Bright Flash Literary Review

Artwork courtesy Joanne Sala. All rights reserved.

Welcome to Bright Flash Literary Review, an online literary journal.

Submission guidelines: Flash fiction (50-word minimum), fiction, and memoir will be considered. 1500 word maximum for all submissions. Simultaneous submissions are permitted. Please notify us ASAP if your work is accepted elsewhere. 

Please include a brief (200 words or fewer) third-person bio. SUBMISSIONS WITHOUT BIOS (add at the end of your piece on Submittable or use Duosuma’s designated space) will be declined.

No page numbers or headers. 

Translations not accepted.

Submit only one piece at a time and wait for a response before submitting again. 

Average response time is 30 days. If you have not heard from us in more than 60 days, feel free to follow-up.

If your work is accepted, Bright Flash Literary Review obtains first Northern American rights. All rights revert back to the author upon publication. Writers are strongly advised to honor other publication’s guidelines concerning previously published work. If your piece is accepted by another journal after publication in Bright Flash Literary Review, please ask for first publication attribution to BFLR.

If your story is accepted, please wait six months before submitting again.

If your work is declined, please wait 30 days before submitting again.

Repeated violations of our guidelines may result in being blocked from our site. We accept submissions from writers 18 years of age or older.

We are a non-paying market, but also do not charge submission fees.

Submit below through Submittable or Duosuma. E-mail submissions are not accepted. New stories are posted at the beginning of each month.

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Submit through Duosuma

 

Missing

By Lowell Weber

Simon Goshawk, forty years old last week, medium height, a bit overweight, woke this morning to find he had no testicles. He yawned and reached down to scratch them and they weren’t there. No gaping wound, no ice pack with a note telling him they’d been harvested, no Frankensteinesque suture job, just a smooth stretch of skin where his scrotum used to be. Only half awake, he thought that odd. He checked again and began to panic.

Simon didn’t remember them being there when he went to bed. He hadn’t noticed his scrotum one way or the other. He tried to remember the last time he’d seen or felt them. Maybe they had just been reabsorbed as part of the aging process. Were they supposed to disappear when you turned forty? Why hadn’t anyone told him about it?

He jumped out of bed and pulled down the sheets to see if they had fallen off overnight. Nothing. He went to the bathroom, nothing. He still had his penis so peeing wasn’t a problem. Did he flush his noogies down the toilet last night? He checked the shower drain and then started the water. Soaping up, he accidentally knocked himself between the legs with the back brush. It didn’t hurt. Surprised, he calmed down and thought about it. His prune sack pits hadn’t been much use to him. His several adventures with girlfriends and spouses had never resulted in a pregnancy. He’d lost two wives because they wanted kids. When his second wife divorced him, she had tried to claim his testicles as marital property and wanted half. The judge had said no, since she’d had nothing to do with their creation she had no claim to them. If she wanted to own testicles she’d have to give birth to a son like everyone else. Simon was glad the judge was a woman, he’d have never thought of that.

Shaking his head at the memory, he went into the kitchen and started the coffee. Switching on the television he found the early news. Another deadly this, another shocking that. Why did people do things like that? All that anger. Where did the hate come from? Being bullied as a kid? From parents? He wasn’t feeling it.

The next story was perplexing in another way. Heman Shirtless, the trillionaire, had launched himself into space on a rocket he’d built in the backyard of his mansion in New Jersey. He went up, he came down and that was that. Money to feed thousands spent on a joke. Simon couldn’t understand why some people needed to have too much of everything except common sense. Maybe Heman’s balls had drifted off in weightlessness. Could the world be that lucky?

All of the news was confusing. Even human interest stories lacked a warm fuzzy. He realized he couldn’t understand any kind of hormonal driven behavior this morning, not when missing his low hanging fruit. He finished his toast and got dressed.

Today was Saturday, so Simon decided to visit all the places he’d been yesterday to see if someone had found his family jewels and set them aside in case he returned. They were probably under his desk at the office. Darryl, his boss, had called him into his cubicle yesterday, maybe they’d slipped off in there. Would Daryl keep them? Would getting them back be his next raise? He thought about that. He’d rather have a bonus.

He’d taken a stroll through the park after work yesterday. If he’d dropped them out there they were gone for good, he reckoned. Dumped in a dumpster tied up in a doggie poop bag sounded plausible. Should he check with the cops in case they’d been turned in? What if they’d scared a kid? Better leave the cops out of this.

Lots of people were out and about on this gorgeous day. He kept his eyes on the ground, scanning for a small bundle of flesh. Most days he kept his eyes on the ground. Eye contact made people crazy. Women thought he was hitting on them and men thought he was asking for trouble. Looking for his lost bogeys was safe. He stole a quick peek at the people around him. All the men were looking at the ground. Women stared at nothing. Strange.

