CECILIA'S FLOOD — MICHAEL PATRICK BRADY

When my great aunt Josephine died, her executor informed me that I was now the proud owner of a dugout canoe made by the Chinook peoples of the Pacific Northwest, circa 1897. “Maybe you can donate it to a museum,” he said, aware that Cecilia and I occupied a third-floor walk-up in a building with no elevator. But Cecilia wouldn’t hear of it. “You don’t understand,” she said, cryptically. “There’s going to be a flood.”
             A few weeks later, I came home from work to find her sitting in the canoe, holding a small, red neoprene lifejacket. “Where did that come from?” I asked. “The postman brought it instead of the margarita maker we ordered,” she said. “It’s for a dog.” We argued for hours, but nothing could change her mind. “There are no accidents,” she said. “You know that.”
             We scoured the kennels, finally settling on a cinnamon Chow Chow who fit the vest perfectly. “Bellissima,” cooed the kennel master, “Little Cenerentola.” Cecilia walked her for hours, looking for the next clue. Books on the breed littered the canoe, their pages drenched in neon yellow highlights. “I’m getting closer,” Cecilia said. “I can feel it.”
             In bed, I pondered how long this obsession had really been going on. “Cici, darling,” I said. “When we met at Nantasket and you bought me that Coke. Was it because I was the lifeguard?” She smiled, and kissed me. “Why is anybody attracted to anybody?” she asked, then turned out the light.
             I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of crying. Cecilia was sobbing in the canoe, clutching Little Cenerentola.
             “Who died?” I asked.
             Cecilia shook her head. “It came to me in a dream,” she said. “When the flood comes—I think we’re supposed to eat her.”


Michael Patrick Brady is a writer from Boston. His work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, the Boston Globe, and the Boston Phoenix. Find him at www.michaelpatrickbrady.com.

THE INHERITANCE — MATTHEW K. THIBEAULT

Maybe you’ve heard about these people who have a lot of cats and how sometimes their cats eat them after they die. That really happened to my mother, twenty cats, something like that. And they didn’t just take a few bites out of her.
             She had been dying in and out of the hospital for months and one day she just stopped going. This is what they told me, that she stopped showing up and there was nothing they could do. The hospital has to respect a person’s decision not to deal with their health.
             So, all right, she wanted to forget about dying so she could relax in her apartment and die. I should have been checking on her more often. The fact that her cats ate her is terrible, but it’s not like they killed her. She was dead. She loved the cats. In a weird way she may have wanted it, or at least preferred it to letting them starve.
             But the point is that all of the cats survived. People don’t just swing by and clean everything up. Sure, they take away the body, but it’s the family that does everything else.
             I don’t know what I was expecting when I got there, like whether I’d somehow forgotten about the cats or what, but I open the door and there are twenty-something starving cats looking at me.
             What happened was that she had one cat that was never fixed and wound up adopting a stray and that stray knocked up her original cat and so on. Twenty or so inbred cats, all because my mother couldn’t be bothered to spend fifty bucks at the vet.
             The place smelled awful, like something sweet mixed with bleach and paint thinner. I didn’t know what to do. They surrounded me. Their collective meowing was like an air-raid siren from hell.
             I found my mother’s stockpile of tinned cat food, opened a few tins, and whipped them around the apartment before I ran out the door. I had to get rid of those clothes. It took three showers to get the smell out of my pores.          
             I’ve done this a few times now. A friend who paints cars lent me a mask. I’m not sure who to call or what to do about these cats. I don’t even know how to start packing up my mother’s junk. The stockpile of tins is running low and I’ve already paid an extra month on her rent. The neighbours are starting to complain about the smell and the meowing, and my mother’s landlord has been leaving messages on my phone. I’m worried I’ll be charged with animal cruelty or neglect or something. At the very least they’re going to try to make me pay for some cleaners to come in. The carpet is finished. They’ll never get the smell out of there.


Matthew K. Thibeault's stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in F(r)iction, The Globe and Mail, and The Malahat Review. He received the 2015 Ernest Hemingway Prize from Fiction Southeast. He attends the University of Victoria and spends his summers in Dawson City, Yukon.

