Terrarium by Amanda Hays

My lover is a voyeur. He likes when I wear pale pink underwear, the ones cut like a bikini bottom. The underwear’s silky flesh emits a sheen under the bedroom lamp light, making me feel invincible. Before I met him, I wore cotton Hanes. He special ordered me pink silk panties from Amazon; they came postmarked from Cincinnati, enveloped in bubble wrap like a treasure, like they were breakable.

He likes to watch the striped lizard in the terrarium in his bedroom. The glass tank emanates heat and is always lit, even when we sleep. Sometimes, I lie awake and listen to the musical scratching of the lizard, skittering off rocks and into sandy patches. I wonder if it sleeps.

I love him. I love his spiky black hair, his blemish-free skin, like a jar of unopened peanut butter. He wears sleek athletic sunglasses, even when inside, and his apartment is dark, the blinds slanted closed. His bedroom smells of baked lizard shit.

The lizard is female, as are all desert grassland whiptail lizards. She reproduces asexually, my lover says when I ask about the logistics of that arrangement. This is all he knows. They are nervous, he says. But he is patient.

When I pleasure him, I watch my long dark hair hairbrush against his legs. When I stop to kiss his lips, his mouth tastes of English muffins and cinnamon. Sometimes, I find a ribbonned trail of fuchsia lipstick on his stomach. Or cherry petals on the back of his neck, underneath the clean buzzed hairline.

I catch him watching her. He never says anything, but his eyes fixate on the glowing tank crammed on top of a rickety table. He never watches reality television, says it makes him feel weird to spy on all those other humans. He stares at the lizard. She has no name.

How soon before we have baby lizards? I ask.

Why aren’t you excited to see me? He demands. Lately, his touch is rough, like a stalking predator in the broiling desert sand. He grips my waist, painting violet blotches on the paper of my skin.

Gaia.

Do you love me? He asks, and I tell him yes, although it’s a lie. I know he doesn’t love me either. What I love, what we both love, is the striped lizard in his terrarium. We lust for the curve of her tail, her sandpaper skin, the extension of her clawed fingers.


 

Amanda Hays is from Allen, Texas but lives and writes in Stillwater, Oklahoma. She works as an associate editor of the Cimarron Review. Her work has appeared in Cheat River Review.

A Matter of Incredible Possibility by Alexander Luft

Our very existence, the tour guide tells us, is a quirk in the fabric of space-time. “In the history of our galaxy, there have been millions of astronomical events capable of exterminating human life on earth,” he says. “Asteroids. Solar flares. Gamma bursts. All of us could be gone in an instant and we’d never know what hit us.”

We are on the nine o’clock at the planetarium. Our tour guide directs our attentions to the digital simulation of our galaxy on a domed screen overhead. All the dots of light newly suspicious, every blip a potential assassin.

“Some are concerned about a nearby supernova doing us in,” our tour guide says. “But astronomers today estimate we’d have to be within 50 million light years for that to happen. Then again, we’ve been wrong before.”

There are about a dozen of us on the tour. Someone has brought a young child, who is reasonably upset.

“Does it make you feel better,” I whisper to Violet, “that if it were to happen right now, at least we would die together?”

She, like usual, suspects the world is committed to a prank at her expense. She won’t be scared, not easily.

“It doesn’t matter whether I were here with you or if I were replacing a toilet paper roll in Cleveland,” Violet says. “We would still technically die together.”

She must wonder why I brought her to the planetarium, where our tour guide wants to make a fool of her. Perhaps I was hoping for the impossible, to reconsider ourselves in a universal context. Violet spends her days checking parking meters for the city. She does not take kindly to being made a fool of.

Our tour guide directs us to a speck on the simulation overhead. Either the image zooms closer, or we fly through many millions of light years. In either case we arrive at a cloud of dust and stars.

“We have reason to believe,” our tour guide tells us, “that these are the remains of an earth-sized planet that collided with an asteroid exactly like the ones passing by earth on an annual basis. We might be looking at our future.”

“Imagine that,” I said to Violet.

“I’d rather not.”

And then our tour guide turns off the projection and we are lost in darkness and I think I hear the small child cry out. I grasp for Violet’s hand.

“Sorry about that, folks,” our tour guide says, clicking on a flashlight. “Why don’t you follow me down the hall to the auditorium so I can show you some awesome videos?”

