Causality Dilemma by Sheldon Lee Compton

When the second egg hatched a week and a half ago, Henry had been ready to destroy it again. But he remembered all those nagging feelings of guilt, strange guilt, murderous guilt that had eaten away at him at all hours, and he couldn’t do it.

He became a parent, instead. Feeding the little thing, trying various items around the kitchen, food from the gas station, a lot of different options, until he realized it preferred spoiled food. Any kind of spoiled food. He fed it with a Visine bottle the first few days, filling it with spoiled milk and going five and six drips at a time, watching it outgrow the paper towels he had made for its bed. Paper towels and then an old t-shirt and then, when it started teetering around the living room, he walked it to the guest bedroom and pointed to the bed. When it only stood there pulsating with a kind of slow inner energy and swinging one arm in sort of a droopy way, he picked it up for the first time skin-to-skin and carried it to bed himself.

His guilt was real and it was powerful. The first time he had syringed his sperm into an egg, it hatched a couple of weeks later and produced a blackened, warped version of the current homunculus. Henry had squashed it with a Tupperware bowl, put on his coat, and left for work.

For several days following the birth of the new homunculus, he told no one, but it started to well up inside him so that one afternoon, just before the lunch break, he grabbed his girlfriend Carmen and pulled her close to him. He shuffled with her until they stood behind the pop machine in front of the truck garage. It was obvious to Henry that Carmen didn’t believe anything he had told her so he invited her to come over and have a look for herself.  Two days later, she knocked on his door.

He let her in and didn’t immediately answer when she asked about the smell. Instead he stood near a doorway in the living room with his head down, one hand worrying a thin patch of hair above his forehead. Finally he looked back up and offered an odd smile before taking a step sideways to let a short, slick-shiny creature step into the doorway.

The homunculus waved with its single, tube-like appendage. She saw her own hand going up for a return wave as if it was somebody else’s hand, an out-of-body reflex. She vomited hard and violently across the tops of her shoes. It dropped onto its stomach and darted quickly to where the vomit spread out onto the carpet. Henry’s eyes got wide and he jumped forward and grabbed the creature just before it started lapping at the mess. Carmen saw a small opening at the top of the homunculus, its head more or less, and something like a finger moving in and out of it. When Henry smiled at her again, her mind broke loose.

 She imagined many different scenarios in which she helped Henry raise the little creature. They dressed it for its first day of school, went to baseball games and wore matching shirts that said CREATURE’S MOM and CREATURE’S DAD, helped it perfect parallel parking, and bailed it out of jail when it was caught with pot for the first time. These came to mind like old Polaroids, family life in squared portraits. In all of them Henry had his big smile and waved to the camera with two gelatinous arms. It smiled, too—a blown out hole in the front of its head full of jagged teeth the color of weak coffee.

Henry’s mind worked, too. It didn’t break, but it worked and worked in elastic terror. He imagined his own hope as a catalyst for change. Any kind of change had the chance of being a good thing after all these years. All he had to do was keep trying. He inspected the bright red welts across his forearms, the area he had balanced the body while carrying it across the room. No pain whatsoever. But the welts, three large spots in all, had developed into blisters since yesterday morning. And now he could see a sunflower-yellow pus just under the bubbled skin. He shifted his arms and watched the pus work back and forth inside the blister the way mercury will move in a level. All he had to do was keep trying, but the homunculus had disappeared into far corners. Somewhere in the house it made a noise like his heartbeat.



Sheldon Lee Compton photo

Sheldon Lee Compton is the author of four books of fiction and one collaborative chapbook of poetry. His stories and poems have appeared in New World Writing, Pank, Unbroken Journal, Wigleaf, and others. He lives in Pikeville, Kentucky.


The Intimacy of Brushing Teeth by Jennifer Fliss

They meet in the bathroom. It is only 9 o’clock, and they are beginning their nightly routine. It will not take more than fifteen minutes, ten, five. She wants the day over already, and so, even though she is not tired, she will go to bed. Lay her messy mat of curls on her pillow and lament that she hasn’t done the wash in over a month.

He will brush his teeth with his mouth wide open, seafoam dripping, great big white horse teeth open and wide and abstract art-like sprays of toothpaste mar the mirror and the wall and the faucet.

