Blind Wolf Teeth by Michael B. Tager

For my AARP birthday, Bea took me to Surprise Valley. “We’ll find some hot springs,” she said as the 447 crested into the valley’s basin. “There’s supposed to be horses. Like Assateague Island.”

“Those are ponies.”

“Same thing,” she said.

“Those are ponies.” I put venom into the word like I was trying to kill something, and Bea sucked her teeth and let me alone while I watched the vast mountains. I wanted to feel something, but all I saw was emptiness and the Law and Order marathon I was missing and Bea’s blue vest that made her look like a Walmart greeter. She’d almost popped me when I told her that, but she still wore it.

I muttered passive aggressiveness, affronted at the idea that ponies were the same as horses, but really I just didn’t want this to be my AARP birthday. I resented everything, from the ache in my jaw to the wildflowers, creeks and hills. Somewhere out there were towns filled with people who weren’t getting older, and roaming herds of horses under the sun that thought they were free.

I thought about telling her all that, maybe apologizing for my tone, but I could tell she was done listening to me.
Eventually, we parked by the trail markers. “Get out, you old fool,” Bea said, rummaging in the back for canteens, tents, trail mix and who knows what else. She was always over-prepared. On our honeymoon, I brought a backpack with a couple changes of clothes and my razor. She brought two suitcases, the second filled with all the shit I’d forgotten.

Maybe I rely on her to be my memory, but I have other qualities. I know where to find the salt and how much olive oil to use, how to prune the roses and how to get the knot out of her back that visits just under her shoulder blades.
Bea waited patiently while I did frou-frou Yoga that I had to admit soothed the fire in my back muscles to a low broil. I can lift our grandchildren and run after the ice cream truck, but the kinks come out slower these days. At my checkup last week, the doctor said I’ll eventually need a new vertebrae and maybe new teeth. No wonder I have the grumps.

Eventually we walked towards the mountains and muttered at one another, not real conversation, just a reminder that we were alive. Over the hours, other hikers passed or sometimes we passed, and we waved and nodded and they nodded and waved, speaking the silent language of the out-and-about.

“I have to admit,” I told Bea while admiring the sky, “I feel better.”

“Happy birthday, fool.” She put her arm around my waist.

We stopped at a clear lake alongside a young family. The woman looked too young to be a mother, but she breastfed and texted and admonished her brood simultaneously, so she was clearly old enough. We got to talking and the middle child told us about the wild horses. “Some have fangs.”

“What do you mean?” I squatted despite my legs’ protest. Children deserved to be looked in the eye by their elders.
She played with the bead at the end of her braids. She glanced at her father, who nodded. “Some horses have teeth-like fangs in the back of their mouth but they’re just blind wolf teeth.” I could tell she didn’t quite know what she was saying. Neither did I.

“Like wisdom teeth? Those come in when you’re older,” I offered.

“Ok,” she said, and lost interest in me because where we were bugs crawled and clouds lived in the sky.

On the second leg, we passed mostly young folks, though one couple had whiter hair than us. They jogged in spandex, wiry muscles defying the sun.

Bea whistled when they faded into the dust. “We should take up running. Or squash. I used to play squash.

“I didn’t know that,” I said, thinking about the dusty barbells in the basement.

“You don’t know everything about me.” She winked, and I remembered why I loved her.

At our campsite, I roasted corn and chicken in our open fire while Bea rubbed her feet and asked my opinion of the day.

“Best birthday in years.”

Bea grinned and she patted the ground flat in order to lay down and put her head in my lap. While the food cooled, I stroked her hair in the dwindling light. My left hand snuck under her arm and rubbed her breast. She giggled and said, “What in the world are you doing?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Depends on what you think about it.”

She laughed and her eyes sparked in the firelight. She took my hand and led me to the tent.

Later, half-asleep, I stumbled out of the tent in my jockeys to relieve my bladder. I hoped I didn’t glow in the light of the full moon but also, what did I care? I walked some distance and looked around and saw nothing in the emptiness.
Mid-stream, I heard a snort and heavy footsteps and I turned.

The palomino regarded me with ancient eyes and pawed the ground. Its mouth hung open. Its teeth were cracked and a deep yellow. Some were missing. I reached out a hand to touch it, but it snuffled at me and flared its lips.

