The Middle Ages by Alyson Mosquera Dutemple

Their tour would start any moment now, and though Randi wanted to get in line in the church courtyard, Gwen stood her ground, insisting that they wait for the homo sapien to arrive.

“I’m sure there’s another later,” Gwen lied vaguely, scanning the street even as the guide started collecting tickets, even as he announced that this was, indeed, his last group of the day. When Randi, who had arranged their schedule so carefully, checking and rechecking the reservations, confirmations, reminded her that this was their last chance to go inside, Gwen was flippant.  “Aren’t we a little old for skeletons anyway?” she asked, ignoring the fact that she herself was the one to show Randi the skulls in the tour book in the first place, to propose they go see them on the one free afternoon of their 9th grade trip to Dublin. But this was back when Gwen still cared about doing things with Randi, back before discovering the homo sapien and his lurid, sucking mouth on the back of a bus to the Cliffs of Moher they shared with their brother school.

When all the stubs were collected, the guide turned to Randi and Gwen, asked if they were joining, and though Randi wanted more than anything to queue up, to see those human remains (some of which, she remembered with a pang, dated back to the Middle Ages!), out of loyalty to Gwen, she demurred, No, thank you.

The crypt creaked open, and Randi watched the tourists file down, two by two, the whole world, it seemed, determined to couple up around her. Even in the still of night, pairs of quiet footfalls while Randi pretended to sleep. The flash of hall light as Gwen unlocked the door, and one shadow on the wall became two, as the homo sapien crept into their room, into Gwen’s bed. Though each morning she made herself promise to ask Gwen what she and the homo sapien did in the quiet, in the dark, Randi kept curiously losing her nerve, as if she were afraid of what she might learn. When the last visitor disappeared into the recesses of the crypt, Randi found herself a little relieved. She both did and did not want to get a glimpse of those bodies stripped of life down below. She dared herself to stand on tiptoe, to crane her neck. She couldn’t see any bones from up here, but she imagined she could smell them, the must of accumulated years, the tang of skin bitten away, the tiny microbes that had nibbled it still present in the air now wafting towards her. It galvanized her, she imagined, the essence of old souls. She would do it, she decided. She would ask Gwen for the truth. But when she turned to do so, the homo sapien was bounding through the gates in long strides, and Gwen was stepping forward to greet him, to pull him close, too close, in the shadows of the courtyard. As their lips opened, as the flesh of their faces rubbed and touched, the guide shut the crypt behind him, and Randi sealed her own mouth, trapping in there the last little dregs of the dead.


DutempleauthorpicAlyson Mosquera Dutemple’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Passages North, DIAGRAM, Wigleaf, and Pithead Chapel, among others, and recently received an Honorable Mention for Cincinnati Review‘s 2021 Robert and Adele Schiff Award. She works as an editorial consultant and creative writing instructor in New Jersey and holds an MFA in fiction from The Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Find her on Twitter @swellspoken and at www.alysondutemple.com.

EUPHORIA=WHEN I HELP THE BODY REMEMBER IT COULD BE MINE by Bojana Stojcic

Every morning I have my usual crise de panique on the way to work—my regular I want
something, and then I don’t, there’s no time (when is the right time), I have nothing to lose, I
have nothing to gain, what if I fail, or even worse, what if I don’t—only this time the fatigue and anxiety drug on well into the day, and it wasn’t until I released that I finally found some relief, which was pretty wow, the way the new mother feels energized by a few hours of sleep, the way she forgets the moist sickness rising up in her throat when the baby pulls on her nipple and her heart beats faster, before hormonal shifts, before exhaustion, before guilt, before the blinds drawn shut, the house forgotten, before pressing her face into her arms, hands digging deep into her flesh like it’s a peach, before pulling the skirt over her head as if to disappear, as if to dissolve into the air and be gone gone gone, before I woke up tired as fuck again the following day, before I was there but elsewhere. In the shower I stayed worried, though I knew if I panicked, I’d feel way better, more myself, so after cell-scrubbing cleansers, after toners, after serums, I put my head between my knees and let it bang in.


