GOOD GUYS — KATE FINEGAN

Teacher tells us in the event of a nuclear attack, we have to fight our natural urge to run to windows and watch. We’re like that, curious. That’s why we practice duck and cover, duck and cover, duck and cover. We don’t know, ever, if it’s real or fake, so I guess even the real time will feel fake, and I’m sure there’ll be a real time because my family watches TV from supper to bed, me and Mom on the couch, Dad in his recliner, all of us with our little metal trays of meatloaf or hot dish, and all that news of the bad guys launching hunks of metal into space.
             Mom makes supper every night but hardly eats a bite. I’m not allowed to waste food because of poor starving children somewhere, but Mom slides so much of her meal into the garbage then goes to the bathroom for what seems like forever. I guess that bathroom’s maybe like her fallout shelter. I know that because she told me she goes in there to think, to get some peace and quiet. But I know the TV’s loud enough you can hear it in the bathroom. You can hear it everywhere. I hear it as I fall asleep.
             We’ve got a little fallout shelter. Dad insisted. Mom said she wouldn’t want to live in a world of nuclear winter. Dad said we live in northern Minnesota—how much worse could winter get?
             He’s always got some question like that, every time Mom says something silly. I’m learning from him, what to say when girls are silly. I guess I believe Teacher when she says we’d watch the nuclear blast because I can’t help watching from the top of the stairs when Dad slaps Mom.
             Mom and Dad and Teacher and the news all say we’re the good guys. But I wonder how good we can be if we need a fallout shelter in the backyard and another in the bathroom just for Mom, if so much food goes to waste as Mom’s stomach rumbles on the couch. I wonder if we’re the good guys, but the adults say we are, and the other boys are sure, so I believe them.


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Kate Finegan recently published the chapbook The Size of Texas with Penrose Press. Her work has won contests with Thresholds, Phoebe Journal, Midwestern Gothic, and The Fiddlehead, and been runner-up for The Puritan's Thomas Morton Memorial Prize, shortlisted for the Cambridge Short Story Prize and Synaesthesia Flash Fiction Prize, and longlisted by Room. She is Assistant Fiction Editor at Longleaf Review. You can find her at katefinegan.ink and twitter.com/@kehfinegan.

A PATIENT ACT OF LOVE — JARED POVANDA

As soon as Adam knelt by the shore of the pond, tears streaking his face, moisture soaked his jeans. Cold gripped his knees, and his fillings hummed in his mouth. The taste of salt wouldn’t leave his tongue. When Adam looked to the bank of trees across the water, though, through the dark and the half-gone leaves, he imagined he saw a hint of her, and his heart began to calm.
             Abigail.
             Abigail.
             Drums upon drums upon drums, her name was.
             And he was lost to the music of her.
             Adam scrubbed a hand over his features, then through his thinning hair, wasting the action as well as the time. He knew he should get up and walk back the way he came—self-preservation singing a final warning in his ear, but he didn’t. He stayed and knelt and listened to the nightbirds. He knelt, and heard her, too, twined between their cries.
             Abigail had loved the forest—the sun-warmed stones and the budding flowers dripping with nectar. The clusters of bees around their hives. She would watch a swarm for hours, sketchbook in hand, drawing thousands of tiny bodies threading through the honeycomb.
             She sprang from her mother with clay under her fingernails and landscape paintings tattooed on her skin. With a dirty smock tied around the slim vine of her waist. Her words, not his. He was honestly surprised he still remembered them.
             The erosion of a mind, especially one with dementia, was a patient act. Though, so were Abigail’s paintings. Her rendering of the umber ducks on their mantle was composed of a million brushstrokes.
             Both were acts of love.
             The goal of painting was to create something from nothing, and the erosion, he believed—he so needed to believe—was to save his mind the pain of those many somethings by becoming nothing. By blanking and going white. Pleasure at its apex, the forgetting of grief. And he was forgetting. More and more every day.
             And Adam didn’t want to die not knowing her.
             He took one final breath of the forest—the winter still clasped tight to the pine, and there was the fragrant soil at his feet, rich with worms, and, beneath it all, he thought, a perfuming echo of Abigail’s lemongrass and verbena—before slumping slow into the water to follow his late wife wherever her illness took her, creating no bigger splash than a smallmouth bass hunting midges on the surface of the starry water.


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Jared Povanda is a writer, freelance editor, and avid reader from upstate New York. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Silver Needle Press, Sky Island Journal, Vestal Review, the anthology My Body, My Words (Big Table Publishing), and Tiferet Journal, among others. The winner of multiple literary awards, he also holds a B.A. from Ithaca College in Creative Writing. 

SKIM — ELISABETH GIFFIN SPECKMAN

The world was drowning in milk. That's what it looked like to June anyway, that morning when she got her first real glance of Novakosh. Like milk, everywhere.

