By Cory Fosco

We are walking home from the bodega where we get sandwiches two or three times a week.  Paul ordered a large Italian sub with salami, prosciutto, mortadella, ham, capicola, provolone, lettuce, tomato, and extra dressing.  I got a small turkey and Swiss with light mayo and yellow mustard.  

I walk ahead of Paul and stop at the mailbox.  I am waiting for a new credit card I applied for online so we can pay the rent.  I open our box, hoping an envelope will fall out.  It’s empty.  When I pivot back toward Paul, a cold, harsh sting hits my face.  My coat and scarf are covered in snow with specs of red blood.  

“Holy shit!” Paul laughs.  “I didn’t mean to. . .”

“What the fuck?” I shout, more shock than anger in my voice.  I hold my hand to my nose. My glove is bloody when I pull it away.  

Paul looks at me from the sidewalk.

“Don’t just stand there!” I yell.  “There’s napkins in the bag!”

He rushes to my side.  The napkins control the mess, but the blood doesn’t stop.

“Hold your head back and pinch your nose,” Paul says.

“That doesn’t work,” I snap.

“I don’t know, Stella,” Paul says.  “Isn’t that what people say to do?”  

“What people?” I ask.

“People people,” Paul says.  “Like on TV or in the movies.”  Paul pushes my head back.

I can taste the salty blood dripping down my throat. “What were you thinking?” I ask.

“I wanted to have fun,” Paul says.  “We never have fun, do we?”

“I’m having a blast.”

The fun ended when the money stopped coming and the bills didn’t.  

“OK,” I say.  “I’ll play along.”  I lower my head and watch drops of blood hit the ground.  I pull my head back.  “Let’s say you were trying to have fun.”  I emphasize “fun” with an air quote with my left hand.  “I’m a tiny person.”

“Yes,” Paul says.  “It’s sexy as hell.”

I hold back a smile.  Paul can be loving when he isn’t being an asshole.

“Well, Mr. Fun.  You could have made that snowball smaller. Less compact.  You could have used less force.  You could have aimed lower.”

Paul looks down at the bag of sandwiches.  “We should go inside.”

Paul walks ahead of me.  I’m half a flight behind him and can hear him open the door to our apartment.  When I get inside, I see that he has put the bag on the counter.  He takes out a towel from the cabinet.

“Use this,” he says.

“We are not using one of the good towels,” I say.  “Your mom gave those to us.”

“You need something more than napkins,” Paul says.  “Trust me.”

I reluctantly take the towel and make a quick swap with the napkins.  I have never seen that much blood on a napkin before.

“I don’t feel so good,” I say.  I slowly move to a chair at the kitchen table and sit down.  

Paul opens the bag, pulls out the bigger of the two sandwiches and the rest of the napkins, and places them at his spot on the table. 

“Clearly, you don’t even feel bad,” I say.

“I said I was sorry,” Paul says. He pushes the sandwich away, as if caught stealing cookies.  “I was just horsing around.”

“The words `I’m sorry’ never came out of your mouth,” I say.  I tilt my head back with the towel.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Paul snaps.  “I apologized for Christ’s sake.”

“You didn’t.  You never do.”

“Listen,” Paul says, “Now is not the best time to get into it.  You should get the bleeding to stop.”

My head spins. I take deep breaths and blink my eyes slow and hard.  “Maybe now is the best time,” I say.  “If I’m going to die from your need to have fun, I might as well lay it all out there.”

Paul rolls his eyes.  “You’re not going to die.  I hit you with a snowball.  Have you ever heard of anyone dying from a snowball?”

I take a deep breath.  “I don’t know,” I say.  “Maybe.”  I pull the towel away. It’s running out of clean space.  I try to get up from the chair, but quickly sit back down.  “I think I need a bucket,” I say.

“A bucket?” Paul asks.  “Why do you need a bucket?”

I dry heave a couple of times.  I look over at Paul in between breaths.  I wipe my mouth with the bloody towel.

“What should I do?” Paul asks. 

“Jesus, Paul,” I snap.  “This is insane.”  I take a couple deep breaths.  “When this is over, we’re over.  I mean it this time.”

“For the last time, I said I was just messing around,” Paul says.  “This isn’t the same as the other times.”

“Exactly,” I say.  “This is next level shit.”  I pull the towel back from my face and look at Paul.  “Is it still bleeding?”

“It looks like it stopped,” he says.  “See, we’re all good.”

Paul walks over to his spot at the table.  He pulls off the wrapper on his sandwich and takes a bite.  He chews with his mouth open.  Lettuce and bread crumbs fall on the table.  

I grab a napkin from the pile and hand it to Paul.

                                                          *   *   *

Cory Fosco received his MA, Creative Writing (nonfiction) from Northwestern University and his BA, Creative writing (fiction) from Loyola University Chicago. He has previously been published in Teach.Write, 101 Words, Superstition Review, and Hippocampus Magazine. Cory lives in Chicago.

