Me, Myself, and I Make Five by Naomi Sheely

The room wraps me in its unrelenting chill, its sterile atmosphere amplifying my unease as I cling to the unforgiving chair. I make every effort to conceal my discomfort, determined not to give in to the growing unease that threatens to overtake me. Instead, I wrench my attention back to the man before me, ignoring the clammy sweat that beads on my palms as his gaze pierces through me. He smiles. Yet it doesn’t soften the blow, it only serves to deepen the disquiet settling within me. It’s a strained, unsettling expression, far from comforting.

“Do they have faces?” he asks with his pen hovering over his notepad, waiting. Ready.

“No,” I answer, my voice barely a whisper in the frigid room.

A heavy silence hangs in the air as his refusal to speak mirrors my unwillingness to continue. There is a deafening absence of a clock’s reassuring tick, no steady rhythm to measure the relentless march of seconds. Yet, I perceive the weight of each passing moment, as if they bear down on me, leaving no room for escape. A suffocating pressure claws at my chest, each breath feeling like a struggle for air. The silence is too heavy. My finger twitches involuntarily, tapping the table with a quick, almost imperceptible sound. His sharp gaze, akin to a cat locking onto its cornered prey, seizes on the subtle movement.

“Not usually, anyway,” I correct, my voice holding a note of vulnerability. “But sometimes, when I’m tired or the walls I’ve built in my mind are weak,” I pause, drawing a deep breath before continuing, “ones with faces slip through. But they don’t look normal, like you or me. No, they’re …terrifying.”

“Terrifying how?” he pushes, his fervent curiosity unwavering.

I think his smile is meant to be reassuring, yet it feels colder than the room itself. Memories of my mother’s solemn warnings flood my mind, her voice echoing through the years, cautioning me against ever revealing the unsettling truth of the demons that seem to exist only within my reality.

But she’s gone now, and I can no longer bear to confront these horrors alone.

“They’re… un-unnatural,” I stammer, my voice trembling and barely audible. My throat tightens, choked by the words needed to describe their grotesque features. I’m unable to describe how their eyes bulge hideously from their sockets, their limbs stretching to nightmarish lengths. These evils that haunt me through the day are things of true nightmares.

He doesn’t press me to describe them further, though. Instead, his continuous smile expands, stretching wider and wider until it seems impossibly large, like a grotesque caricature.

A shiver runs down my spine, raising the hair on the back of my arms, as an eerie, prickling chill overtakes me. It’s as if my body has locked into survival mode, instinctively recognizing a threat in the doctor’s demeanor. I silently plead with myself to act normal, to break free from his stare, but despite my efforts, I find myself unable to tear my eyes away from his increasingly manic expression.

My attempts at composure fail miserably, and his wide eyes shift to lock onto my forearms with an unsettling knowingness. His mouth stretches even further, and his gaze flicks back to mine, and I can see excitement and anticipation gleaming in his unnaturally prominent eyes.

The room is shrouded in an oppressive silence, the weight of his anticipation hanging in the air like an ominous storm about to break. It’s as though he’s waiting for something, something that I can’t quite comprehend. What truth does he possess that remains just beyond my grasp?

Without breaking our locked gaze, he slowly lowers his notepad onto the table.

Tick. Tick. Tick. The seconds drag on, each one a deafening echo in the room, a relentless reminder of the tension that engulfs us. Three seconds. Five seconds. It feels like an eternity.

His eyes finally release mine, their intensity shifting downward to the pen he still clutches tightly in his emancipated fingers.

My eyes involuntarily follow.

His grip on the pen is almost inhuman, his fist wrapped around it so tightly that his knuckles have turned an eerie shade of black. And then, with a speed that defies all reason, he reaches across the table and seizes my arm.

The thunderous rhythm of my heart fills the room, its frantic beat a stark contrast to the thrill that dances in the depths of the doctor’s unnaturally wide eyes. In that moment, I’m rendered speechless and paralyzed by fear. I can’t scream. I can’t think. I can’t even draw a breath.

I slam my eyes shut, reaching deep, desperately searching for any shreds of mental barriers that might shield me from this nightmarish ordeal. Desperation fuels my struggle, and every second feels like an excruciating battle against the relentless assault of a demon.

As I fight to maintain control, something shifts. The steady ticking of the clock, which had once echoed so loudly in the room, ceases. The sensation of his sharp nails biting into my skin begins to fade, but the memory of that terrifying grip still sits in the back of my mind like a haunting refrain.

I continue to build those mental walls, higher and higher, blocking out the outside world. My chest burns from the moments when I’ve forgotten to breathe, but I can’t afford to falter now. I’m exhausted, drained by the relentless battle raging within me.

Then, like a beacon of hope, there’s a knock at the door, followed closely by the soft scraping sound of its opening.

Still, I don’t dare to open my eyes. Not yet. I squeeze them almost painfully shut, offering a silent prayer to whatever forces might be listening. Just this once, please let it be over.

Each moment that passes feels like an eternity, and the oppressive silence becomes unbearable. Finally, unable to endure it any longer, my eyes snap open, their desperate gaze fixating on the open door.

In the doorway stands a gentle-looking woman, dressed in a warm cream sweater with her hair neatly tied back. She balances a clipboard and an open file, seemingly engrossed in reviewing the contents for our appointment.

With a loud exhale, I release the tension that had constricted my chest for what felt like an eternity. For once, it seems, my prayers were not in vain.

I wait patiently for her to look up from her clipboard. Then tentatively smile at her in welcome, in relief.

She smiles back at me, her grin a little wider than I had expected. The strained stretch of her lips causes an unsettling familiarity to wash over me, sending a shiver down my spine.

Unexpectedly, she winks at me with one of her deep-set, dark eyes, that seem slightly too large for her face.

“Welcome to Oak Meadow Psychiatric Hospital,” she says in a voice that isn’t quite soothing. “Don’t be nervous. I just know that once you settle in, you’ll never want to leave.” Her words hang in the air, heavy with promise.

Naomi Sheely thrives somewhere in chaos and caffeine. This has led her to the Dean’s list and literary publications at HCC, all while completing a double major and several all-night study sessions. It has, somehow, also given her a steady and calm husband and a well-behaved dog. Predictably, though, her three children are feral. There is no free time for hobbies, only the sweet escape of the written word.

Absentee Landlord by Faith Allington

With sharp bolts of pain fracturing her skull, Hazel listened to the night sounds of the field. The myriad chirping of crickets magnified the darkness and made the whispering columns of ripening barley seem endless. The wind blowing into her face smelled like the farmland she’d grown up on.

Ahead of them, the dirt road extended only as far as the headlights, as if beyond them there was only inky night that they’d tumble into. Neither she nor Diana spoke as the ancient engine sputtered and then caught again, like a flame about to go out.

