SLATHER — ANNIE FRAZIER

Billie bought her first tube of eye cream at twenty-two. Too young? Well, maybe. But when your botoxed, microdermabraded, laser-resurfaced mother slips you that slow scrutinizing look of hers, lets it slide down the length of her poreless nose, tries to squint but can’t and finally says, Ooh honey you might wanna start using a good eye cream—how do you stop the subsequent spiral?
             If you’re Billie, you don’t. You ride that spiral right down into the dark, baby girl. You research ingredients and procedures into the night, fingertips pressed to marred face, cellphone screen aglow. That’s what Billie’s done, year after year.
             She listens to every magazine writer. Every blogger. Every high school classmate turned mom turned entrepreneur selling miracle cures on Facebook for whatever ails, as long as what ails is your face. Miracles in cream or serum form, miracle of a miniature medieval torture device—tiny roller of needles to aerate the skin. But don't worry about that last one, ladies. You’ll barely feel it!
             Billie listens as they all raise voices and palms skyward in unison to proclaim the good news: Girl, there is work to be done! But I've got what you need—the cream the serum the lotion the scrub the mask even the wheel of needles, praise be! All you have to do is scrape away the broken surface then slather on the good stuff.
             Slather. That nauseating verb, worming its way into Billie’s life, crawling up under her skin, burrowing, finding a home there. Constant reminder, constant whisper.
             Slather. Like what you do to a turkey—melted butter dripping greasy yellow off the basting brush—before easing it in the oven.
             Yes, Billie, just like that.
             Make yourself a feast, girl.
             Devourable.
             To slather is to eradicate the cracks—the smiles the grimaces the worried furrowed brows, even the laughter that throws your head back and unhinges your jaw and splits your once-smooth skin.
             Face like a cracked ancient painting? Oh have we got the elixir for you, Billie. This little jar will rewind ten years! Freeze time! Stop the world spinning through space!
             Fabric of your life bunched and wrinkled? Try this potent miracle-worker! Plump and smooth from the inside out, like filling a flat tire.
             Hell, while you’re at it, why not throw it back and try heavy starch? Sometimes the old fashioned remedies work best. Go ahead, iron out those stubborn wrinkles. Steam them, press them smooth. Flat flat flat. Burn away the past, let the old you slough away, peel it back slow and sticky, unmask what’s underneath, lay bare what’s red and weeping, loose this stunning new face on the world.
             Now, Billie, isn’t that better?
             Isn’t that so pretty?


Annie Frazier is a NC transplant living in FL who's just earned her MFA in Fiction from Spalding University. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in The North Carolina Literary Reviewapt magazine and Crack the Spine. Annie also has fiction forthcoming from Still: The Journal. Find her book reviews at Paste Magazine and NCLR Online and follow her on Twitter @anniefrazzr.

SLOW BLOOD — DAVID BYRON QUEEN

I shot a man with slow blood. “I have slow blood,” he said, as I shot him.
             “As opposed to fast blood?” I asked.
             “Yeah,” he said. “Something like that.”
             I asked him to die faster. I had things to do.
             For a while, I paced around the GasMart. I was getting anxious. Apparently, he knew who I was. He said he thought he’d read about me online, that we had mutual friends, or something, also online. I couldn’t remember ever having seen him around.
             I lowered the gun. “How long is this going to take?” I asked.
             “I don’t know,” he said. “Could be a while.”
I took him out with some of the cash from the register. We went to a pancake place nearby, which was the only thing open that late in the night. Thankfully, he had slow blood. Blood so slow nobody even took to notice.
             “Do you do this often,” he asked, goring a fat tear of pancake with his fork. He winced, pained, with each bite. His large face made me think of photos of the moon.
             “Do what?”
             “Shoot people. Rob people.”
             “Not often,” I said, with a pinch of regret. He seemed like an OK guy. A little off, maybe, but well-meaning. He went on to explain how he didn’t have kids. He’d always wanted kids, I guess. Once he’d even looked to adopt—there was this website where you could click on the face of the kid you wanted and in a few months they would just like arrive at your door. He never did. Something about it, the timing maybe, didn’t feel right.
             After that, we drove around for a while with the windows down. He said the fresh air might help his slow blood quicken, though I don’t know if it really did a whole lot.
             We listened to the radio. There was a DJ he said he liked to listen to sometimes after his shift, something about how her voice was the only thing that could put him to sleep. I told him I also had trouble falling asleep. So many thoughts always pushing around inside my head. Or, not pushing, but just sort of always there, always floating there, like those tiny air bubbles on the inside of a level.
             By then, his color was leaving. I could smell his slow blood in the car.
             “I’m scared,” he said.
             “I’m sorry,” I said.
             I dropped him off back at the GasMart. He sat on the curb and held his slow blood in his hands. There was no one around. He thanked me for the food. I told him that it was no problem, that it was the least that I could do, and that he might want to think about calling an emergency number soon. “Sure,” he said, “I’ll think about doing that.”
             I drove off. In my rearview, I watched him get smaller, and smaller.
             At some point, I looked away.