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Bojana Stojcic, a native of Serbia living in Germany, has work featured in Barren Magazine, Spelk, Okay Donkey, MockingHeart Review, and Versification, amongst other publications. She wishes she could just put her feet up and heave a euphoric sigh of relief.

Mother’s Obake Shivers Under Your Bed by Melissa Llanes Brownlee

It’s waiting to reach its impossibly long arms for the shirt you ripped at recess, the one you
weren’t supposed to wear to school. It wants to trace its knife sharp fingers through
notebooks filled with the hundreds of I won’t draw in my notebooks during class lines you
had to write because you were caught drawing in your math, English, social studies, science
notebooks again and again. It’s ready to drool over the jeans you bled through, nestling its
heart shaped head, veined and bumpy like the red anthuriums in your mother’s garden, in the rusty bloom. It craves the tears you’ll shed when your mother finds these things under your bed. Its spindly arms and legs ready to grab you and hold you safe among your hidden things.

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Melissa Llanes Brownlee (she/her), a native Hawaiian writer living in Japan, has work published or forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Reckon Review, The Hennepin Review, Cheap Pop, The Razor, Milk Candy Review, Cotton Xenomorph, and Atlas + Alice. She is in Best Small Fictions 2021, Best Microfiction 2022, and the Wigleaf Top 50 of 2022. Read Hard Skin, her short story collection, from Juventud Press. She tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at www.melissallanesbrownlee.com.

The Foundation for the Foreseeable Future by Jeffrey Hermann

I was an orphan once. Lucky me it can’t happen twice. The story was my parents were a dime and a penny. She wore a long, elegant coat with a belt. He was a gun misfiring, or an empty suitcase. I can’t remember.

We played baseball in the yard behind the building. I remember. There was a runner at first, two outs. The batter was behind on the count. Our team felt lifted into the summer air. The pitcher looked into the clouds. He dropped the ball in the dirt, walked to the fence, opened the gate and disappeared. I lived in left field.

One morning I thought I saw them passing by in a car. They looked like two competing geometric shapes. Two hotel guest keys. Two identical planks of wood. She wore the sky as a hat. He held a bird in his mouth. A little struggle still in the wings.


Jeffrey Hermann’s poetry and prose has appeared in Rejection Lit, Variant,
UCity Reivew, trampset, JMWW, The Shore, and other publications. Though
less publicized, he finds his work as a father and husband to be rewarding
beyond measure.

Departures by Annie Frazier

The TSA line in Orlando snakes through mazed partitions, people tacking onto the back of the line in droves. That’s where we need to be, but Aubrey won’t abandon her Mickey Mouse balloon. On a bench in the atrium I suggest, ask, beg. But: No, Mama! Cheeks scarlet despite sunscreen globbed on hourly all three days we tromped around the most magical place on earth, Florida sun searing the near translucence she inherited from her father. Father I brought us here to learn how to live without after he made it clear he’s gone gone.

We’re dangerously close to missing our flight. I ask her for the balloon again, but she crosses her arms. I say, I’m gonna have to count to three. Her lip quivers. I don’t want to take anything from her, not right now. So I breathe and say, One more minute baby but then we gotta get on this plane and go home. She looks up at me, brown eyes wide and dark lashes slick with early tears, then pats my thigh three times slow. So she won’t see my face crumple, I hook my arm around her tiny shoulders and slide her across the bench, hold her against me. Her body feels so fragile, such a breakable little thing. I don’t want to go home either. Empty house, new life stretching unknown before us.

An older boy wails sharp and high into the huge bright space. Aubrey stares at him, then at the yellow smiley-face balloon above him drifting up up up until it bumps to a halt against the glass of the ceiling. She looks back at her own balloon, breathes slow three times like I’ve been teaching her. Between thumb and forefinger she pinches the silver ribbon looped loose around her wrist, slides it over her fist. She releases and watches Mickey float float float. Says: Byebye, Mickeyboy. Then, like nothing: Come on, Mama. Hurryhurry. Chin up, she marches forward. Does not wait for Mickey to nestle into an elbow of steel beams, third side of a grinning triangular huddle with Ariel and Elsa.

