Hello There, Talk Show Host by Nicholas Grider

One reason we are blessed that Talk Show Host graces us with his slate-blue metallic sheen, the color of a luxury object that has a price but no name, is this: Talk Show Host doesn’t give a shit. Talk show host lets his electric charisma trail behind him on the ground like the filthy wedding dress of an excited bride thrilled to have been jilted, running through gravel streets singing of flames and liberty. And yet here he is, our Talk Show Host, more than willing to waste himself on us, spread thin across the world’s screens, smooth-skinned and often benevolent.

We love Talk Show Host. Talk Show Host doesn’t give a shit.

Or: Talk Show Host might actually give a shit, but how are we to know? Do we know what evils lurk in the small, green heart of Talk Show Host? Perhaps.

It takes more work hours to care for Talk Show Host’s lustrous hair gleaming under benevolent stage lights like an avenging raven or similar dark-hued bird than there are actual feathers on an actual bird bigger than an avenging raven, a bird such as a grudgeless emu.

Talk Show Host stares into the lens and asks if he were to smile a little lopsided and whisper to us that a moth is actually a form of bird, would we maybe give the idea some thought? Baby bird, Talk Show Host whispers, smiling, before slapping his long, powdery hands shut like a cartoon jail door, clap!

Talk Show Host wants you to know that love is a renewable resource but you have to pay for it anyway. Do you nestle your love behind your heart, Talk Show Host would like to know, and if not, what do you nestle behind your heart, and is it warm there, is it a place a nice young Talk Show Host may spend a long weekend tweaking his regimen?

Witness Talk Show Host’s shit-eating grin before the unsuspecting special guest accidentally speaks the secret word. What is the secret word, Talk Show Host? Why is it secret? Is it the key to a hidden door or a building full of hidden doors?

In Missouri there is a museum consisting of doorknobs that are or once were personally important to Talk Show Host. He holds a special ribbon cutting ceremony there in which he slits the ribbon down its spine so that it is thinner and seems delicate but, even still, none may enter, only glimpse or be told about the mysterious treasures of the museum in small-font sections of glossy magazines that want you to know all men probably look perfectly nice in plaid suits, not just talk show hosts and male models nursing sadnesses for so long those sadnesses no longer have a name.

Talk Show Host extends his hand toward the lens because he wants to get to know you better––is it a trap? If it is a trap, is it a good kind of trap, like service-economy capitalism? Will you tell us what good means and what it no longer means if we take you by the hand, Talk Show Host?

The different ways the Talk Show Host can smile number in the thousands and have yet to be comprehensively cataloged.

The set is deserted, the band is quiet, the stage is dark––but here is the Talk Show Host, and he wants to talk to you while your parents are in the other room pointing at translucent documents and bouncing a harsh whisper back and forth between them.

If we cannot trust you, Talk Show Host, whom may we trust? Is belief in Talk Show Host analogous to belief in God as defined by medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides, i.e. “There’s no way of knowing, so just go for it”?

Talk Show Host, what is the difference between belief and trust, and how do you part the two as neatly as your hair is parted on late afternoons five days a week while your lithe yet muscular back is turned away from the approach of night and you eat measured amounts of small, brightly-colored food items while squinting at the new kind of news we have now?

Talk Show Host will save us from the news, and from turning into our parents, and from hidden fees.

Talk Show Host doesn’t give a shit, whistles while he works, invites you to follow him to his cold, clean, many-windowed home where he may or may not massage whichever of your cold joints aches the most before gently laying you on a cold, clean marble slab so you may take a record-setting nap while Talk Show Host departs to wander impossible meadows and say convincing things about strategy to skeptical woodland creatures.

Talk Show Host, where will you go after the hour of saxophones and velvet has arrived and it is time for sleeping and dreaming and the quiet nervous knitting done by the immune systems of quiet, nervous children?

When the lens that loves you waits in the dark for your return, does it still somehow gleam and reflect you?

Talk Show Host will help us figure out whether to fear death or chaos more, and reassure us with in-jokes that death and chaos are not the same thing.

Talk Show Host shrugs and tells us terror is a mockery of awareness, and therefore comical.

Talk Show Host, it’s election season midnight once more, will you pretend to rescue us by telling us we won’t notice the difference, will you smile, will you leave silently in your dark gray suit and apple-green tie and never return? Will you be generous and leave behind for us just one of your thousands of smiles so we may always remember that sometimes stupidity is even better than sleep?

When Talk Show Host arrives at the end of his arduous journey, he will know what home is because there are some things all Talk Show Hosts must know, and knowledge is a form of grief, but we must never speak of it, not even to our pets.

