Red ‘N Wolf by Tyrese L. Coleman

Wolf dragged Red away from the bones. “You don’t need to see those.”

She let him walk her outside. Red took one last look at it: a five room rancher, half brick half siding, a planter with fake flowers out front, two open cans of molded tuna on the porch left to feed stray kittens that’ll never be cats, the cross still standing inside, against the front window. Grandma’s stretched voice in a sermon is the ear worm Red can’t ever shake off. She damned Red, a loose girl — when you lay with dogs, you get fleas. Now proof: the absence of blood between Red’s legs and her Grandmother’s dry, dirty bones.

She put a hand to her throat. Screaming had sucked air from her body she was now desperate to gulp back in. She panted, filling herself breath by shallow breath. “How could you let it get that out of control?”

“You told me to eat her.”

“But…I didn’t tell you to kill her.”

Wolf ignored this and put his arm around her.

“She was my grandmother, for goodness sake.”

Red turned from the fish-caked, rusting silver can. Her stomach jerked — Oh God, not that, not that, not that. She thought about the blood, not pregnancy blood, her grandmother’s blood and her stomach quivered again. Grandma was smug, a look of satisfaction on her face right before Wolf bit into it.  Red will always hold on to that “I told you so” smirk when the guilt rises in her gut, solid like the baby she couldn’t admit was there. Red grabbed Wolf’s slick paw and jerked him forward, deciding never to see that house again. They ran. Red’s dogged breathing alerted the world to their presence, to her condition. She wouldn’t last much longer. Wolf bent over, motioning to get on his back and ride. She did, clutching the fur around his neck, wet gray spikes piercing the space between her fingers. He did not stop until they reached another road, another city, another planet, she hoped he would never stop — don’t stop, don’t stop, she whispered.

They reached a wooded clearing deep in a forest on the other side of the world. Red sat beside a large tree and plucked a leaf from inside her hair. “What now?”

Wolf dropped to his haunches and inhaled the fresh sweat between her thighs, a long pull of her earthen ripeness that lifted him from the ground like a cartoon dog, eyes closed in rapture. This is why she fell for him, why she went along with his insane ideas. Her neck bent backward as she laughed with such a loud hysterical sobbing sound it made her belly shake and moan.

After, Wolf staggered around, spent, then ran a paw through his hair, and thought out loud, “I can eat the baby too.”  

“No.” She said.

But why not? She thought. Why not?

 


 

tyreseTyrese L. Coleman is a writer, wife, mother, and attorney. She is also the fiction editor for District Lit and an associate editor at SmokeLong Quarterly. A 2016 Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and a nonfiction scholar at Virginia Quarterly Review’s 2016 Writer’s Conference, her prose has appeared in several publications, including PANK, Buzzfeed, Brevity, The Rumpus, Hobart, listed in Wigleaf’s Top 50 (very) short fictions, and forthcoming at the Kenyon Review. She lives in the Washington D.C. metro area, and can be reached at tyresecoleman.com.

Winter Walks by Paul Beckman

Hand, she says. We walk, our long winter coats touching. Before we reach the corner, her hand searches for mine. Gloveless, it’s in my pocket trying to keep warm. Don’t always make me ask for your hand, she says, through clenched teeth.

Hand, I say, and she ignores me, instead stands holding her four-pronged cane, her black shoes resting on the curb. Hand, I say again, and she ignores me still, showing her stubbornness, waiting for me to lift her gloved hand from her side and hold it while crossing the street. Once we’re across, Mom rubs her hand on my sleeve and squeezes my arm, and then sets off, heading into the wind, her coat pressed against her, anxious to end our weekly lunch and get to her apartment for her weekly bridge game.

 


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Paul Beckman’s story “Healing Time” was one of the winners in the 2016 The Best Small Fictions and his 100 word story “Mom’s Goodbye” was chosen as the winner of the 2016  Fiction Southeast Editor’s Prize. His stories are widely published in print and online in the following magazines amongst others: Connecticut Review, Raleigh Review, Litro, Playboy, Pank, Blue Fifth Review, Flash Frontier, Matter Press, Metazen, Pure Slush, Jellyfish Magazine, Thrice Fiction, and Literary Orphans. His latest collection, Peek, weighed in at 65 stories and 120 pages. Paul lives in Connecticut and earned his MFA from Bennington College. His published story website is  www.paulbeckmanstories.com and  blog is www.pincusb.com. He also runs the FBomb flash fiction reading series at the KGB Red Room in NY.

