And the Winner Is . . .

Seven judges read 283 entries and nominated their favorites for consideration, placing them into one of two tiers, depending on level of enthusiasm. To earn a medal a story had to receive broad support—had to appeal to the breadth of tastes on the panel. To win the contest a story had to score highest using a simple algorithm that awarded points for breadth of support as well as relative enthusiasm.

Despite such quantification, judging creative writing is unavoidably subjective. Every one of the judges has favorites he or she wistfully regrets didn't make the cut.

It takes courage to post your work in venues such as Lascaux 250. Some of this year's contestants are old hands at it, some are doing it for the first time. My advice to the latter is to show your work as widely as possible, to friends, crit partners, critique groups, judges—anyone who will take the time to read and evaluate it. Creative writing requires exposure, at every stage of the writer's development, to achieve its fullest potential. It's why we post every entry.

First we'd like to thank the readers, whether contestants or not, who contributed to a sense of community. By commenting constructively on entries. By promoting the contest. In general, by being supportive of the event. Naming such readers is difficult, because any cut-off would be arbitrary. They know who they are, and so do we.

Next we'd like to thank the artist who provided the prompt. German-born Heidi König is a graduate of Brighton University and the Slade School of Fine Art. She exhibits regularly at various galleries in London and has sold her paintings and monoprints to patrons worldwide. The name of the prompt painting is "The Dive," oil on canvas, 70cm x 55cm, £1650 or $2500.

We are very grateful to all the professionals who took the time to share writing tips with us:

Sean Beaudoin: Never Describe the Weather
Steve Edwards: The Hard Work
Sean Ferrell: No Great Expectations
Kathy Fish: Read
Roxane Gay: Gentle Reminders About Writing
Debra Ginsberg: Writers Still Need Editors
Jude Hardin: Suspense Starts With Character
JoeAnn Hart: For Sale, Used Once
David Jauss: Shorten it by 10%
Stephen Parrish: Listen to Your Doubt-Guts
Midge Raymond: Be an Everyday Writer
Janet Reid: The Value of Short
John Elder Robison: Audience
Mark Terry: Who Is Your Hero?
Jennifer Zobair: Tell Your Story

And to the guest writers. They do the same work as the contestants, without any expectation of reward. They do it for the love of writing and for the sake of sharing:

#52 Sean Beaudoin, San Francisco, 1993
#107 Wendy Russ, Mid-Afternoon Snack
#121 Paul Liadis, Intangible
#235 Amara Royce, A Flight of Fancy
#263 Sarah Hina, Cracked

Finally, a big round of applause for our celebrity writers:

Charles Bukowski
The Author of Gilgamesh
Ernest Hemingway
James Joyce
Norman Mailer
George Orwell
Hunter S. Thompson
Thomas Wolfe

A finalist is someone who should have won, yet didn't, for the sole reason that there can only be one winner. Congratulations to:

Finalist: #5 Ian Hilgendorf, The Ramifications of Might and Maybe

Finalist: #19 Josh Vogt, Escape Mechanism

Finalist: #44 Thom Gabrukiewicz, Catch and Release

Finalist: #47 Jasmine M. Templet, You Were Never Lovelier

Finalist: #75 D.A. Spruzen, Consumed

Finalist: #102 Jodi McMaster, Absolution

Finalist: #110 Emma McMorran Clark, The Cure

Finalist: #126 Debbie Simorte, Salvation

Finalist: #141 Dino Parenti, Remains

Finalist: #147 Douglas Campbell, House Gone Blind

Finalist: #155 Meg Czaszwicz Burke, Ass Kicker

Finalist: #168 Michael Rourke, Room on a High Floor

Finalist: #242 Jamie Burke, 7-11

The winner of the 2013 Lascaux 250 Fiction Contest, the recipient of the virtual medallion depicted above, $250 in cash, and publication in The Lascaux Review, is

WINNER: #13 Camille Griep, Circumstances

Steve's thoughts: I love the tiny vignettes that suggest stories in and of themselves ("Your nemesis jokes you had to pick the right bow tie"), the specific details ("the Chinese place on 3rd," "thinking about brie and champagne"), the vivid metaphors ("mown through the good cheese," "deep layers of red wine sleep"), and other nice touches ("a unique sound you can't un-hear," naming a character Luella). Although the story is told in second person, Luella, described in third, is its star. Her hesitation outside the hospital room door, and rationalization about failing to receive a call, don't provide a denouement so much as crack open a door to a bigger story.