He decided not to go to the office. If the cleaning crew had found his cargo, they’d be sitting on his desk Monday morning. If not, then he’d have to rethink the situation. Could he get replacements? If so, could he afford them? If so, did he really want them? Gonads were an awful lot of trouble. He sat on a park bench and thought it through.

He concluded that every problematic or plain ugly situation he’d ever put himself through was in one way or another a response to the impulses of his pubes. Road rage. One night stands. Marriage. Dumb stuff like that. So maybe he was better off without them. He hadn’t deliberately lost them. No one had stolen them from him at gunpoint. Instead his nuts had taken care of themselves. Testicular suicide? Would the rest of him be eligible for the happy ever after life? Who could he ask about that?

He couldn’t be a dad now. Too many people anyway. He’d never make Vice President at work, he was sure. Didn’t really want to be a sleazy ass kisser. Greed, dominance, ruthless ambition were beyond him without his low down dudes. He wouldn’t be violent, sexually insatiable or capable of malicious competition, he knew. Would he still need to buy razor blades?

He supposed he was supposed to miss them. Should he? Couldn’t someone have just put something in the water so everyone would be able to chill? A testosterone antigen? 

Maybe that’s what had happened to his junk. Maybe he wasn’t alone. What if everyone was free? What a wonderful world that would be.

                                                              *  *  *

Lowell Weber lives in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and dog. He has a BA in English Literature from the University of Minnesota. He enjoys hiking, biking and camping during the all too brief Minnesota summer.

Chiaroscuro

 

By Peter Portelli

Sally enters the room. She drops her handbag on the bed and heads straight for the walk-in closet. The soft, warm light of the closet spills into the bedroom. My favourite time of the day is coming next.

Her tight black dress falls to the floor. She bends over to pick it up. She is as beautiful now as she was when I met her thirty years ago.

~

It was a Monday, in a café. They mixed up our coffees. I got some fancy double-barreled brew instead of my boring black with no sugar. We swapped coffees and smiled.

On Tuesday, we exchanged a few hurried words. On Wednesday, we sat together instead of rushing out of the café, coffees in hand. And so it started: the best part of my life. We got married two years later. It was not a big do. We were both struggling financially then. We had each other, and that is all we cared about.

The first years were great. She made me smile every day. She also made me angry, and I pissed her off in turn. She said I flirted with intent, which I, of course, denied. She said my mind was often in a different zone from my body and that I hardly spoke at home—oh, and that I never told her that I loved her.

I broke her when I left. By the time I came back, she had changed. I try to make amends. I tell her every day that I love her. I talk a lot—constantly, in fact. She hardly listens or speaks to me now. She hasn’t forgiven me. But I will keep on trying.

~

She is taking off her underwear. Black panties, red bra. She is very adamant about not wearing matching underwear. For her, it is a thing. I couldn’t be bothered. Underwear was never a turn-on for me. It’s a functional item that must come off quickly when the need arises.

I stare at her nude body. I love how the light hits the back of her spine, rolling down the curvature of her small back. She stands there, contemplating what to wear to stay home, a *chiaroscuro* painting waiting to be executed.

I am about to tell her how beautiful she is when her phone rings. She turns around. Four steps bring her back to the bed. I can tell from her breasts that she is feeling cold. Her hands dive into the bottomless pit of her handbag. The phone rings six more times before she fishes it out.

“Hi, Mom.”

This is going to be a long one. Her mom calls her at the most inconvenient times of the day. It is as if she has CCTV installed in our place and knows when Sally is about to sit down to eat, take a bath or put on a dress. Come to think of it, this is perfect timing for me. With the phone in her hand, Sally cannot get dressed. She wanders around the room, phone in hand, mainly listening to her mom telling her things she would have said yesterday or the day before. Sally is good that way. She listens patiently and feigns surprise when appropriate.

“I have to go now, Mom,” she says. “I am running around naked. Don’t want to catch a cold.”

The goodbyes always take a minute or so. She throws the phone on the bed and returns to the closet. She chooses a pink tracksuit, white socks, and those giant fluffy slippers. It is hardly the sexiest of attire, but still, they look good on her. I tell her that she looks good in everything, even a bin liner.

The first time I told her that, she got offended. She thought I was comparing the evening dress she was wearing to a garbage bag. Eventually, she got it and was pleased, happy, I would say. I could tell by the way she smiled all evening. Later that night, she asked me, “Is it true what you said? That I look good in everything?”

“Yes,” I had replied. “And even better in nothing.”

Sex was very good that night. Very, very good.

I stand up and touch her hair as she walks past me. I love how the hair on the back of her neck and arms reacts. She stops, turns, and lets out a deep breath. I know she wants to reach out to me. Her eyes never lie. I know she wants to forgive me. But it is still too early for her. A tear rolls down her cheek. I kiss her.

“Stop it,” she says as she wipes her tears. She puts on some music. Thin Lizzy’s “Still in Love with You.” One of my favourite tracks. The live version with two killer guitar solos.

