Roman Candle by Keef

Callie walked past the house, the barn, the piney windbreak, and then through the woods to the prairie. The sky was so clear and blue and cold that her every exhale briefly took flight, like a dove, and then held still: frozen in the air overhead, marking the path back. Her puffy pink coat crinkled and wisped, echoing each crunch as her feet broke through the ice crust on top of the snow.

The roman candle was almost weightless in her hand.

She knew she’d gone far enough when she looked back and couldn’t see the smoke rising from the chimney beyond the forest, and couldn’t hear the traffic on the interstate. She tucked the firework under her arm and pulled out Uncle Sal’s golden zippo.

She’d found it in the attic two weeks before. It wasn’t a roman candle when she found it, just an old cardboard mailing tube with her father’s diploma in it. “More trouble than it was worth,” said dad, when she showed it to him. “Useless, and I’ll be paying for it long after waters rise and the sun burns the crops and we all starve.”

“Hush, dear,” said mother.

“Sorry,” said dad. “Hyperbolically starve us all.”

So Callie left the diploma in the attic and took the tube.

Every time she walked into the living room, her parents turned off the news, but Callie was no fool. She read the internet on her tablet after bedtime. She knew how bad it was, and she knew how much worse it was going to get. She wished she could talk to Uncle Sal about it but he couldn’t cross the border into the states anymore. No one could. Last week, when she and her parents tried to visit him in Toronto for Thanksgiving, the border patrol turned them back and confiscated their passports.

“I should’ve known,” her father said as they drove back home, slapping his hands on the steering wheel. “There wasn’t even a line. We shouldn’t have even tried.”

The temperature on the prairie dropped even further. Callie cleared her throat, and the sound froze in a pocket around her head, echoing in her ears. She took off her glove and spun the wheel on the zippo, watched the flame leap up. She held the flame to the wick. The gnarled old apple trees behind her tilted forward to watch.

That morning, she’d asked her father: “How do you make a roman candle?”

“I’m not sure,” he said. “I guess you get some sort of propellant, and some sort of explosive, and pack them in there side-by-side.”

“Okay,” said Callie, and she’d gone upstairs to her room to think about it.

In her room, she thought about the border, and Uncle Sal, and the rising oceans and the burning sun. She thought about the men who did whatever they wanted. She thought about her father’s diploma, and the people who knocked on the door, and the time she heard her parents whispering and crying. “2040,” her mother’d whispered. “She’ll be out of college.”

In her room, she pressed her mouth against the opening of the tube and filled it with fire and gasoline. She poured out all her dynamite and napalm and white phosphorus. She pressurized it with all of her gunpowder and pure hydrogen. Then she put on her coat.

The wick flared up.

Deer and rabbits and ground squirrels poked their heads out from between the trees. Foxes stared at her. Cardinals looked down at her from naked branches. The grass gave a tremendous push and broke through the snow to see.

Everything nodded.

The firework rumbled in her hand, then spat. A blue ball of flame spewed out onto the snow, which caught fire. A bright black line of sparks shot into the sky and ignited a cloud. An enormous white disc, brighter than the sun, wobbled a quarter-mile before collapsing into the duck pond, belching smoke and spinning more discs into the air.

The clouds were embers. The air started to catch.

Callie dropped the roman candle to the ground. She sighed, nodded, and closed her eyes.


 

keef-author-photo

Keef works and lives in Austin. He’s working on a series of short, sad, spooky, horrible little fables, on the web at horriblelittlefables.com. He’s on twitter @keefdotorg.

Keep Off Lawn by Miranda Divett González

Enough already, Gerard thinks. From his home office over the garage, he watches a speckled Great Dane take a massive crap on his St. Augustine lawn. I’m not going to put up with this anymore.

The Dane is not alone; his owner stands proudly next to him, with a side part in his hair and a pair of glasses that would have gotten him punched in the face back in the sixties. But now those glasses mean he’s trendy, or so Gerard has heard from his daughter, who’s always talking about things he doesn’t understand.

