WE ARE PUNKS
read with care
It has been one year since Versification began filling your minds with dark images and brutal words. The honesty and grit of Versification is brought to you at the courtesy and courage of those who submit their work.
Many times, we cover our darkness - afraid, nervous, ashamed of what those who find our words will come to know of us. We tread lightly in conversation with some, considering judgement.
At Versification, it is our job in the universe to give your darkness renewed lightness. It is our job to let you know you will never be alone in the fucked up ways of the world...as long as we're around, anyway.
THANK YOU TO ALL OF OUR READERS, WRITERS, TIPPERS, EDITORS, ARTISTS - YOU HAVE BROUGHT A LOT OF PEOPLE TOGETHER UNDER OUR ROOF.
dysphoria: this is the word they gave
to the difficulty of carrying
a body's grief from room to room,
as if they will understand when you say:
'i used to breathe easier when my lungs were bound'
Eric Karoulla is a trans man with a heart transplant. He's been published in other languages (purely by accident). When not writing poetry, he's a polyglot, and lover of origami, and obscure fun-facts. He has a tendency to disappear down research rabbit-holes. He is owned by three cats. Eric is on Twitter @wolfdownwords.
poetry & art by
I only have one memory
of drinking at the airport
& it's terrible
This piece was crafted by Mark Danowsky.
Mark Danowsky is Editor-in-Chief of ONE ART: a journal of poetry, and Senior Editor at Schuylkill Valley Journal. He has worked for a private detective agency, handed out samples at Walmarts in West Virginia, been a rideshare driver in multiple states, and has a PhD in the art of failure.
He says I’m too fragile. Not my body but my mind. I wish I could break the way he wants me to, maybe in the crush of a car pileup or a tumble down the stairs. Instead vultures feast on my brain through the eyes, eating the meat, leaving my skull and bones intact. He comes home, finds me in a fetal position on my side of the bed, my vultures invisible to him, and asks when I last showered.
This special piece was crafted with courage by Victoria Buitron.
Victoria Buitron is a writer and translator who hails from Ecuador and resides in Connecticut. You can find more of her work on www.victoriabuitron.com and check out her random musings on Twitter: @vic_toriawrites.
I see them from my deck,
fashioned, alert, alight.
All getting ready
for the disappointment
of the night.
Robert Allen lives and loves in northern California, where he writes poems, takes long walks,and looks at birds. More at: www.robertallenpoet.com
when he cums in me
and all i can think about
is traffic on my drive home.
j henry is a queer writer located in the wilds of Los Angeles, living one cock at a time and writes as the sun begins to rise and the hangover starts to hit. when not trolling darkened hallways and dilapidated bathhouses jck can be found lounging in a corner booth at the seediest bar just west of Skid Row.
My therapist does not appreciate my sarcasm
She asked me to explain just what I thought healing might look like:
Not rebuilding myself ten thousand times before breakfast
Mackenzie is a writer and illustrator based in Los Angeles who currently writes for television and podcasting. Her CNF and poems can be found in X-RAY, Hobart, Redivider, and Rejection Lit — her chapbooks Alms Basket for Your Heart and Bento Box are out now. Twitter: @mxkmoore Instagram, @junkdrawermoore
Poetry & Art by
WORTH IN OUNCES
The midwife wrung my breast
as if to break the spine.
See! she cried, triumphant;
two reluctant drops.
Milk doesn’t make a mother
M.S. Evans is a visual artist and Pushcart nominated poet living in Butte, Montana. When not writing, Evans can be found snapping photos, befriending feral cats, and fomenting revolution. Her work has appeared in Black Bough Poetry, Ice Floe Press, and Feral Poetry, among others.Twitter: @SeaNettleInk Instagram: @seanettleart
granddaddy filets a fish
picks bits of plastic
out of its white belly
and fries it up anyway
Adam Kamerer writes poetry in backwoods Alabama, speaking to cryptids and pine bark. His work has appeared in Anatomy & Etymology, Borderline, and Four and Twenty. He can be found online at adamkamerer.com or on Twitter @akamererwrites.
poetry & art by
I've got a pain, a tweak, a one-two
there, just above, just where you think it would be
you like the salad, the bean salad, the fucking salad with the beans
I like you better when I’m not bloodthirsty, after the salad
the bean salad, the fucking salad with the beans
Ren Pike defeated our Angry Robot in a game of Red Light/Green Light with this fantastic micro poem.
Ren Pike lives on the edge of many circles. Birds know her by the water she chooses to carry. Twitter: @sputta
ROLLED UP BANKNOTE
You crushed tablets under a glass
empty from the last of
Just like optimism
And common sense
Amy-Jean Muller is a Versification Regular Punk. Her brutally honest writing won her that slot. To read more about Amy-Jean click here.
ART & POETRY BY
The spinal rod sticks up through my throat
It lingers, bitter aftertaste of metallic sweetness
The pain twists my bones, opens cavities, empties.
I am staked and burning, with no way
to extinguish the red hell that melts me.
Amanda McLeod would happily sit outside in the woods all day if pesky real-world stuff would leave her alone. She's an award-winning writer and artist who's obsessed with trees, and a whiskey connoisseur. Look for her book Animal Behaviour at Chaffinch Press, or track her down yourself on Twitter and Instagram @AmandaMWrites. If you still can't find her, look for the nearest river. She's probably there.
It seemed sometimes I could never get clean.
I took one bath after another trying to drown it,
Staring at the drain, wondering if it could take me away.
There were things down there, so I pulled out the clots of hair,
and went down.
Abigail Swire became a Versification Regular in 2020. Her haunting imagery landed her that coveted slot on our masthead.
four poems presented by
You, Of Course, Want To Lay In Your Bed
and flail your soul out onto the page.
dredge the depths of despair so all the bodies
float up to the surface,
but when they do,
you still have to identify
the corpse, right—look at its bloated,
soggy face and to give it a name?
so it's better to lay in your bed and watch porn,
masturbate despair away.
you already know whose body it is—
warm and familiar to your hands.
and who cares if you soil the sheets,
there's no one sharing them for now.
so, you have at least a week
before despair becomes disgusting.
The Spirits Are Still Speaking
so as I get up off the floor,
I brush off the dust and dander,
and I try to think if I want to continue
or maybe the cat
that shakes its head at me
with a well earned
disdain already has an answer:
human! fill my empty
bowls with water and food,
then go to the
basement without breaking your neck
and clean up the shit you
left of mine for far too long.
Shame Is The Glimmer In The Corner Of Your Eye
the warm tongue in that off-limits place of years ago—
now it’s just the rim-of-day;
and the tip of the iceberg
has a raindrop forming,
and yes, now it’s on the tip of your finger,
and now, salty on the tongue:
all by candlelight that leaves its hard red
clumps of wax all over your pale, tight stomach—
such a sweet reminder that it takes all kinds
of living to make it through living—but mostly
your blue, blue, eyes—
so blue, even through the tears.
I Walk To The End
of my freshly snow-blown driveway.
not by my hands, I pay for the use of other’s hands.
across the street, I watch the neighbors
blowing their white annoyance into the air.
I watch it fall into piles
stacked along the edge of the cold concrete
the winter white keeps
trying to hide
as we householders
keep fighting to keep visible.
I open my inscribed,
“We love you Daddy” flask.
Take a long swig of my,
Who gives a Fuck
How much it costs, it’s my birthday
$1000 Hine Triomphe Cognac,
and start kicking the snow
back onto my driveway.
Not every poem is introduced this way - C. Cimmone began this tradition with David Centorbi upon his first acceptance to Versification. His poem, "Something Profound for You", was an advice piece on living life. C. 'presented' this advice in the July 2020 issue and the tradition was born. David has since become a Regular Punk at Versification.
We have yet to determine if David is, in fact, a real person.
a punk series created and curated by Lisa Lerma-Weber
When Reynolds closed his eyes, all he could see was the jumper’s beautiful, agonizing smile, her slow-motion step off the ledge into nothingness, carefree as a stroll in the park. For more than five minutes, he’d followed the Department Manual, said all the right things, pleading. But she’d jumped anyway.
Later, in the Station locker room, guys patted his shoulder, telling him: “Shake it off.”
Reynolds bowed his head. "Shake it off?" What a joke. Not a damn thing in the Manual about that. Not a damn thing about ghosts plaguing his every waking moment either.
JP Goggin's favorite junk food is coffee, and he sometimes wonders if the Hokey Pokey really is what it's all about. JP is an emerging fiction writer, sometimes poet, and current MFA candidate at Antioch University Los Angeles. His work has appeared in Prospectus Literary Journal, Chantwood Magazine, FronteraFest Short Fringe, and Flash Flood Journal (forthcoming), among others. Visit him at jpgoggin.com.
I sit on the patio looking at the sky, which is orange—not sunset orange, but "the lights never go off here" orange, "we consume so much energy I don’t understand how we’re not full of it yet, sick with it" orange. I remember an article I read about how light pollution disrupts ecosystems by discombobulating birds’ flight patterns, just like how farmers trick chickens into overproducing by turning the lights on and convincing them it’s day now, time for another egg. I feel I’ve gotten my fill of nature and go back inside.
Morgan Bennett is currently based in Austin, Texas, where they spend their time writing and studying film. Their work has appeared in YA Review Network, gloworm press, beestung magazine, and Black Ink Fiction. They can be found on twitter @mrgnbennett_
The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Mama’s presents were Trojan horses filled with subliminal reminders that you weren’t the daughter she desired. Clothing two sizes too small. Supplies for hobbies you didn’t have. Beauty magazines instead of the comic books you craved. She’d cram your brain full of religion, then fill your Easter basket with chalky white chocolate crosses, as though hoping you’d find savoring sacred symbols a sacrilege that made your belly burn with shame.
Those material things are long gone, Mama too, but the message “you’re not enough” lives on in your head.
“It’s the thought that counts,” Mama’d say. And she was right.
Serena Jayne is a graduate of Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction MFA Program. Serena's short fiction can be found in The Arcanist, Shotgun Honey, Space and Time Magazine, Unnerving Magazine and other publications. serenajayne.com
misfit micro & micro poem
by Kip Knott
Mother’s Family Albums
My mascara doesn’t run during your funeral. Or when I accept grief dished out with servings of green bean casserole back at your house. Mourners ooh and aah over pictures in your family albums. They accept the congealed words of thanks I push through gritted teeth. Only I know the truth. Only I know the number of people who tossed dirt into your grave doesn’t add up to the number of Winston 100 scars you branded on my flesh where no one can see. Scars I keep in the secret family album that I’ll carry with me to my grave.
by kip knott
My wife just asked me if I would ever tell her
if her pussy smelled like death. “It’s a legitimate question,”
she says before I have a chance to answer.