I sit back on the bed and watch as she goes into the bathroom. She starts removing her makeup, pausing when the first solo comes on. She smiles. She knows how much I love this part. These small things make me realize that, despite how much I hurt her, despite everything, she still loves me.

She switches off the light in the bathroom and looks straight at me. Without saying a word, she leaves the room and heads downstairs to prepare tea. I stand up and walk around the room. It is dark now, except for a lone ray of moonlight that lands on the photo of us that she placed on the chest of drawers. It’s a black and white photo taken the evening before I left.

The evening before I died. Before I was killed, if I had to be more precise. But for me, that’s just semantics. What is important is that things have never been the same again between us since I passed.

And all I can do now is wait. Wait for her to join me.

*   *   *

Peter Portelli calls the Mediterranean island of Malta his home. He is a career civil servant,having served in the highest offices of the public service in Malta. Writing has always been central to his professional life. For many years, Peter thought about writing fiction but had somehow never got around to it. Until recently. He started out writing short stories and has now also completed the manuscript for his first novel, The Armies of God. When Peter isn’t writing, he can be found spoiling his two British Bulldogs rotten, tending to his roof garden,or playing the guitar with a band with no name. As yet.

The Invisible Woman

By Katy Goforth

She rummaged through the console of the ancient red Toyota Tercel. The paint used to shine like a forbidden apple. Now it was a dull pink and wearing in spots. She could relate. 

No name tag. Must have left it on her dirty uniform. Damn it. She wasn’t supposed to be working this shift anyway, but they always called her. They knew she would make herself available.

The heavy door swung into the alley, and the smell of old grease and fried onions instantly coated her. Not the perfume she chose, but it was the one she often wore. As she made her way back to the small break room, she stopped to clock in and check the board for her missing name tag. Most left them here, but she would end up halfway out to the parking lot before realizing hers was still attached to her. 

Her eyes scanned the board with no luck. They settled at the bottom on a tag that said, “Mel.” Lord, Mel was the old line cook and hadn’t worked here in almost a year. Whatever. She would be Mel.

Her first table was a six top. Time to sparkle. The guys barely looked up from their phones to tell her what they wanted. She turned to take the order to the kitchen and heard two sharp snaps. One of them wanted her attention to change his order. Couldn’t even call her Mel.

As she cleared the six top, the smell of Heinz 57 sauce hit her nostrils. It was smeared down the front of her uniform. Those university fellas were the worst. Like pigs bumping into each other at the trough, only pigs were smart. 

Grabbing a wet rag from behind the counter, she worked at the brick red stain. It spread out like the ugly watercolor portrait above her bed. She found it at the yard sales she frequented on her rare Saturday off. Her body felt like that painting. Discounted and unwanted.

Looking down at the table littered with half-eaten plates of hash browns scattered, smothered, and covered, she saw the bill with two pennies on top. Those sorry sacks of farts and too much confidence had stiffed her on the bill. Tipped her two damn pennies. 

Her grandmother told her the worst thing about getting old was becoming invisible. She already felt like a ghost.

As she gathered the dirty plates and began preparing the table for the next set of diners, she heard someone clear his throat. She turned. Long, Wrangler clad legs spread out in her path back to the kitchen. No. Just no. She yelled to the back, “Smoke break!”

The cool night nipped at her bare legs. As she rounded the corner to the alley, she spotted her. A raven-haired woman blowing smoke rings up above her head. She looked like an angel. There was a fresh tattoo on her bicep. Betty Boop as Rosie the Riveter. She gave her a tight-lipped smile.

She pulled her lighter from her apron, but there were no cigarettes. She knew where they were. Right on top of the fridge at home. A hand touched her arm.

“Here you go. You look like you could use it. Take two.” An offering from the raven-haired angel. 

The touch felt like real electricity traveling from her arm all the way down to her lower belly. She blushed and nodded as she accepted the kindness. She lit her cigarette and took a deep inhale to calm herself. With her other hand, she smoothed down all of her flyaway hairs, and then let her hand continue traveling down her neck and hovering at her bosom. 

Her words caught in her throat as she watched the woman flick the still lit cigarette into the darkness. The woman made eye contact and flashed a wide smile. “I hope your night gets better, Mel.”

And the raven-haired angel was gone, disappearing like the smoke rings above her head. 

                                                                        *   *   *

Katy is a writer and editor for a national engineering and surveying organization and a fiction editor for Identity Theory. Her work has been published in The Dead Mule School, Montana Mouthful, Coalesce Community, and Pigeon Review. She has work forthcoming in Reckon Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Gastropoda. When she’s not writing, she’s traveling the country following her favorite musicians and collecting oddities for her menagerie. She was born and raised in South Carolina and lives in Anderson with her spouse and two dogs, Finn and Betty Anne. You can find her on Twitter at MarchingFourth and katygoforth.com.

