Migrating Bird

 By Nicole Brogdon

      I’m napping midday when a white bird crashes through the window, landing on my bed. Dazed and wild, the creature stands and weaves. The heron reminds me of my mother in her single days. I’d know her anywhere—that white skin, those long pale legs, that aquiline Polish nose, sloped now into a beak. 

      The bird tucks her webbed feet under her body, ducks her head, and springs into my ear, straight through the eardrum. The drum breaks inside me—like that painful brain virus in childhood, my head in my mother’s lap. While I was recuperating, she paid me quarters to write fairy tales. 

       Today Mother has flown into my head to tell me she’s dead in upstate New York. She who birthed me through her belly, has entered my ear canal. Message received. She propels through my mind, exiting the other ear, soaring up through the ceiling, leaving a her-shaped hole in the roof plaster. Leaving a mess. In that way that dead people have, of not cleaning up after themselves.

       I lie here awake and motherless, bloody ears throbbing. Eyes open. A patch of blue sky visible through the bird hole above my head. White particles, feathers and plaster, drifting down like snow. Always, that woman could make me see in a whole new way.

                                                            *   *   *

Nicole Brogdon is a trauma therapist in Austin TX interested in strugglers and stories everywhere. Her flash fiction appears in Flash Frontier, 101Words, Dribble Drabble Review, and elsewhere. 

23 Seconds


By Robert Bires

They were making plans for the upcoming weekend without much energy.  Tomorrow was Friday.  He was drinking.  She sat at the table, sorting through receipts she had tossed in her purse.  As the years had passed, they had become afraid of intimacy, and looked for things to do.

“What do you think David and Valerie are doing?” he asked. 

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Do you want to do something with them?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

He was about to throw out another option, but she burst in.  “You know that plane went down, don’t you?  The one that was flying into Pittsburgh.”

“Yes, I heard,” he said.

“It dropped like a stone for twenty-three seconds.  Some people saw it go down.”

“That’s hardly any time at all,” he said. “They didn’t even know what was happening.” He opened the refrigerator and looked in.

“No time?  You’ve got to be kidding.  Do you know how long that is?”

“Yeah, long enough to watch your luggage fall out of the overhead and break open in the aisle and think, ‘Oh, God, I’m going to have to pick up my underwear in front of—‘”  He took another beer out.

“Charles, come on.”

“What?”  He sat down at the table with her.  When he lifted the snap top, she looked at him like he had sneezed without covering his mouth.

“Come on.  You don’t believe that.  Do you not want to deal with the holy terror those people were feeling as they went down?”  She pushed her purse forward.

“The news report said they hit the ground so hard they wouldn’t have felt it,” he said.  “Death would have been instantaneous.”

“I’m not talking about hitting the ground.  I’m talking about those twenty-three seconds.”

“Does this mean we’re going to have to drive to New Orleans?” he asked, hoping for a laugh from her.

“I’m scared.  I can’t help that.  I’ve always been scared of flying.  Aren’t you?”

“Maybe, but I’m going to have my headphones playing so loudly when we take off and land that I won’t even notice.”

“You wouldn’t leave me alone like that.”

He shrugged.  

You can’t use them then anyway.  The flight attendant will make you stop.”

“I’ll be sly,” he said and sipped.

She looked at her watch, and he wondered if she was getting bored.  He was.  What he wanted remained unlabeled.

“All right,” she said.  “I’m going to keep track of twenty-three seconds on my watch and we’re going to sit here in silence so you can see just how long that really is.”


“Yes,” she said.  “Let’s just see.”

“No,” he said.

She moved her watch closer to her eyes, and he studied her.  “Go,” she said softly.  He did not say anything.  While the seconds counted out beyond him, he thought about the dishes, hoped she would clear the table, tried to picture how many beers he still had in the refrigerator, wondered if they might have sex again, then ran out of thoughts, only noted empty time passing.  Another sip of beer took a second. He searched his mind—his father’s health, the test he had given that afternoon, a pretty girl who had once written him a letter and he never wrote back, the dusk outside the window—but he could only fear the moment she called time.  

When she spoke, he would hit the ground and he would be gone.  “Let’s go to bed,” he said into the silence.

She looked at him, then down.

The overhead kitchen light seemed too bright, like when he leaned close to the mirror and saw all the imperfections in his face.  He almost stood up but closed his eyes instead and waited.

“That’s twenty-three seconds!”


She looked like she had won something.  “So,” she said.

“Jennifer, let’s go to sleep.”

“The dishes,” she said.

“I’ll do them tomorrow.”  The dishes would be something to do.
Soon they lay in the dark, side by side and alone.

