she stretches her metatarsals, that shrinks when she crinkles herself, her entire self, into a ball.

This is what the anemometer measures.

No, her teacher said. It measures the wind.

He is wrong.

He has science. She has life.

Her mother taught her the four directions, the four mountains, the four colors, the four elements, the four seasons, the four everything. The four phases of life. But she didn’t have four everything. She didn’t have two grandmothers and two grandfathers. She didn’t have two parents and a sibling. She didn’t have her own four limbs.

I’ll hold the pen for you, her classmate said.

Don’t be silly, she replied. See how it fits in the space between my toes?

Sometimes you find jasper in the geode, her teacher said. Not at the center, but in the area around it. It is often red, from the presence of iron. It is almost never blue.

She is red. She is iron. She is always blue.

Last night she dreamed of the raven. She was jealous of his two wings.

You have legs like the bear, the raven said.

But I don’t have four, she replied, only two.

In the morning, her mother poured her coffee. The flavor astringent and dead.

She drank it down and told her mother she didn’t want to go to school.

You have to learn their stories, her mother replied. You must learn their maps.

But I don’t want to go where they want me to go, she said.

Her mother shook her head. At your center is a silk road, her mother said. A route from one world to the next. A path from sea to sky.

But I can’t carry anything back, she told her mother. Only what fits in one palm.

She stretched her single set of metacarpals as evidence.

You have the wind, her mother said.

This is the anemometer, her teacher said. Do you know what it measures?

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Becca Borawski Jenkins is a writer and editor. She holds an MFA in Cinema-Television Production from USC and has short stories appearing or forthcoming in The Forge, The Knicknackery, Panorama, Five 2 One, and Corium. She lives with her husband in an RV they built by hand, on an off-grid homestead somewhere in the Idaho Panhandle. Email: beccabjenkins[at]gmail.com

Flames

Flash
Jenny T.H. Chiu


Photo Credit: Annie Roi/Flickr (CC-by)

Shimmery full moon this morning when I was walking to the train station, reminded me of the day you broke your middle finger and the breakfast crawled with ants but I didn’t care.

In my dreams
you trace your fingers between my thighs, aglow under the moonlight, and your reptilian-cold skin presses against mine so tenderly that when you lie asleep and I lie awake breathing, I do not have to whisper to myself, it’s love, it’s love, it’s love.

In my dreams
I hold you at gunpoint, but you just do that half-smile of yours, daring me to pull the trigger, pull it, pull it. I always end up tossing the bullets into my mouth, like bitter medicine you said was good for me.

In between my dreams
poison ivy grew out of cracks on the stone steps of our house. I kept trying to prune it. It kept growing up.

You always said you didn’t smoke, so who set the house on fire, who, who? In the smog I looked for the poison ivy, and choked my way out. Window panes shattering behind. I didn’t look for you.

Today, I sit out here in the blazing heat, watching the cat pick up a dead bird with its yellow crooked teeth. Glint in its eyes says, look what I caught. I wanted to look away.

Wish I could knock this cigarette out of my own hand.

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Jenny T.H. Chiu is a first-year university student currently living in Australia, although she has lived in Asia for most of her life: Taiwan, China and Singapore. Email: fragulity[at]gmail.com

Delicacy

Baker’s Pick
Timothy Bastek


Photo Credit: haley8/Flickr (CC-by)

Cynthia saw the winged boy today. He was the last of his kind, an ancient race who once dwelled in the jungles far to the south. He did not give Cynthia or her classmates notice when they approached the cage. He just sat in his tree, his back facing them, his features hidden behind his dirty wings. The zookeeper explained the winged boy was dying and would not last much longer, possibly not even through the night. The plaque at the cage’s base said a team of archeologists had found him in a ruined temple cowering by the bones of his ancestors.

When the first colonists arrived two centuries ago, they saw the winged people of the South as nothing more than food. Their wings were considered a delicacy. It did not matter if the cities they built deep in the jungles were a treasure trove of knowledge for modern architecture, nor did the colonists care if their histories and legends revealed the wisdom of an ancient race. All the colonists wanted were their wings, to cut them from their backs, pluck off the feathers, fry them in oil and sacred herbs from the jungle, and dip them in sauces finely crafted from the from the winged people’s own harvest. Besides, the jungle languages were too savage and barbaric for the refined and civilized colonists to understand.

As her class passed through the zoo’s gates back to the bus, Cynthia glanced in the open doors of the restaurant that stood near the entrance. Inside, a wealthy man gave instructions to the chef, who nodded as he sharpened his knives.

pencilTimothy Bastek is from Chandler, Arizona. He’s been fortunate enough to have spent a year studying in Sweden. His stories have appeared in Tales of the Talisman and HelloHorror. Email: timothybastek[at]gmail.com

A Family Tradition

Flash
Tim Love


Photo Credit: Lorenia/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

“Now your hair Jenny,” she said, glumping shampoo onto her daughter’s head.

