Danielle knew she would forget something important and ruin the day. She forgot to ask for hushpuppies with the cheeseburger order. Rushing to the line, she noticed her brother was almost finished placing the order. Slightly embarrassed, she yelled “Hushpuppies! A large side of hushpuppies! You know Dawn won’t eat that cheeseburger without them.” David grinned and added that to their order. Dawn looked up and smiled at him. She was too shy to vocalize what she wanted or needed and would mentally withdraw if things weren’t consistent.
Suddenly, Danielle looked behind her shoulder as she felt someone’s intense gaze. There were a lot of people in the crowd. The fair was always bustling with people going from one exhibit to the next and taking a break amongst the array of fried foods. Her eyes darted back and forth trying to recognize any of the faces bustling about. She could’ve sworn someone had been staring at her.
Danielle suddenly felt a bit nauseous from the range of smells. Maybe a bathroom break was next on the agenda. She looked ahead and her heart skipped a beat when she didn’t see Dawn. Her eyes darted around and landed on David. He looked just as panicked and said, “She was just here!”
They began calling her name. Danielle felt terror taking over. Their mother would kill them for letting Dawn wander off alone. Or what if she hadn’t wandered off? Danielle’s heart started racing and she said, “David, we must find her. You stay here in case she comes right back. I will check the women’s restroom.” He nodded yes and she quickly darted off. The ache in her stomach intensified when she called Dawn’s name with no reply. She wanted to throw up but didn’t have time.
As she left the restroom, she felt eyes watching her again. Whirling around, she saw a man with a circular tattoo around his eye. When he looked at her, the tattoo started dialing like a stopwatch. As it bursts of blue light moved around it, she felt a pain pierce her stomach. Suddenly, she knew this man would take her to the same place as Dawn. They wouldn’t be going home tonight. Their mother was going to spiral in the agony of their absence.
The family eventually held a funeral, but they weren’t dead. Danielle felt the screams erupting from her soul. Reaching through the darkness, her fingertips brushed against the word nadir. She must find a way out of the madness.
* * *
Jessica N. Arzola-Grissom lives in a small Texas town with her husband and son. Her writing has appeared in various print and online publications including The Image, LogoSophia, Valiant Scribe, Reedsy, Digging Press, and Latine Lit. In 2022, her poem Adventura, won 2nd place in the Irene Emmerson Poetry competition. The Rainbow recently appeared in the anthology titled Scars.
Some things are meant to be in past tense before they even happen.
With P., all the signs were there. The choppy walk, as if P. was prancing on the balls of his feet, ready for takeoff at a moment’s notice. The curls glued tight to his head with an uncomfortable amount of coconut oil. The offhand familiarity with the Classics, the odd Latin phrase casually thrown into conversation. The ever-present book under his arm, as he waited for me under the big clock at the train station. All this lends itself into the ultimate past-tense, the-one-that-got-away reminiscence fodder, not a shared lifetime of vacuum cleaning, grocery shopping, his-and-hers sinks in the bathroom.
“We’re just friends, you know,” P. would say firmly, mid-shoulder rub, lounging in one of Europe’s most romantic spots on Valentine’s Day.
“We are the best of friends,” P. assured me as we slow-danced on his balcony while Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” played in the background, and a half-hearted swarm of sleepy bees couldn’t make up its mind over a crate of blooming lavender.
“We will get married and live together for the next ninety years. Platonically. As friends,” P. said, watching sunrise turn the surface of the lake into a saucerful of sparkling sequins.
We met by complete chance, at a pub quiz where I knew no one, and P. seemingly knew everyone, yet chose to spend the whole evening at my side exchanging weird jokes and nonsensical stories. By the end of the pub quiz, I was none the wiser about the 1978 album by the Bee Gees – what fossils made up the questions, I will never know – yet I had learned a great deal about P.’s family, his classical education, and his befuddling sense of humor.
From there, we embarked upon a friendship that felt easier and more natural than anything else I had experienced. I was in a dreary relationship then, and I continued to sludge through it dutifully in the years when I hung out with P., although I do think I might have faltered if I only had reason to suspect P. had anything else in mind besides being friendly.