And then we shuffle awkwardly after him, each of our little groups trying not to interrupt the big group, on down the hall to a musty room with burgundy upholstery. Our tour guide waits until we sort out the seating situation, the child insisting on his mother’s lap.

“I don’t want to say it’s all doom and gloom,” our tour guide says, “but even absent a catastrophic space event, we know that we are rapidly depleting the earth’s resources. It is inevitable that humankind will need to seek an extraterrestrial settlement. And that, folks, is why we should keep up hope.”

He turns on a video. We watch rockets launch. They are the first, we’re told, to return themselves to earth unharmed. The new rockets are cheap and easy. Space transportation is viable. It is a matter of incredible possibility.

I watch Violet watch the rockets.

“If we can become capable of intergalactic travel,” our tour guide says at the video’s end, “then humankind can ensure its survival forever. We are chasing our own immortality.”

Violet tells me the idea of human immortality gives her the jeebies.

“But,” I ask her, “wouldn’t you like to know, that even if you and I died, right now, that something we did would still matter, that someone would remember us? So that someone, someday, will know we were here?”

“Like, at the planetarium?”

“Like, together.”

Our tour guide looks at his watch. The tour will have to end on that note. We are thanked for our interest in the planetarium and are invited to browse the gift shop on our way out.

Violet picks out a bumper sticker with a Carl Sagan quote. We are a way for the universe to know itself. I get a coffee mug with a rocket on it.

I find Violet’s hand as we head for the parking lot. There are too many lights in the city to see the stars or the things out there that will kill us one day. Before we reach the car, I stop and gaze at the sky, anyway.

Violet pauses beside me. I believe she’s looking up, too. But I don’t dare look.


 

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Alex Luft’s fiction has appeared in Yemassee, Midwestern Gothic, The Coachella Review, and other literary magazines. He is a staff reader for Quarterly West and lives in Chicago. Find him at alexanderluft.com.

This is How It’s Done by Paul Beckman

The fucking Doctor did it wrong. Ben Casey or Marcus Welby would have had him come into the office and sit down and break the news gently, even pat him on the shoulder, ask him if there was someone he’d like him to call. That’s how it’s done. Those are the rules. Everyone knows that. Everyone but this Dr. Siegel. Him with his terse phone call. “Mirsky, Dr. Siegel. Those polyps were malignant—think I got everything but you never know. You should feel lucky we got to it when we did. Here, talk to my secretary she’ll set you up with another appointment.”

He remembered getting up and locking his office door and telling his secretary he wasn’t taking any calls. He also remembered thinking about all the people in his family, who died from cancer, but he was only thirty and everyone else got it much later in life.

The next day he called his former wife—they’d only been divorced a few months and he thought she should know because of their two young kids. At the coffee shop, trying not to cry, he told her the story of being sent to the specialist. She said, “I need more money.” He repeated his story. She repeated her four words. She didn’t acknowledge his plight. Mirsky got up and walked out of the coffee shop. She left the bill for his coffee and toast in his mailbox.

Mirsky’s a senior citizen now and his children are older than he was during the time of that incident. He’s not had a recurrence. In fact, he and his ex—widow and widower, get along fine now and meet at the coffee shop once a month to talk about their kids and grandchildren and other things. Sometimes they take in a movie together and every once in a while they’ll cook each other a meal. They never speak of the past or the future.

Mirsky went for his annual physical and afterwards, as usual, went into his doctor’s private office where they schmooze and trade gossip. The doctor came in after a bit holding a thick blue folder. He took out an x-ray and stuck it into the clips of the light box, turned, walked back to Mirsky and patted him on the shoulder.


 

Beckman

Paul Beckman’s new flash collection is Kiss Kiss (Truth Serum Press). His stories have appeared in the Norton Anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, and the 2016 Best Small Fictions anthology. His story “Mom’s Goodbye” was chosen as the winner of the 2016 Fiction Southeast Editor’s Prize. He’s widely published in magazines such as PANK, Blue Fifth Review, Matter Press, and Literary Orphans. Paul hosts the FBomb flash fiction series in New York City at KGB’s Red Room.

Lint Trap by Veronica Montes

After she moves a load of warm laundry from the dryer to the folding basket for the fourth time that morning, she gathers the detritus of her family’s t-shirts and socks from the lint trap. She wonders (also for the fourth time that morning) if there isn’t something to be done with the lint itself. She fingers the fluff of it. Could she use it to…stuff something? A tiny doll family? Tooth fairy pillows? She sneezes.