The dog owner is nameless, but Gerard has seen him several times before, perhaps nearing a hundred. He lives just around the corner in one of the smaller houses on the block, a white brick one with dark green shutters.

Sometime around April the Dane decided that Gerard’s lawn was prime pooping ground. October is here now. It is not the first time a dog has crapped on his lawn, but on other occasions an owner might look around nervously and hurry the dog along or even pick up the number two with one of those tiny doggy bags from a roll the size of adding machine paper. But Side Part has zero shame. He’s belligerent.

The first time, Gerard was surprised when Side Part didn’t pick up the poop. Maybe he ran out of bags, he thought, generously. The second time, Gerard was furious but figured it couldn’t possibly happen again. But it did. After the third time, Gerard put up a “Keep Off Lawn” sign that he made using red spray paint and stencils on the reverse of an old Mitt Romney campaign sign. That deterred Side Part for a couple of weeks, but then he was back.

After two more occurrences, Gerard waited for Side Part and the Dane, peeking through the wide-slatted blinds of his office. When he spotted them, he ran down the stairs, burst through the front door, and confronted them.

“Look,” he said, a bit out of breath. “I’ve put up a notice here.” He gestured with an open palm towards the backwards lawn sign.

“Yeah?” Side Part raised his eyebrows, feigning ignorance or surprise.

“I work hard on this lawn, cutting it, fertilizing it, weeding it, maintaining the sprinkler system.”

Side Part blinked behind black-rimmed glasses with lenses the size of coasters. Gerard noticed that his shirt read ‘Think Globally, Act Locally.’

Gerard swallowed hard. “So what I’m saying is, I don’t want your dog pooping on my grass. Got it?”

“Sure,” Side Part said, sauntering off. He made no attempt to remove the steaming brown cow pie on the distressed lawn.

That encounter had kept them away for about a month. But they came back, leaving feces one to two times a week, for months. Gerard had decided that his lot in life was to be a pooper scooper for an animal he didn’t own—a colossal dog who produced as much fecal matter in one go as Gerard did in an entire week. He didn’t even like dogs, but what was he supposed to do? Call the police?

But today, something snaps. Gerard fantasizes about punching Side Part’s lights out, sees the blood spatter on his broken glasses and girly large-buttoned cardigan. But that’s not Gerard’s style.

Instead, he waits for them to leave, picks up and throws away a shovelful of excrement, then goes inside to down a tall, gritty glass of Metamucil. That night, he tells his wife he’s got a project due, and he waits in his office until two a.m.

When his wife is snoring and the neighborhood is still, Gerard leaves the house quietly and paces in the front yard until he feels he’s ready. Finally, it’s time.

He walks briskly over to Side Part’s house and confirms that the windows are dark. No barking from the dog, so it must be inside. He picks a spot next to a viburnum bush that partially blocks him from the view of the street, then drops his jeans and squats against the shrub.

After admiring his deposit, he realizes he has failed to bring toilet paper. No matter. He will change his underwear when he gets home. Pulling his pants up, he decides to take a picture of his work. The phone flashes quickly and the photo is clear.

He traipses awkwardly home, already a little itchy. After he’s in the house and cleaned up, he connects the cable from his phone to the computer and prints out the picture in full color, size eight by eleven. He tapes it next to the window, to the right of his beautifully framed diplomas, and thinks this is his biggest accomplishment yet.


 

Miranda G

Miranda Divett González is an MFA student at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her work has appeared in Monkeybicycle, GNU Journal, and Heart Online. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and three children. Find her on Twitter at @miranda_write.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Lavanya Vasudevan

As we drive back east from Anacortes, we leave the heat and the haze behind. We listen to the rain as it bathes us in coolness, washes the soot out of the skies. You keep your eyes on the road, and I watch my own reflection in the window, the rivulets of water rolling down my cheeks. On the radio, they say that the flames have died; the smoke is clearing; that now, at last, we can breathe again.