If they broke down now… but Hazel banished the thought as a form of bad luck and glanced sideways at Diana. Her best friend was as tall and broad-shouldered as the goddess she shared a name with, though Hazel doubted her parents had thought of the virgin huntress when they named her. Her profile was fierce, her dark eyes fixed unswervingly on the road and what would come after.

Hazel doubted she would ever be able to repay the debt. Her hands were still trembling and she reached for her bag, tightening her grip until the strap dug into her palm and distracted her from the pain in her chest. She knew what she had to do, but the thought of it made her feel sick. What had she been thinking, calling so late?

“Di, I’m sorry,” she began, regret overflowing in her lungs. She should call it off. She shouldn’t drag Diana into the disaster she was embarking on. It wasn’t going to work, why had she thought it would?

“Don’t,” Diana said curtly. She pulled the motor over suddenly but left it running.

She and Hazel got out of the car and went round to the back. Diana opened the boot and the two of them looked down at the bundle that had come undone. The carpet spilled half open from its roll, the stain spreading darkly across the fine wool.

“I’m sorry about the carpet,” Diana said.

Hazel had bought it with Charles last year. In a rare moment, she’d insisted on the 100% silk and wool blend with its intricate pattern of flowers and vines. She’d loved the carpet so much. Now, she could hardly face it, her stomach churning.

The bruise on her chest would be visible tomorrow. She should’ve expected the sleeping pills crushed in his cider wouldn’t be strong enough. But tomorrow would bring bigger problems than a fractured rib.

Diana squeezed Hazel’s arm. “Come on.”

“I don’t know,” Hazel whispered, as the lump inside the carpet jerked. Now that they were out in the darkness, she couldn’t help remembering Charles as a loving husband. “Do we really have to do this?”

Diana said nothing, but the chill in the air reminded Hazel that it was up to her to stop Charles from raising the rents. People had died, unable to afford food or heat in their disintegrating cottages. With another winter coming on, she couldn’t live with any more deaths.

What does it matter to you, he’s not your kin, Charles had said. You live on this money just like me. The thought of it shamed her, hot and slick as the blood of the deer that he liked to hunt.

“If you think this is funny, you’re dead wrong,” Charles snarled, his voice muffled by folds of wool and silk. “Both of you.”

Diana took one end of the squirming bundle and Hazel took the other. The rows of barley yielded and rustled as they passed, and from the headland came the salt smell of the sea. They carried him some distance into the field until Diana dropped his feet unceremoniously. Hazel lowered her husband’s head down gently. The rope strained and creaked with his efforts to break loose.

“They’ll find me,” Charles said, quietly but with grim satisfaction. “That’s even supposing you two have the balls to leave me here.”

“Your mates finding you is sort of the plan.” Diana gathered stalks of barley into one hand and cut them free with her shears.

“Hazel, you’d better let me go right now,” Charles growled, and his voice rose up from the carpet like something monstrous, a half-forgotten nightmare. “Or I swear–”

Diana’s boot shot out, quick as a serpent’s tongue. “We ask Cernunnos and the Morrigan for aid.”

Hazel pulled out a bundle of holly and yarrow tied and dipped in wild heather honey. She opened her hands to let the foliage fall onto his face–blotting out his eyes, catching in his hair. The smell of the yarrow was bitter and jolting, underlaid with the earthy sweetness of the honey and barley.

“Let the sentence be rendered,” Hazel whispered.

She scrambled away as he thrashed free. His eyes were silver coins or full moons, edged with madness. He opened his mouth to laugh, blood speckling his teeth, spilling from his tongue.

“You should’ve hit me harder, you stupid hags,” he said, rising in the dark. He flexed his hands, knuckles cracking like old bones. “Wait till you see–”

He collapsed to his knees with a wailing cry that carried across the landscape. His shoulders jutted upward as if someone were pulling his bones out. His fists seemed to harden as his arms scrambled for purchase. His throat turned to russet. From his forehead, a V-shape of two horns dug through the skin.

And then a pair of large, inky eyes stared at Hazel, his muzzle a blaze of white in the dark. The roe deer barked at her, a low harsh cry that scraped the night. He pawed at the barley, tossing his head, hate spilling out in waves.

“You’d best get moving, Charles. It’s nearly October and you know what that means,” Hazel said. “Hunting season.”

Faith Allington is a writer, gardener and lover of mystery parties who resides in Seattle. Her work is forthcoming or has previously appeared in various literary journals, including Honeyguide Literary Magazine, Hearth & Coffin, Crow & Cross Keys, The Fantastic Other and FERAL.

Bad Man by Scott T. Hutchison

 “You don’t know all the cruel and unhealthy things that a dude like that might do.” Ned grabs a napkin off the table where we’re having beers, wipes sweat off his neck, dabs at his brow. “Everybody in the neighborhood runs scared of the man like he’s a walking piece of Evil on Earth. Have you seen those prison tats on his arms, and on the knuckles of his hands? Hey, I’m sorry that he’s beating his wife–but when he stomps over to your place the next day and smiles, saying It’s quiet around here while giving you the gun finger, shaking it in your face–then let me tell you, brother, you’ve gotta stay quiet. You don’t get involved. And get a For Sale sign on your lawn, soon as you can. The thing is, he’s a bad man. Know what I mean?”


 I gave myself a week to process the information. I’m touched by Ned–his genuine fear for the neighborhood, plus his concern on my behalf–the way people should be. Caring. Looking out.

But the thing is, Neddie, you don’t need to worry about me. I’ve been living in the midst of all these sins for a while now, and after due consideration–I’ve made my kind of peace.

The thing is, I don’t expect apologies for the rudeness, the injustice, the overt fallacies of superiority that loaded and lode-stone people strut around with, magnetized for money, drama, selfishness. The tart tongues, the unthinking dismissals, the laughs at a lesser person’s expense. They see you as the little piggy living in a house of sticks, act like they’re the big bad wolves who huff hot air and dare more than you.

The thing is, and the thing I will never tell you, Ned: I’m the middle school kid who put twenty Ex-Lax pills in Mr. Johnson’s coffee pot after he wrote me up for cheating when I didn’t. I’m the teenager who slipped the proverbial turd into the punch bowl at Lily Beazley’s Sweet Sixteen party a month after she made fun of my zipper being down. I’m the college waiter big shot customers impolitely bark at–who goes into the kitchen’s shadows and spits into his fashionable bowl of ancient grains and salad greens. I’m the one my nepotistic boss fires, dismissing me when it was actually his impatient son who made the colossal and costly mistake for his family’s business–I’m the premeditated individual who one year later happily discovered the old man’s vintage sports car didn’t have a modern locking cap that might have prevented the fine pour of sugar into the gas tank.