“If you really love me, you wouldn’t hesitate,”
she insists while taking a piss with the door wide open.
Kip Knott is a Versification Regular Punk. Although he says he doesn't consider himself a punk, his work shines PUNK over and over again. Kip is also our first published author over at VPH, with his book HINTERLANDS, coming soon. To learn more about Kip, visit his website HERE.
KRISTINA T. SACCONE
Addie and I are hiding in the underbrush where cicadas crackle like dry-tindered wildfire. She doesn’t answer when I ask if it hurts, the tender skin and scorched split ends. Tomorrow at the swim meet, she’ll dive in at the crack of the starting shot. She’ll pull her body out, the scars on her arm alight in the dripping water. Her brother will put out his cigarette, step over to wrap her in a towel, and extinguish the spots from plain sight.
Kristina T. Saccone crafts flash fiction and creative nonfiction. Her work has appeared in 365 Tomorrows, The Bangor Literary Journal, Emerge Literary Journal, and Unearthed. Find her on Twitter at @kristinasaccone or haunting small independent bookstores in the Washington, DC, area.
art & prose by
I’m driving around town looking at houses and imagining. Passing a two-story colonial, I imagine an impromptu movie night, a family bathing in warm, flickering pixels. Near a ranch, I imagine a couple soaking in a cozy tub, their fingers crumpled pieces of paper. Cruising by an apartment complex, I imagine the taste of a dozen dinners. I imagine and imagine until I’m homesick for hundreds of made-up lives. The fuel light dings. I park, lower my seat, and let my fantasies tuck me in. I’m everyone but myself. Closing my eyes, I try to forget the walls I’m missing.
Will Musgrove is a writer and journalist from Northwest Iowa. He received an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato. When he's not writing, he spends most of his time wishing life was like a 1990's cartoon. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Unstamatic, Ghost Parachute, Serotonin, Defenestration, The Daily Drunk, Flash Frontier, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter at @Will_Musgrove.
photography & prose by
Persistent blood on the sheets
As Mum did this for you, now I do it for him, scrubbing out the stains on the bedclothes, blood tenacious, refusing to leave, resists thickly, thicker than cold water. After salt, a Vanish bar pressing down hard, but you can never get all the blood out, always leaves a trace. A reminder to take care.
Broken teeth are like tombstones are like bones are like roots. Does history really repeat itself or are we careless, inattentive? For history to exist as history there has to be a last time, a time when giver and receiver become one.
How did I not see this coming?
Based in the UK, neurodivergent writer Jane Ayres re-discovered poetry studying for a part-time Creative Writing MA at the University of Kent, which she completed in 2019 aged 57. She tweets @workingwords50 and believes most food is improved by sprinkling vinegar over it (especially cheese). Her work has appeared in places that include Postscript, Dissonance, Lighthouse, The Sock Drawer, Streetcake, The North, Door is a Jar, Crow & Cross Keys, Kissing Dynamite, and The Forge.
Cherry Chapstick lip prints on the half-filled tumbler of warm Cuervo, and the chewed up carcass of a lime rind sliced with the rusty bar knife kept next to the till, crumpled in a beige cocktail napkin that reads "The Fawkes." There’s no fruit left to squeeze, except for some pulp stuck in between my back left molar and the chipped porcelain crown I’ve been ignoring for too long, from grinding my teeth too hard. Dentist says, “there’s very little contact," and I say “I don't have a grand to blow on my mouth Doc." Up my nose maybe. I was reckless then.
Scott Amen is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. His writing focuses on memory, nostalgia, the body, and NYC, and is heavily influenced by music. He has a BA in Theatre from the University of Scranton, an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons, and an MFA in Nonfiction from The New School. He currently lives in Hell's Kitchen, NY.
When they become the objects of fear or mockery; when they’re told to smile or cry on command; when the ringmaster’s whip splits the air and their backs, that’s when the Clown King opens her mouth wide for her troupe of harlequins, pierrots, and mimes to climb inside of her, one after the other like a string of rusty rainbowed handkerchiefs, inextricably tied together. They nestle there in her hollow chest, where they will be safe and treasured; where her stomach acid will burn less than acerbic tongues.
Avra Margariti is a queer author and poet with a fondness for the dark and the darling. Avra’s work appears in publications such as Milk Candy Review, Wigleaf, and Okay Donkey. You can find Avra on twitter (@avramargariti).
The Nest of Thorns
FANNIE H. GRAY
On the floor, about two feet away from my face, are the remnants of the crack pipe I found earlier. Its splintered shards wink in the light of the late afternoon. Still sitting upon my chest, he lowers his furious face inches from mine. His breath is sweet and sickly: it reminds me of when he was an infant. I couldn't produce enough milk and he didn’t tolerate Enfamil well.
Your son is a “failure to thrive” baby, the pediatrician had lectured me.
Jeremy’s hands tighten around my neck. Failure. Thrive. My hand finds the largest shard. Blood.
Fannie H. Gray is currently living in the wilds of Northern New Jersey with her family, Mac, a Boston Terrier, Neo the Tuxedo cat and Momo, who is not a lemur but looks and acts like one. She misses living in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of D.C. the way one would miss a lost appendage. ¾ of Fugazi lives in Mount Pleasant. She prefers coffee with chicory and a Rob Roy. Oh, and she writes.
We tell the story about the dead squirrel. Flat, only half the width of a Sunday paper but still standing up straight. Under a parched and withering desert sapling planted where it could not thrive.
Trading on and off each sentence, cutting in, tripping over each other and interrupting until it's done and only the two of us are laughing. Some look sad, others disgusted but the giggles bubble out of you and me. A matched set in our upbringing. Forced to find humor, some rove of joy, while still sitting amongst the rotting. Guess you had to be there.
Rachel Brandt is a writer residing on a small farm just outside of Indianapolis with her family and a lot of chickens. For more of her work follow her on Twitter (http://twitter.com/Rachel_Brandt) or check her portfolio (http://writing.rachelbrandt.com).
The trick, he read, is to become still and remain still so people start to see you as background, then leave quickly—appearing to disappear.
He’s practicing every morning, sitting on his zafu, straight back, eyes closed—to his unemployment, to his so-called friends, to his parents who treated him like a potted plant, to women he just seems to disturb. To everyone who makes vanishing sound good. One second he’ll be there, the next they won’t.
And if that doesn’t work, he’s mail-ordered flash bombs, purple smoke grenades and a grappling hook.
John Yohe learned to mosh in Detroit clubs such as Blondie's, Harpo's and St. Andrew's Hall. @thejohnyohe www.johnyohe.com
cher von tiedemann
With My Father the Trapper
“You want to hit between the eyes.” said Dad. “Think of the bullet as a line and everything the line touches disappears.” The coyote growled in pain, shaking against the snare. If she spoke, she would have screamed we weren’t so different, like a desperate Bond villain. We were both snared: snaky sharp metal, the eyes of family. I aimed between two black stars. I felt a kick and pull. I felt an obstinate horse in my stomach dragged by the neck toward my tongue. “Does the line go both ways?” I asked. Dad laughed like I was joking.
Coleman Bomar is a bad student and neurotic writer who currently resides in Middle Tennessee. He enjoys 90's grunge music and dogs who are too friendly.
Practice Makes Perfect
We enact school-shooting scenarios under the guise of faculty meetings. Sometimes we are in our classrooms. Here are the rules: turn out the lights. Cover windows. Doors lock automatically now. Don’t open them. Huddle in a corner. Stay silent. Pray.
Sometimes, we pretend it’s lunchtime. Or during class changes. Or before or after school. The rules: find a closet. Find a bathroom. Contort yourself to fit into a locker—hide.
If you can escape the building, go slow. Don’t run. Hands raised above your head so the cops can tell you aren’t the shooter.
They don’t let the kids practice.
Sam Campbell is a writer and teacher from Tennessee. She earned her English M.A. from East Tennessee State University, where she was the Editor-in-Chief of The Mockingbird. When she isn't reading her tarot cards, she serves Arkansas International as Social Media Editor, and holds editorial positions at Orison and The Great Lakes Review. She is the fiction editor and co-founder of Black Moon Magazine. Her favorite word processor is wine, and it helps her publish across all genres; her work appears or is forthcoming in October Hill, MORIA, Tennessee's Emerging Poets Anthology, and E.ratio Postmodern Poetry, among others. She's not one to do things halfway, which is why her awards include, but are not limited to, the 2019 James Still Prize for Short Fiction and 2019 Jesse Stuart Prize for Young Adult Writing. She has been trying to learn to play the piano for about twelve years now and refuses to give up. She is currently a first-year fiction MFA candidate at the University of Arkansas, living in Fayetteville with her favorite person (her mom) and her 47 houseplants.
She tells me I’m her best friend after Carrie and this means everything to me. My mom asks me: "if she told you to jump off a bridge, would you?" I say no and remember that time we were on the swings and she told me let go and I did, landing in the dirt. She tells me not to touch my dolls until she comes over next and I leave them, wait. If she told me at the lunch table to take my plastic knife and carve our names into my skin, I would have asked her where?
Christina is a writer, digital communications professional, and vegan taco enthusiast living in Washington, D.C. Her fiction has been featured in or is forthcoming from HAD, Flash Frog, The Daily Drunk, and The Lumiere Review. She can be reached on Twitter @christinaltudor
AND SO WHAT IF I LIT A MATCH?
Orange nibbled at our bed sheets first, then crunched craters into the mattress. I tried to piss on it, but it was hungry for pillows, "more!" It would have taken flame-chunks out of my husband’s head had I not shaken him with “Quick! We have to escape!” to which he rose with a “right, well we know where the exit is, don’t we?” and I swear an HRM would have shown him at 69 beats per minute, the same Netflix-watching 69, the same 69 he probably has when he goes down on me after a sherry.
Kik Lodge has nonsense coming out her ears. She lives in Lyon, France - even if she’s English - and has never really understood semi-colons. Her work has appeared in Litro, The Moth, Tiny Molecules, The Cabinet of Heed, Reflex Fiction and Sonder.
THE LANGUAGE OF SEAGULLS
You need animal instincts, and you need animal parts, I tell myself. Backbone. Sinews. Teeth.
