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/

Concerning the Power Cord by Lyndsie Manusos

You are what you watch. Every few years, my schedule fills up with requests for separation. I can sense the onslaught of demands before it happens, the sizzle of static permeating off the screens. The air changes. The tiny hairs on my neck and arms stand to attention, as if lightning is about to strike.

I have plenty of TVs to go around now, from all the separations. My basement is full of them from people coming to me and pointing to their heads, a big screen blinking in an out where their face should be. Sometimes the screen bursts into static and the shape of a face peeks out through the grey.

“Help me,” they beg.

I promise them to try.

They seek to be separated, to become themselves again. Screens made flesh. It’s dirty work, and to be honest, it isn’t always successful, but someone has to do it–it–it–

 

heard it through the grave vine. California grapes from the California vineyards.–

 

Like I said, it’s dirty work. I’d separate from my screen, too, but separating requires knowing who you were before the screen. I don’t know who I was before this. There are scars on my neck and shoulders, as if someone scratched away trying to find where blood and bone ended, and the wires and plastic began. An amateur move. Of course, at some point I know I must have been the amateur. But years of practice and research have taught me that the point of separation is through the TV itself. Through connection. The power supply. I ask patients to bring their power cords. I plug them in and find the channel that fused them. Then we go through the act of separating from there.

Lately, with the people coming to me for help, it’s almost always a news channel that connects them. People are often yelling at each other . Occasionally it’s an old game show network, or reruns of sitcoms where there’s so much clapping–clapping­–clap–clap–

 

Clap on! *clap-clap* Clap off! *clap-clap*–

 

My screen is a tabletop Trinitron, and my phosphor bars are freaking the fuck out. Plugging myself in doesn’t help. My screen is fading. My signals are jumbled. I have to smack the side to get it to stop. My old self is trying to tell me something. Clues of who I was, where I’ve been. Now, I’m the only one, at least that I know of, who can separate people from their screens, who knows the steps. I could teach someone, but then I’d have to ask them to give up their old life, to become the screen. Become this–this–this–

 

This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.

 

Did I used to like eggs? When I get these hiccups, I like to daydream about images that stay with me. Maybe I used to cook eggs in the morning. Maybe I used to stir cocoa powder in a glass of milk and suck the clumps of chocolatiness over my tongue.

Maybe I’d been in love.

The most intimate I’ve been in this life was when a person came to me for help with their small screen stuck on a reality show. The scene kept playing on repeat. The screen showed a crying woman reaching for someone just off camera, begging, “But you don’t understand! I love you for God’s sake!” She was keening with passion. The person clutched my hand as I separated the screen. It was a hell of a screen too, an early 90s plasma. After I was finished, it clunked to the ground. Without the screen, a man sat up on the table, the angles of his face perfectly arched and beautiful. Long eyelashes. Curly hair. Like someone straight out of a soap opera. He leaned in and took my old Trinitron between his hands and kissed the plane of glass where my lips would’ve… should’ve… been.

“Thank you,” he whispered, pressing his forehead to the glass. He took big gulps of air and then kissed me again.

I usually store these TVs in the basement until they’re covered in dust, but I keep that 90s plasma close to me. When I plug it in, the scene still shows: “But you don’t understand!” Her lips are full, glossy. I wonder what the man’s lips would’ve tasted like if I had lips again. I wonder whether it would tasted like–tasted–taste–taste–

 

tastes great, less filling!–

 

Listen, I don’t have much time.

The feeling has come again, a resurgence leaving thick ozone tickle along my skin. Everyone is watching, and everyone is angry. Soon, there will be too many TVs to separate, and I will be long gone. I’ll clear out the basement and leave them on front lawn of my house like some zombie MTV cemetery. A Panasonic for you. A Sony for you. A Zenith for you.

And with the amount of separation demands rising, the world better take note, better change the fucking channel. Better clutch their beating hearts, their fleshy heads. My heart and head are still in there, somewhere, buried beneath the wires and phosphor bars, beneath the knobs and power button. My–my heart–no, no, my–my–

 

my buddy, my buddy, my buddy and me

 

maybe she’s born with it

 

­–loving it–

 

Please check the power control settings. The power supply may be interrupted.

 

Lyndsie Manusos’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, CHEAP POP, Passages North, and other publications. She lives in Indianapolis with her family, and writes for Book Riot and Publishers Weekly.

Instead of Heraldry by Matt Broaddus

When the bell tower chimes,
throw me off the roof.
Crocheted into my wool
cocoon. With all the almonds in Calaf
gathered illegally by peasants in the night.
To make pastries and carve them with little angels’
chainsaws. Breakneck death
strolls beside me, a lightning storm.
The wheat rolls off in gritty balls
like the ancient walls of the town.
Men with guns,
hired to live in the turrets of the villas
and shoot each other,
shoot each other.

