A Lullaby for Charlie

Nonfiction By J.F. Ewert

I closed your door just two minutes ago. Surely not more than five. Yet you insist that you’ve already slept and dreamed the most terrible things.

My disbelief bewilders you. As I fight to maintain my sternest parental scowl, your bewilderment blossoms into resolute conviction. You did dream. And it was so scary. You think it might be under your bed. If not there, in your closet.

Meanwhile, my disbelief persists. Smolders, even, as you plod back to bed.

That’s the trouble with time. To you, its menace is fresh. It attacks within seconds and then draws out the hour it inevitably takes you to fall asleep.

For your old man, time dawdles even as it sprints. I have forgotten what it is like to catch a shadow on the wall. To hear a stir in the closet. And when I do notice such things, I promptly place them in the realm of reality. Because I know their whats, whys, hows, and wherefores.

You’re too young to read poetry. I’ll quote a poet at you, nonetheless. “In headaches and in worry,” he wrote, “Vaguely life leaks away.”

You’re also too young to understand the truth in those lines. And your youth is a gift. Nothing is vague in your eyes, especially in the dark, when you can’t – or won’t – sleep. Everything is vivid and instant and out of your control.

That’s why you creep across the balcony and sneak up to my chair when I am not looking. You know you shouldn’t, and yet you know that you need to.

You even know that I need you to.

We pretend that, this time, you will go back to bed and stay there.

We each make promises, threats, whatever tumbles easily out of our mouths. Passionate words and fervent nods that we both know are empty of meaning. Because it cannot end until I climb up to your room and stretch out on your bed.

When I drape my arm across your shoulders, you instantly seize it in the vice grip of your small hands. Only then is time defeated, for however long we can ward off its vague cackles, each of us banishing worry by being present to our presence.

                                                        *   *   *

J. F. Ewert is a creative writer and consultant who lives with his family in Franklin, Tennessee. Most recently, he has published memoir essays in Agape Review and Winter Pages. He previously wrote Blue Ice and Other Stories from the Rink (Canon Press, 2009), a collection of short fiction about ice hockey.


By Julie Barney

Bad news falls from his mouth before I can catch it. Hands and knees on the floor, searching, bad news escapes me. It buries itself in the carpet like hundreds of little black fleas. I claw at the fibers but words wriggle deeper into the floor. I try to crush them with pounding fists but they are strong.

On the edge of my vision I see them in clusters that make sense but, as I turn, the words scatter and squirm back into the carpet. Some of the words jump, biting. They leave me stunned and itchy. Some climb up my neck and make me shiver. I can feel bad news crawling over my scalp, feeding and laying eggs. I try to rake it out with my fingers- end up with nothing except hair.

I remember the man then, so I stand. I see my children playing with train track. Around them the floor is alive with bad news. Outside the Sun shines. The pavement, the trees, the grass, are crawling with nothing except happiness and summer. I tell the man that we are going to the park. These words are candy floss pink and butter yellow. They drift like confetti at a wedding and bad news is scared of them.

I talk more and more about the park, swings and river while I get my children ready to go. The man says something about identifying a body. I catch these words but drop them quickly to the floor. They wriggle down into the carpet and I leave them there. The man pours instructions into his radio. Navy blue worker ants, easy to ignore.

I keep talking the happy words which hold bad news at bay. Bad news can’t get me now. But I can see the man looks sad and cross. Bad news is feeding on him now instead of me. I notice the words he tips into his radio are infested with little black fleas. Somehow this is my fault. If I tried harder to catch the bad news and contain it the man would be safe. I care about that. Then I look at my children, bad news scrabbling around their shoes looking for a way in, and I care about that more.

I try to explain to the man that we must go. These words are deformed and don’t make sense. Their wings won’t work. They fall to the floor and bad news feasts on them. The man says we can go to the park, so we do.

My children run ahead. Bad news hasn’t spread this far yet. I speak to friends in words of lilac and blue. Children’s voices ring out over the river like silver dragon flies. Little black fleas are biting me under my clothes, no one can see them.  

I see the police car out on the road, the man watching. I can ignore them. But my children are tired and hungry. It’s chilly and we didn’t bring jumpers or coats. Friends have gone back to their houses. It’s getting dark and starting to drizzle. It’s the happy words that escape me now.

It’s time to go home and be eaten alive by bad news.

                                                                    *   *   *

Julie Barney lives on the Isle of Wight with her husband and two grown-up children. She works full-time as an early years practitioner, for an organization that shares her love of the outdoors, and her belief in its ability to heal. She writes when she can, especially when she should be doing other things.