Things would’ve been different if she’d arrived in the summer. That's what Glenda at Hair Force One two towns over liked to say. “Things would’ve been different if June’d come in July,” she’d say, shaking her head but keeping her hand steady. “A frozen landscape’s not inviting. All of that white, and all of it cold. It's easy to get lost in.”

June didn’t have much prior knowledge of white things. To June, white was fragile, like the pitcher in her grandmother's cabinet. White like bone, breaking through her brother’s skin when he taunted the neighbor’s dog. White like milk, expensive when spilt, impossible to hold in your hands.

“Towns like this are best in the summer. When the sky is bright and the woods are green and the lakes are dark and deep.” Glenda’s eyes grew wide and weary. “When you can see the lakes are lakes.”

June had come in January. She hadn’t planned on coming at all, and she certainly hadn’t planned on staying. Planning wasn’t June’s strong suit. Her trusty old jalopy had pulled into town as darkness settled. She’d driven it north all the way from Hammond, taking 55 about as far as she could, until it hooked a right towards Chicago and she still craved north. From there she’d wound around the city a bit, before finally settling on 43, and then 41, and then somewhere past Crivitz, when she lost count of the sunsets she’d watched in the rearview mirror, she’d realized what she’d done.

She’d seen signs for Iron Mountain and liked the sound of that. She’d seen signs for Spread Eagle, and it made her blush. She hadn’t seen any signs for Novakosh, though, and maybe that was the biggest sign of all. Once the car gave out, she gave up on continuing on, and settled in to sleep.

In the morning: milk. At first she thought she was dreaming. She imagined herself as some minuscule thing, deep in a bowl of milk, with Cheerio inner tubes and corn flake rafts to keep her afloat. In reality, she was stuck in her car in the middle of Lake Novak, covered in snow, two  miles from shore, where a small crowd had gathered, watching.

The night’s snow had covered everything, and it took everything in June to force her car door open, splintering the fresh ice that had filled its grooves. Stepping out, snow crunched beneath her feet, and she saw how mere inches of splinter-free ice held her and her car’s carcass captive.

Someone was waving onshore, shouting.

“Help is on the way!”

June stumbled forward.

“Don’t—"

But June only heard cracking as the milky world gave way. In a moment, she was gone; and everything was white again, save a small, person-sized hole. And all of it was cold.


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Elisabeth Giffin Speckman received her MFA in Fiction from Butler University, where she was a reader for Booth and now serves as an adjunct instructor and as Director of the Butler Bridge Program. She is a playwright and actor. Her plays have been workshopped and/or produced in Indiana, Ohio, Florida,  Connecticut, and British Columbia. Her short play, “Brothers on a Hotel Bed,” is featured in Stage It! 2: Thirty 10-Minute Plays. Other work appears or is forthcoming in Midwestern Gothic and Flash Fiction Magazine.

CORNHOLE, BAGS — JOHN JODZIO

Some of the old people called it cornhole but we called it bags. We called it bags because we went to church sometimes and everyone there called it bags, too. The church’s bags board was painted with a glowing face of Jesus and you tossed your beanbag into his grinning mouth. We also called it bags because we asked the youth pastor, Pastor James, what Jesus would have called it—bags or cornhole—and Pastor James said “bags” with no hesitation whatsoever, responded so quickly that we felt this meant he had a direct line to heaven.
             Some of us were only decent at bags, but some of us were great at it. Sometimes we bet on our bags games when we were drunk at the park. Sometimes Pastor James would walk by with his golden retriever and say "see you at church on Sunday" and we would say sure, sure, yep, of course, no doubt, and then go puke into a bush.
             One night, a man named Nelson came to the park to drink and play bags with us. Nelson was a square shaped man in his 40s, and he wouldn't stop calling it cornhole. Cornhole this, cornhole that. Ugh. We beat Nelson in bags and then we punched him in the gut and stole the rest of his beer. Unfortunately, Pastor James was walking his dog when this happened and he called the police on us. Some of us went to juvie, but some of us only got community service.
             Most of the church members forgave us when we came back to worship, but some didn’t, wouldn’t ever. One woman hissed whenever she saw us and one of the deacons threw an empty Diet Coke can at us while we biked home.
             A few months later Nelson died after his car skidded into a gravel pit. We couldn’t help but wonder—was this a random accident or was God delivering some sort of divine justice? Maybe some of both? We asked Pastor James at youth group.
             “Are you asking me if Nelson died because he called it cornhole?” he said.
             “Yep,” we said. “Uh-huh.”
             Pastor James had just been explaining a parable about some weeds and some wheat in his confident church voice, but now his voice turned sad and shaky, a voice we recognized from the park, from that night he’d called the cops on us.
             “God wouldn’t do that,” he told us. "God wouldn't do that," he repeated, but we knew otherwise and so we gathered up our things and made our way past him and out the door.