The next night:

They meet in the bathroom. She says she needs privacy. Why do you need privacy? I want to floss. So floss here. Do it here. In front of me. No. What do you need that I can’t give you Elise? What? And here we learn her name, but not his. Not yet. Is it important to the story? Possibly.

The following night:

They meet at eight o’clock. Without saying anything, they agree that the earlier they can go to sleep, the better. Some might call it avoidance, but she has collected – printed, snipped, saved – several articles on the benefits of going to bed early, if anyone should ask.

No one has asked.

She’d wanted a double vanity, but when they were looking at houses, their budget said, nope. No double vanity. No granite. No garage, just a carport. The realtor looked at them with pity. And also, your shower will be made of plastic and you will have one bathroom in the whole house. (The real estate listing said ¾ bath, so not even a whole bathroom.) That is what you can afford and that is what you will have and that is indeed, what they ended up with. So that now, in the space of their tiny bathroom, in the fug of overripe-pear-mildew, they brush their teeth at the same time. Now, of course they could take turns, but they decided to go to bed at the same time and it had not occurred to them otherwise. Elise could say, I will now put on my pajamas, then I will brush my teeth and wash my face, etc etc etc. He could feed the cat. The cat’s name is Lars and he too joins them in the bathroom, sitting on the back of the toilet, waiting to be pet on the head or scratched behind his ears. But they arrive in the bathroom at the same time. This is the program for the evening: brush teeth, wash face, put on pajamas, feed cat, sleep.

It is Tuesday. They will have sex.

Their mouths will taste like peppermint. He likes this and she does not. In fact, she would rather not kiss at all. Just get it done with. Then she can proceed with laying her dense head on the unwashed pillowcase on the pillow stained with who knows what. She tries not to look when she changes the sheets. Does all that come from her? Her mouth? Is it her brains oozing out? Why are the stains on the pillow yellow? Really, more of a light rust color; is she rusting away? Her own saltwater turning her body into flaking metal?

Bernard is coming. See, now it is time to name him and did you not expect “Bernard?” Bernard is handsome and able to come just by thinking about a Big Mac. Bernard is younger. He was considered the catch in the relationship and Elise didn’t know about the catch and return laws, so she kept him. This was a mistake, but only now, only looking up at herself in the mirror above the dresser, only now seeing his baboon back-side as he thrust into her, only now, tasting the mint – that encroaching weed, in his mouth as he searches for her. She isn’t there. She’s in the mirror watching Bernard and the ur-Elise.


They meet in the bathroom and Elise says she has to pee. Ok. So pee, Bernard says as he spreads the toothpaste on his brush with the bristles flayed. He really needs to replace his toothbrush, Elise thinks, but doesn’t say. She’s not his mother. Elise says, never mind, I don’t have to go and with his toothbrush sticking out of the side of his mouth, Bernard pulls down his pants, and takes hold of his penis and pees. Hole in one, he says triumphantly, which Elise can’t quite make out on account of the toothbrush in his mouth, but she knows what he said. He says it every night. Has done since their honeymoon, after a long day of him out golfing and her at the spa. He spent seven out of eight days golfing while they were on the Yucatan peninsula. He regaled her of his day and how he got a hole in one with his new friends Marco and Raul, and he was peeing at the same time and the irony of that meant his joke would go on for years. Eight years now.

So in any domestic tragedy, we see ourselves. Where do you see yourself? Are you the catch? Are you the one who planned the honeymoon and did he say he didn’t care where you went as long as you were together? Do you have a bathroom with a double sink? Do you have two sinks, but live alone?

Bernard and Elise will be married for twenty two more years. He will die first. Many will attend the funeral. Elise refuses to say anything, to eulogize. Everyone thinks the sadness is too much to bear.

The night of the funeral:

Elise brushes her teeth alone. She picks up Bernard’s toothbrush – not the same one from two decades prior, but still it needs replacing, again, always. She will throw it out in the trash can under the sink. Then after she flosses, she plucks the toothbrush from the garbage and runs her fingers against the bristles. They’re still a little damp. She runs it against her cheek. It’s cool and tickles. She likes the feeling. She’s going to let it dry first, she decides. In bed, she looks at herself in the mirror. Her body takes up less than half the bed. It feels like an enormous bed, a big luxury, that she alone has such a large bed.



Jennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based fiction and essay writer. Her work has appeared in PANK, Hobart, The Rumpus, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter at @writesforlife or via her website,

Cupid Halloween Costume by Alexander Castro

I spend about $50. Two pairs of golden tights, the first of which are too matte. Two pairs of angel wings: first children’s size, then what I believe are adults, but are actually smaller in person. A bow and arrow which went unused beyond selfies. Two hooded, sleeveless tops, one pink and one red; the latter works. Boyfriend buys me the wig, a yellowy blonde cosplay one. The gold shoelaces never arrive in the mail and I swap them for magenta.

I fantasize. I imagine a piece of performance art where I go around as Cupid, shooting Trump for President signs with a bow and arrow.

I have to catch the train. I throw the majority of the costume in a plastic grocery bag and put on the wig. I carry the angel wings and hold them tenderly to my chest, so the wind won’t hurt them. I sprint the the sidewalks near the pizza place in a pair of cotton gym shorts. I’m wearing the red top, and a pink Jigglypuff crop-top underneath, but not the gold tights even though it’s almost Halloween. I live in a quiet place but some people really hate gay guys, you know? Especially cute ones who like to be shiny sometimes.

I get to the train platform. “We could use an angel,” says a woman waiting. I laugh and as I get closer she adds, “Aw the little angel’s freezing.” I’m relieved when I finally board the commuter rail and sit on the familiar red of the seat cushions.

I am even happier when I emerge from the bathroom in my friend’s apartment fully costumed. Legs encased in cheap liquid gold. Skinny arms adorned with Valentine’s Day tattoos. Cheap party wings strapped in at the armpits. A few glasses of white wine. Bacchus swished and swallowed and an Uber called. Then we’re at the disco.

Here is a me I haven’t met before. The one wearing a cute gay costume in a crowd. My crack of smile a fissure in the dark.

I suddenly feel self-conscious as I near the front of the dance floor. I start to retreat but a twentysomething and I start dancing. Not touching, just sort of swaying. Together. As night deepens, she removes her sash and gifts it to me. It reads DEBUTANTE BRAWL. I awkwardly accept.

“I have to confess something,” she says. “I’m wearing a wig,” and she pulls it off. 
“That’s fine,” I say. “I am too.”


Version 2

Alexander Castro (b. 1992) is a writer and journalist based in Massachusetts. He regularly contributes reporting and criticism to Big Red & Shiny, Mercury, and GLASS Quarterly. His writing has also appeared or is forthcoming in Gulf CoastuntetheredDon’t Take Pictures, and SUSAN. He is currently working on a collection of essays that combine research, memoir and criticism.


Pink Sky by Jon Ransom

There’s a street without a name on an estate without any lights where, in a house without any rules, God talks to me. He says, Robbie, why you thinking about Paul, and not the football?

But I don’t want to hear it, so I grab my coat from the banister at the bottom of the stairs and go out. A piece of fiber-board is nailed to the bottom half of the door, where some git kicked it in. I take out my cigarettes. Blue smoke billows from my mouth, making me look hard. I use my thumb and first finger to hold the cigarette butt, because that’s how proper lads are meant to do it.

Because I’ve no money in my pocket, me and Paul are pissing about on the riverbank. Paul has my rolled-up coat under his head. He’s wearing a yellow t-shirt that makes his skin look nice. We’re watching the lines aeroplanes draw across the pink sky, guessing where they’re going. “Spain?” he says.

“Wrong way,” I say.

“How d’you know, mate?”

“Just do.”

Every now and again his arm pushes up against mine. I like it so much it hurts. Feels like if I stay right by his side I’ll throw-up. That’s when I roll away and say, “We should go to Spain.”

Paul hops up off the grass. “You wanna go swimming?” He hustles to the water’s edge.

“Nah,” I say, watching him strip off. His arse is moon white. I close my eyes when he turns around. The colours on my eyelids change from red to blue and back again. When I open my eyes, he’s gone.

“Stop messing about.” I light another cigarette. “Paul—”

There’s a ripple in the muddy black water where he was a few seconds ago. I’m waiting, begging for him to come back up. But it’s useless. God hates me.




Jon Ransom is a queer writer living in Cambridge.







