Oenaville, Texas

Baker’s Pick
Erica Hoffmeister


Photo Credit: Woman of Scorn/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

She was eleven, but the way he was staring at her mouth he could’ve guessed her at least sixteen. I was sixteen, but the way my narrow shoulders met her chest made her look even taller, broader. Her body a map laid across a table and pressed from corner to corner, asking your fingertips to run across water ridge lines with a smooth spinning compass pointing south.

I took the cherry sucker from her mouth and popped it into my own. Hey! She screeched with the tone of a girl who just got her period for the first time. Her knees were still unaccustomed to the weight of dying blood.

He carried his gaze through gas-stained coveralls, looked back to the pump, sweat on his wrists. The sucker protruded my cheek like an abscess, rotting my back teeth until I threw it at our feet.

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Born and raised in Southern California, Erica Hoffmeister earned her MA in English and MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University’s dual degree program in 2015. She has had work published or forthcoming in So To Speak, Split Lip Magazine, Rat’s Ass Review, Shark Reef, and Literary Mama, among others. Her poems have: been nominated for Best of the Net in 2107, received runner-up for the Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize in 2016, and she’s also received an honorable mention for the Lorian Hemingway Award for Short Fiction in 2014. She currently lives in Denver with her husband and daughter, Scout Séverine, where she writes, teaches college English, and perpetually misses home—wherever that feels like at the time. Email: zhoffmeister[at]gmail.com

The Santa Realisation

Flash
Michael Sams


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

I remember I was nine. I was in the back seat, behind Mum, who was driving sedately. My older brother was beside me. It was an early Saturday morning in November, already uncomfortable with the dry Australian heat. The air-con blasted pitifully, unable to eradicate the lived-in stink of the family sedan. We were on our way to the markets for some bromeliads for Mum and, I hoped, a slushie for me. My cotton floral dress was sticking to the polyester seat. Mum was humming along to a song by her favourite piano rock artist. She stopped at a red light.

“Sweetheart, look in the park, there’s Santa!” Mum exclaimed.

We looked. He was a sorry excuse for Santa. Even from a distance I could see his shoes were scuffed and the suit was tattered and faded. His belt wasn’t shiny, in fact, it wasn’t even a belt; I think it was a scarf. The beard-strap was clearly visible and his cap was missing the pompom.

“He looks terrible,” I said.

“Oh, that’s not the real Santa,” Mum corrected herself. “He’s just helping Santa out, like the elves do.”

She returned to her humming, so she didn’t hear my older brother whisper there was no real Santa.

My eyes widened. My jaw dropped. I stared amazedly at my brother, eleven, who was sagely nodding. My heart was racing. My brother put his hand on my shoulder, consoling. I blinked. No real Santa. My brother removed his hand.

I turned and saw my Dad, twisted in the front passenger seat, looking directly at me. He had heard my brother. He had seen that moment. I could see he wanted to console me, so I gave the smallest nod and slightest smile to let him know I was okay. His chest heaved with a silent, heavy sigh. The traffic light changed. Dad turned to face front. I wanted to console him, but I couldn’t.

Mum sang softly along, “…but I know that the ice is getting thin…” as she moved the car toward bromeliads and Dad-purchased slushies.

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Michael Sams started writing short stories as a boy. He won a couple of competitions and attended a writing camp where he was mentored by published authors. In the last couple of years, he has been writing short plays. He has had several performed in various cities around the world. In the last couple of months he has returned to short story writing and is enjoying it immensely. Email: mike.sams003[at]gmail.com

Cloise

Flash
Lynn Mundell


Photo Credit: Miss Wetzel’s Art Class/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

In their favorite game, they’re joined together, like famous twins Chang and Eng.

“Safety in numbers,” says Eloise, older by forty minutes. “Two heads are better than one.”

“Hahaha,” says Chloe, younger by the same. “Two-heads-two-heads!”

Chloe drags the skirt up their skinny legs with Eloise’s help. They’re eight years old—or sixteen, combined. Eloise pulls the sweatshirt over their heads. Each girl gets a sleeve. Side by side, they squeeze through the hallway, a double Popsicle.

“Girls, you’re stretching your clothes again.” At the kitchen table, Mother sits with ruined mascara like a masked bandit. Father has left. They’ve separated; like an egg.

“Please call me Cloise.” They keep moving, past the suitcases.

In the garage, they share a gum. Chloe gets the grapey first minute, chomping near Eloise’s ear as her sister searches for the duct tape.

They hear Father’s VW pull up. Raised, scrambled voices. They undress quickly.

“Chloe, time to go!”

Naked, they move chest to chest. Eloise stares into Chloe’s vague eyes, which may be looking back.

Eloise winds the tape around and around them, from armpits to bottoms.

They’re joined clamshells. They’re a double rainbow. No one’s splitting up Cloise. They’re a package deal.

