Tennessee Warbler by Emily Banks

The bird is brave to stop
in Atlanta. Her name is Tennessee.

She only wants to taste the big city.
From my balcony, she tries to see

the skyline through the trees,
but it’s so hard to hold her eyes open.

I think she’s dying.
I don’t know whether to give her water

or poke her with a stick.
Sometimes a girl just needs a little rest,

I tell myself. Too pretty—
how her yellow feathers accent neutral tones.

I worry that she ate a poisoned wasp.
If she dies here, it must mean

the worst for me. At a highway rest stop once,
I used a bathroom with the sign “omen.”

I was migrating too. I offer water
in a bottle cap. I tell her she has to fly away,

that if you stay in one place too long
you’ll be taken for dead.

 

Emily Banks lives in Atlanta, where she is a Ph.D. candidate at Emory University. She holds an M.F.A. from the University of Maryland and a B.A. from UNC-Chapel Hill. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals including storySouth, Cimarron Review, Free State Review, Muse/A Journal, and Yemassee.

Song of the Dart Frogs by Diana Clark

Zarina was as gold as the Colombian sun and intended on staying that way. Her body like wax, shining hot beneath the heat. Beetles and ants trembled in her wake, long tongue unsheathed at her command. Princess. Warrior. Black eyes like the moon at totality. The floor of the rainforest damp and sweet beneath her toes.

When it was announced that King Midas was in search of his true love, taken from him by the curse of some Warlock, the amphibians of the forest gathered in panicked whispers. They always think it’s us, one said, black speckled body shimmering with moisture, blue skin sharp against the deep brown of the rainforest’s earth. I am not waiting to be changed. There is no better body to be had. The red-bodied frog with blue limbs raised herself in agreement. I do not want to be handled, she said. I do not want to be kissed by human men.

Zarina sat inside her new flesh. Listened. The most poisonous of all the dart frogs, the Warlock had told her. He had not hesitated when she called for him, came quickly without question to her aid. Your new body will have enough toxins to kill up to twenty men. She had not intended on putting that power to use, planned only to stay deep within the rainforest, surrounded by her new people. But it was time, that much had made itself clear. It was her duty. It was justice. It was the only way she knew how to end it. If and when King Midas arrives, Zarina said, let him think I am his lost lover. I will handle it from there. They argued for a while. Protested. They didn’t want to see Zarina hurt. But she reminded them of her poison, the toxins flowing inside her like small rivers, and so they eventually agreed.

When King Midas came, it was all show. Charm. Thick blonde hair combed back in waves. White pants, white jacket, white cape, white steed: gold harness, gold belt, gold buttons, gold hungry. Zarina felt her tongue curl back inside her throat at the sight of him, felt his open palm cover her once human mouth, his teeth clenched together in anger as he thrust forcefully inside of her, hissing, Be quiet, someone will hear. Zarina’s cries not of pleasure but of pleading, of her wanting him off her, of his refusal. The cold and the dark. The immediate end to everything Zarina thought she knew.

Now, Zarina sat at six centimeters in length. Waited. King Midas noticed her almost immediately, a nugget of gold in the forest. “Zarina?” he asked. He propelled himself off his horse with a flourish so practiced it almost made her laugh. “Zarina my angel, my porcelain dove. What has he done to you? That Warlock. There were rumors, Zarina, horrible rumors in the castle, rumors that you asked for this, rumors that you summoned him. But I told them, I told them my perfect girl wouldn’t do that, not to me.” Then his eyes dripped from panicked to dark, simmering cauldrons beneath the surface. “I told them Zarina knows better, knows what would happen if she ever tried to leave me again.”

King Midas moved forward. Reached down. Pushed Zarina onto his open palm. It took everything in her not to turn away, but she could feel it—sweet, sweet poison, the curdling of her new flesh—knew that she would never find another moment of peace if she didn’t do this now.

Zarina sat, landlocked on his skin, as his lips came crashing into hers. “In order to save you,” he said, and, “You’ll respect me now, won’t you, Zarina?” When his lips pulled away—puckered and chapped—Zarina felt herself smile, could hear only the Warlock’s voice in the back of her head: They will die, those who touch you. They will die in three minutes flat.

