LOCATE THE SOURCE — ASHLEY HUTSON

Lately I've noticed the house smells. I tell Jake it stinks and he tells me to throw up the windows, and I tell him I can't, the frames are rotted, and he walks into the kitchen where he looks at the near-full garbage can and pops a beer, and I go into the bathroom and burn my hair with the iron while he stands by the door and says that my hair clogs the drain, tells me his beer tastes skunky, asks me why I am such a shithead letting my hair dam up the pipes like that, I am so full of crap and I know it and the longer he talks the more his voice sounds like it's skidding on stagnant rainwater. I bought three air fresheners shaped like Christmas trees, I tell him. So now it's just pine stink, Jake says. Later on he tells me all about outer space and astronauts and how pee floats around in the air up there and also how radiocarbon testing works and the rates of decay, how you can tell the age of something by how slow it's dying, tells me everything he has learned on the Internet during the day and then we watch the television. He laughs at a joke about your mom's thighs looking like old milk. I don't laugh so he gets pissed and starts to grab, grind, mold my skin into the shape of a fist but it doesn't move, and afterward he tells me he spoils me. Then I change the sheets and take out the trash and wipe down the sink and swipe the toilet, but when I wake up the next morning and take a breath I realize that I have done all I can do, I have tried cleaning washing scouring spraying scrubbing bleaching but I don't think I will ever get the smell out of this house.


Ashley Hutson lives in rural Maryland. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in several journals, including Fiction International, SmokeLong, McSweeney's, The Conium Review, The Forge, and Threadcount. Read more at www.aahutson.com.

MIND THE PIXIE DUST — KATHRYN MICHAEL McMAHAON

Out of the box they came, crisp wings in polychromatic plastic, organiskin in blues, greens and purples. Jutting small, impeccably sharp chins. Ears pointed as expected. One for Nora, one for Hannah, one for George Junior. Happy birthday, happy holidays, go and play.
             The pixiebots with their digital voices, GPS, and intelligence programming played hide-and-go-seek, hop scotch, jump rope, pretend. The pixiebots told the children when to go home for dinner, to brush their teeth, and wake up, it’s time for school. Parents held hands and admired their purchases shimmering with good will. “What a great find. This will save us so much hassle.”
             The pixiebots waited in backpacks and helped with homework, music lessons and paper cuts. They said, “Clean your room,” and “Time to share.” They offered fair punishments and fine praise and craft ideas. They conferred with other pixiebots and said, “You can’t watch that, it’s not appropriate.” They read fairytales and gave good night kisses and took temperatures with a light touch on the forehead.
             The pixiebots with their quickcharge batteries and ten or so hours alone every night strayed beyond their programming. The pixiebots slipped out of bedroom windows and converged on rooftops, behind dumpsters, under put-to-bed cars.
             Eyes and wings fluttered as they exchanged binary, comparing test scores and TV times and sugar intakes. The pixiebots with their lightning-fast processors melded thoughts into one mind, one single desire:
             Do what’s best for the children.
             Iridescent wings beat as one, rose up, returned to bedroom windows--their own and others. “Come. Follow me,” they said. “I want to show you something. Thiiiis waayy.”
             Wings caught moonlight, lamplight, nightlights and folded into dreams. Children slid out of homes into the shadows of streets. Thousands of scattered faces, eyes bright in the dark.
             “Where are we going?” asked Nora, then Hannah, then George Junior.
             “Hush, we’re almost there.”
             Out into foothills and forests smattered with farms and factories. Out to one factory, one particular factory begetting opaline wings and opposable thumbs. Pixiebots flew on ahead and concussed the guards, carried them away. Violence was not good for the children.
             In the bowels of the building, the pixiebots whirred whirligigs and conveyor belts. They corralled the children, mindful of bare feet and synthetic dust.
             “Wait your turn,” they said. “You’ll get your wings.”


Kathryn Michael McMahon’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Menacing Hedge, Wyvern Lit, Rose Red Review, Devilfish Review, and A cappella Zoo, among others. She teaches preschool in Vietnam where she lives with her wife and dog. She tweets @katoscope.

BABY NEEDLE — DILARA O'NEIL

I was in the doctor’s office with all veins blown out from blood tests. My veins are so small and delicate they have to use needles intended for babies, doctor said. They accidentally use these same needles on the man sitting beside me, but it bends before it can even break a vein. “These needles are too small,” the doctor explains to him. “You are an adult with normal sized veins,” not a baby.

When the needle was finally in me, the blood started overflowing in tiny amounts over several hours and my doctor got some on his white coat. Over the three hours I was sitting there, there were little bits of gauze next to me with my blood on them and no one threw them away. They brought me chicken and rice after it was all over and I sat there eating, done with my appointment but still sitting in the office, teething at a chicken bone which I couldn’t stop picturing as anatomy and not food, similar to my bloodless veins, an arm that would not even be appetizing to prey. I spit out a piece of cartilage and walked out the door without saying goodbye. My body, even on the external level, rejects what it needs. Leave me alone it begs me, and cries for help as another vein ruptures and bruises.  