Remember seeing him with her, hearing him laugh with her. Remember how it felt when you locked eyes across the street, how many expressions flicked over his face.
You’ll be ok. You’ll take the crazy job at the lighthouse. You’ll paint your masterpiece there. You’ll learn the language of seagulls. You’ll conjure sea monsters. They’ll scream at the lighthouse and you’ll scream back, sisters in rage.
Epiphany Ferrell lives perilously close to the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail in Southern Illinois. Her stories appear in Best Microfiction 2020, New Flash Fiction Review, Ghost Parachute, Dream Noir, and other places. She is a two-time Pushcart nominee, and won the 2020 Prime Number Magazine Flash Fiction Prize.
SHARDS OF GLASS
Fragments of mirror reflected, jagged rocks between blue waves in the pivoting light of a lighthouse, setting my tears loose, my heart released from that grip and I sobbed. Impulse broke the mirror inhabited by that far away face. Shards of glass were all that remained of something meant to listen. Caught between a moment of anger and days of sadness, there was no time to think, only time for that release; now the shards offer the opportunity for physical harm, but no chance for internal scars to be sutured, leaving them to bleed.
Matt McGuirk teaches high school English and laughs at his own puns by day and scribbles furiously on stories at night. He lives with his wife and daughter in New Hampshire. He has upcoming stories in Drunk Monkeys, Literally Stories, Sleet Magazine, The Dribble Drabble Review and Versification. Follow him on Twitter @McguirkMatthew and on Instagram @mcguirk_matthew.
I place the bowl and tweezers beside me and soak up the only slice of sunlight in the room. I roll up my sleeve and pick the scab on my wrist to expose the vein and begin to pull. Crimson liquid trickles down my arm to drip off my elbow like the juice of an orange – just as sticky, but not as cold. I coil the slick lengths of vein in the bowl until it resembles a Tuscan buffet, then fold my arm to staunch the flow. I turn to face my wheel, and attempt to spin a yarn.
Laurie Marshall is a freelance writer and artist surviving Arkansas. Her words and art have appeared in some cool places, but not enough, and she reads for Fractured Literary. She thought she was a punk in high school but now that she knows actual punks she realizes her error. She’s over fifty so she dgaf what you think, mostly. On Twitter @LaurieMMarshall.
Over your desk, yes,
but don’t fuck me over;
leaked sap hard as stone.
Laura Besley placed First with this punk haiku.
Laura Besley is the author of micro fiction, 100neHundred, and flash fiction collection, The Almost Mothers. She has been listed by TSS Publishing as one of the top 50 British and Irish Flash Fiction writers. Her work has been nominated for Best Micro Fiction and her story, To Cut a Long Story Short, will appear in the Best Small Fiction anthology in 2021. Having lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Hong Kong, she now lives in land-locked central England and misses the sea. She tweets @laurabesley
blood drips from my pen
safer with nib to paper
than etched on my wrist
JP Seabright placed Second with this punk haiku.
JP Seabright is a queer writer living in London, who works in “information security”. They can’t say more than that, because then they’d have to kill you. Their work has been published in various print and online journals, much to everyone's dismay. In their non-existent spare time, they are Assistant Editor for Full House Literary Magazine. More of their own work can be found cluttering up the internet at https://jpseabright.wordpress.com/
the too familiar thud
of his slippers
Tracy Davidson placed Third with this punk haiku.
Tracy Davidson lives in Warwickshire, England, and writes poetry and flash fiction. Her work has appeared in various publications and anthologies, including: Modern Haiku, A Hundred Gourds, Atlas Poetica, Mslexia, Journey to Crone, The Great Gatsby Anthology and In Protest: 150 Poems for Human Rights.
What I Want to Tell You the First Time You Mention Divorce in Front of Our Children
Eric Scot Tryon
Tell me what you know about dismemberment. The tearing apart. The pull until something gives. Ligaments like piano wire. Tendons like the first memory of your father. Things that snap and break. And once detached there is no mending. No coming back together. Not like how clouds pull apart like taffy then reunite with shifting winds. Not like how water poured into water is water. The permanence of dismemberment doesn’t leave scars, it leaves large gaping cavities. Sink holes that swallow trees and houses and people like after-dinner mints. It is so much more than the mere separation of flesh.
This piece by Eric Scot Tryon placed First in our 2021 Misfit Micros Contest.
Eric Scot Tryon's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Willow Springs, Monkeybicycle, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Berkeley Fiction Review, Bending Genres, Fictive Dream, (mac)ro(mic), Wisconsin Review, and others. Eric is the Founding Editor of Flash Frog. He lives in Pleasant Hill, California with his wife and daughter. More info can be found at www.ericscottryon.com or on Twitter @EricScotTryon
The New Adventures of Volcano Girl
On her 16th birthday a volcano grows on her back. Her parents say it’s a stage. To be safe the UN launches her into space. She erupts before clearing the atmosphere, leaves nuclear winter like a hand-blown kiss, off on her way to somewhere unafraid of powerful girls.
Millenia later an alien civilization stumbles upon Earth, finds sexless skeletons buried under mountains of ash. It never occurs to the aliens to check the pelvis. They mourn the humans as one, cry tears of magma, sob like Pompeii.
This piece by Barlow Adams placed Second in our 2021 Misfit Micros Contest
Barlow Adams is a relatively well-mannered ruffian from Northern Kentucky who has never bitten the head off a bat or smashed a guitar on stage. Though he has been kicked out of several local libraries for overly-aggressive spoken word sets. Best described as punk-lite, read his recent work in Mythic Picnic, Daily Drunk Magazine, BULL, and Reckon Review.
The Last Frontier of the Night
We gather in the mist of the night like cicada shells, our husks a frightening reminder of the violence of molting, of breaking the biological chains of our humanity. Even as we continue to die, oxygen rusting our bodies from the inside-out, we plot. Our joy is the mirror trick of someone else’s pain. I hold out my wrist and beg for the cherry-bright cigarette end, imagining the scars of taking off into space, the millisecond before combustion, a scar we both will remember, when you drag the thorned flower stems of betrayal across my heart, blood awashes the street.
This piece by Tommy Dean placed Third in our 2021 Misfit Micros Contest
Tommy Dean lives in Indiana with his wife and two children. He is the author of a flash fiction chapbook entitled Special Like the People on TV (Redbird Chapbooks, 2014) and Covenants (ELJ Editions, 2021). He is the Editor at Fractured Lit and Uncharted Magazine He has been previously published in the Bending Genres, Atticus Review, The Lascaux Review, New World Writing, Pithead Chapel, and New Flash Fiction Review. His story “You’ve Stopped” was included in Best Microfiction 2019 and 2020 and the Best Small Fiction 2019. He won the 2019 Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction. Find him @TommyDeanWriter.
trash can flash
Some biography: I’m recalling the flowers of my youth, the perennial blooming of bronchitis in my sunken, young chest. Freezing cold and embarrassed by the X-ray machine, the young nurse: “You poor thing!” Filled with yellow, shadowy and grossly.
But this is about getting Meredith out of the house. I let her in and don’t know what to do with her. As Grace would say, “Well, this is a metaphor, isn’t it?”
Robutusin with codeine was too much for me and made so nauseous I had to lay down in the backseat. Erythromycin gave me allergies. I had to go to second-tier treatment. I missed a whole basketball season but got a trophy. Some people think it’s gestures like that that are ruining this country.
Meredith is still talking: “You know, you’re the ghost that’s haunting this house.”
“I forgive you for hitting my son with your car, but not for bullshit, know-nothing statements.”
She begs to see the dogs, and when I let them out, they all sit down in her presence. They were meant to expedite her exit, and this is unprecedented.
“The pups!” she said, which is wrong, wrong, wrong since all but one were full-grown.
I picked up my keys. “I have errands.”
“And I’m blocking the driveway,” she said. “I get it. I know your type. You leave blank answers on a multiple choice test.”
She drives off and I drive off to complete the lie. I have no such errands.
How dare she come into my house with her NA spiritualism. I know she’s an addict because I’m an addict. It’s not like I still have that trophy from the basketball season I missed with bronchitis. But what she said is not nearly superficial enough to be true.
Sean Ennis is the author of Chase Us: Stories (Little A) and recent work has appeared in Diagram, X-R-A-Y, Expat, Misery Tourism and HAD. More of his work can be found at seanennis.net
The first time Flam died only four people attended his funeral. His mother, the pastor, and two people placing flowers at a nearby gravesite who wandered over.
When he crawled out of the grave eight days later the rotted flesh from his fingers had worn away along with most of the bone from the tips of each finger. He stood in the early morning light to gain his bearings before he shambled in the direction he remembered to be home.
The first person to see him was Loretta Mitchell, the Saturday Postal Delivery worker. She passed by in her truck and let out a low whistle. “Better if some folks not be seen,” she muttered to herself. She watched her rearview to see which direction Flam might be heading, then decided it was none of her business.
Flam shuffled through town, feeling his way toward home, knowing the street leading away from the cemetery would lead him to Bedford Avenue. By mid-morning he’d passed the elementary school, passed Ralph’s Pharmacy, passed the yarn store. He tripped over curbs and collided with corners of buildings. Those that saw him tried to ignore his presence and offered him no help or guidance. They pretended it wasn’t Flam.
A teenage girl working at the diner took out her phone and captured some images of Flam’s flailing progress. She posted them with caption, “Asshole.”
He stumbled onto the street where he’d grown up and spent twenty three years of life. Two kids on scooters paused their morning ride to stop and stare.
“Aren’t you Flam?” one of them asked while shielding his eyes from the noontime sun.
“Jiiimmm.” Flam tried to correct the boy.
“Whatever, dude, my big brother says your name was Jammy Flamming.”
“Jimmmm.” Flam tried again, but the two boys laughed down the sidewalk, not interested in anything Flam tried to say.
He wished he didn’t sound like a walking corpse.
The gate latch on the side of his mother’s house hung useless, as it had since he was fourteen. He dragged his feet through the backyard, tripped over a root, and crawled up the stairs onto the back porch. When he pushed the screen door open into the kitchen his world filled with the smell of home.
And the cries of his mother.
Flam remained inside. Mostly. He kept himself busy with household chores and made his mother laugh at stupid jokes. Over the next ten years many of the parts that rotted while he was buried for eight days healed. Except when he spent too much time outside.
When he died the second time, one-hundred-twenty-six people from town turned out for his funeral. They took up a collection to help his mother pay for a stainless steel coffin.
Just to be sure.