His students cowered in their seats as he held his hand up to keep them silent while the seconds ticked by.  He scanned the faces.  No one was looking at anyone else, as if their usual tenth grade concerns had vanished into the required terror.  They waited mutely for him to call time.

“This is creepy,” one boy Adam said.

Charles glared at him.

“Seriously, why are we doing this?”

“I want you to know how long twenty-three seconds is, what they went through.”  It’s called empathy, you little shit, he said to himself.

“Why?” the boy asked.  The others had focused in on his challenge.

“It’s almost hit the ground,” Charles said, and resumed his waning vigil.

But that one voice had broken the spell and then none of them were having any more of it. He looked up at them whispering and giggling and reclaiming their own senses of time.  He lost his power in those final seconds, when he’d hoped he might feel whatever Jennifer had felt last night, the tangible sharing of the passengers’ descent, the helplessness of their falling, even the unstirred trouble she took to bed with her alone.  Then the end-of-class bell rang like an explosion, and he jumped.

* * *

Robert Bires writes in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  He has published most recently in Sky Island Journal, The Centrifictionist, Ritualwell, Third Wednesday, and JAKE.  

What Time Is It?

A Memoir by Steph Scott

When my mother was barely 20, she brought me into this world like she always did everything—with stubborn grit and determination. I’m told she sat there, jaw set, refusing assistance or any kind of pain relief—she was going to bring her baby into the world on her own. 

25 years later, she spent her last day on this earth fighting the same way. It was my birthday, and she was dying from brain cancer. It wasn’t her first bout. She’d had cancer when she was 11. And that wasn’t the first time she’d been forced to survive. Before she’d even reached adolescence, my mom had faced tragedies most adults only imagine in their nightmares.

Her mother coped by shutting down. My mother coped by digging in her heels. It helped her survive but made her difficult for the rest of us. She was a fighter, we all knew. But fighting is exhausting. 

When they found the glioblastoma enmeshed in her spinal cord, climbing it like a trellis to her brain where it bloomed like a mushroom, they told us it would be quick—a year at most. 

They knew what they were about.

Twelve months later, Mom’s body was done. She’d been deteriorating for days, and the Hospice nurses warned us we were close. But that morning, when I padded down the hall and walked into her room, I knew things were different.

Her steroid-puffed face had turned grey and waxy. Her skin was cold and mottled with blue and purple splotches. Her chest rattled with every breath, and while she wasn’t always asleep, she’d lay silent for hours, and then cry out, gasping, searching. Making demands.

It was hard to watch, unable to do anything to help. And it was made more difficult because it was also my birthday. Family and friends stopped by, quietly wishing me somber greetings before stepping into my mother’s room. Sometimes she was lucid. Others, not so much. 

But as the clock ticked, marking the dragging hours, Mom became more agitated; I pleaded with the nurses and doctors to give her something to ease the pain. They tried, but her cries continued. 

“Soon,” the Hospice nurses assured me. “This will be over soon.”

A little after lunch, Mom stopped, opened her eyes, and asked, “What time is it?”

“It’s two o’clock,” I said. 

She grunted, clenched her eyes shut again, and continued her fight. She’d moan and squirm, her body mostly incapacitated by the cancer consuming her, but then she pulled herself out of the fog once more. 

“What time is it?” she demanded, eyelids guttering as she fought to keep them open. 

I glanced at the softly ticking clock. “It’s a little after five,” I said. “Try to rest.”

She clenched her jaw, her body rigid as though she was possessed. I suppose, in a way, she was.

As the vigil continued and she continued to writhe, my agony and frustration grew. I didn’t want my mother to die, but she was going to. Soon, the nurses said. So I couldn’t understand why she continued to fight. “Just go,” I thought, refusing to voice the unspeakable. “Stop fighting.”

She was in agony. Her body racked by disease and atrophy, and still, she writhed. Still, she fought.

“What time is it?” she asked repeatedly as the clock ticked gently on the table beside her.

The nurses and I answered every time, wiping her brow, whispering shushing noises. To her. To me.

The year before, when they told us she wouldn’t survive, they assured us they’d make her last moments peaceful. They promised they’d give her medicine to help her sleep. But on that day, nothing they gave her worked, and as the long hours passed, I sat beside my mother, her body stiff in combat, and silently begged for the end to come.

She’d yelp and groan, tossing her head back and forth across the pillow, and I looked at the nurse, tears streaming down my face. “There has to be something more you can do,” I said, pleading with them over and repeatedly.

“Soon,” they said.  

The clock continued to tick.

I held my mother’s hand. Brushed a wet sponge across her lips. Stroked my fingers down her arm, trying to comfort her.

The minutes turned to hours, and as Mom’s agitation grew, so did my confusion. And my frustration. She was in so much pain, her body spasming with every moan, and I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t just relent. But then, that’s how she’d always been. Unwilling to cede an inch. Refusing to back down from anyone or anything.