When she was a child in Oregon, her mother sent her to a school where they spent all day dancing and painting and rolling sheets of beeswax into tapers. In the 3rd grade they were given tufts of colored wool, which they repeatedly stabbed with a needle until the fibers locked together and became a sort of sculpting material. She was never very good at this. She often pricked herself by accident and then braced for blood that mysteriously failed to appear. The other children bent their heads to their task and produced gnomes and fairies, elephants and foxes. She made balls of various sizes. That’s it: balls.

She recalls a news segment featuring a frugal couple who transformed plastic grocery bags into area rugs. Was it area rugs? Or curtains? She considers the possibility of using the lint to create kneepads and headbands to protect her four children—or wait, yes, all children!—from the dangers of asphalt and ceramic tile. She envisions wild success in the money-making arena of youth sports. What if she became celebrated for halting the outrageous uptick in childhood-sustained concussions? Concussions, kidcussions, KID-CUSHIONS, she thinks with satisfaction, wondering if she should have gone into marketing instead of laundry.

And if she does this, will her story go viral, everyone marveling at her domestic ingenuity? Will the lint fill up the space near her solar plexus, where she once carried warm thoughts of her husband? Could she fashion it into something flirty and beguiling to turn his head? Could she prop herself against it to remain alert from 3:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon? Could she use it to plump the lines that have formed on either side of her mouth, or to refill her once magnificent breasts? To muffle her screams to plug her ears to cushion her long and graceless fall.


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Veronica Montes is the author of Benedicta Takes Wing & Other Stories (Philippine American Literary House, 2018). Her online fiction can be found at SmokeLong Quarterly, Spelk, and CHEAP POP. She is Managing Fiction Editor at daCunha.global.

To the Anything Above by Leumas Eloc

“I heard you the first time,” Jeb yells at Marliss, his wife, both scanning the sagging plank-board ceiling threatening to collapse the homespun structure. Drops of melted ice hit their eyes and the dirt floor, creating an unhappy mud puddle in the middle of the room where the twins sit across in fleece pajamas playing thumb-war and I spy with my little eye.

“Lucky this whole house ain’t caved in,” Marliss says, pulling up the twins by their ears. “Ain’t enough they got croup, but now they gotta worry about the roof over their heads, too.”

“They ain’t the ones worrying.” Jeb snatches a pair of crimped wool gloves hanging above the wood burning stove.
“You gotta fix it.” She yells. “I mean, now.”

“Or else what,” he says. “You gonna do it?” He turns and faces the oak front door bent and hammered in the spring of 1913, the year he and Marliss arrived with little more than a chipped enamel teakettle, two mulish oxen, forty-nine dollars, and the chance to begin again—if beginning again is even possible after a baby girl dies of tuberculosis. Jeb squishes his feet inside a pair of black boots, two sizes too small. “You worry about not burning supper and I’ll take care of the rest.”

“You want cornbread or dumplings?”

“Don’t matter to me as long as it’s warm.”

“We also need more logs for the fire.” Marliss points to the wood box cowering beside the stove. “It ain’t gonna fill up itself.”

“Fine.” He stomps to the front door. The twins run toward him and grab his legs. “My little wood pilers.” He messes up their hair. “You wanna help daddy work outside today?”

“They ain’t going out in this weather.” Marliss rests her knuckles on her ribs, breath as frail as her bite.

“You ain’t that sick, is you,” Jeb says, spinning the twins round and around, both laughing as if life holds only merriment and ease. “Enough now.” He unwinds the twins and declaws their fingers from his legs.

“More. Daddy. More.”

“Go clean up your mess.” Marliss points the twins to a half empty box of rocks strewn across the floor. “Now.”
“Dumplings if you don’t mind,” Jeb says, grabbing a snow shovel.

Marliss limps forward, offering a kerosene lantern and the briefest of smiles. “Maybe we can use the rest of the butter.”

“Save it.” Jeb pushes the lantern into Marliss’s chest. “Ain’t nothing special about today.”

“It might be with a few candles on top.”

“Nice of you to remember but I don’t see the need.” Jeb inhales the cloying aroma of raw onion and salted jerky drying as thin strips atop the wood stove.

“Do it for the twins.” she says.

“That’s why I do everything.” He slams shut the door, as shut as a door full of small holes, and thin lines, can slam.
“Be careful out there,” Marliss yells. “For God’s sake, don’t die.”