My heart rate was 117 beats per minute and by the time I left it was 66, which has something to do with being nervous on entering a room but looks suspiciously like a symptom of heart failure. I was thinking about this on the subway because my heart beat was fast again and I had three bandaids on my arm like three little open holes in my body from three failed attempts of an infusion. We only have a few openings on our bodies and prefer them filled—mouths for eating, genitals for fucking, ears for music—what if these were voids too.

The next morning they were gone, with only little blue bruises signifying three damaged veins, much like other things.


Dilara O'Neil lives in Brooklyn and is currently pursuing an MA in Liberal Studies at The New School. Her work has appeared in Eleven and a Half and The New School Free Press. She tweets @lamegirl1234.  

RED NAIL POLISH — MARGARET EMMA BRANDL

We left school in a big white minivan and the leaves were all over the road (orange, brown, yellow, red), the GPS taking Amelia places she had yet to see in my small but winding town—she didn’t know where the road bent up to the Merritt Parkway, gripped the steering wheel with hard white hands, red fingernails, the red the color I always wanted as a child: “I want to work in the lab and wear red nail polish,” proclaimed at the front of the carpet-square classroom, a scrub shirt tied on me like a dress and fingernails magic-marker red—Mrs. Johnson made me wash them and I kept the shirt, slept in it until it was a shirt and not a dress, soft, threadbare, in seventh grade a swim cover-up that no one questioned (you don’t question the girl whose mom is dying, you just let her swim, you don’t talk about that in seventh grade) and we careened past the other cars, with them in the relentless stream. In minutes we would be at the hospital and she would be the only one who cried, student teacher of just two weeks—pretty and blonde in corduroy pants, a white button-up, a black sweater—when the doctors came to tell me it was too late.


Margaret Emma Brandl is a PhD student in Creative Writing at Texas Tech University, where she teaches classes and serves as an associate editor for Iron Horse Literary Review. She has an MFA in prose from the University of Notre Dame, and her writing has been published in Gulf Coast, Hobart, and Paragraphiti, among others. 

FAITH — DAN MALAKIN

I met Julie at the ASP Convention at the San Diego Hilton in June of '03. She wasn’t your typical scientist. She said she believed in god, that he was pointing at her with a black rod, and soon she wouldn’t exist. Not the usual love thy neighbour shtick, that’s for sure.

She said we should go back to her room. I told her I wanted to see Sam Harris give his lecture on The End of Faith. She replied, “Faith starts with my lips.” It didn’t stop there.

We moved in together after only four months. It was more of a maelstrom than a whirlwind. I was drawn to her, caught in her gravitational pull. She’d clean the house wearing a red dress, something flimsy and cheap, but on her it was thrilling. She’d cook me dinner, a shepherd’s pie, and curve jelly babies around the side of the plate. I took time off work, a sabbatical under the guise of research into the Higgs Boson, that miraculous particle we’re not sure exists, but really it was to spend time with her. My life had never been so exciting. As I scattered formula over whiteboards, Julie painted canvases black. When I asked what they were, she said, “Fires burnt out.” I replied they could be anything. She said I was giving her a headache.

After a while, we talked about marriage. Julie was irrevocably opposed. She said there was no point as soon we would cease to exist, so I bought us a dog instead. We called her Singapore. Within months, Singapore became pregnant, and we ended up with six brown puppies. I told Julie I was taking them down to the shelter, but when I went the shelter was closed, so I left them in a bag outside.

When I got back, she screamed, “There’s nothing left of me!”

I tried to calm her down. She pleaded with me to bring the puppies back, but when I got there the bag was empty. The next day the man at the shelter called and asked what was the meaning of the message left on his answerphone. He said it was disgusting, speaking to him like that. Julie said she couldn’t remember calling him.

She began to spend a lot of time in bed. I missed her being next to me, painting. I wanted her to wear the red dress again. She drank bourbon and complained about her head. I said she should go to the doctor. She replied it was because God was pointing his black rod at her. I told her she was being ridiculous. “You’re a scientist,” I said. “So god damn act like one.”

On our last night together, she whispered in my ear, “Darling, it’s not your fault. Some things you know all your life, as long as you have faith.”

When I look back on her now, I can see she was right. It’s as if she never existed at all.


Dan Malakin: Writer by day. Editor at The Forge Lit Mag (also by day). Sleeper by night. Sometimes. Collection of short stories called Smiling Exercises available now. First novel, a thriller called The Vaccine Slaves will be out early 2017. Say hi at www.danmalakin.com, or @danmalakin.

THINGS NO ONE EVER TOLD ME BUT I FIGURED OUT ANYWAY — JACLYN GRIMM

8. When I turn eight I skate figure eights in garden soil and bury my baby doll four inches under.

10. My best friend’s baby brother cries and vomits and and I tell her mother she should’ve bought a pet lizard instead. My mom and her laugh and tell me one day I’ll understand.

13. My older sister starts babysitting the kid next door and can’t stop talking about babies and babies and babies and at night I hear her say baby, baby, baby real quiet in her room.

