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.

pencil

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

The Last Time I Had Brunch

Baker’s Pick
Jeff Bakkensen


Photo Credit: Lindsay Ensing (CC-by-sa)

Photo Credit: Lindsay Ensing (CC-by-sa)

“The last time I had brunch,” says the one, and stops to think. “I literally can’t remember the last time I had brunch.”

“The last time I had brunch was with Robert at Yvan,” says her friend, sitting. “Remember? After Beck’s birthday party?”

“Wait.” A third. “Where was I?”

“Weren’t you there?”

“Were you there when we had brunch at Trio?”

The third one again: “I don’t remember that.”

The second: “I think you were there.”

“Was I?”

“I’m pretty sure.”

The man next to the one who’s sitting joins in. “I was having brunch when that man was killed at 59th Street a few weeks ago.”

They all pause.

Two beats.

“Oh,” says one standing. Their eyes all meet in the middle and they smirk.

“You didn’t hear about this?” asks the guy. He’s got shoulder-length dreads and a sort of urban militant flair. “It was raining and someone uptown stuck their umbrella in the door to try—”

“Beck’s was December 17th,” says the one sitting. “Maybe you were at home?”

“Yes!”

The third: “Were you with us the morning of the marathon?”

Sitting across from the guy in dreads, black suit, no tie: “Don’t talk about that stuff while we’re on here.”

Dreads: “Don’t talk about what? He was waiting on the platform and the umbrella hit him in the—”

“Did you hear about the guy who got stuck in the revolving door?” This from a white kid looking up from his paperback.

“Because it’s bad luck to say that stuff.”

“—finished eating and I get down there. This massive, unbelievably vibrant puddle—”

“Remember Adrian that time we were at Wondee? When he picked up the fork and stabbed it through his own—”

An olive-skinned woman seated down the car, tight black dress, uncrosses her legs and fixes me with her eyes. Is it a smile?

“—severed three fingers I think when it swung—”

“—like ‘Hey bitch, why don’t you’—”

“I had brunch,” says an older woman, “the morning of September the 11th,” and we all swivel towards her. Sheepishly, “Of course I’ve had a few since then.”

In the middle of the car, two passengers hanging off the center pole who’ve up to now shown not a mite of interest in each other suddenly swing together and find each other’s lips, holding for a few heartbeats.

We decelerate towards a stop. The doors open.

“I’ll see you tonight,” the one says, and turns to find her way off.

The other watches her go, eyes darting between strangers, tracking her window to window.

A man walks in, suit bruised with grime. The doors close behind him.

“Ladies and gentleman, I don’t beg, I don’t steal.”

The doors close and for thirty seconds more, we’re alone with each other, hurtling through the tunnel into the dark.

pencilJeff Bakkensen once came in second place in a George Washington look-alike contest. Recent fiction can be found in Oblong Magazine, Smokelong Quarterly, The Antigonish Review, and Straylight Literary Magazine. Email: jeffrey.bakkensen[at]gmail.com

The Day We Stopped Talking

Flash
Stephanie Gail


Photo Credit: Dan Hodgett/Flickr (CC-by)

Photo Credit: Dan Hodgett/Flickr (CC-by)

The day we stopped talking was a Monday. We sat at the dinner table, you and I, cutting our hamburgers apart like it mattered. We never ate them with bread, always on a bed of spinach. Yours with ketchup and mustard, mine with barbeque sauce and globs of ranch dressing. You commented on the dressing before we stopped talking.

The day we stopped talking was a normal day. For the most part.

The invitation was hidden under a stack of mail. Your mail. I’d hidden it there after you opened it. But as we’ve been not talking, the sounds of a fork and knife slashing through the spinach, I know it’s there. I feel its presence in the absence of our words. The ink seeps through the stack of mail, like blood or tears or something.