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Lynn Mundell’s fiction and creative nonfiction can be found in The Sun, Five Points, Hobart, Fanzine, Superstition Review, Tin House online, Eclectica, and other fine literary journals. She lives in Northern California, where she co-edits 100 Word Story and is co-editor of Nothing Short Of: Selected Tales from 100 Word Story (Outpost19, April 2018). Email: lamama36[at]gmail.com

Milk Siblings

Flash
Catherine Fearns


Photo Credit: urs/ula dee/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

I only left him with her for a few minutes. She and little Eva came over for coffee, and I just needed to nip to the post office. It seemed a shame to bundle him up and out into the cold, and he was so nicely asleep, and it looked like rain. But when I returned, I saw flesh against flesh, my flesh against her flesh. I know it’s a thing—I even looked it up on the internet afterwards—milk-sharing, wet-nursing, women have always done it. So why has this darkness descended, as if it’s my body that’s been violated, as if he’s not mine anymore? I don’t know if I can bear it.

It was that look on her face, so triumphant as she cradled him.

‘He was hungry,’ she smiled. ‘You know he’s teething, don’t you?’

She couldn’t even let me have this for myself. And he looked guilty: as he twisted his head towards me, wondering where his loyalties should lie, he tugged her nipple outwards. Milk seeped down his chin and I almost retched. I tried to smile, and moved to take him, but she motioned me to stay back.

‘Shall we just let him finish? Shame to disturb him.’

Perhaps it was shock, or a fatal Englishness—don’t make a scene, it’s not that bad—that made me yield, and I would curse my weakness later.

We were animals now, predatory females in the wild. I sat on the floor and played with Eva, who looked equally bereft. My breasts burned with the sweet agony of let-down, my heart racing. On the doorstep, she looked into my eyes and said lightly: ‘Now I’m his milk-mother, we’re bonded forever. And Eva’s his milk-sister. They won’t be able to get married you know!’

It can’t be taken back. Some unnamed battle has been won, and a part of him is lost to her forever.

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Catherine Fearns is a British writer living in Switzerland. She is a regular contributor to Broken Amp and Pure Grain Audio, and also writes a blog about heavy metal and motherhood. A former breastfeeding counsellor, she has written a number of short stories inspired by her experiences working with breastfeeding women, and this piece of flash is one of them. Her first novel, a crime thriller entitled Reprobation, will be published by Crooked Cat Books in October 2018. Email: metalmama1978[at]gmail.com

Perfume

Flash
Michael Crane


Photo Credit: Vetiver Aromatics/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

To Cath, the arts administrator at the local council.

My friend Odette started a new business and is about to become a merchant. She isn’t selling cheap clothing donated by family members of the deceased; she isn’t selling manufactured meat and calling it gourmet hamburgers; she isn’t a high-tech madam of prostitution over the internet and she doesn’t own a fish-and-chip shop that is a front for money laundering or child pornography. She has become an importer of perfume, but it is not an everyday perfume which smells like all its competitors; it is not manufactured courtesy of the death of many animals; it is a perfume unlike any other which she had to travel to Geneva to procure and it doesn’t have one identifiable scent but offers any one of a million possibilities that only someone who smells it can recognise. To a businessman it smells like money and to a sailor it smells like an ocean wave during a violent summer storm. To a builder it smells like sawdust and to a chef it smells like a perfectly cooked medium rare filet mignon with sautéed truffles on the side, bathed in gravy so fine and smooth it glistens in the candlelight. To a baker it smells like golden brown bread straight from the oven and to a farmer it smells like fresh cow dung on a spring day. To a painter it smells like turpentine and to a doctor it reeks of iodine. To a mechanic it smells like a combination of sump oil and gasoline and when Odette dabs a little perfume behind her ears, it is another different fragrance all together. it is the only product she believes in and it smells like a perfect faith: like speed, like a drowning man in an ocean waving for a life raft. It smells like the holy water blessed upon a baby’s brow at a christening and when she wears her perfume it smells like her laughter: wild and gregarious, like a mob of drunken seamen standing on a pier singing songs of sirens stranded on rocks.

From Sally, the wife
of her one true love.

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Michael Crane is widely published in Australian journals and newspapers and some US Magazines. Some of his favourite North American writers include JD Salinger, Charles Bukowski, Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood and Richard Brautigan. Email: michaelcrane680[at]yahoo.com

Sturdy Girls

Flash
Amanda Breen


Photo Credit: Rennett Stowe/Flickr (CC-by)

Emily’s arm brushes against mine as the taxi lurches over the rain-slick streets of Amsterdam. Our flight from London landed 40 minutes ago, and even though we’ve only lost an hour, my eyelids are heavy, shuttering against snippets of lavender sky, traffic lights, bicyclists. Emily has been talking to the cab driver since we left the airport; they’ve covered his family history, the city’s top tourist attractions, and what kind of weather we can expect.

