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Lizanne Herd

Born Slippy
Photo Credit: sandman_kk

“Seriously creepy.” —Ana George

“Awesome in its horribleness.” —Lisa Olson

Lizanne is currently shopping this story and waiting to hear back from the markets she’s submitted to, so we’re not able to publish it here. For now, registered members of Toasted Cheese can read “Offal” at the forums. Best of luck, Lizanne!


Lizanne has been writing speculative fiction since 2005. Her work has been published in a variety of online magazines and podcasts, along with her art and occasional voice talents. Email: mizem55[at]


Best of the Boards
Sue Nelson Buckley

State Hospital Bars II
Photo Credit: Andrew McFarlane

I kept my eyes shut.

There was no need to see what was going on around me. It was the same every day. It never changed. It never would again.

Once I accepted that I was a lot calmer. I stopped bouncing against the walls trying to find a way back outside.

They called me quirky at first. They smiled and patted me on the head when they said it. I took it as a compliment. Back then I was five; approval meant everything. Then it changed. Quirky was no longer a fun word. It was used to separate me. Make me feel different than everyone else.

I have to admit I rebelled a bit. But not nearly to the extent that those witnesses who claimed to watch implied. It was as if their minds had collected into one, like a Borg mindshare that could not be shaken, no matter how reasonable my reasons.

No sense on dwelling on that now I supposed. I relaxed against the padding and let my mind wander. At four I was precocious, at five quirky, and at seven-and-a-half my mother began to look at me with fear in her eyes.

After the day she found me in my bedroom braiding Fluffy’s intestines into a rug.

I wanted to squish them with my toes.

I hadn’t planned to hurt the cat. I was napping and it pounced. Before I was even half-awake I’d flung the creature across the room where it landed on the pointy end of my pink Barbie umbrella. Apparently, hell hath no fury like a grumpy child.

When I went to investigate I found out how warm and slippery its innards felt. We’d been learning to make rugs in Brownies. I thought it was a great idea.

Mom didn’t. “What are you doing?”

Even at seven-and-a-half I knew she was trying not to freak out.

“Wanna help?” I asked her as I held up my handiwork. “I’m making a squishy-rug to play on.”

“No darling, you keep playing, Mommy has to make a phone call.”

I still remember the look on her face as she backed slowly out of my room.

Men came and took me away. Years later, they deemed me ‘cured’ and I was able to go outside again. They got me a job and eventually I returned to the house where I’d started to grow up. Mom didn’t live there anymore. They say she just packed up and left the day after they took me away. Not a word to anyone.

It wasn’t hard to find her. Even the best-covered trails are easy to find.

Now, as an adult—a cured adult, able to integrate and be a productive member of society—I understood why she had done what she had done. But seeing her again made me feel like a seven-and-a-half-year-old all over again.

This time when the men came, I knew from the looks on their faces that there was no hope of me ever going back outside. I saw my file as the last Borg-like mind doctor turned away. On the cover, in bright red Sharpie, he wrote: #fail.


Sue has been a storyteller since she could talk and a writer since she learned her alphabet. These days she is co-owner and managing editor of PaperBox Books and one of the senior story consultants at Fiction Therapy. Email: sue[at]

Dying in Reverse

Best of the Boards
Kate Miffitt

The new empty house
Photo Credit: _StefwithanF

It was the day her couch disappeared. She didn’t know where it went, not that it much mattered anymore. She lay on the ground along the wall where the couch used to be, and looked up at the ceiling instead of out to the empty surrounding rooms. She was waiting for she didn’t know what. Perhaps the roof to rip off so that she could become one with the sky.

She hadn’t talked to anyone in thirteen days. She wasn’t even sure she could. She could speak, but she didn’t know if she could be heard. Or seen. So she just stayed in her increasingly empty home. She hadn’t left the house in ten days. When she woke and found her car was gone, she just went back to bed, because she still had a bed.

She didn’t know what was happening to her, or why. She knew only this: one thing disappeared everyday. And there wasn’t anything left.


It started with a brush. A hair brush that just wasn’t next to the sink in the bathroom one morning. She cursed herself for leaving it in her gym bag, and then instead of running out on the windy autumn morning to get it from her car, she finger-combed her long hair into place. Only later, when she went to the gym in the afternoon, did she realize the brush wasn’t there.

Four days later, when the air turned crisp, she wanted to curl up in her favorite sweatshirt and watch movies on the couch. When she opened the drawer, the faded navy-and-gold sweatshirt wasn’t there. She opened all the drawers, then the closet, but couldn’t find it anywhere. She begrudgingly put on the less-warm and baggy red one, and wondered where she had left it.

She had these days of feeling forgetful, disorganized, or careless, and they scared her. This was not like her. She was never disorderly. She did not lose or forget things. She worried that this was what happened when you turned thirty, that your mind just betrays you and you are no longer yourself. She worried that this was what happened when you lived alone for too long, that you lose yourself when you’re not anchored to another. She worried that her job, which had become increasingly more stressful, was ruining her.

And then she came home, and the picture was missing.

She stood in the living room the afternoon of October 21 and stared for a long time. Something wasn’t right. The hairs rose on the back of her neck as she worried if someone was in the apartment with her. She didn’t move, only turned her head to look around. And then she saw it. The empty space over her couch, where a framed print used to hang. A black-and-white pop print of an iris. It was gone.