It took Flam sixty three years to claw his way out of his second grave.
His mother, who used to make him tomato soup, had long since passed. So had Ralph’s pharmacy and the yarn store after the small town doubled in size when a local tech startup hit it big. All of which made Flam’s second shambling journey more difficult. His halting steps interrupted by new buildings and new trees in places they hadn’t been before.
An old woman sitting by the window of the long term care unit of the small town hospital caught a glimpse of Flam as he made his way past. “Shit,” she rasped to the woman sitting next to her. “That asshole again.”
Flam stumbled homeward. Or at least where home was supposed to be. He moved with the uncertainty of someone that had been dead for much longer than he’d ever been alive. At Bedford Avenue, now known as New Bedford Circle, Flam stepped into the crosswalk where an on-rushing automated car splintered his right femur and threw his fragile body forty five feet along the street. The car’s computer system made no effort to swerve or slow.
The broken remains of Flam’s third death were zipped into a black bag and sent to the morgue in the basement of the hospital. His parts rested for three days until someone came by and removed the tag the read “John Doe #2” and replaced it with a tag that read “James “Flam” Flemming, # 62-7188, DOB: 1/27/1990, DOD: 4/4/2013, DOD: 7/31/2023, 3/1/2086.”
A few hours later two orderlies loaded Flam’s bag onto a cart with two other similar bags.
“Did you read this guy’s file? Already died a couple of times. Wanna know what else he did?”
“Who cares. It was like a hundred years ago.”
“Think he’ll stay dead this time?’
“He’s not digging his way out of the incinerator.”
“I don’t know, man, coming back once is one thing, but I’ve never heard of it happening twice.”
“He’s not coming back this time.”
“You really don’t want to know what he did?”
The remainder of the conversation was lost as Flam’s bag tumbled into a small room punctuated with a metallic clang. He wished his jaw moved or his tongue was still intact, so he could tell the two orderlies that it had all been a huge misunderstanding, it hadn’t been his fault.
The whoomp of the igniting fire drowned out any further thoughts.
The small town and most of the neighboring towns were ruins by the time Flam reassembled enough of his ashes to push his way from behind the rusted iron door of the incinerator. An eighty-six year old tree grew from the crumbled basement of the small town hospital. Its branches reached high into the blue sky above.
A bird looked down on Flam and chirped.
Flam tried to gain his bearings. And shuffled toward where he hoped some part of his home might still be.
For the last thirty years Jay has been a social worker and learned that everyone has a story. More often than not, several stories. His writing can be found in multiple publications including Penumbric, A Rock and a Hard Place, Crystal Lake and Toasted Cheese or on-line at JayBechtol.com and on Twitter @BechtolJay. He can be found in person in Homer, Alaska.
Airborne Toxic Event
Jen came up with the idea, we’d be on detention, we’d get bored, Mike would make silly jokes to make time pass faster, he always does that when we’re in trouble and we’re in trouble often enough to have gotten sick of his silly jokes. Jen takes off her mask, she says it’s stupid wearing a mask all the time, I stare at her lips, I can’t help it, I haven’t seen lips before, besides mine, I mean, in the mirror, Mike says she should wear her mask at once, but he also stares at her lips, he can’t take his eyes away, he is reluctant, but slowly takes off his mask too, I look the other way, but there’s something magnetic about his lips, when he takes his sandwich out of the box, holds it in his hands, takes a bite, right in front of us, this is getting awkward, but Jen insists, she says it’s my turn, and Jen always makes things seem more innocent, we’ll get in trouble, I tell them, I mean more trouble, and Jen nods, and Mike nods too, like that’s unimportant, we said we’d share lunch together, he says, but that’s unacceptable, I say, we should go to the eating rooms, Jen rolls her eyes, like I’m stupid, like I don’t belong among them, and they’re the brave ones, while I’m the coward.
Mike is already devouring his sandwich, he’s outrageous, the definition of rudeness, but he stops eating the moment I put my hands on the strings, take off my mask slowly, I can be rude too, and brave and fearless, he stops eating, watching me, he tells me I have the most beautiful lips, which sounds like a joke Mike would make, he hasn’t seen many lips anyway, besides his, I mean, in the mirror, and also Jen’s minutes ago, so I laugh, I laugh loud, but Jen doesn’t find him funny, she says it was a stupid idea, so we put our masks on, don’t talk further, go to our separate eating rooms, eat alone as usual, pretending this awkward scene never happened and we don’t know yet, but we won’t talk for long, not before many years pass and we meet by chance and we speak of the old days, the glory days, about how much we accomplished, about everything, everything, everything, except for this unfortunate incident, except for that brief moment in time we shared intimacy, innocence, air.
Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist, from Athens, Greece. A Pushcart, Best of the Net, Best Microfiction and Best Small Fictions nominated writer, her work can be found in many journals, such as Litro, Jellyfish Review, HAD, Ruminate, Lost Balloon, X-R-A-Y, Chestnut Review and others.
PUNK micro POETRY
patrick karl curley
You saw the weather-chipped bones of an animal curled up
at the side of the road. I’ll never forget the smell
of rain-wet rot. I’d have kept walking,
but your voice quivered and I stopped –
astonished by your love for things.
Patrick Karl Curley is a poet and performance artist from Sligo, Ireland. He is curator of Vagabond Voices contemporary poetry/performance event for Cairde Sligo Arts Festival, and hosts Illumnations open mic poetry at Bookmart, Sligo. Patrick has performed work on Sunken Transmissions and Slip Inside This House on Dublin Digital Radio and as part of the Box Moon avant garde performance series. He has previously published work in Dream Noir Art, Black Heart Magazine, Crack The Spine, Hidden Channel, and The Cormorant. His work was selected by Poetry Barn for the Poetic Licence exhibition at the Arts Society of Kingston, New York, in August 2020.
Because we know it’s going to happen
Black girls barbecue bullets
before swallowing. A little smoke
helps the wave of injustice
go down a little easier.
Ashley Elizabeth (she/her) is a teacher, freelance editor, and writer. Her works have appeared in SWWIM, Santa Fe Writers Project, and Kissing Dynamite, among others. Ashley's first chapbook collection, you were supposed to be a friend, is available from Nightingale & Sparrow. As the new Poetry editor for Afro Lit Magazine, assistant editor at Sundress Publications, and co-founder of the Estuary Collective, Ashley provides a safe space for BIPOC writers. She lives in Baltimore, MD with her partner and their cats. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @ae_thepoet.
婕 Venus Cohen
Cutting my wrists seemed too frilly—I was always drawn to understated
self violence, don’t get me wrong, I’m a cutter but I prefer
to use tooth floss, yes, to slide between my gums and really
saw into tender flesh, far more tender than a resilient wrist, oh
the mouth is so weak, and it bleeds, and it bleeds…
婕 Venus Cohen is a mixed, transgender creator. Their body of work explores the intersections of surrealism and identity. Their writing and visual art has been published or is forthcoming in Serotonin Poetry, Full House Literary Magazine, Fahmidan Journal, The B’K, and Nat-Brut. They are the founding editor of LUPERCALIApress. They can be found wading in a salt marsh, upside down on a pole, or on twitter @hyfemme.
WE WANTED TO SING IT FROM THE LIGHT
We wanted to see what it felt like, both of us making love to Maryanne at the same time in her summer home. Ecstatic consent a good addiction. Our better angels celebrating as the warm New England night pulled to closing outside her window. We tried to focus on her, on her pleasure, we really did, but our eyes held blue-bright electricity across her body. The homespun afghan made grooves along our knees. Grooves, little furrows for rougher lips to fill.
We wanted to know, pushing each other with very male laughs afterwards, bottles of beer hanging from loose fingers, if there was more to life at eighteen than walking these empty streets where crows made the dark blink.
We wanted to study philosophy at university. To be big men in the big world. We wanted to get piss drunk. To get so drunk everything was strange and funny, but not so drunk the walls started to crawl. And we wanted to kiss each other under silky lamplight, right outside our dorm, hands yanking collars. Stubble-to-stubble. Bite-to-bite-to-bruise. We wanted to see. We wanted to know. How desire would hook its fingers under our ribs and pull.
We wanted to break free. We watched that old telescope snap from its tethers on Twitter, decades of science caught under the weight of elementalism. We ached for the wreckage, knowing how our bodies still carried wounds from the forest floor. The bluejays were mean bastards, but they didn’t care who became crushed velvet or who became an apple core or how quick we spent ourselves under delicate pink skies.
We wanted, after graduation, arms slung around waists to mimic a shallow camaraderie, gazes held a fraction too long in front of our parents, to drink each other. To unzip our bodies to embody each other. To grab the wishbone at Thanksgiving—because of course we would be living together—smirks replacing smiles as our fingertips brushed the white spine of possibility.
We wanted to speak our love.
We wanted to speak our love so we could watch gravity make the words kneel on softer ground.
Jared Povanda is an internationally published writer and freelance editor from upstate New York. His work can be found in Pidgeonholes, Maudlin House, Ellipsis Zine, CHEAP POP, and Hobart, among others. Find him @JaredPovanda and jaredpovandawriting.wordpress.com
shame street hotel
Long ago but yesterday, the technicolor corporations took over Manhattan. They power washed Times Square, de-loused the Lower East Side, scraped the gum from the sidewalks of the Upper West, and added neon to the Upper East. They gilded the brownstones of old money and created full service apartments for the new. Still, it wasn’t perfect.
There were poor gray people without botox or booty lifts or dermabrasion. Hungry people who had lost their jobs during the war on poverty and just wanted a quarter for a cup of coffee. Worse, sad people. This was the greatest city in the world, it was a privilege to live here. So the wealthiest and most beautiful held a fundraising dinner at the restaurant; where bowls that held 5 pieces of macaroni decorated with one dot of sprout sauce and unicorn piss went for 74 gold bricks. At the dinner it was decided the Sads Had To Go. The rest would shape up or swipe their metro cards and take the subway out of the city to resettle in the faraway land of Someone Else’s Problem. The Beautiful bricked up the poor doors, ditched the dirty water hot dogs, turned the bodegas into day spas for pedigreed kitties, sent Those People to live in defunct subway tunnels, and commissioned Fabulous Artist (FA, to those in the know) recognized for his collaborations in years past with Pizza Rat, to solve the Sad. Unbeknownst to FA, they also commissioned Pizza Rat for a separate project.
