to grasp by Tyler Barton

Van could make this move easy: just pack the collection’s sixty-two thousand specimens into rubbermaid bins and rent a box truck. But instead he pitches a big museum shuffle.

“I smell local news!” Marianne, the CEO, says over the Panera she’s eating at her desk, the desk that Van will one day put his feet on, after he usurps her. “Vanny, pass me the dressing?”

Van assembles hundreds of museum volunteers—snake-handlers, taxidermists, ornithologists, the assholes with the loupes, community services students, cleaners, fundraisers, pencil sharpeners, bee-keepers, artists, ten year old boys obsessed with for some reason caves, and those purple-lensed planetarium operators. It’s Monday and they’ve formed a long, winding line of hands leading from the museum basement to the loading dock of the Ex-Salvation Army on Locust Street. The TV crews arrive as hoped, as do print media, and even the museum’s dormant Twitter springs to life as the minerals start swimming down the line of gloved hands.

“Remember your training!” Van says, holding a clipboard. It’s one of the great joys of his job, the clipboard—how he can grip and wrench it and nobody but Van sees the stress leaving his body. The new museum, Van remembers for motivation, will be air-conditioned.

Nine minutes in, an envelope-licker drops a cow skull and its long teeth scatter into the street. Furious, Van hurries over, smiling, and invites the man to head home early.

“It’s the sun,” he says. “Just keeps coming in and out of clouds. It won’t happen again.”

“Good,” Van says, no longer smiling, “bye.”

Luckily obsidian is so hard, because no damage is done when it slips from the botanist’s hands and slams the sidewalk. Regardless, Van asks her out of the line. And pretty soon Van stops asking, and it becomes: Go the hell home! This isn’t practice, people. This is the game!

Each time someone drops a specimen, or is seen chatting to their line partner, Van ejects them. He doles out Adderall illegally and screams at people who look distracted. In this way, the line stretches thinner and thinner, until Person 1 has to lean to reach the outstretched hands of Person 2, which results in more drops—until Person 1 has to lightly toss the item across to Person 2, who does not always have game-ready hands, and the line becomes less dotted with volunteers, and the camera crews have all gone home, and the sun is blinking out, and Marianne has stopped waving her support from her corner office window, and it’s just Van and a handful of others with nothing going on in their lives but this, throwing specimens to one another across empty, ten-yard gaps, until it’s midnight, and the drugs haven’t helped anything, and Marianne is home in bed with a novel, and Van rolls up all 20 feet of the anaconda skin, tucks it under his arm like a football, and mounts the back of the Parasaurolophus. “Take us to the Salvation Army,” he whispers to the life-size though not-alive Dino model. They go nowhere. Parasaurolophus doesn’t have ears. It picked up sound via vibrations in the air. Okay, fair enough, then why can’t it hear the amethyst sailing through the cool dark toward Van’s face?

This is what happens in the coma: Van lives and relives and re-relives his first day on the job, the first time he said his boss’s name out loud, when he did not say his boss’s name, but in fact called her, “Marinara.”

 

Tyler Barton is a cofounder of Fear No Lit, home of the Submerging Writer Fellowship. He’s the author of The Quiet Part Loud (Split Lip Press). His work has appeared in Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, NANO Fiction, Paper Darts, and elsewhere. “to grasp” is one part of his connected microfiction manuscript, To Work, which focuses on the absurdity and dread of modern work. He lives in Lancaster, PA, where he works in a Nature Museum and teaches free writing workshops to residents of assisted living facilities. Find him @goftyler or tsbarton.com.