Something shifted in her head, and all the frustration she had directed towards herself dissipated. She did not misplace a 24-by-36-inch wall hanging. She did not accidentally leave it at work, or in the car.

Something strange was happening, but she didn’t know what.

She reviewed all the things that she thought she lost over the past few weeks. A brush. Sweatshirt. Pen. Coffee mug. Nearly one thing every other day. She wondered if there were more things missing, and started looking in cupboards and closets. One plate short. Blue towel gone. She had lost more than she knew, and this frightened her. She did what she always did when she was scared and unsure—she made a list.

She approached these occurrences of missing objects like a detective investigating the occult; she was methodical in the face of the illogical. It was inexplicable, yes, but it was not without order—items could be inventoried. Patterns could be identified. Causes hypothesized. She had a purpose in the chaos, and it invigorated her.

She awoke early the next day, almost eager to see if anything new was missing. When she pulled the iron from the closet to press her clothes before work, she eyed the contents. Everything seemed to be in the right place. She showered, and found everything she needed for grooming—soap, shampoo, lotions, toothbrush. Hair dryer, tweezers, mascara.

As she ate cereal from a bowl that completed a set of four, she felt disappointed. The loophole that she uncovered that suggested that she might not be crazy or senile was closing. The kitchen items were intact, whereas she was not. Split-personality. Amnesia. Manic Depression.

With fifteen minutes to spare now before she had to leave, she laughed at the thought of getting nine cats and filling the cupboards with tuna, to immerse herself in her insanity. She stirred the remaining milk in the bowl, half-hoping that an image would appear, a vision of a future that made sense.

“Fuck.” She put the bowl in the sink, and went into the living room. She opened every drawer in the desk. Fingered every book in the bookcase. Fluffed the pillows. Then she went back to her bedroom. She looked into the mirror, and the face looking back was somewhere between pretty and plain. But she did not look crazy, or unlike herself. She lifted the top to her jewelry box. And there it wasn’t. The charm bracelet her father had given her when she finished grad school.

A slow smile spread, and she added another item to the list.

Her alarm went off at 6:15 a.m., her new wake-up time since her investigation began. It was getting harder to get up early as the winter air made unwelcome any space outside of her bed. She turned on the light, confirming that the lamp was still in its place. She walked down the hallway to the kitchen, and took the coffee grounds from the freezer. She walked to the counter. The coffeepot wasn’t there.

“Shit. Fuck. Shit.”

She could handle losing a mug, a pair of jeans, a pen, a book—despite the obvious mystery about it. But she could not handle losing her coffeepot. Until this point, the disappearances had been a nuisance, yes, but they had also given her a profound sense of purpose that she hadn’t felt in a while. She enjoyed working on figuring it out, but she couldn’t do anything without coffee.

She gave up on her morning, and instead threw a few things in a gym bag and left. She had no desire to work out before the sun was even up, so she headed into the steam room. As the heavy steam filled the air, she watched as the visible space around her receded. Just like her life. Things disappearing, and she couldn’t see what was really happening. She showered, dressed, and then headed to the diner next door. The bar was lined with suits and retirees at 8 a.m., and she grabbed an empty seat and waited impatiently for her first cup of coffee.

A waitress who looked like a Myrtle came by, wearing a name tag that said Rose. She had purple-gray hair in an updo that never came down. “What are ya having?”

“I’ll have a coffee. And an egg and toast.”

As she sipped her bitter, weak coffee, she decided that she couldn’t go on just losing things. She didn’t have that much to begin with in her apartment, and she cared about good coffee too much to just lose an appliance.

She looked around at the other people sitting at the bar—the thin old man wearing the brown cardigan, the mid-30s guy wearing a suit and too much gel… Were they losing things too? Could this be happening to everyone? Why would it just be to her?

She had to talk to someone, preferably someone who would not think that she was totally crazy.

Michael was the first person she told. On the day that she added the 34th item to her list, she called and asked his voicemail if he could meet for lunch. They had met for lunch a few times over the past year, to try out being friends. This time it would be different. This time she really needed him.

She got an email from Michael right before her 11 a.m. meeting, and lunch was set. At noon, she grabbed her coat, and headed out into the cold air for the four-block walk to the cafe. Michael was there already, seated at a small table in the corner. She noticed two mugs. He had already gotten her drink.

She walked over, and he stood and kissed her cheek. Their eyes met briefly, and up close she was sure she still loved him. And then she backed away, and from a different angle he was the guy who broke her heart. Arrogant. Selfish. Introverted. If only she could just look into his eyes forever.

“I was surprised to hear from you. As I recall, our last lunch ended with you saying you never wanted to see me again.”

“I know. And I meant it. But… I have something I need to tell someone, and you’re the first person I could think of that already thinks I’m crazy.”

“You have something to tell me? And here I thought we were going to be friends.”

“It’s not about us. Something weird is happening to me. Too weird to even say out loud. But I need to tell someone.”


“I wouldn’t tell you if I wasn’t totally desperate. So, about a month ago, I started losing things. Little things, like my hairbrush and stuff. And then one day I came home and the print above the couch was missing.”

“The one we got from IKEA?”

“Yes. And ever since then, I’ve been keeping a list of what’s missing everyday.” She pulled a folded piece of paper from her pocket and handed it to Michael.

He scanned the list quickly, and then looked up at her. She braced herself.