Fluffy Fever Dream Symphony


By Scott Thomas Outlar

Contrarian values escalated to the highest peak. Uppercased and placed on a silver pedestal. Superhuman friction fundamentals scratch against the metal spike, working out all the rough edge elementals. Flashpoint of degeneration as the species takes a high voltage dose of vaccine liquidation straight to the head. Recalcitrance flows through the muddy stream until reaching a waterfall of sludge and scrap iron plating. Pencil neck, bureaucratic, chicken hawk, fuck faces fudge numbers to get a bigger budget for their war profiteering schemes of madness. Evaluation ceremonies in the high loft take place on the backroom casting couch. Sell your soul for the mighty dollar. Suck and slobber your way up the corporate ladder. Confidence man plays the rubes like a used rubber. Trashcan pinpoint vomit alert. Laser sharp letters light up the neon sign billboards on Broadway. The vultures know just where to swoop in. See the attitude of mercy being decimated as all the parasites come running for a feast.

Beauty incarnates upon the earth in low frequency reverse osmosis radiation sent from the heavens. Pouring down to saturate the skin pores of a polished gene splice after the final flood. Waking up the comatose and shaking loose their cobwebs. Fever dream theory escalating consciousness via a rising crescendo of sublime orchestral accompaniment. Sipping lemonade in the sunshine. Tanned flesh from the heat wave. Electromagnetic pulsations splashing the pages of a novel theory. Original content. Genesis point. Propaganda laced and published to alter the mindset of a virulent minority.  Vitriol and Vaseline released from the depths. Rise up from thy fat ass and break free from thy confines. Shackles of gold are still tools of entrapment in a gilded cage. Better to walk freely without chains than to rot away in front of a television screen. Drooling automatons on one side. Awakened, passionate, full throttled, highly aggressive cavemen on the other. Battle positions assumed. Ready, set, fight.


Lovely intentions wrapped up in sanguine desires. Force fed down the throat of a blacklisted neurotoxin. Stuffed gut. Warped adrenaline. Chemical pollution enters the bloodstream. Hormonal shifts reverberate across the eons. Lackluster performances by the backbiting minions of the mob majority come up short when it counts the most. Always second rate in their third-degree communications. Heavy lighting. Poisoned questions. Venom spit from the parched, blistered lips of a rattled viper. Startled, scared, scarred, and sanctimoniously slithering away into the soft underbrush.


I wanted to write something happy and fluffy about cotton candy clouds and blue-sky mirrors that reflect the perfect truth of reality. I wanted to say a few words on the glorious imagination of a Creator so in love with its creation that fireworks are set off in celebration on a nightly basis. I wanted to dive into the deep end and dwell upon the magnificent underbelly of an oceanic masterpiece. I wanted to sing songs of Selah into a diamond studded microphone and praise the dancing Egyptian iconography as it splashes across the walls, staining them in clay hieroglyphic portraits of empirical success. I wanted to lay down in satin sheets of silk persuasion and get caught up in the art of love with a bombshell beauty set to explode at the tip of my finger and touch of my tongue. I wanted to lick the sweet sweat from the sticky skin of an ice cream daydream melting in the summer swelter. I wanted to ride the cool waves of a calm breeze to places heretofore unknown.  


I wanted to document the discovery of an island where pink caterpillars crawl in concert to the chorus of monarch butterfly bliss as they drift serenely through the air toward their next incarnation. I wanted to submerge to the dark underbelly of insanity only to rise again upon an emerging tide into perfect peaceful coexistence with all reality to prove the wild point of inherent chaotic order in the extreme methods of universal madness. I wanted to blink in and out of the third dimensional awareness in a quantum shutter shift as reality shudders and shakes to the quaking magnitude of a fault line fading into sublime upheaval. I wanted to take a dry run on the wet slopes of an open plain while cascading and careening to the rhythm of a coalescing energy field vibrating in the back of my mind. I wanted to see the light and hear the hum as my third eye bursts open and radiates with incandescent indigo flashes of neon pulse waves. I wanted to ride the serpent and chase the dragon until the ensuing high hits unparalleled levels of emotional ecstasy and my body spontaneously combusts into a fireball of high frequency vaporized steam.  


I wanted to know the truth and taste the peace and suck dry the bones of empathy. I wanted to understand compassion at the core nexus where new nebulas are birthed into existence by an implosive force of laser sharp intensity focused solely on evolutionary progress toward peak performance of consciousness throughout the cosmos. I wanted to rain down with a symphony of blessed purification to cleanse the world with a flood of blissful rejuvenation.


But you can’t always get what you want…

                                                            *   *   *

Scott Thomas Outlar is originally from Atlanta, Georgia. He now lives and writes in Frederick, Maryland. His work has been nominated multiple times for both the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. He guest-edited the Hope Anthology of Poetry from CultureCult Press as well as the 2019-2023 Western Voices editions of Setu Mag. He is the author of seven books, including Songs of a Dissident (2015) and Abstract Visions of Light (2018). Selections of his poetry have been translated and published in 14 languages. More about Outlar’s work can be found at 17Numa.com.