We are the children of secrets, Talk Show Host, we are ambiguous birds. If you don’t give a shit, if your contract forbids it, who will teach us what a journey is and how long to linger here on the shag carpet and when, finally and with the majestic calm of a distant ocean, to go?

 

Nicholas Grider is the author of the story collection Misadventure (A Strange Object) and his work has appeared in a number of publications, including The Collagist, Conjunctions, DIAGRAM, Guernica, and most recently Midnight Breakfast, as well as X-R-A-Y and Electric Lit (under the name Simon Henry Stein).

How to Love a Monster with Average-Sized Hands by Jules Archer

If I could marry a myth it would be monstrous, but not monstrous like frightening. Monstrous as in a monstrous love where I’d be prouder than a Phoenix in plumage, and hotter than a poker. I’d swing on Cthulhu’s feelers. Take a water-slide ride down the tail of Godzilla. I’d let a Wendigo eat my heart and put a ring on it and drive me out to our small town’s overlook where he’d insist I’d wear protection and let me finish the rest of my wine. Loch Ness monster, more like Loch Bless monster, because every night you come to me in bed is another day I fall in love. Instead of calling the cops, my father would shake hands with Cyclops, and call him the son he never had, because if your face were a little more lion and a little less wolf we’d have a magically monstrous love on our hands, but instead I am stuck with you, you, and you are no creepy cryptid but a mere under-the-bed boogeyman that sends me screaming only that’s what I get for having married a monster with average-sized hands and not looking out the front door before answering it.

 

Jules Archer writes flash fiction in Arizona. A Pushcart-nominated writer, her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, >kill author, Pank, The Butter, Maudlin House, and elsewhere. She likes to smell old books, drink red wine, and read true crime tales. Her chapbook ALL THE GHOSTS WE’VE ALWAYS HAD is out from Thirty West Publishing.

L’Humaine Condition by Lily Wang

When one person is chosen everyone is chosen. Each life is random and must be taken as a whole, thus illuminating life from all directions, thus there can be no darkness.

Montaigne pulls out an alien. He knows his life is over.

He pulls out the alien from the hole in the ground and they both lay panting on the grass. Montaigne panting for the both of them, Montaigne panting for the world. He is disappointed. He trails the fleshy-pad of his fingertip along the surface of the alien, so brave already, waiting for the nick. It never happens. The alien is smooth and rectangular, not opal but quartz, with mirror flecks. He has seen counter-tops like it, he is awed.

Augustine is the next to arrive. Montaigne and Augustine do not know each other, or if they know each other they have never mentioned each other. Augustine is penetrated by his own seeing of the alien and loses his appetite immediately. He takes his position some five feet away and begins to speak at an even tone. His English is plain and intermediate. The feeling he arouses in the alien is a kind of compromised purity.

Stepping back for a moment to fix the viewpoint on—a squirrel, who adventures to the farthest end of a branch and paws at its own head, then lays flat on its stomach beneath the sun, then, maybe a fluff floats past.

No one is interested in the squirrel because that would be too easy.

The alien asks to be held. Montaigne replies, I am already holding you. Augustine stops speaking. The alien wants to know where the baseball game is. You have it all wrong, Montaigne continues, looking to Augustine for the first time. They notice blood in each other’s left eye, but for some reason neither man informs the other of this symptom. Perhaps there is no point. There are no doctors around and there are no tissues.

Augustine makes a lunge for the alien. I am only thinking of her, he says. Montaigne has no interest in fighting and gives up the alien at once. Look at yourself, Montaigne says. His sound is modest and ironical. You are dull and round, he says to Augustine, who is dull and round next to the alien. My only daughter is sick, Augustine says. You can save her, you can do something, can you not? Montaigne hears this and changes his mind. He grabs at the alien, causing it to slip from Augustine’s arms. You are not thinking, he whispers to Augustine. Their eyes are quickly filling with blood.

The two men glance around. They miss the resting squirrel entirely, but so does time, and so the earth. There is no net for the squirrel. There is no language for its history. They look down at the alien who is writhing in the grass.

Am I wrong?

Am I right?

It is no longer clear who is saying what.

The encounter is anticlimactic for everyone, and together the two men return the alien back to its hole. Go back to where you came from, they say in unison. The alien whimpers and makes suckling noises, a long tentacle lashes out and seizes Montaigne’s neck. GO BACK, Augustine says, and the alien asks, where? Where?

There is only here, there is only this, there is only me, there is only you.

The three fall to the ground. An hour has passed.

I can see my blood, Montaigne says.

Yes, says the alien.

I can see my blood, Augustine says.

It is the same blood as your daughter’s, says the alien.

Augustine stands up, then Montaigne follows. They walk off together, keeping a safe distance between each other, like strangers. Awaking from its nap the squirrel falls and lands on the alien, and begins to eat.

