It happened when I was fifteen. All of a sudden I was hot. It came out of nowhere. One minute I was invisible and the next boys were feeling me up behind the stairs. They always say, don’t let strangers touch you, but they weren’t strangers. They were sophomores. Their names were Alan, Billy, Steve. They wore braces. Mullets. They said, let’s get this party started. After awhile they said nothing. They just did a little thing, like their legs were walking, which was code, for stairwell. We went. Usually there was a lot of tongue involved. Then the hands would start. They went up the shirt. Down the shirt. They paused at the pants and then they went there, too. They hung out. They said, hello, like we are giving you the pleasure of your life. It always stopped there, strangely. It’s like they read a book up to a certain point, and then Mom came in. After that things were formal. We sat there like nuns, or teachers. It was all very chivalrous, really. He would hold the door for me and we would go into whatever happened next, chemistry class, maybe, or the yard. Then he would ignore me and I would ignore him, or pretend to, I did what my dad does, I’d say, time does not exist except for at this moment. I looked around and murdered time. Then I took the bus.
             By 11th grade we just looked at each other. It was like a formality, like a favorite TV show you can’t give up, even though it’s in the 7th season and all the main characters have died. It was as if he’d forgotten how to feel. He was lost. He was thinking about algebra or how our teacher looked like Humpty Dumpty. It interfered with things, like sex. He put his hand over my blouse and we just sat there. And in the end he gave me this look, like don’t tell Steve or Billy. I nodded. It would be our secret. It was a bond. I told myself this. It smelled like M&M’s and menthols, like x=y2. He was the x and I the y, or he the y, it didn’t matter—we equaled out. My mother looked at me. She said, there’s something different about you, and I nodded. I was a woman now. I knew how to keep men’s secrets.

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Leonora Desar’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in CHEAP POPRiver StyxPassages NorthBlack Warrior Review OnlineMid-American ReviewSmokeLong QuarterlyHobart, and Quarter After Eight, among others. She won third place in River Styx’s microfiction contest, and was a runner-up/finalist in Quarter After Eight’s Robert J. DeMott Short Prose contest, judged by Stuart Dybek. She was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions 2019, and Best Microfiction 2018.


It’s already late in the history of our togetherness, we both know this, have always known this—the ending of a thing inherent in its beginning, birth and death harmonizing from the start.

The ball goes up. Men’s bodies collide. We are here to be seen. We were told it was a good idea by someone we pay to keep score. Points for this side, points for the other, all lights and noise and keep the beers coming. This is fun. This is fun. They keep reminding us.

Later we will stick needles in each other’s veins. 

Later we will record our last song together.

Later we will say cacophony. We will say nothing is wrong. One day I will wake up and realize I have never seen your eyes. You claim to be rooting for both teams. We sit so close to the sweat. The desire. 

These men are trying so hard.

Everyone thinks he’s going to win / of course that’s impossible.


Amorak Huey, a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, is author of the poetry collections Seducing the Asparagus Queen (Cloudbank Books, 2018), Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sundress, 2015) and Boom Box (Sundress, forthcoming 2019), as well as two chapbooks. He is co-author of the textbook Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury, 2018) and teaches at Grand Valley State University.


W. Todd Kaneko is the author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor 2014), co-author of Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury Academic 2018), and his poems and prose can be seen in many journals and anthologies. A Kundiman fellow, he is co-editor of the online literary journal Waxwing and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he teaches creative writing at Grand Valley State University.


(Content Warning: Sexual Assault)

The vampire squid was the scariest thing we’d ever seen. It glided along nonchalantly, and then once threatened, it flipped inside out to expose chains of teeth. When the image flashed on the screen, your hand found mine. I gave it a little squeeze to say I know.

After that, we had to learn more. We decided the library would be the best place because the vampire squid deserved real research, not two seconds on a keyboard. The one on 67th Street has those circular gothic windows that look like something out of a Jules Verne story. Everything fit.

We found out that, even though it’s called a “squid”, it’s really an octopus. I found out that your lips are softer than they look, and that—even though you ran to meet me—you still smelled like a forest after the rain. Musky, clean, and fresh.