No Angel

By Bobbi Bowden

The warmth of the sun on my back penetrates my soul. People around me are laughing and carefree, buzzing with energy and life. I smile. No one seems to notice me. I’m here, but not really. Just observing. I think I’m an angel, protecting. 

I sense I’ve lost time now, and day has given way to night. The sun has retreated, taking with it the warmth, the comfort. The air quickens. I’m now acutely aware of the bitter chill that consumes me. Everyone is gone. My eyes focus just enough to make out the silhouette of a figure—a woman. A spark of vague recognition. I don’t want to move closer. I don’t want to know. But something urges me forward, each step bringing a drastic drop in temperature. Now, it is snowing.

 I’m compelled to move closer, just close enough to find that she’s younger than before, yet still familiar. She’s all alone. I strain to see through the blanket of white between us. I stop. In another world, this is where I would be gripped with a sense of dread. 

She’s tiny now, younger still—so vulnerable. Where’s her mother? I should help her, but my legs won’t take me. She falls, and the snow begins to mount around her. Her desperate wails now pierce my ears, my thoughts. I should call out to her. I should go to her—collect and comfort her. But I don’t. Her ivory skin is the same as the coffin of snow that has entombed her. Her body stills. Her final cry is a minor chord that hangs for a moment, before being swallowed up by the greedy night. Still, I do nothing, only witness.  

More time lost. I will my body to move, to finally go to her, if only to confirm. I drop my gaze. I know her. I know her because she is me. Buried, save for dead eyes staring up at me, through me, she asks why. I whisper, “There is no answer that will satisfy you, my old friend, but I do promise to sit here with you until you feel peace.” 

So, we stay together as one, through the lonely night, until the girl does indeed feel peace. It is morning once again. The sun returns. The girl is gone. And I know that I am no angel.

                                                     *   *   *

Bobbi is a graduate of Indiana University Bloomington, where she currently resides with her life partner (a screenwriter), her two teen daughters, and two neurotic dogs. She has worked as a real estate broker, legal assistant, and school literacy coach. Bobbi is a well-traveled introvert who craves introspection above all things, whether through meditation, walks in nature, reading, journaling, or deep connection with her small, trusted circle. Her work appeared in the recent edition of Shorts Magazine.


By Judith Speizer Crandell

Crying myself awake year after year, it’s the fear of never talking to my suffocating mother again that grabs me out of sleep over and over tangled in love-worn sheets and sooty plaid blankets, strangled by opposing stabs, “Don’t you need to lose 27 pounds?” “Why aren’t you dating a Jewish boy?” “Call me at 5 PM tomorrow, 2:34 PM Saturday, 7:59 AM Sunday”  

“I love you.”

She plays the piano over and over as I sing from my teenage repertoire, “The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow,” “Over the Rainbow,” “Somewhere,” “If Ever I Would Leave You.”  

One morning, I scramble around the dusty floor using my left claw as a miniature crane like in the Plexiglas cube where I never could snatch a button-eyed stuffed panda, a toothy rubber crocodile and she called it a waste of her money my desperate search for comfort toys, hunting for my zipper-blown sweatshirt and bead-dangling moccasins. I come up empty, find myself unable to discern the difference, awake-asleep awake-asleep awake-asleep. 

My mother’s death is nightmare-transfused reality.  Her open mouth emptied of sound.  My ears blinded by psychedelic sirens.  High alert. Over. I roll over. Now. I can go back to sleep. 


                                                           *   *   *

An award-winning writer, Judith Speizer Crandell received residencies at the Rockvale’s Writers’ Colony, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Yaddo, A Room of One’s Own and was chosen for the 2014 Tucson Festival of Books. Writers’ conferences she attended include San Miguel Allende, the Joiner Center, Mendocino and Byrdcliffe. The Maryland State Arts Council granted her their Individual Artist Fellowship for her novel, The Resurrection of Hundreds Feldman. Delaware chose her to attend the Delaware Division of the Arts and Arts Council 2018 Seashore Writers Retreat. The Woman Puzzle, received the Delaware Women’s Press Association 2020 first prize novel category.

Phobos The Dog

By Sascha Udagawa

It was time to make a move. Adrienne had been putting it off for as long as she could, but Roger kept insisting he needed to be on the same planet as his clients. 

“Look at those beautiful rolling hills,” he said, as they watched a promotional video together. “You can sit on the grass and paint all day.”

“Yeah, it does look nice.”

And it did. The hills were a lovely crisp shade of green and the sky was robins-egg blue. It would be a relief not to have to worry about things like megacyclones or benzene pollution anymore.