Terminals by Kathy Fish

The airport is also a train depot. I wander back and forth between the terminals, hearing languages. I see my parents riding in a golf cart, but they’re going the opposite direction.

*

I can’t find the oregano. My daughter is at the computer, reading out loud. “We are few and they are many, they will devour us,” she says.

*

The nurse says they will take some fluid from my mother’s spine. She’s careless with the wheelchair, knocking over a vase at the end of the hall.

*

We fiddle for hours, turning knobs, working gears. It’s like a jet. I brought a jello mold with shredded carrot. I top mine with whipped cream. “Cheater,” you say, taking some.

*

My husband arrives with gifts from Asia. One is a tee shirt with two cartoon soldiers, both resembling Mr. Magoo. They’re running with rifles. Underneath, it says “Indonesia.”

*

Our home feels outsized, bloated. We walk the rooms, bewildered by high ceilings and Louis XIV furniture. Looking out the window gives me vertigo. An old man waves from the garden path

*

“Is it five o’clock yet?” I ask. You lick cream from your finger and hold it up. One more game.

*

The manager of the Starbucks asks me to describe myself using only one word. I take a sip of coffee. “Dark,” I tell her. She writes in her notebook. She says she’ll get back to me.

*

My brother phones to wish me a Happy Birthday. He likes his new job, but it’s all arrivals and departures. “Lila is doing a report,” I tell him. “Chief Joseph.” He talks about the day our parents finally brought me home from the hospital. He uses the word grim.

*

In my dreams, my father walks into a church wearing a red carnation in his lapel. I hold forth from the pulpit. My mother raises broken hands, imploring me to stop.

*

I find the oregano, but it has lost its scent. My daughter leans closer to the screen. “I’m tired of fighting. My heart is sick and sad.”

*

We’re invited to have drinks with the neighbors on their deck, but it’s misty. We sit at the kitchen table under a bulb, our faces in the fog curling over the blue Adirondack chairs.

 


 

author photo 2 (1)Kathy Fish teaches flash fiction for the Mile High MFA program at Regis University in
Denver. She has published four collections of short fiction: a chapbook in the Rose Metal
Press collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women (2008); Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011); Together We Can Bury It (The Lit Pub, 2012); and Rift, co-authored with Robert Vaughan (Unknown Press, 2015). Her story, “A Room with Many Small Beds” was chosen by Stuart Dybek for inclusion in Best Small Fictions 2016 (Queen’s Ferry Press). She blogs at http://www.kathy-fish.com/.

 

 

The Iridescence of Our Sins by Ashley Perez

The children appear from the edges. Their faces set. Their bodies are covered in iridescent powders that shimmer in hues that could only be seen in dreams. We have been gathered in the square to wait. Our kin have been gathered to watch. The children walk around us in a pack, sniffing, running towards us and back again to their circle. Worn, brown leather pouches hang around their necks, swaying with their movement.
 
The children stop. The drums start in sync with our heartbeats. The children move again. They reach into their pouches and pull out handfuls of the same beautiful powder that is on their bodies. They swipe furiously at our skin, and the powder blends into our arms, exposed bellies, legs, and cracked feet. We are amethyst, crimson, sapphire, and gold. We are but poor imitations of them.

The rain starts slowly, blending and bleeding us into the ground. We are marked with the sins of our people, and we carry those sins with us. We follow the children; the rest follow us. This place has come to an end. The square is empty.
 


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Photo Credit: Rachael Warecki/Camera RAW Photography
Ashley Perez lives, writes, and causes trouble in Los Angeles. She has a strong affinity for tattoos, otters, cat mystery books, and actual cats, but has mixed feelings about pants. You can find her on Twitter at @ArtsCollide.

Born Again by Michele Finn Johnson

Stephen is a member of the PraiseTheLord club—he has their bumper sticker on his Grand Prix—and so I know that he is off-limits. Untouchable or, at best, touchable above the belt. But that’s just it—I want to touch him. More specifically, I want to lick his cherry lips—lick them until they fuzz over with chap and fall off. He doesn’t suspect this of me, the girl he just so happens to bump into in the apartment complex laundry room every Wednesday night. I think it might send him into evangelical convulsions.

