Cupid Halloween Costume by Alexander Castro

I spend about $50. Two pairs of golden tights, the first of which are too matte. Two pairs of angel wings: first children’s size, then what I believe are adults, but are actually smaller in person. A bow and arrow which went unused beyond selfies. Two hooded, sleeveless tops, one pink and one red; the latter works. Boyfriend buys me the wig, a yellowy blonde cosplay one. The gold shoelaces never arrive in the mail and I swap them for magenta.

I fantasize. I imagine a piece of performance art where I go around as Cupid, shooting Trump for President signs with a bow and arrow.

I have to catch the train. I throw the majority of the costume in a plastic grocery bag and put on the wig. I carry the angel wings and hold them tenderly to my chest, so the wind won’t hurt them. I sprint the the sidewalks near the pizza place in a pair of cotton gym shorts. I’m wearing the red top, and a pink Jigglypuff crop-top underneath, but not the gold tights even though it’s almost Halloween. I live in a quiet place but some people really hate gay guys, you know? Especially cute ones who like to be shiny sometimes.

I get to the train platform. “We could use an angel,” says a woman waiting. I laugh and as I get closer she adds, “Aw the little angel’s freezing.” I’m relieved when I finally board the commuter rail and sit on the familiar red of the seat cushions.

I am even happier when I emerge from the bathroom in my friend’s apartment fully costumed. Legs encased in cheap liquid gold. Skinny arms adorned with Valentine’s Day tattoos. Cheap party wings strapped in at the armpits. A few glasses of white wine. Bacchus swished and swallowed and an Uber called. Then we’re at the disco.

Here is a me I haven’t met before. The one wearing a cute gay costume in a crowd. My crack of smile a fissure in the dark.

I suddenly feel self-conscious as I near the front of the dance floor. I start to retreat but a twentysomething and I start dancing. Not touching, just sort of swaying. Together. As night deepens, she removes her sash and gifts it to me. It reads DEBUTANTE BRAWL. I awkwardly accept.

“I have to confess something,” she says. “I’m wearing a wig,” and she pulls it off. 
“That’s fine,” I say. “I am too.”

 


Version 2

Alexander Castro (b. 1992) is a writer and journalist based in Massachusetts. He regularly contributes reporting and criticism to Big Red & Shiny, Mercury, and GLASS Quarterly. His writing has also appeared or is forthcoming in Gulf CoastuntetheredDon’t Take Pictures, and SUSAN. He is currently working on a collection of essays that combine research, memoir and criticism. OhNoCastro.com

 

Pink Sky by Jon Ransom

There’s a street without a name on an estate without any lights where, in a house without any rules, God talks to me. He says, Robbie, why you thinking about Paul, and not the football?

But I don’t want to hear it, so I grab my coat from the banister at the bottom of the stairs and go out. A piece of fiber-board is nailed to the bottom half of the door, where some git kicked it in. I take out my cigarettes. Blue smoke billows from my mouth, making me look hard. I use my thumb and first finger to hold the cigarette butt, because that’s how proper lads are meant to do it.

Because I’ve no money in my pocket, me and Paul are pissing about on the riverbank. Paul has my rolled-up coat under his head. He’s wearing a yellow t-shirt that makes his skin look nice. We’re watching the lines aeroplanes draw across the pink sky, guessing where they’re going. “Spain?” he says.

“Wrong way,” I say.

“How d’you know, mate?”

“Just do.”

Every now and again his arm pushes up against mine. I like it so much it hurts. Feels like if I stay right by his side I’ll throw-up. That’s when I roll away and say, “We should go to Spain.”

Paul hops up off the grass. “You wanna go swimming?” He hustles to the water’s edge.

“Nah,” I say, watching him strip off. His arse is moon white. I close my eyes when he turns around. The colours on my eyelids change from red to blue and back again. When I open my eyes, he’s gone.

“Stop messing about.” I light another cigarette. “Paul—”

There’s a ripple in the muddy black water where he was a few seconds ago. I’m waiting, begging for him to come back up. But it’s useless. God hates me.

 


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Jon Ransom is a queer writer living in Cambridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Timing by Katie Quinnelly

Holding both of my hands in his, I could feel my calluses against the ones in Justin’s palms, the ones that protect him from kitty-litter granite, the ones that keep his bones from being bothered by the cold. He looked me in my face and said “The timing is just bad, that’s all.”

He talks with his hands cupped, his fingers never separating, in a way that looks like paws. He uses them to flip pancakes. He doesn’t need a spatula. When he wakes up early, before his voice is working, he grunts like a pup in my hair.