Call Me When You Need Me by Marisa Crane

will you brush my teeth for me? is the question tossed about this house at night
while bats flap their wings outside, not knowing the myths they carry
it’s healthy to learn to trust people
that’s what all the therapists & self-help books say
I know a thing or two about the teeth in my jaw
attachment theory says we need consistent love from our caregivers
for the inconsistent times, we have stuffed animals & blankies
we have our wings to wrap around our cold quivering bodies
it’s the moments like small gods stacked on top of each other in a trench coat
it’s you smiling through a foamy mouth while I decide what to read in bed
we go looking for molars with just the right crunch
the right break-you-open-&-see-what’s-inside
but we never look in the most obvious of places
(the loneliness of an underwear drawer off its track)
earlier there were the too-full grocery bags, the list, the spilt blueberries,
the you watching me watching you eat a meal I made
the dog follows us into the bedroom
he tells stories with his eyelashes, their snowflake linger
I should be listening but I can’t stop thinking about a baby bat
hanging upside down hugging a teddy bear

 

Marisa Crane is a lesbian writer and editor. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pigeon Pages, Pidgeonholes, Drunk Monkeys, among others. She currently lives in San Diego with her wife. You can read more of her work at www.marisacrane.org. Her Twitter handle is @marisabcrane.

The Jackalope in Economy Class by Elizabeth Hart Bergstrom

The jackalope couldn’t believe she’d gotten a middle seat again. She had tried to book her flights early, but the WiFi in her Wyoming bungalow was spotty at best, and it took so long to get tickets that almost all the seats were taken. If she had been a Pegasus, she wouldn’t have to deal with this kind of thing. She could’ve flown to Scotland herself.

But she was stuck being small and terrestrial, so she dragged her suitcase to join the herd of irritable passengers waiting at the international gate. When the line finally moved, the jet bridge stank of airplane fuel that rose in hot breaths from the gap between the platform and the door.

The jackalope found her seat in the last row between a teething baby and a Bigfoot who was already snoring at the volume of a small chainsaw. The overhead compartment was full, not that the jackalope was tall enough to reach it—why can’t Bigfeet ever be awake when you need them? A flight attendant wrestled the suitcase out of her paws and stashed it away. Defeated, the jackalope flopped into the middle seat and buckled her seatbelt. She tried vainly to smooth her rumpled whiskers.

It was a nine-hour flight to Scotland, and the baby would not stop screaming. Judging by its robust size and lung capacity, maybe it was the Bigfoot’s child, but the jackalope was not an expert on babies. Thank goodness she brought earplugs. After a series of garbled announcements over the intercom, the jackalope dozed off.

She woke to the sensation of the baby gumming her antlers and drooling onto her fur. At least it meant the screaming had stopped, so she resigned herself to being used as a teething ring. Her antlers had survived worse before.

All the jackalope really wanted from this trip was to take a picture with the Loch Ness Monster. Nessie was so popular you could book a whole vacation themed around her, stay in a charming cottage with lake views, ride a trolley painted with greenish-black scales, and go out on pleasure boats to hope for a sighting.

In comparison, what little fame the jackalope once had from tall tales had faded. She owned her bungalow in the Red Desert, but she could barely afford to pay the utilities with the dwindling royalties coming in from jackalope merch and the tell-all memoir she wrote in her thirties. She’d spent the last of her savings to book this trip.

What about other jackalopes? She was the last one, as far as she knew. The whole reproduction process for her species was pretty mysterious, something involving lightning strikes and clashing antlers, and she couldn’t remember ever having a mother or father. She had searched the internet, social media and message boards and dating apps, but every lead to find other living jackalopes turned out to be a fake. She’d stopped getting her hopes up.

But this time was different. It had to be. The jackalope fantasized that she and Nessie would hit it off. They probably had a lot of things in common besides being cryptids. For example, the jackalope’s favorite drink was whiskey, and Scotland was known for excellent Scotch. Maybe they would go out for drinks at a lakeside bar, someplace with a floating dock so Nessie would be comfortable. They would share stories about where they grew up, discover they were both bullied in high school, quibble over the best episodes of their favorite TV show. They would talk until they were a warm, euphoric kind of drunk. They would talk until last call. Maybe they would start to fall in love? No, that was the kind of thing that only happened in movies.