Zarina watched, eyes black and unmoving, as the body of King Midas began to tremble, turned cold, dropped Zarina when the shaking became too much. She landed perfectly on padded feet, stayed quiet in the cool earth as King Midas thrashed and kicked, his skin pale then blue then pale again. He reached out to her, fingernails scraping and clawing the dirt, until finally he exhaled one last time. Zarina had been counting: two minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Oh, Warlock, she thought. The only human being I will miss.

Around her, the soft hum of her sisters, the song of the dart frogs. Zarina’s body shimmered. The only gold she ever wanted. The only gold she’d ever need.

 

Diana Clark is an elephant enthusiast and an MFA fiction candidate at UNCW, with a special love for LGBTQIA+ literature, magical realism, and sci-fi. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Crab Fat Magazine, Peach Mag, The Passed Note, Heavy Feather Review, Longleaf Review, and more. In 2015, her piece “Singed” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. You can find her reading about pirates in Wilmington, North Carolina with her cat, Emily D.

Dead Bird by Todd Dillard

You swung the chainsaw through the rosebush,
lopped off its top, and found,
tucked in fang and bramble,
a nest of juniper twigs. Inside it,
I waited, dead since last season,
curled like a dropped dishcloth.

You worried you were a terrible father.
You worried your sunblock-slathered daughter,
splashing at the water table across the yard,
would totter over and thump you
with a question shaped like me.

You worried too, briefly,
if I was a blunt omen
when you didn’t believe in omens.

You placed my nest and I in a grocery bag
as if you’d just come back from the store,
a quick errand to pick up a little death
because you’d run out
and who knows when you’ll need some more
to sprinkle on your pillow or morning cereal?

You knotted the bag,
and gentle as laying a babe in her crib
you placed it in the garbage,
unhitched another worry from your throat.

In the dark I listened to the chainsaw growl.
I imagined you holding it over your head.
I imagined you thinking: I am trying to be a good father,
bringing the chainsaw down.

 

Todd Dillard’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including Crab Creek Review, Longleaf Review, Nimrod, Superstition Review, and The Boiler Journal. He was a finalist for the 2018 Best Small Fictions anthology, and has been nominated for Best of the Net 2018. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter, and can be found on Twitter via @toddedillard.

Big Bad by Mary Hamilton

There’s this wolf outside my house. He’s tearing up trees. Throwing them over his shoulder. Making a mess.

He’s banging on the door. When I don’t answer, he pulls the sidewalk up like it’s tape on a cardboard box. He uses the mailbox post like a toothpick. He’s tearing this house apart piece by piece. From the right angle, it still has the façade of something whole, but there are holes. The roof is collapsing, the stairs are gone, rubble where there used to be flowers, music, a home. And now, I don’t know where I’d even begin rebuilding. My neighbors have all moved away. He ate their roofs, their lawns, their porches. It’s just the two of us now. Me and him.

He’s pressed up against the front door, his tongue licking the lock. I’m pressed up against the other side, holding everything together. I listen to him breathe. Listen to his dripping teeth and gums. The slurping saliva. The wheezing breath. I can smell it. Then he starts the scraping. That one claw at the door. Scraping in the same space over and over. Going deeper. Never speeding up, never slowing down. Just a consistent, slow scrape at the wood between us. I can hear his breath, his hair, his tongue lolling out of his mouth. I manage enough breath to say, “What do you want?”

“I just want you to be okay,” he says, as that one claw breaks through the last of it.

 

Mary Hamilton’s work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and the Indiana Review. She lives in Minnesota.

 

 

Prey by Christine Taylor

He bounds down the back steps:
my dog has caught
the scent of prey.
From under a lawn chair,
a bunny sprints
for her life,
dashes in sharp S-turns to thwart
the husky on her trail.
She reaches the fence
unforgivably low,
and when she can’t slip underneath,
she leaps into the air–
a valiant attempt
to escape
into the rest of her years.

The dog leaps too
catches her struggling body
just as it falls from the apex
of her last grasp at life.
Her bones crunch
between the strength of his jaws,
and he savors every bit of her–
head, belly, limbs.
The ravenous moment passed,
he lies down in the grass
satiated
panting
his head raised to bask in the sun.

I want to say I’m horrified, but
I have, after all, witnessed
the event as a bystander
who hasn’t moved
from her spot
on these steps
who hasn’t rushed to wrest
the dog away
to save
hasn’t at least called out Stop!