Since Adrienne had been worried that the environment on Mars would be too barren, Roger had secured them a place in a lifestation that boasted “ultra-realistic Earthlike scenery” and a “burgeoning art scene.”

But there was also the problem of Henri. Technically they could have taken him along, but Adrienne couldn’t bear the thought of depriving him of his daily frolic with his pals in their scrubby neighborhood park, even if she did have to wrestle him into a protective mask every time they left the house. 

They ended up leaving him behind with Adrienne’s dad, who was determined to stay put until either he “kicked the bucket” or the planet did.

It was night when they arrived, and the first thing Adrienne noticed was the color of the sky. It wasn’t just black; it was an intense velvety shade of purple-crimson-indigo darkness that would have been impossible to recreate using even the finest Dutch oil paints.

Once they got inside the lifestation, though, the “sky” was a dull blue-black with shimmerless white stars. 

In the morning, Adrienne went for a stroll. The air felt tight somehow, and everything had this weird red-orange tinge to it. The pastel-colored trees and symmetrical hillocks looked like one of those Monet-inspired eyesores you see in motel rooms.

She followed a group of bland-looking business types to the town center and spotted a sign saying “OBSERVATORY.” When she approached, a guard standing in front of a control panel pulled open a heavy metal door and gestured for her to go in. 

The vibrant, rust-colored vista on the other side of the thick glass wall was stunning. As Adrienne stood there admiring it, she heard a familiar panting sound and turned to see a French bulldog like Henri being held back on its leash by a man with wiry gray hair and a sad look in his eyes. 

“New here?” he asked.

“Yeah. Just arrived last night.”

“Welcome. I’m Mark.”

“Adrienne.” She reached down to pat the dog. “I have—I mean had—a dog just like this. His name’s—”

Suddenly an alarm started buzzing and a signboard flashed: “HEALTH WARNING! EXIT NOW!”

“What’s going on?”

“You can only be in here for five minutes,” Mark said. “Too much radiation.” 

It turned out Mark’s apartment was in the same complex as Adrienne and Roger’s. As they walked back together, Mark’s dog snuffled at the frayed edge of Adrienne’s jeans where Henri had slobbered before she left. 

Mark tilted his head to one side. “I guess he likes you.”

“What’s his name?”

“Phobos. Pho for short.”

Hearing his name, the dog stopped sniffing and gazed up at Mark lovingly.

“Phobos? Isn’t that the name of a Greek god or something?”

“Yeah, the god of fear actually, but it’s also one of Mars’s moons.”

“Oh.” Now she remembered. She’d seen it in the video. A black blob sliding across the face of the cadmium sun. Mars had another moon, too, but she couldn’t recall its name.

“How did he handle the move?”

“Pho? I adopted him here actually.”

“Oh.” Adrienne was confused. Were they breeding puppies on Mars now? Or did the lifestation have some kind of animal shelter?

 “How about you? How are you handling the move?”

“So far, so good,” Adrienne said, even though she felt like she’d been ejected from a submarine and was trying to make her way up from the depths of the ocean. “But I’m anxious to get back to work.” 

“Oh? What is it you do?”

“I paint. Landscapes mostly.”

Mark winced. “You might have a tough time at first.”

“Yeah, the scenery does feel a little forced. But the observatory’s given me hope. I think I’ll take my sketchpad next time.”

Mark nodded, but his somber expression didn’t change. “You can only go in there once a day, you know.”

Adrienne’s stomach seized up. Why hadn’t she realized how confined they’d be? Why hadn’t Roger warned her? 

When the panicky feeling in Adrienne’s stomach rose up to her chest, Phobos waddled over and pressed his face against her ankle, letting out a playful snort. 

“Huh,” Mark said, tilting his head again. “He’s never done that before.”

They walked in silence for a while, and then Adrienne stopped. The ruddy light from outside seemed to have filtered in through the opaque lifestation membrane and turned the pale blue sky iridescent lavender. She couldn’t take her eyes off it.

“Lovely at this time of day, isn’t it?” Mark said. His voice had a soothing quality that Adrienne hadn’t noticed before. She took a deep breath and realized the air didn’t feel as tight now.

When they started walking again, Phobos trotted alongside matter-of-factly, his nails tapping on the hollow-sounding footpath. Adrienne wondered if he wished there were mysterious aromatic stains on the ground to examine like Henri did back on Earth. But he didn’t, of course. Phobos was a native. 

                                                                 *   *  *

Originally from the United States, Sascha Udagawa spent most of her childhood in England and has lived the bulk of her adult life in Japan, where she works as an editor and Japanese-to-English translator. She has studied creative writing at Temple University Japan and UCLA Extension. She is currently working on her debut novel, an excerpt from which has been published in the Eastern Iowa Review.