AN EXPERIMENTAL APOLOGY LETTER — ALLY WHARTON

I’m sorry that your first love made you feel higher than the vodka you tried at thirteen when I thought I knew you better.  I’m sorry that I learned to hate him more than the girl who hit me so hard that my ears rang louder than your laughter.  I’m sorry it didn’t work out, and that he deserved so much better than you.  I’m sorry my friend of eight years told you I was mad when I wasn’t.  I’m sorry I believed her shifting eyes that wouldn’t meet my own and took her fragility as an apology.  I’m sorry I became close to people that care about me.  I’m sorry I left homecoming crying because I couldn’t handle the noise and went home and threw up.  I’m sorry I gave up because I thought you were happier without me.  I’m sorry your father is a stranger and your mother married a man that you don’t even know.  I’m sorry you don’t know Hemingway.  I’m sorry I knew you’d fail out of biology.  I’m sorry that you don’t know how to spell “writer” and that I am one.  I’m sorry I’ve taken all the blame and let you walk free of the chains that drug me down for a year while I did nothing but wonder what I had done wrong.  I’m sorry you never got to see me cry, but I’m so proud you get to see I’m unbroken.


Ally Wharton is sixteen years old and currently resides in Charles Town, West Virginia. She spends much of her time reading, writing, or furthering her obsession with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. You can find her on Twitter @ally_wharton.

MY TEACHERS TOLD ME TO BE CAREFUL WITH THE FIRST PERSON — KAJ TANAKA

My teachers told me to be careful with the first person. They spoke of it like an addiction that, once begun, is difficult to control. Once a character begins observing the world directly, where is the filter? What’s to stop every inane thought from creeping in? And beyond that, the first person is a selfish point of view. It is only good for the confession booth.

My teachers told me to be careful with the first person. Personal tragedy is a luxury. The depth of one’s tragedy is proportionate to one’s prosperity. Those who truly suffer do not have the time or volition to frame their narrative as tragic, comic or anything else. They do not have the energy to carry their story up a hill and plant it in the ground. Beware the memoir and other first person accounts of tragedy—in those accounts, be always on the lookout for concealed wealth and privilege.

My teachers told me to be careful with the first person. No one wants to hear your complaints, they told me after reading one of my more raunchy tell-alls. No one cares about your life. Just tell us a story. Use the third person. It’s a much more robust point of view. The third person is the eye of the gods. It was good enough for Dickens. Even Jesus Christ tried to avoid the first person; that’s why people liked him so much.

My teachers told me to be careful with the first person. Look at Augustine, look at Apuleius, look at Lucian, look at Whitman—all rich misfits, all pathetic, all the butt of someone else’s joke. To write in the first person is to be the set up for someone else’s punch line. You’re Rocky, my teacher said after reading one of my stories, you just keep getting hit. See what happens, she warned me. Just keep writing about your wife—see where that gets you.

My teachers told me to be careful with the first person. You are a writer, they told me; your life will never be as interesting as you want it to be. Just die in a memorable way. It’ll be the best thing for all of us. You’ll get your story, only it’ll be someone else writing it, and that way it will be in the third person, the way it always should have been. And anyway, death is a great adventure. Don't be frightened. Death is no tragedy. It isn't personal.


Kaj Tanaka’s writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Electric Literature, Volume 1 Brooklyn, PANK and Joyland, and he has been featured on Wigleaf's (very) short fictions list. Kaj is the nonfiction editor at BULL. He tweets @othrrealppl.