It’s becoming a pattern, apparently—my baby girl refusing to watch a man go. Angling away instead. Just like when he walked out, Aubrey slipping from the room before he could get out the front door. A coolness to her I’d not seen before. This time, again: Mama hurry. I follow her lead, fumbling our bags and boarding passes, daunted by my mystery child but not slipping into praise, not saying: So brave, babygirl.


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Annie Frazier lives in North Carolina and works as a freelance editor and Fiction faculty member for Great Smokies Writing Program at UNC Asheville. Her fiction and poetry can be found in Appalachian Review, Paper Darts, Hypertrophic Literary, Longleaf Review, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. Find her at anniefrazier.com and say hey on Twitter @anniefrazzr.

Breaths and Beats by Sara Chansarkar

Yes, I went there—to her house. Couldn’t stop myself, having returned to the country, my country, after a decade.

She introduced me as an old family friend to her husband—a clean-shaven man in the traditional kurta-salwar, his sandaled feet flat on the floor as he sat back in the couch that looked too high for me. So, I chose a low, upholstered chair across the coffee table. She went inside, anklets ringing, bangles clinking, the pink dupatta trailing behind her. The husband and I talked.

He loved to hunt, he said, pointed to a reindeer head mounted on the wall behind him. Brown eyes gleaming, antlers and hair a little dusty. I told him about my poetry, the collection that came out last month. The reason I was here, after all these years—on a book tour.

“Poet?” he unbuttoned and rolled up the sleeve of his kurta. “Soft man, soft emotion…”

She returned with a wooden tray holding a flower-patterned teapot, matching cups and saucers, a plate of cream-filled biscuits, some fried bread. A little thick in the middle now, but her face was as innocent, as radiant, as in my mind and eyes, my days and dreams, my breaths and beats.

“Begum, have you read any of the man’s poems?” the husband asked her.

“Umm, yes…no,” she stuttered. “Did you start writing after…” she looked at me and in her eyes I saw them bobbing up and down, emerging and submerging—the lines, the pages of verses I wrote for her, for us.

A boy, about five or six, darted in from outside, bringing with him a whiff of roasted meat, probably from the kebab-shop I noticed across the street. He scooped up a biscuit from the china plate. Beautiful boy, just like her: same heart-shaped face, mocha-brown eyes, a straight-arrow nose.

“Ahmed, where are your manners?” she scolded the boy. He grinned and licked the orange-white cream in the biscuit with his tongue.

The husband said, “Son, come here, did you greet your uncle?”

“Uncle, who?” the boy asked.

“Mamu.”

A cough shot up my throat but I managed to gulp it down. He called me Mamu—mother’s brother. Never had I imagined being called that. Her eyes remained glued to the floor as if she were a shy new bride, her fingers pleating an unpleating the laced edge of her dupatta.

“Salaam, Mamu!” the boy snatched another biscuit from the tray and ran past the paisley-printed curtains covering the doorway.

“The thing about hunting is,” the husband sipped his chai noisily, “you’re not afraid of blood on your clothes, your hands.” He held his large hand in front of his face, examining it. “Once, I extracted a living heart from an animal’s chest. It throbbed in my palm for half a second before the dog pounced on it.”

A dog barked from somewhere deep inside the house which I assumed had many rooms opening up into a courtyard where the animal was tethered. The deep, threatening bark, echoed in the air until the man shouted, “Bahadur!” The dog stopped after a reluctant yelp, an acknowledgement of its master’s order.

“Something about freeing a heart…banished into a cage, pushing, beating restlessly against the ribs. Maybe, you can write a poem about it. Poets know hearts better than anyone else.”

“Uh, huh.”

“It was this one’s heart, Begum,” he addressed her and pointed to the deer-head on the wall. “The animal you said was the most beautiful creation of nature.”

He roared with laughter, “If my wife likes a face, I’d pin it here for her, forever. Pretty woman that she is. Don’t you agree, Poet Sahib?”

I fixed my gaze on the curtains and took quick sips of the tea to mask any expression my face may betray. My toe itched inside the Italian leather shoe.

He continued, “You married, Poet Sahib?”

“No.”