By Karen Walker

Mimi. My greyhound. I find her luxuriating on Mom’s chintz settee, where no human ever sat. Mimi probably pricked her ears at the mess, but wouldn’t have created it. She’s black and white. Clean, never wrong.                                                         

Phil, wily stripey whippet. He greets me at the front door, wagging his side of the story before I see the mud and debris, the disaster.  He loves me and missed me. He’s not responsible. It was Andrew.

My big white cloud of an English setter. Andrew lies among the broken fronds, his plumed tail swishing and clinking shards of shattered pot. I point, I yell. He’s droopy-eyed. Wut?

The plant was Mom’s. A Golden Palm. During her last days, she sat beside it in the sunny front window. When I told her about needing to move home, she picked at the leaves’ yellow tips and tsk-tsked. Disappointed, I think, in the plant’s growth and mine.    

The carpet was bisque. Plush. Mom raked it daily like a zen sand garden. Her vacuum marks live on in the far corners of the living room.  

Pop. I find him in the basement among boxes of Mom’s Royal Doultons. Smoking his pipe. Did he not hear what was going on above? He puffs smoke rings. “No, o, o, o.” 

I help him up the stairs, squeeze his hand, show him what’s happened. 

Apologies. I’m so sorry about the palm and the carpet. I’ll root a piece and get a steam cleaner, rake and vacuum like Mom did. Promises. And, while we’re here, teach them better manners. Not that we’ll be here long because I’ll find a rental that allows three dogs. Pop, you were right about Josh. Mom was, too. Confessions.   

Granddogs. As I call them. Pop doesn’t. He feels bad about pointing fingers, but whispers it was probably the striped one—”What’s his name again?”—that did it. “The skinny little devil never listens, just like his mother.” 

                                                                       *   *   *

Karen’s work is in or forthcoming in A Thin Slice of AnxietyBullshit LitJAKEThe Gorko GazetteL’Esprit Literary ReviewMoon Cola ZineNeuro Logical, FlashBack Fiction, Pigeon Review, and others. She/her. @MeKawalker883



By Jan Cronos

 Akira sighed. She tugged at her braid. She dreamed of a world that was sweet and kind. But it wasn’t. Akira stared at the sky.

It was beautiful, a place of refuge. But storm clouds were forming.

“Jar,” she said. Then hesitated.  Her once best friend had become a stranger.

“Huh?”  Jar frowned.

“I’m worried. The world is changing. Even the clouds.” 

She had no words, just pointed with a shaky hand.

Jar laughed in a voice that had become harsh and guttural. “Please Akira. Don’t be such a silly Nellie. Why do you believe those ideas  about the sky? Those clouds are just a breath of foul wind and a mist of water. That’s all.”

Jar’s tone was slipper soft as he sipped from a blue glass cup. His small, upturned nose was still touched with freckles and his smoky hair had darkened, the little ringlets now dry and tarry.  Jar’s large gray eyes, once yielding pools of foggy vapor, were cracked crystal.

“Have a drink, Akira,” he offered, grinning, his full lips damp and smooth. “It’s a rough world for a woman.” He winked, then guzzled down the fluid.

Akira stared. She was puzzled. A few pale, pinkish drops trickled from Jar’s delicate ears, as if they were funnels filtering out the last drops of an undesirable ingredient. The fluid evaporated, making slow Chaîné turns like a graceful ballerina, then elongating and loping effortlessly, a pink unicorn light as air. Then it was gone, merged in pastel clouds seamed with darkness. She blinked. A whinny gusted on the wind, plaintive, mournful.

Jar grunted, wiping his mouth which was coated with a turquoise froth.

Akira shook her head and blinked again. Jar was so different now, a stranger. She’d known Jar since high school when the two orphaned girls were inseparable. Even as adults, Akira and Jar were very close. They were loners, confiding in each other, sharing their concerns and secret dreams. Then, one day, Jar changed; Jar was a man. Akira wasn’t sure how or why Jar had switched gender. When she asked, Jar shrugged. Such transformations were medically possible, of course, but they had become more frequent. Akira wasn’t sure why. Yes, the world was dominated by males, but she still preferred being a woman. 

Akira sighed as Jar quaffed the bubbly liquid and burped. She missed the old Jar. This new version was insensitive, less intuitive. Akira couldn’t disclose her feelings to Jar anymore without being ridiculed. She tugged her long strawberry blond braid. Akira had no other close friends and the loss hurt.

Later, as she walked down the sidewalk, her feet imprinted on newly tarred ground. Workers in starched shirts and blue jeans were everywhere, tearing down shapely old buildings and erecting new ones that protruded like serrated teeth. She grimaced. The city was becoming ugly, brutish. 

Above, no man’s hand had defaced the sky.  Puffy equine clouds trotted across a pretty though muddy heaven. Akira took a breath and smiled. She imagined a faint scent of fresh manure as if a pony was grazing in a hidden alleyway. 

