Category Archives: Archive

Unfurled

Unfurled
by Kiya Krier

“No home toys at school, Rylan,” I said, folding myself into the preschool-sized chair.

He pulled the orange figurine from his pocket. His pants were on backward. Again.

“She’s not a toy,” he said. “She’s a real, live dragon.” The model stood, head held high, front foot cocked off Rylan’s scabbed palm, little wings unfurled slightly.

“Beautiful. Put the toy in your cubby.”

His dark brows drew together. “Ms. Kathy, she doesn’t like when people call her that.”

I glanced at my watch. Three minutes late. “Of course, just put it away.”

I followed Rylan with my eyes as I sang the circle-welcoming song to the rest of the class. His ankles showed between his shoes and pant hems. The scabs were back. If only he would stop picking them.

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Kentucky Rush

Kentucky Rush
by Samuel Marzioli

Megan entered the grocery store looking every bit the part of a homeless woman tramping through to escape the broiling summer heat. The thought even occurred to her when she passed the glass doors of the frozen foods aisle and sneaked a glance at her reflection. There wasn’t much she could do about it, so she swept her hand through the tangles of her hair to break apart the greasy stiffness, and then shrugged and carried on.

She pulled a mangled slip of notebook paper from her purse and read her grocery list from top to bottom. Most of the items had been written down at home during a rare energetic fit, but the feeling had quickly passed and the majority were crossed out on the drive over. Only sandwich ingredients remained, and that suited her just fine. Sandwiches were easy: just a few slices of bread and a slather of something sweet or tart for flavor, and the meal was finished.

After gathering peanut butter, jelly, mayonnaise, and some lunchmeat, Megan rolled her cart to the last stop: the bread aisle. That was when she saw something framed between the darkness of the endcap’s empty shelves. From a distance, it looked almost like a face, peering at her from around the corner, utterly black but for the whites of its eyes. She squinted, trying to extract detail, to clarify it as something more than just a blur, but her eyesight wasn’t what it used to be.

“Hello?” she said, taking a step forward.

From the size of its head, she knew its owner couldn’t be much older than ten or twelve. She wondered if it was a child playing a game with her and whether it was lost and scared and waiting for a parent.

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Coming Home

Coming Home
by Priya Sridhar

Three cops tried to stop me as I made my way down the street. No, three cops is a wrong way to say it. It was more like three cops, each with their personal arsenal of grenades strapped to their belts, attack dogs, and large cars. In fact, I had only seen cars like these in my army days, when I had been a commander.

“I have to get home,” I tried explaining to one guy. He was wearing riot gear and riding an armored truck. I had been shuffling down the street, moving slowly because I couldn’t see out of one eye.

“Road’s closed!” He shouted at me through a bullhorn. “Go back!”

“I can’t,” I said, calmly. It never helped to get angry with the police, no matter how stupid they were. The last time I had lost my temper …

“Move or I’ll make you move!” he screeched. His fingers went to his grenades, preparing to toss them.

“Then make me,” I said, unbuttoning my shirt and rolling my eyes. I had been wearing an aqua-blue polo that night; I was still wearing it. There hadn’t been time to change, probably because my mind had been in a strange place full of blackness and murky images. Too much chatter, too many blurred memories congealing into an ugly mess that I didn’t want to remember.

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The Other End of the Lake

The Other End of the Lake
by Dara Marquardt

I don’t remember much about my death. I don’t even think of it very often. At first, it was all I could think of, but that only lasted a little while. Now, I know that I’m dead. There’s no sense rehashing it.

What I really recall is the white. Sometimes I think about it as I watch him sleep. I think of the blinding white light and wonder if that’s where heaven comes from. There were slices of light that night, and they remain sharp, like cut stone. The white of headlights dancing off the rim of the steering wheel. The scattered diamonds of rain on the windshield. The wipers as they scrape against glass. The chrome door handle shining as I put the key in the lock. The glow of the stereo as I turned the knob.

I remember looking at Jane. She was burning as she sat by the hospital bed. She was burning as she’d burned in a field of golden green the first time I saw her. Her mouth a clever smile, her eyes like two secrets, her skin like white honey. She was beautiful then, with her blonde hair down and tree shadows hiding the edges of her cheeks. And she was beautiful in that T-shirt she slept in, sweatpants on, our daughter on her lap.

She was beautiful when I died. I don’t think I’ll forget that.

It was hard at first, to look at things. Everything was very bright. Jane, maybe because I loved her, love her still, was the brightest. But our daughter was bright, too. I remember wanting, needing, to reach out and touch her cheek. To feel the fine strands of her brown hair. To be near her. To feel the warmth of the light burning through her.

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Little Cracks

Little Cracks
by Jesse Sprague

At the foot of the stairs, two steps away from the light switch, sits the doll. Cracks web her ancient porcelain face, and her hair is thinning in the wig over her carved scalp. A quirk of the house puts the light switch at the bottom and not the top of the wooden slat stairs. After I descend, I must frantically slap the light on. Before the bulb illuminates, her eyes are the only thing I can see—orange with tiny pinpoints of black at the center.


“Is this a joke?” Father yells. “This is how people get sick! Does this water feel hot enough to kill anything?” His grip on my wrist tightens as he drags me back to the sink and shoves my hand into the soapy water.

Silence is golden when he’s like this. I should know.

“They’re clean!” I say. “Leave me alone!”

He turns on the spout, still bellowing. The words strike my ears, but I don’t hear them. Steam begins pouring up as he tosses the dishes I just finished cleaning into the sink. Only the red handle is on. I take a few steps away from him as the last of the plates plunges into water so hot even Father thinks it kills germs. What does he think it will do to me?