Medal winners, get your medals here.

The 2014 Lascaux 250 contest opens at noon on 6 March and closes at midnight on 20 March. Later this year we'll conduct a full-length short story contest, one that culminates in a published anthology. We'll also be asking you to nominate candidates for an industry recognition award.

Subscribe to this site to keep up with future 250 contest announcements, or send us your email address using the "Stay Informed" link in the sidebar. If you submitted to this contest you're already on our mailing list. To stay informed of other contests and activities, check in periodically at The Lascaux Review.

Interested in joining our team? Write to us at lascauxreview at gmail dot com.

Thank you!

—Steve & Wendy, with Erica, Jennifer, June, Merry, and Paul

2013 Index by Author

Abilene, Joni, #117 Subjective
Adams, G.K., #171 That Which Was Not
Agnew, Sarah, #92 Brighter
Agosti, Lisa, #78 Bear's Hump
Ahern, Christine, #76 Waiting
Alden, Jessica, #187 Extinguished
Allen, Christopher, #204 An Evening
Alvarez, Mark, #271 A Mirror’s Just a Bad Approximation
Amodeo, L.J., #143 Eden
Andersson, Katarina, #170 The Enlisted
Andrews, Jana, #281 Song of Innisfree
Ault, Marsha, #59 The Gush
Baboi, Lucian, #109 A 250 of Vengeance
Backes, Tonya, #88 Hope
Bartley, James, #201 The Beauty of Adventure
Barton, Cath, #259 Lines
Bathma M, #199 A Splash of Reality
Beauchamp, Debra L., #17 Duplicity
Beaudoin, Sean, #52 San Francisco, 1993, Guest Writer
Belanger, Steve, #68 Warmth
Bender-Stone, Aerin, #277 Aurora
Berridge, Charlie, #256 The Way Through the Waves
Bethancourt, Mirian, #26 Rama's Revenge
Bierley, Josh, #173 Winning the World
Birgel, Alayna, #202 The Letter
Blackmon, Sharon, D., #234 The Light
Blaine, Folly, #125 Scattered
Bratton, Whitney, #140 Glazers
Bren, Elizabeth, #122 Lost Love of a Hero
Brennan, Matthew, #191 Pyrotechnicians
Bridge, Jude, #58 Just Dessert
Broom, Gavin, #260 Not Kansas
Brown, Katharine, #216 Icarus
Burke, Jamie, #242 7-11, Finalist
Burke, Meg Czaszwicz, #155 Ass Kicker, Finalist
Buxton, Geary D., #255 Picnic on Earth
Campbell, Douglas, #147 House Gone Blind, Finalist
Campbell-Kearsey, Andrew, #62 Fruits Of His Labour
Caplan, Janet, #9 Large Blue
Carey, Lee, #275 Escaping Purgatory
Carey, Matthew, #251 A New Star
Carranza, Ann, #29 Jilly's Angel
Cassaubon, Kenneth, #98 'Penny' the Magic Penguin
Cassidy-Curtis, Jamie, #214 Pool Art
Cassidy-Curtis, Tim, #177 The Art Critic
Chambers, Stacy, #84 Sweet Sixteenth
Chantler, Barry, #261 November Fog
Charette, Jocelyn, #284 Forever Eleven
Charman, Barry, #129 Clean
Charsley, Sarah, #264 Absence
Chrome Oxide, #162 Hunting Accident
Cilia, Tanja, #54 Paintings
Clark, Emma McMorran, #110 The Cure, Finalist
Cleveland, Therese, #149 Feet First
Coates, James, #266 My Celebrity Girlfriend
Cohadzic, Neira, #219 Then and Now
Collins, Patsy, #210 On a Summer Day
Conboy-Hill, Suzanne, #1 All the Birthdays