The day before, we’d walked out to Crescent Beach with your mother. Ash from the wildfires lay in a black film over the water. “It’s suffocating the poor creatures,” she said. She showed me a starfish clinging to the bottom of a rock, abandoned by the tide. I picked up the empty shell of a shore crab. Perhaps it had moved on to better things. “It’s so nice that he’s found a friend at college,” she told me. “A boy his own age. He never had a brother.” The respirator muffled her voice, and her eyes, like yours, were unreadable. If you were ever going to tell her, the moment was now. But you had already moved on, turning over a different rock, and left us there, alone together, abandoned to the lie.

Three days ago, on the way out to your mother’s house, the clouds had been tinged with red, the sun weak and struggling in the roiling skies. It was a long drive from the U to the ferry landing. I told you I was starving. You refused to stop. You said your mother would have made a big meal for us; she’d be waiting, hungry, so we could eat together; you couldn’t disappoint her like that. When we arrived, after an hour of holding our breath on the boat so we wouldn’t inhale the smoke, and more driving on the wandering island road, there was no one home. She’d left a note for us: she’d gone out to buy respirator masks, and then she was meeting a friend for lunch. You found rotis and warmed them on the stove, your black eyes flickering brown in the light of the flame. When I took a bite, my mouth caught fire. I could hardly breathe.


 
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Lavanya Vasudevan was born in a large city in South India that has since renamed itself. She is a recovering software engineer who lives near Seattle, Washington and reviews children’s books for Kirkus. Her short fiction has appeared in 100 Word Story, Jellyfish Review, and Pidgeonholes, and is forthcoming from Paper Darts. Find her on Twitter @vanyala.

Terrarium by Amanda Hays

My lover is a voyeur. He likes when I wear pale pink underwear, the ones cut like a bikini bottom. The underwear’s silky flesh emits a sheen under the bedroom lamp light, making me feel invincible. Before I met him, I wore cotton Hanes. He special ordered me pink silk panties from Amazon; they came postmarked from Cincinnati, enveloped in bubble wrap like a treasure, like they were breakable.

He likes to watch the striped lizard in the terrarium in his bedroom. The glass tank emanates heat and is always lit, even when we sleep. Sometimes, I lie awake and listen to the musical scratching of the lizard, skittering off rocks and into sandy patches. I wonder if it sleeps.

I love him. I love his spiky black hair, his blemish-free skin, like a jar of unopened peanut butter. He wears sleek athletic sunglasses, even when inside, and his apartment is dark, the blinds slanted closed. His bedroom smells of baked lizard shit.

The lizard is female, as are all desert grassland whiptail lizards. She reproduces asexually, my lover says when I ask about the logistics of that arrangement. This is all he knows. They are nervous, he says. But he is patient.

When I pleasure him, I watch my long dark hair hairbrush against his legs. When I stop to kiss his lips, his mouth tastes of English muffins and cinnamon. Sometimes, I find a ribbonned trail of fuchsia lipstick on his stomach. Or cherry petals on the back of his neck, underneath the clean buzzed hairline.

I catch him watching her. He never says anything, but his eyes fixate on the glowing tank crammed on top of a rickety table. He never watches reality television, says it makes him feel weird to spy on all those other humans. He stares at the lizard. She has no name.

How soon before we have baby lizards? I ask.

Why aren’t you excited to see me? He demands. Lately, his touch is rough, like a stalking predator in the broiling desert sand. He grips my waist, painting violet blotches on the paper of my skin.

Gaia.

Do you love me? He asks, and I tell him yes, although it’s a lie. I know he doesn’t love me either. What I love, what we both love, is the striped lizard in his terrarium. We lust for the curve of her tail, her sandpaper skin, the extension of her clawed fingers.


 

Amanda Hays is from Allen, Texas but lives and writes in Stillwater, Oklahoma. She works as an associate editor of the Cimarron Review. Her work has appeared in Cheat River Review.

A Matter of Incredible Possibility by Alexander Luft

Our very existence, the tour guide tells us, is a quirk in the fabric of space-time. “In the history of our galaxy, there have been millions of astronomical events capable of exterminating human life on earth,” he says. “Asteroids. Solar flares. Gamma bursts. All of us could be gone in an instant and we’d never know what hit us.”

