I Pity The Fool | by Jesse Bradley

The little brother made from Ken doll heads looks at his shirtless form in the mirror, the clusters of fused Ken doll heads that make up his pectoral muscles. He flexes his arms and the eyes that haven’t been blackened by the sun stare in amazement. We never needed her, his left nipple says.

What’s going on in there, the surgeon asks through the bathroom door.

The little brother made from Ken doll heads puts on his shirt. Nothing, he answers, leaving two buttons unbuttoned just in case.

 


 

J. Bradley is the author of the flash fiction collection Neil & Other Stories (Whiskey Tit Books, 2018). He lives at jbradleywrites.com.

Vandalism | by Kelly McClure

     Ms. Sarah’s booming voice can be heard up and down Marlor St. at all hours of the day. After 5PM, when she retires inside her modest home to watch the news and keep an eye on things via her half-closed blinds, there is a sweet peace. The 85-year-old woman has lived in that house, on that street, for over 25 years and has seen many neighbors come and go. Although she’s kind to all of them, she could also do without all of them. The exception is the couple across the street, Lacy and Jim, who are kind enough to drive her to Walmart every Sunday so she can get whatever’s on her list for the week. Those two she has genuine affection for. Everyone else, she figures, will be moved out and gone in a couple years, so there’s no point in getting attached. This past week has been a difficult one for Ms. Sarah because not only has there been ongoing construction on the bed and breakfast that newly popped up across the street from her, but the front of her own home is having some work done as well. If she’s not out there to watch the workers every day, she knows that they’ll milk the project for as long as possible to get as much of her savings as they can. Even thinking about all of this gives her a pounding headache. She goes upstairs and gets ready for bed. The workers will be back at it at 7AM, so she sets her alarm for 4AM.

     “GOOOOOD MORNING!!!!” Ms. Sarah nearly screams from her doorway at a jogger who just happens to be running by as she comes out of her house at 6:30AM, carrying a cup of coffee and the newspaper. The jogger has headphones on and doesn’t hear her, so she looks around to check for other signs of life on the street. She sees a stray cat coming out from underneath a parked grey pickup truck. “GOOOOD MORNING!!!!” She says to the cat. The men working on the front of her house are usually right on time, so she settles in on her front stoop to wait for them. She doesn’t get to the bottom of her coffee before she sees their work van pull up.

     “GOOOOOD MORNING!!!!” She projects, hands held to the sides of her mouth as they haven’t yet reached the front of her house.

     The workers, Mike, Freddy, and Victor, hop out one after the other and move to the back of the van to retrieve their tools. There’s not much left for them to do on the project, just a few finishing touches, and Ms. Sarah thinks about how she’ll be sad to see them go. It’s nice to have people to visit with.

     “Hey, Ms. Sarah!” Caitlin, from a few houses down, says to the side of her head as she opens her car to leave for work. “What are they doing to your house over there?”

     “Ohhhhhhh,” Ms. Sarah squeals, happy to re-tell the story. “That’s right, you travel so much that you don’t know what’s been happening over here. Well let me tell you.” Rather than move over to Caitlin’s car, where she can be heard better, she just ups the volume from her current position on her stoop. “You know how I used to have that gravel in front of my house?”

     Caitlin says yes, that she does. Well, she doesn’t so much say this, but imply so by continuing to look straight at Ms. Sarah as she continues.

     “Well, and you’ve probably seen this too, I got so sick of coming out here and seeing dog mess in those rocks that finally I hired these nice young men here to level it all out and pour some nice clean cement over it. I’m spending money I shouldn’t be spending, but at least I won’t have to constantly see dog mess in front of my house. Ohhhhh, and THE SMELL!”

     “Oh no,” Caitlin says. One butt cheek in the driver’s seat. “Well I’m glad you’re getting it taken care of. That’s gross that people don’t pick up after their dogs on this street.”

     “It sure IS,” Ms. Sarah says. “Well you have yourself a nice day.”

     Caitlin smiles and says for Ms. Sarah to do the same, and then drives away.

     For the next five hours Ms. Sarah keeps the workers company, making sure they’ve done everything properly, and sending them off with a nice tip and three cold cans of Coke each. She watches their van pull away and looks down before she can’t see their taillights anymore. She wouldn’t have liked to not see their taillights anymore.