The word hung there, oscillating like a pendulum between the man and me, creating an impassable stupor. He pressed the cup and saucer into his lap, her hands clutched them so tight her knuckles turned white. The air grew unbreathable, thick, as if ready to precipitate. I reached over and placed my cup back in the tray to create some movement.

Thankfully, a savior arrived—the boy, rushing in through doorway, holding a cricket bat and a ball. “Abba, let’s play,” he said to his father.

“Yes, let me wear my shoes,” the husband rose, his head reaching the same height as the deer-head on the wall.

“I should leave,” I stood up, embarrassed for my small stature, and extended a hand towards him. He squeezed it hard in his bear-like paw and turned to her, “Begum, remind me to grease my guns. Sometimes, even when a man’s not hunting, the game is on.”


Sara_ChansarkarSara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American writer. Born to a middle-class family in India, she later migrated to the United States. Her work has appeared in Reflex Press, Flash Fiction Online, Kahini, and elsewhere. She has been highly commended in National Flash Microfiction Competition, shortlisted in SmokeLong Quarterly Micro Contest, shortlisted in Bath Flash Fiction Festival. She is currently an editor at Janus Literary and a Submissions Editor at SmokeLong Quarterly. Her debut flash fiction collection Morsels of Purple is available for purchase on Amazon and in local bookstores. More at https://saraspunyfingers.com. Reach her @PunyFingers.

A Perfect Facsimile of Flight by Audrey Burges

It started with the paving stones, circles of concrete heavier than the children who bore them, bent-kneed and staggering, between our houses. Bits of garden paths and front walks disappeared, leaving wet worms wriggling on newly exposed circles of earth. We traced muddy footprints from negative space to positive, finding pavers arrayed in a crooked line, heading toward the trees. A narrow avenue into the woods behind our homes.

“We’re out of stones,” the children told us. “The fairies need more.” We nodded, helping their small bodies clamber into minivans and SUVs for a trip to the home improvement store. We wanted to encourage them. We grinned at each other across the aisles as our children selected supplies. Gravel. Small lanterns with batteries that didn’t need the sun. Boxes of scraps the store gave us for free—broken tiles, splintered shims, a few curled carpet remnants too irregular for closets or hallways.

Our children bent their heads together and conferred about requirements, whispering visions half-remembered after fitful nights in their personalized, Pottery Barn’d bedrooms. Dreams with common elements, as similar as palettes of vinyl siding and matched entry lanterns and low-profile evergreens beneath our double-glazed windows. They did not share specifics with us, and we ceded them privacy, indulging their independent plans.

A single cashier checked us out, cooing over the children instead of talking to them. “And what’s all this, then?”

“For the fairies,” said a small voice. It could have been any of them—not one of mine, I don’t think, but my phone had buzzed in my hand, reminding me of work, or perhaps the dentist, or maybe that I was overdue for a vitamin.

“How sweet,” said the cashier.

We exchanged rectangles of plastic for rectangles of stone and glass, and returned home.

What relief, a summer project for the children. Something nearby that required no attention from us, and absorbed theirs as soon as they arose—always earlier than we wished they would—rubbing their sleep-crusted eyes and murmuring about their need to go outside, attempting to exit the back door before we could even get them dressed. We hurried and set them loose in our backyards, returning to our e-mails and our appointments and our overdue bills, and if the children were a little too focused, a little too quiet, who would complain? One or two of us raised our heads periodically, like prairie dogs, peeking out of kitchen windows and screened porches to see the kids still there, bent solemnly over their tasks.

The path wended deeper beneath the boughs.

“What’s back there, anyway?” one of us chuckled over backyard beers one night, and another of us said “just an empty lot.” An undeveloped patch of nothing-yet. We saw one lantern burning above the first stone, but the woods were behind nightfall’s velvet curtain.

“We should call them in,” one of us would say, and the children would return, one of them a little taller, maybe, another with redder hair than some of us remembered. We tucked them into bed, watching spidery lashes close over eyes that seemed lighter than the mossy green of morning—perhaps more peridot, but didn’t some distant aunt have light eyes? Don’t LED bulbs brighten colors?

We kissed foreheads whose curves felt strange against our lips.