“Do you have some crazy stalker or something? Have you seen any weird guys hanging around lately?”

How had this not occurred to her? “I… didn’t even think about it.” She thought about the weird guys she knew. The one religious guy at work who tried to recruit her whenever she looked sad, which had been often this past year. The neighborhood homeless guy who was always friendly when she walked by. The one bad date she went on since leaving Michael when the guy just kept asking about sex. None of them seemed like the stalker type. Was there an unknown person with access to her apartment?

“We’re getting the locks changed on your apartment now. And you’re not staying alone tonight.”

Michael searched every possible entrance of the apartment to make sure it was secure, and then sat down on the couch to wait for the locksmith. He put his feet up on the coffee table, the same way that always drove her crazy. She sat down next to him stiffly. He self-consciously glanced at her, and smirked as he put his feet on the floor.

“I’d offer you coffee, but…”

Michael laughed. “Do you have any wine?”

She put two glasses on the counter, and worked on opening the bottle. She looked at Michael sitting in the other room, and a wave of relief rushed over her. She’d told Michael, and he didn’t think she was crazy. He thought she was in trouble. Like her, Michael was action-oriented, and she felt like together they could figure this out.

They were on their second glasses when the locksmith came, and they giggled as he worked on the door. They were getting drunk at three in the afternoon, trying to solve the mystery of the disappearing coffeepot, instead of sitting in their cubicles. Michael tried to put on a straight face as he accepted the new keys and paid the locksmith. As he closed the door and latched the new lock, they both burst out laughing.

She awoke a few hours later, her neck cramped from being curled into the corner of the couch. Static was on the TV, and Michael was asleep at the other end. She had only stayed awake for fifteen minutes of the movie, she was sure. She got up carefully, and immediately noticed the ache in her stomach from the wine and lack of food. She placed a call for their favorite Thai delivery, and watched Michael sleep.

The aromatic pumpkin curry and pad thai woke Michael, and they ate quietly in the darkened living room, each dealing with their respective early hangovers. Without the wine buzz, it was weird that they should be sitting together like they had so many other times, eating takeout, and yet not be that couple they once were.

Michael finished the last of the noodles, and sat up straight and looked around. She knew he was taking a mental inventory of the place.

“Thank you, Michael, for coming over. I know it hasn’t been easy.”

“Today was fun, actually. I’ll sleep on the couch so I can keep an eye on the main entrances.”

She was surprised that her first reaction was disappointment, but she settled on relief that they would not share a bed, and that he was the one who suggested it. She kissed him on the forehead. “You know where everything is. Good night.”

She awoke to Michael shaking her shoulder gently. She smiled and stretched and tried not to breathe directly on him. She had slept better than she had in a while.

“Hey. You’re late getting up.”

She popped up. Her alarm hadn’t gone off. She pointed in the direction of the nightstand. “The alarm clock is gone.”

Michael’s face darkened. “Are you fucking with me?”

“No. Seriously, it’s not here.”

“What I mean is, are you fucking with me? Like, is this your elaborate plan to get me over here? Because no one came in or out last night, and it’s a little suspicious that something is missing from the room you were in.”

It took her a second to process his accusation. Then she was livid.

“Yes, Michael. I hid my alarm clock. I want to be late for work, and have this shitty morning, all to get you back. Do you think I’m like a desperate 14-year-old girl or something?”

“Well, things don’t just disappear.”

“That’s exactly why I came to you. Because they are. But you want to make this about you, like always. You want to be the hero. You want me to go crazy over you. You can’t stand that I’m fine without you, you narcissistic fuck.”

“I’m narcissistic? I came over here because I was worried you were going to get hurt.”

“Yeah, well I’m not. And certainly not again by you. Just get the fuck out.”


She sobbed soundlessly, the air emptying out of her as she curled to protect herself from the pain in her stomach. She ached as she realized that she had loved, and been loved, and that rather than a comfort, it hurt to have had all that, when only that was never enough. Today, it was enough. Today, the couch was gone, and there was nothing left.

She didn’t know what would happen when the morning came, but she longed to say goodbye. She didn’t have a phone. She didn’t have a pen. She didn’t even have clothes she could put on to go out. But there were people out there that she wanted to tell that she was scared, and that she loved them.

Michael. She couldn’t help but miss him the most, in spite of herself. She felt comforted and incredibly alone at the same time when she thought about him. He was the one who really knew her, and she him. But even that secret knowledge wasn’t enough to keep them together. Perhaps it was the insight into their darker selves that drove them apart; he saw the things in her that she hid so well from herself.

It was his arms that she wanted around her while she faced the inevitable disappearing. It was his words that could soothe, and give her the real courage that she was so good at faking on her own. And it was to him that she had so much more to say.

Her mom. Her sister. Julie. Sarah. Uncle Jim. All these faces flooded her imagination, fraught with confusion, sadness, anger, helplessness. She knew her existence was essential to their sense of order, and her withdrawal was akin to waking to find your couch missing.

She stood up. She went to the window in the kitchen and searched outside for divination. If this was the end, she was determined to name it, to mark it with a ritual goodbye. A so-long to this world and the people in it who wouldn’t understand, and would be lost a little without her. A wish for each of them. A sign that said she was here.