 

Moonstruck

 

By Ali Mckenzie-Murdoch

The card postmarked Paris is blank, but I know it’s from Viola. Her absence claws deep into my gut. I miss her smell. Roses, not violets. I miss the smudge of matt carmine lipstick on her lips and the silver strands in her ebony bob. 

The press claimed Viola sported her Cleopatra-style hairstyle for the premiere of our animated film, “Nefertiti on the Nile”.

“Nonsense,” she said. “I’ve had the same hairdo since I was six years old.”

Despite our collaboration, the media focused solely on Viola. Maybe my hair was too ordinary to mention.

The last time we met, she had painted her nails green.

“Jade,” she corrected me. She sat opposite, leaning towards the window. Sunlight swept over the tabletop, a sudden sea between us.

“You sold out Coco.” I didn’t respond. Maybe she was right.

I pick up the postcard. A photograph of the bust of Akhenaten stands before a salmon-pink wall in the Louvre. On a long stone face sits a chiseled cupid’s bow and a pair of full lips. 

Plum-stained clouds curdle the dark sky as I dial her number. The phone rings for a long time before she answers.

“How’s Paris?” I ask, trying to keep my voice light. Viola inhales. I wait for her to hang up.

“Paris is Paris,” she replies. The hum of traffic replaces the sound of her breathing.

“Thanks for Akhenaten,” I say. “So refreshing to see a stone Egyptian and not a plastic one.” The silence of the room presses against my chest.

“We should have stopped at the Pharaonic eye make-up collection,” she says.

“The marketing team insisted,” I reply, desperate not to hear ‘Walk like an Egyptian’ in my head. 

“We make art, not cheap crap. I mean, Barbie? I thought you were a feminist.”

Nefertiti Barbies appear before my eyes, gyrating their hips and waggling their plastic breasts, fluttering thick eyelashes around kohl-lined eyes.

After a long pause, she says, “I could have tried harder to stop you.”

My shoulders relax. My voice quivers. “Are you enjoying the oysters and champagne?”

“I’m drinking a canned cocktail on my balcony. Sometimes it’s fun to be trashy.” Viola laughs, a purr that travels the length of my spine. “Do you see the moon?” she asks. “It’s magnificent tonight.”

From my top-floor window, a fuzzy orange halo crowns the rooftops and dissolves into darkness.

“Can you see it?” Viola asks again. “I’m certain it looks the same in Zürich.”

When I tell her the sky is overcast, I hear the crunch of crushed metal and the click of a ring pull before she speaks again.

“Go into the street and look for the moon. Go now!”

“Viola,” I laugh. “Only you could send a postcard of the sun king and then tell me to look for the moon.”

“Call me back when you’ve found it.”

She hangs up. The dial tone reverberates in my ear. An image of Viola replaces her voice. She lies naked on the deck of a yacht, ropes clang against the mast, the wood is sticky with brine. I recall Viola’s tales of moon bathing on her parent’s schooner. Stories I only imagine because I’ve never seen her undressed.

                                                                       *

The balmy summer evening tugs at me while a single thought pushes me forward. If I spot her moon, maybe she will forgive me. I follow the steps that stream through the building and out into the night.

On the cobbled lanes, partygoers bustle in the shadows. A web of telephone lines divides the sky. In a fountain, a silver trickle of water shatters the hazy reflection of a street lamp. Cobbles merge into paving stones and then gravel, which shifts and crunches as I stride towards the lake.

At the pedestrian crossing, a globe flashes, casting a shimmer of mother-of-pearl across the zebra stripes. The city is glowing. On this orange night, how will I ever find the moon? Even at the lakeside, where no buildings provide cover, the sky is bare. Water slaps against the concrete walls.

I chase false moons until my feet ache, desperate to call Viola and tell her I’ve seen it, too. Finally, I give up and turn to go home. I’m rewarded. A balloon appears, caught in flight, tangled between the branches of a tree, swollen and luminous against the night. I hold my breath. Clouds pass over the surface swirling like albumen.

In the moonlight, I pull out the postcard and trace Akhenaten’s profile with my finger. The elegant nose hints at snobbishness. The plump lips cry out to be kissed. My thoughts surge and scatter as I think of her perfume, her warm laugh, her magnificent moon. It is Viola’s mouth I want to kiss.

                                                                         *  *  *

Ali Mckenzie-Murdoch is a UK dancer who lives in Zürich, Switzerland. Her work has been published in El Pais, Across The Margin, The Bluebird Word and is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine. In between running her dance studio and writing, she enjoys lifting heavy weights and wild swimming.

Foragers

By Lindsey Crittenden

We leave after breakfast, our shadows long over the gravel.  Sit in front, Eva insists. Single woman out with couple, I’m used to it.  Good thing, too, the way John zooms around bends, braking quick and sudden.  I keep my eyes straight ahead, the window cracked for air.  Through their small Colorado town – post office, bar, gas pumps – and he turns left.  Piñons, sage.  We climb, dip into a bowl of green.  Grazing lands.  On the right, a wolf sanctuary.  “Can’t stop,” John says. “Sun’s clearing the ridge.  We got to stake our spot.”