I stepped back and tried to calm it. “Shhh.” Its knees quivered and it did the little dance horses do in order to sit. I could see its eyes, filmed over with cataracts. I knew it was a wild animal, but I stretched out my hand again, out of a need for connection. It whinnied but didn’t stop me. Its nose was warm and soft, and I felt its heart beat slowly.

In the light of the moon, I saw a single tooth in the corner of its mouth shaped like a jagged tear. “Hello there,” I said, surprised at how steady my heart was, how calm I felt in the face of an ending life.

Mike-selfie-1024x683 (1)

Michael B. Tager is a writer and editor. His work can be found at He is mostly vegetables.

She Could Have Been Queen by Lucy Zhang


The dove laced up the back of the golden dress, pulling and tugging with its beak until her waist vanished to a pinprick beneath the organza. The shoulder straps led to a beaded, sweetheart neckline; iridescent beads adorned the bodice; rhinestone banners trailed the skirt’s horsehair hems. When she spun, the heavy fabric lagged behind her rotation, shimmering and then blinding when it caught up to her circular acceleration, and so it was only natural that the prince failed to remember her face and had to rely on the slipper she left behind. Maybe if the prince had looked a bit closer, saw the stain of blood where the back of her ankle had rubbed against the shoe, investigated the strands of hair on the palace steps, he could’ve matched the DNA, spared all the girls’ foot amputations to fit the delicate slipper. By the time he found the slipper, she had powdered soot onto her cheeks like foundation and finished rinsing a bowl of lentils to cook with onion and garlic over a fire, her appetite peaked after all the dancing. She poked a tree branch at the fire and watched its flames lick the bottom of the pot. Lentil stew: nutritious, delicious, the real secret behind her Claritin clear skin besides exfoliating properties of ash. After she fell asleep to a full stomach, the prince slipped the shoe on her foot and whisked her away so they could get married. And when she came to, pores clear, nails polished, hair trimmed of split ends, she had become a princess.

sleeping beauty

She slept on linen sheets covering feather beds softer than the morning snow (before soldiers marched their muddied boots to the castle and shook off blood and sweat from their swords and foreheads). An ornamented canopy hung above her head, embroidered with their family emblem, a weasel whose long and slender body made its legs seem disproportionately short, whose creamy white belly clashed against its red coat as it stood tall, with nowhere to burrow, and watched. She woke to the curtains drawn around the bed, her bare legs blanketed by shadow, his hand rubbing her stomach and then gliding from a bullet wound of a belly button to her breasts, like memory foam, capturing his fingerprints in a snapshot of time. She woke to whispers of my princess, my princess, and when he allowed her to speak, she whispered back yes, papa. When she failed to wake one morning, her index finger bruised and bloodied from a spindle’s puncture–the largest spindle she could find, the king knelt by her bed and brushed his lips and nose over her thighs, calves, toes and placed a tiara on her head, parting locks of hair so they surrounded her head like a halo. The queen offered her own–the one she had worn when they were first engaged–a diadem crammed with seven pear-shaped aquamarines and rose-cut diamonds and no room for romance. He scoffed as he fingered the hem of his daughter’s dress, not for my darling girl.

snow white

The day before she lost her virginity, she dissolved Epsom salt in a cup of warm water and swallowed. She began her fast that morning, flushed the toxins from her intestine, sucked in her flesh with a gasping fish-on-land inhale as she glimpsed her side profile in the mirror across her bed, and felt clean and airy and empty as she went about her day. The night she lost her virginity, she remained still, moving only as directed, counting poisoned combs and apples like sheep. The day after she lost her virginity, her lady-in-waiting asked if it hurt and she responded truthfully: she didn’t remember, for she had been too concerned about sucking in her hollow belly, wiping her mouth and face and thighs dry when she thought he wasn’t watching, plaiting her hair to the side so she wouldn’t need to re-straighten it the next morning. On subsequent nights, she wondered if the late queen ever caught a glimpse of the panting body above her slight frame and if she thought the reflection beautiful.


Lucy Zhang writes, codes, and watches anime. Her work has appeared in Atticus Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Pidgeonholes, and elsewhere. She is an editor for Heavy Feather Review and assistant fiction editor for Pithead Chapel. Find her at or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.