 I’m the simple fella who knows how to navigate the nets, both light and dark. I’m the wanna-be chemist who searches for and finds the perfect fix-it recipe: Drano, tin foil, and a little water. The guy who wears gloves and plucks a used but still-capped plastic drink bottle out of a random person’s garbage can–along with DNA that isn’t mine. The one who carefully plants it on the front lawn of Mr. HELL tattooed across his right-hand knuckles, FIRE inked across the left. I create a sweet spot of foreign waste right outside his door.

The one who doesn’t rush the process, who doesn’t make a peep while slowly combining it all together, who sets it just so and then drives on, past sleeping dogs–losing gloves, shoes, foil, and the Drano can down various sewer grates of the moon-shady city. I’m the calm soul who reads the over-editorialized paper the next morning, about how the poor man found this odd bottle with liquid on his grass, cursed litter bugs and rubbish, lifted the irritating, innocuous bottle; I serenely read how he shook it uncomprehendingly, confused by the solids inside. I perused the newspaper’s extra feature box with its dire words of caution, warning good citizens about how the insides build up, then explode with enough force to remove your extremities. The paper corroborated every volatile detail I’d stirred up–about how such a wrongful mix will scald and burn with the intensity of an inferno. I go back to the main article, to the writer’s documentation of how Mr. HELLFIRE’s eyes boiled to tears, how he no longer has hands–to announce himself with, to beat anyone with, to point fingers in malice and judgement.     

The thing is, dear Ned, the world is full of men. All types. You just never know who a bad man might be.

Scott Hutchison’s previous work has appeared in Liquid Imagination, Reckoning, The Raven Review, Weirdbook, and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. New work is forthcoming in Flash Fiction Magazine, Fiction Southeast, Vestal Review, Hearth and Coffin, and Slipstream. 

The Kuwaiti Soccer Ball by Josephine Thomas

Soccer, the beautiful game. The game that brings people of all cultures together.

After Operation Desert Storm ended in the latter part of March 1991, a little-known match between American logistics forces and a small Kuwaiti Army unit occurred in Camp Virginia, a few hours away from Kuwait City. When I first saw the war-weary Kuwaiti soldiers they were a dirty, camo-faced bunch wearing filthy army uniforms. They were directed to our camp for a layover and ended up staying with us just a mere few days.

As the logistics warehouse supervisor in camp, my soldiers and I loaded boxes of surplus brown t-shirts, socks, men’s underwear, desert camo pants with chocolate chip design, personal hygiene items, cases of bottled water, and Meals-Ready-To-Eat (MREs or pre-package, high-caloric food; we also opened each box to remove any meals containing pork, so as not to offend our guests). We brought these items to the Kuwaitis. It was Christmas in March for them.

Grateful, crying Kuwaiti soldiers kissed us on both sides of the cheeks. Some of the men hugged me and held on, I surmise, because I was the only female in their midst. Their leader yelled at them in Arabic, perhaps ordering them to help our guys off-load the ATVs. Which they did. But I also surmise that he told his troops to leave me alone. Which they did, too.

“We are friendship.” The leader said as he shook my hand once and promptly disengaged. In his mid-30s with a scar on the left side of his leather-like brown face, he spoke in a quiet, deep voice. His rank was that of a senior sergeant, with upside down chevrons something similar to British military rank.

I attempted to greet him in Arabic, “peace be with you,” but I mispronounced the words.

“I am so sorry your Arabic is so terrible.” He laughed.

“You’re not offended?” I meekly said.

“No,” said the leader. “But I am very thankful for the gifts bestowed upon us.”

During their stay, the leader asked me if they could use our makeshift soccer field and portable goals for their guys to play.

“Sure, no problem.”

Wearing untucked brown t-shirts, desert brown/tan camo pants loosely tied at the ankles, and tennis shoes, these Kuwaiti soldiers were laughing and playing like little boys with no worries in the world. Two weeks ago, they were expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwaiti territory. But now, with the war over, who wouldn’t be happy going home? We would be home in the grand U-S of A within a week as well.

“Americans, come play with us.” The leader yelled and waved me over.

I played soccer in college, so I assembled a ragtag team on the spot. This was to be a friendly game between our two units to foster friendship and cultural understanding. We wore our typical physical training uniform: light gray shorts, gray Army t-shirts, ankle-high white socks, and tennis shoes.

With drops of sweat rolling off our faces, we jogged up and down the field of sand and were having sheer fun, even when the Kuwaitis scored three goals in less than five minutes. Our goalkeeper, a tall husky built former high school football offensive lineman, was determined to stop the fourth onslaught. The Kuwaiti strikers weaved through our defense as if we were not even there. This small, agile player even blew right by me and knocked me clean on my ass—holy smokes, this guy is serious!

I watched as our goalkeeper focused on the approaching strikers and how they were passing the ball with their road runner like feet—the lopsided ball was kicked to the right, to the left, then straight down the middle. The striker kicked a stunner and was blocked where the soccer ball rebounded off the goalkeeper’s hands straight up into the air. The goalkeeper leaped like a

kangaroo and snatched the ball, cradled it in his chest, and hit the sand. He remained in the fetal position for a moment.

We ran toward our hero and helped him to his feet. As our goalkeeper stood, holding on to the soccer ball, he yelled in joy as if he had just won the championship match. We surrounded him, hopping up and down as if we were on pogo sticks. We patted his thick shoulders and slapped his head. But the goalkeeper’s facial expression of joy turned to horror when he glanced at the ball. He dropped the odd-shaped soccer ball, the main seam came apart during play. The ball appeared to have two dead eyes staring at us.

The Kuwaiti soccer ball was in fact the severed head of an Iraqi soldier, which had been placed meticulously within the shell of the ball. The leader and his soldiers erupted in laughter and pointed at us because we stood with stunned faces, mouths gaped. Before the ball was snatched up, the leader tied the loose canvas strings along the main seam. He kicked the ball away, and the happy Kuwaitis chased after the ball and continued to play.

Our excited, chattering soldiers walked back to the American compound.

“Dawg, did you see that shit?”

“Man, those dudes are badass crazy.”

“I ain’t playing goalie no more.”

“Dude, you suck. Don’t worry about it.”

Soldiers laughed as they walked away. I wondered if that was nervous laughter.

I looked at the Kuwaiti sergeant as I was still trying to register the moment. “I don’t understand.”

The leader patted my shoulder and said in a matter-of-fact way, “Pray your country is never invaded and your people ravished like dogs.” He paused and smiled, probably relishing my dazed facial expression. “Another match tomorrow, perhaps?”

“Well, only if we use one of our game balls.”

After 20 years of service and three tours in Iraq, Josephine Thomas retired from the U.S. Army.  Thereafter, she completed the Pathway to Publication program at the University of Wisconsin Writers’ Institute.  She is currently working on a novel while taking creative writing classes at Hagerstown Community College.  Josephine is also a member of the Atlanta Writers Club.  Married to her husband, Robert, for almost 20 years, they enjoy their tranquil life in West Virginia.