I haven’t looked at you since we stopped talking. I grab a fry off the plate in the center of the table—the one with the paper towel seeping up the grease. I peel the thing apart and consume it bite by bite. We’re still not talking, but my eyes focus on the next fry instead of your face.

Your hamburger is half-eaten. Your fork scrapes against your teeth and makes that sound that makes me cringe. Since we’re not talking, I can’t tell you to stop. So you do it again. Fork against teeth and the invitation still hiding.

I almost ask how work was today, before I remember we’re not talking. Before I remember that invitation. Before I remember how I can’t tell you how I’m feeling. What I’m feeling. It’s weird not to tell you. Not to talk. But we’re here. With the spinach and the burger and the fork and your teeth.

You get up and walk outside. Probably to turn off the grill. The funny thing is, when we’re talking you always say “remind me to turn off the grill” when we start eating. And I always say “turn off the grill” right after that. And we smile.

But now you are up without instruction. And I am sitting at the table, not looking at your mail pile and not thinking about the invitation. And we’re still not talking.

I wonder how long this will last. How many days or weeks or months. I wonder if we will continue to stop talking and even though I know you are thinking about asking me to marry you, we stop talking and we end things one day and we marry other people and have children with other people and grow old with other people and when we are about to die with those other people by our sides and they are telling us it’s okay to go, that they love us and it’s okay to leave them, we stop. Just before our last breath. And we think back to our dinner table and us, you and I, and our one last regret is the day we stopped talking.

pencilStephanie Gail is a high school English teacher who finds it ironic that reading and writing time are hard to find during the school year. Since it’s summer, she finally has time to write and read things that don’t involve phrases like “formative assessment” and she is very happy about it. Email: stephanie.gail1618[at]gmail.com

Baby’s Breaths

Beaver’s Pick
Greg Metcalf


Photo Credit: Ari Landworth/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

Photo Credit: Ari Landworth/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

Your baby is pulling down your shirt and exposing your bra strap. Maybe you’re used to his hand there, gripping, maybe the feel of his strength—is it a boy?—satisfies some primal need, proof of life. Do you watch him sleep and not just because you love him? How long do his pauses between breaths last before your eyes come wide open? We all pause between breaths when we’re content, when we’re happy. You haven’t, have you, since you had him? Wrapped tight with angst and loneliness. You’re lonely when another person is as close as could be, close and clutching, tugging at your clothes to get to skin. Lonely with your responsibility. All ease has been flushed from you and sleeps swaddled, oblivious except when he cries and that is on you. Are you jealous? Is that why you woke from that nightmare, rushed to where he slept, eyelids vibrating, scooped him up, woke him, squeezed him, and rocked him while both of you cried? Nothing will ever harm you, you promised, but this is just another thing you’ve committed yourself to for eighteen years and more: making promises, explicit and implied, that you don’t have the power to keep. He pinches the loose skin of your side against your bra strap, but you like the pain. The force in it. In a baby book, you read that infants have the strength, right from birth, to hold their weight with that grip. You attempt to ease your fears with this useless trivia; as if, if it comes to it, you could always dangle him from somewhere while you solve any problems that arise. From the time you were ten, you’d always wanted three: a boy, a girl, and then nature could decide, but now all you want is to have him to hold and feed, to listen to him continue breathing. Your husband is a sudden invader. You duck from the window at the sight of the mailman. The urge to love him is sometimes so powerful you can’t help contemplating the logistics of putting him back in. He’d have your heartbeat again, your oxygen, diffusing into him, and you wouldn’t have to worry about your baby breathing ever again.

pencilGreg Metcalf is the author of Flowers on Concrete, a novel, Hibernation, a YA thriller, and the memoir Letters Home: A WWII Pilot’s Letters to His Wife and Baby from the Pacific. He has three other completed novels, unpublished to date. His short fiction has appeared at Boston Literary Magazine and Metazen. He is a contributing author in Indiestructible. He blogs at My Free Sentences. Email: hershelaa[at]aol.com