FA understood what was needed from his hookup thirty years earlier with an intern in the City Planning Department, and set out for the most successful dumps. He dug below the pavement, deep before they were full market rent. He sculpted a woman from bits under Battery Park, rusty filings under Ellis Island, pulverized stones under the FDR Drive, rat bones from under Riker’s Island, diapers under the Second Avenue Subway, and to be sure the outer boroughs would stay away, some cigarette filters from Great Kills on Staten Island. FA named her Despair, a lovely name for a lovely woman, if a bit moldy from the constant flow of tears.
The Beautiful were thrilled. They threw gold bricks at FA in gratitude until his skull caved and heaved him into the East River, along with any bricks they couldn’t get clean of brain matter. They deposited Despair in an abandoned boutique hotel on Shame Street—one city block in Tribeca most didn’t remember existed, behind Hudson. The hotel held oak gothic revival panels shipped from England, timeless black and white tiled bathrooms with waterfall shower heads and clawfoot bathtubs, and an empty failed restaurant where the unicorn piss chef had once worked as a prep cook.
In the mirrors by the elevators Despair cried the tears of the clean and beautiful and golden until the mirrors cried back at her, and she was wet from the mucus coming through the smoky glass as much as from what rolled off her nose.
Despair was quite fond of crying in the bathtubs; her tears prompted the growth of a lush green moss up the steel gray curtains, and the antique panels that lined the walls of the sitting rooms and hotel corridors sprouted mushrooms, with colors and patterns and fans FA could never have imagined. She had the run of the top eight floors of the eighteen story hotel. No access to the restaurant, but she had the penthouse suites, and grew adept at tucking herself into the old fashioned dumbwaiters when the view felt too much.
After several years, the mysterious yowling she waltzed to at night had subsided, the tubs had all rusted, and Despair found the young people who climbed the scaffolding outside her rooms became tiresome. A flash of rotten boob sent them down quickly enough, but their gawks and eternal smiles made her…not sad, but furious, which only made her cry harder, until her tears found the weak spots in the leaded windows (repurposed from an abandoned castle in Romania) and rushed the cracks until they burst, half the youth drowning and the other half splattering against the cement below.
The splatter caused a curious sort of howl from the lower floors of the Shame Hotel, which sent Despair to the bathroom vents, calling out to see who was there, but the only response she received was her mushrooms hollowing out overnight.
Still she kept crying. And the Beautiful in the surrounding high rises soon found mold sprouting on their 1000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets and mushrooms blooming on their antique panels. Below, under the sidewalks in the secret tubes that used to make the city run, moans gathered into a great wind.
Despair loved the wind immediately, the way it met her tears to create riptides in the gutters and typhoons in the Seaport. The wind loved her back, crooning through the fireplaces and old radiators until she understood its song. The wind was Hunger, shaped by Pizza Rat—he’d learned a trick or two from FA—of old ash left behind in the same dumps that had created Despair. Hunger lived on the lower floors of the hotel, had been gnawing on the molded plaster roses along with the flora produced by Despair ever since polishing off the last of the old bodega cats in the first decade.
The Beautiful said to hell with it. We’re tired of salt water eroding our botox, our pipes clogging until the bidets are hawking thick green phlegm. The wind tunnels between our luxury buildings can never be tamed, the historic soot from below keeps setting into our grout. Our youth seduced by old tears until they drown in them. New York is over. They left to their country homes and beach cottages and used their gold bricks to take over Someone Else’s Problem.
Despair and Hunger met on floor nine, where neither lived, and left the Shame Street Hotel.
Anne Perez is a lifelong New Yorker and word lover who explores the extraordinary of the ordinary through fiction and sporadic blogging.
A T A I L
Originally, I had a constricted feeling in the left side of my jaw which continued to tighten as my chin began to grotesquely swell. After two days of this worsening condition, during which the abnormality continued to grow more pronouncedly public, I surprisingly awoke with an incredible sense of release, as my jaw, though still slightly swollen, had receded and no longer hurt to touch.
The previous night had provided a needed distraction: an evening excursion to the ‘Shoe for another reunion tour farewell that couldn’t be missed, a marathon session from local heroes The Low Tones, renowned for playing 4 times faster than any other live act. This time it was definitely their final show. The ‘Shoe was bursting at the seams...the laces ridiculously loose. Fans were passing out. Electricians rushed in and out switching stretchers. There wasn’t any time or space to be consumed by personal clinical concern. It was a sight to be seen.
Awaking the next morning with the aforementioned cessation of any painful sensation, I experienced that rare sense of gleeful abandon and optimism that the possibility of recovery allows. Any additional frustration associated with my present location - a mouse infested rented basement bachelor apartment just off of Little Vistula - dissipated. Even the incessant gag clicking and intermittent snoring of the neighbouring basement occupant (in her own closed abode), a clandestine survey of “click codas” communicating with some mysterious correspondent or summoning a cult, caused little disturbance or interference to my current resolute relief.
Still curious as to the cause of this reversal of infection, I sought to examine my reflection. Beholding my bearing in the bathroom mirror, I was abjectly stunned when I saw a gush of fetid effluent ejecting from a circular recession in my chin below my lower teeth.
My dentist, Dr. Kent, assured me it was no emergency and agreed to see me immediately - in two days. I worried if, like in a nightmare, my mouth was collapsing, my face debacling, crumbling into crumbs of bone and cartilage. I wondered what would happen if a mouse got in when I wasn’t paying attention. The scurrying began to echo.
I cautiously negotiated the interim between my discovered affliction and my scheduled appointment. I avoided any altercation that may elicit an unexpected excitement. I tenaciously wore scarves to cover my mouth and jaw - even indoors. Unexpectedly, the opening in my chin continued to expand and fortify. And yes, waves still travelled through this passage, this path connected to some deep recess within me, but now the nature of the issue had transformed. After that initial noxious ejection I detailed earlier, the transmissions became guttural wails, unit utterances, solely sonic vibrations, sessions which joined into longer patterns becoming phrases, then themes and finally, to the keen ear, songs.
The morning came and I took the train to see my dentist.
After epic preliminary excavations and cavernous excursions under my dentist’s attention, I sat again in reception, awaiting prognosis. I sat beside the air vent and a woman named Delphine who was an Air Traffic Controller. She was here today accompanying a friend for a “scaling”. The glass aviary for finches that was usually in the waiting room had been temporarily replaced (while it was being cleaned) by a mother-in-law’s tongue plant decorated with copper bells. Beside this configuration, Delphine sat chewing on a Reader’s Digest and lapping up an article on dolphin endorphins.
I know because I asked.
I told her of my infection but withheld informing her of my abnormal spout. It was hidden or, I guess, we were disguised by a plaid scarf. Regardless, I could not demonstrate the resulting ability at this particular moment, for at this ebb, I only had a hollow hole in my chin through which I could issue forth deep communication, but currently, civilly, this early in the morning, wasn’t.
I was called back to the dentist’s chair. He removed my scarf and opened my mouth again for a peek. He sat back, took a deep breath and said, “You better have a good memory...at least one.”
He explained that I had a fistula : an abnormal hole (for humans), like a whale’s blowhole. He added that the word is from the Latin for flute, and I imagined Mercury and Pan frolicking around, flirting with miniature wood nymphs, dryads and maidens. I thought of a homunculus Mozart composing his “magic flute”, trying on shoes, whistling, possessed by some intimation of legacy and the immediate impact of permanence. Or perhaps the Pied Piper of Hamelin, who could be a hero or a villain depending on which population is questioned.
My dentist admonished such theatrical diversions by donning a headlamp, shaking his head and ordering me to, “Open wide.” He peered into my mouth and then changed his focus to the hole in my chin. He suggested that I concentrate on personal contexts and accept the seriousness of my spatial oddity. He entered his inspection mirror.
Dr. Kent explained, “Now, we need to extract the abstract subtract...or is it subtract the abstract extract…? Anyways, your fistula is the result of an impacted wisdom.”
I was relieved. He seemed to have a plan, though I was dismayed by the intimation that my wisdom was in some way compromised by a previous collision: Hewn? How?
“First, though, please take off your shoes, I need to see … the end...your end...if there’s a fluke - at the end. A whale’s tail, a fluke. It may be too late to reverse the transformation. Removing your wisdom could be disastrous to your survival, if the change is past a certain point, so I need to know… is your end, the end, a fluke?”
Ryan lives in Kitchener, Ontario, which is located in the Haldimand Tract. He's had pieces published in "The Changing Image: Dorothy Shoemaker Literary Awards" and "The Wedding Present: Sometimes These Words Just Don't Have To Be Said". To read more about Ryan, visit https://ryanboggsblog.wordpress.com.
I suck on a strawberry milkshake and watch as you eye-fuck Emily Carson from across the quad. Chunks of strawberry get stuck in my esophagus, but I choke them down. You say you got the milkshake special, just for me, like I personally inspired the liquidizing of frozen cream. But I hate strawberries, and you know I hate strawberries. When I was a kid, I was allergic. My face swelled up like a cherry balloon. I showed you pictures. You laughed, folded your favorite one, and stuck it in your back pocket as a keepsake—something to remember me by.
Emily Carson has beach-blonde hair, but a lot of people say it’s white. It rains down to her ass, all fried and split at the ends like she gets electric shock therapy each morning. Sometimes, I think about cutting off her dead hair with a butcher knife or knotting it to a suction drain or shutting it in her car door. I imagine her skin ripping clean off her melon-shaped scalp, exposing pieces of her brain. I find myself consciously wishing bad things on Emily Carson in hopes that something will materialize—breast cancer, type-two diabetes, dementia, male-pattern baldness, scoliosis, Lyme disease, the measles. Nothing happens, which is why I don’t believe in God anymore. That and my sister—the one with early onset cankles—went off and joined a convent. She had Jesus posters in her room, only listened to Christian rock, and refused to masturbate—even to “Joseph” from the Bible—so I should have known.
I shouldn’t be drinking a milkshake because it’s five-degrees and my hands are frozen, but I keep sucking, watching the thick pink slowly climb up the straw and into my mouth. It tastes like chunky, fruit-piss, as if the maker of the milkshake got lazy and threw in a scoop of expired ice cream to finish the job. She probably gets shit pay, like $2.75/hr, and probably hates her dad and her brother and her pedophile boss who touches her ass when no one’s looking. She’s probably bad at math and has acne from working the grill because Denny, her middle-aged co-worker, got someone to forge a doctor’s note. I forgive her, the milkshake girl. I’m actively trying not to blame women for things incompetent men—incompetent boys—do. I don’t believe in grown “men” anymore, not since I saw my brother jerking off to Looney Tunes and a box of frosted Mini Wheaties. I’ve almost lost faith in humanity, completely, which is like hard to do because milkshakes and respectful porn still exist.