The April sun was bright, bringing with it the first new life of the Spring. She scanned for a clothesline, fancying an elaborate escape from her situation like a prison break in the movies. But there were no such props. As she gazed into the calm afternoon, she almost forgot why she was at the window, and then she saw it. About ten feet from the back door. A dark piece of charcoal.

At the door, she looked quickly to either side and saw no one. She hopped the few paces and picked up her rock. The black soot colored her fingertips, and she laughed through her tears. She looked up at the sun, as it caressed her skin with warmth. The sensations of whatever cellular activity tingled within, and she knew she was still alive with a certainty she hadn’t felt in days. And with that, she ran back inside.

She started to write.


Kate Miffitt is an instructional designer by day, and a procrastinator by night. When she’s not procrastinating, she can be found cooking, playing drums, obsessing over the Lost finale, and even occasionally writing. She aspires to write magical realism, but often settles for witty Facebook status updates. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two dogs. Email: katemiffitt[at]

The Regular

Best of the Boards
Amy Gantt

So You Like Coffee, Eh?
Photo Credit: Jeff Chin

It’s Sunday, which means it’s time for me to write another story, in my quest to fulfill my New Year’s resolution, such as it was. “Tell more stories” seemed like such a reasonable thing to promise myself at the beginning of the new year. It’s not even the end of January, and I’m having a hard time coming up with a story I both want to and can tell. There are plenty of stories I want to tell, and some of them I probably will at some point, but right now, they’re in quarantine.

It’s not been the easiest week for me. It began with a funeral, and ended with some potentially devastating news about a family member. In the middle, there was work, and solving problems, and laughter, and bad weather, and no bicycling, and writing emails, and hoping, and walking too far in kick-ass new boots. There are stories in the last week, but they’re either in quarantine or they just bum me out too much to write them. I am not in the mood for a maudlin or sentimental story today. Instead, I’ll tell you about my Sunday morning.

Every Sunday morning, I wake up at six a.m. and I groan. I wait until I hear the coffee grinder whir, and then I get out of bed, find my ratty blue bathrobe, and wander downstairs to start the day. Ana and I go to the 9:00 mass at our church on Sunday mornings, and Ana has to be there at eight to warm up for the choir. I spend the time between eight and nine sitting in the Starbucks on the corner of Charles and Beacon streets in Boston, across the street from the Boston Common, right in the midst of Beacon Hill. For that almost-an-hour, I read, or I listen to an audiobook and play Tetris on my phone, or I listen to music and stare into space. Occasionally, someone I know comes in and shares a table with me and we make small talk until it’s time to head the few blocks down the street to the church.

As a coffeeshop, its identity is somewhat schizophrenic. Are all Starbucks like this? This one is the only one I really know, since I gravitate toward independent coffeeshops with clienteles that look something like me, or versions of people who I think I’d probably like. People I wouldn’t mind sharing a table with. Like the Diesel Cafe in Davis Square, or Darwin’s on Mt. Auburn Street in Cambridge. I feel at home in those places. They play music I like. Their service staff are young and cute and tattooed. And they don’t call themselves ‘baristas,’ I don’t think.

Starbucks isn’t a home, not this one at least. It’s just a place where I can get an overly-sweet soy chai beverage and kill some time trying to wake up before I go to the church where I can pretend not to doze in the pew. In part, this may very well be due to location. Beacon Hill, for those not familiar with the peculiarities of Boston neighborhoods, has no public school because no one who lives on Beacon Hill would stoop so low as to send their precious trust fund baby to a school with people making less than 1 beeelion dollars in bonuses. Okay, so that probably isn’t fair. I don’t much care, the point stands. Beacon Hill is rich and white. It also borders the Boston Common, of course, and it’s a tourist destination, and it’s the center of state government, and it’s where god-knows-how-many charity walks/runs/rides/fairs/etc. begin and end. The Starbucks there on the corner brings in a hodgepodge of these people, including the regular homeless people—a blonde woman who wears a puffy coat through the summer and pulls apparently everything she owns in a remarkably sturdy piece of wheeled luggage, and a small bearded black man who has a friendly word to say to everyone, even when he isn’t panhandling. I’ve given him my share of cups of coffee and sandwiches and change. I like chatting with him.

Then there are the women who come in with purses casually slung onto the table, purses I’m sure cost as much as my bike, and their full-length fur coats, and their air-kisses with one another. They don’t see anyone below their social station, though I’m sure they do charity work and buy organic vegetables and bleach-free tampons. I always want to accidentally spill something on them, just so perhaps a small amount of emotion might creep through their tight, controlled faces. And there are the runners/walkers/bikers/fair-goers who pop in, not every really stopping, to grab a skim no-foam latte.

And then there’s The Regular. I don’t know his name. I first noticed him a couple of years ago, when my friend A’s twins were infants and he commented on them. He wears black plastic-rimmed square glasses, and looks, at first glance, like an aging homosexual from another era. He’s in his late 60s, probably, and he has thick gray hair, swept back from his face, and he purses his lips when he smiles.

He makes me crazy. I want to punch him every time I see him.

He wears this combination of clothes that are halfway between rich preppy and old golfer. His perfectly-pleated cranberry-colored slacks are belted under his ribcage. He has tassels on his leather moccasins and he wears no socks. His bare white ankles are speckled with dark, coarse hairs. Today, he was wearing a multicolored striped shirt with the collar flipped up in back.

