Totems by Matthew Zanoni Müller

With the kids out of the house Stacy took up pottery while Rick took out his skis to mix business and pleasure on trips to the Rockies. “Can you believe it,” he said, “they use dynamite to start avalanches, to control the inevitable.” She made plates that came out long and wobbly. “They look like someone played Frisbee with them,” she told her teacher. “At least they’re playing,” he said. Everyone laughed.

In Utah, all the roads through the passes were closed the next year and Rick was stuck at the lodge. “This is the dream,” he said. “I’m happiest out here on the slopes in all this white.” She imagined it like a kind of heaven. Where was she happiest? The earth seemed to close in around her, encase her in glass, blue marble that it was. She made bowls and bowls and bowls, imagined filling each one up. They escaped the cabinets, lined the shelves and windowsills, cradled the nothing that was always there.

The next year she couldn’t have had a thirst big enough for all the cups that lined up on every nightstand and countertop and end table. The year after that she had exhausted dishware, so she planted brightly glazed decorative mushrooms that grew on metal stakes in her garden. They would never fade. This was when Rick disappeared. Buried in white. “The inflatable saved me,” he said after the rescue a day later. “I floated right up to the surface.”

The following year she started on the totems, nothing religious, just shapes: a red ball, stacked on a blue ring, on top of flaming wings. Rick made the poles. The totems filled the rooms with undefined ritual. He broke his left leg on a tree trunk going off-trail and lay around the house amid the towers of her clay cosmos, the pinwheels and flowers and four-pointed crowns. The grotesque smiles of the planet’s faces. He was her only congregant. “Church,” he said. “I’m at church.” She flicked him lightly on the shoulder. “Don’t be silly,” she said. “You go off into the snow for that.”

The next year his tracker sent out another signal. Ski patrol went out to find him under the white. They just kept digging and digging while she waited for the call, for the inflatable to engage and raise him up again. Days passed and still they could not find him. In the empty silence she imagined him in the white, searched for him through it as though it were the emptiness on her wobbly plates, the emptiness in the bowls she’d thrown, the cups that lined her shelves. She imagined him growing right out of the ground like the mushrooms in her garden, saw him twisting through the cosmos somewhere out there among her totems, and the more she looked for him, the more she realized he could be anywhere in it, anywhere at all. Even everywhere.


Matthew Zanoni Müller is a writer of fiction and creative nonfiction and a community college professor. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals including BULL, Southeast Review, The Boiler Journal, Hippocampus, and others. He lives in Western Massachusetts. To learn more about his writing, please visit:

Daylight Savings by Fiona McKay

Ten minutes waiting in line. She snips them, pastes them into the app on her device, and is more than halfway up the line. Another maybe three minutes, she estimates, snips those, and is rewarded by reaching the top of the queue. She’s getting so much better at estimating these things now, and there are bonuses if you got it spot on—you could double or even treble your time, it’s been said, though she hasn’t, yet. But every day she’s improving.

This morning at breakfast, she estimates that it would take Emily seven minutes to eat her cereal. It takes eight, but that had been a pretty good call, and leaves her with only one minute of staring at a small girl picking up each individual cheerio with her spoon, draining the milk off, and eating it. Seven minutes saved. Seven minutes of not watching that. Seven minutes of not tamping down the desire to yell ‘would you just eat the damn cereal already’ over and over until they are all crying. And seven minutes banked for later, to use as she pleases.

There have been some issues that need to be smoothed out, and the manufacturers are aware of them, they say on their website, and are working on it. There are glitches. Users report fuzzy feelings after they snip. That hasn’t happened to her, but she has felt some jolts, and some confusion. She would be sitting with her device, calculating the snip and hoping the kids wouldn’t disturb her calculations, and once she has snipped, there would be a slightly jagged hole—her on one side of it, the children on the other, staring across, puzzled. Something she’s meant to answer, maybe, or something she should have noticed. Something. It only lasts for a second, less than a second, though maybe these intervals are getting longer, the more she snips. Maybe. Emily and Tom looking at her for a fraction longer each time, as though she isn’t quite there.

After she drops them to school, she runs errands and straightens the house, snipping as she goes, watching the minutes build up in the app, watching it glow and pulse. After she collects them from school, and only snips a little during snack and homework, she feels her joy begin to gather in her, like a secret. The sun is shining, and the kids are happy to play in the garden. In this moment, their heads are bent over some small insect that moves on Tom’s arm—a beetle or a butterfly maybe, and Emily holds her soft arm out to take whatever it is. This is the perfect moment—nobody is fighting, or shouting, or bleeding from grazed knees. Quietly, she closes the back door.