He asks her if we’re sisters, and I force my eyes open. I want to hear what she says, and it seems imperative I stare at the polyester headrest in front of me to catch every word. We are not sisters, I want to scream. No, she laughs, not sisters, just friends. I wonder why he’d even suggest something so ludicrous. Emily is twenty years older and exudes painful elegance: long legs, pale skin, sharp edges. I am soft.

The scene at Heathrow only hours before erupts in my head. Emily refusing to buy me a sandwich, pinching the flesh of my upper arm between acrylic nails, telling me she didn’t let any of her girls get dumpy. You should lose ten pounds if you want better customers, she’d snapped. I press my finger against the cold glass and draw a box. One bicyclist races through it, then another.

We stop when the waterlogged windshield glows red. It turns green. At first, there’s not a car in the lane next to us, then there is, and the bicyclist who thought she could run the red light slams into the windshield, which shatters, exploding into a bright spiderweb under the pressure of bone and steel. Horrified, we watch her arc through the air and land on the other side of the street, where passersby crowd around her, shriek in a language thick with consonants, whip out their cellphones to call for help.

The offending driver grips the wheel behind his splintered windshield, motionless. I stare at the woman, a crumpled heap in her coral blouse and dark blue jeans. I imagine her putting the outfit on this morning, sliding her arms through fluttery sleeves, slipping her legs into soft denim. She doesn’t move. No one touches her. Our driver shakes his head and speeds us away from the wreckage.

He clicks his tongue, makes a sucking sound. “These bicyclists have no respect for traffic signs. And this is what they get.” Emily and I stare out the window even though there’s nothing to see anymore. He sighs. “Well, she might be okay. She looked like a sturdy girl.”

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Amanda Breen recently graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University, where she studied English with concentrations in American literature and creative writing. She likes to write about women and power, and is especially interested in how gendered constructions of power impact individuals and relationships. Her work has appeared in A Barnard Writer’s Life: The Collected Works of Creative Writing Concentrators, and she looks forward to experimenting more with flash fiction and shorter forms. Email: abreen2415[at]gmail.com

Dissolve

Flash
Gaynor Jones


Photo Credit: Elné/Flickr (CC-by)

We sit in quiet lilac rooms on plastic chairs. Paper on the table, posters on the walls. They already know the who, the where, the when and it’s enough for their notes. But they’re desperate for the why.

First sip, first toke, first hand fumbling into your jeans. Excitement, that’s all. They’ve either never had it or they’ve forgotten.

On weekends I go from couch to couch, maybe room to room. They put things in my mouth then put the thing in my mouth, and it dissolves and I dissolve with it. Life melts into colours, like dancing inside a rainbow.

Later, as it wears off, I hang out the window in the room above the chippy where they store us, half laughing, half crying. ‘Help,’ I call out, needing to be saved from myself.

Then it’s meeting after meeting after meeting.

For some it’s just their job; they’re paid to care about me. Others really do care and they are the worst. Their vacant mouths wait for me to speak so I say what they want, nod along with them. Sometimes they get through and I pick at the dry flakes on my skin, spilling out promises I half intend on keeping. But then I remember the colours.

And the next Friday night, I escape, find them and dissolve all over again.

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Gaynor Jones is a freelance writer from Manchester, UK. She writes micro, flash and short stories and organises the Story For Daniel flash fiction competition. Her work can be read in Ellipsis Zine, Flash Frontier, MoonPark Review and The Airgonaut, among others. She tweets at @jonzeywriter. Email: gaynor[at]jonzey.com

Last

Flash
Michelle Dotter


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

What I remember most is the heat. It was so hot that summer we were fifteen that we couldn’t breathe—every day was like a thick cloud of steam sitting on the cabin by the lake. Even the crickets were quiet. The sunset made the lake boil in the red earth.

At night, we couldn’t sleep because of the aching humidity that never went away. Even with all the doors open, the air didn’t move—I exhaled and pulled the same inhale back in. Watched you doing the same. One night I caught your eye and we ran down to the well and threw buckets of water on each other, fully clothed, soaking ourselves until we shivered in spite of the heat. Then we sprawled out on the dirt floor of the cabin, each of us listening to the sound of the water dripping out of our shirts. It made little pools on the ground, and I rolled over to keep as much of my body in the water as possible, and so that I could see you through the shadows, the charcoal smudge of your face dreaming of dreams.

The best were the nights when neither of us was tired, and we lay there staring at the ceiling like the dark planks were suddenly going to open into another world and pull us into something—the black box of the universe at the moment of unfolding, when every thought was a supernova. It never happened but I never stopped believing it might. I’d shift and put my arm under my head and you’d roll over onto your side, putting up with the heat of one part of your skin touching another so that you could look at me. You were my mirror, my mirage in the dark.