We are on the nine o’clock at the planetarium. Our tour guide directs our attentions to the digital simulation of our galaxy on a domed screen overhead. All the dots of light newly suspicious, every blip a potential assassin.

“Some are concerned about a nearby supernova doing us in,” our tour guide says. “But astronomers today estimate we’d have to be within 50 million light years for that to happen. Then again, we’ve been wrong before.”

There are about a dozen of us on the tour. Someone has brought a young child, who is reasonably upset.

“Does it make you feel better,” I whisper to Violet, “that if it were to happen right now, at least we would die together?”

She, like usual, suspects the world is committed to a prank at her expense. She won’t be scared, not easily.

“It doesn’t matter whether I were here with you or if I were replacing a toilet paper roll in Cleveland,” Violet says. “We would still technically die together.”

She must wonder why I brought her to the planetarium, where our tour guide wants to make a fool of her. Perhaps I was hoping for the impossible, to reconsider ourselves in a universal context. Violet spends her days checking parking meters for the city. She does not take kindly to being made a fool of.

Our tour guide directs us to a speck on the simulation overhead. Either the image zooms closer, or we fly through many millions of light years. In either case we arrive at a cloud of dust and stars.

“We have reason to believe,” our tour guide tells us, “that these are the remains of an earth-sized planet that collided with an asteroid exactly like the ones passing by earth on an annual basis. We might be looking at our future.”

“Imagine that,” I said to Violet.

“I’d rather not.”

And then our tour guide turns off the projection and we are lost in darkness and I think I hear the small child cry out. I grasp for Violet’s hand.

“Sorry about that, folks,” our tour guide says, clicking on a flashlight. “Why don’t you follow me down the hall to the auditorium so I can show you some awesome videos?”

And then we shuffle awkwardly after him, each of our little groups trying not to interrupt the big group, on down the hall to a musty room with burgundy upholstery. Our tour guide waits until we sort out the seating situation, the child insisting on his mother’s lap.

“I don’t want to say it’s all doom and gloom,” our tour guide says, “but even absent a catastrophic space event, we know that we are rapidly depleting the earth’s resources. It is inevitable that humankind will need to seek an extraterrestrial settlement. And that, folks, is why we should keep up hope.”

He turns on a video. We watch rockets launch. They are the first, we’re told, to return themselves to earth unharmed. The new rockets are cheap and easy. Space transportation is viable. It is a matter of incredible possibility.

I watch Violet watch the rockets.

“If we can become capable of intergalactic travel,” our tour guide says at the video’s end, “then humankind can ensure its survival forever. We are chasing our own immortality.”

Violet tells me the idea of human immortality gives her the jeebies.

“But,” I ask her, “wouldn’t you like to know, that even if you and I died, right now, that something we did would still matter, that someone would remember us? So that someone, someday, will know we were here?”

“Like, at the planetarium?”

“Like, together.”

Our tour guide looks at his watch. The tour will have to end on that note. We are thanked for our interest in the planetarium and are invited to browse the gift shop on our way out.

Violet picks out a bumper sticker with a Carl Sagan quote. We are a way for the universe to know itself. I get a coffee mug with a rocket on it.

I find Violet’s hand as we head for the parking lot. There are too many lights in the city to see the stars or the things out there that will kill us one day. Before we reach the car, I stop and gaze at the sky, anyway.

Violet pauses beside me. I believe she’s looking up, too. But I don’t dare look.


 

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Alex Luft’s fiction has appeared in Yemassee, Midwestern Gothic, The Coachella Review, and other literary magazines. He is a staff reader for Quarterly West and lives in Chicago. Find him at alexanderluft.com.

This is How It’s Done by Paul Beckman

The fucking Doctor did it wrong. Ben Casey or Marcus Welby would have had him come into the office and sit down and break the news gently, even pat him on the shoulder, ask him if there was someone he’d like him to call. That’s how it’s done. Those are the rules. Everyone knows that. Everyone but this Dr. Siegel. Him with his terse phone call. “Mirsky, Dr. Siegel. Those polyps were malignant—think I got everything but you never know. You should feel lucky we got to it when we did. Here, talk to my secretary she’ll set you up with another appointment.”