Outside, a grisly wind and falling snow beat hard against his face, chest, and legs. The world, he believes, is trying to blot out every memory of him on this poorly written patch of land. An Apache sky, like an unlit matchstick, looms over the tiny farm. Unforgiving cries echo from inside the barn—twenty-one chickens, four Long Horn cows, ten baby pigs—further reminders of unpaid debts and unfinished chores that demand attention, even in the doldrum-pit of winter. Fog rolls in, tumbler-fulls at a time, adding weight to the path of snow growing like hilltops, ahead and behind. “No one’s dying today,” he whispers, lifting his shoulders as tall as the bulky layers allow. “Not on my watch.”
Right jab, left hook, upper cut to the jaw of heaven. “Take that,” he yells, making his way around the side of the house.

Each step, heavy and deliberate, leaves a trench mark for the trek back. He hopes. His legs, little by little, disappear into mounds of snow. Thank goodness he’d propped a wooden ladder last summer against the side of the house. He takes the rungs one and one to the top. Wobbling on the roof’s peak, he shovels snow and ice to the ground. Chills sweep his body, the parts he can still feel. He faces the sky. “Tempt all you want, but I ain’t giving up.” Licking numb lips, he loses balance and falls onto his back, sliding down the roof and landing in the snow, deep down in an implosion of white, white, white.

“Marliss,” he yells. “Kevin. Keith.” He swallows, until he can’t. “Katherine, my baby girl.”

Buried inside a tomb of coldness, recollections of a negligible life dance like icicle ghosts around widening emptiness. He frowns, and for a last time, leaves it there.


 

Leumas Eloc, who lives in Kalispell, MT, loves to write about middle class American life. He is an old dude, a cabinet maker, golf ball collector, and flaming democrat. Sometimes, often after patting a distended belly and staring at age spots expanding atop dry hands, he writes poetry and political essays.

Story of a Nose by Laton Carter

Brushing her teeth in the mirror, what was that coming out of the pores on her nose? Some kind of orange powder. But it was winter, the flowers were all dead. No, not pollen, she hadn’t leaned over that close to smell anything. Yes she had. The mac-and-cheese for her son, the pouch of dried cheddar mix inside the box — why was it always so difficult to open, and when she had, the foil lining at last broken, a small cloud emerged. As if it were a bottle of perfume — and because no one would ever possibly see her do it, and because in the milliseconds assigned to such flash thoughts as what kind of elaborate machine had manipulated this substance into the pouch and were there workers who monitored such a machine, did they wear white lab coats and goggles, did they dislike their job or was it tolerable and did they avoid the product that they packaged — she lowered her face to the lip of the torn parcel. This is what had done it. Nothing was coming out of her pores, she had dusted them herself. But that was hours — which in parenting time translated to distinct slices in the day’s pie chart — ago. She had been orange-nosed for at least half the waking day. And her son, always tactlessly quick to point out any aberration from the norm, hadn’t told her. This meant, Jesus, not the coffee drive-through, but the post office, the pet-mart, the library book return, and the grocery store — all with a saffron amoeboid shape decorating the tip end of her nose. She needed to spit. Instead she leaned closer into the mirror — who was this woman, the fine lines and age spots, the jawline threatening collapse, green eyes searching her brow, her lips, an unplucked hair, and was the young girl behind the eyes still there — and was it, yes, it was okay, it would feel good to laugh, maybe cry, it would feel good to let it out.


 
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Laton Carter’s Leaving received the Oregon Book Award. Recent work appears in Entropy and Necessary Fiction. Carter’s flash fiction was selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2018.

The Heart Sniper’s Tale by Blessing Nwodo

Monye washed her hands with water, sighing heavily as she looked around at the lines and lines of the wounded, for whom she had been crushing herbs and administering hot bitter concoctions since the break of dawn, offering empty soothing words where she could do nothing. A man with a broken leg moaned from the far side of the encampment, one healer holding him down as another administered treatment. She shuddered and left, gritting her teeth as his muffled cry of agony followed her. She moved swiftly but quietly past the people outside, waiting for word on their beloved ones. The Heart Sniper watched unseen from a vantage point, tightening the knot around Monye’s heart, pulling her towards the forest.

She walked, a long way behind the encampment, her slippers raising the red dusty earth as she moved. When she got to the forest she raised her wrapper and ran, barely feeling the branches scratch at her as she zoomed past.

