Sunrise Princess

By Helga Gruendler-Schierloh

Emily sighed. 

It was time to return to reality.  

For the past two months, she had been immersed in the annual stage play of her high school’s drama class. Her leading role of  “Herona, the Sunrise Princess,” a two-act romantic comedy, written and directed by her boyfriend, had consumed most of her spare time.

In real life, Emily was anything but a princess. She behaved more like a boisterous tomboy than the airy-fairy, dainty type. However, for this special performance, she had enthusiastically embraced the characteristics, likes, and dislikes of some imaginary pampered young woman.

And the show had been a huge success! 

But it was over – and Emily was getting ready to dismantle her fairytale image.  

Gazing into her toothpaste-speckled, spit-smeared bathroom mirror, she suddenly felt a pinch of unexpected sadness about relinquishing the intoxicating sprinkles of stage magic.

Why had this play turned her head in a way she would have never, ever expected?

Was it the exhilarating feeling of being in the spotlight, the thunderous applause that made her catch her breath, or the glamorous clothing that turned her from a down-to-earth post-millennial teenager into a glamorous aristocrat of the Middle Ages? Or maybe, just maybe, had the romantic portrayal of a young girl madly in love touched a particularly sensitive nerve in her – considering how she felt about the boy who had been the driving force behind this stage play?

It was, most likely, a bit of all of this!

But now she had to emerge herself into her usual everyday activities again. 

After all, she was and never would be a princess, royal or otherwise. Even though, according to all those glamorous reviews, she had come across as rather authentic. 

She inhaled deeply, let out the air with a whoosh, and refocused at the task at hand.

Scrutinizing her superficial visage, she couldn’t wait to uncover the natural face hidden behind it. Somewhere under all that camouflage was a girl who tended to be easygoing, down-to-earth, and rather unencumbered with any thoughts of how others viewed and judged her.

Smirking at the messy pane of her mirror, she removed her styled blond wig. Then, shaking her head, she let her lush auburn curls cascade across her shoulders. 

She smiled. She still liked her own hair better.

Next, she took out her blue contact lenses.

Her greenish-brown irises shone back at her, filled with a zest for adventure, a bit of a tendency toward naughtiness, a deep-seated curiosity, as well as an ingrained compassion for everything alive. 

Yes, her hazel eyes had always suited her fine — and they would continue to do so.

Emily now dipped a cotton swab into that special facial cleaner she had pilfered from the cosmetic assortment of the student who had been assigned as the play’s make-up artist. 

Ever so careful, she cleared away the thick, black mascara framing her eyes. That’s when she wondered why she even needed that charcoal-colored goop, since her own lashes and brows were naturally quite dark already. 

Well, it was for art’s sake, she thought. That’s when more seems sometimes better.

Suddenly she felt excited about retrieving her own features. Although she scrubbed herself clean after each performance, she had usually been way too exhausted to reevaluate her bare appearance before falling into bed. 

Grimacing, she went to work.  

First there was that skin-buffering conditioner, next the wrinkle-reducing foundation, then the color-enhancing makeup, and finally the moisture-reducing, loose powder dusted over everything. For a girl who preferred to use very little to enhance her face, it had been quite an adjustment to hide behind that beige-colored crème shield. All that paint had served to underline as well as occasionally undermine her theatrical expressions.  

She was painfully aware of how often this fake plaster wall of beauty products had suffered a ghastly crack whenever she laughed too heartily during an especially funny scene. And when she cried – as per script – she would off and on wash away bits of her painstakingly constructed “royal” face to reveal a few specks of what loomed underneath.

However, she had really enjoyed her moments in the limelight. She bathed in all the raving reviews and even the personal compliments heaved upon her. To some of her admirers she would most likely remain, “Herona, the Sunrise Princess.” 

She found that label actually kind of corny, since she definitely was and mostly likely always would be a “night owl.” Therefore, instead of being a delightful princess at sunrise, she often was an absolutely unbearable grouch in the morning. It often took two strong cups of coffee and about an hour of mellowing out before she transformed into her pleasant self.