Timing by Katie Quinnelly

Holding both of my hands in his, I could feel my calluses against the ones in Justin’s palms, the ones that protect him from kitty-litter granite, the ones that keep his bones from being bothered by the cold. He looked me in my face and said “The timing is just bad, that’s all.”

He talks with his hands cupped, his fingers never separating, in a way that looks like paws. He uses them to flip pancakes. He doesn’t need a spatula. When he wakes up early, before his voice is working, he grunts like a pup in my hair.

At work, a Veteran brought in his grandson and told me about his time in Vietnam. He runs 11 miles a day, but still, last month he had a heart attack. Behind him, his grandson was having a nerf gun war with another customer’s kid. “I pulled out my wallet. That’s the last thing I remember before I dropped,” said the Veteran. As he talked, his grandson took a foam dart to the gut, and crumpled.

Justin told me his life has amounted to many things, but a recurring theme is convincing women not to commit suicide; his mother the first in the series. Later, it was a girlfriend. That was the first time I saw him cry: his head on my shoulder late one night, downtown, beside my car. He picked his head up, and pulled his collar up around his muzzle.

“Bad timing,” he said, and he shook his head. In the distance, the sound of a dog chain.


Katie Quinnelly is a climbing instructor in West Virginia. Her work has appeared in Occulum, Moonchild Magazine, The Ginger Collect, and b(OINK), among others.

Mr. Snowman Bring Me a Dream by Sandra Arnold

Marcia Bain on her way to school stamping her shiny red boots in the snow. Blowing clouds in the frozen air. Catching snowflakes on her tongue. Cracking frozen puddles with her heels, Holding up slices of ice, creating flashes of light in the pale sun. Not noticing her hands turning blue. Pretending she’s a fairy making magic in a pure white world. Shaking diamonds from the branches of the white-coated trees.

Harry Greaves in the playground sliding in the ice, not letting anyone else have a turn. Harry who beats up the smaller boys. Harry who pulls the girls pants down. Harry who keeps running away from home and sometimes comes to school with a black eye. Harry whose father grows giant leeks in trenches of guts from the slaughterhouse. Harry whose father stays up at night guarding his leeks with a crowbar.

Tommy Monks building a snowman bigger than himself, arranging leaves on the head, calling it a coiffure, dancing back and forth pretending he’s a famous hairdresser. Marcia pressing in coal eyes, carrot nose, twiggy arms, brick feet and woollen scarf with red and white stripes. Tommy and Marcia with their shining eyes and rosy cheeks and soft curling mouths, hoping with every heartbeat they’ll win the competition.

Harry charging like a bull from behind, toppling the snowman, jumping on its head with his oversize shoes, laughing at Tommy’s tears before tripping and slipping and landing spread-eagled on the ground. Marcia’s fingers gripping a brick. The crack of bone. A skull unzipped. Red roses blooming in the snow.

Harry’s father’s photo in the paper holding his silver cup and cash prize, telling reporters the secret is blood and bone.


Sandra's author photoSandra Arnold is an award-winning writer who lives in New Zealand. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from CQ University, Australia. Her flash fiction and short stories appear or are forthcoming in numerous journals including Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine and New Flash Fiction Review, and in the  anthologies, Sleep is a Beautiful Colour  (National Flash Fiction Day, UK, 2017),  Fresh Ink (Cloud Ink Press, NZ, 2017)  and Bonsai: The Big Book of Small Stories (Canterbury University Press, NZ, 2018). Her work has been nominated for the 2018 Pushcart

Nualla to the Nth Degree by Jennifer Todhunter


Nualla was the first of herself.

She lived in a trailer at the local swap meet, at the whim of her parents who demanded she stay nearby and silent in order to attract customers with her perfect being. Nualla spent her time under the musty canvas tents, wiping off books long out of print, and searching through glassware for imperfections. Sometimes, she’d tuck something small, maybe an ashtray or a tumbler, into the folds of her batik skirt. Then she’d steal into the desert and bury her treasure in the scorching sand.

Nualla’s boredom always got the better of her, and one day she snatched a miniature hand-blown frog from a tent in the far corner. The piece of glass swirled green and gold and red inside, and it fit perfectly inside the palm of Nualla’s grubby hand.

Nualla looked at the frog and said, “Ribbit.”

“Ribbit,” responded the frog.