A Timely Lesson

By Reeve Chudd

John Henry Belker was habitually late, including for his own birth.  His mother’s delivery of John was medically induced after she endured over ten months carrying him.  His parents, Homer and Dorothy Belker, were former flower children and marginally successful writers who worked at home, never wore a timepiece and never instilled in their son the character trait of punctuality. They lived and remained in Homer’s family home in Meshoppen, Pennsylvania (population approximately 400), in the northeast part of the state on the Susquehanna River. 

Further, throughout John’s early years, he was often tardy because his chauffeuring parents made him so, and they schooled him in their ubiquitous practice of being “fashionably late” to appointments, parties, gatherings and other social commitments.

Fortunately, as writers, John’s parents were particularly clever and creative in writing numerous “late excuses” for him to present to authorities upon his arrival.  Since being late didn’t cause his parents to expedite their actions nor to appear to be frustrated or contrite with the preparation or presentation of these constant excuses, John never felt that it was a character flaw, at least, not until he attended Elk Lake Senior High School in nearby Springville, where the student-teacher ratio was about 6-to-1, so that any student entering a classroom after the tolling of the late bell could not avoid notice.

For his first class in his freshman year, John had Ms. Penelope Worswick for English.  Ms. Worswick had emigrated from Exeter, England, having married an American doctoral candidate studying at the University there. She was trim, petite, and wore skirts which revealed her shapely legs, which were instrumental in maintaining the attention of her male students  Her ponytail and soft features belied the fiercely short temper of a disciplinarian.

On the first day of classes, as John entered three minutes late, Ms. Worswick was interrupted from her introductory remarks to the class of seven (now eight, with John) students.  “And who are you, entering my class late?  Do you realize how rude and disrespectful your tardy entry is to me and your fellow students?  Are you aware of the schedule for this class?”  She, or course, pronounced “schedule” with the British “sch” instead the American “sk,” just as did her Brits across the Pond.

“Uh, I’m John Belker, ma’am,” John sheepishly offered, “This is my first day here, and I had trouble finding the room.”

“Mr. Belker,” she replied, “that excuse will work this one time only.  Henceforth, should you arrive late to class, you can expect to be the first person I call upon to answer a question, and if you are not prepared to answer correctly, your final grade in the class will suffer.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am,” muttered John with his head down, and he took his seat in the circle.  His classmates, aware of John’s proclivity from his previous behavior in middle school, collectively raised their eyebrows and looked at each other, the silent body language of “Whoa!”  

Ms. Worswick proceeded to explain the class curriculum and handed out the syllabus of assignments. “The first semester, we shall be examining punctuation, learning vocabulary, writing different page paragraph essays to demonstrate the several types, such as expository, narrative and argumentative pieces and, finally, analyzing the copy on your desk of Shakespeare’s historical tragedy, Macbeth.  Regarding Shakespeare, I expect all of you to have read the first five scenes of Act One by next Monday.  Until then we shall be talking about Shakespeare’s life and why his writings have endured and been studied for centuries.  The syllabus notes whether written homework is to be turned in and when.  If homework is not turned in timely, it will receive zero credit.  If you are late to a class where homework is to be submitted on my desk by the class’s beginning, the homework itself will be considered late. Is that clear, Mr. Belker?”

Shocked by being called upon again, John blurted out “Yes, ma’am.”  

That evening at dinner, John explained to his parents about the tyrant teaching his English class.  His father told him that uptight people such as this teacher put out negative energy and ruins one’s enjoyment of life.  John’s mother told him that Ms. Worswick would probably mellow as the school year progressed.  Even so, John exhibited new efforts to gain his seat in English before the late bell in the weeks that followed.  Fortunately for him, he could walk the half-mile distance to the high school without even forcing his parents out of bed.

Five weeks into the semester, John had only been late on four occasions.  Further, he had demonstrated that, because of his parents’ love of literature, he was far more well-read than his classmates and excelled in not only vocabulary but also writing structure and punctuation.  It appeared to him and his classmates that Ms. Worswick had softened her opinion of him, other her usual displeasure with his infrequent late arrivals and, when he had been late, his answers to the teacher’s initial questions had been sufficiently astute to have dispelled the stain of tardiness.

Unfortunately, by the sixth week of the semester, John had become addicted to the computer game Rampage and, much to the consternation of his parents, he’d play online with others deep into the late hours, causing him to oversleep and, consequently, rekindle his late appearances just as the class became deeply involved with Macbeth.

Out of frustration and feeling the need for a more retributory punishment for John, Ms. Worswick devised a plan.  One morning, immediately after the late bell rang without John’s presence, she quickly passed out paper to the students present.  Attached to the paper was a small yellow sticky note which read:

This will be an experiment to teach John Belker a lesson.  There will be a trick question on the blackboard for a surprise quiz.  When John arrives, each of you should be feverishly writing your answer to the question. It doesn’t matter what you write; just that he sees all of you writing as if you know the answer.  Please help me do this to encourage John to be on time.