 

Lily Wang is the author of the poetry chapbooks Everyone In Your Dream Is You (Anstruther Press, 2018) and Oh(!) (Dancing Girl Press, 2019). She is the founder of Half a Grapefruit Magazine and you can read more of her work in Peach Mag and Cosmonauts Avenue.

Thunderbird by Wanda Deglane

the smallest ocean lives between / my lungs
and kidneys / the tiniest door holds back
the grief living inside my heart / give me
a word for / the uneasy unfamiliarity of finally
being okay / but only if it stings / on its way out /
show me the moment the trauma finally killed me /
spat me out purple-skinned and suffocating / but
newborn / my body is crawling with insects / my
reality is crashing / into blood-red suns / lollipops
from banks flying out of car windows / and smashed
pineapple on scorching sidewalk / with my name
written all over it / we’re sitting on thunderbird’s
wing / drunk on dew drops / i ask you why
this healing / only makes me feel sicker / you say
the moon’s made of paper / and we’re all just
lit matches / getting closer and closer.

 

Wanda Deglane is a Capricorn from Arizona. She is the daughter of Peruvian immigrants and attends Arizona State University. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming from Rust + Moth, Glass Poetry, L’Ephemere Review, and Yes Poetry, among other lovely places. Wanda is the author of Rainlily (2018), Lady Saturn (Rhythm & Bones, 2019), Venus in Bloom (Porkbelly Press, 2019), and Bittersweet (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2019).

A Quick Word About My Life by Tiger Blair

Ever since they opened up a falling club in our town, there’s little else that Theresa will do. After her daily shift at the ball bearing plant, she drives to the large, lime-stained building that used to be a Toys R Us, where she falls into foam pits, backwards, as though she’s a concertgoer in a mosh pit or a toppled statue of a despot. Like a gym, it has its members and regulars and Theresa remembers everyone’s names. Over dinner, she tells me about Dan who falls because he has a stressful job as a 911 operator or Janet who has three children to feed and thinks that any day her husband will get fired. I hear about Becki who sleeps with night terrors and Greg who can’t sleep at all. And while she’s telling me that if she falls enough she will one day earn a spot in the platinum level, which is the old stock room, and get to step off backwards from an even greater height, I wonder what she tells Dan and Janet and Becki and Greg about her own life or about me, or why, for example, when she leaves work to drive to the falling club, she passes our house without stopping, without looking up at the window to see her husband standing there.

 

Tiger Blair is a Boston-based writer, and this is his first published short story. You can find him on Twitter at @yestigerblair.

Drink Like a Bird by Meg Pokrass

John and I watched their lights behind us. When we broke down, the others were invisible.

“Take a walk with me,” said John, getting off the snowmobile, telling me to use my legs. And so we went back and forth, trying not to act helpless and pitiful. We were trying to move. It was fifty below.

* * *

Ma once said: “Good men do not make good lovers.”

She always said what a mother should not.

Even when he was sleeping, he let me hold him. He snored like the dogs – gently whistled.

“Keep moving,” he said, persuading me, lifting snow from the ground, saying that I must drink snowy water from his lips.

“Be like a bird,” he said.

I remembered the dogs at home, someone would probably hear them.
So we spent the night like this, paying attention to what was not true, me drinking from my husband’s mouth. Worrying about dogs.

* * *

On the second night, I saw lights approaching, a man waving his greeting, breaking through silence. John’s eyes were still open, but he looked like a child’s drawing — dark holes for a nose and a white, straight mouth.

“Hi!” I shouted. “Here!”

I remember John’s strange ideas that kept me alive, and I think about what my mother said, and why she could say that. I think about why John insisted on living here in a frozen world and how I might have said no so long ago.

Sometimes I dream that I am feeding him just as he fed me like a bird. In that dream, he still does push-ups, closing his eyes with his hands, freeing the dogs to love me as only dogs can do.

 

Meg Pokrass is the author of four collections of flash fiction, and one award-winning collection of prose poetry, Cellulose Pajamas, which received the Blue Light Book Award in 2016. Her writing has been widely anthologized, most recently in the forthcoming Best Small Fictions 2018, edited by Aimee Bender (Braddock Avenue Books) and two Norton Anthologies of flash fiction: Flash Fiction International and New Micro–Exceptionally Short Fiction. A new flash fiction collection, Alligators At Night will be released in 2018 (Ad Hoc Fiction). Meg is the founder of New Flash Fiction Review.

Diagnosis by M. Stone

He gave you a small bakery box
but didn’t reveal its contents,

didn’t warn you to handle
the grenade inside with paralyzing care.
Now I take it from your aching fingers
and shake the cardboard square—

never did have the patience
for a pendulum descending—

but the grenade rolls around in the dark,
pin securely in place. It holds its breath,
waiting for me to blink.