There’s a hidden message behind you buying me a strawberry milkshake, behind letting the residue drip onto my favorite pleated skirt, behind shoving it in my hands like a terminal patient. When I catch you eye-fucking Emily Carson, I get it. The milkshake is my pacifier because I’m your baby. When you need me to shut up, you make my mouth busy. So, I suck and suck and suck. I suck better than I ever have, but you’re not watching.
That day I first saw your midriff, I thought you were a skinny God with department store jeans and a pretty-boy haircut. I thought about tasting your saliva and using it as a dipping sauce. I wrote poems about your spit, your breath, your armpit sweat. You were two years older than me, and I still had braces and didn’t know how to use a tampon. I wanted to be with someone older, someone with gray-hair experience, someone who took blood pressure medication and had monthly payments, but I was scared. I didn’t know CPR, and I didn’t want some geriatric to die on me. So, I settled for you. You wanted power, to control someone like some kind of fucked-up experiment, and I was the perfect specimen. Both malleable and easy.
At lunch, I only drink milkshakes. Chocolate or vanilla. Sometimes cookies ‘n cream. Never strawberry. It’s part of this fasting thing my mother’s making me do because I’m not a size 1, 2, or 3. You know this because I tell you about the Dairy Diet in the backseat of your car, when your fingers are deep inside me. Your nails are too long and, afterwards, I have to fish old French fries out of my hair and drink a jug of cranberry juice to avoid a string of urinary infections. I never get one, by the way, an infection. You never ask. You just keep on eye-fucking Emily Carson like she’s a full-blown woman with a unicorn vagina while I drink your stupid milkshake. I saw you infuse it with that rat poison you bought off the internet, but I drink it anyway because you tell me to, because you’re older than me and because my sister is a nun, so God has to save me by association.
I give the rest of the milkshake to Emily Carson in solidarity. She’s on the Dairy Diet too. The next day, we’re both sick with rat poisoning, shitting blood in your pretty-boy initials. When I stop bleeding, I break into your room and rip out your eyes with an ice cream scooper so you can’t eye-fuck anyone anymore. Not even me.
Gabrielle McAree is from Fishers, IN. Her work appears or is forthcoming in X-R-A-Y, Berkeley Fiction Review, Mason Jar Press, Reckon Review, Reflex Press, and elsewhere. She's on Twitter @gmcaree_.
mosh pit cnf
I’ve never been kicked by a mule or been near enough to be kicked by one. I’m not sure Daddy’s ever been kicked by one either but he tells me, “Brace yourself,” and wrings my hand on the stock of the big bolt-action rifle he calls a thirty-aught-six, jaw loose with awe around the name. “This one kicks like a mule.” We’re out at a dry kink in the creek where the hillside makes a steep backstop for our target practice. Daddy set up thick billets of wood crowned with aluminum cans, bleach and vinegar jugs, knotty red-brown apples, lime-green hedge apples.
I brace myself by spreading my feet wide and hunching around the gun the way he does. I can barely hold the 30-06 without toppling over. He knows I’m too small, but he wants me to know how to use it, to know how it sounds and feels for when I need it. With Daddy, there’s no “if” in shooting guns – it’s “when,” and that means I have practice now. I come from a long line of expert marksmen, and Daddy knows I’ve got it in me even if I’m small. Even if I’m a girl.
The 30-06 is the hardest gun for me to shoot. If I can handle this one, I can take down a bull. A single cartridge can hit a man at a thousand yards.
We’re not a thousand yards from our targets. We’re not even a hundred yards, I don’t think. He says, “You only gotta fire once.” So I squint my eyes, pretend I’m seeing something through the scope, and squeeze the trigger. The force sends me into the creek bed where I sit, deafened and stunned in a flurry of dragonflies and water spiders.
Daddy limps across the rocks to inspect the targets. “Shit Ed, you blasted its brains clean out! That’s my girl!” He holds up a hedge apple and turns it to show me its exploded milky lobe, then places another one on the billet.
After the 30-06, we fire the .22 rifle, and Daddy’s favorite, the Remington M40. I fire each gun, cringing and wobbling, zinging a can off its perch or sending a bullet snapping through the underbrush. When it’s his turn we walk a long way down the creek.
I can tell the M40 is his favorite rifle because he keeps his best scope mounted on it and practices shooting it laying down the way he did in the Marine Corps. He shoots each can and bottle first, then bursts the little brown apples and big hedge apples off their posts. While he reloads I run to the targets, pretending I’m winning the hundred-yard dash, and set them all back up for him. It reeks of bleach and vinegar and corn syrup and tangy fruit rot.
I hold each target up like I’m a prize model on a game show, not knowing if he can see. In my last flourish, I slice the skin between my thumb and forefinger on a shredded can. The cut stings instantly, but there’s nothing I can do except clench my fist and run back.
But now Daddy’s gone inside his past, where I’m just a dream. He shoots one can down and lays there like he’s too tired to move. The cut on my hand is dirty, dark, throbbing. I squeeze it tight.
Daddy doesn’t notice. “I wish this was real life,” he says without looking at me.
Then he recites his Vietnam story about the children who run right over him as he lays in the mud. The bird who lands on his back. The woman walking through with a stick who he lets go because she’s alone and small and that’s her home and he never shoots no women or children. He tells and tells and tells this story, defoliant coming down on him and burning the backs of his hands.
This is real life: the bird, the woman, the children, orange smoke as the planes come over. I stand over him, not real life, dribbling blood.
The side of his face presses on the limestone slab as though he’s listening right through the earth. “Where are they going?” he asks, voice cracking. “Do they make it?”
He talks away from me, whispers his children, woman, bird into the gun, hugs down around it when he fires.
Edie Meade is a writer, artist, and mother of four in Huntington, West Virginia. She is passionate about literacy and collects books like they’re going out of style. Say hi on Twitter @ediemeade or https://ediemeade.com/.
lost and found
1. In New York City, inside Central Park, on the path through the woods, you dropped my hand and didn’t pick it up again. Later you never called and I forgot your name, lost your number when I changed phones, apartments, states.
2. On the subway, the seat next to me was empty and then a man stumbled on at the Bleeker street station, smelling of booze and urine and urban decay. He took the empty seat next to me. I wanted to get up and move. But that seemed wrong so I stayed, only one more stop anyway. I’ve always wanted the courage to be kinder than I am most days.
3. A book, the title I cannot remember, about a woman who is the daughter of God, the sister of Jesus and she lives in New York City and she visits God, who is a sponge in the ocean off Long Island or maybe Atlantic City. I bought it at the Strand and found myself in its pages—lost and wandering. Then left it on a bench in Washington Square Park on my lunch break.
4. The desire to fly. It grows the higher you climb inside the stacks of the Elmer Holmes Bobst library. I stare down at the black and white tiles, Escher-like tessellations and suddenly think how beautiful a stream of garnet or crimson would be traveling across its surface. I did not realize it then, but later I will be grateful I did not jump that day.
5. The day I walked Sixth Street from the Washington Square subway stop all the way to Central Park without speaking to a single soul except the Irish guy at the bar near Bryant Park and West 43rd. He sold me a Dos Equis and gave me shots of vodka and we shared stories about home, family and the things we misplace when we migrate.
6. God at The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park and the rooms and rooms of medieval art that I hadn’t expected and didn’t like. Christ on the Cross hanging in the Fuentidueña Apse with his questioning eyes following me as I moved through the chapel, until I grew hot and blushed under his knowing gaze.
7. Confidence. At the Nuyorican Poets Café on a Wednesday night while sipping a glass of water because my throat has gone so dry I cannot speak and realizing that these are poets, this woman with braids stacked upon her head like cairns slamming wisdoms like drum beats against your wire-taut brain. Because these are writers, these are everything you thought you would be, could be, but aren’t and its best to get up now, slide quietly around the full tables and out the smoky entrance and take the D train back to your shared flat on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn, pack a suitcase and book a flight home to Bama because you will never hurl words with such brazen poise and erudite originality.
Jamie Etheridge's writing has been published in X-R-A-Y Lit, (mac)ro(mic), Bending Genres, JMWW Journal, Emerge Literary Journal, Coffin Bell Journal and Inkwell Journal among others. Connect with her on Twitter @LeScribbler.
SO WE HE DID IT
All my sexual transgressions flash behind my eyelids while I’m splay-legged, legs in stirrups.
The doctor is poking around with latexed hands. I’m thinking about sex in the bath. “We can’t use a condom,” my boyfriend had said that time. “It’ll float off.”
“What if I get pregnant?” He’d just laughed at me, reminded me I was on the pill. So we did it.
The doctor inserts a speculum, and I think about the time, at a party, on my hands and knees. We were surrounded by people, and I was reluctant, but he plied me with alcohol until my guard was down. So we did it.
I remember him turning me around and blowing his load on my face.
“What the fuck?” I’d said. That time, he was supposed to wearing protection. It was BC; before contraceptives.
“What?” he said, wiping himself off with his underwear, then tossing me mine.
“What happened to the condom?” I fumbled in the dark, pulling my underwear on inside-out, brushing dirt off my knees.
“It fell off.” I didn’t question it then. But now? Now I wonder: when did it come off. Did he take it off? Did he fucking stealth me, that fucking asshole?
The doctor yanks her gloves off with a snap, then tosses them in the waste basket. I get dressed then perch on the edge of the plastic chair.
“So,” the doctor says while typing. “What are you concerned about?”
This is it. I’m so embarrassed, but hey—she’s a professional, right? She’d see this type of thing all the time. I’ve put it off for long enough; done so much Googling, screenshotted so many vulvas, probably now I’m a Person of Interest.
“I think my boyfriend gave me herpes.” Immediately, the words sting my mouth, as though verbalizing them makes them true.
The doctor stops typing, whips off her glasses. She stares at me. I hold my breath, waiting for her to say it. Waiting for her to tell me: I have an STD.
“You don’t have herpes,” she says.
It doesn’t sink in immediately. I sit there, stunned.
“What?” I finally say.
“You don’t have herpes,” she repeats. “The signs are not consistent.”
“Then… What? Why?” I stammer. “Did you see the scabs?”
“Yes. They don’t look like herpes.” She turns back to the computer screen, typing more notes. “What are you using to wash?”