On the blackboard, she had written the following:


Describe the importance of the Earl of Salisbury to the rule of King Duncan and why his relationship with Lady Macbeth is so crucial to her husband’s attainment of the crown.  10 minutes.

John entered the classroom four minutes after the late bell.  Ms. Worswick held her right index finger to her lips, pointing upward, indicating silence, and then handed John a piece of paper and pointed to the blackboard question.  John saw that all of the other students were writing extensive answers to the question, and he began to panic.

“Four minutes remaining,” said Ms. Worswick as she looked at her wristwatch.  The other students, obviously enjoying the ruse, accelerated their writing to gain the appearance of coming to a conclusion.  John appeared lost.

“Ninety seconds!” Ms. Worswick announced.

Finally, as if an inspiration had popped into his head, John smiled and nodded, and he began writing as fast as he could.

“Stop writing!” she bellowed, and swiftly collected the writings of each of the students. “That includes you, Mr. Belker.”

Stone faced, John handed his paper to her, and then hung his head as if in shame.

When the passing bell sounded and the students immediately rose from their seats, Ms. Worswick hurried to instruct them: “Tomorrow will be the vocabulary quiz for the month. Please be prepared.  Mr. Belker, please stay behind for a moment.”

John dutifully waited until the last classmate had exited.  Ms. Worswick retrieved John’s writing from the surprise quiz and quickly viewed it.  It said:

I’m sorry for being late. I’ll try harder to be on time.  I know that the purpose of this quiz was to scare me, and I know that you can give me a bad grade because of my behavior.  I learned the lesson you wanted me to understand.

Incidentally, the Earl of Salisbury does not appear in Macbeth, only in Richard II and Henry VI.  Again, I promise to try harder to be in my seat on time.

Ms. Worswick raised her gaze to meet John’s.  Her smile was one of reluctant admiration.  “See that you do, Mr. Belker.”

                                                              *   *   *

Reeve Chudd is a retired trusts and estates attorney from Los Angeles, now residing in Carmel, Indiana.  He wanted to become a professional writer, but he didn’t want to sacrifice eating.  His four university degrees, when added to $4.65, will purchase a grande latte at Starbucks.  He is on FaceBook, but no other social media.  

Powerful Will

By Louis J. Fagan

Using his fingers, Will peeled the golden skin from the turkey—all of the skin, not just a little.  Then, he tossed it in the lidless garbage pail he’d strategically placed next to him. 

Leave the skin on it. Leave it on, Carrie wanted to scream as she watched the desecration. She wanted to scream:  I worked so hard to cook that 22-pound bird to perfection. I was up at 5 a.m. sticking my hand inside the cold cavern of that carcass, pulling out foul body parts and dealing with my mother, still in her bathrobe and standing so close I could taste her breath. 

Instead of screaming, though, Carrie gulped from the bottle of microbrew beer that her dad had brought down from Vermont and prayed no one else was witnessing the atrocity unfolding at the counter. What was the beer called? She looked at the label: A Brew Made in Heaven. Dad’s new favorite beer. She hadn’t decided if she liked it yet or not. Cutesy, unique name. Smooth and subtle. Slightly bitter, though, too. Will distracted her inner monologue, as he always managed to do somehow. He fired up the electric knife like he was about to buck up wood with his chainsaw. 

She’d seen how he held that Husqvarna this past summer, methodically, manly, endlessly buzzing away at the maple in their backyard. A thunderstorm had toppled the tree down and he had been out there raring to go even before the rain and wind had fully subsided. Upon his return to the house after an afternoon of showmanship, he’d shown her where the teeth of the chainsaw had brushed the tip of his workboot, the leather slashed open to expose the steel toe. Got careless, Carrie, he’d said and grinned. 

Now the same man was ripping into the breast of the Thanksgiving bird much in the same reckless, misguided, amused fashion that he’d gloriously cut his revered firewood. Dumping the olives in the cut glass, she glanced at Will the Man, Will the Merciless. Arrogant, so arrogant, and so boyish at the same time. He knew everything. Amazing how he knew everything about sawing wood and saving money on heating oil, so much money, yet couldn’t start a fire in the woodstove to save his life. He flung open the windows in the dead of January when the house filled with smoke, pretended his eyes didn’t burn, his throat wasn’t constricting. And forget about the dust and dry heat. Humidifier? Who needs a humidifier? 

Will forked meat to the platter. The slices of turkey were inconsistent. Pieces as thick as a John Grisham paperback lay strewn about the platter. The chunks rested uneasily there with shreds, literally shreds, of the tender meat—Carrie had made damn sure it wasn’t dry, made damn sure it would be tender. Up went the pile of meat, and no olives were left to pour into the cut glass. No brown sugar left to sprinkle on the acorn squash. No marshmallows needed whipping into the sweet potatoes. The mashed potatoes were lump-less. Everything was set. The family was moving toward the dining room table and just in time. 

