Mascot by Iona Rule

The panda was in the dairy aisle again, fur damp from the milk bottle condensation. Every Friday night since I’ve worked the late shift, I’ve watched this familiar stranger circle the store to the Best of the 80s soundtrack that plays on loop. I’ve witnessed him linger in the cereal section, weighing up the advantages of Coco-Pops vs Sugar Puffs. Occasionally a paw hesitates over muesli before swaying back to the comfort of sugar. Sometimes I consider looking him up online, discovering which team he mascots for. Which sport, even. I imagine scrolling through a squad’s headshots like Who’s Who, before finally my finger hovers over him, the face beneath the costume. But I don’t. Partly, for the same reason I didn’t ask questions of the woman who lives upstairs. When she appeared last weekend in her dressing gown, placing a tub of Ben and Jerry’s and a pregnancy test on the counter between us. They’re only passing through and some things are best left unknown.

When I was nine there was a lion outside the ice cream parlour in town, giving away balloons. Mum would take me there most Saturdays after Dad left, hoping to heal a child’s grief with bubblegum ice cream and sprinkles. I only wanted to see the lion. He smelt of Dad, the same concoction of cigarette smoke, Old Spice and mint shampoo. I believed it was him underneath the mane and plastic toothed grin, with pure childhood indifference as to why he would choose this disguise. It was his arms that hugged me and his felt paw that pushed a balloon ribbon into my hand. I kept every one he gave me, even when they shrunk and withered like old grapes. I stored each wrinkled carcass in a shoebox under my bed. Then one day we drove past the parlour when the lion was on his break. I saw him by the bins, decapitated, holding the maned head under one arm as he rolled a cigarette. He was a pale teenager with a face rouged in acne. For once, I didn’t beg Mum to stop.

The panda brings his purchases to my counter. I wonder sometimes if the panda has someone at home who takes off his head, kisses him and asks about his day. Or if he’s single, roaming bars and apps for connections. I wonder if the women he meets ask him to stay in costume, revealing late-night fetishes for a man in a mask and polyester fur. That, like me, they prefer an illusion. I scan his discounted steak pie and a four-pack of lager. As I pass him the receipt, his fur briefly grazes my palm and I envision another night, when I’ll put my arms around him, my name badge pressed into his chest, when I’ll stare into his glass eyes and hear him say,
“I promise I will never leave.”



Iona Rule has always had a fear of people in mascot costumes. She recently came second in the Bath Flash Fiction competition and has been shortlisted in Retreat West, Fractured Lit, and TSS Publishing. Her work can be found in a few places including The Phare, Epoch Press, and Sans Press.

Adhesive by Sarah Clayville

She pens a breakup letter the day she meets him, then runs her tongue along the envelope’s bitter strip. Sealed with DNA and tucked in the front pocket of her messenger bag. Estate planning for the relationship, she calls it. Do not resuscitate.

They met at the coffee shop in her office. He lingered by the register, pretending to browse gluten free donuts when all he wanted was for her to notice him. They walked around the sputtering fountain in the courtyard. He offered her a penny and made his own wish. She pretended to throw hers but let it drop onto the cement.

The breakup letter grows heavier in her bag each day they’re together. He shows her pictures of his family. She shows him ones she scavenged from a photo album at a thrift store. He gives her the key to his apartment. She adds his name to a pretend timeshare in the Outer Banks.

Inevitably there will be a dinner. He’ll wear a tie she’s given him, pink with navy diamonds because something about that combination of colors reminds her of a sunset against a resigned ocean. She’ll excuse herself to the restroom and never come back. The letter will take her place on the chair.

Pulling off the band aid her mother called it before heading to Dollywood with her boyfriend. Fucking someone over her sophomore roommate said before transferring to Duke. She believes it is inhumane to risk a messy breakup. Some broken things can never be properly mended.

The letter is kindness.

The letter is love.

In college she took a mapmaking class. Even the professor said hand-drawn maps are obsolete. Everything is done on computers. Sitting in his class felt like trying on the skin of a corpse. But she admired the destinations drawn with a flourish of sepia ink. The endpoint. It wasn’t like pulling off the band aid. It was healing a wound before the skin separated.