“Aren’t growth spurts weird?” one of us would ask another, getting into our adjacent cars in our adjacent driveways, late for work and daycare, and the response—right?!—was so curtly reassuring we would buckle at the knees. All of this was normal. The hair and the height, the awkward postures, the unfamiliar tones and phrases—thank you, Mommy, for the dinner, it was delicious—all normal. The bird skeleton, hollow bones arranged beneath a Hello Kitty pillow in a perfect facsimile of flight, missing only muscles and feathers, this was normal. Thank God.

Normal, too, that they were always hungry, but odd they had stopped saying so. Odd, too, that they weren’t hungry for our help. We found them nourishing themselves with seeds and berries in knotted baskets hidden under leaves. We tut-tutted about safety. Never, never without us checking first. Their apologies were so swift we let them stay outdoors, sure they’d learned our lesson. And if it seemed, at times, as if they were no longer eating, we volleyed new messages across the driveways.

“Have yours gotten super picky?” our voices quivering.

“Oh, my God, I thought it was just me!”

It was familiar, the dread. The quiet voice that tiptoed next to us, whispering that something wasn’t right. That voice sidled up to all of us. Its constant presence became a universal force that unified. We’ve all been there. The children you carry grow up to carry themselves. The days are long, the years are short.

But none of us could say how many days or years had passed. Phones and calendars and apps would tell us, and we would shake our heads. Impossible.

Cold nights would drive us from our beds, the unexpected chill reminding us of seasons and other forces beyond our control. We framed ourselves in darkened doorways, leaning against penciled lines we’d stopped adding to the soft wood, unable to keep up with the growth. Those pajamas fit last week, but now…?

We measured quickened heartbeats against the soft breathing of unfamiliar bodies.

We gazed through panes of glass, past hanging prisms and crayoned sketches of wings, our eyes alighting on that single lantern swaying beneath the border of overhanging branches. We wondered where the path was leading, other than away.


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Audrey Burges writes in Richmond, Virginia. Her debut novel The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone is forthcoming in 2023 from Berkley/PRH, and her work also appears or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s, Pithead Chapel, Cease, Cows, HAD, Into the Void, Slackjaw, The Belladonna, and other outlets. More of her writing is available at audreyburges.com, and you can follow her on Twitter: @audrey_burges.

Eggshells by Elizabeth Koster

Ravenous at midnight, I shuffle to the fridge, crack the shell of a hardboiled egg, peel it over the trash. I bite into half, take a crust of bread, leave the rest.

Some evenings, I make eggs for dinner–they’re easy and require little thought. Mornings, I wipe my pan, pour new oil, and turn on the fire until it click-click-clicks.

Stacked against the wall are cookbooks I used when I was with Matt. He made pork chops with glazed string beans, roast chicken with rosemary. On his second visit, he arrived with a bouquet of tulips and a carton of eggs.

A new photo on his Facebook page shows a spry, sparkling blond atop Mount Taurus, where we had once climbed. Did he hold her hips as they kissed, before they picnicked on the cliffs above the Hudson?

I hike with a friend and her husband who love to cook. They try to decide whose soup was better the other weekend–his pumpkin or her squash. The nutmeg in yours was so good, she says. But the cardamom in yours, he says, his hand brushing against hers, added even more warmth. 

I get up to crack eggs into a cup. The oil warms in the pan.

On the last hike we’d taken, we walked in silence as our boots crunched over rocks. Matt didn’t know what to say about my mother’s declining health, her cancer that had spread into her bones.

She’d sat hunched in her bedroom as I sliced her a peach.

The eggs bubble and pop as I look for something to add, something more than just salt.  I see a wedge of Brie. I toss in pieces and see them shimmer, lift the trembling mass onto a plate.

My mother had once sat perched with spoon to my infant mouth.

I add pomegranate seeds. Truffle oil. Dried dill. Sea salt.

I lifted the peach to her lips.

“Mom,” she called to me, mashing the fruit on her tongue.

I take my plate to the table, raise my fork. The seeds burst in my teeth and are sweet against the Brie’s salt. I break the yolk with my mouth and taste its rich silk.