Will lifted the electric knife and in one swipe began to carve the turkey legs. He cut the meat awkwardly from the bone, the knife vibrating this way and that against the unnatural act. Carrie shuddered and her stomach lurched. Why hadn’t she seen this coming? They’d never hosted Thanksgiving before and he sure as hell wouldn’t have prepared for the occasion by jumping on youtube—or asking her father, heaven forbid—for a little turkey carving guidance. Why, when she’d stood at the altar those few summers ago, hadn’t she seen a man who would carve turkey legs instead of pulling them gently from the tender, moist bird—yes, tender, yes moist, very moist—and setting them each on the edges of the serving platter? Who carves the drumsticks of the Thanksgiving turkey? Who does that? 

And what choice did she have but to let the damage continue? He was hungover. He’d overdone it with the martinis. Oh, hell, she was hungover too. She’d polished off the bottle of chardonnay by herself last night. No one was to blame either of them in that matter—out-of-town, overnight guests always required self-induced sedation. The point was, both hungover, if she mentioned the drumstick massacre here, now, Will would sulk. He would equate carving the turkey with his sense of manhood and she’d just as well tell everyone at the table he had a little dick (which, really, he didn’t) as to comment on his inability to carve a Thanksgiving Day turkey. To him, the insult would be one in the same. An argument would ensue. Looks from her mother, from the cousins in from Albany, would ensue. A heaping dish of awkward, quiet concern for Carrie and Will’s relatively new (and very unhinged?) marriage would be served up with all the rest of the food she’d prepared for hours. Dinner would be disastrous.

However, the mound of turkey debris amassed on the platter begged her: Say something. Anything. Rectify what he’s done. Even if ever so slightly. Screw disastrous dinner. Lord knows you’ve lived through plenty before this. It cried to her from its skinless, mangled Thanksgiving Day glory: He needs his balls busted, if only just this once, for the onslaught.

Teetering on the brink of Thanksgiving warfare, she swigged the remainder of her Brew Made in Heaven (a shot of courage?), threw the empty in the recyclables (a diversion?), grabbed the dish of olives (nothing left to do). 

Will silenced the electric knife, set it down, and, with hands on his hips, triumphantly eyed the platter of carnage. He proceeded to fish out (with his fingers) the two turkey leg bones buried beneath the meat, and then he dropped the bones in the garbage.

Looking to Carrie, he grinned. Heroically.

The moment had come. Carrie steeled herself. Repercussions be damned. Her powerful will was about to crush the Powerful Will, bringing him down with a tongue sharper than the electric knife used to commit the heinous crime against her turkey. Yes, her turkey.

Ready, Carrie? Will said, still grinning.

The question is are you, Will? Carrie said, the release of just her opening remarks adrenalizing her for whatever may follow. The high was indescribable. Satisfactorily, she plucked a black olive from the dish in her hand and pushed it in her mouth. She chewed, deliberately, and swallowed.

Will cocked his head. 

While Carrie watched the grin dissolve from his face, a wave of chatter and laughter rose in the dining room. A chorus of overlapping words and shared mirth invaded the kitchen, and quite suddenly, fully involuntarily, Carrie flinched. 

Her imminent glory fled. Her powerful will faltered. 

She stood helpless (baffled? thwarted? doomed? not enlightened, please, not enlightened!) because…because. Damn it to hell. The joyful ruckus—completely uninvited in the kitchen—had inexplicably conjured within her that reckless, misguided, albeit amused sort of love she had for the complete idiot who stood grinless before her. 

                                                               *   *   *

Louis J. Fagan is an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown, NY. He is currently at work on a novel based loosely on his short story, “Slit,” which was published in Weber–The Contemporary West. Further publications can be found in typehouse, Five on the Fifth, Red Eft Review, and Intrinsick.


By Shira Musicant


Unrelenting rain. Mandatory evacuations and nowhere to go, no way to get there—roads, washed out or buried in mud.  The emergency notifications catch up: Shelter in place.

The rain finally stops. I walk out into the battered landscape, into the thick mud. My shoes are a lost cause, though I navigate, finding asphalt here and there. Coming around the bend is a truck, our paths on a collision course.  It swerves and slides while I jump away into a mud puddle. The mud wants my shoe and sucks at it. Poison oak permeates the mud puddle. I learned that in the last mud slide. 

Mud has a mind of its own letting loose the roots of trees when it is ready, as if it is tired of holding them. Shovel it up and more rolls down; move some and make room for more. Rain and dirt are in cahoots here. Cars and trucks, braking, slide on the road, the edge of the cliff precariously close. 

History is writ in the mud. The tracks of coyote cougar deer dog tractor truck jeep boots, you can see it all in mud: who has been here, who has tried to slog through, who is tracking whom.


It is the anniversary of my father’s death, decades ago. Too young. But inevitable that death, alcohol being his answer to a life of barely missed collisions, him sliding over cliffs, sliding away from me. The drive to the cemetery—not straightforward—one must go around & behind & under the freeway. Neither is it straightforward to find dad, buried in the earth, lost in a sea of headstones. I need a map.