Strings Uncut: A Fairy Tale by Renee Coloman

                                                                       (I) X

The Blue Angel didn’t leave a wishing star upon this forgotten
home. A place where my wooden soul seeps through my breathless
pores. I’d rather be invisible than a slab of wood petrified and carved:
once a woman, now a marionette. Grotesque in form.

I’m to blame. I made this choice. Unknowing the strings could
never be cut. Naive, always, to his duplicitous touch.

He changes when the puppetmaster comes alive. Here, inside our
shared space in this tiny, tiny place. A hovel of a home. He and I. Fit
for rodents and ants and insects feasting on the unclean dishes piled
high in the sink. Scraps of meat, flesh, my human bones. Once, this
place was a cottage. Warm, airy, bright. Not a shanty not a hutch
not a cave not a dungeon where he yanks the strings and my own
chiseled hand slaps my punished face. My wooden legs jerk up. Up
enough times for my jointed knees to punch me in the gut.

I’ve diminished in size. My volume shrinks by the minute. Cubic
millimeters. Droplets of water. Evaporate from my parched tongue.
Yet I must not stop wishing for the Blue Angel. For Monstro. For
the Coachman. For a salty taste of Pleasure Island.

I’d rather transform from an object to a creature less human than
lose my humanity in the way he unloves me.

Whispers evaporate from my tongue. Wishes imprisoned in my
own conscience. Denials and contradictions. I must believe. Even
when my own lips echo the same words. Lips tied to his knotted
strings. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Everything is wrong with me.

I can’t learn. I haven’t learned. I don’t want to learn. What it
means to be his humbled wife.

What it means to play his drunken games. Dancing a teeter-totter
of sporadic lies.

Whittled and splintered, I can only hope, wish, dream
of a different truth. A reality twinkling among the stars in all the blue
heavens above. I can only feel what the knotted strings define as love.
His love for me. Petrified in this hovel of a life.

(II) Y

Anna didn’t belong in this body made of wood. Carved in the
shape of a toy marionette. She didn’t belong in this forgotten land
at the end of this petrified road–a place different from the pictures
flashing before her eyes. Thinking a cottage lost amongst dense
Alpine trees would make for a lovely home sweet home. Bluebirds
chirping. Rabbits foraging. A deer and a doe entwined. Amiable
creatures alive from fairy tales vibrant in Anna’s beguiled mind.

No. She didn’t belong here. In this dark, dank, shadowy hovel.
In the hands of her calloused puppetmaster. Slicing and slashing.
Chiseling away at Anna’s dreams of what love was supposed to mean.

In the single room of their tiny shared space – above the table
constructed of dying logs where this man she married had shelved
her wooden body – a wooden clock perched atop the wooden
cabinet nailed to the wooden wall, tick-tocked. Seven years. Twelve
years. Thirteen. Anna counted each passing minute. Her wooden
eyes shifted like an owl. Military in movement. Left. Right. Right.
Left. Tick. Tock. Tock. Tick.

Once, she had spied her wooden eyes at the sky. Unblinking.
Gazing. Through the cracked hazy window. But the Blue Angel
refused to shine a wishing star upon this parched marionette.

Once upon a time, a strawberry-layered cake sat atop a clothed
table flowered with fragrant rose petals, and a bride and groom sliced
through the first thick layer. Hand upon hand, their fingers entwined.
A symbol of forever. Seconds thereafter, two hands became one, and
he locked his grip on the handle of the knife, carving the seven-layer
cake into sculpted morsels. Circular heads of a faceless marionette.
All while his bride fluttered from guest to guest, the way virginal
Snow White swirled and twirled with her seven little friends; a crisp
red apple glowing bright in the palm of her accepting hands. One
bite my dearie, and Anna awoke to a different kind of marriage with
a different kind of groom who wanted only to play with his carved
marionette in the dense, dense woods. He took her. Beyond all of
space and time. A petrified love defined.


You accepted me the way I have wanted to own every part of
your expectant body, sculpting a promised transformation beyond
the mundane confines of this limited reality. I have dreamed many
dreams of surpassing space and time. To open new portals of an
existence sliced from the marrow of your Genesis bones. I had
promised you to me. Me to you. Entwined as one. You, the answer
to my every question, quest, astral projection.

Yes. Yes. Yes. You said. Your ripened lips dripped with glee. Your
tongue tasted of crisp red apples telling me your every wish upon a
star, your every prayer to all the heavens above, your every drop of
your drunken blood felt … nourished. Satiated. Engorged.

I cracked a pleased smile. Nodded every so often. While you
rambled on and on, peppering me with questions disguised as true
love. Asking me asking me asking me: Where have I been all these
long lonely years? And why? Why, my tasty Mister Goodbar–why,
in this toxic dating playground have you not shown yourself to me?

You wanted a home away from home, the same way I wanted you
away from this ungracious world. I wanted you entwined forever
with and within me. Beyond a mundane marriage certificate.
Beyond your limited flesh and bones. Beyond an existence across
all of space and time.

I took you there. Scalpel in hand. I whistled your name while
I worked. Cutting. Carving. Creating my wooden marionette. I
whistled my love song to you while knotting strings to your feet.
Hands. Head. I sang to you. First a whistle. Then the words. Flowing
as easily as you swayed and danced for me. A tug of the strings.
Here and there. You danced. And I sang the lyrics you craved to
hear. Promising you an eternity. My voice slow, sticky and sweet.
I sang: When you wish upon a star, it doesn’t matter what you are.
Anything your wooden heart desires, I will come to you. My delicious
wedding marionette.

Renee Coloman is an emerging writer and author of Roxy’s Not My Girl, a collection of thirteen short stories available on Amazon. Renee resides in Southern California and works in Corporate Communication. Borrowing books from the local library is one of her favorite joys in life, along with kayaking, dancing at music festivals, and hiking with her two cuddly pugs. She recently completed the first draft of her 75,000-word manuscript–a coming-of-age thriller.

See You in Your Dreams by Paul Carpenter

Julia stands at the end of a long line of shufflers. She shuffles. The bright lights in the corridor are brighter than any lights need to be. So bright they make shadows of the shadows.

Hello Julia, remember me?

Julia screws up her eyes and shakes her head to dislodge the voice.

The voice sings. Julia. Julia. My little Julia.

Julia tries to concentrate. Her shaking hand fails to fill the plastic cup with water. A puddle forms on the floor. She is not sure if it is water from the cup or if she has wet herself.

Remember Julia.

Julia drops the plastic cup and sits down on a plastic chair.

Remember Julia. You are thirteen. Sitting on the top deck of the bus with Terry. Terry, short for Theresa, your best friend. One of those rare, hot summer days in England. You had taken the bus to the only outside public baths. You are on your way home, your hair still wet, smelling of chlorine. You are, upstairs, front seat with the window open to cool you. Upstairs too so that you can smoke. Both looking out of the window, watching the passengers get on and off.

