Becca Borawski Jenkins

Digger Needs New Socks

On the days when the things that crawled in the back of her mind became too much, she walked into town. The ocean air flowed up her nostrils, opened her sinuses, and pushed through the lobes of her brain. It imparted the sensation of freeing her thoughts. This sense of freedom—even if, in truth, it was simply choosing to live inside a slightly larger vault—was worth every moment. It was, in fact, critical.

At first, years ago, she had imagined walking into town via the same route each time would be best. The steadfastness of her body’s actions would un-complicate things. But this had proved not to be true. When she thought about it, it had been a bad theory from the start. If the mundane were freeing, she would have been freed already. She would be freed anew daily. She would be so free that it might become mundane itself, and wouldn’t that be quite the complication. A true conundrum. Perhaps quantum in scope.

Since that realization, she walked into town via a different route every time. Sometimes she went in the mornings, sometimes in the afternoon. Sometimes she went left, left, right, and sometimes she didn’t turn at all. Sometimes she went up the hill, and sometimes she stopped for a while and sat on the park bench after the third right after the left, right, left. But no matter, she always found a way to wander past the ocean.

There, where the sidewalk turned to parking lot turned to rock pile turned to beach, she would breathe in the sickening rot of low tide and let the shrieks of the seagulls fill her ears. It was cathartic on some level that she herself had never understood. Like repeatedly licking something foul, like smelling your dirty clothes, like dating the wrong man.

There, where the sidewalk turned to parking lot, just a few steps back from the beach, a small wagon stood sentry. Maybe in its time it had been a fancy red Radio Flyer, but now it looked rusted, and bondo-ed, and painted again. Still red, but not the red of childhood dreams. Precise rows of colored bottles filled its bottom. Blue, then aqua, then purple, then blue again, then green. Tall, then short, then tall again, then fat. Each dusted with ocean sand and crusts of bacteria-laden mud.

A small sign hung from the wagon handle.

“Beach bottles 5¢.”

Each day the bottles changed, though she never saw the wagon arrive or depart. She imagined a man must pull it, certainly somebody did, but since she never saw this man or even the wagon in motion of its own accord, it occurred to her that the bottles might rearrange themselves whenever she wasn’t looking. This mystery took a hold in her mind, and with each walk its purchase grew the tiniest bit larger. Now, after months—or was it years?—of her daily purposeful losings of herself, she found herself consumed with the empty bottles. How did they get there? When did they leave? Did they simply transform or did someone exchange them?

Today, she allowed herself more time than normal, or at least usual, at the place where the sidewalk transitioned to parking lot. She didn’t worry about the trail of thoughts that might be following her, that might track her here. She had a thought in the front of her mind. She had a theory to test.

She stood in front of the wagon and blinked.

She blinked again.

She blinked longer.

No, the bottles remained the same. Was it that she looked a certain amount of times and then they changed? No, that was ridiculous. If she fell asleep here, if she curled up in front of the wagon and stayed through the night, would it matter? Would they shift in the darkness? Her instincts told her no, that it was leaving and returning, that it was her absence that allowed things to change. It was her not here that allowed them to be there.

With a sigh she turned and wandered home without even thinking if it was the same or a different way, without even worrying if she walked faster or slower than her thoughts for her brain was still blocked by this particular peculiar meandering.

Tomorrow, she would come earlier. The bottles must change earlier than her arrival. Therefore, the man who pulled the wagon—for it must be him that changed the bottles and not the bottles themselves—must be present at some time earlier than she. There was obvious logic in that.

The next morning, she arose early. She took shortcuts, she turned fewer times, and she skipped the hill. She nearly scurried across the road to the parking lot and almost to the beach. For a moment, the morning ocean haze blurred her vision, and all she saw as she approached was gray and blue. But then, the little red rectangle took form and her shoulders slumped.

The wagon was already there.

But the bottles had changed. Purple, then pink, then blue, then blue. Short, then fat, then skinny, then tall.

Tomorrow, she would come later. If the bottles changed after she left, it must be because the man came after she left. There was real logic in that.

She ran home, hoping all the while that later could come sooner.

When she arrived home she realized it had, for today had a later, not just tomorrow.

She headed back to the beach, but this time she walked slowly. She walked the curb like a high wire, she zig-zagged back and forth across the alley to cover more ground, she was determined to find the all-uphill route to sea level.

Eventually, she did arrive, but she had taken so long to do so that she’d grown tired from so much aimless walking and nearly forgotten her purpose in arriving “later.” She shuffled her feet through the place where the sidewalk turned to parking lot and was nearly upon the rock pile when she noticed a man.

A man with a bottle.

A man with a messenger bag but no shoes, only socks.

A dread-locked man placing an aquamarine bottle into the wagon.

She ran toward him waving her hands and screaming. It was only later she considered her potential banshee-like presentation.

The man observed her—then his dreadlocks spun in the air as he sprinted for the street.

She followed.

He turned left, and then right, and then left again.

He ran faster, turned quicker.

He ran uphill and down.

But each block was just a little too long for him to lose her. She would catch sight of the bottoms of his feet as he turned right, and right, and right again. The threads of his socks wore thinner under her gaze. Like a gobstopper, at first they seemed brown, then blue, then green. Even a block away, she saw the colors shifting in the sinking evening light. Yellow now, or maybe a bit orange. Back to brown. These must be the thickest socks anyone had ever seen.

Right again, left, then around the roundabout.

Downhill, past the lagoon, then up by the church.

Back north, nearly to the ocean again. They both glanced to their right to catch view of the little red wagon, once again alone with its bottles, no master or witness in sight.

Left, left, right, left, up, down, right, up, up, right, down.

Blue, green, purple, brown, orange, magenta, and might that be called cyan? His socks continued to shift colors though she noticed a trail of shredded threads marking their way. A little rainbow of spirals unraveling, yet leading.

She kept her eyes on his foot bottoms while his dreadlocks floated at the upper edge of her vision.

Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. Orange, orange, green, green, brown, brown, blue, blue.

They reached yet another hill—who knew how one tiny town had so many hills—and her breath finally began to struggle. The sun had sunk from its zenith and now glared sidelong into her eyes. They must have run for hours. She slowed, put her hand to her forehead, and looked to the crest of the hill.