Corbett, Brian, #138 Wings
Corbin, Bryan, #34 Longing for Another Realm
Cormier, Sandra, #172 Snider’s Mountain
Cote, Anthony, #161 Expiration Date
Crane, Sylvia, #61 Winter Warmth
Culbertson, Tina, #35 She Said No
Cullinane, Ryan, #74 Maria And The Whale
Davenport, Kathleen, #100 The PastTime
Davidson, Peter, #72 Daddy's Little Bird
Davidson, Tracy, #208 Evergreen
Davis, Selu, #89 As Empty
Debeus, Alwin, #270 Wall
Demal, Van, #178 Departure
Despot, Daren, #18 Falling Saviour
Dhanke, Prashant, #280 The Globetrotter
Dickey, Paul E., #135 The Man Who Married a Health Insurance Policy...
DiSanto, Vickie Hartman, #37 Rhapsody in Blue
Doran, Michael, #103 Cold Into Darkness
Doyle, Megan, #112 Thaw
Duff, Andrew, #113 Storm Break
Dunlop, Rachael, #31 Night Terror
Dunn, Gaye Buzzo, #42 Silent Suspicion
Durston, James, #195 Not long now
Ehney, Charlotte, #182 Fledgling
England, Kristina, #228 Making Waves
Erastes, #160 The Field
Feldman, Melody, #50 Sail Away
Fells, Tracy, #169 Whiteout
Flores-Knight, Lorena, #93 Luna
Frey, Margaret A., #131 In a 250
Gabrukiewicz, Thom, #44 Catch and Release, Finalist
Garner, Michael, #239 Just Enough Freedom
Gettinger, Amy, #104 Sequence
Gibson, Larry, #244 The Stopwatch
Glasspool, Tracey, #232 Rainbows
Golden, Shirley, #207 In Her Picture
Graves, Robert M., #205 The Panoramas
Green, Jude-Marie, #111 In Living Color
Green, Racine, #185 Davis’ Camera
Griep, Camille, #13 Circumstances, WINNER
Guilford-Blake, Evan, #273 Atwater’s Petunias
Guy, Jeremie, #158 Foundation
Haile, Brandi, #86 A Day at the Museum
Handman, Wren, #225 Sunday Morning at 10am
Haran, Saoirse, #145 Bear’s Blood
Harar, Beth, #48 Coma
Harrah, Matthew, #6 Into the Skid
Harris, Cindy, #53 Frozen Tears
Harvey, Jennifer, #206 Halcyon Day
Hawkins, Derek, #276 Tweet Tweet, Rockin’ Robin
Hegemier, Jon, #130 Let It All End
Heimler, Heidi, #189 The Mirror
Henderson, Christine, #156 Water
Hennessy, Martina, #267 The Optimistic Exerciser
Henney, Kevlin, #272 Authenticity
Henshaw, Jamie, #240 Dionaea Muscipula
Hilbourne, Alyson, #229 Quack
Hilgendorf, Ian, #5 The Ramifications of Might and Maybe, Finalist
Hina, Sarah, #263: Cracked, Guest Writer
Hochsprung, Mary Jo, #95 Loving the RED, WHITE, and BLUE of it!
Hoffman, Gary, R., #180 Artful Events
Holt, Timmothy J., #82 Wings of Fire
Howe, Laura, #227 Neptune Rising
Howze, Thaddeus, #286 Things in Mirrors
Hung, Jessica, #79 The Love Dress
Igwebuike, Sunday, #116 Bad Belly
Jackson, Beverly A., #46 A Room Not Her Own
Jackson, Lucas, #99 Potato Community
Jakeman, Kitty, #268 Shattered
James, Christopher, #152 Air
Jankowski, Alan, #36 The Painting
Jansen, Ali, #212 Kindergarden Painting
Jasperson, Connie J., #197 The Watcher
Jones, Gethin, #123 Ying and Yang
Jones, Karen, #269 Essence
Joyce, Thomas, #165 Approach of the Fallen
Karr, Rine, #64 Phalaenopsis Aphrodite
Keder, Joann, #144 She Swallows Everything