My brain scrambles. “Um,” I reply. “Soap. Why?”
“Bingo! That’s what it is. You shouldn’t use soap. It’s very drying.”
I picture myself, feeling dirty, scrubbing and scrubbing with soap in the shower. I think about all the times “the condom fell off”. The times he stealthed me, because “it felt better”. All the times he’d degraded me, or convinced me to degrade myself. All the times he said it was my fault, I was a disgrace, I deserved it for acting slutty.
The time he goaded me into having sex, even though I was tired and had to study and I just really didn’t feel like it. But he called me a cock-tease and cried and accused me of playing games. As though he had a right to my body, as though he was entitled to my body, when in reality he was just a selfish prick.
And the first time, when he split me because he was too rough and I was too dry and I didn’t know then what I know now. That sex, or the enjoyment of, takes time. Anticipation, desire, deliciousness to be unfurled or devoured. He didn’t know that. Or maybe he knew, but didn’t care.
That split grew into a wound, a constantly weeping wound. I convinced myself I was contaminated and that I could scrub the scourge away. The shame, the dirtiness, the suspected-STD. I’d scrub and scrub with soap. It became a self-perpetuating cycle. According to the doctor, soap only made it worse. So I’d scrub, more wounds would appear, and I’d become more convinced I was infected. So I’d scrub more, and goddamn I was over leaving blood in my underpants and hurting during sex and really, truly I was over having sex with him.
I thought he gave me herpes, but really… He just made me feel unclean.
After my undiagnosis, the first thing I did was toss the soap bar in the trash.
The second thing I did was text him.
I don’t want to see you again, I wrote.
You’re fucking dumped.
K.C. (she/her) lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was the 2020 Perito Prize winner for short fiction, and her work features or is forthcoming in Maudlin House, Okay Donkey Magazine, Rust+Moth, Hobart Pulp, and others.
SHOT IN THE DARK
It’s grown up past the window now. I can tell it’s daytime, though. There’s a dim sort of translucency to it before it gets established and hardens, you see. Soon, it will be impossible to break off, without using a jackhammer…or a flame thrower. Neither of which I have or hope to possess.
I could break the glass…let it in. This new strain would be through the apartment in a day, maybe less. Longer than me. Seal-All ® loves human hosts—or rather, lungs. Anything soft, wet, and moist, really. It grows so fast, you can see someone suffocate before your eyes. But, they’re already dead. If it’s gotten into your lungs, then it’s already made it through your sinus cavity and gotten into your brain. As it sprouts and roots its way through the skull, you can hear a man’s cranial ridge fracture—crack right open. It’s a quick death, I will give it that. But, by the looks of it, it ain’t painless.
I could break the glass. Undo the last six days of sealing and burning and blasting this stuff back to hell. “The Devil’s Kudzu,” that’s what the news called it. But it was just science gone wrong. No wait, that’s not quite right. The science behind it was sound enough. It was just that nature had other ideas. Nature made it better. Stronger.
It started out as an innocuous industrial sealant, you know? The early stuff even had a floral scent to it—do you remember that sickly sweet smell under every overpass? That was Seal-All ® : Rust’s Worst Enemy! TM . They sprayed it everywhere, too: on bridges, in buildings, on cars…anything made of metal that could rust got a nice healthy coating of Seal All ® . One coat, and you never had to paint anything ever again. Hah…you couldn’t paint anything ever again, because the damn stuff would absorb whatever was painted on it. It was completely impervious to graffiti. The gangs hated it. You could always tell a Seal All ® surface: there’d be that dull gleam, that almost wet look to it. Remember how your clothes would kinda stick to metal chairs coated with it? That was Seal-All ® eating the clothes right off your body.
Yep, you could coat something in Seal All ® and never have to paint it ever again. Ever. See, it was organic—one massive organism. Where it got chipped, it would grow back. Where it got scratched (IF it got scratched, which was almost never), it grew back. They painted the San Francisco Bay Bridge with it, remember? That sick greenish orange that didn’t quite match the original paint? They painted it with Seal All ® and then laid off all the workers that used to spend their days scraping off the old paint, repainting the bridge over and over and over again with regular paint—real paint. It was about a week later when one of those guys went after one of the railings with a sledgehammer. He went after the stuff for four or five hours before the hammering finally caught the attention of the port authority. I think he managed to chip off a piece the size of a quarter. The Port Authority Spokesman picked up the chip, put it back in place, and in less than five minutes, the surface looked like it was brand new again.
But, if you look at the footage really close, you can see that the paint is bruised. You could see hundreds of hammer marks. The paint looked mottled…and tighter somehow. Like a scar.
It’s only a matter of time before it engulfs this building like it did the others. A slow, dull gray-green tide. There’s probably enough air in here for a day or two, but it’s already gone stale. There’s almost one-hundred gallons of spray foam in and around the foundation, the doors, the windows, and the roof. This place is airtight! My old man would say that I’ve painted myself into a corner here. But, what can you do when you’re the last one left? Who will save you? Hell, who will bury you? No need, I reckon. Seal All ® will bury me just fine, eulogy or not.
When it was everywhere, painted on just about everything, that’s when it mutated. That’s when it started growing and reproducing. The last of the radio broadcasts seemed to think that it was an adaptation, evolution on a mass scale. The bioluminescent batch—the one that would glow at night, remember?—that strain was so strong, you needed dynamite to remove it. It lived in virtually any climate. Hell, the Department of Defense even used Seal-All ® to coat submarines! But it wasn’t supposed to grow, or at least not grow beyond where you painted it. You put it on a chair, it was supposed to stay
ON the chair, right? Then, the chairs started sticking to the floors. You’d try to pull out a chair and a chunk of the floor would come with it. Nobody could figure out why it started growing. And nobody could figure out exactly how to stop it, either. They even tried Agent Orange, I hear. After the flames cleared, a new colony could be seen under the blackened, curled residue—that gray-green sheen!
It wasn’t long before cars stopped running—the engines completely choked with Seal-All ® . Then, the lights went out. Remember the fire brigades? They set bonfires on intersections, and buildings, and bridges, day after day, only to discover that it had grown back overnight. Then it became airborne. No…that’s not right, exactly. It had to do with spores or something, though. That’s what the scientists said. “Agamogenesis” is the term they used.
Remember that kid in Milwaukee—the first one infected? They kept him alive for what, three hours before his head cracked open like a melon and that thing like a tree root came rolling out? That’s when people really started to panic. I hear that they tactical-nuked Milwaukee shortly thereafter. Too late, too late. Seal-All ® adapted quicker than us dumb monkeys ever could.
Just since I started writing this, the damn stuff has gone that tobacco-brown color halfway up the sill. When it’s brown like that, the outer “bark” is as tough as steel, but inside, it’s still growing. Expanding. Sealing everything.
I could break the glass.
Michael Picco’s a nice guy who writes about very bad things: things with sharp teeth and voracious appetites; things that lie in wait in dark shadows; things that chitter and howl and scream and slither.
Michael is an award-winning short-story writer, poet and essayist; novelist; and occasional columnist living in the Colorado high country. He received his B.A. in English from Western State University in Colorado but his fascination with the genre started when he read The Outsider by H.P. Lovecraft in third grade. Since college, he has contributed to a number of well-reviewed anthologies and has penned an award-winning collection of short stories called: Scenes from the Carnival Lounge, A Collection of Odd Tales. Following the success of Scenes..., Michael released his second collection, Corpse Honey, A Banquet of Gruesome Tales in 2020. Michael is a member of the Denver Horror Collective and the Colorado Independent Publishers Association.
When he's not writing, you'll find him out wandering through the hills: drawing, reading or taking photographs. He finds beauty in odd things, making people laugh and writing things that disturb his mother. You can find out more about him at: https://www.michaelpicco.com or amazon.com/author/michaelpicco
When Janet wakes up screaming her father is already there by her bedside. The Hello Kitty lamp that sits on her nightstand is on, splashing light across his doctor’s coat and the glass of water he’s holding in one hand. Before she can speak, he’s placing two chewable aspirin on her tongue and holding the water to her with a comforting smile.
She’s always had such bad nightmares. She can almost remember this one. Almost smell and hear it. For an instant, there is the feel of wet grass against her knees, the sound of crickets chirping, a man’s humming. But it’s gone by the time her father runs his palm, still smelling of hospital disinfectant, across her brow.
“You’ve had a bad dream,” he says.
Even in the dim light, he looks older than ever. She doesn’t remember him looking so haggard. It’s the long hours. That’s what her mom says. It ages him.
“Yeah. Really bad,” she says.
“Do you remember it?” He continues to soothe her.
“Good. You should try to go back to sleep.”
“Will you stay with me, Daddy?”
“Sing to me?”
Janet is disappointed by his refusal, but sleep is coming for her quickly. Too quickly. Her eyelids sag. Before they close, she sees a spot of brown on the underside of her headboard.
“Daddy, is that blood?”
She never gets an answer. She’s already asleep.
Janet dreams of the park. The tetherball courts are her favorite. She’s better than any girl in her age group. Better than the boys too. It’s because she’s so tough. She hits the ball until the undersides of her wrists are swollen, until her forearms are red and her palms sting. But she doesn’t quit. She can see it hurts the other kids too. She can take it. They can’t.
She defeats a boy almost twice her height. There are tears in his eyes by the end. It makes her that much more aggressive. She hears the slap of the ball against her wrist. She’s vaguely aware of a man watching her from the parking lot. Janet’s father is on a call with the hospital. She can hear him talking about organ transplants.
The next morning, Janet’s father brings her breakfast in bed. French toast, her favorite. The spot she thought she saw the night before is gone. Her father looks ten years older than last night. She wonders if he slept at all, or if he watched her the entire night. She asks him what day it is, and he answers Monday. He winces after he says it.
Shouldn’t she be getting ready for school?
He tells her she deserves a day off after the night she had. What she needs is a day in bed. Rest and relaxation.
He scribbles notes on a pad of paper and watches her as she eats.
“Work?” she asks.
“The notepad. Is it for work?”
“Oh. Yes. For work.”
Something is wrong. She feels it now. The way he’s looking at her--as if he expects her to break apart any moment.
“Nothing is wrong,” he says.
Something is building in her, though. Like the lyrics to a forgot song. She smells rotten leaves. Hears children playing off in the distance.
For a moment she is lying in the grass. A man is there. He’s humming. His face is right next to hers. His voice is rich and deep and it crawls into her ear like a muddy earthworm. He’s got one hand on her wrist where her skin is bruised from the tether ball game and the other over her mouth and—
Her father is right there again. He’s holding out the aspirin.