The dreadlocked man stood there, his hand to his forehead, looking at her.

The sun dropped another inch.

She could no longer see the color of his socks, silhouetted in the light.

They stood saluting each other.

The man bent over, and even from her distance she could see that he pulled his socks from his feet and shook them.

The sun inched down a little more.

She blinked and he was gone.

She blinked again and he was still gone.

She blinked longer, and he was still not there.

She sighed, turned left, and headed home—unsure of how she would replicate today’s experiment tomorrow to see if she arrived at a different outcome, a different destination, or perhaps even a different universe entirely.

The next morning, she rose, still pondering this question of the little red wagon confounded by the dreadlocked man.

When she arrived at the place where the sidewalk turned to parking lot, she stood in front of the wagon and made her daily observations.

Just two bottles. One green, one blue. Both skinny, none fat.

A new sign hung on the wagon’s handle.

“Beach bottles 10¢. Digger needs new socks.”


Becca Borawski Jenkins holds an MFA in Cinema-Television Production from USC and has short stories appearing or forthcoming in Menacing Hedge, concis, The Forge, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Jersey Devil Press, and Corium. She and her husband have lived the extremes of city and country life, and now roam the North America in their RV.



Natalie Crick

This House

Fog rolls in on the red mountain. 
A husk. It is blood Winter. 

We sell ourselves, ounce by ounce
To the moon.

The sky has swallowed it’s full and 
Grows colder, darker. 

Years peel back like rind.
My children are as old as scars.

There is no air in this
Dead bird of a bedroom. 

Panic spreads, wildfire.
I wish myself a ghost town,

Wish myself the cool hush of night,
A blanket of dusk,

Listening to illness move 
Beneath the floorboards,
Moths to red clouds,
Clogging my throat like cinnamon.

Never trust the spirit. 
It escapes as steam in dreams.

More light. Fog is rising. 
Let us go in. 


Natalie Crick, from the UK, has poetry published or forthcoming in a range of magazines including The Chiron Review, Interpreters House, Ink in Thirds, Rust and Moth, The Penwood Review. Her work also features or is forthcoming in a number of anthologies, including Lehigh Valley Vanguard Collections 13. This year her poem, “Sunday School” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. 


James Owens

The Grammar of Loss


Gets tangled in double negatives.
to gather warm eggs for breakfast.


Scampers out to the thinnest branches
and flies from
tree to tree. Burrows
past taproots
to the sweetest, mineral-savored water.


Grows demented in the slow evenings
when shadows open like wounds.


Whispers urgently at the train station
to the woman in the gray raincoat,
who turns and walks back
into the spring-scented twilight,
down an alley empty except for the sound of footsteps,
past the aching roses,
and to her room,
where she will remember the way these streetlights
burned circles in the fog.


James Owens’s most recent collection of poems is Mortalia (FutureCycle Press, 2015). His poems, stories, and translations appear widely in literary journals, including publications in The Fourth River, Kestrel, Tule Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Southword. He earned an MFA at the University of Alabama and lives in Indiana and northern Ontario.


Geneviève de Angelis

This Is Joan

What if I told you that being a genius was actually quite boring? Just a little…


Would you believe me?

It’s an unfortunate predicament, at best. At worst it’s like having a fat whiny baby that you can’t dislodge from your side. A suckling little monster. Endlessly troubling you to complete some kind of “great work,” a “magnum opus.” So like any good mother, you have to engage the little shit. Coddle it. Feed it. You can’t just let it pickle in its own drool. You have to clean it, too. While it screams like a thing not known in nature.

There you are, a woman alone with this…this THING–and all you want to do is be an ordinary little dove like all the rest of them. Having a sandwich. Watching a documentary about an endangered species. Taking a nap. But no. That’s not what your odious little nursling wants. It wants you for something else. Something grand. Something it won’t let you forget. That’s what being a genius is like. It’s a forever hungry, unsleeping, angel-face little shit. I won’t be the least bit upset if you offered me your sympathy.

It’s the least you can do.

This is how it feels to sculpt with wood or bone:                   . This is what it felt like that time I used wire and antlers instead:                    .

This is the searing beauty of my work:                    . This is how right I am to feel self-important about it:                   .

But the elegance of a masterpiece says nothing of its corrupt process. Don’t let anyone convince you of otherwise. They’re lying. People only enjoy the aptitude of their own genius when someone’s handing them a check or being particularly reverent. When that’s not happening artists smell like unwashed bodies and they sound like a pair of shuffling feet on a sleepless night. They taste like coffee and cigarettes. Most of these problems arise from an innate failure to stop thinking. Is that what you want? No. It isn’t. I think you’ll agree that your interest is misguided.

This is what the night feels like:                    . This is how solitary it is:                    .

It’s fascinating, the things which are born of isolation. Guess that makes me my own walking masterpiece. Funny how that happens. While the world’s heart is beating in tandem with life, my heart skips a beat. I make an effort, though. I swear I do. Why, just a month ago I committed myself to a social engagement. With other women. I talked to them. Or I tried. All I can remember about that night is a rail of a girl with a halo of blonde hair. She was talking–about what I can’t imagine. I bet she couldn’t imagine either if you’d asked her. My attention hovered around the room like a ghost at a seance, looking at the flowers and demitasse cups while she blathered away. By the time I returned to my body it was my turn to talk. Of all the ludicrous things–can you imagine talking to a person like me? Before I even began to speak I trailed off… It was the most I’d said in a week. I could feel my mind wandering again. Maybe to other parts of my body. Maybe to other people’s bodies. In that moment my face was possibly just a blank. This happens sometimes, you’ll understand. In the middle of a sentence all of a sudden the inside of my mouth tastes like sand, as if underneath my tongue were a great big nothing. Just some air. And for the life of me I couldn’t remember what it was I might have been trying to say. Or if I had been planning on saying anything. Or what it was we had been talking about. In times like those I sometimes feel myself at the edge of a precipice, about to lose balance. I remember wondering if the heavily made-up blonde could detect my panic. Thankfully, our waiter dropped a glass and everyone clapped. After that I looked away and pretended we’d never spoken. I forgot who invited me there in the first place.