At Levenson Avenue an elderly lady waits at the bus stop wearing a dull beige, full-length coat. A coat far too hot for the temperature and far too dull and beige for any season. The bus stops and she waits, as a pretty young man in a t-shirt and a middle-aged woman holding the hand of a young child with straw-blonde hair, get off. The elderly lady takes a hold of the metal pole and lifts a tired leg onto the platform. The conductor steps off the bus and, as she raises her other leg, holds her waist to steady her. He climbs back onto the bus and rings the bell. You see his arm wrapped around the metal pole as the bus pulls away

Neither of you say anything but you exchange a knowing look of approval. You take a long pull on your cigarette, courtesy of a week foregoing school dinners.

And then it happens.

You both turn to look out of the window again and watch as the bus turns the corner into Levenson Avenue. Watch as it pulls up at the bus stop and idles. Watch as an elderly lady wearing a dull beige coat waits patiently while a pretty teenager wearing a t-shirt and a woman holding the hand of a young boy with straw-blonde hair get off.

You and Terry exchange a look.

“Did you …?” asks Terry.

You nod.

“Haven´t we …”

You nod.

And you both watch, with widening eyes, as the elderly lady raises one tired leg to the platform.

“He´s gonna …” you begin to say and then you fall silent and watch as the conductor steps off the bus, takes the woman by the waist, and steadies her as she lifts her leg onto the platform. You watch as he rings the bell. You stare at his elbow as the bus pulls away; pulls away for the second time on that journey from the only bus stop in Levenson Avenue.

“What the …” says Terry.

You stare at each other looking for an answer. Neither of you has one and so you both laugh because you don´t know what else to do.

The rest of the journey passes without incident. By the time you get off at your stop in Love Lane, you are both unusually silent. You walk to the end of the road, where Terry will turn to the left towards her house and you will turn to the right towards yours. You share a look. Both questioning.

Do you remember Julia?

One of the other shufflers in the line swears loudly as she steps into the puddle.

That was me.

Julia stands and joins the back of the line.

Remember Julia.

A year and a season later you and Terry are with your friend Gillian and some other friends whose names you have long forgotten. It is the night of Halloween and you feel the need to do something to mark the occasion. On Gillian’s instructions you walk to St Stephen’s cemetery. The cemetery at the edge of the village. The church is in darkness, it sits like a toad, idly watching, as Gillian’s torch lights your way through the lynch gate and down the narrow path towards the graves.

You follow her to the far corner of the graveyard, where the oldest looking graves lie. You stop at one with a headstone that leans at a precarious angle. The inscription is so worn all you can make out is the “IP” of the last line. You and Terry and Gillian, and those lost forgotten friends, hold hands and circle the grave. At the first stroke of midnight by St Stephen´s clock Gillian begins to recite an incantation in a language that you cannot understand, although you are sure it is an ancient and magic tongue.

As the bells continue to chime and Gillian´s chants become more insistent you feel the fear welling up inside you; like an icy electric shock spreading through your veins. At the last stroke of midnight you are so frightened you let go of your friends’ hands and turn to run. But as you turn you find yourself falling, falling onto the cold, wet mud. You have fallen because you cannot feel the left side of your body and your leg is no longer able to support you. From the ground you watch as Terry and Gillian and your other friends all try to run but all fall in the same way.

Remember that Julia?

Later Gillian tells you that the grave belonged to a woman who had suffered a stroke six months before her death, leaving her with the left side of her body paralysed.

Remember Julia? Of course you do.

Again you wonder, was it only you that felt the paralysis? Did the others feel it too? Later, as the years garland the memory with cobwebs you cannot be sure who fell to the ground first, although you think it was probably you. Did the others just follow or did you all follow Gillian?

Remember Juia? That was me too.

I continued under the guise of Gillian for a few years before I tired of her. Dropping little incidents into your lives: the game with the Ouija board, played in your bedroom and the sticky patch that appeared on the bedside rug soon afterwards that would never go away, no matter how often you cleaned it; the mirror game, where Gillian told you to write out with your index finger the name of the person you loved upon the mirror and from that day forth, from certain angles, the name “Johnny” could clearly be seen upon the glass and this too would never go away no matter how much Windolene you applied.

These little games continued until you began to suspect that Gillian was maybe a witch or at the very least a little unstable, and both you and Terry pulled away from her. My last act with Gillian was to throw her body off the car park roof, sowing contrition into your soul that bloomed into the guilt that you still feel to this day.

What fun we had back then Julia. Eh?

Who am I?

What name shall we give me?

Let us try.

I am the face in the mirror behind your reflection in the steam of the bathroom when nobody else is there.

I am the shadow that you see at the end of the alleyway that disappears as you approach.

I am the sound of that baby crying in the middle of the night. You tell yourself that it is a cat on the prowl but in your heart of hearts you know that it is a baby. You do nothing and when you do not hear it the following night, you feel the guilt chipping away at you.

I am the smell of your mother’s perfume filling your room when you awake in the morning, even though she has been dead for 20 years.

I am the green-wood tree-wood sprite of the early morning light. The knowing in the darkness. The truth that cannot speak its name.

Or am I Julia?

Or am I just a voice in your head?

So what is this Julia, what name are you giving it? This voice that speaks to you. Should we tell or should we keep it to ourselves?

You remember what happened when you told before.

Do you remember that time when you were in the chemist, waiting patiently in line for your prescription? The lights were bright, too bright, fluorescent headache piercing bright. As you

waited, the conversations of the other customers in the line filled your head like a jumble of sounds. And there was your head filling with too much light and too many sounds and you could feel that it would explode and the pain was too much and you screamed so loud that it felt like it could burst everybody´s eardrums.

Wasn’t that fun?

You ended up in that hospital with all those fun people with their funny ways.

By the time they let you back out you had lost touch with Terry. Met a man moved up north her mum said. Couldn’t find her address at the time she lied. Would let you know later. Never did.

I covered her tracks.

Sometimes I do not think you realise just how lucky you are to have me. We have been together for such a long time now you no longer know where you end and I begin. Whether the voices are in your head or from outside. Whether you can get to your feet now or if you have to stay here on the floor until the music stops.

What music? There is no music. Is there music? Is it just in your head?

Is it just in my head?

Who said that? You or I? Are we one Julia?

I like to think so.

Do you remember that time when you broke into the church, found your way to the vestry, got drunk on the communion wine and then topped the bottle up with water from the tap? You laughed all the way home, thinking who in the communion queue was going to complain that the blood of Christ had been watered down?

And in the night you had such nightmares that you thought the Devil himself was in your head but it was just me again. It is always just me. And you. Me and you Julia, what a pair we are.