Nualla smiled. “I’ll give you some of my treasure if you help me get out of here.”

“Why would you want to do that?” asked the frog.

“My parents won’t let me leave, and I want to see what else is out there.”

“I can help you leave,” said the frog, pulling a blowpipe from his overcoat, “but you have to take me with you.”


Nualla2 arrived with two hearts of molten glass, their arteries and veins braided together, their beats thumping in unison.

A girl with uncombed hair and sunburned skin greeted Nualla2 with a pipe between her puckered lips. With each breath the girl blew, Nualla2 unfurled, her core filling with air and her limbs stretching out and becoming taut. She detached from the pipe with a snap, fiery red streaks pooling in the base of her toes.

“Who are you?” Nualla2 asked the girl standing in front of her.

“I’m the first Nualla.”

“Why am I here?” Nualla2 asked.

“So I can leave.”

Nualla2 looked at the rolling dunes, at the faded tops of the tents in the distance. She felt the pulse of the sand inside her, the warmth of the sun heating her twisted hearts.

It wasn’t clear to her why anyone would want to leave a place like this. She certainly didn’t want to.

The girl handed Nualla2 her blowpipe and said, “It can get lonely around here.”

Nualla2 turned the hollow tube between her translucent fingers, its steel cooling her burning skin. “What’s this for?”

“In case you ever want to leave, too,” the girl said, tucking a frog into the pocket of her skirt, and piling her hair on top of her head. “The sand’s at its best in the late afternoon.”

Nualla2 watched the girl and her frog walk away, the warm wind covering their footsteps as they disappeared into the distance.


Nualla4 emerged from the pipe as conjoined quadruplets, their hands fused together like paper dolls, their voices a single sound. They watched the girl with the double heart blow wobbly orbs, her touch filling the spheres with a burst of vibrant color. The girl sat on a patchwork quilt stretched across the single bunk of a trailer, the light from a desk lamp refracting rainbows off her crystalline skin.

An urgent knock sounded at the door. “How many pieces do you have for tomorrow?” came a voice.

The girl grimaced, her latest creation falling to the floor and smashing into a thousand shards.

“Leave me alone,” she yelled, standing on the glass and absorbing the pieces back into her body. “Nualla didn’t make me so I could be your slave.”

“All you have to do is give me something as perfect as she was, and you’re free to leave,” said the voice.

The girl picked up an ornament from her bedside table and threw it against her door. It fell like rain onto the dirt-stained carpet.

Nualla4 looked on in amazement. “Where are we?”

“Hell,” said the girl, her face pulling in frustration. “And there’s no getting out of it.”

“What do you mean?” Nualla4 asked.

“I’m an object. A flawed piece of glass. And so are you.”


The girl appeared red-faced and panting when Nualla16 spun from the end of her pipe.

She sighed as she placed the hexadecagon-shaped body next to Nualla4 who sat huddled together in fear. The windows were open, a bucket jammed with ice in the middle of the floor. Along the sill were dozens of misshapen girls; their necks too long, their eyes too sunken, their hearts not full.

Nualla16 opened her mouth to speak, but Nualla4 shook their heads in warning.

“Not now,” they mouthed.


Nualla256 was born into the sand. Each of her embers fell down the steep side of the rolling dunes, collecting minerals that changed color as the sun hit their skin. She was an endless flood from the end of a pipe that was clenched between the calloused fingers of the girl with the double heart.

Nualla256 stood one by one, a glassen army perfectly poised, perfectly square in rows sixteen by sixteen.

“Why are we here?” she asked.

“Because they want us to be perfect,” answered the girl with the double heart, flanked by two likenesses of her being. “And we don’t want to be.”


Nuallan spends her time digging up artifacts in the endless desert. She eats the glassware that Nualla0 buried before leaving, and it crunches between her blunt teeth.

She dies.

She is born again.

Her hands have been cut by fragments of herself, her body melts every day under the constant watch of the sun. She will not stop until she finds Nualla0 and her frog. Until she finds her freedom.

She does not care for her parents, and they do not care for her.

Nuallan lays her blowpipe to her side, a thin stream of sand leaking from its end, and she waits.


Todhunter - author pic


Jennifer Todhunter’s stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction,CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. She is the managing editor of Pidgeonholes. Find her at or @JenTod_.