This is how many times I’ve loved anything:                    . This is how many times I’ve tried:                    . This is how many times I’ve failed:                    .

If only it were possible to wish something to love into being… I’d do it out of curiosity more than anything else. I’d do it completely possessed of a self-righteous indignation at the rest of humanity. How could they know something that I can’t understand?

This is how I feel about the whole business of other people:                    .

Then just like that everything changed. “I met someone” is how it’s commonly put. Or someone met me. I felt light. An almost insufferable lightness.

Let me explain: I was just getting a coffee.

That’s how it went. I walked into Henry’s on Henry Street downtown. I’ve retraced these steps over and over in my mind and I can say with total confidence that there had been no magic to it. Every step I’d taken was the same I always have. Exactly the same. But this time I didn’t walk out of Henry’s  alone.

If I could have looked down over my own body at that moment, like a nosy specter, I’d describe the look on my face as being akin to watching a car get totaled. Only truly delightful and with an abundance of smiles. I was not the same afterwards. It made me lose my balance. Caught totally unawares in a sort of loving bear trap. It snuck up on me like sudden death. A sudden ego death, at least. Because if love is true then I don’t know what to believe.

There we were. Just him and me. He had a glint in his eye that broke my heart in the most satisfying way. The unlit cigarette hanging from his mouth ate me alive. He had a voice that sounded scorched or charred.

This is how much I didn’t mind him:                    . I didn’t mind him.

That might not sound like a lot, but how could you have any idea.

That’s when I stopped sleeping.


Supposed advice for insomniacs are as follows: drink a glass of warm milk before bed; turn off the television three hours before your scheduled bedtime; don’t do anything else in your bed but sleep or you’ll get confused about your purpose there; if you eat in bed your brain will think it’s dinner time, so don’t; if you read a book it’ll think you’re in a library; don’t even think about checking your email–you don’t want to know what’ll happen then. And apparently you’re too excitable as it is, so I wouldn’t argue.

This is how hard I tried to sleep after we met:                    . This is how long it was that I sat up sweating:                    . This is how I’d lay awake for the rest of the night:                    .

The machinations of sleep became a mystery. I was no longer sure exactly what was supposed to happen. I asked him to explain it to me–maybe I’d forgotten. Certainly I’ve done stranger things. He could remind me. But honestly, he didn’t make it sound terribly interesting.

I had to watch the miracle of sleep happen across his face every night while I grew sallow and wore a hole into my side of the bed. I was somehow barred from the paradise of sleep, so he always went in alone. And why couldn’t I get there too? I just couldn’t.

This is how long it’s been since I’ve slept:                    .  This is how many times I told myself to get over it:                    . This is how happy I tried to be anyway:                    . This is how very wrong I was:                    .

He read aloud to me. That was his big idea. He’d say, listen to the sound of my voice. This man with his glasses pushed too far up on the bridge of his nose. I’d watch it slide off as he read with affection. I suppose I was expected to follow the sound of his voice like a thread that would lead me to sleephood–as if I were Perseus and insomnia my minotaur. It was at just that moment I realized he couldn’t possibly ever know me. If he thought a way to escape from torment was through any other means but endurance… Well, then I guess he’d never really been tormented.

How nice for him.

Thankfully this promised to become a real problem or I’d have been stuck, bored to death with the tenderness in his voice, the easy smile on his face, the way he seemed so hopeful for things… He always had a despicable look in his beautiful eyes that told me he’d never once experienced anything that could qualify as “gruesome.” He even smelled like someone who’d been loved as a child. I won’t mince words: I find that sort of thing hard to stomach. There was a good reason why I didn’t lose my lunch every time I looked at his stupidly mesmerizing face.

He read with a voracity I’d never seen.

So I smiled instead. This is how my face looks when I smile:                    .

The day he walked me through his foyer and all but risked his stupid little life climbing over the vast plenitude of his books, all just to reach the lamp, was the day I pardoned him for every future wrongdoing a man could ever commit. I even forgave him for being so well adjusted, irksome as it was. When I first saw him crack open a healthy 900-pager something inside me forgave him everything. I forgave him for disappointing me in all the ways a person inevitably will. He hadn’t know it at the time, but I’d just gotten done forgiving him for forgetting my birthday when he stubbed his toe on a mountain of hardcovers on his way to the bathroom. He was given carte blanche to commit any foul behavior that he saw fit. I forgave him all of it. I knew that when it no longer thrilled me to smell him or hear him talk, that I would stay and listen anyway. It’s an even trade. My own personal vow to meet him between the pages for as long as I was living. What could there possibly be to want after that?

I didn’t have to wonder about all those petty things that make strangers out of people who love each other. Questions like “does he really understand me?” would never cross my mind. What concern is it of mine if he doesn’t understand parts of me that matter so little, even to me? Whether he lets me hold the remote is really of no consequence. I can’t be bothered with being truly known in all the absurd ways in which people want to know each other. When he reads, digests the words, he’ll know me. When he falls into blissful sleep with a book on his face, he’ll know everything. There’d be nothing left to find out.

This is how I feel about books:                    .

There’s a real difference between someone who enjoys a good read and the fanatical desires I’m confronted with if I’m close enough to smell them. Back in the days of sleep I’d curl up with a stack of them. My eyes would light up like a candle in a dark window when I read Wallace Stevens; I was an empty house otherwise. Always hungry for Beckett or Ballard. Reading is like being close to an explosion. You walk away dazed, stuttering, head in hand, semantic shrapnel buried in your gut, and scarred for life.

Here is a scar inflicted by my favorite book:                    .

Maybe he was on to something when he tried to read me to sleep. Who wouldn’t feel soothed by the soft sound of pages turning? He read Foucault’s Pendulum until I could see Casaubon squinting into a fog of ectoplasm. But he was always the one to doze with the book on his face.

And I still couldn’t sleep.

There was one time I managed it. One time. This is how he woke to the left side of the bed soaked with my sweat as he felt around for me in the dark:                   . This is how he shuffled down the stairs, groggy, eyes unfocused in the light:                   .

This is what people do, in case you were wondering. They look for each other, track down their loved ones when they are gone. I didn’t get it the first time either.