Hindsight screams at me, slurring like a barefoot drunk girl with running mascara. What platonic friend invites you for a candlelit dinner and cooks chicken with pineapple chunks that float around like sweet little islands? What platonic friend gives back rubs and shoulder rubs, and walks hand-in-hand under the lilac trees, and drunkenly kisses you one night? And then again, on a tram stop, so fleetingly that you gaslight yourself into believing it never happened?
But hindsight can fuck right off and take its mascara elsewhere. It didn’t hear a thousand times that what you have is pure platonic love, nothing more.
As André Maurois once said, “the essence of platonic love is when she tries to guess what he wants, and he does not want anything.”
I should have known then, but I never learn my lessons. Like when P. caught a little sparrow to cheer me up, whistling softly and feeding it crumbs until it snuggled between his palms, peering at me with a beadily curious eye.
Like when I rode on P.’s shoulders, bobbing up and down in time with his skippy gait past city fountains and summer terraces.
Like when P. moved to a different town, with another girl.
It took many more years to change my verbs to past tense when I thought about P. And to this day, I am reminded of him when I listen to “Young and Beautiful” – which is not that often – or when I see a sparrow sitting perfectly still, its eyes black and beady and curious. Then I forget myself and think: me and P. are going to get married and live together for the next ninety years. You know, platonically. As friends.
* * *
Läilä Örken has a PhD in law and works in the field of international relations and the environment. In the evenings, she writes stories and is working on a novel. Her stories appear in the “Eunoia Review,” “Black Sheep: Unique Tales of Terror and Wonder,” and others.
On the south side of town, an assemblage of picky eaters walks into a large restaurant with a small menu. Ominous. They psst, psst to each other. Are we sure we should eat here? Oh, just relax. Their stomachs rumble with hunger. They decide to stay. A new experience. We don’t get out much. Yes, restaurants are always so problematic, aren’t they? After they’re seated, the water poured, they all smile up at the server, a young man with a fresh smile and patient eyes. The first picky eater says, “What do you have in white?” The server thinks it’s a joke at first, but the picky eaters aren’t laughing. The server says, “Well, we have sides of cottage cheese or cauliflower. Perhaps you’d like some parsnips?” After pondering such limited choices, the first picky eater says, “Come back to me.” The server is only too happy to move on. But then the second picky eater says, “What do you have in a shade of red?” The third picky eater wants yellow food; the fourth, turquoise. And on and on. Bewildered, the server raises his eyebrows at this troublesome gaggle of adherents before him. But no amount of hmphing or sighing makes a difference. The picky eaters continue on like this for hours, their indecision betraying their hunger. Come back to me. Come back to me. The server’s smile fades with the evening light, and a full moon appears in the sky like an unassuming chandelier, and then the sun comes up again. Finally, the exhausted server has taken the orders of all the picky eaters. But the restaurant has not yet reopened for the day. No chefs or line cooks have clocked in. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait,” the server says. “That’s no problem,” the first picky eater says, “but today I feel like something purple. Can I change my order?” And the second picky eater says, “Yes, today I’d like something green.” The third, pink; the fourth, gray.
And on and on.
* * *
Jessica Klimesh (she/her) is a US-based writer and editor whose creative work—mostly flash and microfiction—has appeared or is forthcoming in Cleaver, trampset, Atticus Review, HAD, Whale Road Review, Bending Genres, and Ghost Parachute, among others. She is currently working on a collection of linked flash stories. Learn more at jessicaklimesh.com. Twitter: @JEK_Writer
I was three when Dad built it piece by piece in our basement.We carted it to the lake and nailed it to a frame. We stayed in it before it was complete. At three, I was afraid of the ghost-like images reflected in the silver coated insulation stapled into the walls. The knotty pine floor lived up to its name. Mom nailed can lids over the holes so snakes wouldn’t come in. Our dog scared a skunk wandering beneath the floor. Mom augmented the odor with Lysol until we gasped for breath.A bat flew in. A cacophonous chorus of relatives cajoled us kids to put pillows on our heads. Dad raced after it with a fishing net. And now, fifty years later, it’s the most peaceful place I know.
* * *
Judy Salcewicz, a retired teacher, lives and writes in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Her stories have been published in The Kelsey Review, six Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, U.S. 1 Summer Fiction edition, and Horse Network.
Your father was born without enamel—born with enamel hypoplasia if you want to be specific. Not that you know the difference. No, don’t Google it now. Don’t research now what you never cared to before. But you should’ve cared before; you should’ve cared to examine the difference between how the two of you navigate life.