EK_ColdSpring

Elizabeth Koster’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in River Teeth, Hobart, and The New York Times “Modern Love” column. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Columbia University and has taught creative writing in public schools, nonprofits, and a program for incarcerated women on Rikers Island.

My Father, The Lover, The Fighter by Alondra Adame

My father bellowed ballads on Sundays during and after his morning showers before driving us to the flea market. My father transformed into Chente, Jose Alfredo, Pedro Infante, Javier Solis, Antonio Aguilar, the great voices, the ones que tienen la voz, he asserted, thumping his fist against his hairy chest, real stage presence, macho bravado, their chests rising and falling with all the drama of the star-crossed lovers in their songs. It is when my father speaks to me about them that I learned they are not only real singers but have real hearts, real stories, real heartbreak. I learned that my father is a romantic. I learned that my father is a romantic in spirit but not in practice. I learned my father was once a fighter who became a lover. My father who became a fighter again. I learned that my father does not love to fight but often fights with people he loves. I learned from my father that this is what it means to be a man. I learned that I do not love men like my father. And despite that fact, I love my father and the way his crying makes it look like he’s singing and the way his apologies sound like soft love poems.


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Alondra Adame is a Chicanx essayist, poet, and educator. They currently live in Chico, California where they teach and take walks with their partner and their dog, Buu. Their writing often revolves around family, identity, and the Chicanx experience in rural northern California. You can find more of their work in The Nasiona, PALABRITASFlies, Cockroaches, and Poets, and more. Follow Alondra on Twitter @alondrathepoet!

The Dunking Pool by Darlene Eliot

There are two people in the dunking pool. One doing the dunking and one doing the pretending. I’m the tallest one in line. And I’d rather think of pizza. Pizza with all the toppings. Toppings Mom doesn’t like. Onions, bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes. A dusting of black pepper. Olives. Parmesan. One slice with melted chocolate. I like surprises when I’m alone.

I’ll think of that slice when my head goes underwater and the preacher pulls me up like a marionette and water comes out my ears. The crowd will stand. Probably sing. Then I’ll crawl up the submerged steps like a salamander and press my face into a snow-white towel, the kind you only see when you’re visiting. I’ll keep the cursing to myself because you can’t make a sound in here unless you’re singing. Then I’ll head to the front for inspection. Mom will fix my hair and hug me tighter than she ever has before because the shame’s been flushed out and she can hold her head up high. Well, not yet.

The water is at my waist. And the preacher rallies the crowd, one hand in the air, the other on my back. I think about chocolate and sun-dried tomatoes, the time my first boyfriend showed up with a Chocolate Jesus and wine and told me my prayers had been answered.

The water covers my face. And it’s over in an instant. I wipe my eyes and Mom’s face lights up like a jack-o-lantern. She’s in the front row—her face as bright and polished as a candy corn—smiling for the first time since I was a baby. Making me wish I had done this when I was red-lipped and red-eyed and wanting to run but too scared to try. It would have been easier then, like falling onto a bed of cotton. Or cottontails. Lined up straight and docile. Face down. One dunking could have stopped the lamentations, her fear of unwashed solitude. Destruction of family legacy. A future with no pretty babies. Or a future with unwashed, pretty babies. But now everything’s changed. I’m a vision everyone can see.

I follow the other visions to the front. The crowd walks by, single file, shaking our hands, hugging us, saying it’s never too late. Not even for me. I glance at the short ones, their eyes bright, shoulders straight, nodding at everything the crowd says. I wonder if they believe it. Or just want to go home in peace, grab food, retreat to their rooms and their music, bide their time before they start to disappoint. Or maybe they’re ahead of me, listening to transgressions in the quiet of their rooms, listening to songs about chocolate deities, knowing nothing soothes the soul like a bite of blasphemy without reprisal or remorse. If they don’t already know it, they’ll find out very soon.


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Darlene Eliot was born in Canada and grew up in Southern California. When not writing short fiction, she enjoys time with her sweetheart, watching Marx Brothers movies, hiking the Bay area coast, and watching the weather change hourly. You can find her on Twitter @deliotwriter