by Leon Saul
Whirling out of a gauze-gray sky, snow sank into Ronny’s tousled hair. He ran ahead of his older brother John, leaping over a banked, glinting mound on the side of the road. He clutched a dense snowball and launched it at his brother. The frosty fist punched John in the left eye, dusting his eyelashes.
Laughing, Ronny bent over to pick up another snowball, which glanced off John’s right arm, exploding in a shower of white. John muttered a curse, brushed the snow away, and sighed. He watched his brother run farther up the street and followed at his own casual pace, hands stuffed dejectedly into the pockets of his fleece jacket.
Four more days, he thought. Great.
He knew it had been dumb to assume Phil and Marshall would be around during winter break. He could have called from Arizona before flying out to Illinois, or emailed, or hell, checked Facebook, but he’d naively assumed they’d be there and that for one week, they could hang out together again like old times.
But Phil was in France, and Marshall, according to his neighbor Mrs. Piffkin, was in Chicago for his uncle’s funeral. Which left John back in Urbana alone, for five whole days of winter vacation, with no one but his annoying-ass brother Ronny to keep him company.
Continue reading Ms. Vickershelley
Yearning for Life
by Michael Shimek
The solar-powered plastic dancing flower was born on the grounds of a dirty and insufficiently vented factory in China, a cheap imitation of the more popular and better-known brand manufactured in a nearby country. Its mother, a young girl no older than 16, assembled the pieces with care, like she did with every product she worked on. She treated all of them as her precious babies.
For 4 renminbi an hour—a higher wage than most places around her village—Li Jing Ma was the mother to thousands.
Each flower took 23 minutes to produce. At the end of the assembly line, Li Jing’s job was to connect all the individual pieces to form the finalized toy. Her delicate hands, worn and withered enough to look four times their age, worked meticulously to complete the task.
The coil was glued to the bottom. She slipped the magnetic leaves and flower into their swinging slots on the top. A circuit chip no larger than her fingernail slid into a slot on the bottom, which was then attached to the solar panel above with some yellow wires. A blue pot that mimicked the sky (she wished she could have clothes as colorful) snapped the whole trinket into place.
Continue reading Yearning for Life
by Tom Jolly
Everybody thinks their own baby is special.
We noticed that Jimmy could shape things before he was one year old. Baby bottles would show his fingerprints, and I thought he was going to be a superman. Jennifer just thought he had a good grip.
A month later, some of the wooden bars on the side of the crib had been twisted into S shapes. Yeah, he’s gonna be a superhero, I thought. He’s powerful, he can change things.
“The humid weather just made the boards warp,” Jennifer said. She couldn’t believe it. But I knew Jimmy was the next step in evolution, the New Man.
Continue reading Gifted
What the Mirrors Keep
by Erin Cole
It all started on the night of the housewarming dinner, when my best friend Ted and his wife Sarah had come over for dinner to see our new house. It was the cusp of normal times, when relationships were healthy and friendships were strong, but something dark had pervaded Ted’s thoughts that night, and it muted him for most of the evening.
He drew me outside to the deck for a drink, likely intending to tell me about it.
“House looks great,” he said. “Classic, although I pegged you as being more modern.” I had never known Ted to care about home décor.
“What’s up with you?” I said. “You’ve barely spoken a word tonight.”
Ted clinked the ice in his drink and spoke in a deep, husky voice. His serious voice.
“Tell me, Paul, are you happy? I mean, really happy?”
Ted had always been at odds with Janelle. She was different from other woman: quiet, graceful, keenly ambitious, didn’t like the word no. Ted had confronted me once, saying that love didn’t pull you away from others; it was supposed to bring you closer to them. I’d always thought he was jealous, and it was never more obvious than that night.
Continue reading What the Mirrors Keep
by Robert Stahl
Nobody paid attention to the old black man as he hobbled through town that morning, not the kids on school buses, not the commuters driving to work, not even the mailwoman as she made her rounds. The old man didn’t care; he liked it that way. He walked slowly, his rheumy eyes scanning the ground for potholes, the tip of his cane pole bobbing behind him.
When he made it to the city park, he looked out across the pond and smiled. It shone like the sun in the morning light, reflecting an inverted image of the landscape that shimmered in the breeze. He hoped lots of fish were swimming beneath its surface, unlike the spot he’d visited yesterday. One thing was for sure, you couldn’t tell by looking. Surfaces were deceiving; you never knew what lay hidden on the other side.
He dropped his equipment—a small cooler and a tackle box—on the shore near a clump of reeds and lifted his face to the sky. Fresh air, sunlight, a slight breeze out of the east. Not another soul in sight. Yes, today would be just fine for fishing.
Continue reading Surfaces
Where the Heart Is
by Michael B. Tager
Barry Saunders sat in his normal seat at the bar and drank watered-down diner coffee as he watched his new favorite waitress, Simone. He’d finished his regular Friday night meal of steak and potatoes (not as good as his mother used to make, but certainly a step up from his own cooking) and was waiting for eight o’clock so he could go home and watch one of those “lawyer shows,” as he called them. Barry knew they had specific names, but they all blended together.