David Byron Queen grew up in Northeast Ohio. Since graduating with a BA from The New School, he has worked in restaurants, advertising, and on a reality cooking show. He has been named as a finalist for the Ryan R. Gibbs Flash Fiction Award, and the Larry Brown Short Story Award. His work has appeared in VICE, Hobart, The Rumpus, McSweeney’s, Pithead Chapel, NANO Fiction, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Find him on Twitter @byron_queen

THE SPIDER AND I — CLAIRE POLDERS

When in the early morning I see a spider in the house, I don’t squash it like the woman I used to be. Instead, I stagger backward on instinct, then lean forward with intent. I greet the alien creature as though it’s a prince in disguise honoring me with his presence. 

The spider has something to say to me, which shouldn’t be surprising. We’ve met before, you know, the spider and I, in different incarnations. We’ve met in cold kitchens and hallways, above beds and dusty bicycles, even on my skin at times, still damp from recent sleep. 

Most meetings began in horror and ended badly. Let’s not sugarcoat my murders: the woman I used to be has blood on her hands from the life that scared her to death. 

Now, I listen to the spider and its webbed words, weaving my shroud or wedding dress from the strong silky threads. I have trained myself to be patient. Who knows a spider’s true intentions? The creature may wear glasses like me or rub two of its forelegs together as though it’s a raccoon washing the next bite. Such a clean creature, the spider, black with innocence. 

The woman I used to be closes her eyes as I stick out my tongue and wait for the prince to climb into my mouth. Why live in denial? When I see a spider in the house, I know the future is near. No matter how many doors I slam or double lock at night, the future will arrive the next day in the early morning like a spider you can either squash or swallow whole. 


Claire Polders is a Dutch author of four novels with a debut in English on the way. In 2016, Denver Quarterly nominated one of her stories for a Pushcart Prize. Her short prose appeared in TriQuarterlyGreen Mountains ReviewOkey-PankyFolioSmokeLong QuarterlyTin House (The Open Bar), Prairie Schooner (Blog), and elsewhere. Find her at www.clairepolders.com.

HOW I'VE BEEN WITHOUT YOU — LORI SAMBOL BRODY

A month after you left me, I’m sitting in Tamerlan’s favorite bar, with Tam, the tour guide, and Peter, this teacher from Manchester who I want to fuck since I can’t have you. 
             The bartender slides a bottle of Glasnost vodka and four chilled glasses as slender as two fingers onto the table, sits down next to Tam.  His gold front teeth glint.  Tam sloppily fills glasses to the brim.  
             The sleeves of Peter’s button-down shirt are rolled up tight around his biceps, expose a tattoo of a Maori mask.  My arm presses against his; he shifts his weight. Is he gay or just British? 
             The bartender passes a four-inch stack of som across the scarred table; Tam passes him three hundred dollar bills.  
             I lean toward Peter.  The headboard of my bed has this intercom-radio thing, I’m sure the KGB listens through it.  Peter says, A bug wouldn’t be that obvious.  He clicks his vodka glass against mine, and the ring of glass against glass is tinny and cheap.  The vodka is cheap also.  Peter watches a Russian girl sway vertiginous in stilettos; her metallic skirt barely covers her ass.  
             The bartender returns to the bar; a band sings Livin’ on a Prayer in Russian.  Tam pours another round.  Peter says, Women my age have this thing for Colin Firth, you know, that scene in Pride and Prejudice, and waits for me to say something.  Peter resembles Colin Firth around the eyes.
             When I tell him that he laughs.  No one’s told me that before.  He knocks back a shot of vodka.  I ask, Tell me about your tattoo.  I stroke the bold lines; I want to bite them like black licorice.  His hand curves around my thigh, his breath hot on my ear as he whispers, over the Bon Jovi cover band, A youthful indiscretion.  He tells me the story, and it’s not a story I’d ever tell you.
             Peter touches the ring I still wear.  Tell me about this. 
             I remember your hands on me.  It’s the oldest story in the world. 
             Tam watches the bartender.  I’ve got some business to handle.  Peter and I climb into the taxi Tam hails.  What would Peter do if I straddle him on the ripped pleather upholstery, kiss him between the eyes where the chicken pox scar divots his skin?  But I don’t.
             I want to tell you that I invite him into my room.  I want to tell you that I point to the intercom on the headboard, say, They’re listening to us now.  I want to tell you that Peter’s tongue traces from my breastbone to my navel, his fingers tug open the zipper of my jeans.  I want to tell you that his lips mutter into my skin, Let them listen
             But he doesn’t. 
             I want to tell you that over breakfast of instant coffee and fresh wheels of flatbread, Peter says, I should’ve stayed.
             But he doesn’t do that either.


Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California. Her short fiction has been published in Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, The Rumpus, Little Fiction, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. Her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and chosen for the Longform fiction pick-of-the-week. She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody and her website is lorisambolbrody.wordpress.com.

WAKING UP IN A SIXTY YEAR OLD MAN'S BED — JASON PHOEBE RUSCH

The age spots on his forearms scrape, husk like, against your skin. You are not sure why you did this. It is not enjoyable, and you didn’t really need the money. Often we are both victim and perpetrator, hydroplaning across the ice frozen over all the ugly. It is hard to tell what’s ours, where other people begin. His lips lie soft and withered against his gums. He is repulsive because he is not: a divorced professor who studies bees, soft-spoken, a father and not a demon, last night he bought you carbonara, the round little peas and placental streaks of prosciutto, asked gently if you were feeling well, if you’d like to go home. You said no because you thought you’d become powerful, become new, an empress pointing thumbs up or thumbs down: hardened. But his mouth on your nipples, it destroys you, this inversion, the old seeking succor from the young. Last night he told you about bee-keeping, how he cares for what he most loves wearing a suit and a mask.


Jason Phoebe Rusch's work has appeared in Entropy, Bust magazine, Civil Coping Mechanism's A Shadow Map anthology and is forthcoming from Lambda Literary's poetry spotlight. They have an MFA in fiction from University of Michigan, where they received several Hopwood awards. They can be found at www.jasonphoeberusch.com and @JasonPhoebRusch.

A FLUTTERING OF WINGS — CATHY ULRICH

The girl in the apartment next to yours has married a bird. She shows you the wedding photos over tea. The tea is lukewarm, and much too sweet. You smile at the photos anyway — the neighbor girl in an ivory dress with a stain that she tries to hide under her hands, a bird perched on her shoulder. You don’t know much about birds. It could be any kind of bird at all.
             You look beautiful, you say.
             It was a secondhand dress, says the neighbor girl, shuffling through the photos. Do you think that’s unlucky?
             You shrug.
             It had to be white. I saved myself for him.
             She smiles in a nostalgic way as she stirs her tea.
             I mean, there were boys, she says. You know.
             You nod.
             I could have, but I wanted to wait for the right one. She taps the stack of photos with her fingernails. I did. I think I did.
             All the windows in her apartment are opened. She has removed the screens. Papers are held down by salt and pepper shakers, the television remote, empty mugs. The neighbor girl seems to only drink from mugs. You wonder if her husband drinks from them too. You imagine him perched on the edge of one, bird toes curling round the lip, dipping his beak into the liquid. A breeze stirs the papers, and one piece flaps up and down, like a bird’s wing. Outside, there is a cooing of pigeons.
             The neighbor girl tips her head in an avian way. She says: He’ll be home soon.
             Do you always leave the windows open? you ask, and sip your lukewarm tea.
             He has to be free to come and go as he pleases, she says. It wouldn’t work otherwise.
             You say: I had a boyfriend like that once.
             She says: If you love something, let it go.
             You nod.
             Look, she says, and pulls your hand to her belly. You see?
             Under your hand, there is a stirring within her, something that could be a fluttering of wings, a scratching of talons.
             She says: It’s a miracle, isn’t it? Don’t you think it’s a miracle?
             I do, you say. I do.


Cathy Ulrich doesn't think a secondhand wedding dress would be unlucky at all. Her work has been published in a variety of journals, including Booth, Lunch Ticket and Superstition Review.

FLAMES — SPENCER CHOU

She sees smoke rising up from the end of the street. It’s coming from the side where she lives. It could be her house, but she’s not close enough yet to tell. Trees are blocking most of the view.