Finished with dismantling her stage image, Emily drew a long, hot bubble bath and indulged in it for a long time. After finally toweling off, she slipped into her old, washed-out cotton pajamas, then drew herself up in front of the full-length wall mirror in her bedroom

“Hmmm, just look at that figure,” she muttered. “Maybe I should lose a few pounds, but it’s really not an emergency.” 

She shook back her tangled wet hair. “Check, all good.”

Then she swiped both palms across her face. “No goop, nothing, check. Yeah!”

She bent closer.  

The beaming face in front of her was no longer that of a princess. It belonged once again to someone she remembered very well. If anything, there was an added touch of maturity in those eyes. Maybe that came from stumbling around in someone else’s diamond-studded patent-leather sandals for a while — before discovering that one’s old galoshes fit so much better.

Throwing another glance at her mirror twin, Emily was not only pleased with how she looked. She wholeheartedly accepted and embraced again who she really was — the very one she was meant to be.

                                                               *   *   *

Helga Gruendler-Schierloh is a bilingual writer and translator with a degree in journalism and graduate credits in linguistics. Her articles, essays, short stories, and poetry have appeared in the USA, the UK, Canada, and South Africa. Her debut novel, Burying Leo, a Me-Too story, won second place in women’s fiction during Pen Craft Awards’ 2018 writing contest.

The Great Revelation

By Chris Pais

The summer of 2022 was one of the driest in history and a time of revelations of almost Biblical proportions.  Not a drop of rain fell for weeks leaving the land parched, the vegetation desiccated, the lakes and rivers gasping for breath as their water levels sunk to historical lows.  In Nevada’s Lake Mead which is the largest reservoir in the United States, the falling water level revealed several sets of human remains including a body in a barrel with gunshot wounds and the remnants of many sunken boats.  In Texas, a dying stream exposed dinosaur footprints that had not been exposed since they were formed over a hundred million years ago.  In Spain, a dwindling reservoir revealed the ancient stones of the Dolomes, also known as the Spanish Stonehenge.  The receding water of the Danube showed the weary hulls of several sunken World War II era ships and in Italy, authorities detonated a wartime American explosive which surfaced on the River Po after decades of being safely submerged under water.  In verdant Wales, a lost nineteenth century village saw the light of day after a reservoir shrank to a fraction of its original size.  In China, the mighty Yangtze River retreated and exposed a trio of statues of the Buddha that were hewn out of solid rock over 600 years ago.  

While the earth went on a historical binge of revealing its long lost secrets, earthlings – especially those that had something to hide – wondered if their own dark secrets will similarly be revealed.  People walked around looking over their shoulders with a sense of dread; any conversation that started with “You know what I found….”, or an email from an unfamiliar person, an ominous knock on the door, or a call from an unknown caller on a cellphone could all very well be harbingers of a revelation that could turn anyone’s life upside down and lead to blackmail, extortion and in the best case, sheer embarrassment.  

Tom started dating Maddie after a long Covid-induced hiatus.  The last few years of Tom’s previous relationship felt like a warm beer without any fizz and they became too indifferent to break up.  The lockdown and quarantining from the pandemic were welcome excuses that brought this relationship to an inevitable end, much to their relief.  For the next two years, while the disease raged through the country leaving death and polarization in its wake, Tom clung on to his boring job and his questionable sanity by running several miles a day and doing an inordinate number of pushups.  As time went by, the virus eventually slowed down its ferocious march.  Soon, triple-vaxed people started dating each other, the unvaccinated dated their own and one’s attitudes towards masks became a filter on online dating sites.  

Tom and Maddie had nothing in common apart from having the same vaccination status and feeling the same sense of apathy and boredom towards each other and the world, partly brought about by months of Covid isolation.  They spent time together whenever they could, but they never really got to know each other.  They both hid behind the callus that had formed over the last two years and they did not want to leave themselves exposed, afraid that a vulnerability of any kind will be exploited like a virus exploits its host.  Although they were dating for over a year, they were not any closer to each other than in the first few months of their relationship.