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John Jodzio's work has been featured in a variety of places including This American LifeMcSweeney's, and One Story. He's the author of the short story collections, KnockoutGet In If You Want To Live and If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home. He lives in Minneapolis. 

HELL — JENNIFER WORTMAN

Felicia runs off the church bus straight into your yard and screams, “I can’t play with you no more, Sarah. You’re not saved.”

For a second, you’re glad. Most days, Felicia sprints into your yard, grime ringing her lips, and leaps on your swing set like it’s her own, pumping hard until the front poles kick up. One kick is enough for you, but she keeps going, as if she wants the swing set to keel over, wants the smack on the back of the head. Felicia’s older than you, so you don’t yell, “Stop!” You don’t cry.

Felicia’s mom is big and mean and her stepdad is small and mean and you never run to her yard.  But, now, when Felicia vanishes into her old stinky house, you feel a loss. She’s a part of your world, like the buckeye tree at the edge of your yard and the cardinals and robins that land there, and the dandelions everywhere, and the fat worms shining on the sidewalk after it rains.

You don’t go to church. And if your town had a temple, you wouldn’t go. “It’s just a bunch of gobbledygook,” your dad likes to say.

“Saved” means the jar of coins you keep in your bedroom until it’s full enough to matter. Your parents help you count: “Good job!” your mom cheers when you count a big stack. “You see?” your dad says. “Doesn’t come easy.” You nod, glad to understand the lack of ease. To save means to grow up.

But that’s not what Felicia means, your dad, that night before bed, explains. Felicia means Jews go to hell. “There’s no such thing as hell,” he says. “Except the hell people make, right here in this world.”

The next day, Felicia’s in your yard again, her pumps jerking the swing set off the ground. You clutch the chains, silent as always, hating her, her grubby mouth and stinking house and stupid church, hating your fear of her, your fear of the coming fall, the slam of soft grass turned hard at your back.


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Jennifer Wortman is the author of This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love., a story collection forthcoming from Split Lip Press in 2019. Her fiction, essays, and poetry appear in Glimmer Train, Normal School, DIAGRAM, The Collagist, SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, The Collapsar, and elsewhere. She is the associate fiction editor at Colorado Review and an instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Find more at jenniferwortman.com.

PLASTIC ANIMAL HANDBOOK — EVAN NICHOLLS

[Alphabetical] Order:

             Defenestrated, back in the day, when we had rooms high enough and the windows open wide. When we had buildings. Now you don’t go high.

             Regarding this text, Plastic Animal Handbook operates in a line of relevance, not alphabetically. That is, read this all the way through while your Survival Partner / Mate / Bed Buddy stands guard outside the tent flap. This manual, albeit brief, is relevant to your survival. Read it carefully, in one sitting. When you are done, take your Survival Partner’s / Mate’s / Bed Buddy’s place outside. Now they read. You watch.
             Scrutinize the wilderness that’s gonna murder you someday.  

Plastic:

             The New Skin.

Gun(s):

             The Old Tool.

Animal(s):

             Once were, now aren’t, except in a Plastic way. That is, the Animals are all Plastic now. Linguistic. Dexterous. They shoot people               with Guns on the weekends. They want your scalp.

             Depending on where you are in the world, you may encounter certain Plastic Animals. In Africa, the Plastic Hippopotamuses, Honey              Badgers. Europe and Asia, the Plastic Persian Leopards, Arabian Horses, Eurasian Wolves. Based on this book’s publishing             distribution, you are probably in the Americas, and probably North America. Which means Plastic Giant Otters, Anteaters, Jaguars                  (South America) or Plastic Pumas, Grizzlies, Big-Horned Sheep (North America). All Plastics mentioned above are ruling species on               their respective continents. They want to wear your skin.

             On the basis of North America being your locale, Plastic Animal Handbook covers North American species in further detail:

                          Sub: Grizzly Bear

                                       Running zig-zags does NOT work (tested). What you need is a Gun; gross recoil, big pay-off. Multiple slugs are          
                                       needed to put a Plastic Bear into the ground. The body won’t decompose, only melt at a later date under the always-
                                       winter sun.

                          Sub: Big-Horned Sheep

                                       They are bad shots on account of the hooves. Will charge.

                          Sub: Puma

                                       Faster than most. Also, teeth. Inescapable.

                          Sub: The Rest

                                       Avoid.

Man Hunt(s):

             The Danger. Was ‘okay’ when we did it. Now the reason for one eye open, and also only one eye.

The New Earth Diet:

             Us. Some Plastic Animals were not previously meat-eaters but now participate in Man Hunts. Also, after being plasticized, some no
             longer prescribe to their Old Earth diets. Plastic Anteaters have been seen gorging on fresh, dark-blooded Survival Partner / Mate /
             Bed Buddy carcasses. Plastic Wolves have been witnessed grazing polyethylene scrub.

