How We Were Fiction by Sacha Bissonnette

In a way, it was my fault. We always hosted on Fridays. It became our thing. It was convenient. Our friends and their friends would come to us, and we barely had to move as we drank. If we did leave, it was down the street to the college bar that smelled of chemical cleaner and patchouli.

I asked June to stop annoying our friends with her stories. I told her to write them down and do something else with them. I told her she was just randomly spouting them, and for who?

“I do it for me. For us.”

But really, I was jealous. I could never hold court like she could; the ruby-red wine in her crystal glass would swoosh up to the brim the more animated her stories became, but would never spill. Newcomers with ironed collars, wide brimmed hats and clear glasses would corner me later. Was she single? “I need more ice,” I’d say, burying my head in the freezer, until either the trays were empty or my glass was just ice.

The way June ushered us into place reminded me of my mother. Story time carried weight in my family. Mother read us Hughes and Dumas, her tired brown hands slowly flipping through the battered pages of the stories. My brothers and I all knew how they ended, but we couldn’t get to sleep without them. I would stay up the longest, to hear them end, before I could fall asleep.

“Good night sweet princes,” she’d whispered, as we all got a kiss, from youngest to oldest, the same order every time.

I met June a week before my mother’s passing. I had difficulty with the order of things, of grief, and paperwork and finances. I attempted to write a eulogy before I spoke to any family. I couldn’t. I couldn’t figure out how to arrange my mother’s life into a single story. June helped me through the process, and I fell in love with her for it. She rewrote the eulogy and made my mother sound like the heroine of a Great American Novel. Which she was to us.

June had an order to her stories. When she had us all seated on the couch or the floor, she would shoot me a glance to make sure I was paying attention. I would stare back in mock attentiveness. I was there, wasn’t I?

The first story was always about a woman who kept a bowl of seeds under her sink. She would try and grow them when she was feeling lucky, but often she didn’t feel lucky. Once a month she would reach into the bowl and pull out three seeds. She did this for a year, exactly twelve months of growing. Okra to morning glories to fennel. One day, she came upon a seed that wouldn’t grow. This little seed got all the attention. She forgot to care for and water the other plants. Eventually they died. The seed grew into a beautiful orange flower that gave off an awful smell. The stench was so bad that the woman ripped the plant from its pot and threw it out the window.

This story always got mixed reactions. I asked June to cheer up her material when people started to drink. I said that people can’t handle these dark endings, but she refused to break her sacred order. It was always, always her opener.

The second story was about these twins in the Midwest. As June’s wine disappeared, she played up her narration. There would be accents and wild hand gestures. As people finished their drinks, I’d jump in and play second fiddle.

The twins were the sons of an infamous bank robber. They adored their Daddy and wanted to be bad just like him. Daddy taught the twins to crack safes, but they could only manage with the other’s help. Their adeptness was a blessing, but their curse was to need each other. See, the twins only rarely got along. During one fateful heist, they began to bicker. When the cops showed up, they were wrestling on the floor, but as they saw the police, they both reached for their guns. We acted out the firefight to the whoops and whistles of our audience. Some nights, the twins went down in a blaze of glory. Other nights, they snuck out the back of the bank.

Cliché, but I didn’t care. It was fun. June looked at me differently when I was up there, bank robbing and gun slinging with her.

The third and final story was never the same, except for the ending. On some nights, June danced. She looked truly beautiful as she swayed in front of those watching with bated breath or half-shut eyelids. She asked, but often begged, the crowd to join in. There was singing, too. Sometimes a beautiful rendition of St. James Infirmary, sometimes it was The Song That Never Ends, until she broke into an uncontrollable sob. Someone would signal me to peel her up off the floor and bring her to bed. She would fake sleeping until I was done tucking her in as tight as I could. Every time, as I turned, she would ask,

“Do you still love me?”

“Yes,” I always answered, unsure of whether this was part of the performance.

“Only when we’re bank robbing and gun slinging? Only in our stories?”

“No,” I answered, annoyed by the same questions I heard every Friday.

A trial separation was what she wanted and I agreed. I booked a stay at a hotel to give her space. By the second week, I ran out of boxers. I popped by and found her lying on the hardwood floor, surrounded by papers, writing with intent. Seeing her there, it became clear that it was my fault. She had been carrying the burden of our story all by herself. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a pen.


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Sacha Bissonnette is a short story writer from Ottawa, Canada. He is reader for the Wigleaf top 50 series. His work has appeared in Wigleaf, Lunch Ticket, SmokeLong, and Cease, Cows, among other places. He has upcoming short fiction in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Ruminate, BULL, and Terrain.org. He is currently working on a short fiction anthology with the help of a National Canada Council for the Arts grant, an Ontario Arts Grant, and a Youth In Culture Ottawa Grant, and was recently selected for the Writer’s Union of Canada – BIPOC Writer’s Connect mentorship. He loves film and comfort food and tweets @sjohnb9

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.

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.

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.

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

Vex Version 2.0 by Serena Jayne

My doctor wouldn’t approve of my little excursion. I wasn’t supposed to leave the house or drive or desecrate graves. I wasn’t supposed to do anything, but wait to die.