When the global revelations started unravelling in the summer, Tom and Maddie felt exposed just like everybody else.  Tom wondered if Maddie would find out that he did not really have a college degree, and that he did not really come from an elite east coast family.  Would she know that he was really not a pescatarian but only said so to impress her, while he often went home after their dinners and gorged on a big piece of meat?  Should he confess that he not only hated classical music, but he also did not know the first thing about music theory and that he never took violin lessons as a child?  Maddie wondered if she should admit that she did not really enjoy watching football, or that she really did not care too much for his goatee or his friends and found his jokes coarse and insensitive?  Would he soon realize that she really hated golf but really liked the handsome golf instructor?  Would Tom find out that she preferred to do the dishes rather than cook, but she always volunteered to do the cooking because Tom’s cooking – unbeknownst to him but evident to everybody else – was unpalatable?

They were both reluctant to come clean with each other but at the same time, they were in a rush to make a confession before the truth was revealed.  Afraid of confrontation, they both fantasized about smooth exits from their relationship and wished for a breakup without fanfare, drama or hard feelings.   Perhaps one of them will get a job in another state, but with the growing possibility of remote work, this did not seem like a viable excuse to move.  Perhaps one of them (preferably the other) will be forced to take care of a family member with a chronic (but not fatal) illness, leaving them incapable of dating.  Perhaps one of them will question their own sexuality and initiate a breakup of the “it’s not you, it’s me” variety.

Heavy with anticipation and apprehension, they met for their usual Friday night dinner at their favorite restaurant.  Each of them secretly hated the place which they thought was pretentious and overpriced, but they feigned appreciation for the food and the service.  They were both tense and wondered what other shocking revelation would appear on the late night news.  They wondered if their own secrets will be revealed.  They drank more than their usual amount of wine, each planning when and how they should confess their own deceptions. To an outsider, they looked very much like a couple in love, and the waiter even brought them a complimentary cake, flambéed it and said, “It’s on the house”.  

Tom and Maddie sipped on their wine and could see each other clearing their throats, as one nervously does before saying something controversial.  They dug into the warm cake with their forks.  They thought to themselves, perhaps after the next sip of wine, they will tell the other what they really felt.  They looked at each other and then looked away, waiting for a distraction, anything to delay the inevitable.  Perhaps the waiter would interrupt and check in on them again. Maybe the fire alarm will go off.  They took another sip and cleared their throats again, almost in unison.  

Then they slowly began to speak. “I….love you”, they muttered simultaneously.  

                                                             *    *    *

Chris Pais grew up in India and came to the United States to pursue graduate studies in engineering. His work appears in Poetry India, The International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer, Wingless Dreamer, Wild Roof Journal, The Literary Bohemian, Defunct Magazine and elsewhere. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where he works on clean energy technologies and tinkers with bikes, guitars and recipes.

The Elevator

By Maxine Flam

“Time to play musical cars,” I said out loud as I circled the block for the second time. I cannot afford to park in the lot and my doctor doesn’t validate. Yes! A spot opened up. I parked and walked into the lobby.

As I entered the elevator, I heard a voice say, “Hey lady, would you hold it for me?” It was a kid no more than 16. I pressed the open button and he got in with his ear buds and skateboard. I pressed 4; he wanted 5 and I hit the close button. The elevator made its normal creaking noise and went up. While looking around, I noticed something peculiar. The elevator was going up, but the indicator light showed it was going down. I figured since we were going up, I shrugged off this peculiarity. It stopped at the second level where visitor parking was. A man in a three piece suit entered. Five was already pushed, but Mr. Business Suit pushed it again. We rode together in silence for a couple of seconds before the kid cracked his gum. Mr. Business Suit looked over in disgust.

Half way between 3 and 4, the elevator groaned and stopped. I should have known something was wrong. The light was the tip off. I always have hated elevators, putting your life in a box, suspended over a shaft by a cable, going up and down all day. It breaking down was inevitable.

Mr. Business Suit was quite perturbed, yelling, “What just happened?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it will go in a minute.”

“Maybe? It could be stuck for good. Hit the bell, pick up the phone and call someone.”

“And who are you to give me orders?!” I replied in a loud voice. It was a good thing he was on the other side of the car. I was thinking how I’d like to kick him in the butt. The kid had was deep into his music. He had no idea we were stuck and I wasn’t about to involve him in this shouting match.

I pressed the alarm button and picked up the phone. It rang several times before someone answered. “We’re stuck in the elevator….You know? Oh, okay, about 20 minutes. I’ll let the others know.” I hung up.