School started up again and you forgot all about the octopus with the big blue eyes jutting out from a red body. You never brought it up again. Not when we went for ice-cream. Not when you came over to my house for dinner. Not when we kissed, against a tree, amber leaves crunching under our feet.

But I didn’t forget. I thought about the two toothy beaks it hides under its webbing. How what looked like strands of teeth was really spongy, not sharp. Protection by deception. I thought it was so clever, animals not as they appear.

Then you came over one night, my parents were out. The heaviness of your body on mine left no air in my lungs.

I said I wasn’t ready.

But you didn’t stop. You pretended not to see my tears. Vampyroteuthis infernalis. That’s the squid’s real name. Why can’t things be as they appear?

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Veronica Klash loves living in Las Vegas and writing in her living room. She writes flash fiction, short stories, articles, and essays. When she’s not writing, Veronica indulges in her other obsessions: food, martinis, Japan, and goofy socks. Find her at


Line the little crosses outside Mother’s window so she can see them. Little boys wander. Little boys play soldiers. Little boys play Indians. Tuck their little bodies into the earth where Mother can watch them grow.
             Father makes the boxes and Mother makes the burial gowns. Ruby watches her mother dress the little baby boys and cradle them and they are almost real, more real than Ruby or the sunflowers or the sky. Mother pulls them into her chest and smiles while she rocks them. They belong to the crook of her arm.
             Would Ruby like to hold the baby?
             Father pulls Ruby back with his too-large hands. Little baby boys make no sounds. Little baby boys won’t be warm. Little baby boys blue like the sky above.
             Father lets Mother keep each boy until the sun sets.
             At dusk Father cleaves the boys from Mother’s arms. Into the box. Into the belly of the earth. Sky above turned turquoise and fuchsia.
             Summer, harvest, pin oak leaves and frost. Six is arriving. Father plunges the shovel while Mother screams. His boys are made for earth, his only girl made to bear the weight of them.
             Would Ruby like to hold the baby?
             Yes, yes, mama I want to hold the baby.
             Pull the baby in close. Hold the head in the nook of her arm. Arms as stiff as her baby doll. Legs as stiff as her baby doll. Tilt him forward. Open, eyes, open.
             The hills curl around them. Father makes the box and Mother makes the burial gown. Ruby rocks the baby and rocks the baby and rocks the baby. Father cleaves the boy from her arms.
             Snow, frozen earth, cracks in the hard clay. Father packs his rifle. Father packs his boots. Fire floats along the border. Boys ride horses to the flames. Boys belong to causes. Boys belong to armies.
             Thaw, charred timber, mud sucks at their boots. The boys return in boxes.
             Mother knows the price of boys and when their house burns Mother will teach Ruby how to build it again and build it stronger.
             Ruby lets coneflowers grow along the little crosses. Purple as the sky. Little girls be brave, brave as your mother. Little boys be meant for the earth, let your blood water the prairie and come alive again in the red of sunset.

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Natalie Teal McAllister writes stories about dirt: the dirt under our fingernails, those stories from our childhood we can't escape, the land we came from that still lives in the enamel of our teeth. Her flash fiction appears in Longleaf Review and Pigeon Pages, and her short fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, No Tokens, Midwestern Gothic, and Flyway, among others. She is a 2017 and 2018 Tin House Summer Workshop participant and a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Kansas.