This is how he searched through every room:                  . This is the back door, unlocked and slightly ajar:                   . Here is the flashlight he grabbed as he walked outside, following something like the sound of scratching:                   . This is how he walked through his own yard like he’d never been there before, unsure of everything the moon had drenched in eerie luminosity:                .

Out in the garden. That’s where he found me. Still as a stone that cuts the water in a stream, dressed in nothing but the white fire of the stars. I wondered if he could hear me breathing, panting like an animal, keeping time with the tiny kingdom of nature breathing around me. All those busy insects doing their work in the darkness. I couldn’t even remember his name.

This is how it felt to see me squatting in the moonlight:                  . This is the shape his face made when he couldn’t understand what it was he was seeing:                  . Here is the strangeness of coming up behind me to put a hand on my shoulder:                  . This is my face as I turned to him, soil streaking my mouth black under the pale light, caked under my nails, caught in my hair:                   . This is me shoving fistfuls of dirt into my mouth, smiling at the way it stuck between my teeth:                   .

The look in his eye was haunting and feverish. It reminded me of that poem by Stephen Crane, the one I like best, the one with the beast who was come upon by a stranger as he ate his own heart. “And the stranger asked, Is it good friend? To which the beast answered, It is bitter—but I like it because it is bitter, and because it is my heart.”

This is how he gaped at me like he never knew me a day in my life:                  . And he didn’t.

This is me, this is Joan:                   .




Geneviève de Angelis is an emerging writer from Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Brooklyn Magazine. She is currently completing her first collection of short stories.


Jim Zola

What the Feral Boy Might Tell

Farmers whispered of the fleeting ghost, 
a naked beggar crouched at their back doors. 
They caught me scrounging tubers in a field 
at the edge of St. Sernine. I was expected 
to have the sense to die, left pig-stuck 
in a thicket, my father’s signature -- 
a jagged scar across my neck. 
Farmers’ wives claimed they saw me howling 
at an empty sky. Lies. They say 
I never smile, only crave food and sleep. 
Curled in a fetal wrap, I dream 
of Psamtik, the lonely room. How I fool 

them all. They poke me with their simple hopes, 
torture me for speech. Eau, the glass half-filled 
but out of reach. Idiot. I shine 
the apple of debate, piss wherever 
I please. I fill a cart with dung and then, 
unstopped, shovel it unfilled again. 
To show me off, I dine with generals 
and dark eyed intellects. I wolf each course, 
stuff my fancy pockets with desserts, 
then slip away, strip my outer skins 
to leap through gardens, agile as a squirrel.


Jim Zola has worked in a warehouse, as a security guard, in a bookstore, as a teacher for deaf children, as a toy designer for Fisher Price, and currently as a children’s librarian. Published in many journals through the years, his publications include a chapbook–The One Hundred Bones of Weather (Blue Pitcher Press)–and a full length poetry collection–What Glorious Possibilities (Aldrich Press). He currently lives in Greensboro, NC.


Rita Hooks

The Rowboat

Summer 1965. There are nine of us in the little rowboat. Ten if you want to count Mom’s bump. Dad sits on the rower’s seat. He had wedged Mom in behind him. She sits on a lawn chair under a brightly colored clamp-on beach umbrella with Daughter #7 sitting atop her baby bump. Daughter #7, only a year old, is afraid of the water. She is a reluctant maharaja riding high in a howdah on the back of an elephant. Mom wears a maternity muumuu, Dad a French bikini.


He had put us in a house out in Babylon for the summer. Today he had come by for the weekend and rented a rowboat to surprise us. He had pulled the boat onto the sand at the end of the backyard and called us all out to see it.


We are now on Great South Bay heading out toward the bridge. I’m Daughter #2, eleven years old and wearing my first two-piece. I sit in the bow, keeping an eye on Mom in the back. Daughters #1, #3, #4, #5, and #6 squeeze in between Dad and me. We are a heavy and precarious load. When we had all piled in earlier, the day was fine. Warm and sunny. But now we are almost to the bridge, the Robert Moses Causeway, and the weather has changed. The sky is dark, the wind is up, and the water is choppy. Dad stops rowing. The bay mud from our feet has made the bottom of the boat sandy, wet, and cold. It makes me think of the clams I dig up to feed Mom’s voracious appetite. I steam three or four—they’re big—until they pop open, I put butter on them, and then I watch as they slip down Mom’s hatch.


The boat rides up high on a wave and then slams back down. This happens over and over again. The force of the sea frightens me. We are all very quiet. I glance at Mom. Daughter #7 sucks her thumb. So does Daughter #5. I realize that we’re not wearing our life preservers. I think this is strange because Dad always insists that we wear them whenever we go to the beach, much to the humiliation of Daughter #1 and me. None of us girls can swim, not even Mom. Dad, however, is an excellent swimmer. Not wanting to look like a scaredy-cat, Daughter #1 wears a goofy smile. Daughter #3 holds onto Daughter #5 while Daughter #6 climbs halfway into Daughter #4’s lap. Big drops of rain begin to fall, pelting our bare shoulders. I look around and see that we are the only boat in sight. I grip the sides of the bow and watch as the slate-grey sea attempts to hurl us from its angry surface.

“Shouldn’t we head back?” Mom asks Dad.

“Water’s too rough.”

The rowboat is close to the foundation of the bridge. I can see little pebbles in the rough concrete of the piling. I imagine a wave crashing the wooden boat into the fortress-like structure, shattering the boat and throwing us all into the sea.


I remember that Mom didn’t want to get in the boat. Heck, she didn’t even want to spend the summer—pregnant, alone with us girls—in a little rental house on the bay. She had told Dad that he was just embarrassed in front of the neighbors back home, that he wanted to hide her away, that he didn’t want them to see that he had knocked her up again.

“You’re as big as a fuckin’ water buffalo,” he had said.

They fought all the time. They blamed each other for their inability to produce a son. Dad shouted that the male seed would curl up and die inside of Mom. And Mom bawled that Dad wasn’t man enough to make a male. They used the Catholic church and its ban on birth control as an excuse for having so many kids. But we girls knew they were trying for a boy.