Your father experiences everything fully—when he’s thirsty, cold water crashes against his naked incisors with the ferocity of a winter wave; when he’s hungry, warm meals conform around his sensitive canines with the painful sweet sting of a heat pack to the knee; when he’s breathing, crisp air strikes all the way back to his bare molars like a bowling ball attacking spare pins. You don’t. You feel how cold water is cold, how warm meals are warm, how crisp air is crisp, but it doesn’t impact you the same way. These sensations don’t pain you any more than they delight you.
Your father still wishes he could become numb now and then, yet he embraces his reality without complaint. He leans into it, searching for the slight variance in the experience of any and every little twinge. You take your protection for granted, yet complain whenever you face the slightest irritant. You avoid discomfort like the plague, seeking to bypass any and every little twinge without ever stopping to embrace your reality and truly grow through the experience. And you know it.
Your father was born without enamel. You were born with it. That’s not a bad thing. But taking your life for granted? Failing to experience all you can, where you can, when you can?
Your father will die having fully lived. Will you?
* * *
J.P. Pressley is a storyteller with enamel issues and a high pain tolerance. A Minnesotan masquerading as a Brooklynite, he is a graduate of Lindenwood University’s MFA in Writing program and has fiction in 365tomorrows, Litbreak Magazine, and Suddenly, and Without Warning. You can find him at www.jppressley.com or on Instagram and Twitter at the handle @iamjppressley.
Every night after dinner, she lingers over the evidence board, linking her father’s lies with turkey-trussing twine. One of the index cards reads Forced me to sell biz at knifepoint. Another: Did not punch asshole in movie line. She unpins and flips over the card: no matter what your brother swears he saw. This one connects to a Post-it, my own father’s fault if I was angry, but I’m not. Every note is strung to the photo of her father with a pack of cigs rolled in his sleeve, resting on his shoulder. She places the last string from the sticky note to the portrait of her father’s father, a man she never met and her father barely knew, a man who had ignored his secret second family until he died. Stepping back to get an overall view, she senses something still missing, then catches her reflection in the mirror.
* * *
Luanne Castle’s award-winning full-length poetry collections are Rooted and Winged (Finishing Line 2022) and Doll God (Kelsay 2015). Her chapbooks are Our Wolves (Alien Buddha 2023) and Kin Types (Finishing Line 2017), a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. Luanne’s Pushcart and Best of the Net-nominated poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in Bending Genres, Dribble Drabble Review, Copper Nickel, and other journals. She lives with five cats in Arizona along a wash that wildlife use as a thoroughfare.
I dream about the house party again. Outside a tree falls and it’s black as space. The power goes. We are two satellites colliding in the sky. Pieces set ablaze rain down on Earth.
We talk into the night – the last to leave. Stalling to avoid reality. Then, outside, holding hands until your taxi comes. Clasping fingers in the dark. The cold swell of your wedding ring.
I watch the taxi carry you away. Sometimes I run. Sometimes the taxi stops and you appear. There are no streetlights overhead, no stars. Nothing exists in space but you and me.
Then other times the tree withstands, the lights remain. Our orbits never wander off their course. We never even learn each other’s names.
And everything is easier that way.
* * *
George Nevgodovskyy was born in Kiev, Ukraine, but has lived in Vancouver, Canada for most of his life. He has previously been published in East of the Web, Rejection Letters, Literally Stories, Fairlight Books, and others. He does his best writing after everyone else has gone to sleep. Check out his work at georgenev.blogspot.com.
As he caresses the guitar, making music as only he can, her jealousy ignites. The way he cradles the old instrument, strokes its taught strings, harmonizes with its chords, sears. She wishes he still embraced her with such passion, such adoration, but with her, he is all dissonance and discord.
* * *
Wendy K. Mages, a Pushcart Prize nominee, is a storyteller, educator, and researcher who earned a doctorate in Human Development and Psychology at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a master’s in Theatre at Northwestern University. As a Professor at Mercy College, she researches the effect of the arts on learning and development. To complement her research, she performs original stories at storytelling events and festivals in the US and abroad. Please visit https://www.mercy.edu/directory/wendy-mages to learn more about her and her work and to find links to her published stories and poetry.
All Lena wanted was to be left alone for a little while. Don’t get her wrong, she loved people. Lena was a wonderful daughter who took great care of her parents. She loved her husband and her very own beautiful daughters. She was an inspiring teacher who loved her fourth-grade class.