At 9,000 feet the valley opens up, a river cutting through and creeks feeding the river from mountains on all sides.  The Wets to the north, loaf-like prominences to the east.  South, tall hills hide the two-lane highway between Walsenburg and Alamosa.  To the west, the Sangre de Cristos, named for the reddish glow of setting sun against flanks of snow.  

The pines get taller, the soil loamier, the air thinner.  We pass vacant, widened shoulders, their dirt grooved from tire tracks. 

“Not yet,” John says. 

Another five hundred feet in elevation, we pass parked cars – pickups, a family van, a station wagon.  

“They got here first,” John says. “Motherfuckers.”

We’re here for boletus.  Late summer, after heavy rains, a day or two of sunshine:  their caps push up through the forest floor reddish and rounded atop thick white stalks.  

“Porcini,” I say.  “Cèpes.  Right?” 

John snorts.  “That’s foodie talk.  We’re foragers.”

The ugly mushrooms aren’t necessarily the dangerous ones.  One of the most hideous – Bear Claw, it’s called, its cap topped with a black crust like a drying scab – tastes quite good.  “You’ve eaten it, then,” I say.

“Oh, no,” Eva laughs.  “I’ve just heard.”

“The ones with the green sheen will kill you in minutes.”  John jerks the car to the right. No other cars in sight.  “This looks good.”

We get out, plastic shopping bags in our fists, and climb through air taut with pine.  Sunlight dapples the thick-needled forest floor.  John bends his head, scans the duff.  

“Find one to show her,” Eva says. Before meeting John, two days ago when they picked me up at the airport, I expected a quiet, thin man who’d nod and tilt his head while listening, pause before speaking, the way Eva does. Hid my surprise when I shook his blunt hand, nicked with scars from woodworking, and heard his booming voice.  My childhood friend has found a man I never would’ve imagined for her, and I can’t stop watching both of them.

I point. “That one?”

“Don’t assume,” John says.  “You’re new at this.”

“Be careful,” said the man I’ve been living with for two months, this morning over a cell connection so weak I had to go out to John and Eva’s back yard and stand near the apple tree raided nightly by bears in order to hear him.  I promised I’d touch nothing deadly.  

“How can you be sure?” he asked, and it’s true – I can’t. 

“We’ll be fine,” I told him.  “Eva and John know what they’re doing.”  

We wander, we hunt, we poke with the edge of a stick.  From time to time, John makes a wet clock of his tongue against palate, and Eva a two-tone whistle.  That way, we stay in earshot.  We break for lunch, eating sandwiches as we lean against the car.  

“I love this foraging stuff,” John says, picking onion skin from between his teeth.  “It’s the thief in me.”

“Well, love away,” Eva says, passing around oatmeal cookies.  “You’ll have plenty to clean tonight.”

“Not doing it alone,” he says, taking half a cookie in one bite. “You’ll be with me, woman.” 

“We just found each other,” my man at sea level said this morning.  “I can’t lose you now.”  He’s never called me his woman – but isn’t it part of who I am, who I long to be?  Didn’t I thrill to the sight, last night, of John at the kitchen door, banging pots at the bear who shook branches of the apple tree, dropped to all fours, ambled away?  

By the time we leave, we’ve filled four shopping bags. Forty pounds, easily.  I claim the back seat, drowsy from the sun and effort and lack of oxygen.  Plenty of things scared me as a girl and wolves weren’t one of them.  The Big Bad guy huffing and puffing on the straw house seemed silly; the pack circling the little house on the prairie to howl at the moon, awesome.  I longed to see one for real: just one, a loner like me.  We’d understand each other in a glance, go our own ways, no harm done.  

I sit up straighter as we pass the wolf sanctuary.  One, I think.  Let me see just one.   “Look!” I point to a gray smudge next to a brown building.

“Sagebrush,” John says, and takes the car around a bend. 

Another thirty miles, and we’re back in their kitchen.  Within 20 minutes, butter sizzles in a pan as John, aproned, sautés and serves. “Voilà,” he tells me, “your first foraged mushroom.”  Eva sits, tosses a salad.  We toast with wine.  Mushrooms delicious, I text home later.  All fine.  Miss you.

Eva and John stay up all night scraping and slicing while I sleep alone in the guest room’s white-sheeted bed, dreaming of wolves.  They mate for life, I’ve heard.  

It’s not like I don’t have my worries, too.

                                                        *   *   *

Lindsey Crittenden is the author of The View From Below: Stories and The Water Will Hold You, a memoir. Her award-winning short fiction has appeared in Mississippi Review, Cimarron Review, Glimmer Train, Quarterly West, and elsewhere. In November 2019, her story “The Ruins” was performed onstage by Word for Word Theater Company as a winner in the “Exactly!” They Said celebration of California short stories.  Lindsey lives in San Francisco and is a member of the Writers Grotto. 