     The spot in front of her house that used to just be gravel, and wayward turds, is now paved over, and covered in plastic surrounded by orange cones, to allow for it to dry without being tampered with. She feels a sense of completion that this project is done, and she also feels tired. She goes inside for the night, deciding to have a splash of wine with her news this evening, to celebrate.

     With no need to have set an alarm, Ms. Sarah wakes naturally and is shocked to find that she slept in way longer than she has in a very long time. It’s 8AM and most everyone else will be nearly ready for work by that point, but here she is, without any coffee in her system yet even. She puts on her slippers and goes to the kitchen to start the machine brewing. She shouldn’t be having coffee at her age, but she likes it too much to give it up. Hot cup in hand, and a paperback under her arm, she heads out front and immediately notices that one of the cones that had been holding down the plastic over the drying cement is a few feet away, laying sideways in the street as though someone had kicked it over there. The plastic is flapping in the breeze and she carefully walks over to it. Standing directly over the newly paved section of sidewalk she can see something underneath it that hadn’t been there before. There are dark patches, where before it was just all smooth light grey. Ms. Sarah puts her mug down on the ground so she can lean over to pull the plastic back and then screams at what she finds there. Scrawled in the new cement are the words:

     “DOG SHIT.”

     She stares at this act of vandalism for a very long time, a little longer than she’d really like to, and waits for someone to come out of their house, or jog by, so she can tell them what’s happened. No one does, so she picks her mug back up, lays the plastic back down, and goes into her house. She’s surprised that no one came out to check on her, even after she screamed like that.

 


 

Kelly McClure has been writing, in one form or another, since the 90s. She recently moved from Brooklyn to New Orleans and lives in a shotgun with her wife, two cats, and zero ghosts (as of now). She dreams of adding a puppy to the family one day and naming it Dracula. 
Twitter: @WolfieVibes

Cher as God | by Benjamin Selesnick

     Cher’s fur was spotted black and white and she had a nose that was slick like ice.

     When Yvonne went to treatment, she would place Cher on the carpet, close the windows, sprinkle some food in the corner of her cage, and spray some air freshener. These were basic tasks, but Yvonne found solace in them. She’d come to respect routine—it was like the reverence one has for a strict but attentive parent.

     Little Bunny Cher squatted on the carpet by the foot of the bed and her nose wiggled imperceptibly like mosquito wings.

– –

     The glass on the windows was thick, so thick that it’d be impossible to hurl oneself through them. The freshest patients at The Hope House found it shocking that someone would do that, but they were young and this was only their first time in treatment.

     5 weeks since entering the facility, Yvonne only had to attend program on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Hope House’s program was well structured, much more so than Yvonne’s previous drug rehabilitation experiences. Group therapy through the morning, 45 minutes of individual therapy in the afternoon, one last group at the end of the day—smoke breaks in between.

     The patients had to read through a list of questions in the last group of the day. The counselors said they did it to practice honesty, as if honesty were a muscle they could strengthen.

     Yvonne sat beside Angela, a heavy woman in her late thirties with a black and green oversized Celtics sweatshirt on. “Where have I been fearful, selfish, dishonest?” Angela read from a sheet of paper. “I was afraid to come to group—I was. Didn’t wanna see any of your faces. I’m not like all of you—” Angela patted her pocket but couldn’t find what she was looking for, “not better—I don’t want to say better—but different. It’s tough to explain. You guys, you know—I never shot dope, didn’t smoke crack, still have my husband—we’re different. I didn’t even go to prison. I never even been to work drunk.”

     “Read the next question.” Maureen, the counselor, said.

     Angela had strands of russet hair that she kept tucking behind her ears after they’d slipped off. “Did I pray today?” she asked with a garish hand held over her heart. “Every morning. And, where could I do better? Sleep more, that’s for sure. Call my kids. That’d be nice—that’d be a way to do better.”

     Angela blindly handed Yvonne the paper. Yvonne took it, hunched over, and read the questions to herself: Where have I been fearful, selfish, dishonest? Did I pray today? Where could I do better? The questions were written in all caps, listed one to three down the side, large enough that they filled the entirety of the page. Those big black letters—they looked like a different language. Not her language; rather, one of man’s dominion over himself, an indefinable one like Egyptian hieroglyphics. The recorded calculations of a life, as if emotions could be charted and analyzed like cellular reproduction rates.