At work, a Veteran brought in his grandson and told me about his time in Vietnam. He runs 11 miles a day, but still, last month he had a heart attack. Behind him, his grandson was having a nerf gun war with another customer’s kid. “I pulled out my wallet. That’s the last thing I remember before I dropped,” said the Veteran. As he talked, his grandson took a foam dart to the gut, and crumpled.

Justin told me his life has amounted to many things, but a recurring theme is convincing women not to commit suicide; his mother the first in the series. Later, it was a girlfriend. That was the first time I saw him cry: his head on my shoulder late one night, downtown, beside my car. He picked his head up, and pulled his collar up around his muzzle.

“Bad timing,” he said, and he shook his head. In the distance, the sound of a dog chain.


KQuin

Katie Quinnelly is a climbing instructor in West Virginia. Her work has appeared in Occulum, Moonchild Magazine, The Ginger Collect, and b(OINK), among others.

Mr. Snowman Bring Me a Dream by Sandra Arnold

Marcia Bain on her way to school stamping her shiny red boots in the snow. Blowing clouds in the frozen air. Catching snowflakes on her tongue. Cracking frozen puddles with her heels, Holding up slices of ice, creating flashes of light in the pale sun. Not noticing her hands turning blue. Pretending she’s a fairy making magic in a pure white world. Shaking diamonds from the branches of the white-coated trees.

Harry Greaves in the playground sliding in the ice, not letting anyone else have a turn. Harry who beats up the smaller boys. Harry who pulls the girls pants down. Harry who keeps running away from home and sometimes comes to school with a black eye. Harry whose father grows giant leeks in trenches of guts from the slaughterhouse. Harry whose father stays up at night guarding his leeks with a crowbar.

Tommy Monks building a snowman bigger than himself, arranging leaves on the head, calling it a coiffure, dancing back and forth pretending he’s a famous hairdresser. Marcia pressing in coal eyes, carrot nose, twiggy arms, brick feet and woollen scarf with red and white stripes. Tommy and Marcia with their shining eyes and rosy cheeks and soft curling mouths, hoping with every heartbeat they’ll win the competition.

Harry charging like a bull from behind, toppling the snowman, jumping on its head with his oversize shoes, laughing at Tommy’s tears before tripping and slipping and landing spread-eagled on the ground. Marcia’s fingers gripping a brick. The crack of bone. A skull unzipped. Red roses blooming in the snow.

Harry’s father’s photo in the paper holding his silver cup and cash prize, telling reporters the secret is blood and bone.


 

Sandra's author photoSandra Arnold is an award-winning writer who lives in New Zealand. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from CQ University, Australia. Her flash fiction and short stories appear or are forthcoming in numerous journals including Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine and New Flash Fiction Review, and in the  anthologies, Sleep is a Beautiful Colour  (National Flash Fiction Day, UK, 2017),  Fresh Ink (Cloud Ink Press, NZ, 2017)  and Bonsai: The Big Book of Small Stories (Canterbury University Press, NZ, 2018). Her work has been nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prizewww.sandraarnold.co.nz

Nualla to the Nth Degree by Jennifer Todhunter

Nualla0

Nualla was the first of herself.

She lived in a trailer at the local swap meet, at the whim of her parents who demanded she stay nearby and silent in order to attract customers with her perfect being. Nualla spent her time under the musty canvas tents, wiping off books long out of print, and searching through glassware for imperfections. Sometimes, she’d tuck something small, maybe an ashtray or a tumbler, into the folds of her batik skirt. Then she’d steal into the desert and bury her treasure in the scorching sand.

Nualla’s boredom always got the better of her, and one day she snatched a miniature hand-blown frog from a tent in the far corner. The piece of glass swirled green and gold and red inside, and it fit perfectly inside the palm of Nualla’s grubby hand.

Nualla looked at the frog and said, “Ribbit.”

“Ribbit,” responded the frog.

Nualla smiled. “I’ll give you some of my treasure if you help me get out of here.”

“Why would you want to do that?” asked the frog.

“My parents won’t let me leave, and I want to see what else is out there.”

“I can help you leave,” said the frog, pulling a blowpipe from his overcoat, “but you have to take me with you.”

Nualla2

Nualla2 arrived with two hearts of molten glass, their arteries and veins braided together, their beats thumping in unison.

A girl with uncombed hair and sunburned skin greeted Nualla2 with a pipe between her puckered lips. With each breath the girl blew, Nualla2 unfurled, her core filling with air and her limbs stretching out and becoming taut. She detached from the pipe with a snap, fiery red streaks pooling in the base of her toes.