“Do I have to?”

Her mother moulded Jenny’s hair into a cockscomb. “There, Roadrunner.”

Jenny looked at herself in the mirror. “Again!”

Her mother pulled on each side of Jenny’s head. “Two big ears. You’re Mickey Mouse now.”

“What shape did you like when you had hair?”

“Roadrunner and Mickey Mouse were all my mother could do.”

“Was she nice, your mummy?”

“Yes.”

“Look,” Jenny said, squashing her hair flat, “You!”

pencilTim Love’s publications are a poetry pamphlet Moving Parts (HappenStance, 2010) and a story collection By All Means (Nine Arches Press, 2012). He lives in Cambridge, UK. His poetry and prose have appeared in Stand, Rialto, Oxford Poetry, Journal of Microliterature, Short Fiction, etc. He blogs at Litrefs. Email: tl136[at]cam.ac.uk

Eventually Air

Flash
Michelle S. Lee


Photo Credit: Joseph Bergen/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Corinne and Daniel have been together three years to the day when she found him in a souvenir beach shop in Vero. She had two days off from her job as an admissions receptionist at the Urgent Care and went south for a drive. She stopped for cheap coffee. He stood in the window next door to the café, blown-up plastic, and posed next to a surfboard.

She paused at the pane, seeing Tom Selleck in his golden days of Magnum P.I. when she was sixteen and did not yet feel thoroughly fucked like she did at twenty-eight. He was $25.99, plus tax, but that included his outfit (a faded blue cotton button-down and khakis) and his name, stamped on the bottom of his left shoe, a brown, precisely printed loafer.

Daniel fit perfectly in the front seat of her ten-year-old Camry, same one she drove in high school. Corinne knew she was crazy for buying a plastic man, but then he spoke to her.

“Thank you,” she heard him say in a matter-of-fact voice that caused her to believe in him more than she knew she should. “I was hoping.”

Corinne remained apprehensive for one main reason: that men, in her experience, lasted only until they found someone who was “more accessible.” But maybe Daniel, she thought, would be different. Besides, she had stopped touching people as a rule. Not even after four hand-pumps of anti-bacterial gel followed by size-small latex gloves. Day to day, behind plexiglass, clipboards, and a name tag that read “Ask me about Shingles,” Corinne just saw too much.

Today, their anniversary, Corinne wakes Daniel at dawn and drives them to a small, secluded inlet in New Smyrna where they will watch hot air balloons rise over Spruce Creek. Corinne packed egg sandwiches in foil, a thermos of black coffee, and a blanket because it is March, early, and the car heater is temperamental. She parks almost to the sand. A striped balloon is first to crest the water.

She leans across the armrest, puts her head on his shoulder. It still smells soapy from their shower the night before. A blue balloon joins the sky. She wonders if the earth looks far enough away from up there.

“I wait for moments like this,” she says.

Daniel wants to say, “Me, too.”

He doesn’t. Her contentment presses through his slick skin, fills him as much as it can. He listens to it fall deep into the hollow of who he is and thud to the bottom. In the same moment, he watches balloon after balloon sail into the morning.

Daniel had little memory of a time before her. Just a protracted hissing sound, like air slowly escaping from a hole he couldn’t see.

He wants to say, “Eventually, we won’t be enough.”

He doesn’t.

pencilMichelle Lee is an associate professor of literature, fiction writing, and composition at Daytona State College. She’s been an editor of academic and literary journals, has published across genres, and has earned a Pushcart Prize “happy to be nominated” badge of honor for her poetry. Most recently, her words were published in the anthology, All We Can Hold, by Sage Hill Press and with Spry Literary Journal, Gingerbread House, and Literary Mama. This winter, you can find her work with Hypertrophic, Dying Dahlia, and LitBreak. Email: Michelle.Lee[at]daytonastate.edu

Panhandling Uncle Perry

Flash
Travis Keys


Photo Credit: John Fraissinet/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

My Uncle Perry is a whistler. He’s also a hitchhiker. Oftentimes, he’s a panhandler. If you’re lucky, you can catch him being all three simultaneously I discovered one afternoon when I stopped and picked him up.

It was pouring outside, and he was walking on the side of the road, hands in his pockets like the sky wasn’t trying its best to drown him.

He turned his head when he heard the car, then stuck out his thumb. I could tell by his puckered lips, rain be damned, he was whistling.

When he got in, he wiped his face with his arm, and continued to whistle. He didn’t even acknowledge me. It was as if he had been expecting his only nephew to come driving by and offer him a ride.