My mother in a clear moment explains to me, patiently—as if I haven’t been watching her mind slip away for years—that she has difficulty tracking information and hasn’t yet learned to manage that difficulty. She writes everything down. She loses the papers. She wonders what they mean when she finds them, her thoughts slippery as mud. I try to help. I need a map. 


Helicopters roar overhead, studying the landscape, rescuing the stranded. Though the rain has stopped, the water keeps coming, pouring out of hillsides, washing out the roads, overflowing gullies, culverts, streams. Carrying the earth with it. Racing itself downhill to the ocean. Frothy in places and clear in others, tumbling over boulders, waterfalling like it does. Going home. 

Water takes the path of least resistance in its urgency, careening to the ocean. It roils through backyards, over streets & highways, ignoring routes laid out by human design, depositing mud, poison oak, boulders, the severed branches of trees in its path. 

Hillsides tumble down, wash out, gone. The landscape is forever changing, earth itself molded by weather, and weather transforming itself as humans inhabit the earth.

My own landscape changing. This is mandatory: there is no rescue, no evacuation. I track my mother’s thinking. I see the shape of a mind crumbling. I try to find my father in the cemetery, my mother in her words. 

                                                                *   *   *

Shira Musicant lives in the foothills of Santa Barbara and knows mudslides. She is a 2022 Pushcart Prize nominee whose stories can be found in Santa Barbara Literary Journal, Star 82 Review, Two Hawks Quarterly and Goldman Review, among others.

Moments We Wish to God Had Never Happened

By J. Bradley Minnick

At too early an age for anyone to forget, Old Man Brine tells us the reason for the town’s name. “Salt,” he says, “was the last place on earth God created. He loved it so much, He salted it down to preserve it.” 

The Old Man sits on that porch of his across from the Brine Fields. His soft voice crawls through the air and appears on our front porches as if manufactured by some invisible magical invention. His tales start at 7:30 p.m. sharp. If you’re late to your front porch, you might already have missed the best parts.  

The hermit was a nasty hard-drinking old fool who lived with his wife in a run-down old shack at the base of Red Rock Mountain. One day the hermit came home early from trapping and found his wife and the one true love she ever had playing cat and mouse. The hermit beat them both to death with the same shovel he used to bury them. Then, he wrote their names with the tip of the bloody shovel into the base of Red Rock. Legend has it that the hermit stayed in that shack for the next thirty years. Those few times a year he came into Salt for supplies, he would stumble over his long beard, always carrying a long shovel as a walking stick. 

And then one day he just up and disappeared. Vanished without a trace. Folks say that they’ve seen him at night standing on top of Red Rock Mountain inscribing the names of his wife and her lover into the face of the man on the moon. And, every March 10th on the cold-spell nights when the air turns crisp, the hermits voice rings out as the sun sets just over Red Rock Mountain illuminated by an immense orange eye. Beauty I cannot describe.

In Salt, we measure out our lives in tales, trying to discover where we’ve been, find out how far we’ve come, and determine how long we have to get where we need to be. The Old Man’s tales spread out across the Brine Fields at sunset, whisk through Salt Flats at dusk, hover over the Salt Pond like a slow-stirred evening fog, and settle, damp and mottled, like torn bark from the black walnut tree that hangs over the top of the Muck Dam at night. Tales find you on front porches, catch you in doorways on Main Street, and even perk-up your ears while you doze. Accompanied by Brine’s solemn voice, each tale is stacked one upon the other and rises toward Red Rock Mountain until it becomes a revised-again legend and reminds us of moments we want to forget, but can’t; moments we’d thought we’d forgotten and moments we wish to God had never happened.  

                                                            *   *   *

J. Bradley Minnick is a writer, public radio host and producer, and a Professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He has written, edited, and produced the one-minute spot “Facts About Fiction,” and Arts & Letters Radio, a show celebrating modern humanities with a concentration on Arkansas cultural and intellectual work and can be found at artsandlettersradio.org. He has published numerous journal articles and fiction.


The Coffee Table

By Samantha Steiner

An eleven-year-old snaps her gum and swings her legs from the edge of the couch. A song plays from the TV and the girl tucks her gum to the side of her mouth and sings along. The song ends, but the girl isn’t done singing and so she sings the part she remembers over and over, but the melody morphs into something different. The girl tries to find her way back to the old melody, but it’s gone. 

The girl crawls under the coffee table and studies the woodgrain and snaps her gum again and feels saliva flow backward down her throat. As she gets up, she smacks her head on the underside of the table. Black speckles hover in the air around her. She walks until she’s a few inches from the TV screen and she watches the bright shapes shift and buzz and she snaps her gum, and snaps her eyes shut once, then twice when the doctor blows air into her pupil, snaps open the case of her new glasses and sees across the living room the sharp dark outline of every pixel on the TV screen. 

“It’s wrong,” the eleven-year-old says. 