     She handed the paper to the woman next to her, Deborah.

     “Yvonne?” Maureen asked.

     Yvonne looked at her questioningly, interrogatively.

     “Deborah, could you show Yvonne the questions?”

     Deborah held the paper above Yvonne’s lap.

     “I know the questions.” Yvonne said.

     “Then answer them.”

     “Where was I fearful, selfish, dishonest.” Yvonne flatly recited.

     “Yes?” Maureen replied.

     “Today was a good day.” She gestured towards Deborah to take the questions away from her. Deborah continued to hold them in front of Yvonne, looking up to Maureen for support.

     “It’s your turn, Yvonne. Take your time with them.” Maureen encouraged.

     Yvonne grabbed the list out of Deborah’s hand. “Where was I fearful, selfish, dishonest? Fearful—Cher jumped out of the doorway when I left this morning and hopped to a corner of the stairwell outside where there wasn’t any light. I picked her up and she was shrieking on the way back inside. I locked her in her cage—that scared me”.

     “Go on.”

     “Did I pray today?—I tried to. This morning I got on my knees like I’ve been told and I said, ‘God,’ and Cher was looking right at me.”

     “How’d it feel?”

     “Stupid,” Yvonne said. “It was like I was a witch trying to conjure up a spirit with no cauldron.”

     Maureen hesitated, raised a hand to chest-level. She held her breath, unsure whether to move forward. “What were your intentions?” she asked.

     “When praying to Cher?”

     Maureen nodded. Her chin was cupped in an open palm, her elbow propped up by the arm of her chair—ostensibly trying to look interested, but instead, she looked like a puppet, animatronic.

     “Cher isn’t God.”

     “Why can’t Cher be God?” Maureen asked politely, coyly.

     Yvonne slouched in her chair. Her thin strawberry blonde hair draped down her back. She scratched her scalp, searching for an answer rather than a sarcastic retort. “Cause Cher doesn’t know anything. She sits and she looks and she eats and sometimes she rubs up against me when she knows I want her to. But she’s just as helpless as the next rabbit out there—jumping in and out of the fences on Comm Ave like they were The Gates of Heaven. ”

     “What if God’s like that?” Maureen prodded. “What if God can only sit there, watch, and show you love?”

     “God can’t be a rabbit” Angela interjected.

     “He can be whoever we want Him to be,” Deborah countered. “That’s the whole point of the second step: we came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. It’s just a power.” Deborah had been at The Hope House for three months and she considered herself to be on the same plane as the counselors. Maybe that’s why they’ve kept her here so long, Yvonne wondered.

     “But a rabbit’s got no power,” Angela said. “Yvonne’s right—God needs to be able to do things or else how could He have made the world?”

     “Angela,” Maureen said, “Deborah. This is Yvonne’s turn to check-in. Give her the floor,” she looked to Yvonne, “What if God isn’t what you think God should be?”

     “It doesn’t matter what we think, stupid,” Angela persisted. “God’s gonna do whatever God’s gonna do.”

     “Our relationship with God does matter—” Deborah retorted.

     “Ladies, please.” Maureen pleaded.

     “—and if we don’t notice God, then we can’t reap the benefits of what He does.”

     “But that’s whack,” Angela said. “why should knowing God mean I get God?”

     “O’ mah God,” Grace, a Hope House veteran, grumbled from across the room.

     “God can be a she, too.” Yvonne said facetiously.

     “Everyone.” Maureen commanded.

     “Shut up, Yvonne,” Deborah said. “because, Angela, He”—she shot a look at Yvonne—demands our reverence. He wants respect just like people do.”

     “I don’t want no human God,” Angela said.

     “You want a rabbit one?” Deborah yelled.

     “At least I’d be able to see a rabbit one.”

     An mhmmm came from a few unidentifiable throats.

     “Y’all can expect your damnation real soon. I promise you that.” Deborah said.

     “That’s it,” Maureen said. “Out, Deborah. Take a walk, use the bathroom—come back in five.”

     “I’m in trouble?”

     “You can’t threaten anyone. That’s a group rule.”

     “It’s God who’s threatening them!”

