Whale Fall by Bex Hainsworth

Pale jawbones form an archway,
ribs reach into a vaulted ceiling.

No stained glass or frescoes,
only a shattered spinal mosaic:

this is a simple temple
for pilgrims to receive bounty.

Crabs creep from sandy cloisters
to share in the sacrament,

a communion with hammerheads
who tear fraying white flesh

from the chalice of a skull.
They are joined by anglerfish

who carry their candles in the dark:
a vigil for the whale-prophet.

She sank through the centuries
after the hour of her death

to become food-dust in the deep.
This is her afterlife.

Yellow moss clings to the crypt of tail
and squat pectoral fin bones, relics,

headstones, settle with fossil debris
in the sea’s vast graveyard.

No choir can be heard in the abyss,
only the silent echoes of humpback hymns.

Eels congregate in empty sockets
and all souls gather for the feast.

 

Bex Hainsworth is a poet and teacher based in Leicester, UK. She won the Collection HQ Prize as part of the East Riding Festival of Words, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Visual Verse, Neologism, Atrium, Paddler Press, Canary, and Brave Voices Magazine. Find her on Twitter @PoetBex.

Betty by Didi Wood

They probably didn’t say why they were hiring but the girl who was here before you died, she died here at work, right in the breakroom, but nobody talks about it. Don’t say I told you. Don’t say anything.

Here’s a uniform. I think it was Lexie’s. She’s not here anymore, either. Obviously. If it doesn’t fit, you can try this one—it was Molly’s. That’s just a stain, sometimes they don’t come out but it’s clean, I promise. You can pin a nametag over that.

Pick one of these—do you want Hailey? Ginny? Emily? It’ll be a while before yours comes. I guess there’s a problem with the supplier or something.

Oh, my god, you really thought my name was Betty? That’s so funny! It must be left over from the 1950s, it’s so retro, right? No, I’m not going to tell you my real name—you have to guess! Here are some more nametags for you—Tammy? Libby? Ashley? No?

You’ll need to pull back your hair super tight—see mine? Just like that. Nothing escaping or you’ll get written up. I did ballet for nine years, that’s why I’m so good at it. You can use gel or spray to keep the wispy pieces in place. Make sure you take it down when you get home, though, or you’ll get traction alopecia. This one girl I knew, Sophie, she lost all the hair in front, her hairline started way back here, at the top of her head, and she had all these sores and infections where it used to be. I think she died.

Not from that, probably. I don’t think so.

Don’t worry about the smell—it’s part of the process, off-gassing or emissions or something, it’s not toxic or anything. It says so in the handbook. You won’t even notice after a while. Which is good because it’s a lot stronger in there. You’ll see.

This is your timecard. When it’s time for your shift, just stick it in here, like this—hear the sound, that little punch?—and then put it back on the rack. Try to put it in the same place every time so you can find it fast, in case you’re running late or something. But don’t be late, okay? Don’t. Here, we’ll put it—wait, let me pull some of the old ones, these girls aren’t here anymore. Abby, Chloe, Lucy… Annie? Wow, she—I—

No, I’m fine, I’m fine. Really. I just get a little, like, Whoa sometimes. Everybody does, it’s all the time on your feet, the blood gets stuck down there and then your brain’s all, Um, help? When it happens, just punch out and take a break. There are chairs in the breakroom, you can sit and put your head between your knees until you feel better. Not more than five minutes, though.

Here’s the breakroom. You don’t punch in for ten minutes so maybe we’ll just hang here and then I’ll show you where the gloves are and we can get started for real. There should be more nametags in this drawer.

Wow, check it out—Trudy! Elsie! These must be ancient. Hey, look, you can be Laurie—like in Halloween? Better start practicing your scream. I’ll just sit for a bit while you decide. Seriously, I’m fine. Maybe I’ll be Laurie next week. No, I told you, you have to guess. Just call me Betty until you guess. Did you pick one yet? Well, keep looking. We’re almost out of time.

 

Didi Wood’s stories have appeared in WigleafSmokeLong QuarterlyJellyfish Review, and elsewhere. Her story “Rattle & Rue,” originally published in Cotton Xenomorph, was chosen for the Wigleaf Top 50 in 2019. You can find her on Twitter @DidiWood and online at www.didiwood.com

Three Digit Numbers by Ross McCleary

Dial:
          101 for Police (Non-emergency)
          111 for NHS (Non-emergency)
          112 for Emergency (EU-wide)
          113 for Emergency Biscuits (Sponsored by Richard Osman)
          123 for the Speaking Clock
          203 if dissatisfied with the status quo
          256 for the Speaking Clock’s disappointed mother
          277 to purchase a book on starting an MLM
          326 for feedback on your CV (Spoiler: it’s not good)
          333 to foment insurrection in the workplace
          360 for an accurate count of the number of breaths you’ve taken since midnight
          431 to speak with someone who can tell you why you dream of owls so often
          434 to overhear people in your office talking about you (Sponsored by Ginsters)
          496 to overthrow the system
          540 to learn what your manager really thinks about you
          559 for a count of the total number of steps you’ve taken since you were born
          599 for feedback on your Poetry (Spoiler: it’s not good)
          615 to be informed about where all the hidden microphones are in your house
          647 to become a departmental informant (Prizes to be won)
          668 to install an interim government
          701 for a new invasive thought to replace the one you’re currently having about how everyone you know is a spy and secretly hates you
          729 for when you regret overthrowing the system
          779 to learn how many hours you’ve spent looking at porn
          800 to electrocute yourself
          819 for when your regret metastases into a deeper malaise
          858 to erase that memory, you know the one
          965 to have someone explain why your feelings of guilt are both valid and selfish
          967 to flee the country
          998 for a therapy appointment to deal with the unplaceable guilt that manifests in its most insidious and unmatchable forms after the clocks go back and the nights draw in like a vampire with its teeth inches from your neck
          999 for Emergency Services
          000 to apologize, profusely, forever, for everything

 

Ross McCleary is from Edinburgh, Scotland. His work has appeared in Structo, Litro, and Extra Teeth. He believes in repetition and Carly Rae Jepsen.