Afternoon turned to evening turned to pitch black night, and my mother’s moaning grew louder, the writhing more violent. 

The hands on the clock made their slow revolution, the mechanism clicking with each passing second. I wanted to throw it against the wall. 

I rubbed my neck. Stretched my back. Glared at the nurse, who I was convinced wasn’t doing enough. Cursed the doctor who wouldn’t send over more medicine.

“What time is it?” Mom asked once more, her brown eyes bruised and hollow. 

“A little after midnight,” I told her. 

“Oh good,” she whispered, and her body went still.

The nurse climbed on the bed beside her and pulled her into her arms. “You did good,” she said, stroking Mom’s hair. “You can let go now.” 

My mother took a jagged breath, then melted against the nurse’s chest. A few minutes later, she was gone. 

I looked at the nurse, my face soaked, burning from tears. “Why did she keep fighting?”

The nurse laid my mother down, then turned to me and smiled, gently resting her hands in her lap. “What time is it?” 

I turned to the ticking clock, and my heart stopped. 

A little after midnight. 

Mom waited until my birthday was over.


                                                                       *   *   *

Steph Scott (she/her) is a queer writer and former English teacher who holds an MFA in Creative Writing Young Adult Literature. Her novel Come Back Alive was longlisted for the Voyage Literary “Love & War” contest and has been published by Sad Girls Club Literary, and in the upcoming summer volume of Just Femme & Dandy. She is represented by Lizz Nagle at Victress Literary and can be found at skscottwriter.com and @skscottwriter on Twitter and Instagram.

Write The Spin

By Bradley Sutherland

Gwen didn’t have any plans last night. Not because the best plan was no plan, or some other cliché that served to justify a lost and/or purposeless and/or reckless way of living, but because she had to cancel them at the last minute. She just had to. And don’t think for a moment her Friday night would consist of a bottle of Pinot Noir and Netflix Original Series, or a Rom Com and pint of Mint Chocolate Chip, like how all the Rom Com’s told her it would. Because Gwen wasn’t typecast or typical when the going got glum.

And don’t think for a second any of this was about a boy, or a boy who didn’t go see about a girl, or a woman living in a man’s world, or bad hair, or broken nails, or shark week, or just one of those days, or a missed connection, whether by air or in print, or an abandoned glass slipper, or hormones, or gossip, or betrayal, or heartbreak, or headache, or cold food, or warm beer, or bad taste, or being alone, or with the wrong one, or just feeling a little bit emotional right now. Gwen was tough and fragile and pissed and sad and sometimes able to laugh at it all.

She wanted to take a power nap, as she didn’t really sleep much last night, even though she canceled her plans at the last minute because she just had to. And it was still early enough that back in her party days it would still constitute as Going to Bed vs. Passing Out, so she didn’t hate herself too much for staying up so late. But The Spin was whirling all around her, and she knew she had to get it out. She just had to. 

Gwen sat up and yanked moleskin from backpack, just in time for her thoughts to sprint across the page.

I’LL SHOW YOU CRAZY, she wrote, because racing thoughts sprinting across paper usually lead to them zooming around in my head even more, making me feel crazier and placing me in some sort of sick and twisted observational state, watching myself almost fulfilling a role, like let’s see how fast I can really go. Then my focus is on the speed and not the substance aka whatever the speed is supposed to be producing and then I wonder why it’s not working which makes me start to panic aka spin faster and faster because what if the reason nothing is coming out is because it’s too far suppressed or too much for me to handle or merely just another example of me not wanting to deal with my problems head-on which is kind of funny because that’s exactly what I’m doing by doing this but then I see all my spinning thoughts are buried beneath common ground and I can usually pinpoint a trigger if I squeeze my eyes shut hard enough to concentrate but squeezing them shut like this inhibits the flow of my writing which inhibits writing the spin which still maybe gets it out but prevents me from really going within which is the whole point of writing this fucking spin which causes me to spin all over again but then I remember the causes at least for right now in this moment aren’t as important as pointing out the effect because the absolute worst part of a panic attack is that you don’t know why you’re panicking so then you’re just panicking over panicking and holding your breath the whole time and that’s why it’s been so difficult for me to swallow. 

Gwen wiggled her chin to unclench her jaw, letting this brief new fit of freedom trickle down the rest of her body. 

Then she exhaled.

When she really thought about it, she found it weird, or perhaps disconcerting, or perhaps didn’t know how she found it at all, that her mind could swirl together so many things that didn’t matter and let it take up so much space in a brain already completely filled with it. And she didn’t really know if embracing the spin and riding it out through writing it out made her feel well, or any more or less human, but it did make her feel just a little more present, even if recognizing the spin earlier and earlier gave her no firmer grasp on why it all began in the first place. 