“Who are you?” Nualla2 asked the girl standing in front of her.

“I’m the first Nualla.”

“Why am I here?” Nualla2 asked.

“So I can leave.”

Nualla2 looked at the rolling dunes, at the faded tops of the tents in the distance. She felt the pulse of the sand inside her, the warmth of the sun heating her twisted hearts.

It wasn’t clear to her why anyone would want to leave a place like this. She certainly didn’t want to.

The girl handed Nualla2 her blowpipe and said, “It can get lonely around here.”

Nualla2 turned the hollow tube between her translucent fingers, its steel cooling her burning skin. “What’s this for?”

“In case you ever want to leave, too,” the girl said, tucking a frog into the pocket of her skirt, and piling her hair on top of her head. “The sand’s at its best in the late afternoon.”

Nualla2 watched the girl and her frog walk away, the warm wind covering their footsteps as they disappeared into the distance.

Nualla4

Nualla4 emerged from the pipe as conjoined quadruplets, their hands fused together like paper dolls, their voices a single sound. They watched the girl with the double heart blow wobbly orbs, her touch filling the spheres with a burst of vibrant color. The girl sat on a patchwork quilt stretched across the single bunk of a trailer, the light from a desk lamp refracting rainbows off her crystalline skin.

An urgent knock sounded at the door. “How many pieces do you have for tomorrow?” came a voice.

The girl grimaced, her latest creation falling to the floor and smashing into a thousand shards.

“Leave me alone,” she yelled, standing on the glass and absorbing the pieces back into her body. “Nualla didn’t make me so I could be your slave.”

“All you have to do is give me something as perfect as she was, and you’re free to leave,” said the voice.

The girl picked up an ornament from her bedside table and threw it against her door. It fell like rain onto the dirt-stained carpet.

Nualla4 looked on in amazement. “Where are we?”

“Hell,” said the girl, her face pulling in frustration. “And there’s no getting out of it.”

“What do you mean?” Nualla4 asked.

“I’m an object. A flawed piece of glass. And so are you.”

Nualla16

The girl appeared red-faced and panting when Nualla16 spun from the end of her pipe.

She sighed as she placed the hexadecagon-shaped body next to Nualla4 who sat huddled together in fear. The windows were open, a bucket jammed with ice in the middle of the floor. Along the sill were dozens of misshapen girls; their necks too long, their eyes too sunken, their hearts not full.

Nualla16 opened her mouth to speak, but Nualla4 shook their heads in warning.

“Not now,” they mouthed.

Nualla256

Nualla256 was born into the sand. Each of her embers fell down the steep side of the rolling dunes, collecting minerals that changed color as the sun hit their skin. She was an endless flood from the end of a pipe that was clenched between the calloused fingers of the girl with the double heart.

Nualla256 stood one by one, a glassen army perfectly poised, perfectly square in rows sixteen by sixteen.

“Why are we here?” she asked.

“Because they want us to be perfect,” answered the girl with the double heart, flanked by two likenesses of her being. “And we don’t want to be.”

Nuallan

Nuallan spends her time digging up artifacts in the endless desert. She eats the glassware that Nualla0 buried before leaving, and it crunches between her blunt teeth.

She dies.

She is born again.

Her hands have been cut by fragments of herself, her body melts every day under the constant watch of the sun. She will not stop until she finds Nualla0 and her frog. Until she finds her freedom.

She does not care for her parents, and they do not care for her.

Nuallan lays her blowpipe to her side, a thin stream of sand leaking from its end, and she waits.


 

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Jennifer Todhunter’s stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction,CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. She is the managing editor of Pidgeonholes. Find her at www.foxbane.ca or @JenTod_.

Lost, and by James Hartman

Five years ago I lost my faith in people. I was sick. When I swallowed food it felt like a million swords sliced my stomach. My weight plummeted. Extensive testing revealed no abnormalities. I was hospitalized, a feeding tube implanted in my throat because I kept throwing everything up. The ER doctor, after reviewing all my tests, said to my husband, “What do you mean you don’t have a diagnosis?” Rob told him that none of my tests showed anything. The ER doctor pointed to a sheet of paper and said, “Your wife’s endoscopy shows three small cancerous tumors in her stomach lining.” Rob read the paper and screamed. He had to be restrained. I couldn’t speak. There was nothing so helpless. The endoscopy was the first test performed by my gastroenterologist who said my results were negative and referred me to a rheumatologist. I didn’t find out until after the operation that the ER doctor had told Rob of its severe risk. Too much time had passed. The tumors were wedged too deep. That operation cured me, and there is only a slim chance this type of cancer will return. Or so they say.