He remembered getting up and locking his office door and telling his secretary he wasn’t taking any calls. He also remembered thinking about all the people in his family, who died from cancer, but he was only thirty and everyone else got it much later in life.

The next day he called his former wife—they’d only been divorced a few months and he thought she should know because of their two young kids. At the coffee shop, trying not to cry, he told her the story of being sent to the specialist. She said, “I need more money.” He repeated his story. She repeated her four words. She didn’t acknowledge his plight. Mirsky got up and walked out of the coffee shop. She left the bill for his coffee and toast in his mailbox.

Mirsky’s a senior citizen now and his children are older than he was during the time of that incident. He’s not had a recurrence. In fact, he and his ex—widow and widower, get along fine now and meet at the coffee shop once a month to talk about their kids and grandchildren and other things. Sometimes they take in a movie together and every once in a while they’ll cook each other a meal. They never speak of the past or the future.

Mirsky went for his annual physical and afterwards, as usual, went into his doctor’s private office where they schmooze and trade gossip. The doctor came in after a bit holding a thick blue folder. He took out an x-ray and stuck it into the clips of the light box, turned, walked back to Mirsky and patted him on the shoulder.


 

Beckman

Paul Beckman’s new flash collection is Kiss Kiss (Truth Serum Press). His stories have appeared in the Norton Anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, and the 2016 Best Small Fictions anthology. His story “Mom’s Goodbye” was chosen as the winner of the 2016 Fiction Southeast Editor’s Prize. He’s widely published in magazines such as PANK, Blue Fifth Review, Matter Press, and Literary Orphans. Paul hosts the FBomb flash fiction series in New York City at KGB’s Red Room.

Lint Trap by Veronica Montes

After she moves a load of warm laundry from the dryer to the folding basket for the fourth time that morning, she gathers the detritus of her family’s t-shirts and socks from the lint trap. She wonders (also for the fourth time that morning) if there isn’t something to be done with the lint itself. She fingers the fluff of it. Could she use it to…stuff something? A tiny doll family? Tooth fairy pillows? She sneezes.

When she was a child in Oregon, her mother sent her to a school where they spent all day dancing and painting and rolling sheets of beeswax into tapers. In the 3rd grade they were given tufts of colored wool, which they repeatedly stabbed with a needle until the fibers locked together and became a sort of sculpting material. She was never very good at this. She often pricked herself by accident and then braced for blood that mysteriously failed to appear. The other children bent their heads to their task and produced gnomes and fairies, elephants and foxes. She made balls of various sizes. That’s it: balls.

She recalls a news segment featuring a frugal couple who transformed plastic grocery bags into area rugs. Was it area rugs? Or curtains? She considers the possibility of using the lint to create kneepads and headbands to protect her four children—or wait, yes, all children!—from the dangers of asphalt and ceramic tile. She envisions wild success in the money-making arena of youth sports. What if she became celebrated for halting the outrageous uptick in childhood-sustained concussions? Concussions, kidcussions, KID-CUSHIONS, she thinks with satisfaction, wondering if she should have gone into marketing instead of laundry.

And if she does this, will her story go viral, everyone marveling at her domestic ingenuity? Will the lint fill up the space near her solar plexus, where she once carried warm thoughts of her husband? Could she fashion it into something flirty and beguiling to turn his head? Could she prop herself against it to remain alert from 3:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon? Could she use it to plump the lines that have formed on either side of her mouth, or to refill her once magnificent breasts? To muffle her screams to plug her ears to cushion her long and graceless fall.


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Veronica Montes is the author of Benedicta Takes Wing & Other Stories (Philippine American Literary House, 2018). Her online fiction can be found at SmokeLong Quarterly, Spelk, and CHEAP POP. She is Managing Fiction Editor at daCunha.global.