“Chew,” he says. There’s panic in his eyes, but also resignation. He looks so very tired.
She chews the pills. It helps. She’s just in one place now. Just at home.
Her shoulders droop. Her breathing steadies. Her father sighs. Then goes to take her plate. The edge of it brushes against the inside of her wrist. Pain, sharp and swollen. Something has come off her wrist onto the plate. It looks like makeup. Beneath it, she can see the still purple bruise from the tetherball.
She remembers. Remembers the way the man had challenged her. How she had won. How he said he had a prize for her victory in his car, but instead they ended up in the woods, just out of sight, that humming in her ear, worse things inside her.
Janet’s eyes widen. She screams. With a heavy sigh, her father opens her nightstand drawer and pulls out the bolt gun. He brings it to his daughter’s head and pulls the trigger in one fluid motion. Blood splatters. She lay quiet.
He doesn’t cry. Not anymore. She would have kept screaming. They always did. No matter how thoroughly he scrubbed the clones’ minds, the bodies remembered.
Still, this one had made it further than the rest. All the way until the next morning.
It was progress. He’d get his little girl back. He knew it.
Even if he had to kill her a thousand times.
Barlow Adams is a relatively well-mannered ruffian from Northern Kentucky who has never bitten the head off a bat or smashed a guitar on stage. Though he has been kicked out of several local libraries for overly-aggressive spoken word sets. Best described as punk-lite, read his recent work in Mythic Picnic, Daily Drunk Magazine, BULL, and Reckon Review.
THIRD PLACE (TIE)
THE DEER MAN
My brother called himself the Deer Man. Our mom refused to call him by the name, only ever addressing him as Nathaniel. But to me, the name fit. Even as a little boy, he’d had an uneasy look settled deep within his eyes, like he belonged to the wild. The crazed look of an alley cat searching for its next meal, tired of the human scraps it dragged from the dumpsters.
He’d had no reaction when Dad died. They’d been close, I’d thought: always away on hunting trips as soon as he’d hit double digits. “I’ll teach you to be a man.” The Deer Man left for their trips quietly, always returning dressed in mud and the piss of his prey.
One weekend, when he was just a month past 13, he returned home alone. He’d said nothing as my mom grew increasingly panicked, and a few days later, they found my father’s body limp in a tree. A hunting accident. They said he’d fallen from a higher branch and been impaled on another about fifteen feet below. It had taken him hours to bleed out.
The Deer Man was silent at the funeral, too. Not a tear fell from his eye, not even a quiver of his lips. At the end of the service, we approached the casket as a family. Mom said her goodbyes first, a fitful of stifled sobs and coughing. I dropped my head and let a few tears grace the polished wood. As I turned to leave, I watched my brother stand at my dead father’s side, lifting his stiff cold hand a few inches upwards in a gesture to kiss it. As his mouth met skin, I could almost swear I saw his tongue flit out and lick the back of Dad’s knuckles.
In the years after the funeral, he didn’t say much. He was quiet before, of course, but his sentences became few and far between. A few weeks after the funeral, he stabbed his fork into a steak at the dinner table.
“I am the Deer Man.”
Mom continued to eat. “Your name is Nathaniel.”
His hair stuck up in odd angles, curved around his forehead in sharp lines. He stared between us. “Dad called me the Deer Man.”
He then joined my mom in finishing his plate, but I watched him. He dug his fingers into the meat, ripping it apart slowly. His jagged fingernails left dents in the pieces as he tore through them. He stopped using utensils from that day forward.
Soon, he began continuing the hunting trips alone. He’d be gone for hours, days. He always returned empty-handed. Mom never asked him questions, and he never offered any tales.
I worked up the courage to ask him one day. When he returned from his trip, I stopped him outside his bedroom.
“What do you do out there?”
The Deer Man stared at me. We were the same height now. His arms were skinny, but the desperation in his eyes was always present, letting me know he was anything but weak. His brown irises were cold and damp from so much time alone in the woods.
“I hunt,” was all he said, and he disappeared behind his door.
The cabin was where I spent all my time, isolated with my forever grieving mother and the frail fire that heated our space. No friends, no laughter. Nothing of value happened there. My time was encrusted with the simplest of routines; I knew everything that would happen…except for what my brother would do in those woods.
When I turned 16, I decided it was time that I knew. It only took a few days before I heard the Deer Man’s door creak open late at night, off on one of his excursions. I waited a few minutes, then followed him into the dark.
The crunching leaves and rustling grass could have given me away if the Deer Man wasn’t just as loud as I was. I followed the sound of his trail through the field and its small patches of trees. The half-moon lit the earth enough that I could see its glint in the grease of his hair a hundred feet before me. A border of thick scraggly branches formed the mouth of the forest far behind the safety of our home. As soon as he entered, he became silent.
I hurried to the trees, worried that I’d lose him and meet a violent end to my curiosity that night. I continued forward, waiting quietly every few steps to listen for sounds. But there was only silence.
After twenty minutes of searching in the dark, I gave up. I turned the way I came and began walking.
A fizzling sound stopped me. Slivers of light hit my skin.
I turned to see a tiny clearing on the other side of the trees in front of me. I grasped the wood and peered into the circle.
In it sat a few candles and the Deer Man. The light bit at his feet, casting shadows up his thin body. Sitting upon his shoulders wasn’t his usual face, but that of a deer. Long, covered in fur, dried with rivers of blood, the head of an antlered buck possessed the Deer Man. The flesh torn in certain places, already beginning to decay.
He began to dance.
As his body threw itself around the clearing, I took a step back. A branch cracked.
The Deer Man’s head snapped sideways. Two eye holes had been hacked out so he could look forward. His brown eyes were coal black in the night. He stood still for a few moments, searching for the sound. Finding nothing, he continued his dance, his arms raised towards the sky above.
Micah is an LGBTQ writer living in the Midwest. They often explore queerness, trauma, and mental illness in their poetry and prose, while also making sure to use their work as a way of digging for the beauty in life. They are a loving parent to four very important snails. Twitter @MicahFaulds.
THIRD PLACE (TIE)
THE SWING SHOW
Adam had no idea why a clown was serving fried dough. But he couldn’t solve that mystery; he had a girl to find.
Of all the candies Adam tried in his eleven years, of all the experiences as a pitcher on the Little League mound, of all his birthdays combined, no sensation filled him with more joy than guiding his hand along the perfectly smooth legs of Amy Lindstrom. The event, devoid of creepiness, occurred at Dorothy Becker’s pool party. Multiple girls commented about the condition of Amy’s legs, and everyone rushed over to touch them. Amy, usually reserved, basked in the glory of excessive attention. And why shouldn’t she? She was the star of the party. And while Adam got to touch a part of her body, free of charge, he had to remind himself that the moment probably carried less significance for Amy. She didn’t say anything when he touched them, but she did make eyes with him. That meant something. He was certain.
It had been a week since Adam had seen her. He didn’t have the luxury of a school schedule on his side; it was smack-dab in the middle of the summer. He could go weeks without seeing her. Luckily for Adam, it was the last night of the Stepney Carnival, and everyone he knew was going.
Despite his mother’s objection, Adam went to the carnival anyway. He understood her concern that he’d be alone. But the location was only a ten-minute bike ride away. Furthermore, if he saw a familiar adult, he could make up a lie about his mother (her job as a nurse made fibbing easy) and get a ride. Adam would not miss his chance to tell Amy how he felt. Yet he wouldn’t do it with words; he would do it with an offering.
Adam’s pitching background made him lethal at the water gun game. Aside from 20/20 vision, he had a remarkable gift for accuracy. Even though Amy still hadn’t made her presence known, Adam stepped up to the water gun game, handed a greasy middle-aged man his ticket, and grabbed the pistol. Adam studied his target: a white-faced clown with a red nose (eerily identical to the one near the food truck). The bell went off, and Adam pressed the trigger. A green balloon above the clown’s head filled up rapidly; Adam didn’t need to eyeball the pace of his opponents to know he was about to win.
When the attendant pointed to Adam, he directed his attention to the selection of stuffed animals. He considered a teal elephant and a giant pink flamingo. He closed his eyes, took a long breath, and then asked for his prize.
Adam cruised through the crowd with the elephant. He worried that he would never find Amy. As his nerves made his stomach rumble, his fate finally shifted. He spotted Amy waiting in line for the swing ride!
Adam saw it all play out in his head: he would give her the elephant, she would hug him and ask him to step in line, and they would exchange glances until it was their turn for the ride to begin.
But none of this happened.
Adam made a beeline for Amy, and, as he got within forty feet of her, he realized that not only did she have the pink flamingo he didn’t choose as his prize, she was holding hands with Pete Wooten, a boy from his grade. Of all the boys, it had to be the one that Adam detested most.
Adam spun around in a rage; he walked aimlessly across the grounds. Feeling disoriented by false hope, he bumped into a wide body with bright red pants on.
“Say, say, say… What a day! You, my friend, smell of heartbreak. You reek of it. Cheer up and consume. Eat those feelings.”
The food truck clown handed Adam a fresh batch of fried dough. Adam studied it; the eyes and nose were made of the whitest sugar known to man while the smile, disturbing and crooked, appeared to be made of marinara sauce. It was suspicious. But he was starving. Adam stuffed the dough into his mouth.
“That’s a hungry boy. That’s a young man on the rebound.” Adam nodded to keep the clown smiling. “Too bad there ain’t a genie around ‘cuz sumbody could wish for harm to happen to Amy. For her to lead on boys like that, to allow them to touch her leggies at parties.”
Adam chuckled. His attention shifted towards the swing ride. He spotted Amy and Peter getting strapped in by an elderly attendant. Moments later, the ride started, and the bodies were twirling through the air and screaming with glee.
“I heard that one, pal.”
Adam gulped his food down, coughed, and then cleared his throat.
“Heard what?” Adam asked.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You thought it.” The clown laughed maniacally, licked his lips, and grabbed the back of Adam’s neck. “Eyes on the show.”
The show? Adam wondered. The swing ride’s pace increased, so much so that it was inevitable someone would get hurt. Adam watched as Amy and Peter belted out screams while their swings intertwined, and they were sent flying like human rockets toward the Tumbler.
Adam tried to scream. But a hand, the clown’s hand, covered his mouth. “Can’t go taking it back now; you wished for it.” Before Adam could contest this, he heard a crash.