She makes coffee and takes down the best biscuits from their hiding place, takes out the book she had been saving. But first, she opens the app. Three hours, it says. Three whole hours snipped and stitched together out of all the tiny pieces of wasted time during the day. If she looks closely at the screen where all her minutes are stored, she can see Emily staring at her as she spoons up cereal, Tom prodding her arm during homework, all those little moments. She presses the button that says Use Time Now, and all the memories vanish. The day greys around the edges, the way it always does during the Time-Use phase. She tries to remember breakfast, and what had annoyed her. Something about cereal. Something about reading practice at homework later in the day. No, it’s gone, entirely gone. For a moment, a small pain presses through her chest and she thinks she might cry, for some reason. Then it is gone, and she opens her book and settles down to read, uninterrupted, for the next three hours. Three hours while the clock stands still, while the world stands still, before the next minute turns.


Fiona McKay lives beside the sea in Dublin, Ireland with her husband and daughter. She is a flash fiction writer and is also querying a novel. Writes with Writers’HQ. Words in various places, including: Reflex Fiction, Janus Literary, Scrawl Place, EllipsisZine, The Birdseed, Twin Pies, Bath Flash. Tweets about writing at @fionaemckayryan

The Cost of Helium by Kinneson Lalor

When we go to court, I agree to tell the truth. I tell them when we met, a cubic metre of helium cost one dollar and seventy-five cents. I wore a new skirt that crept up when I walked from my desk to the lab and I spent the day pushing it back over my knees. I dragged a nauseating feeling I shouldn’t be there, like still being half-drunk as the sun rises.

Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. That’s what my PhD was in. And his. We measured magnetic fields around atomic nuclei, compounds contracting invisible lines with exclusive gravities. We were scientists. We believed our tissues were the same, that atoms from our hearts would resonate.

Laboratories account for ten percent of helium use. Superconducting magnets need liquid helium to keep them super cold. Four point two Kelvin. It sounds bearable when you measure it like that. But in celsius, it’s nearly three hundred degrees below zero.

I was planning our wedding when the first shortage came. I didn’t mourn the loss of the balloon arch. Our supervisor needed to move the magnet, but the groom-to-be got to finish his thesis first. I could finish mine after. There was no helium to waste so the magnet was transported at cryogenic temperatures. We got married. I could finish my thesis soon. I peed on a stick. The magnet broke in transit. The stick showed a plus. For once, I couldn’t do the maths.

Helium comes from decaying radioactive substances. It’s very light. Released, it goes up and up and up into space. Gone. Like no other material on earth, it cannot come back. I drove around all day looking for balloons for her fifth birthday. I don’t recall where he was. Not there.

The judge is a man. I explain I wanted to be doing experiments, not scrambling to keep the instruments alive. The government hoarded the stocks then flooded the market. New helium is only found in natural gas wells but fracking is more lucrative. In the shale formations, where rocks split into thin layers under pressure, you only find oil, molasses-thick. It has a rainbow shine that disappears every time you try to get closer. I never finished my PhD. I raised a daughter.

Helium Shortage 3.0 was all politics. Russia, Qatar, Tanzania. That’s where helium will come from in the future. No one trusted the supply. A cubic metre of helium cost seven US dollars. But she was too old for balloons by then and I developed an instrument with improved insulation and integrated cold heads to recondense the helium, recycle it. A new machine that didn’t need replenishing. It made money. He wants his share.

The judge looks bored but not the kind of bored where you could joke about it. He doesn’t understand. Not the cost of absence from a market, not how things break when you move them in their incorrect state. Not the cost of helium in divorce proceedings. He thinks coming up with an idea while ironing pleats in a school skirt is because of the opportunity to iron, not despite it. He rules. The injustice sits like lead on my lungs. I cannot breathe.

I’m a scientist. I know lead. Have felt it. Always. When I was twenty-one and pushed my skirt back over my knees. When I watched our daughter roll hers up and take photos in the mirror.

Lead. Galvanised and cold. But it’s so malleable I thought I was making shallows with the smallest of pressures. And maybe I did. But it’s also dense and hard and immoveable in bulk.

Lead. It’s almost a win to know its name.

Because I know it tarnishes upon exposure. I know its isotopes are the end products of radioactive elements. And I know helium comes from radioactive decay.

Helium. Of celebrations and balloons.

Helium. The cost of lightness.

Our daughter will graduate tomorrow. I was feeling sentimental for the things I’d lost so I bought balloons. And I will blow each one up. With nothing but my lungs.


Kinneson Lalor is a mathematician and writer living in the UK. Her work has appeared in places like the BFFA Shortlist, Reflex Fiction, and Cease, Cows, won #1KWHC 2021, has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and is included Best Microfiction 2022. You can find her, her dog, and her chickens on Twitter (@KinnesonLalor), Instagram (@kinneson.lalor), or via

How We Survive by K.B. Carle

We survive on vegetables from gardens we make in the backyards of strangers.