“You’re pathetic,” my roommate, Janet, says, watching me pull clean clothes off of hangers, top off two laundry baskets with Downey-fresh shirts.

I drop the baskets in our hallway and do a headstand against the wall. “I know I am. But at least you’re getting your laundry done for you.”

“You’re roommate of the year, Lucy, but you’re also kind of freaky.”

Janet doesn’t really get me. She’s got a long-distance boyfriend, Henri, spelled with an ‘i’ because he’s super-French, complete with the accent and an addiction to champignons. I happen to think Henri’s Frenchness makes him less attractive, more Manhattan asshole, but Janet loves it, soaks it up like a syrupy waffle.

“Why in the world do you stand on your head?”

I don’t answer Janet until I feel my feet start to numb up and my head gets tingly. “It’s inversion therapy. Seriously? You’ve never tried it?” I flip down off the wall, steady myself while blood surges out of my head like thermometer mercury. “It’s a yoga move, Janet. Promotes clear thinking.”

Janet laughs. “If only,” she says. “Maybe then you’d give up your fake boyfriend.”

*

When I get to the laundry room, I can see I’m a tad too late. Stephen’s gone already; his jeans/towel load is busy agitating. I invert and do a headstand right in front of the washing machine, watch the endless frothing of Tide bubbles. Stephen’s zippers and pant legs and washcloths dart up against the convex window. I think about the time I emptied the dryer for him, found a crumbled business card in the lint catcher—Stephen Gordon, Engineer.  Maybe Janet’s right. Maybe I am losing it, stalking an evangelist engineer in a humid, hot, cramped laundry room. The thing is, Stephen is perfect—electric-white teeth, the smell of Listerine on his breath, hair the color of the fake lump of coal they sell at Spencer’s at Christmastime. Stephen is my future, I just know it. But still, staring at his spin cycle, I can’t but help to think that I’ve lost my beans. All for a guy who’s never even asked me my name.

The laundry room door opens after untold minutes into my headstand.

“I’m sorry, am I holding you up?”

It’s Stephen. Funny, looking at him upside-down, I can see that his sneakers are scuffed red with Carolina clay and his track pants are about an inch too short, likely over-dried on the high heat setting instead of permanent press. When I descend from my inversion and turn right side up, Stephen’s head looks kind of fuzzy to me, like I’m staring at him through cheesecloth. And then, everything fades to black.

*

When I wake up, there are bright sodium lights hovering above me. I’m in a hospital room, and I must be pumped full of something because I feel as if I’m suspended in a hammock. I can’t read the big ‘E’ on the eye chart on the wall, even though I know it’s an ‘E.’ Everyone knows it’s an ‘E.’

“You’re awake.”

I look over to the voice; it’s Stephen. “Hi Spin Cycle,” I say.

“Hi Lucy.” Stephen walks over to me and grabs my hand, clamshells it in between his.

He is real. His hands are warm, like towels fresh out of the dryer.

“You know my name?”

Stephen smiles, all fluoride and Colgate poster boy-like. “Of course I do.”

When I think about this later, I’ll realize that I was wearing my tennis team polo shirt that night in the laundry room, the one that has loopy, purple embroidery that spells out my name on the front pocket. But Stephen, ever the southern gentleman, will not tell me this. He will tell me, instead, about how he, too, loves to do headstands. How it stimulates endorphins, makes him feel alive—reborn. How it reminds him of his childhood in Savannah, of monkey bars; how he never would let go of the bar until he saw stars. How he wonders if that’s what I saw, before I blacked out—a Milky Way of stars. How he wonders if I will be okay once I am upright. How he wonders who, exactly, I am.

 


 

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Michele Finn Johnson’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, Puerto del Sol, Necessary Fiction, SmokeLong Quarterly, Split Lip Magazine, The Indianola Review, and elsewhere. Michele lives in Tucson and is working on a creative nonfiction collection. www.michelefinnjohnson.com; @m_finn_johnson.

The Director by Steve Trumpeter

The actress is struggling with the scene, the final one they’re supposed to shoot for a Panzier Pharmaceuticals commercial, so the director calls for a break because she’s heading for a meltdown. She’s supposed to catch a grape in her mouth, tossed from across the table by her salt-and-pepper-haired husband while a multi-ethnic menagerie of gathered neighbors cheer her on with fawning approval. For the life of her, she can’t pull off the trick.