“What’s wrong?” her mother says. “Don’t you see better?”

The girl sees too much better than she ever saw. She puts the glasses back in the case and sets them on the coffee table. The TV is a dull blurry square. The girl tries to remember the TV before it was sharp and before it was blurry. She crawls under the coffee table. The wood grain above her is a fuzz of pale splinters. She can’t tell if the table was always this way or if she caused it with her head. She hums the song that isn’t really the song. 


                                                                    *   *   *

Samantha Steiner is a writer and visual artist. She has received fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, the Saltonstall Foundation, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Find her on social media @Steiner_Reads.

The End of the World

By Juliana Hall

The end of the world is quiet. She used to think it would be all fire and brimstone; hell raining down upon them, buildings collapsing, the ground splitting into two and swallowing whole cities and countries.

She didn’t think the end of the world would feel this…peaceful.

The grass tickles her palms when she runs her hands over it, soft strands slipping between her fingers and urging her to stay, for just one more minute. She rips a few of them up and lets them fall back down among the masses. Forgotten, abandoned. Like she will be.

Waves crash below her, against the rocks and the craggy cliff face, sparkling with the magic that a warm summer sun brings. It almost looks inviting, though she knows below the clear blue illusion is the truth of the end of the world: sharp jagged points, endless brown sludge, a misleading depth of water that is actually so much shallower than it appears to be from here.

She tosses a couple strands of grass over the cliff. They don’t go very far—one sticks to her hand, the other falls to her thigh—and she wonders if she would resist the momentum like that too. Maybe there’s a force field there, propelling the little grass pieces back to their home. Where would she propel back to? Certainly not here.

Her feet swing against the open air, heels banging against the rocks, bouncing forward with each hit. Pink sneaker, then green, then pink again. If it’s the end of the world, she can wear whatever she wants, they don’t have to match. 

The laces on the green sneaker are untied and she contemplates using the rock to kick it off of her; let it fall onto the rocks and disappear beneath the waves. 

She pulls her legs back and pushes to her feet, stepping forward until her toes rest at the very edge of the rock. Just one step forward would unbalance her, send all of her—not just the green sneaker—tumbling down down down. Would her splash be grand? Or would the rocks hit her first, shattering her bones and cracking her head open to let the slimy red within mix with the deceivingly blue water?

The green sneaker lifts but she does not step forward. She dangles it over the edge, uses the point of the cliff to wiggle it off and let it fall to the water. It splashes. No rocks stopped it. There’s  a small green blob down there now, bobbing back and forth with the waves until it sinks briefly on a particularly sharp undertow and then reemerges to continue its journey.

Her foot is still hovering over the open air, pristine white sock a stark image against the blue of the water and the green of the grass. It’s the end of the world, maybe she should have worn better socks than boring Target brand white.

Just as she closes her eyes and prepares to tip herself forward, she hears the voice.

“Are you alright?”

Her eyes slam open and the sun greets her—too cheerily she thinks but maybe it’s actually angry, trying to burn into her skin—before she turns around. The man there is a little older than her and there’s a baby in a bright pink floppy hat strapped to his chest. 

“Do you want me to call someone for you?” His voice is kind and he holds a hand over his eyes as he squints at her through the blinding sun.

“No, I just lost my shoe.” She puts her foot down on the grass. Maybe the bottom of her sock will be green like her sneaker now. She points over the edge of the cliff.

One hand on the baby’s head, the man steps closer and then leans a little further forward. She looks with him; the shoe is just barely there now, floating along just below the surface of the water and out to sea.

“It didn’t match anyway,” she says when he’s quiet for a little too long. Her face is wet and when she touches a finger to it, she realizes there are tears slowly rolling down her face. The man rummages in his pockets and hands her a crumpled napkin.

“I might have some extra flip-flops in my car,” he offers once she’s used the scratchy paper to wipe the tears away. The sun doesn’t feel angry against her skin anymore, just warm. “It’s just a lost shoe, not the end of the world.”

                                                                           *   *   *

Juliana Hall is a writer currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English from Clark University. When she’s not putting characters through tough situations, she can be found drinking iced coffee and going on car rides to scream along to musical theater songs.

The Silver Half Dollar

By Toby Tucker Hecht

It was after supper on a spring evening that my older brother, Sammy, a troublemaker of the first order, told me a secret about a silver half dollar coin. He pulled me into the bedroom we shared, closed the door, shoved me onto my bed, and asked me if I knew Mr. Brennan from the variety store on 207th street.

“Of course,” I said. Everyone knew Mr. Brennan. He was a gruff guy who could knock you over with one swat of his meaty forearms. He distrusted almost everyone, especially us boys, and his motto “You break it, you buy it” hung in several places in the store. “What about him?”

Sammy smiled with his roguish grin, and said he was going to tell me something but if I breathed a word to anyone, he would rat on me to Mr. Brennan and then who knows what would happen. 