On one of Dad’s earlier visits (he came by on payday to drop off groceries; Mom didn’t drive) he noticed that Mom’s time was drawing near. He gave instructions to Daughter #1: “If your mother goes into labor, go down the road to the phone booth and call for an ambulance.” He said to me, “You go with her.” We rehearsed one night. It was a long walk on the pitch-black seaside road, looking for the phone booth. At last we saw it up ahead, like a shrine, its light luminous through the murky night air.


The worst of the rowboat ride is over now. Dad rows the boat back to the house. He lifts Daughter #7 from Mom’s lap and places her on the sand. Then he helps Mom out of the boat. While he gathers up the folding chair and beach umbrella, Daughters #5 and #6 struggle to climb out. No longer afraid, I want to stay in the boat. So do Daughters #1, #3, and #4. The sky is clear; the sun’s come out again. I am happy. I sit in the front as Dad rows to the dock with ease, his burden much lightened. As Dad throws the rope to the man, the man reproaches him: “Five people. You’re overloaded.” He seems as angry with us as the sea had been. Thinking that now we are half as many as we had been, none of us say a word.


Later, after the twins are born, Mom confides in me. She says, “Remember that day your father took us all out in the rowboat.”

“Yes,” I say.

“I think he was planning to let us all drown.”

I don’t say anything. Then she laughs a loud dry ha ha ha.

“What’s funny, Mom?” I ask.

“If he knew I was about to deliver Daughters #8 and #9, we would all be dead.”




Rita Hooks lives in Florida where she works as a writing tutor at St. Petersburg College. Her work appears on East of the Web, Haibun Today, Deep Water Literary Journal, Pear Tree Press: The Literary Hatchet, and she has a blog at


Olivia Abt

The End of Lusty-Gallant

No one ever explains that when you pick
A flower you become a murderer.
She sits like a statue, simple and beautiful
against the roughness of the world not
fully seen. 
He loves me,
Can I still be soft if I scrub my body
with rocks? Finger tips trailing along
skin can be just as cold as no hands at all.
Yours were. I would sit in gardens that didn’t
fully belong to me and pick petals from living flowers,
why did no one tell me? Your breath like water to me.
Flower shops make their money from love and death,
same occasion, different name. Flowers must hate the
sun and the moon always watching them. I named your eyes 
Sun and Moon.
How many petals do you have to pick for a flower to
die without cutting its stem? I lost count a long time ago.
He loves me not.
She sits in the garden burrowing her toes in mounded dirt.
Bury beauty to feed the real living thing.


Olivia Abt is currently a junior at Central Washington University majoring in Professional and Creative Writing. While she is currently unpublished, she hopes in the near future to become a published writer. After graduating Olivia wishes to work in publishing and become an editor herself.


Denny Marshall

Snow O Machine

P Body


Bot Escapes Assembly Line

F Shadows


Denny E. Marshall has had art, poetry, and fiction published. Recent credit include cover art for Bards And Sages Quarterly Jan. 2017 and poetry in Space And Time #126 Winter 2016. His flash fiction story “The Window” published by Sci Phi Journal is on the Tangent Online 2016 Recommended Reading List, a review magazine for short SF & fantasy. See more at



Kelley J. P. Lindberg

The Last Red Wine on Earth

The promise of shade was a lie. The heat inside the makeshift tent was every bit as bad as the heat outside in the sun, and it smelled worse, like overheated engine parts. Probably because of the box of overheated engine parts in the tent. The crew had found an auto shop earlier in the day while on patrol and had salvaged what they could. Fortunately, that was all they’d found. No Space-Trolls today. Just the decimated landscape where they’d been.

Ford tied up two sides of the tent to get some air moving through, leaving the west wall down for shade and the east wall down because it was too bloody much trouble to tie up, and he was already sweating buckets. Gander and Shannon followed him in and took up lounging positions on the boxes, somehow without Gander taking a breath. Ford knew he should be paying attention to what Gander was explaining—leather he wanted for a new holster or something—but it was too damn hot to think about leather. Although if Gander could figure out some way to tan the hide of a Troll, Ford would let him talk all he wanted. Those squat, six-legged, spore-farting mutant beasts had to be good for something besides infecting humanity with their damned alien plague.

Ford finished a knot and sank into his camp chair. That’s when he noticed Helena standing in the so-called doorway, the tent pole beside her playing a major role in keeping her upright. She looked wilted. Her hair, where it had escaped from her ponytail, which was pretty much everywhere, clung damply to her neck and temples. Sweat made small crescents at the armpits of her tank top.

Gander and Shannon noticed Helena at the same time, and thankfully Gander shut up. Ford was pretty sure that alone dropped the temperature a couple of degrees.

“Boss,” Ford said.

Helena rolled her eyes but didn’t rise to his usual bait. “Ford.” Her smile was too tired-looking to sustain. According to her, they were equals. But he had ten in his crew. She had around two hundred. He kept threatening to take his crew and split—smaller target and all that—but for some reason he hadn’t done it yet. Maybe tomorrow.

“What can I do for you on this lovely summer’s evening?”

Helena didn’t answer right away. The heat had drawn red to her cheeks, and she remained motionless, as if the slightest movement might fracture her. A droplet of perspiration tracked down her cheek from her temple. Finally she spoke. “I don’t suppose you have a nice bottle of old-vine zinfandel stashed somewhere, do you?”

Ford blinked. “Sorry, fresh out.”

She seemed to give that some thought. “Then how about a really good cabernet sauvignon?”

A smile quirked at Ford’s lips. “Don’t think so.”

“Fine, I’ll settle for a really lousy cabernet.”

Ford sucked at his teeth in a “’fraid not” sort of way.

“Pinot noir?”

“Delivery’s late. You know how that goes.” Ford watched her closely. He’d never seen her so fried. Ms. Perfect had her limits. Who knew?

Gander and Shannon were still quiet, thank God for small favors. With a nod Ford sent them out of the tent to forage for their own shade elsewhere. When they were out of earshot, he asked, “Okay, so why are you really here?”

“For some peace and quiet.”

“Yeah? And you came to my side of camp for that?”

A fleeting smile. “Honestly, I had a whole story about something I needed to ask you, but now I can’t remember it.”

Ford raised an eyebrow.

“Truth is, I just needed to get away from everyone, someplace where no one would think to look for me.”