Stopping by a Store on a Summer Evening by Francisco Delgado

Once the storm cleared, they left for their evening walk. The tree, whose branches scratched and pawed at their front windows only minutes ago, was back in repose. The gutters, overflowing and summoning the smells of garbage and sewage that ran just beneath them, had largely subsided, too. Only a few puddles remained – but not for long, not once an overzealous child or dog leapt into them.

The couple reached their grocery store and, without a word, entered. The doors parted and invited them in without touching them, and they heard the AC before they could hear the music. A song that sounded like Phil Collins, but was definitely not Phil Collins, played on low from somewhere.

Their favorite tea was on sale. For her, its smell brought back the green-blue sea of the Mediterranean, the warmth of the sun right after a couple’s massage on their honeymoon. For him, it brought back this same memory and others: friends gathered at a table, the warmth of being pulled in for a picture, faces livelier in memory than on their dormant social media accounts.

“Are we out of milk?”

“Get it,” looking at the expiration date, “It won’t go to waste.”

Nearby, two middle-aged men in matching chambray shorts talked about the storm. One was in a Martha’s Vineyard t-shirt, the other’s had the name of a university in blue, block lettering across the chest. The couple couldn’t tell if the men were close friends or strangers. If you know someone long enough, don’t they become a little bit of both?

Towards the front, the cashiers were all smiles. Fast hands, faster pleasantries. A customer or two mistook this friendliness for something more, engaging the cashiers in conversation beyond the trendy topic of the moment: the storm that had just aggressively pushed through their neighborhood and left.

“Crazy how fast it moved.”

“When something picks up that quick, it never lasts long.”

The couple’s own cashier was quiet, perhaps too focused on the actions of her hands to make eye contact. Afterwards, each of them wondered if it had been them – especially because the cashier brightened with the next customer.

“Could it have been -?”

“Had to have been.”

“But why?”

Outside, they stared in awe at the neighborhood they had made their own. The neighborhood, especially their moving-in almost a decade ago, had been such an event. Friends visiting, sharing well-wishes and bottles of wine, making soft plans for “next time” and “later” and “soon.” Recently, the neighborhood had become familiar without being cozy, like the Target that had replaced the bookstore or the bank that had replaced a bank.

“Should we keep going? Or head back?” he asked.

“Where to?” she replied.

F Delgado


Francisco Delgado is a proud Chamorro and, through his maternal grandmother, a member of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca (Wolf clan). He works as an Assistant Professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College (CUNY) and lives in Queens with his wife and their son. His creative work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Pithead Chapel, Lammergeier, and Wigleaf, and he is the author of the chapbook Adolescence, Secondhand (Honeysuckle Press, 2018).

Bones Passing Through by Stephen Ground

He asks for the bill.

I’ve been watching them. Grubby, tired. Eating slower than you’d expect from bony, glass-eyed ones like these. Beneath the patchy beard and mask, his eyes twinkle like fresh pennies. Like mine. Impossible, and I know it, yet I’m transfixed by the invisible weight hunching his shoulders, familiar grimness clenched in his jaw. Austere stillness found in cornered spiders and predators waiting to pounce. The boy’s brightness gleams through his smudged coat of unbathed weeks. Pink cheeks cut the tarnish.

I waddle behind the counter, slow since it’s the lull before bars close and hooligans start lusting for bacon. Resting on my elbows, I tally their order from memory: basket of fries, a bottomless cup of coffee, and a lemonade I’d refilled twice on the diner’s dime. My candles might cost more than my cake, but the mind’s sharp from years of nights with Sajak and Trebek, gulping jars of Nutella with a spoon when I should’ve been finding companionship, maybe love. Planting roots. Wisdom displayed on the bare mantle and walls of my musty, rented room.

I punch in the order and the register jams, like every other damn time. I hiss all the things I’d like to do to Mr. O’Neill, his tight wallet, and his seventh wife who, big surprise, got the morning manager job I deserved despite never working a day in her life. Somehow she’s the laziest one yet, which I never thought I’d say after Number Four. No, instead I get another season rising at sunset to sling coffee for folks who don’t want it known they exist, then trying to sleep after ten hours on my feet sweating like a heifer on a hamster wheel, daylight bleating through janky blinds I can’t afford to replace. I slam the side of the register with the heel of my hand and the chit judders free, streaked and bleary. Scanning the diner, I pluck a well-earned wedgie, subtle and quick, then wander towards their table, straightening cutlery and flicking crumbs to the floor off vacant ones. I present the bill facedown to the man with a fistful of probably-stale pineapple candies.