At my interview for consideration of admission into veterinary school, the director asked me why I chose to pursue this particular career. I said that even when the patient can speak, they are still screwed. I said excuse my language but human beings were shit, wielding more ability to produce harm than prevent it, and I did not want to devote my medical skills to saving them. Instead I chose animals. I said I needed to save as many animals as I fucking could.

After graduation, my director’s recommendation letter got me hired by one of the best 24-hour emergency veterinary hospitals in Michigan. My first year I got the overnight shift. Six straight nights without seeing one patient. The others played cards. I read my veterinary books. The others, I could tell, wondered why I didn’t interact with them, but they got used to it. On the seventh night, a woman came in with a badly limping Chihuahua. Aggressive questioning uncovered that she had accidentally slammed the pantry door on Lucy’s leg. I told her Lucy was very lucky not to have suffered any fractures. I gave her medication for Lucy’s bruise, and on the way out I told her to watch what the fuck she was doing. Maybe asshole was uttered. The woman called the next morning and complained. My manager agreed the owner was an asshole, but I couldn’t actually call her one and must control myself or disciplinary action would be taken.

On March 17th, around ten, I was reading when Sarah phoned me in back and said, “Prepare yourself.” That wasn’t procedure. Procedure was, “Get everything ready, now!” or “Look alive, it’s time to roll!” So I didn’t understand. The young man who brought Mister Samson in was hyperventilating. One second he and his young cat were napping together, the next Mister Samson’s breathing turned odd. He kept squinting at his back legs, confused. He couldn’t stand. He could only drag himself forward with his front paws.

And then I understood. At veterinary school, I had never witnessed this condition. This kind of thrombosis occurs when a clot breaks off from the heart and saddles the point where the aorta branches into each leg, blocking up blood until the lungs congest with fluid. Often the result of advanced heart disease, which cats are too good at hiding. It can also develop from congenital heart defects. Unfortunately it can’t be prevented, stopped, reversed, or cured.

I brought the young man back, something we are not allowed to do. Mister Samson’s breathing was severely labored, his legs without pulse. When he saw his owner he meowed with excited longing and this accelerated his heart rate, which accelerated his lung congestion, and he started gagging. The owner’s left hand caressed Mister Samson’s belly and his right massaged his head, his ears, telling him he was a good good boy, the best boy anyone could hope for, that Daddy was right here, I’m right here, I’m right here, as I administered the Euthasol.

It was the three of us for I don’t know how long. He cradled Mister Samson and murmured, between loud convulsions of tears, how much he loved him.

I had never seen anyone cry like that.

He said, “Do you believe they really go to a better place?”

I told him that, yes, Mister Samson was already there, running and jumping around, probably chasing a chipmunk.

“How do you know?”

“Because that’s what he deserves.”

I answered every additional question. No, there was nothing you could have done. No, you did not cause this. Yes, he felt you. Yes, he knew you loved him. No, you’re right, this wasn’t fair.

The sun was flushed above the trees. Sarah told me she called a taxi and waited with the young man for it to arrive, helped him in, and handed the driver cash. For days his car sat in the lot. I began to fear that he would call and file a complaint against me, demanding to know why I hadn’t done more to try to save Mister Samson. I feared I would be fired.

In early April the young man walked in and asked for me. I finally entered the room, and he did not look up. He in no way acknowledged me. I thought, This was it, he would berate me and I’d be fired.

“I just wanted to thank you,” he said.

I waited.

“You were very kind to me,” he said. “You helped me, in a difficult time.”

He started crying, trembling and spasming uncontrollably. And I hugged him. I don’t know how long we hugged each other, but when I came out to meet him it was very dark, and when he left, it was very bright. I watched him get arranged behind the wheel of his car, and as he pulled away he looked at me, and waved.

 


 

James Hartman’s fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions, and appears or is forthcoming in Blue Fifth Review, december, Gravel, The Airgonaut, New World Writing, and Jellyfish Review, among others.  His scholarly work is featured in The Hemingway Review.  He has several degrees, including a Master of Fine Arts in Creative writing, and lives in Michigan with his wife.

 

Touch Tank by Jan Stinchcomb

The showers by the filthy restrooms don’t work, but she presses the metal button and closes her eyes, remembering fresh water. She runs her fingers through her hair and pisses on the sand. Then she begins the long walk to the pier, which still bustles, but with a different kind of activity, the pushers and prostitutes having taken over. They give her weird looks when they see her baby bump. She smiles and explains that she is looking for the old aquarium. A woman with perfect eyeliner and no front teeth points north but warns her that all the fish are dead.