“You know, a lesser man might take offense at that.”

She managed a wry smile. “I don’t have the patience for lesser men today, Ford.”

After a second of trying to figure out if that was an insult or a compliment, Ford stood and moved the box of engine parts off the rickety metal chair he’d salvaged from what might have been a café once, back before.

She settled into it like butter melting. The wry smile returned as she waved at the clothesline strung overhead, draped with his socks. “I see we use the same interior decorator.”

“Yeah. Her sense of style sucks, but her rates are reasonable.”

Helena nodded, still smiling.

“So, why are you hiding?” he finally asked.

She shook her head. “Just tired of problems.”

He snorted. “You might have made a poor career choice, boss.”

“Yeah. But still.”

“What problems?”

“You name it. Everyone has one, and they all seem to think I’m the only one who can solve them. Every time I turn around, someone’s standing there asking me to pull off some kind of magic trick.” She dragged the back of her hand across her cheek, wiping away the trickle of sweat. “I swear, Ford, if one more person brings me another problem, I’m gonna go sign up with the Trolls. They’ve gotta be less aggravating than this.”

Ford laughed out loud. “So, the Energizer Bunny finally ran out of juice, eh?”

Her look might have been a glare on a more temperate day. But today it didn’t even rate as “annoyed.” In fact, it was just shy of “vacant.”

“Didn’t know it was possible for you to look tired. Let alone waste a single responsible moment of your life.”

She stared straight through his drying laundry. “Responsible isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I mean, sure, there are perks. Like long hours. Low morale. Headaches. But still, sometimes there are downsides.”

“That’s why I avoid it.” He waited for a reaction, but got none. “Did something happen?” He paused again. “What makes today different from all the other days that people dump their problems on your lap?”

Before she answered, Ford heard footsteps scuffing the dust in front of his tent and raised a finger to keep her silent.

“What?” Ford demanded gruffly, stopping the young man just outside the tent wall, before he got close enough to see Helena. Like half the camp, the kid was too young to be fighting. He was wearing a t-shirt for some video game, for hell’s sake. He should have been sneaking out of his parents’ house looking for a kegger, not fighting six-legged invaders for the right to go on breathing for another day.

“I’m looking for Helena. Is she here?”

Helena rolled her eyes, took a deep breath, and began to push herself out of the chair.

“Nope, not here. I did see her a few minutes ago, though. She was headed to the other side of camp.”

“Okay, thanks,” said the kid, and he backed away from the tent.

Helena settled back into the chair, very quietly, but looked worried.

Ford sighed. Reluctantly he called after the messenger. “What’s the crisis?”

“What?” the kid asked.

“The crisis? What do you need Helena for?”

The kid looked like he wasn’t sure he should be divulging state secrets to the enemy. “Uh, there’s a truck that won’t start.”

“A truck?”


“That won’t start?”


“Helena’s a mechanic now, is she?”

“Well, no, I mean, I don’t know.”

“If she’s not a mechanic, what can she do about this problem?”

The boy looked slightly panicked, like he’d just been surprised by a pop quiz from his least-favorite teacher. “I guess she’ll find someone to fix it.”

Ford nodded slowly, waiting for the kid to see where Ford was headed. But he didn’t. Ford sighed. “So, you’re looking for Helena, so that Helena can look for a mechanic. Is that it?”

“Yeah?” said the kid, turning it into a question.

“Then aren’t you looking for the wrong person?”

The boy blinked.

“Why aren’t you looking for a mechanic instead of looking for Helena?”

Ford saw Helena bite off a laugh.

“Because I thought she’d want to know?” the kid asked.

Ford scratched his ear. “Okay, listen. Man up here. You already know you need a mechanic. So show some initiative and go find yourself a mechanic. Then you can take Helena a solution instead of a problem. She has bigger things to worry about.”

“Um, okay. Yeah. Okay.” The boy backed away a step, then stopped. “The only mechanic I know is Derrick, and he’s out on patrol looking for gas. Do you know anyone else?”

Ford was tempted to applaud the kid’s discovery of a spine, however embryonic. “As a matter of fact, I do. Most of my crew know their way around an engine. Take your pick. Tell ’em I said it’s okay.” Ford waved a hand toward the other side of his small compound, where Gander, Shannon, and the others were trying in vain to stay out of the slowly creeping sun.

When the kid was gone, Ford looked directly at Helena. “I see what you mean. And so much for your theory that no one would look for you here.”

Grinning, Helena shrugged. “But they didn’t find me, did they? Thank you.” She sagged in her chair, closed her eyes, and used both hands to make a futile attempt to smooth her hair back off her forehead. The movement did interesting things to her breasts, and Ford noted that it was a testament to the heat wave that he didn’t much care. Nevertheless, he watched her until she opened her eyes. Then he suddenly became interested in a rusty bolt lying on the tent floor—an escapee from the box of engine parts, no doubt.

“What was your favorite kind of restaurant, back before?” she asked him.

That was certainly out of the blue. “I don’t know. I mostly ate fast food. What about you?”

She answered almost too quickly. “I liked those places that got all creative with food—where everything on the menu had at least one ingredient you’d never heard of, or they put things together in ways that defied logic, but somehow worked.”

“Paul’s food defies logic sometimes.” Paul headed up the mess hall, based on the flimsy qualification that he had once worked at an Applebee’s, back before.

“Yeah, but it doesn’t work, does it?”

“Got me there.” Ford felt sweat drip down his neck. “Helena?”

“Yeah?” She pulled her eyes back to his for just a moment, but before he could frame his question, she beat him to one, as if she knew she wouldn’t like his. “What about hobbies? What did you do to relax?” she asked. She was staring through the socks again.

“I did some motocross racing, so I spent most of my free time working on dirt bikes. I guess you could say my favorite hobby was putting Band-Aids on my knuckles.” He didn’t mention that he spent a month’s rent on books every year, too. His little house must have burned like a furnace with all that paper lining the walls. God, he missed his books. “I suppose you had like a zillion hobbies. Let me guess: you rescued homeless pets, you were on the board of a bunch of noble charities, you knitted hats for orphans in Afghanistan, you speak sixteen different languages, and you painted masterpieces in your spare time, right?”