Mr. Business Suit screamed, “What did you just say? Twenty minutes? I can’t be in here that long. I’ll be late for an appointment.”

“Well, if you don’t like it, why don’t you put on your super suit and crawl out through the top or better yet, why don’t you open the doors with your teeth?”

“Why don’t you keep your mouth shut?”

“You started it, you dumb ape. The last place I’d like to be is with you on this elevator, but the man said they are working on it. We’ll be on our way soon.”

“Hey man,” said the kid. “What’s all the yelling all about?” The kid saw Mr. Business Suit and I were about to come to some serious blows.

“If you wouldn’t have had those ear blasters in, you’d know the elevator is stuck,” replied Mr. Business Suit. “Idiot!”

“Leave the kid alone.”

“What are you, his mommy?”

“You don’t have to yell, man. Just be cool,” said the kid.

“Be cool? I don’t feel like being cool. Why don’t you just shut up?”

“And why don’t you take a pill and chill out,” I said.

“Mr. Business Suit suddenly darted across from his side of the elevator to the doors and began pounding on them. “Get me the hell out of here!” he screamed.

I picked up the phone again. “One of the people in here is having a complete nervous breakdown. We need paramedics….Yeah, ASAP.”

Mr. Business Suit collapsed. The kid took off his shirt and made a pillow for his head. I loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt. Nine minutes later, the elevator opened on the first floor. The paramedics pulled the man out, put him on a gurney, and whisked him away with lights and siren blaring. The kid grabbed his shirt from the floor, put it on, picked up the skateboard and ear buds, and headed for the stairs. I started for the lobby doors when I heard him say, “Hey lady.” I turned around and replied,

“Yes?” “Have a better day.” I smiled.

I went outside the building to call the doctor to cancel my appointment and tell him why.

*   *   *

Maxine lives in North Hollywood, California with her aquatic friends. She refuses to allow her physical and mental disability to slow her down. Maxine resumed attending classes at the local junior college taking short story analysis and advanced scriptwriting this semester. She has two A.A. degrees, one in Natural Science and one in Liberal Arts. She has been published in the Los Angeles Daily News, the Epoch Times, Nail Polish Stories, DarkWinterLit, CafeLit twice, and DarkWinterLit.

Together We Can End This

By Ian Johnson

They refused to pin their love wholly on the arrival of spring, as they didn’t consider their love to be seasonal, but neither would they dismiss the seasons entirely. As it began, the weather was an accordion, drifting in and out between what had been dormant and what promised to stir, the tiny icicles of the dawn melting into the sun-simmered streams of late afternoon, the frozen bark on monochromatic branches beginning to pimple with the promise of fresh green buds. You could still read on the porch at 4:30, even if you shivered and lit a fire before dinner. 

They had passed the winter alone, drinking Lemon Ginger and Tension Tamer teas, staring at their smeared reflections in icy windows in under-heated apartments, childhood blankets draped over their shoulders, feeling heavy beneath the navel but light at the crown, cozily nursing the raptures and ruptures of the year before, gazing backwards, not ahead, each unaware of the other across town. But when the glass thawed and the windows cracked open, when the woods began to tinkle and drip and the treetops began to sing, when going outside warmed their cheeks instead of stinging them red, when the motherly spring approved of it, both felt ready to share themselves again with the world they had for the darker months turned away from. 

A technological apparatus and its algorithms, lazy and unnatural, prompted their union, but that was easily forgotten. Their first conversation in breathing proximity was in a cafe. Almost as soon as they were recited, he and she similarly forgot the optimistic biographical sketches they painted for each other, the do you like and what’s your favorite lines of inquiry they both fell back on. Sipping warm tea brewed with fresh leaves, their legs losing circulation, they wished time would speed up and hoped it would never yield to the clock another tick. There were so many ways they were like so many other first dates, yet something kept them in their seats in the little cafe on Liberty Ave long after the spoken conversation dried up, long after those who’d amusingly, adoringly and then annoyingly listened in snapped shut their computers and moved away. They stayed until the message was clear: they would leave the door unlocked for the other, the porch light on, the welcome mat laid out, a bowl of hot broth on the stove. The calendar said it was spring, but there were really only two seasons, in love and out of it. 