The first time I met The Regular, I thought he was probably an okay guy. He cooed over the babies for a moment and then moved on. Since then, though, he has been in the Starbucks every single time I go in there, and first, he’s loud. And he never stops talking—to the other customers, to the baristas, to himself. He laughs loudly at his little jokes. He invades the personal space of every female who comes near him. It is clear from his body language that he finds himself utterly and completely charming. Everyone else should know this about him, too, right? And so he chortles at his own jokes and flamboyantly dances through the coffeeshop in search of the restroom key, pausing to say hello to anyone who catches his eye.

Once, I was in the Starbucks on a Sunday afternoon, while Ana warmed up for some choir something-or-other, and I caught the eye of a young Indian man, clearly a graduate or professional student based on the bags under his bloodshot eyes as he looked up from his MacBook.

“What is this?” he asked me, gesturing at The Regular. “So fucking loud!”

“Yeah,” I said. “He drives me fucking nuts, and he’s always, always in here.”

“Why don’t they do something about him?” he moaned, rubbing his forehead.

“I don’t know,” I said, with no small degree of despair. “They probably just can’t get rid of him. I just always make sure I have my iPod when I’m in here.”

My new friend went back to his MacBook, rubbing his temples. When The Regular exploded into laughter after a particularly screechy observation, he looked back to me. “Can you watch my stuff a minute?”

He got up and went to the register. I couldn’t hear what was said (I, of course, had plugged my earbuds back on as far as I could), but I could tell exactly what happened.

Graduate Student: Can you tell that guy over there to shut the fuck up so I can get a little work done on my thesis, away from my infant daughter and my wife who thinks all I do is go class three hours a week, so why can’t I change a diaper occasionally?

Barista, shrugging and smiling apologetically: Sorry, dude. We’ve tried everything we can. We’re pretty sure he has a nest in the walls, because even the exterminators couldn’t get rid of him for long. He just keeps coming back.

Today, The Regular was smirking as I walked in. I’m afraid he’s beginning to, after two years, recognize me. I sat at my table and pulled out my writing notebook and set my iPod on “loudly shuffle almost everything.” Tori Amos, played at top volume, would drown out a tornado, and it almost drowns out The Regular. Until he comes near my table, holding a $20 bill in his left hand. A barista is coming toward him, holding a broom on a mission from some chore or another. He grabs her wrist, and I see the muscles in her arm bulge as she tries to pull away. She’s young, in her early 20s, probably, but she has that server smile that says, “I’m doing this for the money, but don’t push your luck.” I mastered that smile once upon a time. He didn’t let go. She took the twenty, said something, and tugged at her arm again. I removed one earbud. I did not want to get involved with this asshole, because I’d never be able to return to this Starbucks for my weekly sugar bomb, but I couldn’t not step in. At that moment, he let go of her wrists and flounced around to the restroom area.

She fled back behind the counter before I could say anything to her.

Like I said, every time I see him, I just want to punch him in the face. The smug, entitled son of a bitch.

Maybe I need to find a new place anyway.


Amy Gantt writes fiction in the grantwriting genre for a university in Boston, Massachusetts. In her spare time, she writes nonfictional stories about her life, walks her whiny dogs, feeds her always-starving cats, and cooks complicated meals for herself and her partner. Stories have always been the way Amy finds meaning in the world: if it can’t be story-shaped, it likely can’t be—or shouldn’t be—understood.

The Stiff

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Kirk Becken

Sandra looked at the lifeless form in front of her. A few minutes ago, he had been alive. Very alive, in fact. But apparently she had misinterpreted his last few cries. Pleasure and pain could be quite close in Sandra’s experience, but never had that concept been quite this clear. She didn’t know how long it took a body to become stiff after death, but one particular part seemed intent on leading the way there. Amazing. Suddenly Sandra felt a wave of embarrassment and covered him with the sheet, then immediately felt foolish as she looked down at the little tent he made.

The ticking of the clock caught Sandra’s attention, and she felt a wave of panic. Three o’clock. Afternoon delight indeed. But his wife would be home by five. Two hours. Suddenly this simple affair seemed to be a little more complicated, and a very bad idea. Amazing how clear that suddenly became.

Leave him? No. Definitely not. Oblivious to his needs as she might be, there was no way his wife would think he had come home for a nap and died in his sleep, especially if one type of stiffness did not go away before the next type developed. And as soon as she pulled back the top sheet… well, it wouldn’t take the top crew from CSI to find DNA on that bed. Dress him. Take him somewhere. Take him away from here—to where was a question that could wait, but he couldn’t be here when his wife came home.

Change the bed sheets. Blow dry the top of the mattress too, Sandra thought with some embarrassment. He had really been very good—right up to the moment when he stopped moving. Actually for a few moments afterward, before Sandra had realized the significance of his stillness. More embarrassment. She had continued making love to a dead man! A brief wave of nausea followed, but she quelled that by convincing herself that Harold had died the way all men dream of dying. Yes. He would have wanted it that way. The expression on his face was preserved ecstasy, not a rictus of pain. It was. The two may look virtually the same, but his expression was pleasure, not pain. It was!

Time to act, and stop standing here like a… like an adulteress who had just killed her lover. Sandra dressed quickly, then rolled Harold into the top sheet, the most visible sign of his pleasure still protruding absurdly. She lowered him gently, then dropped him on the floor with a thump. She stripped the sheets from the bed, found Harold’s wife’s hair dryer in the ensuite, and dried the top of the mattress until the evidence of this afternoon’s tryst was less… evident. She found the linen closet and changed the sheets. Fortunately, they were all the same colour and texture—Harold’s wife really was a bore.