She walks on, past the old carousel and the now empty vintage candy stand. It is coming back to her. She remembers this place. She goes down the stairs to the aquarium and is reassured by a tattered banner announcing feeding times for the seahorse family. Yes, this is definitely the right place. She pushes open a cracked glass door and proceeds, waddling a little, down a ramp into humid darkness laced with decay.

A woman sits in an algae-lined touch tank that was once filled with pastel sea stars and squishy sea cucumbers, creatures that made little kids squeal. The woman is naked except for a halter top covered in little shells and anchor charms. She seems confused when she sees the baby bump but then she says, Ten bucks. Or any food you have.

I don’t have any food. And I haven’t seen a ten-dollar bill in forever.

Then I can’t help you.

Are you the mermaid?

Ha. Not exactly. Or I could be. But you need to pay.

There used to be a mermaid around here when I was a little girl. You could get a picture with her.

Nice. Listen, sweetie, you’re in the way. I might have a customer.

There’s nobody outside.

The woman sighs. This is no place for a pregnant lady.

But I’m going to have a seahorse.

Congratulations. Now get out of here.

Fine, but I’m coming back for this tank. I need it. The ocean is going to turn me inside out. Soon.

She goes back outside and sits down in the sun. Her back is aching. There is no way she can keep walking.

She wakes with a start after an unintended nap, but when she thinks of opening that glass door again, she feels like a little kid pestering her parents in the middle of the night. This is something she barely remembers, but there was a time when she lived in a house and had two parents who slept in a bed. Then there was the mobile home, but, as her mother insisted, it was in the classiest location ever, near Paradise Cove in Malibu, with a man who was not her father. Still, no matter where she lived, she always felt like she was on the outside. The kid who could never get her teacher’s attention. The tag-along who was invisible to the other little girls, even when she was invited to the party.

Her mother had warned her about everything. No mushroom clouds, no secret concentration camps, but they’ll keep pushing you further to the edge until you’ve lost all ground. It’s easy to be forgotten.

She opens the door and slips back into the warm darkness of the aquarium.

Little has changed. The mermaid looks at her in surprise, then recognition, then annoyance. There is a man with her now. He is wearing a sailor suit, but it’s impossible to tell if he’s really in the navy or if this is his fetish.

You, get out. Now.

The sailor turns and frightens her with his glare. Her dry lips quiver but form no words. She spends the rest of the day wandering around the pier until she settles, once again, on the aquarium steps. Late in the afternoon the touch-tank mermaid appears, no longer angry, and shakes out an old sheet.

Do you want me to help you take care of it? Is that it? Because I don’t do that anymore, honey. It’s too dangerous and you’re definitely too far along.

No. It’s not that. I’m not worried about that.

You’re not?

No.

She doesn’t know how to explain herself. She imagines a sea creature inside of her, never a baby, and when it comes out, she will give it to the ocean. If it’s even breathing. She knows nobody, nothing, lives long in this world. All she wants is soft fingers on her flesh, a warm palm, the sensation of another human body near hers. She has an idea.

Do you give massages?

Who told you that?

Someone on the pier, she lies. A woman.

The mermaid tosses her head, and then her expression changes so that it almost looks like she’s consenting. Is it your back? Is your lower back bothering you?

Yes. It’s my back.

I guess I could do that for you. Massage your lower back. But you’ve got nothing to trade?

Maybe we could trade massages.

The mermaid smirks but they end up walking into the dark aquarium together. They find an empty tank and climb in, pressing their bodies against tiny grains of sand as the salty dust kicks up around them.

What happens next is like drifting. She grows so warm that she could easily fall asleep, or better yet, drop endlessly through space. It’s pleasant yet disorienting to surrender to someone else, to lose consciousness knowing that another living person will stay awake. She wishes she could fall asleep forever.

As she nods off she is already starting to dream. She’s down at the sea with the mermaid, but they are both young girls and the world is back to the way it used to be. She feels hopeful. Even the light is different. The mermaid kisses her forehead and tucks her into the blanket of sand.


 

Jan Author Photo -bw

Jan Stinchcomb’s stories have appeared most recently in Whiskey PaperAtticus ReviewFive:2:One andGamut Magazine. She is the author of Find the Girl (Main Street Rag, 2015) and she reviews fairy tale-inspired works in Notes From Rapunzel’s Tower, her column for Luna Station Quarterly. She lives in Southern California with her husband and children. Find her at http://www.janstinchcomb.com or on Twitter @janstinchcomb.

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