The thing about being the murdered moll is you set the plot in motion.
             Rain will be falling when you die; they’ll say rain was falling. They’ll say you woke with a knot in the pit of your belly, tugged your lover’s arm at the peek of sun through the hotel room curtain. They’ll say it wasn’t raining yet, it wasn’t raining then.
             Your lover will clutch your bullet-riddled body, they’ll say bullet-riddled. He’ll howl his rage to the storm clouds, vow vengeance in your name. He will become Romeo and you will be Juliet. You always wanted to be somebody, they’ll say. You always wanted to be a star.
             They’ll say the night before, you sat up with your lover in the dark of a hotel room after the convenience store robbery, suitcases stuffed with leaking liquor bottles, whiskey-sticky dollar bills. You gazed out the open curtain, knees tucked to chin. They’ll say you were wearing your best dress the night before you died, say it was growing threadbare frayed, but you were still beautiful in it, still beautiful in a hard, hopeful way.
             Sitting like that, they’ll say, you looked out the window at the sky, your lover’s fingers entwined with yours, the stars, you said to him, the stars, the stars.
             The stars envy us, don’t they?
             And in the morning, they’ll say, curtains drawn, slant of sunlight wisping across your face, you woke with a knot in your stomach, woke knowing, reached for your lover’s arm.
             It will be raining when you die, stolen car dragging in the back-road mud. They’ll say there was a pepper of gunfire; they’ll say you were wearing your best dress again, wearing it still, were smoothing the folds over your lap, looking out the window at the falling rain.
             They’ll say there was a gun on your lap, you were the kind of girl who’d carry a gun for your lover, say you were turning to your lover, opening your mouth to speak.
             Maybe, you said, maybe we could —
             The way the pepper of gunfire will punctuate the falling rain, the way he will cradle your body in the mud, the way he will rise up, guns blazing, they’ll like that—guns blazing—the way he leaves you on the ground before he falls too, your mouth still parted in death from the last words you had spoken, your mouth still parted, waiting, waiting for your Romeo’s kiss.

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Cathy Ulrich has a favorite Depression-era criminal, and it isn't John Dillinger or Pretty Boy Floyd. Her work has been published in various journals, including Passages North, Black Warrior Review, Pithead Chapel and Gigantic Sequins.


They let the house get taken. At first it was just a juniper that grew as tall as the eaves and started pushing at one of the gutters. The tree had a clear and insistent path (up and out), and there was a regal, piney “fuck you” to anything in its way.
             They stopped hacking at the rhododendrons, which had been thigh-high when they’d first had their daughter, until they made an unforgiving cape around the front porch. Squirrels stopped differentiating between porch (for people) and shrubs (other animals). Ravens stalked circles around the house in the morning. Bluebirds flew right up to the window glass, their orange throats ablaze.
             It was ridiculous. There were cars with TVs in them and children eating plasticy sugar in the shapes of fruits out of packages; whole human children shouldn’t just disappear. But their daughter, four and wearing nothing but a giant t-shirt one of them had left on the floor by the bed they all usually ended up in, had been in their backyard when they were pulling garlic bulbs and trimming their pink papery flowers, and then she was gone. No movie reel of her departure to unfurl in their minds later. Nothing.
             Soon they were living with squirrels. Hell, maybe they were squirrels. An opossum worked its way into the upstairs bathroom, tried to drink from the toilet, and was knocked dead by the lid when it snapped down. They didn’t even bury it. They flung it by its tail from an open upstairs window and into the backyard where it decayed in a cloud of insects until a hawk lifted it to the sky.
             They started leaving the windows open and without screens. Mice built nests in rolled-up rugs in the storage room. Banana slugs were yellow question marks in every corner. The ocean was something they could see out an upstairs bedroom window, but they felt sure they would never walk down to it again, down the hill and through the grid of the town and past the flocks of nasturtiums and the water towers and down the path with all the blackberries and bees that were too delighted and busy to sting.
             They started sleeping outside, at first in sleeping bags and a tent and eventually just sleeping bags, but not letting themselves lean into each other. They slept intermittently and without ease and then it was fucking morning all over again.
             They built a fire in the backyard made of all the stupid fence posts that had surrounded their property. They started pulling wood right off the house and throwing it into the flame, which was taller than their shed. They lay too close to the fire on their backs. The stars were too pretty for them to see, so they closed their eyes for hours without actually sleeping. Animals roamed around them but never touched them.
             They wanted to be taken. Let them be taken.

Amy Stuber's fiction has been published in American Short Fiction, The New England Review, The Colorado Review, Ploughshares, The Antioch Review, and elsewhere. She has new work forthcoming in 2019 in Hobart, Arts and Letters, Split Lip, J Journal, Pithead Chapel, and Wigleaf. She is a flash fiction reader for Split Lip. Find her on Twitter at amy_moss_ or online at