Everything Works Differently in Darkness by Kaj Tanaka

Sometimes when I get sad, I think about how Raven created this world from a pebble for his convenience. He’d been flying through the eternal night carrying a pebble and he needed somewhere to land, so he dropped the pebble into the water and—boom—the world. It doesn’t need to make sense. Everything works differently in darkness.

It’s sort of like: there’s a jacket, okay, and pretty soon someone comes along and picks it up and now there are two people—the original space inside the jacket and the person who came along to notice it. I guess I’m saying even if you seem to be alone, you probably aren’t.

Most of my friends are parasocial friends. By that I mean my friends are social media people who I watch on my phone. I know all kinds of things about them, but they know nothing about me. Like this one woman—she smiles a lot and puts things into her backpack. Or this other couple—they clean up messy houses and talk about movies they have watched together. Or this other person—they go on long and aimless and mostly silent walks through a city on the other side of this planet, a city I will probably never visit.

Raven was hungry—that is Raven’s deal. Raven wanted something to eat, so he dropped a pebble and pretty soon boom he was chilling in a hot tub and the room was filled with casseroles and eclairs—AKA the world. Raven created the world out of necessity. Lots of people don’t get that creation isn’t about beauty or truth or whatever, it’s about an urgent need to exist.

Recently, my neighborhood experienced a major power outage because the wind has been unusually high this year. When the power goes out, my internet also goes out, my parasocial relationships disappear, and I am thrown into aloneness not unlike the dark Raven flew through before he created the world.

When I get very very sad, I remember the Raven thing is only a story. You can’t drop a pebble and make the world. You can’t call the disembodied space within a jacket a person. And a person you watch on the internet isn’t really your friend. These lies are cousins, which is why I grouped them together here.

I once had a real friend who tried to live only on packets of ramen noodles. She succeeded for a while, but then she ended up with a serious case of the shakes—her entire body, she said, seemed to be trying to vibrate itself into its constituent parts. This happened for seven days. During that time, she disappeared, and when she finally came back she told us she said, “shaking uncontrollably alone in my apartment,” which is what I think about when my power goes out because I have been going through a version of the same thing, maybe for years.

I think: I am shaking myself apart into my constituent parts.

For my friend, her case of the shakes was just the wake-up call she needed, and after that, she went back to eating other foods besides packets of ramen noodles.

During the power outage, there was a knock on my door. I waited in the darkness, listening, and when I pulled back the locks, outside in the night a disembodied space hovered in the hallway outside my apartment, looking at me expectantly.

The emptiness in my hallway resembled somehow the dark space you find inside a jacket. But now, lacking a form to contain it, it spread its wings as far as I could see, swallowing up everything. The disembodied space looked hungry and tired. I opened my mouth, and—boom—the world. I know it doesn’t make sense, but everything works differently in darkness.

It never occurred to me that in this version of the story I might not be Raven, I might be the pebble. Imagine my surprise.

 

Kaj Tanaka’s fiction has appeared in New South, Hobart, The New Ohio Review, and Tin House. His stories have been selected for Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, and Wigleaf’s Top 50. Kaj lives in New Mexico. Find him at kajtanaka.com.

A shortlist of cheeses and wines I would take home for free when I worked in the Specialty Department at Whole Foods by K. Degala-Paraíso

Sancerre: a French wine so light and crisp, it lands somewhere between spring water and God. Small chunks of bougie cheeses, sloppily wrapped in butcher paper: a sliver of Le Fromager, a double-cream brie so clever and smooth, it could seduce the sternest person you know; a corner of Rum Runner from Wisconsin, sticky and sweet and stuffed with crunchy salty bits; fresh, herb-coated capricho de cabra; stinky Camembert; a simple-yet-elegant goat gouda; garlicky Boursin. The parmigiano reggiano crumbles when you slice it, and I abruptly remember how the world crumbles beyond this ranch where we  temporarily live: a pandemic, a coup, videos of anti-Asian hate crimes every morning, a global death count so high it’s almost desensitizing. Almost. And sometimes — sometimes my grief gut-punches me so hard my ribs go numb. Sometimes, my broken hand is in such cheddar-sharp pain, it blinds me. But here, in the tall grass under the apple trees, in the split-second when that orange globe hangs right above the treeline, you’re gently placing a rosemary cracker slathered with brie on your tongue, and you close your eyes before you chew, and I remember how much I love you, and — for just this moment, I believe that everything will be alright.

 

K. Degala-Paraíso (she/they) is a Filipinx-American experimental writer with a B.A. in Creative Writing from Pitzer College. Her work has also appeared in miniskirt magazine and PANK Magazine. She teaches creative writing through GrubStreet. When she’s not writing, you can catch K. wreaking culinary havoc in the kitchen and follow her online at www.kdegalaparaiso.com.