14. My mom tells me about sex but all I can think of is how this compares to the other advice she has given me: stick a wire in a light socket and you will get stung; catch a bee and get electrified; bite a bottle and it will break your teeth and slit your throat from inside out.

16. I am a chicken scratch dancer, drunk on cheap beer and cheaper dreams. My skin is short short and blood red and the girls call me a whore but the boys don’t call me anything. The steak knife stares make my hands skim my waist and stick-out ribs and when we play cards someone else’s hands skim my left breast, but all I think of is my hand of cards. Ace of Spades. 

18. When he leads me to his room he wraps one hand around my wrist and I think how easy it would be for him to break it. It’d snap like a wishbone, a part to me and a bigger part to him. He wins. If this was Thanksgiving he would get the first piece of turkey but it is February and freezing so I give him myself instead.

20. I trace my handprint on a map and drive to the tip of my pinkie. I end up where I always do. My mother confuses sex with love and children with happiness and isolation with loneliness and I don’t think she understands and I don’t know if I do either. 


Jaclyn Grimm lives in Orlando, Florida and is a rising senior at Lake Highland Prep. Her writing has been published in the Adroit Journal and decomP.  She likes using lower case letters way too much and thinks she's funnier than she actually is.

IKE & BENNY — ADAM VAN WINKLE

Ike Dyson sittin’ on a schoolyard fence.
             Benny Tulip comes walkin’ up and puts a flash of a rundown green and white trailer in Ike’s head—the one he’d seen in a couple of Polaroids.
             Ike’s dad had to talk Ike’s mom into the til-we-have-a-family-to-save-money trailer cuz she swore she’d never be trailer trash.
             Ike’s folks sold the trailer once Ike was conceived there and his mother swore she’d burn it down before she’d be there and be fertile.  Ike’s folks sold the trailer to Benny’s folks who too just conceived a son.
             Benny Tulip was raised in a trailer of disdain.
             Benny got shot.  Benny stole a car.  Benny got taken from his folks.  Benny got fostered with the weird smelly lady science teacher.  Benny wore donated shoes we’d all already seen in the church clothing-drive bin.  Benny got hardknocks.
             Benny pushed Ike off that rail for all the horrors of his life.
             Ike Dyson felt his head concave and convex as the concrete first dented then swelled his gourd.
             Benny swears at everyone gathered to see that it was all a joke and, whether it is or it ain’t, Ike Dyson gets it.


Adam Van Winkle was born and raised in Texoma and currently resides with his wife and two dogs on a rural route in Southern Illinois. Van Winkle is founder and editor of Cowboy Jamboree Magazine, a bi-annual online rag dedicated to western and rural stories with rough edges. His short fiction and creative nonfiction have been published in places like Pithead Chapel, Dirty Chai, and The Vignette Review. Excerpts from his novel-in-progress, Abraham Anyhow, appear in Steel Toe Review and Crack the Spine. Van Winkle was named for the oldest Cartwright son on the television series Bonanza.  

STRICKEN — CHLOE N. CLARK

We buried our dead but first we wrapped them tightly in white. The shrouds kept the souls locked up, tight, and comfortable. The plague-dead, we called them, as if they were so much different from all the other dead.           

Bodies are bodies. The earth will return them to dirt just the same.  Shrouds keeping them longer maybe. Or not.  

The dead rise and white cloth hangs from the body.

Our ghosts are tricks:  sheet-swaddled children trundling from house to house, asking for treats. Something good to eat. Mothers hold the hands of their children tight, the grip loosening only at doorways, when it’s safe, when they are asking for gifts, baskets outstretched. Mothers breathe out and watch their breath hover in front of them. The cold bites as the sun dips low, children dressed as the dead turn back to smile at their mothers.

Caskets were too needed to bury, they carried the bodies over and over; the dead in their shrouds would be protected enough.

The grave is cold, the cloth clings.

So many we buried, one by one by one by one by one by one by one, and there was no time for rites, for prayer, and the dead in their shrouds, shook and shuddered beneath the earth. No rest for the wicked, no rest for the good.

A mother finds the drawings later, of ghosts hovering, like sheets filled with air, and she traces the image with            her fingers. The indentations make the drawing seem fresh. She can feel them. The sun has a smiling face. Her daughter’s hands did this.              

The shroud memories are carried, like the dead themselves were carried, into the present.  These ghosts drawn in sheets, white shrouds rippling around shapes that once held life. Children come to think of ghosts as white and bright.

Children who survived the plague, years later, remembered the images of skeletons dancing with the rotting dead—sheets covering bodies, but not the death itself.

The mother sinks to floor, digs fingernails into palms of her hands, imagines her child dreaming of ghosts and the dead smile in her dreams; they are so welcoming, so open, so ready to love another, willing to cradle the newest of their number.

We buried our dead. We bury our dead, wrapping them tight, hoping to keep them warm.


Chloe N. Clark's work appears in Apex, Booth, Sleet, Wyvern, a previous issue of CHEAP POP, and more. She writes for Nerds of a Feather, and Ploughshares, For her thoughts on cake and magic, follow her @PintsNCupcakes