The bright blue piper birds in the trees and their love for gossip passed around the message speedily and soon every living thing in the forest knew that Monye was again going to meet her lover from the enemy kingdom. She’d met Eyimofe even before the war between the two kingdoms began, and even now it did not matter to her that he was supposed to be the enemy.

She always thought she was the only one in her kingdom who wasn’t afraid to use the Nkume juju, and she’d jerked in shock when she felt a force zoom past her inside the river. She followed it to the other side and watched as a lean, hard, muscular and completely naked body rose out of the water. He strode unhurriedly to some clothes on the bank, putting them on as if unaware she was there staring open-mouthed. “I know my body is impressive. You can close your mouth now,” he’d said. She was turned on by his arrogance. Attraction, like a hunter, captured her. He was sugar and she, a sugar ant.

Now she headed to the river, waded in and searched for an Nkume-mmiri, a sheeny pebble that grants the user the ability to control the tides. She placed it on her abdomen and immediately felt the power flow from it through her, right from the top of her head to the soles of her feet, enriching her with the ability to control the currents, breathe and see underwater. She shot with the speed of an arrow to the other side of the hill in minutes.

She stood up, gave back the Nkume-mmiri to the river, wringed her clothes, and walked to the hill. There, she picked an Nkume-ugwu, a tiny misshapen stone with distinct markings, and placed it once again on her abdomen. A green face materialized from the side of the hill. Its dark eyes assessed her, and she felt the Nkume-ugwu burn hot, then cool. The figure opened its mouth and allowed her to step through it.

She found Eyimofe waiting for her under a tree. She became very shy and tried to smooth back her short, wet, spiky hair. Eyimofe hurried to meet and hold her. He buried his face in the crook of her neck, one hand at her waist and the other in her hair, his heart pounding. “I was afraid you wouldn’t come,” he said, his voice muffled. She laughed. “Not even the piper bird’s gossip can keep me away from you.”

She sighed. “I don’t how I would survive with the wounded everyday, without you to help me remember that despite the evil humans do to each other, there are still good people.”

“You’re a healer,” he said. “I want to hold you all day like this.”

“How will you eat then,” she teased.

“I don’t need food. The sight of you fills me up.”

“Ha! I crossed seven mountains and seven seas to meet you here.” She tapped on her stomach.

“Come, hungry lioness.” He pulled her playfully to a cashew tree. “I brought some food.”

He fed her tapioca and coconut, and she nipped his fingers playfully with her teeth.

“I won’t feed you again,” he pouted.

She pulled the finger into her mouth and sucked it gently, holding his gaze with her eyes and watching them darken with pleasure. “Better?”

He nuzzled her nose with his. “You make me forget the pain the war brings to my kingdom.”

She moved her fingers through his hair. “Do not mention it.”

She jumped up, her hips swaying, her hands on her waist. “Sing me the igede song. I can’t remember the last time I danced the steps.”

“Of course,” he smiled.“I love to watch your hips move.”

He began the song, his voice a rich, warm caress as he tapped his hands on his muscular chest to create the beat. The sun reflected on her skin, and on the glassy beads on her waist. He quickened his tempo, drinking in the splendid sight of her body as she danced faster and faster.

When the song ended, she reclined on the ground beside him, her chest heaving. She pulled him down and kissed him, desire blocking out the cries of the wounded.

***

The Heart Sniper, a messenger of Ani the creator, smiled down at them. She looked away from Monye and Eyimofe, and toward the weapon suppliers for both kingdoms. She turned their gazes towards the forest, making them pine for a stroll along the same bush path. The heart sniper knew it would take a lot of her power, but she had to end the fighting and pain. She grinned and cracked her knuckles. There were more intricate love webs to be complicated and cast.


 

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Blessing Ofia-Inyinya Nwodo studied Adult Education/ English language in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where she merited the award “Best Female Writer.” Her short story “Vaginismus” was featured in Erotic Africa: The Sex Anthology by Brittle Paper, and she was awarded the Highly Rated prize in the Nigerian Travel Story competition organized by Travel Next Door in 2016. Her essay, “The gendered double standard of adultery in Nigeria” was published by Women’s Media Centre (FBOMB), and she has also been published on Kalahari Review, The Common, Naija Stories, 100 words Africa, Lion spot, and the Rota-Lion magazine. She would love to go for a master’s degree in creative writing.