Julia stands in line, a plastic cup half full of water in her hand. She has to concentrate because her hand is trembling so much and she does not want to spill it again. As she approaches the glass partition she looks away for fear that her reflection will not be there.

Julia swallows the yellow and then the pink and goes back to her room She lies on her bed and waits for the voice in her head to depart. Slowly the voice grows faint until it disappears altogether. She can feel it melting into her brain.

All is silence.

Julia has taken her medication. Blanked me out. I am done.

For now.

We will have lots more fun, you and I Julia. You should see the things I have planned for us.

Do not worry, your own flight from the top of the car park is a long way off.

I love you Julia. I am always with you. Even when all else have forsaken you. Even when you have forsaken yourself.

I am here.

Goodnight my Julia.

See you in your dreams.

Paul was born in the UK. In early days he wrote plays for touring theatre companies before becoming a chef and running his own bar and restaurant. Paul now lives in Valencia and writes poetry and short stories. One of his stories is soon to be published by Close To the Bone magazine. Paul was on the shortlist for the Six Word Wonder 2023 competition and his submission appears in the Six Word Memoirs book 2023. You can also read some of his prose work at He is currently working on a poetry collection in both English and Spanish

Good Job, Little Girl by Fabiana Elisa Martinez

“When you get home tonight, you can hang the white towels. I keep them on the top shelf of the hallway closet. They are inside the muslin bag I got for preserving my wedding gown for your mother before I threw the gown away and realized that your mother would never get married.”

I raised my eyes from her bony hand, inert like a stained bunch of feathers enveloped in my fingers, and understood that she would not return home. She had never mentioned those stupid towels I had bought for her a decade ago, when I still believed that my impetuous adolescence had the power to change the laws of her castle on a fourth floor of Calçada do Forte.

“You never liked them, Grandma. It was bad of me to try to change your rules. You never wanted white towels in the house. I should have known better.”

“Do you want to know why?”

“The doctor said you shouldn’t talk too much. Don’t you prefer to rest? You can tell me later.”

“Now is later, menina. Now is the later of some other before.”

I pressed her hand and swallowed a thorny knot of tears. I could not reply without dispersing my fear all over the room. She took my silence as an invitation.

“At that time in Évora, there were only three cars, the blackest one for the priest, the biggest one for the mayor and the sturdiest for the general. Sarita and I could spend days betting on which one we would see next, stumbling along like a primitive elephant on our street. If one of those cars stopped in front of any house, the news of such an eminent event would run faster

than any vehicle could over the uneven cobblestones. However, there was one house that never got the honor of such a visit, none of the three moral authorities of the city seemed to acknowledge what the green door of María Marí hid. I remember people discussing the origin of her name, some said that she was not Portuguese but from Galicia. That she was a nurse who had crossed the Minho in a rush and had dropped some of the letters of her last name in its waters. Marín, Marino, Mariz. Who could know?

“Every week Sarita and I saw the women coming to her green door. Some distinguished, some trying not to look destitute. They did not seem to care much about María’s last name. Wise as little girls can be, we also noticed that except for the chimney sweeper who fulfilled his task every early fall, only women visited María Marí. They knocked softly on the door. They all carried a cape of uneasiness over the most elegant clothes they could wear and looked at their shoes until María opened with a tenuous smile. My mother also went. She took me with her a couple of times when I was very little. I remember vividly the smell of all the herbs María kept high on the shelves of her kitchen. I came to believe that María Marí’s door was green because of the intense herbal smell that flooded her house. It soothes me to relive that sugary aroma of grass and roots. Hospitals nowadays should learn how to replicate such a fragrance. It could help enervate the fears of its dying patients.

“Sarita and I had long debates about how María earned her life. We couldn’t fathom what kind of job she had. She did not have a husband, and yet she stayed at home most of the week as if waiting for the next woman who would knock at her door. For some unimaginable reason, we knew that asking about María at home would produce deep and stony silences and nervous looks between our mothers, grandmothers, and aunts. So, we never asked.

“But one afternoon, out of excitement or naiveté, I posed a dreadful question that led to the secret of María’s chamber of herbs. I had returned from school, on a windy Thursday of spring, and opened the door of the kitchen impelled by the illusion of my grandmother’s sweet

milk and cornbread. I didn’t have any homework because I had recited by heart with eloquent grandeur ten verses of Os Lusiadas that nobody else in the whole class, not even Sarita, could remember as perfectly as I did. I was about to impose the news on my mother and grandmother, interrupting their whispering and making them turn their somber faces from the counter to me. But I refrained my impetus when I realized that Mom was drying her eyes with the kitchen towel, and Grandma was looking at her with a rare mix of severity and hard compassion. I approached them and just before touching my mother’s back, I heard that word for the first time, a word I was unable to pronounce for the rest of my life. ‘Aborto? What does it mean… aborto?’ And before my mom could utter a sound, I felt the hard, cold palm of my grandmother’s hand flat, brutal, on my cheek. Her knotty fingers squeezed my right arm with violence and shame. And through her teeth came the odious diatribe. ‘You, prying girl! What are you doing here? Don’t you dare to repeat that word in this house ever again!’ My mom looked at her own mother with morose deception, turned from the counter, passed by my side extending a hand but not touching me. She took her purse from the wooden table, pointed at a piece of bread she had saved for me, and walked to the front door as if her shoes were made of bricks. She put on the round hat that she only wore when she visited other ladies for tea.

“Mom came back before the wind or the night had fallen, before my dad was back from work. The factory siren had not sung its blare of freedom yet. I was drawing butterflies on my slate board. Grandma was peeling potatoes for the soup. Mom mumbled some greeting, sat on the chair across from me, leaned her head back with her little hat still on, and closed her eyes as if she had performed a strenuous task that some inhuman creature had placed on her shoulders. I looked at her between butterflies. I was going to dedicate this garden of flying flowers to my tired mom. She needed the colorful hues I was combining to smear some life on her pale cheeks. Only my grandmother’s knife made a sound in the room.

“I had drawn twenty butterflies when the scratch of the chalk along the slate was interrupted by my grandma’s hushed scream. ‘Dalia dear, good God, come with me before Pedro gets here!’ She looked at me with terror while she tried to help my mother get up from the chair and pushed her through the back door to the water closet outside. ‘Rosalia, menina, get up, take this, clean it, clean it fast before Papai is here.’ And she passed me the most pristine towel I had ever seen in the house, whiter than the tablecloth she used for Christmas, whiter than my First Communion dress. I made the immaculate cloth obscenely red in a couple of seconds, stained for all ages in a viscous pool of blood that my father was not supposed to see. Some eternity or some minutes later, my grandmother took the soaked towel from my hands, kissed my forehead, and caressed with the tip of two fingers the traces of her former slap. Then she murmured a tearless prayer. ‘Good work, menina. You are a good girl. You did a very good job, my love.’”