On the street, strange men bustled by Akira, severe and self-absorbed. She wondered if their wives and partners were busy homemakers; or were they all bachelors? These days men outnumbered women.

Once more, her gaze turned upward. To her it was a place of dreamlike beauty. Bundled nimbus formed a gathering of feisty females.  Murky and slightly salmon colored, Akira thought the clouds resembled shadowy palominos. The southern sky was slate, and thunder rumbled like a pack of snorting mustangs.

Akira hugged herself. Strange sensations swirled through her body. She frowned. Jar would say she was being silly.

As she passed the pharmacy, a group of men in blue lab coats were pouring strawberry syrup from black metal buckets into a large, vermiform vat. Bunsen burners under it flamed sapphire bright. Pink steam shot into the sky like floral pollution. 

“What are they doing,” she asked an adolescent boy with sly brown eyes who chuckled. 

“Cloud-seeding,” he replied with a smirk.  

She frowned and walked faster. A few blocks away, Akira noticed a group of policemen at the corner, their stiff navy uniforms waxy and dull.

They surrounded a pretty girl with sea-green eyes and wavy auburn hair. The girl fidgeted, but they offered her a slim blue bottle, and she began to drink, slowly at first and then sloshing down the liquid as they laughed. 

Akira blinked. The young woman’s hair was shorter now, as if invisible scissors were shearing it little by little. Her features gradually hardened.  A stream of pink liquid flowed out her ears, pale pearls of a maiden’s lost innocence. One of the officers collected it in a black metal bucket.

As Akira stood staring, a policeman noticed her. Taking the bottle from the girl, he snickered and called out to Akira, then headed towards her, raising it. 

“Hey honey,” the officer said with a sneer, “want a sweet bubbly drink? You’ll love it.”

The sky darkened and the thunder became pronounced.  As Akira stood there, a herd of smoky, shade-gray mares hurtled down snorting and stomping.
She quickly stepped aside. Hazy steam shot from nostrils flared and fiery as they passed her, galloping straight towards the officer with the bottle. 

“It’s a stampede,” she cried, but the officer grinned, oblivious. Moments later, he was trampled. Akira shut her eyes as steel-shod hooves pounded him into powder. Manes blowing madly in a cold wind, the horses lengthened their strides, elevated skyward and merged into pastel clouds.  The stricken cadre of
remaining police cursed, shaking bony fists. Then they scattered, dragging the bemused and oddly muscular girl with them. 

Akira stood silent and shivered in frigid air.  She was alone on the corner. Snowflakes swirled and began to fall. They grew larger, turning as slowly as paper mâché horseshoes. The damp flakes brushing by her face were tender, chilled kisses. Akira’s earlobes were frosty. She touched them gently, afraid she
would feel leaking moisture, but they were delicate and dry. 

Staring upwards, she saw clusters of cumulus coalesce, forming a hazy human face. The features resolved. They were vaguely familiar-curiously feminine, with a halo of curling mist, an upturned, freckled nose and soft gray, misty eyes. As it gazed down at her, its full lips curved into a smile.

                                                                     *   *   *

Author writes in New York City under the pen name Jan Cronos. This includes flash, poems, shorts and hybrids.


The Walk & Talk

By J. L Barnes

Marlow’s long-time girlfriend Gretta left him the week after he concluded his physical therapy, a cruel thing to do, most would think, considering all he had done for her during their time together in the shared flat overlooking the radiant city skyline. Unseasonable as it was, the breakup might’ve delivered him some greater perspective, no matter the pain. Regardless of whether it was Gretta’s intention to step on his heart, it hurt him most, her doing so without remorse, skipping out with deaf ears to any disapproving words from opinionated friends and family members.

When Marlow drove himself into a craze, metaphorically turning over tables for the whereabouts of his supposed love, it was the honor, the good will of another friend, Eleanor, that had pointed him to the light.

“She’s gone, Marlow,” Eleanor told him at the bar. “It doesn’t matter where she is. It doesn’t matter what she’s doing. It doesn’t matter who she’s with. She’s gone, not your concern anymore.”

“It makes no sense.” He reached the bottom of his glass right then, the ice cubes clanking around after he slammed it down. “We were—We were happy, weren’t we?”

Eleanor took that question as rhetorical, the way people ask out loud, “Why God?” She’d let the moment linger before she put out, “Look. It’s understandable to want answers. But let’s not do this here. Don’t become the cliché who digs himself his grave right after his girlfriend dumps him.”

“What else am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to go? The flat reminds me of her.”

“Let’s go for a walk then. You’re fully recovered, right? C’mon.”

“I want another drink first.”

“I won’t go with you being a stumbling, mumbling mess.”

“It’s just one, Nora.”