Thanks, he says, eyes averted. Hesitating to check the damage.

Don’t worry, I say, nudging it closer. I took care of you.

Thanks, he says again, hesitating a moment longer before sliding the candies to the boy and snatching the bill, cradling it behind cupped hands like I wasn’t the one who rang it in. Inscrutable panic deep in his eyes knocks me through a wormhole: I’m sixty-seven and seventeen in the same breath, overcome with no-tears shampoo and disappointment, flashes of tiny hands and distant, tinkling laughter. I’m staring at his trembling fingers clutching the crumpled bill. Dirty nails, knuckles swollen and red.

You okay, ma’am?

Blinking hard, I smile wearily at the boy. He looks like him, too, beneath the grime, the chips and holes in his cautious grin. How I imagine he would’ve, anyways. Though if you asked me to bet a slow night’s tips, I wouldn’t.

The bell over the door clangs and a wave of college drunks crashes in, swept by riptides of cheap beer and failed conquests. I wait for them to settle in a corner booth then pass by, dropping menus and mugs, splashing them full without asking like the Ken Jennings of caffeinating assholes. The bell clangs again; a ball of grimy, crinkled bills and sprinkles of small change holler like cannon fire next to the mostly-empty basket of fries, the mug streaked like gas station porcelain. A crumpled napkin sags in the dregs of the third lemonade.

I glance out the window at the parking lot; the glistening, humming street crammed full of emptiness. In another world – a fair one, if such a thing exists – I could’ve been clocking out at dawn and heading to their place for breakfast, having coffee poured for me, then strolling hand-in-hand with the boy to a school he hates, chatting about the little girl who drives him crazy. I just wish I’d been told sometimes chances come once, and fairness is illusion fueled by the desperate. In reality, the only fair comes around in the fall, the sparkling midway luring booze bags from the diner like half-priced domestics for a few nights, at least. I like that fair. I believe in it.

The clutch of drunks are hungry and fading, their booth a nest of sloppy three a.m. chaos I get paid the bottom legal dollar to wrangle, plus tips. Sliding a pad from my apron, I brace for omelette orders no self-respecting human would sniff without a pistol pressed to their temple; drop my weight on my good hip and poise my trusty ballpoint. Forcing a smile, I patiently scribble garbled orders with one eye and watch out the window with the other. Like any good mother could.


Stephen G

Stephen Ground is a short fiction writer, poet, and screenwriter based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he’s co-founded Pearson House Films. After graduating from York University, he moved to a remote, isolated community in northernmost Saskatchewan, filling years of long, dark nights by reading books and trying to write one. His work has appeared in From Whispers to Roars, Sky Island Journal, Typishly, and elsewhere, and is a 2021 Best Small Fictions nominee. Find more at

Something Like Happy by Emily Devane

I came here with a body full of poison and hair loose in its sockets. The thrill of standing by the harbour is something else. Better than Disneyland, you say. Of course, I reply, of course.

Gulls screech like newborn babes and the air has a taste to it like sweat, like tears, like life at its gritty best. And we say yes: to ice cream with sprinkles and sky-blue candyfloss; to hours of digging holes in the sand and skipping over the waves, our skin staying just the right side of pink, our lungs stinging, singing with the salt; to crabbing beside the harbour wall; to feeding our two penny pieces into the metal-guzzling machines at the arcade, watching the forwards and backwards until they’re all gone.

By the caravan with the genuine Romany inside, I wonder if, with one look, she’ll avert her eyes, knowing my fate.

We climb the steps and I’m breathless but I don’t make a fuss because today is an illusion and it matters, more than anything, to be normal.

A stranger takes a photograph of us in the picture-postcard cemetery, its tombstones rakish as ageing teeth. Our faces beam with the relief of the fearful. For now, we are saying, this is okay, this can be done. And though the wind whips my hair into tangled knots and my scalp tingles with the losses to come and my life is too short to count, we are something like happy, and that is enough.


Emily Devane is a writer and teacher from Yorkshire, U.K. Her stories have won prizes, including the Bath Flash Fiction Prize, and have been widely published. Emily was a Word Factory apprentice and a Northern Writer’s Award winner. She is an editor at Saboteur-nominated online journal FlashBack Fiction.