Keis, Bill, #45 Dad's Arm
King, D.M., #186 Starving
King, Kimberly, #60 The Race
King, Meg E., #257 Resplendent Demise
Knight, Sam, #8 Boutonnière
Knights, Katriena, #236 The Fairy Mound
Lamon, Linda, #167 The Bee Hung On
Larsson, Esthel, #287 More Things in Heaven and Earth
Laurenson, Sarah, #77 Alternate Universe
Lee, Steve, #194 Inspiration
Lees, Julie, #248 Members of the Same Club
Liadis, Paul, #121: Intangible, Guest Writer
Lindsay, Andrew, #114 A List of Things to Keep in Mind When You Mee...
Liss, Annie, #43 If
Long, Charles M., #24 Trickle Down
Luis, Christy, #150 Vanessa’s Hair
Lung, Megan, #278 The Extinguished Star
Luvaul, Irene Roth, #200 Not This Time
Lyonn, Brad, #11 Unintended Consequences
Mangru, Laurie Ann, #25 Sugar Beet Farms
Mannone, John C., #66 At the Outer Limits
Martin, Mary Ellen, #179 What You Get
Martinez, Anamaria, #250 On Greystones Beach
Martinez, Eduardo, #90 Father's Love
Martinez, Jessica, #63 Sheets
Martinez, Jose, #27 Ashes and Blood
Martínez, Lori A.B., #49 Wet Cricket
Martinez, Ricardo, #97 War Never Changes
Maxwell, Michael Gillan, #21 Group Therapy
McCroskey, Vista K., #153 Parting Gifts
McFarland, Peggy, #128 One More Day
McGlothlin, Amber, #105 Cohabitation
McMaster, Jodi, #102 Absolution, Finalist
McNeilly, Lori A., #15 Spring Thaw
Memi, Samantha, #106 Only Women Bleed
Messina, Joseph, #221 Awakenings
Messner, Jennifer, #118 Here is What Happened
Michaels, Cara, #233 Canvas Soul
Miller, Hannah L., #175 The Vanishing of the Middle Class
Miller, Hillary, Marie, #217 Morning Glory
Mimski, Eliza, #174 Jennifer Dreams with Johnny
Mitchell, Christopher H., #85 Katie
Montemayor, Meg, #247 On Acer Street
Mora-Summonte, Madeline, #188 Not Home
Mott, Allan, #193 A Modest Conversation
Mulligan, Gerard, #181 The Fish and the Fisherman’s Deal
Nagpal, Archana Kapoor, #30 P.S—I Love You
Nash, Marc, #134 Three Eclipses
Nesset, Kirk, #243 Seascape
Nierenberg, Amelia Jane, #159 The Proposal
O'Hara, Siân, #87 Happy Birthday, Baby
Oakes, AnnaLeigh A., #101 Polar
Onoguwe, Hannah, #81 Naked Grief
Orlowski, A. Margaret, #136 Gridlock
Owens, Joe, #142 Jerome’s Masterpiece
Paloni, Jodi, #218 Shape Shift
Parenti, Dino, #141 Remains, Finalist
Pasch, Amelia E., #157 The Note
Pasvinter, Irena, #4 The Answer
Peckinpaugh, Jennifer, #16 Grave Decisions
Peters, Randy, #65 The Bee
Piercy, Jennifer, #249 Release
Pillibeit, Christiana, #246 Worth
Potts, Brad, #241 Sycamore
Ralph, Joy, #258 Fade
Ray, Paula, #283 Ricochet
Ren, Oriana, #12 Interpretation
Renzi, Karen, #198 Anchored
Ricciarelli, Nina, #3 Moments
Ricks, Jennifer, #224 White Lie with a Pink Bow
Riley, Jonathan, #223 When Life Hands You Snow
Riley, Mark, #73 A Lasting Light in a Dark Soul
Robbins, Kenneth, #67 Overpass
Roberts, Shauna, #163 The Universal Language
Robinson, Kelly, #146 Soul Food
Rodgers, Anita, #38 Sadie
Rose, L.D., #215 Purgatory Chasm
Ross, Alex, #40 The Kiss