So don’t think for a moment Gwen had a better understanding of what or whom the culprits really were. Don’t think she thought nothing really matters, or life’s a bitch and then you die, or some other cliché that served to justify a lost and/or purposeless and/or reckless way of living. Don’t think she was now cured.

                                                                          *   *   *

Bradley Sutherland is a writer in Tempe, Arizona, and his previous work has appeared in Short Fiction Break, Bike That AZ Up, The Untidy Secrets Zine, and more. 

The Wrong Strain

When you say you can’t smoke weed people will tell you that you haven’t found the right strain. It will make you think about all the strains you must have tried by now. When there was no legality, no names or labels. Before you knew what you were breathing in and coughing out. You surmised by the feeling if it was indica or sativa, laced or duds.

You knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy that would sell you a gram for two crinkled twenties. You’d get a hard to find address with a harder to find backdoor where you were instructed to knock the tune of ‘shave and a haircut, two bits’. The dealer was either twenty or forty something with bloodshot eyes and baggy basketball shorts. He would ask if you wanted to smoke with him but it didn’t feel like a question because your answer was always yes when it came to free weed.

He would use this time to rant to you about sports or females or the guy that you know that knows him. There’d be a natural lull to the conversation that would imply that you should go. You’d make it back to your car, pack a fresh bowl to hit on the way home, and surprise yourself by making it back in one piece.

Blunts were the first thing to make you paranoid. You were enraptured by their ritual. Picking a wrap flavor at the gas station, slicing the cigarillo like a surgeon, replacing its entrails with green, sticky goodness, rolling it into a cylinder before licking along the edge, leaving a delightful tingling sensation on the tongue. Smoking them left you feeling both high and low. The nicotine wrapped itself around your limbs and pulled you deep into the earth. While the weed turned your head into helium balloons, desperate and aching to expand toward the sky.

This comfort was short-lived. It would mutate into scrutinizing what being alive entails. Where the body, the mind, the world all meet and create an incomprehensible reality. Then, the exhaustive suspicion that no one, nowhere, at any point in history could ever truly understand. You’d be too high to do anything but sit in silence with darting eyes and tepid breaths. You concluded, after countless moments like the aforementioned, that the strain was never the issue. 

*   *   *

Abigail Starr (she/it/they) is a writer, reader, artist, and a graduate of Point Park University with a degree in Creative Writing. By day she works as a server, by night she is chainmail jewelry maker, and any other time left you can find them typing away at a new story or brushing up an old one.

Moon Womb, Orbiting


A Memoir By Annie Marhefka               

At the science museum, my daughter falls in love with a moon. In the interactive gallery with the half globes representing planets and moons, she runs her hands over the textures of their foreign surfaces. Mars: “So bumpy,” she says. Europa: “I like this one. It’s good.” And Titan, moon of Saturn: “This one is special to me,” she declares. “This one is mine. She leans forward and lays her cheek upon its ridges, closes her eyes. She studies its curious roundness with her hands, the way my fingers had traced my belly with her body inside, knowing nothing and everything of its inhabitant. Mine, mine, mine. She watches the model orbs hanging from the ceiling, observes how they appear tethered to their planets, the way her body was once harnessed to mine. The moons orbit their mothers, making dizzying, invisible circles above us. My daughter grabs my hand, squeezes it into the stickiness of her palm, motions for me to raise my arm. I duck down to a squat and lift my arm as she orbits me. Around and around she goes; she tugs, I pull. The tension between a daughter and a mother caught up in intertwined fingertips. Stay. Go. Stay. Go. When she asks where my mother is and I tell her she is dead, she does not ask why. She does not ask if I fled her, or how. She only asks if I miss her. “Always,” I tell her, which is mostly true. Around me she races, and my squatting legs grow tired, the weight of the backpack strapped to my shoulders a gravitational force of its own. It is filled with crayons and spare leggings and wadded up tissues and hand sanitizer: I am weighted down with all the things I have brought to protect her, to feed her, to clothe her. I feel as if I could tumble out of myself, be swallowed up by the museum flooring, be erased by my daughter’s momentum. My hand strains to hold her grip as she spins. Eventually, she will let go. Eventually, she will fly. 

                                                                    *   *   *

Annie Marhefka is a writer in Baltimore, Maryland whose writing has been published by Lunch Ticket, Pithead Chapel, Reckon Review, Literary Mama, and others, and her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Annie is the Executive Director at Yellow Arrow Publishing, a Baltimore-based nonprofit supporting and empowering women-identifying writers. She has a degree in creative writing from Washington College. Follow Annie on Instagram @anniemarhefka, Twitter @charmcityannie, and at anniemarhefka.com.