The woman at the kill shelter doesn’t comment on the dirt underneath my ragged fingernails nor the crusts of dried mud on my jeans. She doesn’t lose her patience as I thoroughly inspect each of their eight black cats for tufts of white to find the best match. When I snap a battered blue collar around a female cat’s neck, the shelter worker doesn’t raise an eyebrow. The woman doesn’t say anything at all as I pay the adoption fee with coins and crumpled singles.

She is blissfully ignorant of the whole sordid operation I’d recently undertaken. I’d dug with a small spade and then with my bare hands to retrieve the box my brother had buried. Fearing the corpse of my daughter’s cat was amass with maggots, I squeezed my eyes tight before burrowing inside the box, feeling the fur and the stiff little body. As I struggled to remove the collar, along with the jingling of the bell, I’d heard something snap.

Even though she’s barely eight, I’ve been teaching my daughter how I balance my bank account and pay my bills. Can’t have Charlie seeing a canceled check or a charge from the shelter. Can’t have her knowing I’d replaced her beloved pet with an imposter. Can’t leave her with no one to hold as I move into hospice.

I try to sneak the cat into my home, but a pitiful wail from the carrier gives me away.
My brother turns on the kitchen light. He takes the carrier from me, and I nearly stumble.

“I should’ve realized you were up to something stupid when you asked me to babysit.” He pokes his finger into the carrier and scratches the cat’s chin. “Charlie’s gonna know that ain’t Vex. Anyway, might be good for her to get a little lesson in loss before….”

“It’s just a fucking cat,” I say. “And it’s none of your fucking business.”

Exhaustion is a flame and my body a matchstick nub. I square my shoulders, using the dregs of my energy to keep myself upright.

He pulls me into a rough hug. “Amy’s gonna lose her shit when she finds out we’re adopting a cat along with your kid.”

I don’t remind him that he was responsible for Vex escaping and running into the street, because he wasn’t responsible for the speeding car that spelled the kitty’s doom. And he’d only come at Charlie’s request, after she found me unresponsive, lying in a heap on the floor of the shower.

Charlie loves on that cat as much as she did the original Vex, but she never challenges its decidedly unVex-like behavior. The way the feline has become my shadow. The way it sleeps on my pillow instead of at her feet. The way it ignores its predecessor’s toys and turns its nose up at tuna.

As Amy hugs Charlie and sprinkles catnip on the carpet, I try not to bristle. She insists on taking the cat to the vet, and I make her and my brother promise to use a new doctor, one who has never seen our original Vex. I hate that he’s clued his wife into the secret, then hate myself for being angry. They’ve always be there for us, and they’d be there to keep Charlie from burying herself in sorrow. She belongs in the light with her replacement pet and her replacement family while I slowly slip into the darkness of death.

The cat was supposed to be my daughter’s pet—not my comfort animal. As the days go by, I start slipping the cat scraps, and let its gravely purrs lull me to sleep. I stop raging at the unfairness of not being able to see my daughter grow up and make mistakes of her own.
Morphine makes my eyes heavy and my head foggy. The bell on Vex Version 2.0’s grave-robbed collar seems to beckon me to the afterworld. Sometimes, I have double vision, and I’m certain the original Vex is with me too.


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Serena Jayne has worked as a research scientist, a fish stick slinger, a chat wrangler, and a race horse narc. When she isn’t trolling art museums for works that move her, she enjoys writing in multiple fiction genres. Her short fiction has appeared in the Arcanist, Shotgun Honey, Space and Time Magazine, Unnerving Magazine, and other publications

The Better to See by D.E. Hardy

In my memory, your body is teal and olive and chartreuse, the afterimage of that day. You and I, inside the wolf’s glowing gut, covered in mucus, limbs distending our host’s gastric folds, our bodies slipping over each other while bile licked our heels.

It was disgusting; it was perfect.

I nuzzled your throat under your chin the way you said you’d done for your grandmother. It’s not goodbye. Just a pause. I agreed, imagining how it would be when it was my time. You and me, swirling in eternal red, our ancestral grandmothers holding us close, all of us waiting for our future granddaughters, possessing and longing, contracting and expanding, a universe. I should have asked if wolves were necessary, or could we get there on our own. I was so focused on you, on the ritual, on getting your instructions right: wait until your body was still, until the wolf had suffocated under our weight; take the embroidery scissors from your apron and snip my way out; sew you inside the wolf as a shroud; bury you both under the pedunculate oak. The way a granddaughter should.

We shared the wrong words—I can see that now—but I couldn’t yet imagine a wolf-less world.

And then, the ax. We oozed toward the light that beamed through sliced flesh and slid onto the floorboards of your bedroom, your grizzled hair matted with gore and wet as if newborn, as if you and I were now sisters, daughters of the wolf. Ersatz twins. A pebbled-eyed woodchopper loomed above us, saying, I got here in the nick of time. I wanted to scream—You ruined my grandmother’s death, you fucking idiot—but your hand on my knuckles halted my words. We were taught to thank men who decided to act on our behalf, so I said nothing, believing silence was a protest.