She hoped Nessie would invite her to crash for the night. They’d go out for brunch the next morning. Maybe, if things went really well, the lake monster would invite the jackalope to come on as a sidekick in the tourism gig. The jackalope would ride on the back of her neck so it looked like the serpent had a magnificent set of antlers. The visitors would eat it up. The documentarians would arrive in droves. The conspiracy theorists would flood their YouTube channels with annotated videos. She could see it all so clearly.

The jackalope didn’t know how to swim, but she could learn. She could learn anything if she tried hard enough. She would change herself to fit whatever the monster needed her to be.

 

Elizabeth Hart Bergstrom’s flash fiction appears in Jellyfish Review and CHEAP POP, and her other work appears or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, Juked, PANK, and elsewhere. She’s a queer, disabled writer who was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

The Witch of Maurepas Calls the Swamp to Hand by Jack B. Bedell

Slow, whole notes draw the swamp’s pulse
right up to her lap. Skinks and grasshoppers
crawl across the grass, baby squirrels

and rabbits come out from the woods,
and mosquito hawks float in the air
around her shoulders. Even eagles

dive out of the sky to be near her song.
She sings as if her pitch could
feed the whole swamp, as if

the breadcrumbs she offers, could
heal all need. Her melodies stoke
the breeze and pull the tides

toward her heart, and all the eyes around
blink in rhythm with her blood.

 

Jack B. Bedell is Professor of English and Coordinator of Creative Writing at Southeastern Louisiana University where he also edits Louisiana Literature and directs the Louisiana Literature Press. Jack’s work has appeared in Southern Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, The Shore, Pidgeonholes, Cotton Xenomorph, EcoTheo, The Hopper, Terrain, saltfront, and other journals. His latest collection is No Brother, This Storm (Mercer University Press, 2018). He served as Louisiana Poet Laureate 2017-2019.

Growth by Ben Segal

The tall guard who watches our building is growing. A few years ago he was unremarkable, but now he is enormous. He towers. Now he bends deeply just to shake hands or open a car door, as he often does for our building’s many guests

When I began to work here, the man was hardly memorable. He was a little gangly and his face was the kind of lean and acne-scarred that made one think, unfairly, of methamphetamines. His suits, already inexpensive, looked cheaper for draping his body. Yet there was something winning about him, a sweetness, a slight and almost pitiable magnetism.

He remains ungainly, but now he is impossible to miss. He grows perhaps an inch every three months and has just crossed to the other side of 8 feet.

I too am growing inexplicably. I gain almost a quarter-inch each year. It is not a noticeable phenomenon. Or, at least it’s not to most. I notice it. My mother thinks my posture has improved. For everyone else, the change is too slow to register.

But one day, when I am very old, I will be enormous. I will age into a stooped seven-footer and I will walk slowly past strangers who will imagine I was once a professional athlete. It will be nice, in that future, to lie about my feats of strength.

The guard, however, will not grow old. A body cannot grow like his and survive. His heart will swell and fail. He will die by nine feet, maybe a little past. This is a year away at most. He must know this, as we all do, but still there he is, opening doors, checking guests into the building. He is bending and smiling for pay.

We should not make him come any longer, I think. Surely it is a cruelty. Surely a building such as this – its teeming staff, its endless polished surfaces – can allow the man to stretch out peacefully on his own schedule.

Then again, why does the proximity to death make each hour worked that much more obscene? Perhaps it does not. Perhaps the entire bustle of this building is a slow atrocity. The same fraction of all our lives is wasted. The building is a stack of cruelty with clean bathrooms and packaged snacks.

I watch the giant pull open a glass door and can think only of a general strike. He holds the door open and we nod to one another. I ride the elevator to my office, and I am silent, and I am basically mostly good.