Next: dress Harold. She retrieved his clothes from where they lay scattered on the floor of this room and the next, and dressed him. The sheet made it easy to drag him to the door. Thankfully Harold’s house was only one storey, and had a door leading directly to the garage where she had discreetly parked her Camry. She dragged him into the back seat, and folded his legs so he would fit. Fortunately he wasn’t getting stiff yet—well, except for that one incredibly persistent part. How long did that take, anyway?

As Sandra looked at Harold lying in the back seat, wrapped in the sheet, she realized how ridiculous that plan was. Would anyone looking in at a red light think he had just crawled into the back seat to take a nap, having brought a convenient sheet along with him? She dragged him back out, apologizing to his lifeless form as she bumped his head on the doorsill, then maneuvered him into the front passenger’s seat. Now to put the sheet in the laundry basket… No! Stupid! She put the sheet in the trunk, then went back to the bedroom to retrieve the other sheet, put the hair dryer back in the bathroom, and pick up her purse, which was still sitting in the living room where she had left it. Okay. That’s everything. Cell phone. Keys. Shoes. Condom wrappers. Damn! Another trip to the bedroom, fish them out of the wastebasket, into the trunk with the sheets. That’s it. Nothing left behind.

Sandra got into the driver’s seat and looked at Harold, his head lolling to one side. Taking a nap. That’s believable. No. Damn. How long until he was stiff enough to hold his damned head up? Four o’clock. Obviously more than an hour, then. Harold’s garage contained a small workshop where he started (but usually didn’t finish) small woodworking projects. A small lath would do the trick, but what then? Attach it to his head with duct tape? Staple gun. Oh my god, I’m sorry, Harold. She leaned him forward against the dash and fired two staples through the lath into the back of his head. Oh no, would he bleed? His face was quite pale, so there probably wasn’t enough blood to— His face was pale. Too pale. Makeup!

She reached into her purse, pulled out her compact, and gave him an even foundation. Great. Now he looked pale and painted. But better—enough to fool other motorists. Probably. As long as they didn’t pay too much attention at a stop light. Oh please let the lights be green!

Sandra started the car, put the transmission in reverse, then back in park. Turn the car off. Get out. Look for the switch to open the garage door. There has to be a switch, right? Damn you, Harold, why isn’t the switch right beside the door? His car. The remote clipped to the visor. Damn, damn! Harold, this is your own garage! Why did you lock your car door? Keys—she had felt them jingle in his pocket when she dressed him. Back to her car. Reach in his pocket. Oh my god, he was still up. Yes! Car keys! Harold’s head still lay against the dashboard where she had leaned him over. She pushed him upright. Was he starting to get stiff? The lath stuffed down his collar held his head upright now, and wasn’t visible unless she looked directly at it.

Okay. Harold’s car. Damn! Harold’s car alarm! Which bloody button—? Okay. Quiet again. For the first time in her life, Sandra was ecstatic that car alarms went off so annoyingly often that no one paid attention to them anymore. The remote. Open the door. Clip it back on the visor. Back to her car— Fingerprints! Damn! Sandra let the garage door close as she used one of Harold’s work gloves to wipe her prints from Harold’s car door, from the garage door remote, from the staple gun… then realized how futile the exercise was considering how many prints she must have left inside the house. Had she ever been fingerprinted? No. Could she be connected to Harold in any other way? Probably not. Maybe. Worry about that later.

Finally, Sandra was on the road. Great. Where to go now? The river? The forest? A back alley? Homeless people died on the street… but they didn’t generally wear expensive clothes like Harold did. Or wear makeup. Under the floorboards like that dreadful story she read in school so she could be tortured by the throbbing of the hideous—no! Best not to think about that. Her eyes drifted to his lap. That could not be normal! Oh my god, I’m driving a stiff stiff. Her spontaneous chuckle nearly became a sob. What was she doing? She was covering up—it wasn’t a murder! It was just a very inconvenient accident! Drop him behind the police station with a note? I’m sorry, but Harold died while having sex. It was a terrible accident, but I didn’t want his wife to come home and find him. You can easily verify how he died because…

Red light! Pay attention! Sandra screeched to a stop. Her heart stopped, then thundered, when she noticed a police cruiser coming the other way. But the officer just grinned and shook his head at the silly woman who had too much on her mind and almost missed the light. Don’t look at Harold. Don’t look at Harold. Don’t look… The light turned green and she drove on. The policeman gave her a wave and a grin as she passed. She felt the sweat run down her neck as she started breathing again. Apparently Harold looked good enough to— Damn! Apparently he looked like he was leaning over at his silly wife who almost missed the red light. His head leaned comically toward her and she realized anyone on the other side of the car at the next light would see the thin stake stapled to the back of his head. She reached over and turned his head straight again. He was definitely getting stiff now— Stop looking there! Yes, there too. His head wouldn’t stay on straight. She couldn’t just hold it there, looking like she was giving him a neck massage while driving him… she had to get him out of here! She couldn’t do this! She had to give herself up!

What would happen? Would she go to jail? It wasn’t murder! Adultery wasn’t a crime, and a heart attack wasn’t her fault! Okay, maybe it was, but she didn’t want it to happen! All she wanted was to be with Harold, to give him the pleasure he needed!