The Endless Journey

By Alice Baburek

The drive was tedious and nerve-racking. Snow and sleet fell heavy on the roads. Horns honked while people drove crazy, slipping and sliding through changing lights. Winter months in Ohio were treacherous. Another record-breaking storm.

Alexandra Babek turned down the heat in the car. Beads of sweat lined her brow. She squinted to see through the rapid windshield wipers. The wet frozen rain finally turned into a veil of huge white snowflakes. She’d never make it to her appointment on time. Late again. 

Suddenly, her silver Impala went into a terrifying spin. Experience kicked in. Alex immediately turned the steering wheel in the direction of the twirling car. It stopped. Inhaling deeply, she puffed her cheeks, then expelled the air.  

Suddenly, she could see the headlights approaching fast.  The collision was brutal, slamming her head into the driver’s window. Excruciating pain seared through her skull then down her battered spine. Shards of glass blasted about her. Screeching sounds of metal twisting and turning echoed inside the crushed vehicle. Alex desperately tried to hold on to consciousness. Mercilessly, darkness consumed her soul.

Her eyes felt moist, but closed. The agonizing pain which ravaged her body had ceased. In fact, she felt nothing at all. Thank heavens. I’ll be fine. Alex strained to open her weary eyes. For a brief moment, the intense light left her sightless. Instantly, she closed them again. I must be in the operating room. Why else would the lights be so blinding?

“Alexandra Babek,” whispered a soft voice. Alex felt relieved. Yes, I’m in recovery now. Probably had some sort of surgery. But for what? Her mind searched back until the scrambled memories meshed together. I was in a car accident—now I remember!  This time, without hesitation, she released her heavy eyelids, then blinked a couple of times. Whiteness encompassed the room.

“Welcome!” called the voice. With ease, she sat upright. The colorless gown hung loose. Her arms and legs glowed. 

“What’s this?” she asked, staring at her radiating body. She should have felt panic—panic from this strange marvel. But instead, an unusual peacefulness surrendered her being. 

“Come, Alex, follow me,” said the strange voice. 

Alex glanced about. The walls were blank—there was no one there. In fact, there was nothing in the room, except for a door. Alex hopped off the table. Slowly, she walked across the pallid floor. It felt cool on her bare feet. She hesitated for a minute, then decided to continue on. As she turned the cold knob, a slight tingling sensation pulsated through her arm. Once the door was opened, she could not speak. 

“Alex, we are waiting…” The calming voice trailed away. 

As she stepped through, a rush of warm air blew lightly against her face and hair. The sun was brightly shining, and the blue sky was the deepest blue she had ever seen. Beautiful palm trees swayed to and fro. Mounds of tall green grass rustled in the blissful wind. Golden brown sand warmed her cool feet. 

“Where am I?” Alex couldn’t believe her eyes. “Is this a dream?”

“It is not a dream.” This time, the voice drew near. A lovely middle-aged woman stepped out into plain view. She stood tall and majestic in a long, wispy, flowing robe. Short brown curly hair cropped close to her slender face. Dark brown penetrating eyes filled with gentleness. Her smile was comforting.

“I am Gilda,” she said. 

Alex stood in awe. This has to be a dream. What else could it possibly be? “Are you…an angel?” whispered Alex. “Am I dead?” 

The beautiful woman remained silent for a brief moment. “Well…you could call me an angel. As for your demise…you should look at it as a journey—an endless journey. Maybe you could even call it a new and exciting adventure, I suppose.” She moved closer to Alex. “Regardless, you are here now.” 

Alex took a quick step back. “But…what about my family, friends? Will I ever see them again?” Even though she knew she should feel upset, only serenity filled her spirit.

“In due time…as so with many others,” she said in a soft voice. “Come…see for yourself.” Gilda gestured for Alex.  With a wave of her arm, the blue sky broke apart. Alex could see people—many people standing together, dressed in black.

“It’s my family!” she shouted. “They’re all crying…over me?”  Gilda gave a slight nod. 

“They all love me,” said Alex. She tried to cry, but the tears would not come.

“Very much so…but don’t you worry, Alex, you will cross paths with each one of them again. You see, your existence—whether it’s in that world or here—is endless. There is no beginning and there is no end.” Gilda once again waved her arm. Suddenly, the images disappeared. The blue sky returned.

“Why can’t I cry?” asked Alex. 

“There is no need to cry, my dear. Your physical journey has brought you to your spiritual journey. One continuous movement. Thus, no beginning, no end.”

“I don’t understand,” said Alex.   Gilda’s delightful laugh drifted away in the breeze.

“You will. Come with me, Alex.” She held out her hand. 