We thought the place where the cattails thinned was still the shallows, but the water came up to the inverted “V” where your ribs fused together. The Xiphoid process—a name I cannot forget, an extraterrestrial name for a bit of ossified cartilage that welds the ribs into a cage. The moonlight beamed upon the stream, a silvery light seen only in B-movie abductions. In the faded still shot, your backlit torso had  already dematerialized, a silhouette where a body ought to have been. On the water your torso’s twin, a water-severed reflection, surrendered to the mercury-white column of light. A tractor beam, drawing you from us. That’s no moon, we heard you say. It’s a trap! (Would you scream that, those months later, when your Humvee raged over the packed earth toward what you thought was a dry-rotted beam?) Your muscles didn’t ripple that night but the water did. Abductee’s terror, apostolic rapture: whatever you felt, it compelled you to raise your hands above your head. The cattails’ wands raked the water; they were brown-black as sticks left in the fire ring, charred as the remnants of afterburners kicking a vessel into the stratosphere. From one of your hands, creek water sieved in silver grains. We know it can’t be so, but even then we thought each drop struck the water and sizzled like molten fragments of shrapnel.

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Patrick Thomas Henry is the fiction and poetry editor for Modern Language Studies. His work has recently appeared in, or is forthcoming from, Fiction SoutheastMassachusetts ReviewClarion, and Passages North, amongst other publications. He currently teaches creative writing at the University of North Dakota. You can find him online at or on Twitter @Patrick_T_Henry.


In one of the cartoons I watched as a child, Popeye the Sailor gives Olive Oyl a bouquet of flowers. She is thrilled, he walks on air, thinking they will marry. His one-eyed heroism is soon challenged by Bluto however, who pours cement into Popeye’s bath. It goes on—one disaster after another. The message is that love is hard. How crafty men are! And women, too.

At Whole Foods a man stands behind me in line. He holds a bouquet of roses. He is gruff, but charming, a throwback to another era, perhaps a spirit. He shoves the cellophaned roses my way. Whaddya think? he asks.

I inspect the hopeful clump. The individual petals are pink, or rather salmon, with notched brown edges. The roses are in distress. This is almost an embarrassment, the flower heads fallen away, each from the other, a mania of foliage.

Aren’t they wilted? I tactfully ask.

They’ll get me in the door, he answers.

I yam what I yam, Popeye would boast. Because he accepted himself, his one eye seeing the world aslant, his cans of spinach giving him superpowers. He started out as a crewmember on a ship destined to a casino on Dice Island. His life was rough, catastrophic, his surreal brawls the stuff of dreams. As a child I was mesmerized by this porthole to the world of grownups. Bluto (or Brutus, as he was later known) was Popeye’s nemesis. He was a sharp point on the love triangle that involved Popeye and the hysterical damsel, Olive Oyl, who was her own woman, who faltered, but briefly, who gathered in her swift affections, remained enigmatic.

I’m sure she’ll like the roses, I say to the man at Whole Foods. He beams, he is one of those overconfident fools who steps off ledges, gets up, pats himself off, and does it again. His laugh like a chainsaw. I’m good at it, he winks—but good at what? I wonder. Superimposing his corrupt positivity on a lady’s better judgment, for favors of sympathy. It is a metaphysical assurance.

Frank “Rocky” Fiegel was the real-life inspiration for the Popeye character. Not much is known about him, except that he was a one-eyed, pipe-smoking, rabble-rouser who happened to like children. He lived and died in the comic book creator’s hometown of Chester, Illinois; an image of Popeye marks his grave.

And so the magical sea shanty played, and love was taught to me as hardship, persecution, a false exuberance. But how to keep exploiting one’s heart, to wait with frozen spinach, these coins of complicity. I watch the man waltz off, with his air of bedraggled kismet. He will knock on a door with his subpar roses. This small gesture of sober incompleteness.

I brung you some flowers.

In 1939, Margie Hines, voice of Olive Oyl, married Jack Mercer, voice of Popeye. That they had stars in their eyes should not be faulted. They later divorced.

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Ulrica Hume is the author of An Uncertain Age, a “wickedly sophisticated” spiritual mystery novel, and House of Miracles, a collection of tales about love, one of which was selected by PEN and broadcast on NPR. Her flash pieces appear at Ellipsis Zine, FanzineLitroNecessary Fiction100 Word Story, and in the Nothing Short Of and Things Left and Found by the Side of the Road anthologies. Find her on Twitter at @uhume.