They eat at Market Cross Pub on Friday night. He’s ditched the tie because someone at work told him he hasn’t got a future with the company. When she orders two beers with no intention to drink hers, he holds her hands in his. Nearby, a waitress lets the man at the booth cup her ass. Nearby, an old man drops quarters in a jukebox that looks out of place. Out of time.

The harder she pulls her hands free, the tighter his grip, like quicksand. He says they should go to that timeshare this weekend. Skinny dip in the ocean. Wear straw hats. Let the sand grind off a dreary layer of their skin.
He tells her disappointment can be outrun. He traces the lines in her palm, stopping at landmarks like her thumb, her wrist. He wants to explore with her. He wants to know the craziest thing she’s ever done.

She stays.



Sarah Clayville teaches high school English and writes from a small town in central Pennsylvania where she has lived forever. She holds a special place in her heart for short fiction that stops people in their tracks. Find more of her work at and follow her on Twitter @SarahSaysWrite.

Balls & Planets by Tomas Moniz

I didn’t choose to have a kitten, let alone two. I stepped out of my backyard bungalow in east Oakland at three a.m. because something kept yowling and whining. I opened the door ready to shew the thing away and they both pranced into my room like they belonged and were returning home from a night out.

I fed them some chicken I had left over from my favorite spot: Lucky Three Seven. They got the best wings covered in this sauce called G-Fire that I know must have way too much sugar in it. But anyways, I offered them some chicken pulled off the bone, some half and half splashed in a little plate. I should’ve known they’d be like: hell yeah, we gonna live here. They snuggled up at the foot of my bed and slept like they were the safest little forest creatures in the world.


When I took them to the outdoor free vet clinic two weeks later and the vet tech asked their names, that was when I realized I never considered them mine because who names a cat Ratty and Balls. I named them that to make fun of them. To have something over them. A joke about a quality no one could love. So go on little Ratty and Balls, run wild outside and come back in all content and happy like you just found your way back home.

Ratty and Balls, the vet tech said. Like he was clarifying the names. Like was I sure that’s what he should write down. He was dressed head to foot in PPE attire so I only saw his eyes.

Yes, I enunciated through my mask.

Okay then, but Balls better enjoy his for the next hour because he’s about to have them in name only.

I nodded.

His balls were cute: the soft yellow of unripe apricots. I had a pang of regret. Not that I named him Balls but that I brought him here to lose them.

It’s been a hard year. I felt the need to hold on to such tiny precious things.

I’ve been living alone, teaching science classes to children whose families were wealthy enough to create educational pods. The only good thing is that the other tenants in the main building never really came to the back yard: my little kingdom.


I complained to Jackson, my best friend, about how the kittens never really let me pick them up and spent most of their time racing through my apartment chasing crumpled up Post-it notes.

Jackson and I have hung out weekly at Peralta Park on Coolidge since March, when everything changed, almost nine months ago, both of us quickly realizing how little we did physical things, how few people we talked to, how small everything suddenly became in our world.

Buster, his dog, growled at every single person or animal that walked by us.

Jackson said, You mean the cats play fetch?

They don’t fetch. They’re cats not dogs, I said.

Do you throw this crumpled Post-it note?


And do the cats bring it back to you?

Yes. You have cats that play fetch. Are they feral? Do you let them outside?

At nights, when I go outside. They follow me, but then they always come back.


When I called my mom in New Mexico, my standing Sunday morning zoom check-in, she said, That’s what happens when you get quarantine cats. I read an article about it. It’s a thing apparently that lonely people do.

I’m not lonely.

Do you have a quarantine cat?

No. I have abandoned cats that have adopted me.

They must’ve known.

Known what, mom?

Known that you’re lonely, sweetie.


On winter solstice, I stepped into the backyard to see the convergence that everyone was posting about.

I had a cup of tea. I let Balls and Ratty out, watched them sprint away into the darkness. My neighbors, a young couple, walked out into the yard and waved at me. It was the first time I’d ever seen them in the back. They searched the sky.

You know it’s solstice tonight and the stars are lining up, he said as if I asked him to explain his presence.

Not stars, babe, planets, the woman said.