I stumble down the steps
fall into one of the Adirondack chairs
watch finches escape the feeder.
Thunder comes to sit
at my feet
a drop of saliva
lands on my shoe,
and I can’t help but pet him
bury my fingers
in that downy sable fur.

 

Christine Taylor, a multiracial English teacher and librarian, resides in her hometown Plainfield, New Jersey. She serves as a reader and contributing editor at OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters. Her work appears in Modern Haiku, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Rumpus, wildness, and The Paterson Literary Review among others. She can be found at christinetayloronline.com.

Plan Exclusion by J. Bradley

The magician died before he could put me back together again and my health insurance wouldn’t cover “acts of god” (their words). The woman skewered with swords who leads our support group reminds us that we should count our blessings, but the boy who lost his nose and index finger disagrees, always.

J. Bradley is a two time winner of Wigleaf‘s Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions. He’s the author of Neil & Other Stories (WhiskeyTit Books, 2018). He lives at http://www.jbradleywrites.com.

+ by Rebecca Kokitus

little symbol, little opposite
of emptiness
the first name you’re given
and the last

little larvae, little tadpole
knocking against the walls
of my bowels

little bee sting, little parasite
suspended in your
bloated blood cave like a bat
—you never blink

foam at the mouth,
spit up rabid water
mourning sickness
I’m mourning you, you sense it

sense the morning
you’ll break like a fever,
nothing but roadkill guts
in my underwear

and I’ll mourn you then, too.

 

Rebecca Kokitus is a part time resident of Media, PA just outside Philadelphia, and a part time resident of a small town in rural Schuylkill County, PA. She is an aspiring poet and is currently an undergraduate in the writing program at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. She has recent work in Moonchild Magazine, Rising Phoenix Review, and Rose Quartz Journal, among other places. She tweets at @rxbxcca_anna.

Madlib by Kim Magowan

Mom, when you were at the FERRIS WHEEL Saturday, Ron BENT the CLOCK, so I couldn’t HICCUP. He put his KNEECAP over my EYEBROW, so I couldn’t even GIGGLE. Then he stuck his ELBOWS inside my EAR. I JUGGLED and JUGGLED. Remember, you asked why my TEETH were so TURQUOISE? I know you MIX Ron is FIZZY, but really, he’s a KANGAROO. Mom, I don’t SNORT you, I know how SUGARY you’ve been, but I fucking CARTWHEEL him. Ron said if I KNITTED you, he would FLY me, and besides, you would never WHISPER me. So, do you SNIFF me?

 

Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award and was published in March 2018. Her novel The Light Source is forthcoming from 7.13 Books in 2019. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Bird’s Thumb, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, Sixfold, and many other journals. She is Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel.

Outline by Darrin Doyle

“Please lie down,” the man said. He gestured at the pale sidewalk pocked with divots.

“What for?” asked the boy. Could he trust this man? This stranger?

“I can’t draw your outline unless you’re on the ground, can I?” The man’s lips smiled. His eyes sparkled.

He was younger than the boy’s father. Better looking, slim and athletic. Carried himself with a bright and bouncy step. Dressed in khaki shorts and a blue shirt the color of the afternoon sky. The boy had been reading on a bench in front of the library, waiting for his father to get out of his doctor’s appointment down the block.

“Jack London,” the man said, nodding at the book. “Man versus nature, am I right?”

The boy closed the book, embarrassed. Reading was his own private experience, and he didn’t like talking about it. Not to anyone, not even his parents.

“Man doesn’t usually come out on top in that battle.” The man threw back his head and gave a robust chuckle, as if he’d made a great joke. His blond hair was as bouncy as his step.

“Like I said,” the man continued, “I’m doing an art project. Kind of an experiment, actually. What kid doesn’t like experiments?”

He set his case on the sidewalk. It looked like a suitcase, rectangular, bound in dark leather the color of a storm cloud. The man unsnapped a button. Kneeling, he spread his wares, revealing an extensive collection of chalk. Each piece was strapped individually to the inside of the case.

“My own personal rainbow,” the man said. “Pretty much every color you can think of.”

The boy’s curiosity was piqued. He’d been warned not to talk to strangers, but this man seemed kind. Other people – families – strolled along the sidewalks on this sunny warm day, peering into shops, licking ice cream cones. The boy felt safe and he was enjoying the attention from the man. He didn’t have any close friends. When your parents were both ill, kids didn’t like to play with you.