 

M. Stone is a bookworm, birdwatcher, and stargazer living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her poems have appeared in San Pedro River Review, UCity Review, and numerous other journals. She is the author of the micro-chapbook Evolving God (Ghost City Press) and the chapbook Lore. Find her on Twitter @writermstone and at http://www.writermstone.wordpress.com.

The Giant by Joaquin Fernandez

I am not a giant.”

She used to say it to herself in the mirror after it became clear that she would not stop growing. She mouthed the words to herself in the mirror as her chambermaids stretched corsets and snapped whalebone at her mother’s vanity.

I am not a monster.”

After she outgrew her bed and slumped overnights in the den, she would whisper into the night. She frowned in the dark on her mothers fainting couch, all stretch marks and grumbling stomach, an embarrassment behind the partition. Late night shuffles into the pantry for biscuits and jam and bacon grease. She was, after all, a growing young lady. She lay, worried and drowsy, watching the mice play till dawn. One night, the sweet bitterness of her father’s bourbon taught her again to sleep and she learned to love it, stiff neck mornings and all.

But I’m still a girl.”

She was 14 when her mother told her she would no longer attend school. She had taken to wearing two quilts sewn together, a patchwork Goliath with shy eyes and the audacity of bare arms. Her size had become an issue of decency. At seven feet, she slouched, towering over her parents and brothers. No one followed when she stormed out. No one argued when she wrapped her big hand over her father’s favorite bottle. The good china rattled as she stomped away. Every room in the house had become a cage, built to hold the smallest of mice, but the barn felt like it was hers. She yelled at the moon and scared the horses.

When the lights of the main house went dark, she knew that this was where she belonged. Half-drunk and desperate, she wept. Face in her hands, elbows in the dirt, she sobbed mercilessly. She stopped, puzzled and sopping wet. She looked down and saw her own face, bleary-eyed, massive, and beautiful. She stood and she smiled when she realized it. She had wept a flood. The horses sputtered and chuffed in curious protest, splashing about in their newly ponded stalls. The Giant laughed at their confusion, a low wry chuckle, but regretted it when she saw the fear in their eyes. Without warning, their world had ceased to make sense.

The horses used to scare her as a child, all galloping kicks, teeth and sinew. But now they demurred to her with downcast eyes. She unlatched the first stall and heard it squeak open behind her as she walked to the next one. In the horses eyes, she saw her father’s fear. Her mother’s. Her own. One by one, the horses trotted out, nervous at their own freedom. The last one waited for her, clever eyes flashing in the moonlight. She reached for the horse tenuously.

Invited, the horse dipped her head and nuzzled The Giant’s belly with a doggish playfulness. The Giant ran her fingers through the horse’s mane while the other horses sprinted into the night with a graceful thunder. By the time the lights came on in the main house, the horses were gone, and The Giant with them, just another wild thing running free in the moonlight.

 

Joaquin Fernandez has appeared in Rhythm & Bones, AFTERMATH, and Chaleur Magazine among others. He is a recovering filmmaker and Miami native perpetually tinkering with his first novel.

i think i need a shock collar by Kat Giordano

a shock collar that jolts me out of my idiocy every time I wonder if you still think I’m your soulmate

a shock collar that jolts me a second time, but more painfully, whenever i start to think how hot it would be if you used a shock collar on me in bed

a shock collar that causes a giant neon sign that says WORRY WON’T KEEP YOU SAFE to slowly lower itself from the ceiling and blind me

a shock collar that keeps me from calling you whenever I’m afraid

a shock collar that can determine whether it makes sense for me to be afraid and then only shocks me in the moments where it doesn’t

a shock collar containing a giant mechanical hand that stamps YOU CANNOT WORRY YOURSELF INTO BEING LOVED backwards on my forehead in red ink and holds a mirror up to my face and makes me read it and then the red ink gives me a full-body rash

a shock collar that comes with rash ointment

a shock collar that tells me the truth

a shock collar that was designed to tell me the truth and only validates my feelings and when I call tech support they assure me my device isn’t defective

a shock collar that replays conversations between us in which you tell me you love me

a shock collar that loves me

a shock collar that tells me I deserve to hurt but the only batteries to the remote are at your house

 

Kat Giordano is a poet (1%) and massive millennial crybaby (99%) who lives in New Jersey. She co-edits Philosophical Idiot and works for a law firm somehow. She is also the author of many highly embarrassing social media meltdowns. Her poems have appeared in Occulum, Ghost City Review, Awkward Mermaid, The Cincinnati Review, CLASH Magazine, and others. Her debut full-length poetry collection, The Poet Confronts Bukowski’s Ghost, is available now.