And now she had to give him the peace he needed. After a few blocks, Sandra pulled into the parking lot of the local police station. She turned to Harold, looked into his glassy eyes, still crystal blue, surrounded by the unnatural-looking makeup. “I’m so sorry, Harold.”

She walked into the police station in tears. What could she say? The female officer at the front desk saw her distress and guided her to a chair. “What happened, dear?” she asked.

Sandra tried several times to say something, and finally came out with “He’s dead,” before breaking down completely. It was over. There would be consequences, but Harold could have peace. His wife would be devastated, but she would find peace. And Sandra, doing right by a very wrong situation, she too would find peace.

Kirk Becken is a professional Green Guy who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and occasionally finds something to write about. For Kirk, writing fiction is a therapeutic antidote to writing position papers, policy documents, and somewhat-safe work procedures—even if such documents occasionally require some degree of creative writing. Kirk’s greatest literary hope is that no one takes his writing too seriously—especially his girlfriend, Sandra.

Gramps’s Record Player

Best of the Boards
Mark Paxson

It was Gramps’s old record player that did it. In the end, it almost ripped us apart, which would have been ironic. In the end, it brought us back together again.

My first memory of the record player was from a day my parents left me with my grandparents. Back in the mid-seventies when I was probably five or six years old. My grandparents were supposed to watch me while my parents shopped for a car. Mama had wrecked the car the week before and Daddy was none too happy about having to buy a new one. The last thing he wanted was for “the sniveling little brat” to come with them.

When Mama dropped me off, I did my best to live up to Daddy’s view of me. I sniveled and cried. As Mama walked down the pathway to the street, where Daddy sat in Gramps’s car waiting, I screamed and stomped my feet. It did no good. Mama got in the car, closed the door, and blew me a kiss while I held my hand out and cried for her.

As Daddy drove the car down the tree-lined street, Gramps picked me up and kissed me on my cheek, his rough stubble a memory I haven’t forgotten. “Come, little one,” he said in his old country accent. “Let us listen to some music.” He took me into the front room and sat me down in his recliner.

While I tried to control my sobs, Gramps went to a cabinet in the corner. On top was his record player. It had fake wood paneling and two huge speakers on the floor next to the cabinet. Gramps lifted the arm and placed the needle down on the spinning platter, bringing forth a crackle from those speakers. My sniveling stopped. Through the opening seconds of hissing and snapping, Gramps walked to the chair I sat in. He leaned over and picked me up, a small grunt escaping from him as he did so. He sat down in the chair and put me in his lap as the music began.

I have no idea what the song was, but it soothed me. Within seconds I had stopped crying while the delicate sounds emanated from the speakers and Gramps rubbed my back. Every few seconds, he whispered, “Shhhhh.”

In the years ahead, Gramps’s old record player worked its magic. When I was grown, along with my brother and our cousins, our grandparents’ house was where we always returned for the traditional family get-togethers. For Thanksgiving, we ate Gramma’s dry turkey and drier stuffing. At Christmas, we enjoyed her baked ham and macaroni-and-cheese out of a box. For anniversaries and birthdays, weddings and funerals, we shared in potlucks and Gramma’s version of food.

Every time we got together there was always a point at which voices would rise, forks would be slammed to the table. Whether it was politics or religion, whether Aunt Suzie should have been invited or whether distant cousin Bill was a drunk, something always caused a stir that would end when Gramps rose from the table. “It is time for some music,” he would mutter to himself, but loudly enough for everybody to hear. Gramps, who was old back in the seventies when I was just a boy, would hobble to the front room. Soon, the crackle and hiss would make its way into the dining room and a few seconds later an orchestra filled with strings and woodwinds would follow.

When Gramps returned and sat back down in his chair, the creak of his joints overriding the music for just the briefest of seconds, he would look at his family reaching down the sides of the table. “Now, what were we talking about?” For the rest of the evening, whatever conflict had arisen was forgotten. The music did its trick.

When Gramps died, preceded only a couple of months by Gramma, he left no will. Just a house full of stuff accumulated over the ninety-one years of his life. We gathered there one Saturday afternoon. All of the cousins. My brother, John, and I. Chris and Chelsea. Our mothers, Gramps and Gramma’s only children, didn’t want to have anything to do with going through their stuff. It was too painful for them. “Take what you want,” Mama said. “Whatever’s left, give to Goodwill.”

The four of us were barely in the front door when Chris stated, “I want the record player,” and headed straight to it.

“Uh-uh,” John said. “Not so fast.”

Chris stood up and turned towards John. “What? You think you get it? You don’t even like music. You don’t own a CD, let alone a record. You wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

“Yeah, but maybe Chelsea wants it or Sherri,” John replied, nodding his head in my direction.

“I don’t want anything else. You can all fight over everything else in this house, but the record player’s mine,” Chris said, taking a step towards John. It was amazing how quickly his anger had risen.

“Chris, you don’t get to just march in here and order us around and tell us what you get and what we get.”

“John, it’s okay,” Chelsea said. “I don’t want—”

“The record player is mine.” Chris walked over to John and jabbed him in the chest with each word. “End of story.”

John didn’t back down, he batted Chris’s hand away and turned a bright shade of red. “Don’t do that again.”