 

Matt Broaddus is a Cave Canem fellow and author of a chapbook, Space Station (Letter [R] Press, 2018). His poems have appeared in Fence, Foundry, Sundog Lit, and Black Warrior Review. He lives in Lakewood, Colorado and works at a public library. Sometimes he tweets @mattbroaddus.

Careful by Dan Sanders

If there’s anything I know about, it’s being careful. I don’t like the idea that anything could happen by accident. I like a schedule. I like clocks. I like a list. I like to bake. I like method and precision and avoiding anything that would disrupt this, like other people, animals, I don’t own anything fragile. I don’t like to own anything that might break or would be difficult to reacquire if I misplaced it, though I don’t misplace things. Everything has a place, and I will put it there. I am careful of who I speak to and why. I don’t wear shoes in the house. I have house shoes but mostly for show, in case someone asks. I don’t sleep with socks on so my feet can breathe. I read an article about gangrene that set me straight about feet.

I don’t take any medicines, before you ask. If you go to the doctor and ask for medicine your name gets put on a list, and then the police see the list if anything out of order ever happens. Even if you’re not involved, even if something just near you happens, they’ll ask about that list. It’ll say you’re on drugs and then they throw you in some dark hole. Medicine? No. No, absolutely not.

I live alone and quietly. I keep the radio down. I don’t have any hobbies that make noise, or require me to make nose. I avoid calling attention to myself. Noise gets in my chest, seizes me solid, tries to break me apart. I drum with the pads of my fingers against my temples sometimes to make sure I can still hear, that I am still there, that I am in perfect working order. Three taps, each side, all clear.

I keep myself busy. I have projects and hobbies because I don’t want to go crazy. I collected stamps until I heard some of the glue was poison, switched to puzzles. I put the stamps in the fireplace, burned them, reconsidered my fireplace, bricked it over. Bricks are made of cancer dust, compressed. I covered my house in plastic sheeting, left it up for weeks to catch the particulate when I wasn’t around to vacuum, sealed in a containment suit of my own design, trash bags and scotch tape, holes for my arms and legs.

I bought a computer, but I try not to use it. It was a good distraction but potentially addicting and dangerous, a kind of mind control. Even though I stopped using it, I don’t bring liquid of any kind into the room where I keep the computer which I’ve dubbed “The Computer Room.” I also, as general practice, don’t leave glasses half full of liquid near anything. I’m careful about liquid and I know a lot about stains.

I speak to my landlord as little as possible and my neighbors even less. I’m considering moving to the woods or the desert, I wonder about why I don’t live there already, and it’s mostly to do with ordering in. Ordering food in is expensive, though I am particular about saving. I invest. I am risk averse. I get 30 minutes of exercise a day and will soon enough money to sustain me in this room until I am 120 years old, not that I want to live that long or even much longer, but I could, it’s been done. I do yoga, I stretch. I drink bright purple juices and eat dark leafy greens. I order them in, like I said, repeating myself, making sure it’s clear, I am to be understood.

Food is tricky. I try not to cook because the stove has a spot of rust and the vent rattles when it’s on. It’s broken. The landlord said it still works. But broken is broken, broken is a degree of not working, I can see it still works but it rattles so it’s broken. Rattling is step one of a larger problem that will lead to total failure and eventually that thing is going to snap off and send a blade flying into my head or bring the vent crashing through the ceiling and down on top of my head, destroying my kitchen and dinner.

In a pinch I’ll leave the vent off but keep an eye on it. Cook staring straight up, blindly burn my hands, season my food with tears and curse words. I try to be quick about it. Mies en plas. You’ll get cancer if you stand in the chicken and vegetable fumes, whichever fumes, doesn’t have to be chicken. Whatever you cook has fumes. I’m mostly white meat and vegetables. Maybe a tofu. Press that down for a week or two though, I don’t trust that tofu water.

This vent is criminal. I have a carbon monoxide detector in every room of the house. I test them three times a week, along with the smoke detectors. I do not smoke. Of course I do not smoke. I go to the deli when I check the mail. I check the mail a lot. Just in case. I wear gloves when I open the mail in case it’s full of poison. I’m wearing gloves right now.

I was considering buying plastic sheeting for the door handles until I heard that the metal in door handles is anti-microbic or antibiotic or something. Germs hate stainless steel for some reason; they touch it and break apart. I looked into getting more stainless-steel surfaces, tables, chairs, anything that could kill simply by existing. I could sleep strapped down to an operating table or standing up in steel tube like an iron maiden. Something to contain me, keep me right in line and hidden, somewhere I could breathe for once, somewhere I could go to just scream and scream and scream.

 

Dan Sanders is a writer of short fiction, essays, and vending machine repair guides. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Hong Kong Review, Coffin Bell, Bridge Eight, and wherever fine vending equipment is sold. His novella The Loop will be published this Fall by Anvil Press. Bad drawings of his writing can be found at dan-sanders.com.