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The Woods

The Woods
by Jacob Stark

Tom took a long, slow pull on the joint, held the smoke for a ten count, and released it to the world through the open window of the pickup. He coughed long and hard before expertly flicking the excess ash from the tip, and passed the joint to the driver.

Shane took the half-burned joint between his thumb and index finger, lifted it to his lips and inhaled deeply. The cherry flared, spitting sparks that danced in the air like hellish fairies before getting sucked out of the window. Shane took two swallows of Budweiser before exhaling, grinning wolfishly at Tom.

“Not a bad way to end the fuckin’ day, eh, Tommy boy?”

Tom nodded in agreement, his own can of suds pressed to his lips, rendering him momentarily mute.

Shane and Tom had grown up together, attending the same schools, ball games, and church functions since they were in the third grade. After graduation, they’d both opted out of college and landed jobs in the pulp mill of the local paper mill. It was backbreaking work, but it paid 18 dollars an hour, practically a fortune to a twenty-something from rural Alabama.

“These damn woods seem like they go on forever, like they could just swallow you up and the world would just forget you ever existed,” Tom said. He stared out the window into the dense pine forest. At just past ten o’clock, the darkness was all-consuming. “Lookin’ in there makes you wonder what’s looking back at you.” The worst part, he thought, is not knowin’ what’s out there. Just that something’s there, always watching, biding its time.

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Ashes

Ashes
by Marcus Church

By way of celebration, they took Scott’s ashes to the bluff at Barrett’s Point and let the wind take them. As the Pacific thundered and crashed on the sandstone below, the swirling motes twisted and twined as if struggling to find the form they used to hold. For a heartbeat, Izzy imagined a face in the cloud, and the shadowed pockets of its eyes seemed to regard her.

Her scalp tingled.

He knows.

Karl draped an arm about her shoulders and said, “At last, that fucker’s out of our lives.”

Izzy shrugged his arm away and watched the last of her husband disperse over the sea. “It seems so surreal. Like a dream …”

“I know,” said Karl. Izzy felt the abrasive rub of his stubbled chin against the nape of her neck. His arms snaked about her waist, pulling her tight against him. “Thanks to hubby’s life insurance, you’re a rich widow. A hot, rich widow.” He tongued her earlobe.

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Tongue of the Unloved

This story contains sexually explicit material.

Tongue of the Unloved
by Charles Coffman

Alfie waddled through the depressing little alley behind the butcher shop. He always takes this route to the YMCA. As he stepped from pothole to pothole, he pinched his nose shut. The air really stank, like the underside of an infected toenail. Spoiled cuts of raw meat thrown out by the butcher had been strewn along the pavement by rats and stray cats, and were left to fester half-chewed in the sun. Alfie didn’t mind the smell as much as he minded the flies. They swirled about in lazy black clouds, and glittery purple clusters of them laid eggs in the most spoiled cuts of meat.

Alfie felt low today, lower than usual, as if a big iron fist had bashed his head into the saddest part of his body. He walked like he felt, with his weird slanted eyes downcast at his shuffling feet. Releasing a heartbroken sigh from his lungs every so often, he plucked at the fat and bolder flies that landed on his fish-lips.

He thought about his pear-shaped body and the discolored flabs of flesh that swing about on his chest that Meyer Smitts called “man boobs,” and wondered if he should swim with his shirt on again today. Then Alfie spotted a viscous-looking rat dragging a pink lump across the alley.

The rat looked at him. Alfie looked at the rat. A stalemate.

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Crescent Cross

Crescent Cross
by Robert Luke Wilkins

Walter awoke to the sound of his wife Jessica throwing up in the adjacent bathroom. It happened every morning, a gift of her relentless morning sickness.

He stood, walked to the balcony door, and looked out. The view was spectacular. Their home was nestled against the side of a mountain, and the balcony faced southwest, perfect for sunsets, and the sun wouldn’t blind you awake in the morning. You could leave the curtains and doors open on hot summer nights, and Crescent Cross had plenty of those.

Walter loathed the view.

He heard something smash downstairs, followed by the keening wail of a child. That was Michael. Walter had heard about The Terrible Twos, of course, but had never considered just how terrible they’d be once Michael escaped his crib.

“I’ll deal with him,” he called to his wife. He heard her retch and throw up again. He sighed.

If only they’d known.

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Golden Arms

Golden Arms
by Joshua Mannix

Matthew concentrates as he rolls his new arms in front of his eyes. They’re still skin-colored, as he had requested, but with no marks, moles, scars, or hair, smooth as a baby’s skin. The bulk that his old arms had possessed, the bulk that only earned silver, is present but streamlined.

He flexes his artificial muscles, grips his fists together, and stretches his arms wide. He expects to hear gears turning beneath the skin, like in movies, but nothing makes a sound. The eeriest aspect of seeing the arms in front of him, attached to his shoulders with thin lines indicating where they had made the cut, is that he can’t feel them at all.

“That numbness will be around for a couple of weeks as the nerves connect to the circuits.” Dr. Harrison pokes Matthew’s hands with a needle. If he hadn’t watched the point press into the synthetic skin, he wouldn’t have known it was there. “Make sure you’re keeping an eye on where they go.”

“Yeah, of course.” The doctor chuckles to himself at his joke, but Matthew stares at the foreign limbs without cracking a smile. He sees his hands form a fist in front of him the second after he wills it, but doesn’t feel the tight clench of strength. “How long till I can get these babies working?”

“A few weeks at best, for basic control, but probably a month or two for more intricate use.” Dr. Harrison grabs a computer tablet from the end of the bed and pokes at the screen. “You’ll experience some pain while that happens, a sharp tingling that feels like you slept on it wrong, or itching along your arms that won’t go away.”

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