Fabiana Elisa Martínez authored the short story collections 12 Random Words and Conquered by Fog, and the grammar Spanish 360 with Fabiana. Other of her stories were published in Rigorous Magazine, The Closed Eye Open, Ponder Review, The Halcyone, Hindsight Magazine, Libretto Magazine, and the anthology Writers of Tomorrow.
Instagram: @Fabielisam and @12randomwords
X: @FabielisaAuthor ,

Dances with the Imagined by Basil Rosa

Ma, you should see this place. Gargantuan. Roaring and crooning like a puddle thumper on pay day, and in my neighborhood in particular it’s home to Ulysses a gay Pakistani male stripper who took me to a rally against nuclear power and turned me on to LSD and Simon and Garfunkel singing about a bridge over the East River. My hero Jim Morrison sings the “West is the best” and I agree, but I sometimes think he never got the gist of New York since it’s already 1979 and so dang hot and smelly here, you know?

New York fashions they set precedents for so many including me and in my lifetime I believe by living in the hurricane’s eye of this mercenary and influential culture that I will begin to see that flavors and precedents will always change, but enough of what I’m missing and won’t ever have and please excuse me, Ma, I have to find someone, a girl who’s closer to me, metaphysically speaking, of course, one my age who like me tends to smile too much and enjoys dressing in rags and talking to homeless street urchins.

This is what I say about New York – as if the Dame Manhatta cares. I say she tells me I think I know myself even though she tells me I’m always wrong. She tells me don’t say it, do it, and get tough, be an agent of change.

People are nasty creatures, Ma, I never really understood that until now, but rest assured I’m not hurting or dragging anyone down. I’m working hard filling salt shakers one granule at a time to keep my bosses fat and happy. I’m not New York, of course, I’m a hayseed and proud of it and I tell people just open me up and see what’s inside and they’ll come to living a better life. If they drive their wretched claws into my intestines, and some of them do, they’ll find that I’m hotter but cleaner than the fetid water of their Hudson River in August. I swear that from rooftop views that river bubbles as shiny and green as the head of a spastic lizard.

See, Ma, this is my time. These are my days. This place can lie, cheat and bully me all it wants, but she can’t have me. No one can. Except you, of course.


In your off-the-cuff way, Ma, you’d suggest that in seeking ourselves we must forget ourselves a while and I’d become your child again and together we’d suffer those oceanic mysteries which, however deeply we may have swum in them, we couldn’t fathom. Watching you fight death, I tell myself I’ve read poems, taught more than a few to the curious, the old, the uninitiated. I’ve written poems. How many? Who cares? I’m not counting. Maybe I’m not measuring up. Not one poem or maybe all of them have helped me see the road better where you may be walking on, how I could honor and better grasp your journey. You, after all, brought a blood beat into the poems that brought me into my blood beat and out of it — again and again and again.

Ma, it strikes me that each child born is the best new poem. A newborn is an absorbing of our human faith in each other and our will to endure and contribute. This thought leaves me confounded by ambiguities, elusive metaphors, a hunger, artful demands and an aching larger than the appetite I carry with me – endless, nameless, iridescent and unrelenting, be it by stars, sun, tide or eclipse – asking for what purpose I am here. But it’s your appetite too. It’s ours. Everyone’s. No one wants to die saying they didn’t give it all they had.

You, my mother, are dying. I refuse to believe it. I open my days as I end them – alone, worn out, prepared to rest and to begin again. Your voice, your eyes and all your echoes carry me. They rise from within to say there is no certain why behind the reasons.

I cannot face you. I stare out the hospital window.

Son, I am here for you just as you are here for and out of and all of and one of and each breath of me.


I’ve come up with a new portmanteau word: imagineered. I just love making up words. This one, a blend of engineer with imagine, I view as a by-product and a side effect of the abandoned monoculture that’s been replaced by a paradigm of fragmentation, a corporatized technological dominion, a wilderness full of lost souls seeking answers from introspection as cabals scheming ways to demoralize and subvert and hence control. One night, Ma, I plucked the sound of your voice, like it was the last chocolate-coated cherry in the Forrest Gump (your favorite movie) box of assorted bonbons I’d ever lay eyes on.

The sound of your voice, Ma. That powerful gravity in it. Those emotional surges with all their sonic vibrations that so often carried me away from all the obscene tintinnabulations of sumptuous turntable isms that tended to flood my sleep. Crazy, surreal, this life so mentholated,

its blood type (all words, all voices bleed) O-tropic-O-positive/almost negative, and I just one more commoner among suits and controllers, the thought monitors, the cancellers, those who see and decry all while I make friends with dyslexic street sweepers and cross-eyed bouncers who man velvet ropes at urban dance clubs when 2 a.m. rolls around and pimps start showing up.

It was your voice, Ma, that I heard on the night you died. Your voice was mine. My voice yours. Such linkage. Such gravitas. Such timbre. It unlocked all the gates within and let the tears start flowing. Now I feel I’ve cried too long. I’m turning myself off, at last, no longer a neon lure or an example of art glass seeking to mesmerize by showing off for all the global experts in their lab coats at their various operating tables.

There was a time, Ma, when I was perpetually awake to trends in the infotainment sector. Not any longer. I guess you could say I’ve imagineered myself yet again, and at last I’m catching up with who I’ll never be.


“Identity?” you would ask. Then you’d answer your own question, telling me, “Don’t make me laugh. And middle class? Do you even know that that means? I sure don’t.”

Then you’d laugh again, sounding that deep pain you held inside and all the derision you carried for the raw deals and the lousy hands that life had often dealt. Looking at you, I’d often think that no one had really been very nice to you as a girl.

Ma, I did hear you, but sometimes I thought you shouldn’t laugh. Not at me. It wasn’t like I didn’t try. I’d just decided I didn’t know who I was. I felt confused because on some days I really was a leggy super-model with more money than a Rothschild heir, not the sump pump and muddy basement that on most days people treated me as.

Don’t you see this now from your grave? I hope so.

I didn’t always know why I chose anything, but I did feel, you know. And this emotive energy, this lunging for desperate measures and quick fixes, I think I learned such urges by watching you practice them.

I heard them say I was pathetic, but I stopped listening to them. I kept myself busy asking myself when did I lose enough to realize I will never lose because I will never really win because none of this is a contest. It’s more of a dream scenario this life of ours, this fantasy of engaging intercourse and wealth and detachment and dandy little lies we rehearse and recite to each other while strolling in shorts and leather sandals on sunny strands outside the front doors of cabanas tucked into coastlines in a gloriously sun-drenched escape such as Malaga.

Invisible. Sturdy. Average. My best way to protect myself, to avoid all triggers and unwanted consequences is to remain indifferent to the pretentiousness of my own fears. None of my suffrage has ever been anyone else’s fault but my own.