But her life was busy as could be, and recently, Lena was feeling greatly worn down. She found her smile had drifted and dwindled along with her energy. Her days began to grow dreary, unending. She simply needed some damn peace. All Lena wanted was to be alone.
So how did it occur then, that Lena ended up all alone? Here in this very room?
Why is it now that Lena no longer wants peace? Why could it be that she no longer wishes to be alone? Why could it be that all Lena wants is… anyone?
* * *
Baylee Marion writes things she shouldn’t in her favorite city, accompanied by her partner in crime. After earning her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Industries from Toronto Metropolitan University, she published non-fiction articles in Ottawa Life Magazine, photographs in PhotoVogue, and is now enveloped in fiction writing.
As the screams drew nearer, Clara halted washing dishes, dried her trembling hands on her apron, then stood to face the door of her living quarters with a deep inhale. A minute later, Mrs. Probst burst into the room with her two-year-old daughter, Rosie, flung over her shoulder, kicking and squawking up a storm.
“Take her! Now! Evil, vile little creature! Useless, insolent burden–” Mrs. Probst screeched as she plucked the child from her body and thrust her into Clara’s ready, outstretched arms.
With Clara’s comforting sway and lullaby hum, the child relaxed, her screams dissipating into sniffles as she burrowed her face into the crook of Clara’s neck. Mrs. Probst left without a backwards glance, muttering insults and complaints as she returned upstairs to compose herself for another social visit.
Clara had been hired as a maid by the Probsts back in their homeland, but that all changed once Mr. Probst lost most of his fortune at the betting table. In a rush, they’d packed and left for the New World, looking for opportunity. A fresh start.
Clara was given a choice, along with the other servants, whether she wanted to take the journey. The rest decided to stay, afraid of moving so far away from home. But Clara never had a home. Not really. Her parents died when she was very young and so she’d made her home in the homes of others, but never felt as if she belonged. She thought a new land would change that.
Only a few months after arriving, Mr. Probst fell ill and passed within days, leaving Clara and a pregnant Mrs. Probst to fend for themselves. They survived well enough on the money which remained, but it wasn’t enough for Mrs. Probst. She was used to opulence and comfort, and widowhood, and motherhood she’d discovered, wasn’t for her. Especially with a child who wouldn’t–or couldn’t–speak. Mrs. Probst hadn’t time for understanding, patience, and love. Those were placed upon Clara’s shoulders, along with all the household duties.
Clara didn’t mind, though.
She loved the child as her own, and the little girl loved her. They shared a kinship of the heart, ever since she first held the babe in her arms.
That made all the strife worth it.
And that’s why she remained.
One day, with Rosie napping in a cot downstairs, Clara went upstairs to dust. She stopped in her tracks, however, when she heard a woman in the next room speaking of children and changelings. Clara resisted eavesdropping, but she couldn’t help it once Rosie’s name was mentioned.
“Midsummer Eve,” the woman declared, “is the day to do it. Worked for the Averys. Just one night in the forest and by morning he’d changed back. Poof! Fixed! Nary a fit thrown again. It’s the fae, I tell you.”
To Clara’s horror, Mrs. Probst agreed wholeheartedly.
She wanted to object, but knew Mrs. Probst would not listen to reason. Worse, she might dismiss her employment and then the child would surely be doomed.
Clara could only wait and see if common sense prevailed.
Common sense did not prevail.
With the bonfires lit and the townsfolk gathering for Midsummer festivities, Clara discovered Rosie gone from her cot. She knew where the child would be, and so with a lantern in hand and a knapsack packed on her back, into the forest she went.
She searched for what seemed like an eternity; the shadows chasing her.
As the last rays of sunlight trickled from the sky, Clara finally found the tot nestled asleep against the twisted trunk of a juniper tree. She flew to her side and noticed a thick rope tied the girl’s hands around the tree’s trunk. Luckily, she’d expected this. Using a paring knife, she cut the girl free and lifted her into her arms. A note fell to the ground, but Clara didn’t notice as they fled the encroaching darkness.
Safely away from the woods, they stayed along the open, moonlit road path that led out of town to a city.
Screams and laughter taunted from the surrounding trees as they passed.