LIFE WITH THREE KIDS — GREG HILL

“How’s life with three kids?” asks my friend, who has no children. I pour myself a glass of wine and consider my answer.
             Last night for dinner we had tortellini, which, baked at four hundred degrees for forty-five minutes, came out half frozen. The baby had been sleeping in her swing but the eldest child, the four-year old, woke her up when she jumped off the couch, landing on the sharp corner of a wooden block, then shrieking in pain.
             I grabbed an ice pack from the freezer but my wife, who had just come home, was upstairs changing out of work clothes so neither of us was able to intercept the middle child who toddled over to the baby's swing and smacked her on the head, something he'd been warned not to do. My wife and I don't believe in timeouts, so I grabbed the child by the arm, whisked him to the kitchen stool and told him to sit in timeout, which he neither liked nor understood. We believe in giving loving attention to our darlings, so I ignored the next fifty words out of the toddler's mouth, each of which was the question, "Why?"
             I stopped the swing and picked up the baby. She wasn’t crying from the smack on the head but because she had pooped out the back of her diaper, all the way up to her neck. I lay her on the changing table and told the toddler his timeout was over but he was already pulling saucepans out of cabinets. I asked him to get into his seat, but that made him cry because the stool he needed to climb into his seat wasn't there; it was in the kitchen—where it was supposed to be—where he had just been sitting.
             My wife came downstairs and helped the eldest child, still shrieking, into her seat. She spooned half frozen tortellini into a bowl but the child erupted because it was in a green bowl. She wanted the pink bowl, which was in the dishwasher. The middle child screamed that he wanted the green bowl. I was deep into the onesie cleanup, leaving my wife to explain that his sister had the green bowl but he could have the yellow bowl, which just made him scream louder. My wife slid the green bowl from the eldest child to the middle child, then scooped pasta into the yellow bowl and placed the yellow bowl in front of the eldest child, who shouted again for the pink bowl. We don't believe in responding to outbursts, so from across the room I yelled, "There is no pink bowl!" to which she replied, "Yes! There! Is!" and pushed the yellow bowl across the table, hitting her milk and spilling both milk and pasta onto the carpet.
             I swirl the glass and take a sip. “Hmm,” I say to my friend. “This wine is quite nice.”


Greg Hill is a writer and voice over talent in West Hartford, Connecticut. He has an MFA from Vermont of College of Fine Arts, which, it turns out, means little to co-workers in a non-profit media company. His work has appeared in Black Heart Magazine; Queen Mob’s Teahouse; Work Literary Magazine; and elsewhere; and is forthcoming in Whiskey Island.

ORIGIN LAVENDER — MELISSA WATT

He isn’t exactly a horse, but something like it. He feels it when he dances with his wife or puts up magnets on the fridge or uses a stepladder. Something is nagging him — is it his mouth? He pokes a finger at his molars, examines his lips in the mirror, his tongue. Do his cheeks have whiskers? He checks his scalp for anything growing. Everything seems in order, human, but he can’t stop feeling like maybe he should be somewhere else. Maybe he should be somewhere else, galloping.

An appaloosa colt beneath a cherry tree with his mother, the comforting scent of her onyx mane, and then she’s gone in spots and wind, and he’s running.

“Sleepover!” His daughter shoves past him to scoop up her toothbrush. “Bye, Dad!” He squints and taps his foot a bit.

From down the hall, “I’m driving her now. Do you wanna order sushi when I get back?” And closer, “Philip?” The bathroom door opens and his wife appears. “You okay, Phil?” She pinches his earlobes and he snaps back: the blue tiled bathroom, butterfly wallpaper that had been his grandmother’s, bras on the shower rod—all beige. “What are you looking for in there, baby?” Standing behind him, she looks in the mirror too. For a moment, they are both quiet, and then she turns and leaves.

He gets branded. It hurts but it’s just the way things go. He sleeps out in the sun after; the day passes in whiffs of lavender and smoke. By the time he notices the stars above him, he’s whole again.


 

Melissa Watt has an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College.