“You going home, Unc?” I asked him. He lived on the outskirts of town about eight miles from where I picked him up.

He paused his whistling. “Yup,” he said before picking up the tune again.

We drove in silence for a couple of miles.

“Why you always whistling?” I asked him.

He didn’t say anything at first. I thought he was wasn’t going to answer, but after a spell he said, “Whistling is joy leaving the body.” Then he went back to it.

Joy?” I asked. “You happy, Unc?”

“Yup.”

“What you got to be so happy about?”

“I’m out the rain.”

I guess that was as good a reason as any.

“Why you always hitchhiking?”

“I ain’t got a car,” he said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. I guess it sort of was when I think about it.

Everyone in town says Uncle Perry is crazy from serving in Vietnam. I never believed them. He just likes to keep to himself is what I always figured. But as I glanced at him sitting there with droplets of water beaded up on the graying naps of his hair with a strange faraway look in his eyes that was matched by the melancholy hissing coming from his face in spitting spurts, I knew they were right.

We were only two miles from his house when Uncle Perry said, “Let me out here.”

“But you’re almost home,” I said, pressing the gas a little harder.

He repeated his request.

I slowly pulled the car over to the shoulder. Uncle Perry opened the door, then sat there looking out at the rain.

“You got a couple of dollars I can hold?”

I put the car in park and reached into my back pocket. I handed him a five-dollar bill. As he took it, I noticed his hand trembling.

“God bless you, sir,” he said. He got out of the car and shut the door.

I drove away watching my uncle in the rear view mirror. He put a hand in his pocket and used the other to stick out his thumb. I shook my head and began to whistle.

pencilTravis Keys lives in drought-stricken San Diego, California where he works as systems administrator. He loves to write. Email: t.b.keys[at]gmail.com

Tex-Mex Special

Flash
Lori Cramer


Photo Credit: makzhou/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

I’m scribbling down an order from a rowdy family of five when my best tippers stroll into the main dining area and seat themselves at the corner table. Mr. Stevenson’s got on his faded Astros hat, as usual, and Mrs. Stevenson’s clutching her metallic purse as if it’s a shield. They show up here every Thursday for the Tex-Mex special: endless tacos for $9.99. He’s crazy for the hard shell; she prefers soft. Greeting me like a cherished friend, they ask how I’ve been and whether my son’s sleeping through the night yet. After a minute or two of chitchat, I take their drink orders—same as always—and promise to return right away. When they think I’m out of earshot, they start sniping at each other, and on my way back to deliver their Drafts of the Day, I overhear phrases like “never listen” and “don’t even care anymore.” Once they spot me heading toward them, the angry conversation halts and they paste on pretend smiles. Setting down their icy beverages, I consider telling them how marriage counseling saved my friend Trudy’s marriage, but then decide I’d better keep quiet. Can’t afford to lose that 25% tip.

pencilLori Cramer’s short fiction has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, FewerThan500.com, Ink In Thirds, Postcard Shorts, Pudding Magazine, A Quiet Courage, Rum Punch Press, Seven by Twenty, Unbroken Journal, and the 11th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition Collection. Email: bulldog29[at]msn.com

Punctuation and Puncture Wounds

Flash
Isaac Buckley


Photo Credit: Iain Farrell (CC-by-nd)

I don’t have any tattoos. I don’t have anything against them. It’s just that no single image has ever stood out to me enough to ink into my skin. Besides, scars have always been life’s way of marking me with reminders of the periods and events in my life. My latest acquisition is two circular scars on my left side, one about an inch above the other.

The most recent trend in body art is the semi-colon—an outward sign of an inward struggle with depression or mental illness. Looking in the mirror now, I find meaning in my own markings. My left ribs bear a colon.

A colon, the internet tells me, is a punctuation mark “used mostly to call attention to what follows (as a list, explanation, or quotation).” Though I didn’t choose my newest decoration, I can’t help but ascribe meaning to it. A colon divides a sentence. It announces that a writer is introducing something different, that a new clause is coming. Everything up to the colon has been a prelude, an introduction. The meat of the matter—the colon declares—is here.

I may be a hole short of a three-hole punch, but I’m fond of my new punctuation mark. Like an unwary breakfaster discovering the image of the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast, I choose to find meaning in a world that seems mad. Everything up to here has been leading up to what comes next, my ribs proclaim.

And what is that? To tell the truth, I’m not sure yet. But I do know one thing: the day I get out of this hospital I’m gonna find the rat bastard that shot me in the side.

pencilIsaac Buckley lives in the Mississippi Delta, where he spends his time fishing, listening to blues music, and failing to provide his parents with grandchildren. Email: isaackbuckley[at]gmail.com