The Unknown:

             What We(e) Humans Don’t Know. Also, what was in our food, factories. Also, maybe, How The Animals Got Plastic. History.
             Somebody gave them Guns, language, made them a durable, cold material. Said revenge. (See Coldness).

Coldness:

             What Plastic Animals feel. What separates us from them. Like the end of a Gun’s black barrel. (See The
             End).

The End:

             Comes at you low. Like in the bush. Like you deserved it, but never saw it coming. Inevitable. Destroys
             what you Love (see Love).

Love:

             What is left over. What is standing outside the tent flap, for the short time it has. Absolutely vital.


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Evan Nicholls has work appearing in Passages North, Maudlin House, THRUSH, Pithead Chapel and Whurk among others. He is from Fauquier County, Virginia. Follow him on Twitter @nicholls_evan.

JUST AFTER JOY — MOLIA DUMBLETON

In her hometown, when Melody was thirteen, a nineteen-year-old flipped his Trans Am on the highway feeder road right outside the main entrance to the mall where Melody used to get dropped off to meet her friends at the food court outside the cinema multiplex, and the next day The City News printed a picture of the upside-down car on the front page, which is where Melody saw it in black and white: the car fully upside-down and teetering on its crumpled hood.
             There wasn’t any blood or anything, that’s hard to tell in black and white, so Melody looked extra hard just to be sure, but the story was that the boy had been speeding—really speeding, not just a little-bit speeding the way your parents might if they were late for something—and tried to take that turn too tight, and so over it went, the Trans Am, all three thousand pounds of it—with both its windows wide open, it being August, and the song, My Hometown, blaring from the radio as the car sat there rocking, upside-down with a dead boy inside of it.
             Melody felt every inch of that story in her bones every time she passed that spot in the car with her parents for weeks afterward, even as the little pieces of glass and metal on the road gradually spread out and disappeared—and later, too, when she was learning to drive—and as an adult, any time she took a turn too tight—and even after that, too—for the rest of her life, really, whenever she almost started to get that feeling that you feel, that forever sort of soaring feeling, when it’s August and late, and you’re free.


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Molia Dumbleton's debut collection of short fiction was a Finalist for the 2018 Iowa Short Fiction Award. Individual stories from that collection have appeared in The Kenyon Review, New England Review, Witness, SmokeLong Quarterly, Columbia Journal, and others. Her work has also been awarded the Columbia Journal Fiction Award, Seán Ó Faoláin Story Prize, Dromineer Literary Festival Flash Fiction Award; Kelly Barnhill Microfiction Award; Third Prize for the Bridport Prize; Third Prize for the Bath Flash Fiction Award; and a spot as a Finalist in the SmokeLong Quarterly Flash Fiction Award and Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Award, among others. She is a reader for The Masters Review and a member of the Curatorial Board at Ragdale. Full publications list and other info can be found at www.moliadumbleton.com

ON MY TOOTHBRUSH THERE IS ACETONE — JENNY FRIED

There is a wolf in my city who wears padlocks in her ears. Her fur is long and it falls and whorls in gray sputters of dying ink. There is a wolf in my city and I have seen her in the walls of my apartment.
             The wolf in my city eats dumpster lettuce and pigeon popcorn. She holds them in her mouth but I have never seen her chew. Her teeth are chipped and black and sometimes when I go to sleep I can feel them in my stomach. She watches me while I shave my face and my chest and paint my nails. I sometimes think that she is jealous.
             There is a wolf in my city, a wolf, and she lives in the sidewalk cracks that I do not step on. She lives in the flickers in the streetlights and in the cabs of sleeping cranes. I left my razor out for her one night, in the space between the wall and my refrigerator, but in the morning it had gained only a drop of blood. I checked for gray hairs everywhere I could think of, but I only found one. The lonely red drop was too sad to look at, and I went to work that day with stubble.
             There is a wolf in my city with a scratch on her nose and a belly of fall leaves. In the winter her fur is full of roadkill. There are men who whistle at me while their cars are stopped in traffic. I look at the wolf through the cracks in the sidewalk and when I get home I paint my teeth black.
             I wrote faggot on my chest once, a secret punishment for the skirt that slept under my bed, for the smooth skin and paper-cut mouths built from the slipping of my fingers.It bled through my shirt, a charcoal rubbing on a gravestone. I can taste it now as I spit out flecks of black nail polish. I rinse my mouth and try hard not to swallow.
             “There is a wolf,” I say, and I grip my toothbrush tighter. “There is a wolf there is a wolf there is a wolf.”


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Jenny Fried is a trans author living in California. Her work has appeared previously or is forthcoming in Bad Nudes, Jellyfish Review, X-R-A-Y, and The New York Times. Find her on twitter @jenny_fried.