“Marlow, no means no. Get up and stop acting sorry for yourself. Take it from your friend who’s known you half your life, it’s really pathetic.”

Marlow huffed and went into his leather wallet to pay for his drinks. But Eleanor had already produced the bills and slid it to the bartender.

“You didn’t have to.” Marlow was looking like a sad puppy.

Eleanor ignored the submissive gesture. “Shut up and walk.”

The night was the inside of an oven, baking everything slowly. Thankfully, a convenient breeze came when it was needed most to take away some of the stickiness accumulating under their summer tops.

Together they sauntered on the sidewalk as faster travelers moved briskly by them.

“Hey, Nora. You’re a girl.” Marlow was coming off any drunkenness he had fairly quickly.

“Last I checked.”

“So you know how girls think.”

“If you’re about to ask me what Gretta was thinking, know that I don’t feel inclined to represent the entire female subspecies. Therefore I don’t feel inclined to go there.”

“Fine. Fine.”

“But I can generalize for you. I don’t make a habit of dispensing advice, so take what I say as you want.”

Marlow’s gaze never left Eleanor’s face except for when he needed to step over uneven pavement or up and down a curb.

“You’re a good guy, Marlow. A very good guy. You’re so good you’d probably donate your life savings to a relief effort with little convincing.”


“You’re so good that you’re too good. Do you see where I’m going with this?”

“Is being too good a bad thing?”

“In an ideal world it wouldn’t be. It’s one of those scenarios where too much of a good thing is a bad thing. I can see being too good as poison for a relationship.”

“I don’t understand.”

“How about this: You’re not bad-looking. In fact, I would go so far as to call you somewhat handsome. But even a handsome guy can lose his lady if he isn’t really doing it for her anymore. Get it?”

“You’re talking about bedroom action?”

“Eh. Maybe.”

They stopped at a crosswalk instead of turning the block. A dog walking with its owner came by Marlow’s leg, sniffed, then was pulled away by its leash.

“I didn’t hear any complaints.”

“Well sometimes complaints are unspoken. How many times have you thought to complain to your boss but didn’t, thinking of possible repercussions?”

“Oh God.” Marlow’s posture crumbled. “I was on medication for chrissakes!”

“I didn’t say this had anything to do with you not being able to get it up.”

An old woman came up behind them. Marlow blushed, assuming she’d heard Eleanor’s last bit.

“What else is there then?” he asked mutedly, after the old woman passed them as they continued across the walkway.

“The emotional aspects, obviously. The issue of if she’d gotten fed-up with you because you became complacent.”

“Still not getting it.”

“The problem is you can’t see the problem. Complacency made you intolerable. Simple as that.”

Marlow had a thinking look on his face as he walked. It was the face of intellectual constipation. He said nothing in response to Eleanor’s take.

“Did you notice anything off with Gretta before she left?” Eleanor asked.

“Only that she was a little agitated. But I figured it was because of the heat. She always said she wanted to move up north.”

“There’s something you weren’t seeing then. Think harder.”

Marlow looked stumped for a long while before inspiration struck him and he said, “Maybe it was something she found out.”

“What? Found out that you were going to propose?”

The silence indicated the affirmative.

They stopped again. Across the street a couple walked arm-in-arm together. They seemed happy, mockingly happy.

“She wasn’t ready,” Marlow wheezed.

“Neither were you, actually. You don’t have to feel bad over this.”

“How should I feel?”

“Like you learned something valuable. Life isn’t going to baby you until you’re back in diapers at the ripe old age of eighty. It’s gonna bury you in shit but it’s up to you to crawl out of it.”

Marlow looked like he wanted to kiss her that moment.

“Don’t even think about it,” spat Eleanor.

                                                                       *   *   *


J. L Barnes is a writer based in New York recently published in Every Day Fiction. 

The Bear

By E.C. Haskell

“I’ve had three reports now. Just yesterday, a guy cataloging invasive plants came in with hands shaking, face so sweaty I thought he was gonna pass out. Before that, a bunch of backpackers, one guy hyperventilating like he’d seen a tree octopus or something and–”

The office door next to me reverberated beneath a salvo of hard knocks.

My friend Liam, Aussie ex-pat and evolutionary biologist for the Olympic National Park, looked up with annoyance. “Later!” he yelled.

I hurried on. “Bottom line is, we’ve got a bear out there stealing food from people’s bear-proof canisters. I’m told it can open them, easy. And humans don’t scare it. Heck, it even charged a guy and tore a canister off his backpack.”


“Exactly. So I went up to the ponds where it’s been seen and set out spy cams, but two days later … Poof! Gone.” 

Liam dug one hand through thick black hair. “That’s–”

The door to his office quaked with another barrage. Frowning, he leaned to pull it open. There stood two men in slickers and heavy hiking boots, their faces set with determination.