Nights like that, my name sounded strange when you said it, like you were testing each syllable because you weren’t sure it was going to hold. I’m burning up, you’d say as you laughed, and in the moonlight your face grew up so fast that I wasn’t sure, for a minute, who I was talking to. Let’s jump in the lake. Race ya.

The last night, you were still dripping when you stood up. I stared at the back of your shirt, at the dampness that made you shimmer as we ran to the dock, the first time you ever beat me. The moon was sleeping on the surface of the lake; it woke with a start as you jumped right through it, silent like the crickets I hadn’t seen all summer.

When you went under, I held my breath for you.

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Michelle Dotter is the editor-in-chief of Dzanc Books, a nonprofit independent press committed to literary excellence in fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Molotov Cocktail, Entropy, and the No Extra Words podcast. Email: michelle.dotter[at]gmail.com

Alone with Lilacs

Flash
Lauren Dennis


Photo Credit: popofatticus/Flickr (CC-by)

Unless it has been obscure up to this point, let me be clear. I am not sporty. My dad was a career P.E. teacher, not “gym” teacher (“I don’t teach a room. I teach students Physical Education.”) and I, a drama nerd. My dad dedicated 25 years to courts, squeaky shoe sounds, sweat, and rubber round objects thrust too technically into my young hands. I, in turn, played my goofy, non-athletic daughter role, fumbling every pass through his thinly-veiled frustration.

I am seven. My dad is teaching me how to throw a neon Nerf football. He is giving me too many instructions, and every time I get one, I lose the other.

“Put your left foot in front a little.”

I do.

“Hold the ball at shoulder level. You’re too far back.”

I adjust the level, my left leg moves back to its original spot.

“But keep your left foot forward.” He physically adjusts it, his breath mean on my thigh.

Foot is now forward. Arm drops down,  past shoulder level.

My dad’s sigh.

I hold my breath for the next instruction.

“Now, throw the ball to me, in a spiral. Just let your fingers open slightly, and the ball will roll up them as you release.”

I’m a good kid. I place my left foot forward theatrically to prove it and maybe get some praise for remembering. I let the ball go, still holding my breath. It makes a small circle on its path toward my dad. It lands in the nearby lilac bushes, but my dad is happy.

“You made it spiral!”

I breathe and suddenly I’m crying.

“What’s wrong with you? That was the perfect pass. Anyone would be thrilled to make that kind of pass. What is wrong with you?”

I can’t answer. I am seeing myself from the outside, the way I do when I watch others when preparing for a role in a play.  I am a small dot on the square patch of grass below. And I am crying. I don’t know how to answer. I am too small. I don’t know the rules. I want my dad to love me, whether the ball spirals or not. The sliding glass door closes behind him. It returns my reflection. A disappointment. Or, an athlete who could have had it all. I decide I am the victim in a soon-to-be-acclaimed movie about overbearing coaches, and I just missed the last hurdle in my pre-Olympic trials. I may not be going to the Olympics anymore, but, I am certainly headed for the Academy Awards. Tears flow freely down my waiting cheeks. I swallow and the lilacs wash down my throat, their sweet simple syrup filling my mouth with tiny rounded petals.

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Lauren Dennis is a mother of two, violently fighting against the confinement that may or may not come with that title. She writes because she has to, and has been published in Scarlet Leaf Review, The Flash Fiction Press, daCuhna, and Microfiction Monday Magazine. She has received formal critique and feedback from the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop in Denver, Colorado, where she resides. Email: laurenelyse.dennis[at]gmail.com

Spare

Baker’s Pick
Helen Coats


Photo Credit: Tim Evanson/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Two tickets, free, addressed to him. That was all. He waited by his mailbox for days, expecting to receive an invitation to the premiere, but it never came. No matter—he could attend a showing with the public. The welcome mat of the cinema was his red carpet, the buttered popcorn, a five-course meal. He wore a tuxedo so that the other moviegoers could pick him out from the crowd. They would recognize his beard, a red bush, and whisper,

Whoa. That’s Fisherman #2.

You can see him behind Chris Pratt in this shot.

He caught a bass on camera.

Maybe someone would want to see the fish again. Maybe someone would ask for his autograph, his spare ticket. He would be generous. He would personally accompany them to the show, would regale them with a blow-by-blow account of backstage mishaps and happenings. He would recount how ecstatic he was when he caught the fish, how it weighed down his line like an anchor. He would share this, his one venture into the spotlight, and he would make a friend. But the more he thought about the prospect, the more he grew ashamed of his papery dream. Instead of waiting, he spent the extra ticket on next Sunday’s matinee. As always, he went alone.

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Helen Coats is from Rock Hill, SC, and is currently enrolled as a Liberal Arts major at Purdue University. Her work has appeared in Litmus and Visions Literary Magazine. Email: coats.helen[at]gmail.com