Ghost — by Jim O’Loughlin

He was only a ghost in the technical sense of the term, in that he was dead and haunting the Earth. Most of the time, he thought of himself as a commuter, like countless other souls taking the train in and out of the city each day. He read the paper, preferred window seats, and glared at passengers who spoke too loudly on cell phones. When it was busy, he would always give up his seat for an older passenger, and when it was especially crowded, he would melt into the walls.

____


Jim O’Loughlin is the author of the flash fiction collection, Dean Dean Dean Dean (Twelve Winters Press). He is the publisher of Final Thursday Press and host of the Final Thursday Reading Series in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where he teaches American literature and creative writing at the University of Northern Iowa.

Trading Places — by Mercedes Lawry

The singular fellow, oh, what does he know about the cursed, lulling down the street like a piece of fresh bread smeared with butter? He’s tip top and lucky in love and never in need of courage. Dash of the sea in his honey-blue eyes, bones carved by angels, slick tongue with a way of the words, like pry bars they are, to the flattery. I’d like to lean my whiskers against his creamy black hair. I’d like his stylish jacket and his cock o’ the walk fedora. I’d like to suck out all his air and take it into myself, full fat with the measure of what he has, leave the shell of him here in a puddle of piss with my woebegone story and the black heart of me. I’m a dreamer in the glove of despair, waving my fingers. You might read those signs as a wry hello or the jolly embrace of the puke and the shit. I am one of a thousand and only myself as is he, the fellow who strides past with nary a blink or a count of the cold. I’d like his bed and his mother and his dry socks. I’d like his stink of posh soap and his glamorous whiskey and his memories of summer. Now, he’s away and I’m here and there’s just the skim of a hope of oblivion. You clabbered souls with a fix and a full bottle, you’re welcome along to the ruin and maybe a song about long ago that’ll rip at the dim sorrows you thought were deep and buried with your old dogs. Life in the muck isn’t all bad, just the breadth of it, the width, the seams, the chinks, the fractures and the marrow. Just that.

____

Mercedes Lawry has published poetry in such journals as Poetry, Nimrod, Prairie Schooner, Harpur Palate, Natural Bridge, and others.  Thrice-nominated for a Pushcart Prize, she’s published two chapbooks, most recently “Happy Darkness.” She’s also published short fiction, essays and stories and poems for children and lives in Seattle.

Kinohi and the Sixth Extinction — by Jean P. Moore

I am called Kinohi. My forebears were gods, worshiped once. In exchange, they kept our kind free from harm. I am of them and thus also a god.

Once we had dominion over all the islands, as far as the eye could see, from the heavens to the trees to the palm-frond covered ground. We had our enemies, yes, but we could make the sun go dark from our great numbers when our wings covered the sky. They could not conquer us then, before the illness. We were too many.

What is there to say now? I am weary of it. Here the sun shines, there is food, and my captors, out of respect for our well-known greatness, bring me women to amuse me, but I am not amused. I am old and tired. I want only to be alone with my visions.

I was in love once. She would come to me adorned with many brightly hued feathers and with a look, a beauty, you could not ignore. I swooned in her presence, it is true, but we broke too many ancient taboos, our being together, and so I ended it, as I always do, with a cold stare and a turning away. Her cries haunted me thereafter, until lagging memory dulled the thrill of her.

How many years has it been now? I have lost count. The one woman I will see, for whom, I must admit, I do have some affection, tries her best to amuse me, to do more, if I am forthright in my account of it. She wishes only to please me, to arouse some passion in me. I want to indulge her, but to no avail. Sometimes when she strokes me with her soft and true touch, I do feel the beginning of some stirring deep within, but mostly these feelings are borne of the visions she starts in me, of the proud gods we once were and of the world we once inhabited.

Our glistening wings, shining in the sun, we dive among the trees and to the ground in search of food, the bounty, the nectar that Mother Earth provided.

Such plenty I see when I close my eyes. I fly high above the tree line and over the flowered fields. I look down on the verdant earth and see many animals—small and wily, large and majestic. The seas roil with silver skin. Beneath the surface, fans wave, the color of emeralds and rubies. Mounds of once molten rock hold creatures of all descriptions, some long and slithering, others large and small, but all lighting up the sea with the colors of sparkling gems. In the air around me, all manner of winged creatures—in the meadows the smallest ones, vying with the bees, dart from flower to flower, while in the darkening sky, the largest with beaks strong enough to break a spine, prowl for prey.

She thinks it is my lust that causes me to shudder, but as the visions fade, it is loss that overcomes me.

Where are those skies, those seas, that earth of my blood memory? Am I to be the last of my kind, all of us turned to dust? What have they done, these captors, to the Mother who sustained us?

And who will escape our fate?

 

*According to a 2014 article in The New York Times, Kinohi, an “alala” or Hawaiian crow, born at a captive breeding facility over two decades ago, now resides at the San Diego Zoo. “An odd, solitary bird,” he has refused to mate, further limiting chances of survival for his species. Native Hawaiians consider the alala to be an “Aumakua,” a family god in Hawaii. It is considered extremely bad luck to harm one.

_____

Jean P. Moore’s work has appeared in up street, SN Review, Adanna, The Timberline Review, Distillery, Skirt, Slow Trains, Persimmon Tree, Long Island Woman, the Hartford Courant, Greenwich Time, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Her novel, Water on the Moon, won the Independent Publishers Book Award for Contemporary Fiction, 2015.

Bird, thief — by Melissa Goode

We enter the national park and the blacktop ends. Tom puts both hands on the steering wheel. The trees become a century taller, older, thicker. His gaze stays on the road. Through the open window the air smells of undergrowth and the earth getting cold with evening.

I dare myself to keep watching the side of his face. “The perfect place to murder someone, isn’t it?” I say.

He looks over at me and smiles. “If I said that to you, Beth, you’d be shitting yourself.”

“No, I wouldn’t. I know you.”

“After three weeks?”

“It’s enough to know you’re not a psychopath.”

His hand goes to the back of my neck, warm, moving slowly across my skin.

“Sweetheart,” he says. He whispers.

Before Tom, there was another man—I do not say his name, not ever. I call him asshole which is kind. Tom doesn’t call him anything. He wants me to go to the police and he only knows half of it. If he knew the other half, he’d be at the station house himself.

*

Tom parks the car near the ridge. We sit on the hood because it’s his brother’s car and we want to smoke. We share his cigarettes, big man Marlboro Red. They strip my throat.

“These are so not you,” I say.

Tom pulls a face, but he is wounded, a boy. He is eighteen, we both are, and he changes before me over and over—boy, man, boy, man. He is a man when, in his bed, he holds me to his chest and calls me little bird, as if he knows my heart beats double-speed, as if he feels it.

I draw a silver hipflask from my jacket.

He laughs and says, “I’ve never seen a girl do that before.”

The hipflask belonged to asshole and now it is mine. His initials Z.N. are inscribed on the base. Z.N. is here, howling, screaming right into my ear until I cannot hear him anymore.

Tom takes a sip of the bourbon with his cigarette hand. “Actually,” he murmurs and has another longer drink.

I smile. It is a new era. It is dancing down the street after the enemy has been annihilated and finally surrenders, waving his hopeless white flag.

*

I pull the hood of my sweatshirt up onto my head, the cigarette between my teeth. Tom takes it for himself and elbows me in the ribs.

“You cold?” he says.

“Yes.”

“It makes you look like a thief.” He draws the hood back and pulls me against him. He holds my thigh which jitters up and down. “You are—”

“What?”

“So tightly curled. Wound up.”

I laugh. Not beautiful. Not pretty. Not sexy. Not smart. Not the-best-fucking-girl-I-have-ever-met. So tightly curled. Wound up. It could have been worse—you are a lunatic.

“I might explode,” I say.

He stares at me.

“If you want some girl who—”

“Beth, baby. Stop. You know I don’t,” he says, and crushes the cigarette into the dust.

He steps into the V of my legs. His fingers walk up the inside of my thighs, closer and closer. Come on. Come on.

*

I drink from the hipflask and, even before the alcohol fills my mouth, it is delicious—the coldness of the metal against my lips, my teeth, the roundness of it, the O. There is a Celtic pattern engraved into the flask. I push my fingers over the braille. Z.N said the hipflask had been his great-grandfather’s, was taken to the Somme in the First World War. Not that I’d believe a fucking word he said.

*

Tom is smiling at me, like I am the love of his life. It throws me. We met in Walmart, me serving, him buying.

“You should be in school,” he said then, like he was a parent.

“I’m past all that,” I said, like some bitter barmaid.

I laughed because school felt like it was years ago, less than irrelevant.

Now, he says, “I almost didn’t meet you,” as if that would have been the world’s biggest tragedy.

In this minute, I kind of think it would have been, at least for me. His tongue pushes into my mouth. We both drink the bourbon and it courses through us, eighty proof, moving to our brains first, and then every organ until it comes to rest in our livers.

He pulls me down to the ground and lays me on my back. I smile. Here. Now. Let’s go.  Not yet—he shows me the sky.

*

Tom is not Z.N. No one else is. Not even Z.N is Z.N.

I clutch the hipflask to my sternum and we kiss. He holds the back of my neck, calming my amygdala. It is dark and the sky wheels above us with its stars. It doesn’t stop. He is inside me now and I try to climb inside him. He kisses my throat and I want him to sink his teeth into my skin, tear me to pieces, come on, but he won’t, I know.

I hold his face. This here is love, only love.

____

 

Melissa Goode’s work has appeared in Best Australian Short Stories, New World Writing, Cleaver Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, Pithead Chapel, Gravel, and Jellyfish Review among others. One of her short stories has been made into a film by the production company, Jungle. She lives in Australia.

Adrenaline — by Leah Browning

In the middle of the night, Jeff had a heart attack and Shayla rode in the ambulance next to him, holding his gray hand, adrenaline surging through her body so she almost couldn’t breathe and the siren screaming above them as they raced through the dark toward the doctor who would press hard with his gloved hands on the body that she no longer recognized while Shayla sat in this bright fluorescent waiting room with its plastic chairs and piles of magazines with those vacuous celebrity faces smiling or looking down their noses even though they were the ones choosing to stand in a room full of strangers with their clothes off, and Shayla knew that this was the worst thing that had ever happened to her; she thought with dread of calling Jeff’s mother and sister and telling them what had happened and hearing them cry, but there was also a tiny thought in the back of her mind that when this was all over maybe she could find another man who didn’t drink as much and didn’t get into trouble at work and didn’t want to wait another year to have a baby even though Shayla had been waiting six years already and maybe then she could finally be happy, but then the doctor came out and smiled and smiled and shook her hand and said what a relief this must be.
____
leah-browning-flash-flash-click-3558487
Leah Browning is the author of three short nonfiction books and four chapbooks.  Her fiction and poetry have recently appeared in Chagrin River Review, Fiction Southeast, Mud Season Review, Glassworks Magazine, and with audio and video recordings in The Poetry Storehouse.

Prison Area — by Melanie Dunbar

The lake is the color of the bottle of cheap white I slept with last night. I have someone else’s flannel on, buttoned up. I thought you’d be here, where white feathers litter the beach. Maybe I’ll thumb a ride and head east, away from the lake. Work in an orchard packing apples with a fake name like Kitty or Cat, where you can’t find me. When the wind untucks my shirt, I’ll hear you sing Sinatra. The water is clear and as it rises up it shimmers, until the waves crash on the pier.

____

Melanie DunbarMelanie Dunbar tends flowers for a living. She writes her best poetry while weeding someone else’s garden. Her poems can be found in Sweet: A Literary Confection, Gargoyle and elsewhere. She lives in Southwest Michigan with her family and their rooster, Mr. Beautiful.

The Challenger Disaster — by Hope Jordan

I kissed you at a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre party. Years later I watched a documentary about the actual massacre and it seemed like a gruesome inspiration for a party theme. Back in 1929 Al Capone’s gangsters murdered seven others in Chicago; historians said that never before had Americans seen photos with so much blood, in the newspaper.

The party was in a frat house basement. Girls wore flapper dresses and red lipstick; brothers carried toy machine guns and wore sunglasses and dark suits. We were crowded into a room with a bar and pool table. A few steps led into the next room. I was in that doorway going up and you were coming down. Because of the steps your mouth was eye level so I kissed you, not hard, no tongue, just a warm friendly kiss for no reason I’ve ever known.

Maybe because you were tall and thin and had Jim Morrison late-60s hair. Maybe because you stood leaning slightly back, hips thrust forward, so that my roommate nicknamed you “DF” for “dick first.” Years later I came across a New York Times interview with a model who described that exact stance, used by the men who pose for the covers of romance novels. It flattens the stomach and sends a viewer’s eyes to the crotch.

I was drunk enough to kiss you but sober enough to wonder what I’d done. When it happened neither of us said anything. I kept going up the stairs. Later, waiting your turn to play pool, you swaggered over and said, you kissed me. It was true but I didn’t know what else to say. I was afraid you would tell me I ruined your chances with some other girl. Instead you asked me to help out behind the bar.

Weeks before this the space shuttle Challenger had exploded. Then, too, seven people had died, but they were astronauts, not gangsters, and they weren’t executed; nobody saw their blood. Over and over we had seen television images of the smiling teacher astronaut, of her small students crying as they scanned the zigzag sky.

At the Massacre party people walked around aiming plastic guns and telling Challenger jokes. What did Christa McAuliffe tell her husband? You feed the dog, I’ll feed the fish. It bothered me that nobody seemed able to pronounce her last name.

Beside you I poured beers from the tap and handed them to the crowd. It felt like digging a ditch or dancing, a conjoined intensity of rhythm. A bottle broke and you cut your hand picking it up. I helped you wrap it in a filthy rag I found beneath a shelf.

Later in your apartment I took off my clothes. You laughed; it hadn’t occurred to me that waffleweave long johns are not what a woman wears to seduce a man. Years later I saw Marla Maples guest star in a sitcom scene, après-ski, wearing thermals and looking stunning. I wondered then if maybe you hadn’t been mocking me after all.

You wore cologne, some alien scent monstrously more delicious than the English Leather of my father or the Brut of my high school boyfriends. Your body was pale and muscled and smooth as an ancient statue. You put on a condom before we fucked. You put your finger up my ass. This was the first time someone had done this. I did it back, assuming you expected it. Years later I wondered if that surprised you even more than my kiss.

When I woke up in your bed my legs were covered in streaks of blood. I was hungover and afraid. Then I realized the blood was yours, from the cut on your hand. It was a map of where we’d touched in the night, contrails left behind by your travels on my skin.
____

hjheadshot15Hope Jordan’s short story, “I Can Shoot Razors From My Eyes,” appeared in the anthology Scream When You Burn. Her poetry chapbook, The Day She Decided to Feed Crows, is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. She was the first official poetry slam master in New Hampshire.

O-Rings and Aqua Lube — by Cynthia Romanowski

If it’s summer your pool man will probably wake up when it’s still dark outside but maybe he won’t wake up until noon. Maybe he’ll be hung over. Maybe he’ll drive to Huntington and surf before his first stop or drop his kids off at school or smoke a bowl, but he will never do all three.

His first stop might be a nightmare or it might be easy, it depends on the weather. If it’s been windy it will take him twice as long and he’ll have to bring a leaf trap. If there’s a heat wave he’ll double-up on chlorine and algae kill. If it’s a Santa Ana wind and a heat wave? Well then he’s just screwed, but if it’s raining he won’t work at all.

To check the chems he might bring out a kit with test tubes. He’ll fill the tubes with water before squeezing exactly five drops of test solution into each one. Or he might wing it and squirt the stuff directly into the pool, watching how the drops change color as they hit the water. If he’s been cleaning your pool for decades he might not test the chems at all and just guess, but don’t worry he’s always right.

*

On his truck, your pool man might have a hitch with a cart on it or he might rough it, skip the cart and carry everything himself like he’s got something to prove.

He might drive an old truck with a crew cab or a brand new long-bed that he can’t afford. He might even drive an El Camino. If not these, then he will drive a white van with no windows that creeps out your neighbors.

While he cleans your pool he might listen to Pandora or the Dodger game or an audio book or he might not listen to anything besides the swift splashes and trickles as he moves his net through the water.

He will probably have to go to the pool store for more chems or maybe some equipment. At the pool store he’ll hear the same conversation over and over:

How’s it going? 

Just trying to clean these fucking pools man

These words will bring him comfort, because for a brief moment they’ll make him feel like he’s part of something, before gets back on the road, alone.

*

You don’t realize how dangerous your pool is but your pool man does. He knows that drowning is the leading cause of death of children under age five in the state of California. If your pool light has water in it, he knows to shut off the breaker, so you don’t jump in and die from electrocution in your own backyard.

He has scooped up all of the following from the bottom of pools: forty-three different varieties of leaves, pinecones, broken toys, sand, used condoms, children’s poop, drowned rats, branches, thick nests of human hair, bees, wasps, beetles, patio furniture and a dead dog.

*

Your pool man uses words like diatomaceous and alkalinity. And he also uses words that sound strangely sexual like o-ring and Aqua Lube and nipple job.

He knows how long to hold his breath when pouring muriatic acid so that the fumes don’t burn his lungs. He will have learned this the hard way. He will have felt the instant burn in his throat and nostrils and eyes and the quick panic that comes with it.

After work, your pool man might head out to surf again or he might go to a bar and watch the game. Or pick up his kids. Or, if he’s still young and hopeful, then he might have to rush to get to class on time.

Your pool man might dream about retiring or finishing school or impregnating his wife or getting divorced or saving enough for his daughter’s college.

Your pool man might also be a pool woman but that is highly unlikely.

*

When he gets home your pool man will smell like chlorine and B.O. with faint notes of sunscreen and ball sweat. He might also smell like: cigarettes, beer, Aqua Velva, vanilla pine tree air freshener, or Old Spice. His wife will hate the smell of chlorine but his children won’t. Even as adults it will always remind them of home and childhood and summer’s spent jumping in and out of dad’s truck, helping him for $1 per pool.

*

There are times when your pool man contemplates the inconsequential nature of his life. How he’s spent day after day, year after year, picking debris out of water knowing full-well that the wind will blow and undo an hours worth of work in a matter of seconds. He wonders if this is the way life was meant to be lived or whether he should have wanted something more. Other times he feels comforted by the same simplicity.

Sometimes you wonder what it would be like: to turn off the screen and dismantle your cubicle, to use your hands and body, to welcome the mindlessness and revel in the repetition. To simplify.

Then you get back to work.

_____
cynthia
Cynthia Romanowski is just another asshole with an MFA. Her monthly book column Shelf Awareness can be found in Coast Magazine and she blogs irregularly at Bildungsroman-owski. She’s been working on a collection of linked short stories called “The Habitual Position Of Being Okay” for longer than she’d like to admit.

The Rock Star Fills in the Blank — by Erin Lyndal Martin

The rock star opens his mouth and you tumble out, with the dead-leaves scent of your hair I remember. When I met you, I had reasons for thinking you were dirty. Not that you were sketchy or lascivious. It just hadn’t occurred to you to wash.

The rock star is screaming now. He’s all vowels.

The rock star is from El Paso and I bet you’ve been there too. Before I met you, driving an old white Jeep, installing cable.  Buying screw-top wine to drink in hotel rooms, watching infomercials in the dark.  What I can’t remember about you I invent, like how you did your laundry when you were on the road. Probably you found a laundromat, but I imagine you stopped strangers at gas stations and asked to use their machines.

The rock star opens his mouth and I think of music festivals. You have been to many and I can’t picture that, what with your love of outerwear. I think you stand there listening to music all day and then write postcards that do not mention the festival at all.

You used to play the rock star’s albums while you watched movies with the sound off. Usually they were movies made by this 1970’s softcore director you loved. Boobs kept falling out of nurses’ uniforms beneath fierce drumming. I can’t tell what the rock star is singing about, but it’s probably lobotomies or electroshock therapy. He barely knits his eyebrows when he sings.

Ever since the second chorus last night, I knew I was alone no matter what. Real alone, lightning in my bones alone, straining in the crowd at the Statue of Liberty alone. It wasn’t pain that made me whimper under you but it wasn’t desire either.

The rock star invites us to a party and mixes me a drink. When he hands me the glass, I see that he has an evil eye tattoo inside his left wrist. It’s blue-black like certain kinds of wasps. The ice in the glass is melting faster than I think it should. I don’t know if I want to drink the bourbon anymore.

You and I find a little dark room with a couch. It’s probably meant for making out or at least smoking up but you don’t even hold my hand. Embedded in the wall is one of those fake fish tanks. It’s the only light in the room.

The party gets lame. The rock star says we’re leaving. The rock star asks you to stop the car so we can get out and take a picture of the sky. The ground cover is lurid like bad landscape art. I’m thinking about star clusters and then I’m alone by the side of the road.

The rock star comes back for me. He has you tied up in the trunk. We demolish you in the desert, and then the rock star drives us away in your car.

______

olbrich-003
Erin Lyndal Martin is a poet, fiction writer, music journalist, and visual artist. Her flash fiction has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Literary Orphans, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. She’s on twitter.

Whirl — by Hazel Kight Witham

If you were there you would know why it made sense, those yards of fake golf grass and underwater cameras and assorted felt squares and paisley tissue paper and all the items that added up to a whirlwind Pic-N-Save shopping spree with my new best friend Alice who helped shoulder the plastic bags until we found the squirrel, or maybe a skunk, silenced by some car, its puff of a tail lilting in the humid heavy of a September that shouldn’t have been, a small tail-tufted shard of universe that was no longer with us and whose body I had to swaddle in Pic-N-Save paisley before sliding my hands under still-warmth as fat rain fell like intention on the side of the road where the life had left, fat rain on my cheeks, benediction to a girl who was suddenly wrestling with religion and the cosmos for the first time at nineteen, cruising around the campus of a college that wasn’t hers when she should have been sorting course offerings a few hours north at the college that was, that she poured everything into making hers, and which she had now fled to land me here, at my old friend’s college that decidedly, with all the slant looks and raised eyebrows, was not mine, even though everything—everything—all of it—finally—again  seemed to be mine,  after  such  a                 long         endless          brutal      time

of

 

nothing.

_____

Hazel WithamHazel Kight Witham’s work can be found in Bellevue Literary ReviewTwo Hawks Quarterly and soon Rising Phoenix Review. Her middle grade memoir-in-verse, The Thing About Secrets, about the day everyone found out her mom was gay, is out on submission. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.