Blasting music with all the windows open, raiding closets, setting food bowls on porches just in case our tabby, rottweiler, ferret, hamster, or goldfish come home.

We are the last people on Earth.

You say this every night before you go to your room and I go to mine in a house that was never ours.

We survive on secrets.

Over breakfast I admit that sometimes I wish you’d come to my room. You say you wish you’d known sooner. That you’ve met someone and wasn’t sure when to tell me. I try to remember all the times we’ve been apart, wonder how you managed to meet someone when we are the last people on earth.

I want you to meet her, you say, and I nod because I don’t know what else to do.

We survive on a series of miscommunications.

You take me to the nearby sex shop and tell me her name’s Lorraine. I look for evidence of another human, someone I could be friends with. Someone I could envy, address hateful letters to that I’ll never send but burn in the fire pit while you sleep. Someone I could have rebound sex with—to stop pretending like you and I have ever had sex. I start building a life with this woman you’ve met named Lorraine.

You walk to the display window (I take a moment to admire your ass and think maybe I have a chance) and carry a mannequin towards me.

Meet Lorraine, you say.

We survive on fuck ups and moments of doubt.

Like how did I fuck up this badly? How did you fuck a—Lorraine?

Lorraine has blue hair and eyes that never shut. She’s wearing a black latex catsuit that accentuates her hips and legs in a way I can’t hate, and is made of fucking plaster.

Don’t embarrass me, you hiss.

I shake her hand. Nice to meet you, I say, while thinking about all the things I didn’t do that drove you to Lorraine.

We survive on privacy.

Lorraine starts coming home with you after we meet, and I hear you two through the walls. You tell her about your life before we were the last people on earth, and everyone you miss. I hear you two having sex when I’m trying to sleep. Sometimes, I hear my door creak open and think you’ve come to apologize. Instead, I see Lorraine, leaning in the doorframe, naked and frozen in her shop window pose.


We survive on new experiences.

You ask me to move out. Say, it’s nothing personal, just that you and Lorraine need your privacy. I consider telling you about Lorraine in my doorway but you’re babbling about how new everything is with her. You hear birds singing (there are none), music playing (you keep Rick Rolling me), and everything is so much brighter. It’s not. It’s not because, as the last people on earth, everything is still the same.

We survive on small moments.

Since being evicted, I’ve decided to house hop. I want to find this brightness—or newness—you’ve found so I migrate from one house to the next. Somehow you find me, and I think I feel a little bit of that brightness you’ve found.

Lorraine’s throwing a party, you say, and hand me an invitation.

I invite you inside. You back away.

Sorry, Lorraine’s waiting.

We survive on disappointments.

I find a dress in someone’s basement that fits and heels that I hope I can walk in. Your house is somehow crowded by the time I arrive. Lorraine is wearing a pink tutu over a red leather catsuit, and she’s surrounded by other mannequins I recognize from department stories and the sex shop. Even the one from the auto body shop is here. I make my way over to him and try to start a conversation, but he doesn’t respond, so I lean against him and imagine our lives together.

We survive on possibilities.

My husband—the mannequin from the auto body shop—would address me as his partner instead of wife. He would take my last name, never comment on my age, how many pills I take, the diapers I’ll eventually need. He’d hold my hand, kiss me often, and tell me how much he loves me. He’d tell me he loves me so often that I’d forget about the party, Lorraine, and you asking Lorraine to marry you.

We survive on the promise of the future.

You invite me to the wedding, and I come. Lorraine wears a white pantsuit and you—a wedding gown. The mannequin from the auto body shop is there but he sits far away from me. You whisper your vows, kiss Lorraine, and announce that you are now Mr. Lorraine. You thank everyone for coming. You thank me for coming. I have a few drinks and make my way to the backyard. You find me, like you always do, and ask if you can have a taste.

We survive on missed opportunities.

You ask why we—I tell you I don’t know. That’s a lie, but you’ve had one too many, and this conversation seems inappropriate on your wedding night. I tell you I’m leaving, and you tell me you know. You say you’ve noticed all the times I’ve moved, each time farther away from you; how I flirted with the guy from the auto body shop only to now pretend he doesn’t exist.

I tell you I think you’re beautiful. Handsome. That I don’t know which you would prefer.

I guess that’s why we never—

I press my finger to your lips. You’re crying, which shouldn’t be happening. I look for Lorraine. You grab my hand and I know, if you asked me to stay, my answer would destroy everything.


K.B. Carle lives and writes outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her stories have appeared in HAD Magazine, Good River Review, Waxwing Magazine, and have been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. She can be found online at or on Twitter @kbcarle.