     “That’s the whole problem.” Angela mumbled.

     Deborah got up and twisted around her chair, letting it fall and clang against the ground as she walked out of the room.

     Angela and Maureen retired into their seats. They looked crossly at one another.

     “Yvonne, you still have to answer the question.” Maureen said.

     “Which question?” she asked snidely.

     Grace laughed and so did Yvonne, but Maureen was quiet. She sat patiently with her hands on top of one another in her lap, letting Yvonne’s juvenile aside die.

     Once the group settled and the humor was sucked out of the room, Maureen asked, “Where can you do better?”

     “You make it sound like a threat.” Yvonne said.

     “It’s telling that that’s how you perceive it.” Maureen added.

     Yvonne rolled her eyes, “I’m already doing my best.”

     “Is that what Cher would say?”

     “Cher’d say what?”

     Maureen spoke slowly, “We’re most ourselves when we’re alone. And unlike anyone else in your life, Cher gets to see you when you’re alone. What does she notice? Use your senses.”

     Yvonne took the bottom of her sweatshirt and zipped it up, taking hold of the strings that dangled from her hood. “She’d see—if she’s even watching—me on the floor leaning against the frame of my bed. Sitting there, minutes, sometimes an hour, listening to the roar of my broke refrigerator. Empty diet coke cans. The dead light bulb in the bathroom that I still haven’t replaced. The white walls and the bars on the window—light coming in if it’s morning or else it’s pretty dark.”

     She paused, bereft, like a meadow without a fawn.

     “She’d see the sweat—the sweat. The catatonic weekends, the rage. The pictures of my mom. My dad. Sitting on the counter of my dresser, once propped up. The burnt-out candles. The unopened letters. Unwashed sheets. Stains on the carpet. Day-old lasagna.”

     Maureen’s hands were now splayed flat on her quads. She laughed openly, bitterly, her head bent forward and her hair fallen over her face like Spanish moss. She flicked her head back up and revealed a victorious smile.

     Maureen said, to Yvonne and the rest of the group, “And you said Cher isn’t God.”

 


 

Benjamin Selesnick is a student Northeastern University and a reader at Memoir Mixtapes, an online literary magazine that promotes poetry and creative nonfiction about music. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Bitter Oleander, Ofi Press Mexico, Parhelion Literary Magazine, and others. In 2017, he was the runner-up for the Stony Brook Short Fiction Prize.

Gluttony | by Cavin Bryce

     Mornings are typically the hardest because my wounds are still fresh, actively scabbing. Claw marks rake my back. My left breast is the most decorated with mutilation, always, it’s her favorite spot. Instinctively, I bring my left arm to my ribs. A heart drums persistently. My lungs wheeze.

     The blanket covering my legs is ripped away as she curls up and rolls over. I sigh, and roll her back to fight my share of the blanket out from between her arms.  Her thin upper lip is curved into a devilish smile and her hands are plastered with dried blood. As always, she remains magnificent.

     I lie in her bed and fester for hours, waiting, until finally she sits up and draws her hands to her eyes, rubbing them. Drying blood smears across her mouth. Her eyes feign remorse as they fall on my wounds. I forgive her because I have always thought that love was sacrifice, that passion equaled pain.

     After I eat breakfast, and she has tea, she pours alcohol over the wounds and sews up the larger of the gashes. Sometimes we’ll talk a bit while she does this. Today, while she stitches up my left leg, she just cries. When she’s finished she kisses every individual band-aide.

     “I want to make it up to you,” she says, and disappears to shower. When she returns she’s in a blue dress speckled with yellow flowers. She flings the front door open and stretches one long leg out of it.

     “Shall we?” she asks.

     “Where will we go?”

     “Just go,” she says. And we do.

     It’s nearly dark by the time we get home from wandering about. We sprawl out on the bed, I can’t see the fangs glistening beyond her smirk. An evening spent inside her reminds me why I am here, in her den of violence, in the first place.

     “If you try to fight it next time,” I say, “then maybe-”

     Her stomach growls, emphasizing the hopelessness of her hunger. I grasp for her hand and squeeze it lightly.  She pulls away. I hope, in vain, that tonight will be different. When I try to hold her she shoves at me. A slap finds my shoulder. A punch lands on my right cheek. She shrieks.

     “Leave,” she bellows, “and never come back.” The curse is in motion. I step closer. Her graphite irises reflect no sympathy or love.

     “I’ll kill you,” she spits at me. I know she isn’t bluffing, we’ve danced these same motions every night for an eternity now.

     I take another step and she cocks her head. An evil laugh fills her bedroom She walks into the kitchen and when she comes back she’s holding a large butchers knife. Why is it always the large butchers knife?

     I take one more step towards her. She matches my movement. Her tongue flicks across her lips. We both lunge. The knife is lodged between two ribs. It feels like i’m drowning. When I cough, I send a splatter of blood into her hair. She wipes some of the residual specks from her forehead and pushes me backwards towards the bedroom until the back of my legs smack the bed stand and I fall onto the mattress with my arms outstretched.

     I cough a second time and more blood sputters from my mouth, this time with less vigor. I look down, the sheets are fucking ruined. I’m bleeding much faster than usual. She crawls onto the bed and takes a seat on my lap. Her wild hair dangles over my face. She smells warm, like fruit and honey. Her head shakes savagely and she hisses through clenched teeth.

     She raises the knife and plunges it down, deep into my sternum. I jolt forward, raising my torso off the mattress. She slides the knife out and I sag back down to the bed. I close my eyes. I feel the knife plunder through my chest repeatedly.

     Thirty times she stabbed me that night, cackling all the while.

     My vision is blurred but I can still make out the silhouette of her hands slowly approaching the largest of the holes she carved into my chest. Her fingers slide into my body and wrap around several alternating ribs. I can’t stop screaming. She pulls, there’s a violent cracking, and then she’s face deep in my intestines. When her head rises to meet my eye, scraps of my liver are stuck between her fangs.

     She pulls the nightstand drawer open and removes a thumping, bleeding, sack. Through the interstices of cracked ribs I can see my pale heart struggling to thump. I close my eyes and whimper. This is the worst part. Her fingers slither gently around my heart and she tears it from my chest. My eyes are torn open by the agony and, for a moment, I can see her above me, tearing into the organ, finally satisfied.

     My eyes flutter open. An empty sack lays on the bed beside my head. She sews my chest shut and can I feel a familiar thumping there, a signal that i’m still living. A shred of my flesh still dangles from her lips. I pat her head and she whimpers, cooling down from her rampage.

     Her meal exhausts her. She curls up next to me and falls asleep, covered in my blood and her tears, just like she always does.

 


 

Cavin Bryce is an emerging writer from the sewers beneath central Florida. He isn’t nearly as spooky as is often perceived.

Open Wide | by Becky Robison 

     A stranger inside your mouth with needles, pliers, a bone saw. Buzzzzz. Turn your head this way, please. Nose in the belly of his scrubs, blood oozing from your lips. We’ve struck oil! You laugh in the middle of oral surgery, gagging on the gauze meant to catch the teeth he pulls. Twenty minutes and he’s already seen you at your worst. Does that hurt? No, nothing hurts—just pressure, the sensation of moving parts. Good girl. Then he’s finished, your face smeared slick red. Only a handshake on your way out, a brief grip on your elbow, so impersonal that you wonder if you made it up.

 


 

Becky Robison masquerades as a corporate employee in Chicago, but at heart she is a writer and a world traveler. A graduate of University of Nevada Las Vegas’ Creative Writing MFA program, she’s currently working on her novel and serving as Social Media and Marketing Coordinator for Split Lip Magazine. Her fiction has appeared in Paper DartsMidwestern Gothic, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter: @Rebb003

My Brother, the Alchemist | by Matilda Harjunpää

     My little brother is needier than teenage girls on Instagram. Always has to be the center of attention. It used to be cute when he couldn’t say his Ls and pretended to be a fish for a week for absolutely no reason, but he’s in school now and it’s getting old.

     Mom says he’s going to be an actor. Dad says he has ADD. I say he’s a pain in the ass. I love him, but he’s a pain in the ass. This is why I was not interested when he wanted me to come see something in his room. The kid wants a medal for coloring inside the lines. But he persisted.

     “You have to come! It’s so cool! You have no idea!”

     I reluctantly teared myself away from my laptop and followed him. He had spread an assortment of forks and knives and spoons on the floor.