Alex reached for the gentle woman’s hand. The soothing peace she felt so deep inside left her completely free of any anxiety or worries she should have felt being in this strange, yet beautiful place. Wherever this place should be.

Without another word spoken, the two women walked hand-in-hand in silence. Alex stopped briefly and looked over her left shoulder.  Suddenly realizing her life was gone in an instant.  Never to be lived in again.  

Gilda gently pulled at Alex’s hand.  She smiled. “It’s time to let go of the past and embrace what awaits you.” 

Tranquility engulfed the slight shiver of resistance which crept within Alex’s fleeting existence.  She glanced at Gilda and knew her time had ended—and yet, just begun.  And that was all right.  Seconds later, a whispering, white mist consumed them. Their ghostly figures disappeared within the swirling breath of the heavenly winds.

                                                                     *   *   *

Alice Baburek is an avid reader, determined writer and animal lover. She lives with her partner and three furry canine companions in northeast Ohio. Retired from one of the largest library systems in Ohio, she challenges herself to become an unforgettable emerging voice.

Love Louder Than Law

  

By T. K. Howell

Meet me under the railway bridge when the street lights flicker into life and we’ll head into the city and test the give of the night. I know this club with a light-up floor and a bass that thumps and thrums right through your chest.

Let’s catch the train and when we land on the street, we’ll run untethered. Hold my hand as we bounce up to the bar and drop our first drink in a heartbeat. We’ll feel the kinetic charge of so many people with nothing on their minds but finding their own kind of fun. 

Because tonight will be different. 

Tonight we will drink the right drinks in the right measures and we’ll stay riding the crest of the buzz for hours and hours. 

Tonight we will fly from bar to bar on winged heels and the press of people will magically open up. The barman will see us first and the drinks won’t be watered and the music will be so loud that we’ll communicate entirely in kung-fu dance moves

Tonight, we won’t bump into your ex, the one with the long blonde hair and dimples. She won’t tell you you’re a piece of shit and that she’s moved on to better things and that I look like trash, and I won’t care that she’s right and that she’s cuter than I am. And I’ll believe you when you tell me she’s not. 

Tonight, you will pull me into a dark corner of the club and we will kiss until our jaws ache and our lips are raw. We will go back to your flat and nurse our hangovers from your bed until it’s Sunday night and we realise we haven’t washed, haven’t dressed, haven’t eaten for thirty-two hours. 

Tonight we won’t run out of money before midnight and the pills won’t be duds. 

Tonight we will see friends we’ve not seen for years and together we will unscrew the cap on the lightning we bottled way back when. 

Tonight I won’t fall in the street and rip my tights, pulling pieces of gravel out of my red-raw knees while people laugh. You won’t have to put my arm over your shoulder and help me onto the bus. You won’t sigh and shake your head.

Tonight we will be the febrile energy locked up in the first third of a vodka bottle. 

Tonight no one will pick a fight with us because they’ve had a skinful and they don’t like the way we kiss. 

Tonight, no one in this shit-heap town will tell us there should be laws against our kind of love.

Tonight you will be the song in my soul, as always. 

Tonight will be different. 

                                                                 *   *   *

T. K. Howell is a writer living on the banks of the Thames. When not writing, he manages ancient oak woodlands and tends to trees that are older than most countries. His writing is often inspired by mythology and folklore and can be found at various genre and literary spaces including Lucent Dreaming, Mystery Magazine, Firewords and Indie Bites. 

Moments in the Sun

                                              

A Memoir by Adrianna Sanchez-Lopez

My friend’s words invade memory plasma: We’re all just waiting for our moments in the sun. I tell her about blisters, about the temporal, about first memories when I thought you stretched open the sky each morning, thought you ushered in the sunlight, until one morning I awoke to rays of warmth on my skin, and you were missing. 

I rushed my small wobbly body into your bedroom, unable to understand how the sun awoke while your eyes remained closed. I didn’t realize in that young moment that my belief in you would slip, revolutions stifled to a sluggish gesture until the gravity of moments wedged a cavern between us, scorched retinas unable to see you until it became less about time and more about measurements of motion and the momentum of blame when we stood on my front porch and your nose reddened and you told me you had no other choice but to stay with him. I called you weak; you got in your car and drove away. 

The next morning sheets grated against burnt skin while the click of your car door echoed and echoed and echoed and the pain radiated from my temples and my insides tightened like fists. I burrowed under blankets in a dark room. I thought all wounds healed, but the sky yawned and snapped its jaw closed, swallowing my sun, my adoration of brevity, into a belly of darkness. Dark matter clung to moments: everything I should have said. I wrote your eulogy, wished the sun would emblazon my dreams the same way I remembered its radiance somewhere beneath the bony cavity of eyes, the protective orbits of first memories, when moments were collaged strips of your smile, evidence of a time when the entire world felt like you and me. 