“Take one,” the man said. “Whichever one you want, it’s yours.”

The boy selected a piece the color of blood. It was nearly as thick as his wrist and as long as a pencil. “I can have this?”

Seeing the boy admire it, the man said, “You won’t find this at the local art supply store. This is special chalk, the only kind like it in the world.”

“Where did you get it?”

The man’s expression was thoughtful but guarded, as if remembering an event he wasn’t sure he wanted to share. “I’ve had it for a long time, put it that way. Got it when I was around your age.”

The man said they needed to relocate so nobody would step on the boy, or bump him while he was tracing. Around the back of the library the two found a square of pavement close to the dumpsters. From this vantage the boy could no longer see the sidewalk.

“Don’t worry,” the man said, noticing the boy’s concern. “Won’t take long.” He opened his case again and slid on a pair of gloves. “Were you waiting for someone?”

“My dad. He’ll be back soon.”

“He left you at the library?”

“He’s at the doctor’s,” the boy said. “Should I lie down here?”

“Looks like a good spot. Nice and clean.”

“I can’t think of a pose.” The boy was sitting on the pavement, suddenly at a loss, suddenly weighted by the inevitabilities and possibilities of life, which he was only now beginning to recognize.

“When someone walks past your outline, what should people think about? Anything you want to be, we’ll make you come alive.”

“Flying, I guess.”

“Wonderful. A common request.”

The boy lay on his stomach. He extended his hands and tried to imagine he was soaring through the sky. But the ungiving cement, rough against his bare arms, made him terribly aware that he was stuck to the earth.

“You thinking about your dad?”

“I don’t know.”

“He sick?”

For the past few months the father had been having dizzy spells. It was hard for him to take deep breaths. The boy’s mother had an advanced case of M.S. and couldn’t walk or move well. She’d been suffering for years, since the boy could remember. The boy tried not to think about what would happen if he lost his dad.

The man began chalking. The boy could feel the pressure of the man’s hand against his ribs, wiggling back and forth as he drew a thick line. The raw scraping of the chalk sounded small and lonely. The concrete was cool against the boy’s cheek. He imagined the man cutting a hole in the world. The boy would drop through it, leaving a space in the shape of him. He wanted to experience falling. He wanted to be pulled toward something terrible and permanent where bodies didn’t exist. “To Build a Fire” was the story he had just finished. The man froze at the end. It was sad, but everybody dies.

That’s what the boy read.

The man worked without speaking, a steady pace, as if completing the outline was both necessary and urgent. It was a strange and unfamiliar sensation, someone working so diligently for him. It gave the boy a feeling in his stomach he’d never had before. The man progressed around the boy, doing the arms, hands, and head. The boy breathed in the man’s body: rich, salty sweat mixed with the dust of the chalk. Pressed against the pavement, the boy became aroused. Before long the man’s hands were positioned inside the boy’s thighs: back and forth, back and forth, jiggling the boy slightly but persistently. His erection strained. A powerful surge rushed through him. He gasped, feeling his own hot breath as he kissed the pavement.

“All done,” the man said. “Let me help you up.” He extended a hand.

The boy stood on his own. Wetness on his belly. He hoped the man hadn’t seen, didn’t know. The man’s face gave no indication. The boy slid the gifted chalk into his pocket.

The man stepped back a few feet and looked hard at the outline, as if searching deep water for something he was certain lay just beyond his vision. “What do you think?”

The boy was shocked by what he saw: “It’s me.”

The man had used vibrant colors, lines weaving through each other, intertwining in a braid. The effect was of a pulsing energy, like a force field in the boy’s shape. The boy couldn’t believe how big he’d gotten.

A faraway voice called his name. The boy ran to his father without looking back, the blood-red chalk nestled firmly against his thigh.

 

After graduating from Western Michigan University with an MFA in fiction, Darrin Doyle taught English in Japan for a year. He then earned his PhD from the University of Cincinnati. He is the author of the novels Revenge of the Teacher’s Pet: A Love Story and The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo, and the short story collection The Dark Will End the Dark. His short stories have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Blackbird, Harpur Palate, Redivider, BULL, and Puerto del Sol, among others. Currently, Darrin teaches at Central Michigan University and lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan with his wife and two sons.