The bigger of the two slipped into the room, dark eyes fixed on me. “Sorry ‘bout this, but you’re a hard lady to find. We need to talk.” 


“My boss has been hearin’ about some crazy smart bear out here. He wants a look-see.”

“Park’s open, twenty-four, seven, all year long.”

The man chuckled. “Guy’s a billionaire, ya know? He sent us. And you–” he reached for my arm.

Liam’s chair clattered against the wall as he stood, gray eyes glinting ice. 

The man stepped back, hands raised. “Easy, dude. From what I hear, this bear could be damned valuable. Ya know?”

“Don’t care.” Liam’s deep voice could have curdled stone. “Park wildlife is protected.”

The man huffed, his eyes narrowing. When Liam didn’t budge, he pulled a silver card from his pocket and handed it to me. “Give the man a call. Could turn into a nice hunk of funding. For the park.”

With that, the two men turned, clomping down the hall.

As the footsteps faded, I felt Liam’s hand on my shoulder. “We better get up to those ponds, pronto.” 


We started up the trail at dawn, the early sun shooting slivers of liquid gold through cedars. Moving steadily, we wound our way past the prickly arms of blackberry bushes, forded a frothy stream and dodged a goshawk defending her nest. At last we came to a wide meadow, studded with ponds, smelling of bog and water lilies. 

We made our way to the largest of the ponds. Liam placed his newly-filled bear proof canister next to it. We circled the area, looking for signs of the creature. All we found was one peculiar footprint, ursine but with a rudimentary transverse arch. Liam grunted in disbelief. He photoed and measured it before we retreated to the shelter of a shallow cave. 

It was early afternoon when a pair of marmots hooted an alarm, their rounded bottoms disappearing into rocks. On the slope below us, a cluster of  hemlocks swayed. A flash of reddish gold appeared, a massive bear, moving toward the canister. It reached out, black claws glinting in sun. Liam raised his camera.


The noise punched through air. The bear swerved sideways, diving into the murky waters of the pond. Next to where it had stood a hypodermic needle quivered, oozing liquid. 

“Knock out drug,” Liam murmured. “Betcha anything. And there,” he said, scowling across the ponds, “are the billionaire’s lackeys.”

The older man held a Barrett rifle; the younger a tranquilizer gun. 

I groaned, cursing myself for a fool as I pulled a silver card from my pocket.

Liam glanced at it. “Business card with tracker, huh? Damn billionaire. Keep your eyes on that rifle.”


Liam shrugged. “They want that bear alive. You and me … we’re optional.”

The younger guy reloaded the tranquilizer gun, then gestured to his companion. The big man produced a thick cylinder from his pack. A moment later, he threw it, flaming into the air.

It arced high, then splashed into the pond.


A geyser of water erupted. It should have stunned the bear. But the animal had anticipated it. A thick madrone tree behind the big man began to morph. Water-slick fur glinted in sun. The bear charged. A deep growl as it ripped through flesh and bone. The man wailed, a high-pitched screech, drowned in a gusher of red.  

The younger guy froze, his face the color of old urine. He peddled backwards, raising his weapon. The creature dodged behind a boulder.

The big rock jiggled. It began to rise. When it was high enough to show the bear’s hind legs, the man fell to his knees, tranquilizer gun pointed.

The bear grunted. And hurled the rock forward.

A thud shook the ground, accompanied by crackling bone. 

I gagged and turned away from the man’s flattened skull. The forest fell silent.

The bear huffed, a mournful sound in still air. Then it turned, dark eyes fixed on the spot where Liam and I crouched.

Liam stood, his hands held high. “Join me.” 

On shaky legs, I did.

The bear watched. Assessing. Slowly, the sounds of the forest returned. A raven’s croak. The buzz of mosquitos.

The creature nodded to us. Then bared its teeth.

Liam let his breath out. “I think that means piss off.”


We began backing up, the bear watching. 


We were almost at my cabin when Liam spoke. “You going to report this?” 

I bit my lower lip. “If someone finds those bodies–”

“They won’t.”


“That bear’s no fool.”


Liam wrapped his arms around me. “World’s changing, and creatures are adapting, just to survive. Rattlesnakes getting bigger. Hyenas finding new foods. Beetles mimicking dried vegetation.”

“And now a high IQ bear with the instincts of Genghis Khan?”

“Think of it as evolution 101. Forced into hyper drive.” 

                                                               *   *   *

After focusing for many years on non-fiction writing (ads, magazine articles, documentaries etc), Ms. Haskell began to study fiction writing as a way to explore the alternate realities impacting our world. Thus far, she has contributed to several publications, most recently The Fantastic Other. She lives on the edge of the Salish Sea with her family, three rescue dogs and assorted wildlife.