Moments, like flames that ravage underground roots, like words meant to hurt even though I should have said I love you, or in the clicking of a car door that I can’t undo, like hovering—blinded—mid-flight, like what stays in motion, or equal opposite reactions that make me question how many times I will keep writing about losing you. A moment in the sun, I tell my friend, is not a moment at all. It’s the shadow between celestial bodies, the gap between what we said and what we meant to say, widening. And what I meant to say is that I understand not leaving too.

                                                                  *   *   *

Adrianna Sanchez-Lopez is a lover of words, trees, cats, and lavender tea. Her recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prose Online, The Headlight Review, Complete Sentence, Five MinutesThe Plentitudes Journal, Sky Island Journal, The Brooklyn Review and elsewhere. Learn more about Adrianna at adriannasanchezlopez.com.

Metaphysical Donna

                            

A Memoir by Leah Mueller

Crouching beside Lake Michigan at two in the morning, I stared at the heaving water, sobbing about a guy I liked, or perhaps loved, or maybe had just fucked.

A neighbor noticed me huddled over like a penitent while she strolled along the shoreline.

We called her Metaphysical Donna, because there were two Donnas in our building, and the other one was Red-Haired Donna. 

Metaphysical Donna painted pictures of goddesses and chakras, and she spoke in disjointed whispers about spectral visitations. We lived in an artist building, but Donna’s behavior was unusual, even by our loose standards.

It felt odd to seek validation from a woman who didn’t have a toehold on reality. Still, in my distraught state, I couldn’t afford to be picky.

Donna gazed hard at my forehead, as if trying to divine something lodged deep inside my cranium, and said, “You feel things so much because you’re special. You’re third-eye marked.”

Pointing at a mole set halfway between my eyes, she gave a sage nod, folded her arms, and said, “Why don’t you come up to my apartment for herbal tea?”

Metaphysical Donna was known to mix vodka with her herbal drinks, but I was hardly one to judge. I followed her upstairs, drank two cups of adulterated tea, then collapsed into my bed.

                                                 *                          

Forty years later, I can’t see the mole, so I am no longer third-eye marked. I guess you grow out of these things. 

I still don’t remember why I was crying so hard, but I’m sure the guy wasn’t worth it.

I hope the cosmos has been kind to Donna. She seemed too ethereal for Chicago. I heard she married a homeless guy she met under the Granville L tracks.

Our own encounter was no accident. Sometimes, people appear at the right time, just when you need their help the most.

                                                        *   *   *

Leah Mueller is the author of ten prose and poetry books. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Rattle, NonBinary Review, Glint, Midway Journal, Citron Review, The Spectacle, Miracle Monocle, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, etc. It has also been featured in trees, shop windows in Scotland, poetry subscription boxes, and literary dispensers throughout the world. Her flash piece, “Land of Eternal Thirst” will appear in the 2022 edition of Sonder Press’ “Best Small Fictions” anthology. Visit her website at http://www.leahmueller.org.

Rage

By Racheal Nye

It happens so fast. One touch too many. One cry too loud. A toy that won’t stop singing. A dog who won’t stop begging for attention. A partner craving affection. 

The room spins. The hair on my arm stands up. My ears buzz. My mind begins to race. My nipples are sore.  My mind is tired. My hair is a mess. I can’t remember the last time I showered. 

I grit my teeth and close my eyes, pressing my fingertips into my temples trying to calm the noise. I need a moment alone that will never come. 

I feel my heart begin to race. My skin wants to peel itself off. Just leave me alone — 

My eyes snap open to the sight of laundry on the couch. Is it clean or dirty? The baby is reaching for me my partner is watching the tv the dog is nuzzling under my arm my breath falls short my chest tightens my feet want to move but my legs are heavy — 

I look around and see a candle. Where are the matches?

It could be quick. An accident. I can already smell the flames licking away at my skin. Burn into ash. Everything is gone in the blink of an eye. 

Snap. Just like that — 

I look down at the baby tugging at me. 

A smile. 

My heart calms. My jaw relaxes. I take a deep breath. 

For a moment, silence. 

Just me and this smile. Everything else just melts away. 

I close my eyes and let the noise back in. But it’s lighter now. 

I blink away images of flames, and focus on her smile. 

Maybe I can get a laugh if I try. It’s the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard.

I reach down and pet the dog’s head. 

I look up at my partner and realize he’s begun folding clothes. I feel my breath slow as I watch him and notice his tired eyes. 

I realize I’ve started singing the song in the cartoon on the TV. 

I look down to see my baby is still smiling, reaching for my face. I kiss her little palm. 

The moment has passed. 

In my mind, we’re all safe again. 

Silently, I pray it’s the last time. 

                    

                                                     *   *   *

Racheal Nye received her BA in English Literary Studies from the University of North Carolina Wilmington and an MA in Professional Creative Writing with a concentration in Fiction from the University of Denver. She currently resides in North Carolina with her fiancé, daughter and dog. Racheal is a stay at home mom working on her writing career.