 

Ben Segal is the author Pool Party Trap Loop (Queen’s Ferry Press), co-author of The Wes Letters (Outpost 19), and co-editor of The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature (Lit Pub Books). His short fiction has been published by or is forthcoming from The Georgia Review, Tin House, The Collagist, Tarpaulin Sky, and Puerto del Sol, among others. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

When His Surgeon Called and Asked If I Had Questions by Jacqueline Hughes Simon

I had no questions
After three days all I knew

was how beautifully thin
I was My pants slunk

from my hips which
jutted out like wings

My ribs were sharp
and caught on corners

My torso long and ropy
with no respect for my neck

It rained I wore boots
and had thigh gap

In the cafeteria
my pretty nails

brittled onto the tray
Talking with doctors

my teeth loosened
My elegant cheek-

bones split my skin
My golden hair fell

out and I knit it into socks
I couldn’t shit or

remember who I hated
I was magnificent

 

Jacqueline Hughes Simon is a writer living in Berkeley, CA. Her work has appeared in Written Here – The Community of Writers Poetry Review, Poecology, The Cortland Review , and others. She is currently an MFA candidate at St. Mary’s College, California.

 

How I Learned About Evolution by Michelle Ross

Dad wouldn’t let me go to school with the other kids in town. He said school was for people who couldn’t or wouldn’t think for themselves. Other things that were for such people: the internet, greeting cards, and breakfast cereal, to name a few.

Dad worked as an inspector for a sports sock manufacturer. His job was to check socks for imperfections—holes, loose threads, and whatever else went wrong with socks. He had an eye for flaws and took pride in finding more defective socks than any other inspector. Officially, Mom was my teacher. She didn’t have a job outside the house, though she did have laundry and dishes and a toilet to scrub. Unofficially, they split the curriculum pretty evenly. Mom taught me rain with a silver metal colander. “See how the water pours out of all those holes?” Dad taught me sun with a yellow flashlight. “It turns on for day. It turns off for night.” He flicked the flashlight’s chunky switch. Mom taught me Earth with a buttermilk pancake. “We’re about right here,” she said, pointing just off-center of the middle. Dad taught me birds with a helium balloon. “It’s filled with flying gas.”

Dad was an inventor when he wasn’t inspecting socks or overseeing my education. Perhaps he thought of himself as an artist. He didn’t apply a word to his tinkering in the shed with scraps of metal and wood and string. He built countless useless things. Over the years, these things proliferated in our yard and our home, crowding out everything else. Grass yellowed then crumbled because sunlight no longer touched it. Trees became stunted, gnarled. I bruised and scraped as I made my way to the bathroom in the dark of night.

Mom never spoke a disparaging word about Dad’s creations, but she navigated our house gingerly, as though any step could set off a booby trap. Sometimes I found her staring worriedly at one of his hunks of metal like she had at the trail of ants that had entered our house from a crack in the wall above the kitchen sink one dry summer or the lone earwig she’d once found wedged between bristles of her toothbrush. When she saw me, she’d return to her cleaning or cooking or mending. She’d smile, the worried look flicked away like a speck of grit from her eye.

Then one day, Dad erected a thing so enormous, so hulking, I said, “It looks like a dinosaur.”

We were out near the shed. It was dusk. He’d been teaching me fireflies. “Like the sun, only smaller, and on and off faster,” he said. “They have to blink off frequently or else they’d burn alive.”

When I glimpsed the shadowy, towering figure through the shed’s darkened doorway, my spine tingled.

Dad’s expression quickly sharpened. “Dinosaur? What do you know about dinosaurs?”

I told him Mom had taught me that humans were why the dinosaurs went extinct. We overhunted them.

“Extinct?” he said. “What do you know about extinction?”

When Mom emerged from the bathroom after taking her nightly bath, Dad and I were waiting for her in the hallway. He was squeezing my arm too hard, as though he were trying to crush whatever was inside.

He said, “You believe in dinosaurs?”

Mom’s hair was wrapped in a red towel that sat upon her head like a lampshade. She was silent for a long moment. Then she said, “I saw a footprint of one once. In Utah. When I was her age. It was the size of a toddler.”