That was before. When the woods still stood. When your lungs still burned red.

Armed with assumption, the woodchopper started cutting, saying: Wolves hide in bushes, in brambles, in grasses. Everything has to go.

Inevitable townsmen arrived, two, then ten, then dozens, wielding hacksaws and hatchets, chainsaws and shears, files and razors. Didn’t we know it wasn’t safe in the woods? Didn’t we know about wolves? I tried to explain—the wolf was an old woman too—but my words bounced off unconcerned ears. Words were the wrong way to use my mouth. I should have shown them what great teeth I had, bitten their heels, gnawed on their shins until my maw glistened red.

Fallen trunks lay everywhere, the land shaved clean to its skin. The sight cleaved you, made you yowl: There is neither good nor bad. Wolves just are. Tears down your cheek, down your breast, your hand to your heart, clutched as if you might pluck it out and throw it to make them stop, always your eyes upon the heaped trees, jumbled like a child’s game—five, six, pick up sticks—your heart imploding, your cheek already upon the earth, its pink vanishing.
You were gone, and I was alone, an only child again.

They drooled as they altered our story, their eager mouths changing our lives, our tradition, into some kind of bullshit morality play for budding girls. Beware the woods. Beware the wolf. We don’t even have names in their version. I’m called by my outfit, and somehow that’s not the part that’s the cautionary tale.

You’d hate what they did to the land even more, how fast they planted fences, a patchwork of symmetrical acres. Neat and buildable. The fate of houses popping up, each with a different strategy for keeping its women from harm. This one, made of furniture catalogs, taupe and tan, able to withstand a hurricane of wolf-breath, brown like the dirt that would never be allowed inside. That one, made of candy, pale blue and lilac, its gingerbread trim painted silver with arsenic, perfect for luring any remaining wolf kids inside where double ovens waited. Nothing is red. An endless neighborhood of beige and egg pastels, everything see-through and plastic-coated for safety. Nothing to rip or pierce or make anyone bleed. A wolf-less place.

It’s their perfect; it’s disgusting.

Sometimes I pretend the wolf really was our mother, that I have wolf ears, wolf paws, a wolf’s snout. At night, I tramp about the streets on all fours, down the alleyways, between garages, hoping to attract my lupine kin. Surely, there is one left. My way to you. I sniff among the trash cans as if they were berry bushes, and wait, let my wolf-eyes show me the old forest: thick stands of oaks and beeches and ash that force light to dapple upon the underbrush, the earthen floor alive with ferns, their spores filling the air with mirky rot, the smell of life cycling, the promise of a path half-sketched among the brambles—how it was before—when I was just a flash of red against the green, walking and skipping and running to you.


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D.E. Hardy’s work has appeared in New World Writing, FlashFlood, Clockhouse Magazine (Pushcart Nomination), and Sixfoldamong others. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be followed on twitter @dehardywriter.

Budapest by Matt Leibel

I circle the globe, searching for you. I find you pretty quickly, since the globe is sitting in the middle of our living room, and you’re not even trying to hide. You’ve always wanted to go to Budapest, but you can’t, because no one can go anywhere, so you just stare at the dot on the globe where Budapest would be and imagine that you are already there. You speak to me in a language you pretend is Hungarian. You bite into a sandwich that’s a stand-in for some grand Hungarian delicacy. The way you describe your meal, even in the fake Hungarian I can’t quite decipher, allows me to smell the meaty, juicy, aggressively carnivorous tang of it. I feel like I’m there with you, in Budapest, a place I’ve never been to in actual life. But what even is “actual life”, you ask me. “Being here with you,” I reply. “Who’s the hell is Lou?” You wonder. (My imaginary language skills are still pretty rudimentary.) “We should go there,” I say switching back to English, “when such things become possible again.” You agree, and stick a pin in Budapest—but the globe, the centerpiece of our shared, shabby space, is inflatable, and it pops. “Quelle catastrophe!” You exclaim, in your real language, and I’m beginning to think that we may never make it to Budapest, except that we’re already here, you and I, in this room we rarely leave, a place that could be anywhere, really, and is, in different moments, in different moods, on different days. And tomorrow, we will replace the globe with a map, and we will replace Budapest with Tokyo or Texarkana or Tangier—or hell, with Atlantis, what does it matter? We will invent more secret languages, we will find new modes of being. We will replace our wanderlust with real lust, or—if you’re no longer amenable to that—with whimsy, or with whiskey. We will play our roles until we have mapped every scale inch of our daydreams, and then we will sleep the sweetest sleep we’ve slept since the before times. And then we will wake up, stare blankly at the same room, the same walls, the same random, lake-y shapes of peeled-off paint, the same failed geographies, the same us, with our same stupid faces and stupid dead eyes, our same stupid noses that long to smell the world beyond our reach, our same stupid mouths that long to taste it.


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Matt Leibel lives in San Francisco. His short fiction has appeared in Electric Literature, Portland Review, Gone Lawn, Tiny Molecules, Cheap Pop, DIAGRAM, Wigleaf, and Best Small Fictions 2020.