“Close. Except for the part where I didn’t do any of those things.” There was that flash of smile again, and for a brief moment she was back in the tent. “I did read, though.” Ford reconsidered telling her about his books. “And I traveled. My son and I had a goal to get a passport stamp from every continent. We still needed South America, Australia, and Antarctica, though.” She picked at the frayed threads at the bottom of her cut-off shorts. “I wonder if they still exist.”

Ford held still. He hadn’t known she’d had a kid.

When she spoke again, her voice was barely audible. “Today’s his birthday.”

So that was it. After a very long minute, Ford asked, “How old?”

“He would have been twelve.” Her voice was still soft.

“That’s a lot of traveling in eleven years.”

She tried for a smile, but it didn’t last. More seconds stretched between them. “I should go,” she said, standing and turning away quickly.

“Hang on.” Ford came to his feet.

Her back was to him. “No, really, I’ve wasted enough of your time. Thanks for letting me hide out.” Her voice sounded oddly flat.

“You haven’t even been here ten minutes yet. That’s not much of a break.”

“It’s fine,” she whispered.

Ford reached out and touched her upper arm. “Listen. You’re on my sovereign land now, and I’m the boss here, not you. And I say sit your butt in the chair and take a load off. Besides, I’ve got something for you.”

He was almost afraid to take his hand off her arm, lest she scamper away like a rabbit. But after a second, she nodded and he stepped back. He rummaged in a box and brought up a bottle of off-brand whiskey.

“It’s not quite a cabernet, but it’s technically liquid.”

Her hands were covering her face. Suddenly he realized she was crying, or maybe trying very hard not to. He looked away quickly and dug through piles for a couple of mismatched coffee cups. His was dirty, but the one he got for her was…well, the alcohol would sterilize it. He splashed whiskey in both cups and stood awkwardly, his back to her, waiting for some kind of signal that it was safe to turn around.

“Sorry,” she said after a minute.

He handed her the somewhat cleaner mug and hazarded a quick glance. She had composed herself again. They toasted each other wordlessly—not much to toast, really, when he thought about it—and the clinking of chipped ceramic was the only noise for a moment or two. Until she sipped, gasped, and tried to catch her breath.

“You’re sure this is liquid?” she squeaked through highly offended vocal chords.

“I said technically. Although it does share a lot of characteristics with a chemical burn.”

She nodded, and he was sure the tear running down her cheek was from choking on the alcohol, not from crying. Pretty sure, anyway. But she took another sip, so it couldn’t have been too bad. He took another sip of his—nope, it was still that bad.

Then Ford surprised the hell out of himself by saying, “My boy would have turned fifteen two weeks ago.”

Helena stared at him for a moment, then nodded. “Where was he?” Her voice was low, but matter-of-fact. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected. Pity, probably, which would have pissed him off. “Denver. Lived with his mother and his sister…my daughter. She was thirteen. Her birthday’s in April, but I can never remember if it’s the 22nd or 23rd. Guess I’ll never know for certain now. No one left to ask.” He swirled the whiskey in his cup, then downed it. “Well, crap,” he said after a few heartbeats of silence. Then, “Where was your boy?”

“At school. I’d made him stay after to talk to a teacher about his grades. We lived way out of town.” She was gripping the handle of her whiskey mug tightly. “If I hadn’t been so worried about a damn C, he’d have been home with me when they hit. I was just leaving to go pick him up when I saw the flash.” She pulled in a ragged breath but kept it together. The flashes had eliminated most of the population. A fast-moving alien infection had done the rest. Only a few humans had proved resistant to the plague—probably something genetic, but the scientists were gone, so who knew?

Ford poured another splash of whiskey into her glass, but she didn’t notice.

“Well, crap,” he said again.

“How do you do it, Ford? How do you get out of bed every morning?”

Ford shrugged. “Roll out, mostly. Feet first. I’ve tried head first quite a bit, but it’s not my preferred method.”

There was that smile again. Maybe it lasted a little longer this time, and her shoulders seemed to relax the tiniest bit. Perhaps the paint thinner they were drinking was working.

“You’re the one I don’t get,” he said. “How do you walk around so damned positive all the time? We’re in the middle of an apocalypse here, and you’re always smiling, and laughing, and…and encouraging. It can be raining bodies and ash, and you’re standing there rallying the troops with thoughtful and inspirational saccharine. Where does this Pollyanna crap come from?” The minute the word Pollyanna left his lips, he knew he should have shut up. Then it occurred to him that maybe he should have shut up well before the word Pollyanna. Whatever.

But she didn’t look too irritated. “Do you know what I did for a living, back before?” she asked. In fact, she was smiling again.

He thought. “No.”

“I was a writer. Freelance. I wrote marketing materials for corporations. I got really, really good at making stuff up.”

Ford laughed out loud, then reached over to toast her. She met his mug with a clink, then cradled the mug in her lap.

“I thought it would be easier by now. To get up in the morning, I mean.” Her tone of voice was so ordinary he almost missed the wistfulness of her words.

“It’s not?”

She shook her head. “For the first couple of months, every morning when I’d wake up, before I even opened my eyes, I would start to cry. Because I’d woken up.” She avoided his eyes.

“And now?”

“Same feeling. I just ran out of tears.” Then she smiled ruefully, obviously remembering that she’d been on the verge of tears just a few minutes ago. “Well, mostly.”

Ford noted the way rubbed-in dirt drew dark lines around her fingernails. Her hands were clean, as if she’d recently washed them, but her fingernails were beginning to remind him of his own. The nails of someone scrabbling hard for traction.

“If you don’t believe in the Pollyanna crap you tell everyone else, how do you get up in the morning?”

She thought for a moment. “It’s not that I don’t believe there’s hope. Or…that’s not right. Let’s try this: at least I believe we should believe in hope. I may not feel it myself, but that doesn’t mean hope is wrong. And if I can help other people feel it, that’s good.” She tapered off as Ford cocked his head.


“Okay, that sounded stupid to me, too. I guess I’m saying I personally don’t care if I live through another night. But enough of me cares that the human race survives, so I’m willing to get up in the morning and try to make a dent in the battle.”

“So…revenge is your motivation?”