IT'S ALL SO BEAUTIFUL — AL KRATZ

Sometimes, I’m too tired for pigeons. I talk about them too much. Birds this, birds that. I hear you too, you know. You think Sydney is all over the moon. So what. I know you think I’m absurd. So what, so what, so what! So what the fuck if I am. So are you. Okay? You tell me how the bird turns its neck that way, this way, my way, your way, three way, no way, every which way circles and circles. You tell me the birds aren’t up to something. You tell me and I will believe you! I’m all ears. I’ll be your trigger. Please pull me. Pull me and pull me and pull me again. Sometimes I smell you burning Nag Champa and I swear to sweet Jesus, I can see you. If I get the right angle of the sun, if everyone else shuts the hell up, if I block out the static—hey, static cling. Ha! I wanted you to know, what I’m trying to say is that I need you to know I still hear you. I hear your poems. I hear you calling me Baby. A whisper really. A kiss really. It’s my gauge. That’s what you used to say, right? When we broke on through to the other side. When we held the glass onion and we weren’t afraid to look right through. We were going to drop out. Together, right? When everyone else was absurd. When we understood Sartre. We read that shit because we wanted to. Not because the old man did. Fuck him, right? We understood measure. When you read your poems to me before anyone else. Right? You did that for me? You were my gauge too. I know you were. We were electric and no one could pull the plug. No one except for me, I suppose. Sometimes I wonder about this life of interiority. Is it all that I wanted? No. But I wonder. If it’s really what I chose, and you weren’t really around, then I have to know, how was the life of exteriority, Alex? Is it all that you wanted? No. Okay. Fair enough. The pigeons aren’t that bad, Dude. They walk in circles and they don’t mind. They do the herky-jerky and they don’t mind. They have yet to hurt me. Sometimes I clap just for that! I get mad at them too sometimes. My anger is mine. Don’t worry about me. I have lots of possessions. Wouldn’t that be absurd? Ha! It’s all too good, Alex. It’s all so beautiful, all so true. The world makes me want to cry and that’s what I fucking do. So what. It feels good. I do that and then I get tired. So what if I’m too tired for pigeons. When I’m done with that stuff, I hear everyone say forgive me for I know not what I do, and I say amen. I say amen, amen, amen, Alex, until I fall asleep.


Al Kratz is a writer from Des Moines, Iowa, currently living in Indianola, and working on moving back to Des Moines some day. He has been a reader for Pithead Chapel and Wyvern Lit, but currently reads for no one but himself. It's not because he's selfish. He might read again for someone. He might start a new flash fiction site. He doesn't know. 

ALL THREE SIXTEEN — CHELSEA VOULGARES

All three of us are sixteen. Two girls, one boy: all in flannel shirts, with wet-look hair that smells like grapes. We get ready at your house—jostle for a spot in front of the tiny mirror in your room—while Rusty plays Nintendo on the bed. We have done this every weekend for years, but before it was just us two. I find an eyelash on your cheek, wipe it off with my fingertip and tell you to make a wish. You blow on my finger. “What did you wish for?” I say, but you shake your head and laugh.

We storm the Mansion of Terror like Vikings, made brave by the six-pack of cheap beer we downed in the back seat of Rusty’s Ford. The guy in devil makeup takes our tickets and leers at us, his red face and horns an invitation. Rusty pushes to the front, puffs himself up. The devil looks at his feet while Rusty ushers us past.

Rusty walks in front, you in the middle, me in back. We enter a butcher shop, the table filled with human feet and hands. Clowns, an electric chair, an asylum. We grip and giggle, try to scare each other even more.

The fifth room is full of light. A fluorescent hum. I don’t understand what’s scary here, but then I spot her in the corner, a woman crawling toward me on hands and knees. Black hair masks her face. She grabs my ankle, and I scream. I run to the door, it jams, too heavy in my shaking hands. Rusty opens it, hugs me, and laughs.

Next we confront the maze, so dark my eyes hurt. The walls are covered in rough fabric, and are so tight I have to squeeze my shoulders toward each other. I am teenager thin and don’t know how grownups make it through here, or fat people. I grope along, duck down when the ceiling drops. I stub my toe when the floor suddenly rises and I reach out for you, for Rusty, but my fingers wave empty against the cold, damp air. I listen for your breath, and wonder where you are. I wonder when I will ever get out of this darkness.

When I finally escape the maze, you and Rusty are kissing in the red light of the hallway before the last room. He sees me and nudges you to stop. My stomach is like that butcher’s meat, and when you turn you avoid my eyes. I try to smile. A chainsaw screams ahead of us and the gas fumes burn my nose. We charge into the room, you two in front, and try to run past the man in the mask who blocks our way. When I fall behind, the chainsaw blocks me. A toll booth. A gate. Your black hoodie fades through the exit door, and I can see only the flood-lights in the parking lot outside.


Chelsea Voulgares grew up in Ohio catching lightning bugs and watching bad horror movies. She now lives in Chicago, where she’s working on a novel and a collection of short stories. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Midwestern Gothic, Literary Orphans, The Millions, and Bust, and has been recognized with grants from the Illinois Arts Council and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. You can find her online at chelseavoulgares.com.