Afterwards, they hugged goodbye, leaning forward at the waist, straight-legged, like two sides of a bridge embracing over a river raging with run-off, and felt assured of what ran underneath. They had, in their first few hours together, assumed joint custody of something amorphous and fragile, something amorous and pink, a gift of the Earth’s tilt, something which threatened to crack, was supposed to spill, but only when ripe. Both were a little unsure of what to do, but felt sure they would eventually do it, because they’d done it before and would do it again. They hugged goodbye a second time and walked back to their homes that now seemed empty without the other. 

A few dates later — after a movie during which they’d rested their hands on separate armrests, a movie that neither could remember enough of to discuss when it was over; and after a dinner which saw them suffer through several long bouts of silence, only mildly awkward, the silence, it was just that their mutual delight at feeling so intimately thawed was thick enough to be intermittently suffocating; when the subliminal intimation could proceed no further, he presented her with a gift, a small box tied up with a red bow. She set the box on her lap and pulled it loose, collapsing the knot, then shimmied off the string. She ran her hand across the bare top, to clear it of invisible pixels of dust, then lifted the lid. Inside was a kiss, the chocolate kind wrapped in silver foil, with a note: Redeem soon, please. 

Their dates were official, but they weren’t officially dating, not really, and neither was sure how everything, if anything, would fall into place. Whatever it was, it was over before it began. Both knew it and accepted it, which was why it could start in the first place, because it was already finishing. What made the summer bearable was knowing that fall would follow. Both preferred it that way, the looming loss defining the current gain, and with this comfort in mind and in heart they assumed a more definite shape and color, occupied firmer dimensions and started to carry mass and weight.

Their first kiss, the first one with lips, was shared on a bench in a small park. They were talking and staring at each other’s mouths while they talked – neither can remember what about – long enough to confirm what needed to be confirmed, and then they were kissing. Her lips were colder than he’d expected, but not in a bad way – the verdant canopy above them simply didn’t filter much sunlight. When he moved his tongue to meet hers, she pressed her mouth shut and giggled. She didn’t know why she did this, but she didn’t pull away either, and there was extra rotation at the hips towards the other, and when they kissed again it was more coordinated, and everything warmed up.

Before it was anything else, the sex that eventually followed was a relief and a reminder. The dark winter had almost convinced them it would never happen again. All their parts worked, and fit well with their counterparts and, by the end, were working at high speed and with plenty of satisfying operating noises. Both were smiling, or trying not to smile and failing.

In the weeks that followed, words were used for coordination purposes, and for harmless comments about an ice cream shop or an exhibit through a window, and little else, for whatever had arisen between them could not be supported with words, could only be destroyed by using the wrong ones. They feared words would affect their shapes and colors, which they’d waited so long to see and admire. There was sweat and heat and long nights where their preferred activity didn’t require anything verbal and despite the heights at midnight the whole thing always felt a little sad. 

But the end would come regardless of their restraint, and so to avoid the inevitable destruction they would prematurely self-destruct. As summer faded they met again at the park, and sat on the bench that had hosted their first kiss. A single leaf had fallen. He noticed the yellowing edges, the way both sides curled in, as if it was trying to give itself a hug. He rolled the stem between his fingers and the blade danced. He could hear the crunch of the leaf without stepping on it.

She was crying and felt silly for crying, but he was crying, too, and the tears validated something. Too much affection too soon was suspect, but tears at the end were proof. It justified the summer on some higher plane. She wanted to store his tears in the little box he’d given her, so that if she needed to remember him she could dip a pinkie in it and rub his tears on her wrists and neck. They were crying, too, for all that they hadn’t permitted themselves to be. 

The sun was hanging low in the sky like a neighbor who can’t quite see over the fence. The wood of the bench was cold and prickly beneath their thighs. It would be an early winter, and the winter would be frigid and lonely, but on the other side of winter was spring, and maybe spring, with a fresh medley of shapes and colors, would come early, too. 

                                                      *   *   *

Ian Johnson is the author of the memoir The Bounce and the Echo – Dying to love a game (ATM Publishing, 2019), and the forthcoming novel The Commencement Version (Brandylane Publishers, 2024), as well a number of short stories and essays. He teaches middle school English in Richmond, VA. 

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




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.