Yes, that’s right, planets. Saturn and Mars.

Jupiter, not Mars. Babe, come on, are you just teasing me, she said and reached out to push him. They were cute together.

My cats sauntered up to me and sat at my feet like I trained them.

Oh my god. Look, Jas. It’s our cats. It’s Kurt and Cobain. Where have you two been? We looked all over for you.

She hustled over and picked up Ratty, who meowed like she was so sad and sacred.

Balls meowed like he wanted to be picked up. Like I haven’t tried to pick him up every day for weeks.

The guy, apparently Jas, picked up Balls and cradled him like a little newborn baby, four little paws, reaching skyward.

They raced toward their apartment.

Those cats just looked back at me and, like that, they were gone.

I thought about saying something about their medical records, but really what could I say. I figured Jas would soon see his balls were gone and figure it out.


Later that night, I sat outside and threw the rest of my Post-it notes into the darkness of the backyard. Every time I threw, the motion lights went on. When I was finally out of Post-its, I just sat there hearing the sounds of east Oakland: the tire squeals, BART screeching, a car alarm, the ever present pop of fireworks. I looked up into the sky and, sure enough, I saw the planets converged. It was a beautiful sight, that bright steady light that centuries before guided people home.


Tomas Moniz’s debut novel, Big Familia, was a finalist for the 2020 PEN/Hemingway, the LAMBDA, and the Foreward Indies Awards. He edited the popular Rad Dad and Rad Families anthologies. He’s a 2020 Artist Affiliate for Headlands Center for Arts. He has stuff on the internet but loves penpals: PO Box 3555, Berkeley CA 94703. He promises to write back.

Angela Expects an Earthquake by Rachel O’Cleary

The entire Pacific Northwest is a subduction zone. Angela has been aware of this for most of her life, but has only recently added Earthquake to the file she keeps in the exact center of her chest. She has filed it alphabetically, after Cancer and Drunk Drivers, and before Kidnapping and Mass Shootings.

Lately, Angela has been having the same nightmare over and over. In it, she stumbles endlessly past upturned pickup trucks and flooded basements, kicking aside loose shingles in search of a pudgy hand or a matted head to clasp.

Angela avoids sleep. She can lie awake for hours, visualizing her children, fully-grown. She stretches them, fills them out, makes them outgrow her. She pictures Tommy as an excavator operator, and gives him a deep, rich voice, tightly curled chest hair, and plenty of dirt beneath his broad fingernails. She conjures for him a husband named Fernando and two hazel-eyed children. In Angela’s mind, June unfolds into a tall woman, a geneticist in a white lab coat and thick-rimmed glasses, but whose hair still slips out from every attempt at a ponytail. Angela gives June a partner named Patrick and a gently swelling stomach.

Of course, if tonight is the night, the children will never become adults, or parents, or even teenagers. They may open their eyes one last time as the previously solid floor begins to dip and roll like waves beneath their beds. Or maybe Angela will have time to gather them under the dining room table, where they will listen to the hammering of one another’s heartbeats as photos drop from flimsy wire nails, the refrigerator walks out of the kitchen, and, finally, the house sidles away from its foundations. Maybe they will even live to see all those things that had collapsed come rushing back toward them in a roiling wall of water: beds, chimneys, SUVs. But that is it. That is where the possibilities end. Angela has read that it is nearly impossible to survive a tsunami.

And yet, imagining it, a feeling of calm settles over her. Those final moments could get ugly – gasping, twisting, lungs burning – but Angela thinks that at least they would be brief. That her children would never have to watch her flesh devoured by hungry cancer cells, or clean her withered body while she eyes them warily, uncertain of who they are. And instead of tormenting herself with images of them drowning in a hotel swimming pool, or getting into a car with a drunk teenager, or marrying an angry man with steel in his eyes, perhaps there could be a certain beauty in the way she could simply stop struggling and clutch her family to her chest as they float, together, into eternity.


Rachel O’Cleary writes with Writers HQ. She studied creative writing at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and lives with her husband and three children in Ireland, squeezing her obsession for flash fiction into the spaces between school runs. You can find a list of her published work at, and she occasionally tweets @RachelOCleary1.