I sat on my bed waiting for Sammy to tell me, but he was slow getting to the point of the secret. It was his way to always start from a long backstory, a running start as it were—this time about Mr. Brennan coming here at eighteen from Ireland with the equivalent of seven dollars hidden in his underwear after having been roughed up and robbed of his belongings on the boat to the US. This was a story I (and everyone else) knew. It was no good telling Sammy to spill it out already. He’d just slow down. But it turns out that this particular story was important because it established this man’s suspicious nature which had not diminished, but in fact had grown over the years. 

The way in which the variety store was laid out, it was easy for someone, usually a kid, to sneak something into his pocket, like a whistle, or a marble, and trot out the front door. It had been happening more frequently lately and even the mirrors Mr. Brennan installed to catch the thieves while he stood behind the checkout counter did little to stop the merchandise from developing wings. 

Sammy stopped talking and came closer. Usually when he did that I stepped back since it usually meant a bop on the head or knocking off my glasses. But he said in a low voice, “Mr. Brennan rigged up a half dollar coin so that if you try to steal it, it gives you the shock of your life.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“A bolt of electricity, dummy,” he said. “The coin is wired so you get zapped, like in an electric chair.”

“You mean killed? For fifty cents? That seems like a pretty harsh punishment to me.”

“Nah. Not that bad, but maybe burnt a little.”

“Why is this a secret?” I asked.

“God, you are a moron! If everyone knew, no one would touch it. It would be worthless. Geez Tommy, smarten up.”

“So big shot, how do you know?”

“I overheard Dad talking with Mom. I’m pretty sure Dad hooked up the shocker for Mr. Brennan.”

Our father was an electrician. I wondered if he could lose his license if someone found out. I was always a worrier, but now I had something significant to fear—our dad being out of work. Sammy seemed to think the whole thing was hilarious and began to figure out ways to visit the variety store and observe people trying to snatch the coin. But he knew that Mr. Brennan would throw him out; he and his clique of ill-behaved friends were banned from most of the stores on 207th street. 

“It’s gotta be you, Tommy,” Sammy said.

“Huh? What’s gotta be me?”

“Mr. Brennan would never throw out a nerdy Momma’s boy like you. You could be the spy and then tell us all about it.”

“No way!” I said.

Sammy grabbed my arm and twisted it. I moaned and said I’d tell Mom on him.

“Just try it,” he said. “Then you’ll know what real pain is.”

The next day, as I walked to school, I thought about the way Sammy treated me. He thought I was weak, a goody two shoes who never crayoned outside the lines. Out of our parents’ earshot, he called me a sissy, a crybaby, and a jellyfish. But I knew it was to get me to do his bidding. I wondered if what Sammy said was true—that no real harm would come to anyone who touched the coin—I could get someone to do it and report back to Sammy and his friends. They might deal me a bit more respect. 

I had received my week’s allowance that morning and had a plan.  In the lunchroom at noon, I saw Solly Birnbaum and sat down next to him. Solly was a pasty-faced, skinny kid who was really smart, but had something wrong with him so he couldn’t take gym like the rest of us. He had fewer friends than I did.

“Hey, I hear that the variety store got a new shipment of Pez dispensers” I said. “Wanna check it out after school? 

Solly said his mother didn’t like him hanging around 207th street and wanted him to come home and do his homework. 

“Aw, c’mon, Solly. Just for a few minutes. I got my allowance, but I’d like your advice on what to buy. Please.”

“Okay, but just for a few minutes.”

When the school bell rang, we hurried over to the variety store and looked for the Pez display.

“That’s neat,” Solly said, pointing to one in the image of a spaceman. “Get that and let’s go.”

“Hold on, there must be more in the back.”

I walked over to Mr. Brennan standing behind the counter and asked if he had the newest Pez dispenser in the shape of a bulldog.

“Never heard of that one,” Mr. Brennan said.

“Are you sure? I got my allowance and came over here to buy that one. I showed him my money. Could you check?”

Mr. Brennan leaned down and it sounded like he flipped a light switch, but no light came on. Then he said, “You boys stand right here, you hear me? Don’t move. I’ll be right back.”

Right next to the cash register, on the counter, sat a shiny fifty cent piece. I’d half suspected that Sammy had been lying, which he did most of the time, but now I believed him. The shock of your life, he’d said. I saw Solly eyeing the coin. I wondered if the temptation was great enough for him to do it. I stepped away from him and called to Mr. Brennan to see if he had found the thing I wanted and if not, to encourage him to look further.

All of a sudden, I heard a shriek and a moan, followed by the thud of Solly’s body onto the floor.

Mr. Brennan rushed to the front of the store, howling to me, “What did you do?”

“What did I do? Nothing!”

We tried to get Solly to open his eyes, but he appeared to have fainted. Mr. Brennan called an ambulance and within a few minutes they arrived and carted Solly off. I found out later that Solly’s medical issue had to do with his heart and that somehow his cardiac rhythm was disrupted. 

But then, I stayed behind talking to Mr. Brennan, as though I knew nothing about the coin.