As she approaches, the smell takes her back to her tenth summer when the older kids would start a fire out behind the garages. Some would run and jump over it, a few would try to impress others by feigning a stumble and landing in a roll. Once, a boy ran home to fetch one of his dad’s deodorants and they all stepped back and watched as he threw it onto the pile, shielding their faces as it exploded, cheering once the danger had gone.

Sometimes, another boy would go to the shop on the corner and steal bacon for everyone to pierce onto sticks and grill over the heat. She still likes her bacon done that way: charred and tough. Mum always smelled the smoke on her when she got back home, making her strip in the kitchen before throwing her clothes into the washing machine.

A fire engine screams past from behind her now and pulls up outside the burning house, closely followed by a second. She stops walking before she gets too close. She’s not sure if she wants to know.

Firemen jump out and get to work. Neighbours are stood around, trying to see what’s going on. Folded arms, shaking heads, a morbid curiosity disguised as pity.

She reaches into her handbag and takes out a cigarette. When she was fourteen, her mum found a packet of them under her bed during a weekly clean. She was forced to smoke the remaining twelve after school, one after the other. Mum nodded with satisfaction through the coughs and tears. The only thing she learned was to find a better hiding place.

After her marriage was over, she ended up living next door to mum. In their small town it was the only place available at short notice. Neither of them is crazy about it. Sometimes they don’t talk for months.

She turns and walks back the way she came, flicking ash onto the ground. The damage is already done, she thinks. Knowing can wait until later.


Spencer Chou is a writer and editor from Nottingham, England. He runs the literary magazine and publisher The Nottingham Review. His writing is published or forthcoming in The Molotov Cocktail, LossLit, Paper and Ink, Spelk, Lost Balloon, and elsewhere. In 2016 he was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award. You can follow him on Twitter @spencerchou

NO MORE PESCATARIANISM — JENNIFER TODHUNTER

I started eating white bread again after my husband died of cancer. Every morning I made a bacon sandwich in the microwave and ate it alongside a cup of instant coffee, lightened with powdered milk and sweetened with aspartame. Then I flipped through the endless stack of legal documents, tax forms, and family letters while trying to choke it down. Our golden retriever, Lily, stared at me unflinching with her shiny black eyes because Dave had always fed her at the table. He’d also walked her every morning along the breakwater, but I couldn’t find the motivation to do that, so I sat on the front steps and threw the same red ball for her over and over and over again.
             She always came back.
             I tossed our coconut oil in the compost and started frying everything in vegetable oil. You name it, I fried it. The taste was different. Sort of like burning. Thick and rancid.
             I began frequenting the tanning beds down on 16th. You could smell the flowery lotion and crispy skin across the street. There was a vending machine in the lobby filled with chia pudding, kale chips, and coconut water, but I always stopped next door at the convenience store and picked up a can of soda before checking in.
             “I’m so happy you took some time for yourself,” one friend said, admiring my tan. “It’s really important when you lose a loved one.”
             After a month or two, I was able to walk Lily further than the front yard. I took her to the park with the thick power lines, the ones that people measured with EMF meters and told their kids to stay away from. There were bunny rabbits everywhere, brown ones with fluffy white tails, and white ones with milky red eyes. Lily chased them with her tongue sticking out, just in case one fell into her mouth. Occasionally, she was lucky, and she’d run over, elated, and drop the gift at my feet, looking at me like she’d just presented Dave reincarnate. I’d leave the bunny behind though, burying it in the thick underbrush, because I was on a strict red meat only diet. No more pescatarianism now that Dave was gone. And certainly no bunnies.
             Letters came from my doctor, reminding me to book a pap test, schedule a physical, consider a mammogram. I ignored them. Wrote “Return to Sender” on the envelope and left them out for the postman who continued to deliver a barrage of condolence cards and small meaningless gifts.
             I took up smoking and drinking. Dave and I hadn’t been much into either, maybe a glass of red wine with supper or a bit of champagne to celebrate a good friend’s birthdays. Some mornings, staring at my bacon sandwich and instant coffee, it truly felt like I was going to die, my head thick with sadness and my throat scratchy and sore.
             Here I come, I’d think while I chewed. Here I come.


Jennifer is a number nerd, backyard beekeeper, and writer based in Canada. Her stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Flash Fiction Online, (b)OINK, and elsewhere. Find her at www.foxbane.ca or @JenTod_.