There was the actor who used to be a movie star and now seemed to be slumming it. There was some tattooed and/or pierced person who used his or her brains in non-traditional ways to solve crimes. And there were many, many disproportionately attractive people who would never be cops or lawyers in real life. The shows were all the same and all kind of terrible, but that’s what Friday was for. In the meantime, he liked to stare at Simone.
She was young, just out of high school, and had soft brown curls and the cheerleader’s body he’d obsessed over when he was a youth himself. She wasn’t classically pretty, and he’d overheard some other customers making snide comments about her snub nose and teeth that badly needed braces. Whenever she passed him, however, Barry would try a feeble smile.
Continue reading Where the Heart Is
Girl in Amber
by Melody Sage
Sparse houses that once belonged to farms lined the highway like knots on a rope indicating leagues at sea. Forests of thin white pines and silvery poplars engulfed the old fields. Wanderers had to be mindful of rusted barbwire hidden in the grass.
In the ditch, Amber and Billy picked fistfuls of weeds for their mothers: daisies, yarrow, and Queen Anne’s lace. Pale, frilly flowers that smelled medicinal.
They lived a mile apart and rode their bikes every afternoon to meet at the river. In actuality, it was a metal culvert with a trickling stream, but they called it a river. The water cascaded into the depths of a clear, glint-flecked, ale-colored pool. Like a diorama or a slide on a microscope, it was all the more captivating for its miniature scale, a kingdom of dappled light.
They had collected grayed wood and car parts to make a shelter. Inside, they kept supplies—bottles of iced tea and rain-swollen paperbacks. They harbored an elaborate fantasy, one they were almost too old for, that someday they would run away together and live there.
Continue reading Girl in Amber
by Voss Foster
Her house was nothing to be noticed by normal people. At most, someone might glance at it and wonder why someone had built down there, between the two hills. As they whipped along the highway in far too much of a hurry, they might even try to imagine what it looked like before time had worn it down to rough, splintered wood. Those imaginings weren’t grand and weren’t expected to be.
The house was a shack—in the most complimentary of lights—guarded by a pair of gnarled trees. It sat at the edge of a drainage field, or perhaps a bog, to the most optimistic viewers. Neither option was pleasant nor open to grandeur, but the trickle of those imaginings was enough to keep Sazir alive, if not happy. She hadn’t been happy for hundreds of years.
She moved as little as possible, conserving her energy, storing it in boxes and jars around the walls of the shack so she would have it for the occasional drought later on. She’d been around long enough to expect them and too close to dying to not prepare.
Continue reading Wonder
Cry to the Sirens
by Mira Domsky
I slam the back door of the club and lean against the brick wall. It’s rough and cold against the exposed skin of my back, and my toes ache inside my high heels. The alley behind the club is dark, with only one orange sodium light fixed to the wall above me.
I’m still furious with Lucas, the cheating bastard, and I need a cigarette. I’m fishing in my purse when I hear the sound, like someone chewing something juicy with their mouth open. I lick my lips and turn toward the sound.
The creature looks up at me with an almost human face. It’s smeared with gore, and its clawed hands scrabble at the bloody mess on the concrete. I catch my breath. It fixes wet black eyes on me, then begins to croon sweetly. Its hair smooths from a matted mane to glossy chestnut locks. Its cadaverous face freshens, plumps into that of a woman with smooth skin, high cheekbones, and large, wet, black eyes. It blinks long lashes at me coquettishly, but there is still blood dripping from its pouting lips.
Continue reading Cry to the Sirens
by Kristi Brooks
The fluorescent lights of the 24-hour post office reflected off Tommy’s bleached mullet as the overweight lady behind the counter continued stamping the packages of drug money. Her skin was pocked from years of acne, and the flab on the underside of her arm jiggled a little every time she moved. Tacked to the wall next to her was a picture of two chubby children who looked just as disgruntled as she did. Tommy looked back to his box of packages and tried not to think about what the conception had been like.
The packages didn’t contain bundles of money, but rather porn DVDs with evocative titles like Double the Pleasure and Blow It. Neither he nor his boss really cared about the movies. In fact, it was likely Tommy would receive these same DVDs back in less than a month. No, it was the 100-dollar bills taped on the back of each one—inside the case, but carefully tucked behind the insert—that interested them. This time however, Darlin’ Joe was only going to receive part of his money. Tommy had decided it was time to go out on his own.
His fingers drummed against the hard, gray Formica as the woman continued at turtle-like speed. Each envelope was addressed to one of 10 different P.O. Boxes that were scattered throughout the northeastern states. Once a week, the packages were gathered and taken directly to Darlin’ Joe. The man was a recluse who barely left his high-rise apartment, especially during the day. His pale, blotchy skin spoke volumes of his fear of all things sun related. It was an unusual fear, but it was nothing compared to the man himself.
Continue reading Fine Print