From city to city, town to town, they made temporary homes, with Clara taking odd jobs to sustain them. They never had much, but had each other, and that was all that mattered. They never stayed in one place long, afraid of being discovered. Rosie was never allowed outside alone and kept away from the woods at all times.
At seven years old, Rosie still couldn’t speak, but they didn’t need words to understand each other. Clara knew the child was growing unhappy with their constant moving and confinement. She needed friends and freedom. So, while Rosie stared longingly out a window, Clara thought of a way out.
Jungle wasn’t a forest, she concluded, and the fae probably couldn’t cross oceans. Perhaps they could be outsmarted.
And so they voyaged to a whole new land.
A tropical paradise would be their new home.
Forever, Clara hoped.
She thought she’d triumphed, watching Rosie play amongst the jungle’s flora, chasing butterflies. A year had passed, and all seemed well. Clara thought their new home could be permanent.
She was wrong.
On another fateful Midsummer Eve, a day which slipped Clara’s mind, Rosie vanished right in front of her eyes. One second, she was skipping ahead – the next she was gone.
“You were very difficult to find,” said a voice full of whispers, screams, singing, and laughter all together, all at once. It gave Clara chills, despite the tropical summer heat. She whipped around and saw an otherworldly creature standing there – a faerie, both beautiful and terrible – eyes glowing, long hair billowing around like fire, with shimmering, horned wings extending from its back.
“Where is she?” Clara demanded. “She’s no changeling! She isn’t yours! You can’t have her!”
“Oh, but I can. She was given to us as a trade, by blood. Not a changeling, true. But her mother’s note said if she isn’t, we may have her in exchange for a successful boy. She received her wish. Died in childbirth, but the boy will be successful,” the faerie said, narrowing her eyes. “You took something that doesn’t belong to you.”
“Rosie is my daughter, blood be damned. Take me in her place, if you must. She’s only a child!”
“A deal is a deal. No harm will come to her, if that is your worry,” the faerie said. “We never harm innocents.”
“But she must be terrified! Please, return her to me! I’ll give anything, all I have!” Clara fell to her knees in tears. “I’ll do anything! Does love count for nothing? Have you no heart?”
The faerie sighed.
“If you find the girl by sundown, and she agrees to return, you both may leave as you were. Human again. If you don’t, you’ll both remain the same. Deal?”
“And how would I find her? She’s disappeared!”
“Oh, she’s still here. Somewhere. In the jungle. Just… changed. You’ll see – or perhaps not.”
“Do you agree to the deal, or no?”
Clara had no choice but to accept, so she nodded. As soon as she agreed, she felt… different. She realized, looking up at the grinning faerie, that she couldn’t stand. Looking down, she saw two thick, scaly legs, then felt two more behind – and a tail.
On her back was a shell, Clara discovered, as she accidentally retreated inside it from fear.
When she popped her head out again, the faerie had gone.
Wasting no time, Clara began searching, slow as it was, with no voice to call out.
Hours passed, and then she heard it – a familiar melody coming from above. The same lullaby she’d sung to Rosie since she was a babe. The same song her mother had once sung to her.
Clara found Rosie just as Rosie recognized her. Sometimes the heart just knows.
“Mama!” A beautiful, vibrant macaw with plumage like a rainbow landed in front of her. If tortoises could shed tears, Clara would have. Instead, she could only nod, stretching the corners of her tortoise beak into a smile, seeing her darling girl so happy and carefree – and not only speaking, but singing too!
“I love flying! Already made a few friends here!” Rosie squawked, doing a few loop-de-loops. “Can we stay here forever, Mama? Do we have to go back?”
Clara didn’t have time to reply. Seeing the shadows descending upon the jungle, she quickly retreated into her shell, indicating for Rosie to hide.
When the faerie returned, Clara stayed concealed inside her new home, and the faerie took her silence as an answer. If Clara giving up her voice was necessary to give Rosie her own, that was how it would be.
And so it was.
As the faerie had stipulated, they remained as they were, for the rest of their long lives together – forever a tortoise and a macaw.
And they were free.
They were home.
And they were happy.
* * *
Heather Cline is a Social Science graduate ofSoutheast Missouri University, is a caregiver by day, and resides in Missouri, USA. She has written since childhood, but has only now worked up the courage to submit to the publishing world. As of now, she has one accepted work which will be published by Five Minutes Lit in November, 2023.