I did the only thing I could think of to do. While the two men, acting like little boys, stared each other down, I went to Gramps’s record player and turned it on. Once the disc was spinning, I picked up the needle and placed it on the edge. I turned the volume up so that the crackle and hiss filled the room, followed a few seconds later by the sound of a lone violin eeking out a mournful melody.

By the time the first song was over, the four of us stood huddling together, wiping our tears and promising to do better.

Mark Paxson spends his time toiling away as an attorney, filling the role of soccer and baseball dad, and writing when he can. He can be reached at mpacks[at]

“Gramps’s Record Player” took third place in‘s July Flash Fiction category.

Portrait of a Home

Best of the Boards
Aaron M. Wilder

Your cross-beams sway in the wind now. That once stood so defiant to God. Shingles splintered and thrown to time. Weathering to male-pattern baldness. When I see you again will this roof be shaved? Doors hanging by one hinge? Elements and that run-down phrase—“it’s just the wind”—making themselves at home?

Thieves and highwaymen. All of them.

I never knew you were my past. That burning of forever in me— and you— that never falls to ash. Until I saw the ruin. The dust. Of the nights— our nights— that were to last forever. Melt to red dawn and… a familiar face, washed out. Rain fallen through the roof, moldering my best memory.

Aaron M. Wilder is a student of English at Marian College in Indianapolis, IN, where he plays baseball and tennis for scholarship. He hails from the small town of Decatur, IN, where his parents, Susan and Michael Wilder, were also born and raised. After college he plans to attend grad school and hopes to pursue a future as a writer, editor of a literary magazine, or college professor. E-mail: aaron_m_wilder[at]


Best of the Boards
Matthew David Curtis

To Sgt. Nick Johnson

Creased hands blocking sun,
the old men watch as we ride
down the Phlegethon.

They whisper Allahu
Akbar, while we load guns
and pray Our Father.

Mosques are falling stars
in claws of hot sand. The cold men
have empty eyes.

The Tigris opens—
the palm of a hand accepting
bodies as alms.

Matt needs four things to survive: Mint Mochas, Miki, his computer/typewriter, and someone to listen. Paducah, Kentucky may not be the best place to be 21, but the town and the people of the town are what keep his fingers typing. Matt’s father thinks that freelance writer is another word for hobo, so until Matt runs out of coffee or until Miki runs out on Matt, he is going to embrace his vagrant life-style.

Bring Me Home Love

Best of the Boards
Niaz Khadem

for Bolivia

Bring me sunsets and backgammon,
café chairs and African love songs.
Where white button-downs hang
off clotheslines and thin men—
black as coffee and sweet as iced tea.

Dirt floors swept clean. Thick air
and a warm breeze. Bring me
home love. Black coffee,
sugar cane, and white tea.
Thin men play chess in the park

as we play backgammon on the balcony.
Sipping americanos and club soda
clean like lime juice—fresh squeezed.
Brazilian girls always have younger brothers
and fathers they want you to meet.

But if you’re home now then you know this.
And American girls, they are fearless.
Brazilian girls know better, but
if you’re not careful—either one
will get you killed, but I’d risk it

to be at home now. To wear
a white button-down, dancing
to love songs on a dirt floor
with a warm breeze. Sweat
dripping like condensation

from a glass of iced tea.
Bring me home love. Bring me
café chairs and floors swept
clean. Bring me sunsets, bring me
Africa, bring me home love. Bring me.


Niaz Khadem teaches high school Spanish in Paducah, Kentucky. His students think he likes poetry a little too much. Maybe they’re right.

One Too Many

Best of the Boards
Katelyn Kiley

Went up one too many flights of stairs this evening,
opened the door and realized my apartment was a floor below—
thinking too much, again—it always happens like that.
Today, because as I climbed the stairs, it smelled like marijuana—
2100 bucks a month, you’d think this kind of thing could be avoided,
but if my upstairs neighbors are any indication,
it can’t. I went up once to ask about the sudden slam
that shook the ceiling—wrestling, they said—bong on the coffee table,
the smell unmistakable—if I could get rid of them, I would.

College boys are useless, I know because you are one
and I’m starting to think I know you better than I know myself.
I don’t even know what I’m trying to say here, except
getting out of your car feels like crying, like that one exhale
before the inhale then the sob—I don’t know why—only minutes
ago your hand was in my hair and your forehead against mine
with those brown eyes looking and those lips saying—well,
the same thing they always say—of course I love you—and I always believe
in the way one believes in something that is sure to end,
like peering over the end a cliff, our love. The worst part:
as easily as I can see a drop like a California coastline,
also I can see a horizon expanding into forever: the morning paper,
kisses on the forehead before heading off to work, Christmas cookies,
anniversary presents, babies with your dark hair and my full lips
and one of our noses—it doesn’t matter whose—all of this seems possible
as a pile of crumpled tissues and my own T-shirts to sleep in.

Probably you have smoked marijuana in a stairwell, this is what I think
as I round the corner past the door that leads to my floor, and keep
climbing higher, not knowing—this discontent, until I walk out and see
I will never get home this way—so I laugh, and turn, retrace my steps
back down—it still smells like marijuana, I still wonder who did it—
but it’s late and that information, like statistics on the evening news,
either means something or nothing at all—it’s late
and you love me which shouldn’t stop me from sleeping.

E-mail: kmk8d[at]