Dad said, “A footprint? You mean a shape carved in dirt?” He shook his head in disgust.

Mom said nothing, but I saw with my eyes how her face shifted.

Another lesson I’d learned via pancakes, though this one I’d acquired without either of my parents’ instruction, was irreversible change—how some transformations, such as gooey, drippy pancake batter cooking on a hot griddle, can’t be undone. When a pancake wrinkles around the edges, a signal that it’s cooked on bottom, you better flip that pancake fast before it scorches, before it’s ruined. There isn’t any starting over again. Hardened batter is no longer and never will be batter again.

 

Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, The Pinch, and other venues. Her work has been selected for Best Microfictions 2020 and The Wigleaf Top 50 2019, as well as been a finalist for Best of the Net 2019, among other awards. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review. You can find her at www.michellenross.com.

Stranger Disconnected by Darren Nuzzo

The banner atop the webpage says you’ll be paired with seven F’s for every two M’s – that’s how they get you. The ratio is actually much different. I’ve only seen one F. She was thirteen and from the Philippines. I asked her Buttigieg or Biden and she thought I was talking about laundry detergent. When she lived in Quezon City, her family used Ariel. In Manila, they switched to Zonrox. Then the conversation moved to dish soap until we ran out of opinions on the matter. That was my one experience with an F. Mostly, it goes like this: M 22, M 27, Stranger disconnected. It’s a good idea for a website, linking one stranger to another. It’s just that the math doesn’t add up. M’s want F’s and F’s are smarter than that. For me, I just want someone to talk to. So I’ve changed letters, fixed the problem for most everyone. Things have been going much better ever since. Are you tall? is one of my favorite things to ask. You sound tall, I like to assure them. That always makes the M feel big and strong, and I know that’s important. I like to ask what they do for work. If M says he does construction, I say, “Like an architect.” If M says he hasn’t read a book in eleven years, I say, “There’s nothing found between pages a smart guy like you can’t find on Earth.” When M says he has insomnia, I say, “The brightest minds always do.” And when M tells me all the good things about his penis, I let him know that I really believe him. They never want me to leave. But I say goodnight and move to the next, well aware of this unique opportunity I’ve been given, the chance to put the most good into the world at the cost of the least evil, sinning to the smallest degree possible, telling man everything he needs to hear, lying by just a single letter.

 

Darren Nuzzo is the author of I’ll Give You a Dollar If You Consider This Art—a collection of stories, essays, poems, and comics.

Freckle (A Haibun) by Julia Gerhardt

The towel has moved from the innocent huddle over my shoulders to the firm knot between breasts. I want to drape the towel over my shoulders again, as if I am able to protect myself from strange and desirous things, but I won’t. I’m too big now & it would show too much of me. The bareness of my body reminds me of the emptiness in my belly & since I am hungry all the time now, I eat. I bite, crunch, lick, swallow. There is a spot on me I swear is a freckle until I lift my arm to my tongue & taste it. Something I thought was so very much a part of me is gone. When I realize its impermanence, I shower again. I bathe, clean, lather, suds. As I reach for the towel once more, I am no longer bothered by the way I position it, but instead

                                                                                        I am saddened by
                                                                                        the chocolate stain I mis-
                                                                                        took as a freckle.

 

Julia Gerhardt is a writer from Los Angeles, now living in Baltimore.  She was nominated for the Best Microfiction Anthology 2020 and Best Small Fictions Anthology 2020. She has previously been published in Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Umbrella Factory, The Airgonaut, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Cease, Cows, Literary Orphans, Rogue Agent, Flash Fiction Magazine, Monkeybicycle, and others.  Her work is forthcoming in the Eastern Iowa Review, fresh.ink, Moonpark Review, Sea Foam Mag, and Club Plum.  She is currently working on her first novel.  You can find her at https://juliagerhardtwriter.wordpress.com/