She shook her head. “Not at all. If it were about revenge, I’d quit right now. I don’t have the energy for something that…destructive. If revenge was all I had, I’d lie down and let the bastards take the world and welcome to it. No, I have to feel like what I’m doing is positive somehow—building or saving something, not destroying something. Of course, if the bastards happen to vaporize while I’m building something constructive, that’s just a bonus.”

“Okay. Pollyanna with a vindictive twist.”

She shrugged. “If you say so.”

Ford chuckled.

“Your turn. What makes you get up in the morning?”

“What makes you think I need help getting up?”

There was something about the way she was looking at him that felt too intimate. Like she was plumbing his soul for depth. Boy, was she going to be surprised when she realized his soul was barely skin-deep. “It’s pretty easy, really. Get up, shoot some stuff, go to bed. Repeat.”

She continued to watch him, looking almost amused. In a frog-dissecting sort of way. “That’s it? No driving ambition? No burning desire for revenge, or power, or anything?”

Just like that, he was staring at the burnt-in afterimage in his head of Jamie covered in pustules and falling to the ground. A school bus swarming with flies, dead kids scattered inside like discarded laundry. A smug look on a turd-shaped face as the twenty-foot-long alien ran down and trampled an old woman, its six legs deceptively fast in Earth’s gravity. The woman had just given Ford a battered can of beans. Anger flared in him, and it took a few seconds to tamp it back down to its regular smolder. He swilled the last of his whiskey.

“Nope, I got nothing.”

As he reached for the bottle again, she said, “You’ve got a whole lot of anger for someone who doesn’t care.”

Of course she knew he was angry. Everyone knew that. It was the key to his survival. From the time he woke up until he fell asleep at night, he was angry. And most nights, in his dreams he was even worse.

“Okay, I’ve got anger. I’ve got boat-loads of anger. Mountains of it. Enough anger to power a good-sized star for a few eons. What’s wrong with that?”


He stared at her. He’d been ready to unleash on her. “What? No Pollyanna rah-rah speech? Aren’t you going to tell me to calm down, everything’s going to be alright?”

“No.” She shrugged. “Why would I do that?”

He felt slightly disoriented without an outlet for his outrage, and it dissipated as quickly as it had risen. “Because you just said that’s what you do. Give people hope. Calm them down. Channel them into constructive endeavors. Right?”

“When they want it, sure, I can try. You telling me you want that?”


“Didn’t think so. So what do you want?”

What he wanted right this minute was to hit something. Maybe throw his mug at the wall, except that two walls were tied up and the other two were made of cloth. Shove a knife into an alien eye, right up to the hilt. Suddenly he felt tired, exhausted even.

“What I’d really like is to wake up someday and feel something besides anger.”

For a long while, they sat in the meager shade of the tent, saying nothing, dripping sweat, and sipping rot-gut. Eventually they began to talk about nothing. Patrol schedules. Food supplies. The half-starved dog with the absurdly waggy tail that someone had adopted and dragged into camp. How drying underwear had become the official camp flag. Finally, when the sun burned into the horizon and the western sky bled copper, Helena stood up to leave.

Ford stood up, too—a strange, nearly forgotten habit from a time more concerned about manners.

She paused at the tent’s doorway and smiled at him. “Thank you for the…whatever that was,” she said, gesturing to the half-empty bottle on his desk. “And for the hiding place.”

“Anytime. And don’t worry, I won’t tell a soul you cried.”

Her smile turned into a grin. “Good. And I promise I won’t tell a soul you were nice.”

“I’ll deny every word. And don’t make me be nice again, or I may have to kill you.”

Her grin didn’t waver. “I know. I might be depending on that.”

As she pivoted and ducked out of the door, he said, “On me being nice, or me killing you?”

She paused and flashed him a downright mischievous smile. “Well, I don’t think you’re capable of the one, so that must leave the other.”

As she stepped into the darkness, Ford puzzled over which was which. Then he walked out to find his crew sitting around a cardboard box that had been pressed into service as a card table.

“There must be one more bottle of decent red wine on this earth. Two days R ‘n’ R for the person who brings it to me.”



When freelance writer Kelley J. P. Lindberg isn’t writing, reading, hiking, or sailing, she’s traveling as far and as often as she can. If there’s still time left over, she’s blogging at


Tommy Dean

Everything in Nature Longs for Safety

A father and daughter stand at the edge of the lake. Early May, the sand is still gummy from the spring. The breeze cold and sharp, the water too frigid to even put their toes in. The orange ball buoys rock back and forth sealing them in, demanding that they go no further. They’re not here to swim, but to run.

The father puts his arm around her shoulder, but this feels wrong to both of them. Their moments of familial intimacy were over the day her mother entered into hospice care.

The father drops his arm, shoves his hands into his pockets and kicks at a bottle cap wedged in the sand.

“I guess there are some things I’m supposed to say.”

“What can anyone say?”

“About life. And death, too.”

“We could pretend. Pretend we already have. I’d be okay with that.”

“Would your mother?”

The girl bent at the waist, stretching, touching her toes. “Not sure, actually. But Daddy…” her voice breaks, water, even on a lake, climbing over itself to reach the beach. Everything in nature longs for safety. “How much longer will it matter?”

“Days, I guess. Though those doctors have been wrong before.”

“I hate them a little. Is that wrong?”

“No, hate’s good. It’ll keep you warm, keep you moving even when you want to stop.”

“That’s what I should do? Move?”

A track scholarship. Division II but it will pay the tuition.

“I’ve been wrong about a lot of things. I’d like to be right about this.”

The girl pulls her ankle back, still stretching. She switches legs and counts to ten. Both feet back on the ground, she bounces from the balls of her feet to her toes like a rocking horse recently dismounted.

“Could we run now?”

“Go ahead. I need… Go on now just watch your step.”

He reaches out a hand to pat her on the head, to pull her close, but even as a child she was too busy to ever sit for long. She’s halfway up the beach, his hand balancing between sky and sea, trying to grasp a ghost.



Tommy Dean is the author of a flash fiction chapbook entitled Special Like the People on TV from Redbird Chapbooks. A graduate of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program, he has been previously published in the Watershed Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, r.kv.r.y, Boston Literary Magazine, Foliate Oak, and Gravel. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter.