And Then She is a Witch by Ellen Rhudy

Clarice wakes on blankets wet with her own secretions, damp with sour milk. “You know how you find a witch?” Sam asks as he strips their bed, Clarice watching from the corner. “You light a fire beneath her feet, and if she laughs instead of screaming, then she is a witch.” In the shower she presses liquid from the bee stung lump on her stomach, until the water cools and then shocks. But still there’s more to come, her body an endless fount of milk, and when she returns to the bedroom she can find the damp outlines of her body beneath the fresh sheets.

“They would have drowned you, once, for having that,” Sam says after scheduling her dermatologist appointment. That night he lowers his face to her stomach and suckles until he is stretched full of her. Once, Clarice thinks, she would have woken to a cat or a dog, a bat, latched to her; now, there’s only this man who holds her hand as the dermatologist explains it’s a supernumerary nipple, nothing odd, Ryan Reynolds has one, he usually wouldn’t remove them but since it bothers her—he numbs Clarice’s skin, and slices the nipple free with a blade flexed between thumb and forefinger.

“You know how you find a witch?” Sam asks the next morning as he changes Clarice’s pinkened, rusty gauze. “You dunk her in the water, and if she drips free with a smile instead of drowning, then she is a witch.” Clarice looks at a smudge, a potential cobweb, near the ceiling, because she cannot look at her stomach. She feels there is a thread latched to her wound, and if Sam finds that thread he will tug all of her out, inch by inch, until she is a heaped coil on the floor. He pats her thigh when the fresh gauze is taped. “Maybe tomorrow you can shower.”

In her dreams, her body remains complete. A child milks from her, grows larger and larger until she looks so much like Clarice herself that when she grips the girl’s arm Clarice is startled by the lack of her ghostly hand’s pressure on her own skin. Her wound will not heal, it weeps continuously and begins to smell rank, to smell like a dead thing. Sam drives her back to the dermatologist, who refers them to a plastic surgeon. “Maybe there’s a reason,” the doctor says, “I don’t normally remove these.” Clarice holds a hand on her stomach at all times and strangers, who do not realize she is trying to contain her body in itself, ask when she is due.

The plastic surgeon offers discounted supplementals—“while I’m in there anyway,” he says. A tummy tuck, a breast lift. “No thank you,” says Clarice, still waking fearful that her entire body will be encased in gauze, that she will have been made a thing unknown to herself. But there is only Sam, a clean bandage on her stomach. “Did you know,” Sam says, “that if you force a woman apart from her faithful black cat, and if she is rent with emotion rather than going to the barn to find another, then she is a witch.”

“When did you stop speaking like a person?” Clarice asks, but she still holds his hand. She does not wake him that night when a frog comes to her and pads down her thigh, or the next night when a black cat kneads at her heel. Clarice is in and outside her body in one moment, she feels every part of her self but cannot locate her presence in physical space—as if she is everywhere, and nowhere, at once. The plastic surgeon is pleased with her healing, her stomach swells, she feels Sam watching her closer and closer, she closes her eyes when he lays his hands on her. One day she is searching for a pebble in her shoe and finds instead a familiar damp soaking her sock. A slight, sour release when she presses the lump nestling into her arch.

Their daughter is born that July, a girl who looks so much like Clarice as a baby that she might have borne herself. At night she cries until Clarice relents and carries her back to bed, where Sam pretends to sleep and no more toads pay their silent visits.

“You know how you find a witch?” Sam asks. “You watch her at night, for who comes to her and lays close to her body—and depending on what you find, she is a witch.” Clarice wonders who he might have been in a different age—this man with his pocked cheeks and scratching beard, always inspecting their sheets. “So,” he says, “what do you say?” Their daughter suckling at her sole, Clarice reads Sam’s eyes on her and waits for him to speak her name.


Ellen Rhudy lives in Philadelphia, where she works as an instructional designer. Her fiction has recently appeared in Split Lip and Gigantic Sequins, and is forthcoming in Story, Cream City Review, and Pithead Chapel. Her story “A Writer’s Guide to Fairy Tales” will be included in The Best Small Fictions 2020. She joined Ohio State’s MFA program in the fall, and you can find her at, or on twitter @EllenRhudy. 

Bath by Gretchen Rockwell

There is something about the final rising
into the sweet hanging air, whole body
perfumed and heavy, that I appreciate.
I imagine it’s how the frilled shark feels
as it trawls its way through the bathypelagic
zone with its green-lit eyes and feathery teeth.
I once called the frilled shark cute to a friend
and she told me that in fact, it was terrifying,
but she was glad I loved it because everything
needs to be loved: the frilled shark and its prey,
the scientists who gave the midnight zone its name,
the person who made my bath bomb. Even my body
as I dredge it up from the shallow depths of my bathtub,
the scent it now carries as I move through the dark.


Gretchen Rockwell is a queer poet currently living in Pennsylvania. Xe is the author of the microchapbooks, love songs for godzilla (Kissing Dynamite) and Thanatology (Ghost City Press), and xer work has appeared in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Poet Lore, FOLIO, FreezeRay Poetry, Moonchild Magazine, and elsewhere. Gretchen enjoys writing poetry about gender and sexuality, history, myth, science, space, and unusual connections – find xer at or on Twitter at @daft_rockwell.

Fireflies by Ron Burch

At night when she exhales, fireflies burst forth, yellow fireworks against the nighted sky. She covers her mouth, surprised, terrified, a tear and trip of emotions, as one more flits forward, hovering in front of her eyes until it sweeps away.

From the house, her husband calls her name. She doesn’t want to answer. Things haven’t been easy. They have nothing, jobs, a breath gone, him, a trigger of frustration and loss.

At first, she was afraid of them. Of what they were, of where they came, of what they might mean. She didn’t know why it was happening, didn’t want to waste money on a doctor who might not be able to tell her anything at all. Even worse, might want to run more expensive tests. Like her friend Diane who got cancer and lost her house. There’s no mercy in this world. Online, she’d read about weird stuff like this. She searches the internet while he naps on the green couch, across the large-screen tv a black and white line of monstrous bugs crawls through the desert. She finds nothing.

During the day, when she breathes, it’s normal although, after it had first begun, she feared every exhale. She took measured breaths in an attempt to control them; it changed nothing. When it gets dark, the fireflies leave from her, staggered times, sometimes one, sometimes many, often none at all. She sits in the dark of the back yard, her husband inside, months of staring lifelessly at the tv. They have no children. She feels it and opens her mouth, a yellow flash shooting out. He bellows. She shrinks back, ignoring it. Later, she tells him she’d fallen asleep in the moonlight.

She begins to anticipate it, impatient for the night, the day a wall to climb. While she sits in the backyard, the moon a curved stick, a pale remnant, she waits, away from a weak yellow bulb burning a hole in the space around the back deck, thinking of them, begging them to fly. One by one they flutter out, brushing the night.

When she creeps late into the house, the tv a commercial, her husband, a snore. She goes to bed and sleeps dreamless sleep and wakes up, already anticipating that evening. Her husband doesn’t pay attention, his face obscured behind his dirtied coffee cup, lost in his own bad dreams.  Never does he ask about the burgeoning nights that she doesn’t return.

The crickets swell in the full light of the moon while she hides in the back of the yard, lost in the trees at the edge. Her fireflies sail through the sky, twinkling like steampunk ships. Tonight, she can’t seem to stop them: a consistent flow that fills their back yard. She hears something clank and sits up, unsure of what it is, probably their widower neighbor tinkering in his garage. She leans back and another firefly appears. Her husband walks up behind her, both of them watching the firefly linger on her lips before it joins its companions.

This is her gift. Hers alone. She doesn’t want to share it with anyone. She never wants it taken away.

“I saw the yard,” he says, “it’s lit up like at summer. Like when we were kids.”

She nods and another firefly slips its head from between her lips, leaping into the air. She watches her husband as he watches it. He sinks down beside her, into the grass, the blades wetting his legs.

He looks at her and she smiles. He places his head on her knee, gazing up. His face, younger in the dark, like when they’d met almost ten years ago, a kid again watching the stars. The fireflies burst forth, a sparkler so bright they both have to close their eyes.


Ron Burch’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including South Dakota Review, Fiction International, and Mississippi Review, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His novel, Bliss Inc., was published by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles. 

one day when I become a museum by Juliana Chang

one day when I become a museum
little girls are gonna walk by
my mouth
and point with two hands.

they’ll tug on their mothers’ shirts
and ask
what’s that tongue
sitting all pretty like that for
and what’s that thing that swings
like cold honey
and is that the whole sun I see in there
and isn’t that where the water wants to go—

how come we let it be
just there
like that?


Juliana Chang is a Taiwanese American poet. She is the 2019 recipient of the Urmy/Hardy Poetry Prize, the 2017 recipient of the Wiley Birkhofer Poetry Prize, and a 2015 Scholastic Art & Writing Gold Medalist in Poetry. She received a BA in Linguistics and a MA in Sociology from Stanford University in 2019.

Whale Watch by Gabrielle Griffis

Theo didn’t want to be baptized. First, the baptistry was gross. Second, the pastor made her feel creepy. Third, she didn’t believe in Jesus.

Her parents sent her to boarding school after her Sunday school teacher found her making out with Gina in the church library. Theo regretted the loss of their love notes, which included a lot of suggestive stick drawings.

From there, it was a downward spiral. First, the school was boring. Second, everyone was noticeably miserable. Third, she set her agenda on fire in the school bathroom. Citing her potentially violent tendencies, they revoked her dissection privileges, which was fine by her, because she wasn’t interested in cutting up dead squids anyway.

Her earth science teacher tried to get her excited about whales, by inviting her on a whale watch.

Theo’s parents wanted her to become some kind of missionary evangelist, spreading the gospel to less-fortunate nations. Theo read about colonialism that included pictures of forced labor and threw up in her hand. She didn’t want to be a missionary. She was prone to vomiting and didn’t know why.

On the day of the whale watch Theo listened to a CD Gina gave her. On the bus, she drew a picture of herself as a monster. In the drawing, she had thick tusks, big eyes, a lot of teeth, and drool. She figured it’s what her parents thought she looked like.

She got sunburnt on the boat.

One layer of sunscreen wasn’t enough for a couple hours on the open ocean. One of Theo’s classmates with hair down to her butt stood at the front of the bow. Her hair whipped into Theo’s face when she tried to get a better look at a humpback breaching in the distance. Theo tried to enjoy the experience, but it was hard with an odd chick’s ponytail in her mouth.

The whale spewed hot air and mucus from its blowhole. Her teacher said whales were like humans because their respiratory system’s had a larynx, pharynx, trachea, and lungs.

A pod of mottled dolphins swam beneath the surface.

That night, Theo lay alone in her dorm room. The bed rocked like a boat. Theo enjoyed the sensation. It was the most pleasant thing she’d felt in a while. It made her think magic was possible.

Spring air blew through her window screen. She could hear peepers and insects being electrocuted by floodlights.

Theo kept thinking about that baptistry. She wondered how they cleaned it. The grimy white tiles and dust. It was weirdly large, like a mini-swimming pool behind the choir. People probably contracted meningitis from giving themselves to the Lord.

At church, Theo mouthed the words to a hymn. Her voice seemed to have choked at some point, but she didn’t know where or when. On some level, she didn’t really care.

On Friday, her earth science teacher asked her to stay after class.

“I have a surprise for you”, he said, lifting the cover off a dead squid. Theo frowned.

“I thought you’d like to dissect your own,” he offered.

“Yeah, I really don’t,” Theo replied, repressing the urge to vomit. “Where do you even get these?” She asked.

“Mostly the wild,” he shrugged.

“Well that’s awful,” Theo replied. She was afraid of the wild. She was afraid of blood, and needles, and feelings. Her emotions hid in church libraries, folded notes, and dark corners.

She felt obligated, and sat at the lab table, donning an apron and latex gloves. A fishy pickled odor emanated from the body. The squid’s tentacles and suckers looked incredibly sad lying limp on the metal tray.

Her hands shook as she pressed the knife into the squid’s soft gelatinous body. She apologized to the squid for its life being wasted on her education.

The squid jiggled beneath the knife as she moved its sallow pink skin aside. Theo held her breath as she cut. She referred to the dissection diagram. Siphon. Ink sac. Ctenidium. The lab room was very quiet.

“How do you feel?” Her science teacher asked, smiling as she looked up from the dissection tray.

He looked genuinely eager to know. She felt genuinely eager to leave. She felt anxious, but she always felt anxious. Sad. Lost. Empty.

Now she was filled with this. This squid-guts experience, and the bizarre part was it was sanctioned as perfectly normal.

“Great,” Theo said, flashing a fake smile.

She went to the school library and checked out an art book. She drew herself as a pagan wearing a floral crown. She thought about the baptistry, how steam rises off wet fields in the morning. She missed Gina. It started raining outside. Fat silver raindrops burst on the rooftop. She put her headphones on to drown out the hymns in her head. She preferred not to be filled with the holy spirit. The only thing her parents focused on was God, so she didn’t know how to focus. Her feelings were pink ephemeral clouds. They dissipated and died. She was outer space. Cold.


Gabrielle Griffis is a mutli-media artist, writer, and musician. She studied creative writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she has also worked for the Juniper Writing Institute. Her fiction has been published in or is forthcoming from XRAY Literary Magazine, Necessary Fiction, Gone Lawn, Cease, Cows, decomP, Bending Genres, and elsewhere. She works as a librarian on Cape Cod. You can visit her website at

Weeds by Ivana Gatica

I felt you in my skin long after you left.
Under the dermis,
hair follicles growing out of me —

Thick and stuck just before reaching the surface.
I tried to itch you out of me.
Scratch you raw.
Pull you out with pincers.

The skin is the largest organ in the body.
You grew all over mine like a weed, a rash of
Stinging nettle,

I prayed you would bloom from within me in
soft petals and leaves
that I could cultivate come Spring.


Ivana Gatica is a Mexican-born, Chicago-based writer and a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work has earned an honorable mention on Glimmer Train and has been published in the print and online issues of Fifth Wednesday Journal.

When Your Mother is a Mermaid by Candace Hartsuyker

When your mother is a mermaid, no one except you gets to see her before the show starts, poised on a fake rock, tail curled in a spiral behind her, arms above her head and pressed against her ears, ready to dive in. There are four mermaids, but your mother has the most experience. This gives her a special privilege: she has a show where she performs by herself.

Before the show, your mother applies waterproof mascara to her eyelashes. In the mirror, she blinks rapidly, purses her mouth like a fish. You love your mother’s shell bra, the turquoise color. But it’s the tail you love the most, its luminescence, glowing sea glass green. You watch your mother pull on her heavy sequined tail, twisting her hips and peeling it upward. You have a ritual before every show, a way of wishing your mother good luck. You rub the scales on her tail with your hand, gently. It makes you feel brave to do this, like the time your mom took you with her to her boyfriend’s house and he let you hold his pet. The corn snake zigzagged up your arm, pink tongue flicking, body heavy and warm against your skin.

The audience waits. All they see is the large glass window of the aquarium reflecting darkness. Then, the lights above are turned on. During the show, your mother swims past leopard sharks, sea turtles and angelfish. Her body twists next to coral and seaweed and her tail skims the shells on the sandy ocean floor. Your mother is more graceful than a dolphin. She dips and twirls, flips and pivots. She’s not a mother now but a real mermaid. Her long hair billows. The mermaid cups her hands, delighting in the pebbles she picks up from the bottom of the sea.

You love the looks of admiration the audience gives your mother: the oohs and aahs. The flashes from their cellphones or handheld cameras, the jostling of bodies, mothers plucking children out of strollers and holding them to their chest so they can have a better view.

Your mother surfaces. Water beads her bare swimmer arms. Then she plunges down, tail slapping the water. And even though you know how the show ends, there’s always a moment when you panic. Watching silvery bubbles stream from your mother’s mouth, you leave a small, smeary handprint against the glass as a sign for your mother, to let her know she’s been down there long enough, that it’s time to return to the surface.


Candace Hartsuyker has an M.F.A in Creative Writing from McNeese State University and reads for PANK. She has been published in Cotton Xenomorph, Heavy Feather Review, The Hunger, Maudlin House, and elsewhere.

inarticulate by Angelina Martin

what a deep dumb hell it is to be
subjected to the storm of myself
violently flung about
by malicious memory
nearly drowned by my own
to crawl my way to the border of the surface
to gasp for air and cry for relief
that I did not receive the death I begged for
and when I try to warn
the clueless shore huggers
of the treacherous depths of pain
lurking in the vast wet dark
all that comes out
of my reckless child mouth is:
            “WATCH OUT! BIG ROCK!”


Angelina Martin is a writer, comedian, artist, waitress, and jock based in Austin, Texas. She has previously been published in Inconnu Magazine, Sea Foam Mag, and Be About It Press, as well as in the book Anthology: The Ojai Playwrights Conference Youth Workshop 2006-2016. Her stand up and poetry both repeatedly touch on themes of sexuality, loneliness, and the lifelong process of healing from trauma. Find her on Twitter at @AngelinaJMartin.

Nursing by Gary Fincke

After our father left, my mother decided to become a nurse. She’d always taken care of him, she said, but now he was gone. She’d loved having babies to tend to, but now my sister was four, I was six, and my brother was eight, all of us old enough to manage a few hours a day with our unmarried aunt. “Harry was a faithless prick,” our mother said to her on the phone, her back to us as if that set her voice on mute. When she turned around, she smiled and said, “Now we’re getting educated and starting over.”

Our mother came home with thick books and samples of the things we’d seen at the doctor’s. She measured our height and weight. She took our temperatures. She wrapped a cuff around our arms and read the numbers for our blood pressure. While she listened to our hearts and lungs with a stethoscope, she said good or excellent or perfect.

She brought home a book called Human Anatomy. It was big and full of pictures like ones we had in our rooms, but my brother said there wasn’t a story. “Oh yes, there is,” our mother said. “Let me tell you.” She told us to lie down and be still so she could identify all the body parts. It sounded easy—arms and legs and knees and all the rest, but instead she named the bones—tibia and fibula, ulna and radius—while she tickled us and recited.

“There are more characters,” she said, and she started on all the places inside us, the things we had to imagine—kidneys, liver, stomach, lungs.  She poked us softly as she found the spots, but my brother said, “Stop” and walked away.

She located the parts of my sister and me I’d never heard of—pancreas, gall bladder, diaphragm. She turned pages to show us the pictures in her book, but my sister had already begun to play with her dolls. “You’re so sweet,” she said to me each time she turned a page.

I was the only one who learned where my thyroid was and what it looked like. I was the only one who could put my hand over where my appendix was and know that a doctor could remove it someday, and I’d never miss it because it didn’t do anything anymore except get infected and make you sick. “Vestigial,” mother said. “No longer with a function.”

“Enough anatomy,” she said one evening. “I need to practice the things I’ll be doing soon. Who wants to let me get an IV started?”

Nobody, not even me, wanted to be stabbed by a needle. “We’re not cars,” my brother said when she asked again. “We don’t need a fill-up.”  My sister began to cry.

“It’s just a prick,” she said, but we all shook our heads. “It’s just a tiny prick and a slow drip. Before long, you’ll forget it’s there.”

I said, “None of us are hospital sick, but there’s a patient in my closet.”

“Pretend isn’t the same as real,” our mother said, but she waited until I came back with the Barbie our father had sent for my seventh birthday, the limited-edition rubber one our mother had laid on her bed before saying, “It looks like you know who.”

“Make her have something wrong inside her where nobody can see,” I said.

“Her esophagus,” our mother said at once, and pointed. “She’s so skinny because she can’t swallow her food.” She sucked up water in her eyedropper and tried to get the doll to drink, but Barbie drooled and slobbered all over herself. “See?” our mother said.  

All three of us got in close to watch. Barbie didn’t even move as the needle pushed into her hand. “This is just to get things started,” our mother said. “To keep her hydrated until I learn how to do a feeding tube.”

“Poor Barbie,” my sister said, but now our mother was smiling. She said she could learn everything else without us. That things were more complicated than names. What Barbie needed was a surgeon, someone she would be able to help when she learned enough to be a real nurse and she could hand the doctor the proper knives.


Gary Fincke’s latest collection is The Sorrows (Stephen F. Austin, 2020). His story “The Corridors of Longing” will appear in Best Small Fictions 2020. An essay “After the Three-Moon Era” has been selected to appear in Best American Essays 2020. He is co-editor of the international anthology series Best Microfiction.