     “Mom’s not going to like that.”

     “Yeah, yeah, but look!”

     He picked up a spoon and closed his eyes. A slight furrow in his brow. I thought he was trying to bend it and sighed loudly in protest. He opened one eye and shushed me.

     “Wait.”

     His hand trembled as the spoon started to change. From the tip of the handle all the  way through, it looked like it had turned to gold. I figured it was like those color-changing spoons you get from cereal boxes. He handed it to me and it was warm. Five times heavier than you’d expect a spoon to be.

     “How did you do that? Can you do it again?” I tried not to sound impressed.

     Turns out, he could. Just to make sure, I brought him the spoon from an empty yogurt container in my room, and he turned that too.

     “We should tell Mom and Dad,” I said. “They’re going to want to see this.”

     He beamed with pride and it irritated me. I let him get away with it this time.

     We had a family meeting when our parents got home and my brother showed them his trick. They were suspicious at first, but I could see their eyes slowly morph into wobbling piles of cash.

     “We have to get these appraised,” Mom said.

     We squeezed into our ‘96 Corolla and drove to the closest Cash For Gold. My brother and I stayed in the car while our parents went in with the box of utensils, cheeks flushed with excitement. When they got back, they did not look happy.

     “Why would you pull a prank like that, make us come all this way? The man said it’s fool’s gold. Fool’s gold! Do you think it’s funny to humiliate us? Is it fun for you?”

     Mom was livid. My brother said nothing but I saw the tears in his eyes. I actually felt bad for him.

     “So how did you do it?” I whispered.

     “I don’t know,” he said, sobbing quietly. I believed him.

     That’s when our parents started arguing. Mom wants to put him on YouTube because he might get on Ellen. She says it may not be real gold but it’s still one hell of a trick. Dad thinks he should see a child psychologist. This has been going on for months.

     Meanwhile, my brother can’t stop turning things. We try to hide all metal from him, but he’ll turn the buttons on his jeans. Doorknobs. Faucets.

     We eat with plastic spoons.

 


 

Matilda Harjunpää writes in Helsinki, Finland. She tweets very short stories @matildahrjnp.

Swan on a concrete roof | by Eilise Norris

I’d never seen a swan land on anything like a clifftop before, so I caught one and took it to the top of an abandoned office, where the heating units and filters left deceptively little flat space. Climbing the fire escape with a 60-litre backpack of drugged swan was harder than my usual workout, but that’s the sacrifice you make to test out a theory.

On the square patch of tiling, I set the bag down and loosened the fastenings. I pulled the swan out carefully, its body heavy and pliable as dough; neck sunk around a wing like the clasp of a bracelet. It smelled of the river’s bowels mixed with freshly dug earth. I didn’t delve too far inside the backpack.

I waited until the swan came to, hoping the sedative was weak enough. By then it was late afternoon. The swan’s chest rose like white surf. Swivelling its beak, lifting and squirrelling at the concrete, it tried to move.

My brother had said this would be stupid. A waste of a day. As if he lived any better: engraving trophies for people who were competitive bastards at their jobs, who bled sales and technology.

I let the swan alone to find its feet and move around the tight corners to look. It honked a few times, angrily, maybe desolate. I took that to mean it knew it was fucked.

Did you know swans need at least 30 yards of take-off to become airborne? And to reach a safe height, after that? The swan tried to hassle me for a bit, wings batting with force, like it was beating sheets against the turgid summer air. I hassled back with the tennis racket I’d brought. Then it pounded its feet as if it might build speed that way. Formula One cars have pent up drive like that. Of course, none of them have to launch off a roof.

Do you think swans even recognise dread? When they’re lost? When they come to an edge? Picture themselves at the bottom: crumpled, miscalculated, every bone in their body rearranged a little or a lot. Do they shiver at that? I reckon not. This one didn’t at least; it leapt, weight bobbing beneath its wings for a few seconds, and opened wide to the ground.

Honk if you’re horny, I called down. The swan was not horny.

 


 

Eilise Norris writes short stories, flash fiction, and poetry from above a pub in Oxfordshire, UK. Previous work in Blink-Ink, Paragraph Planet, The Cabinet of Heed and Clementine Unbound.
Tweets from @eilisecnorris.