There was no room left for idealism when I watched you, my dear life-giver, gradually going blind, no longer employed or able to drive, getting your visits each afternoon from a priest while Dad wavered nearby, trembling, anxious, wanting to show his support, looking run-down and faded and trying not to reveal the dejection that was setting torches to the last hopeful continent that lived within him.

Such titans you my dear parents turned out to be. Such honest unselfish and moral lives you led. Such laurels you earned, but God such beatings you took, as well.


We are expected to embrace the latest dance craze under rainbow flags, the new religion, skies of doo-dah-dah internationalism as if it wasn’t enough to know one’s neighbors in Mayberry and to leave it at that. Ma, it’s all changed. You wouldn’t recognize this place. So

much of what you venerated and maintained has been discarded or left to rot. I know you’d tell me such developments are inevitable and that change defines what life should be, but why do I think there must still be customs and approaches and moral norms that displace and counteract the effects of greed and hatred?

Do I want job security? I do. Then I should join the death squad on the front lines. Or else become a healer of the sick. Any place where the dead pile up is always the scene of much hiring. Pension benefits are paid that will keep me in clover if I survive my assigned tours. In the end, I’ll return home a hero.

The question of what really matters continues to haunt as I watch the shows of resistance from different platforms and wonder: Where have all these people come from? They fold their tents once the last vestiges of unspoiled land gets fenced off, surveyed, cleared, and all those who move away will change their addresses yet again and go to where cheap labor is in demand. Union busting is here. The service economy is here. Bring on the Technocrats whose children (if they bother to have any) will for the next century be far from glad to get paid to ask if overweight teens want extra fries with their super-sized shake.

Why am I even harping on about this to you? We all eat out of each other’s hands, whether we admit it or not. We all drive from one window to the next, our phones making it easier for us to lie to each other, to disgrace each other, to hide whenever possible from direct confrontation.

Yes, Ma, they’re all strangers now, not neighbors, and those are my eyes in each of your castle windows. Like you, I have only so much shame to express, and so I know I’m capable of any perverse form of duplicity.

Basil Rosa also writes as John Michael Flynn. His essay collection, How The Quiet Breathes, is available from New Meridian Arts. His short story collection, Vintage Vinyl Playlist, is available from Fomite. He blogs about different artists and destinations at [email protected]

How You Learn Not to Break by Megan Wildhood

Ms. Cake Doll Spygirl climbs onto Lego Dino to get across the hot lava so she can meet Ken the Office Man for a dance in the puffy purple mountains. She does not have to look pretty for Ken to like her but she does anyway. She does not have to know better for Ken to like her but she does anyway. She does not have to stop crying for Ken to like her but she does anyway because I taught her how. She does not have to stop crying in front of Leg Dino but she mostly does anyway.

I explain to her that Ken will be around her, but if she wants her friends or her mommy to be around her, she has to teach her eyes to swallow the tears before they come out. I show her again right now because I have to do it a lot even though my mommy did not explain why I got replaced and she is really busy now and I asked her why I got replaced but she did not answer. She just said no a lot of times and that that was not right and I should not think that I was replaced and that my sister is not better than me but I already know she is not better than me because she does not ever stop crying and I know that you are not supposed to cry at all. When you get hurt, you are supposed to suck on it and ask for a Band Aid but then you are supposed to go play again.

So Ms. Cake Doll Spygirl who knows everything by watching other people when they do not know she is watching puts on her happy face when she gets close to the end of the lava to meet Ken the Office Man. He is waiting at the end of the lava for her already so he can help her off of Lego Dino. My sister is too small to get out of her crib but she makes a bigger noise than anything I have ever heard and she will not stop until my mommy comes back.

“It is not fair,” Ms. Cake Doll Spygirl says to Ken the Office Man. “Other people can cry all day and people go running to them.”

“You are not by yourself,” Ken the Office Man says and he puts his hand around Ms. Cake Doll Spygirl’s hand.

Ms. Cake Doll Spygirl wants to pull her hand away but she is afraid she will be alone forever if she does that, so she lets Ken the Office Man hold it. “Yeah, but I am also not crying.” She smiles really big because she is proud. “My mommy taught me how.”

When my mommy comes into the room I have to share with my sister to wake her up from her nap, I start crying. I cannot help it. I start crying because I know my sister is going to start to cry when my mommy wakes her up. My mommy looks right at me when she picks up my sister from her crib. She bounces my sister in her arms and my sister finally stops crying but I cannot. My mommy does not look at me again but my sister does as my mommy carries her out of the room and I am by myself.

The room starts to get really small and the walls are coming closer to me all around and I do not see the door where my mommy left anymore. I just see the hot lava coming all around me when I fall onto the bed and make sure that only Lego Dino can hear me crying.

Megan Wildhood is a writer, editor and writing coach who helps her readers feel seen in her monthly newsletter, poetry chapbook Long Division (Finishing Line Press, 2017), her full-length poetry collection Bowed As If Laden With Snow (Cornerstone Press, May 2023) as well as Mad in America, The Sun and elsewhere. You can learn more about her writing, working with her and her mental-health and research newsletter at

Meredith by Zach Murphy

Each night, Meredith places her husband’s blue terry cloth robe next to her in the bed. Before she turns off the dusty bedside lamp and drifts into her dreams, she drapes the robe’s fraying sleeve across her body, hoping to feel a faint embrace, if just for a fleeting second. When she wakes in the morning, sometimes she smells the aroma of dark roast coffee wafting into her bedroom. As she journeys downstairs, the steps creek like her bones. She looks into the kitchen and it’s always empty. Maybe the aroma has lingered in the tattered walls. The walls hold a lot of history. Or maybe the aroma has lingered in her head. Her head holds a lot of memories. She keeps the windows closed during the day,
even when the temperatures are sultry. This makes it easier to feel a desperate breeze. The house is over a century old, so she realizes it’s no stranger to witnessing drafts. At dinner time, she swears she sees the tablecloth move every once and a while, especially on the nights when she cooks her husband’s most cherished meal of beef stroganoff, garlic potatoes, and red peppers. She knows that your eyes can play tricks on you, but she’d rather not blame her cataracts. After the sun sets, the same routine begins. Some people
fear ghosts, but Meredith fears missing out on what could have been. Time is an excruciating toothache when it doesn’t give you what you long for. Meredith learns that moving forward is even harder when you want to be haunted by the past.

Zach Keali’i Murphy is a Hawaii-born writer with a background in cinema. His stories appear in The MacGuffinReed MagazineThe Coachella ReviewRaritan QuarterlyAnother Chicago MagazineLittle Patuxent Review, and more. He has published the chapbook Tiny Universes (Selcouth Station Press). He lives with his wonderful wife, Kelly, in St. Paul, Minnesota.