“What do you think happened?” I asked him.

“No idea, but I have a feeling you do know,” he said.

When I got home, I told Sammy the story. He laughed, slapping his thigh, and said he made it all up and there was no electric shock and that the coin wasn’t real; it was a copy of an early Benjamin Franklin half dollar that was for sale for fifty cents. Would I never stop being an imbecile? 

Then he looked at me with squinty eyes and said, “If you know what’s good for you, you won’t breathe any of this to a living soul.”

A day later I heard that Solly died on the way to the hospital. For the rest of my life, I wondered who the real murderer was—Mr. Brennan, Sammy, my father, or me.

                                                           *   *   *

Toby Tucker Hecht is a writer and scientist who lives and works in Bethesda, Maryland. At least thirty of her stories have been published either in print or in online literary journals. A native New Yorker with a rather traditional life, she writes fiction to explore more exciting lives than her own. She is now working on a collection of short stories, and a series of linked short stories. 

Her Memory

By Joe Scuderi

I wish I could walk again along Porter St., and see my friend sitting on her porch. Every day her memory tries to fade, to slowly tatter, an old shirt left on the line, never retrieved. But I hold her memory closely now, as closely as I once held her. 

                                                                       *   *   *

Joe lives in South Jersey farm country with his wife and kids. Though he’s not a farmer, it’s been a good place to raise kids. He has two chapbooks to his credit, “The Injun Joe Dream Book,” and “Songs of Avatar,” published by Mary and Donald Brown’s Gypsy Press in Philly, but that was a few years ago. His claim to fame is that for ten years he was Poet-Bouncer at the greatest art bar Philly ever had, Joe Tiberino’s Bacchanal Club


By Scott Moncrieff

Gilbert awoke at 6:30, per usual. He ate eight ounces of raw oats with a cup of almond milk and a medium-sized banana, plus two pieces of multigrain toast with almond butter and no-sugar-added applesauce, chewing each bite 30 to 40 times, per rigidity.

After a quick shower finished with a cold rinse, he brushed his teeth, rotating dental zones every thirty seconds, and flossed and gargled with a non-alcoholic mouthwash. He had prepared his backpack the night before–two energy bars and three 500mg capsules of carrot and garlic powder; water bottle; textbooks; a fully charged laptop and backup power supply. He slipped the backpack over his shoulders and pedaled the mile to the college parking lot, arriving fifteen minutes before class.

After acing his chemistry and physics tests, he headed to the gym for basketball class. Although he missed a free throw during a minor earthquake, he made the next thirty-three in a row and stopped only because the bell rang.

At lunch he met up with Natasha, his girlfriend going back to tenth grade when they had met at a convention for gifted homeschoolers. He had been attracted by her impeccable rendition of Chopin’s Etude in G# Minor; she was impressed with his poster presentation on how to enrich uranium in your basement.

As Gilbert was about to enter the door for his American history class that afternoon, the department chair called him aside and said that Professor Mulligan had a flat tire and was waiting for assistance beside the highway. Would Gilbert possibly be able to teach the class? “Of course,” said Gilbert. He still had five minutes before the bell, so on the back of his hand he planned what turned out to be an engaging group discussion on the passage of the fourteenth amendment, after which he gave an extemporaneous lecture on the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson and its implications for contemporary American democracy. Students milled around him after class, asking questions about the lecture and getting advice on their research projects.

The delay made Gilbert late for his pilates class, and more delay when he stopped on the highway to put on the still-waiting-for-help Professor Mulligan’s spare tire, but deftly weaving through traffic he was able to make it to the studio just as students were doing their first shoulder bridge with kick. After a vigorous workout, Gilbert met up again with Natasha for a walk by the river, pausing momentarily to save a little girl who had fallen out of her parents’ canoe. Natasha photographed the rescue, which appeared the next day in the local press. After giving Natasha a peck on the cheek, Gilbert headed home for an evening of intense study.

Just before bedtime, he got a call from Natasha.

“Gilbert,” she said, “I think we should cool it a little bit. I just saw online that I got a 98 on my sociology test. If we hadn’t gone for that walk by the river, I could have reviewed organic solidarity and the quinary sector of the economy.”

“We saved a little girl’s life!” said Gilbert. 

“True,” said Natasha, “and that’s important, but even though I’ve already inserted it on the draft of my personal statement for graduate school application to Julliard, I’m not sure it makes up for the catastrophe of the sociology test.”

“Very well,” said Gilbert. But after Natasha hung up he felt restless. Even though it was his bedtime, he stayed up and baked banana muffins from scratch. He wasn’t sure whether to eat them all himself or to offer some to Natasha, so he left them on the cooling rack.

The next morning he awoke at 6:35.

                                                                           *   *   *

Scott Moncrieff enjoys reading Victorian fiction and most other things that involve commas, semicolons, and periods. His writing has appeared in journals including Brevity, Rust & Moth, One Art, Rockford Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, and The Nebraska Review. He teaches English at Andrews University.