“Can’t we move on?” she asks, and the director suppresses the urge to knock over the craft services table. He wonders if there’s room in the budget for a CGI grape, and why the easy path—a steady ad agency paycheck he’d long ago sold out his film school dreams to collect—has to be so hard.

“What does this pill even do?” she asks.

“It’s for wellness,” he says, whatever that entails. Panzier’s marketing people gave him a handful to try out when he agreed to the gig—perfectly safe, if not quite ready for FDA approval—but he’s been wary of sampling them. They have yet to settle on a name for the drug, so he’s taken to calling it “Fuckitol,” because that’s how he likes to imagine this pill would make him feel.

“This stuff will change the world,” they told him, and they want to be ready to hit the ground running once the drug is ready for market. Despite knowing the futility of the endeavor, he feels an obligation to deliver an ad to match. He’s designed one in a montage style: the heroine braving a windy afternoon to hang a festive tablecloth on a clothesline, digging her hands into a bin full of earthy mushrooms at a local farmers’ market, directing her husband with wild gesticulations to pull a pie from the oven. All in support of a narrative pastiche that will culminate in the hands-free catching of a casually pitched grape during a dinner party that purely illustrates how effortlessly happiness can be achieved with the right chemical balance. If Fuckitol can deliver on this promise, it’ll sell better than Flintstones Chewables.

He follows the actress as she stomps off into her dressing room. “So this is what my career has come to: catching treats in my mouth like a circus seal. I should just quit. Who even watches commercials anymore?”

The director can sympathize. But he knows art can overcome even the lowest medium. Last week, he got misty-eyed watching an LTE data network bring far-flung families together for a mother’s birthday. A beer commercial once compelled him to call his father out of the blue and talk baseball for an hour. Is this a sign of wellness, that he can be so swayed by his emotions, even after all the professional failures and quashed ambitions of this craft that should have left him numb by now to cheap sentiment? When he thinks of the potential effects of Fuckitol, he imagines an invisible foam barrier enveloping him in a light, spongy warmth as it provides a buffer from all the forces of the world that would have him realize that what he does with his life amounts to nothing. What price would he pay for 50 mg of such feeling?

The director pulls the orange pill bottle of Fuckitol samples from his pocket and offers the actress a tablet. “Maybe it’ll help you connect with your character.”

She swallows the pill without even looking at it, and the director takes one, too, because what else is left to try?

“It’s supposed to come on fast,” he says. “Whaddya say we try one more take?”

“Give me a minute,” she says. “I want to see if I feel anything.”

“Sure,” the director says, “let’s see how it makes us feel.”

 

 


st_headshotSteve Trumpeter’s fiction has appeared in Sycamore ReviewHobartJabberwock Review, Chicago Quarterly Review and others. He teaches fiction writing at StoryStudio Chicago and co-hosts a popular quarterly reading and music series called Fictlicious. Find more of his work at www.stevetrumpeter.com.

The Live Room by Molia Dumbleton

He was in there now, fixing the new girl’s hair: arranging the end of one long, magenta curl so it landed just right between her fake tits. When did he start doing hair? There didn’t used to be cameras in the studio. You could show up in a bathrobe with mascara running down your face for all he cared, as long as you brought your voice. But there was cameras here today so this girl was all extensions and glue-on lashes. It was hard to imagine making music like that. My first album, me and him, we did it on four tracks in the bathroom of our shitty old apartment on Third Ave, with a carpet square over the sink and the cat meowing at the door. Today’s girl couldn’t make nothing in a bathroom. Nothing without multitrack. Nothing without those lashes. But you can still hear that old cat on the record if you know it’s there.

 


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Molia Dumbleton is so thrilled to be part of the launch of Lost Balloon. Her fiction and poetry have been featured in The Kenyon Review OnlineNew England Review, Great Jones Street, Witness, Hobart, and others. She has been awarded the Seán Ó Faoláin Story Prize and the Dromineer Literary Festival Flash Fiction Award (both in Ireland), and has been named a Peter Taylor Fellow at The Kenyon Review and a Finalist for the Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Award. A full list of publications and links to work can be found at www.moliadumbleton.com.