Rourke, Michael, #168 Room on a High Floor, Finalist
Roush, Bruce, #51 Squirrel Hunting
Royce, Amara, #235: A Flight of Fancy, Guest Writer
Rua-Larsen, Marybeth, #137 Landlocked
Russ, Wendy, #107 Mid-Afternoon Snack, Guest Writer
Russo, Nat, #133 The Cascade of Talandri
Ryan, May Anderton, #230 Gravy
Sagri, Margaret, #166 Don’t Mess with Me, Darling
Salner, David, #57 Of Nothing
Saloom, Darrelyn, #222 Cut
Samuels, Rowella, #184 What Happened to Us
Sankey, Tricia, #20 Untouched
Santa Maria, Nicole, #154 Dynamite
Schiller, Eric R., #190 Pictures of Infinity
Schroeder, Joanna, #211 Feathers
Schultz, Theresa, #69 What Rent Money?
Schutter, Mark, #245 Anointed
Scott, Gavin, #238 Fog on the Thames
Segura, Monica, #220 On a Scale of One to Ten
Shipley, Branden, #203 New Beginnings
Sholar, Alana Nicole, #96 The Offer
Siebert, Bobby, #279 Badges and Medals
Silberstein, James, #56 The Frog
Simonds, Michael, #274 The Golden Grove
Simorte, Debbie, #126 Salvation, Finalist
Skaftun, Emily C., #33 Inside the Hat
Smart, Marcia, #120 First Memory
Smart, Matthew, #176 The Hole Left Behind
Smith, A., #282 The Leaving
Smythe, Deborah, #115 A Monster Softly This Way Comes
Snowden, Shona, #132 Letters from the Archives
Soderling, Janice D., #2 The Soldier
Sonderborg, Frank, #237 Another Billy the Kid
Spencer, Kenna, #70 Sushi
Spencer, Trista, #7 Waiting
Sposto, C.Z., #183 Why I didn’t make it to Coney Island
Spruzen, D.A., #75 Consumed, Finalist
Staino, Patricia, #213 A Study in Color
Stalter, Harmony, #39 The Dive
Stenson, Teresa, #265 He Taught Her to Fly
Stewart, Franca, #94 Watching
Strickland, Katherine A., #148 The Orchestration of Elena
Strickler, Ellen, #164 So Sorry
Stuart, Robin, #28 Slice of Life
Swykert, David, #196 Romancing the Phone
Taylor, Christine, #32 Getting To The Wall
Tedder, Larsen, #80 Beloved
Templet, Jasmine M., #47 You Were Never Lovelier, Finalist
Thakkar, Aniket, #252 Curiouser
Trecost, Foster, #254 Worth Saving
Vanvick, Denny, #151 Steve’s Incredibly Diverse, Non-denominationa...
Vargas, Oswaldo, #226 Dulce Nada
Vogt, Josh, #19 Escape Mechanism, Finalist
Voketaitis, James A., #139 Dream Symbols
Waldron, Sacha, #23 Ice Lagoon
Walker, Hannah, #71 Blooming
Wallace, T.Z., #209 The Key
Walton, Robert, #22 Event Horizon
Wang, Jasmine, #288 Breath
Ward, Erin, #83 Beacon
Watson, Sonya, #14 The Golden Thread
Watt, Melissa, #262 Origin Lavender
Weidknecht, Paul, #91 Burned to Permanence
Westreich, Sam, #124 Salvation
Whitmore, Steve, #231 Loop
Wilde, Michaelle, #108 Memory Spot
Wilkinson, M., #41 Charlie
Williams, Allison, #192 Glory
Williams, Lisa S., #285 Intense Magnification
Willis, Heidi, #127 Trapped
Yaure, Sarah, #10 First Night

We interrupt this contest . . .

. . . to close it! If you’ve submitted a piece and don’t see it up, or have any other problem that needs addressing, write to us immediately (lascauxreview at gmail dot com). We’ll fix anything that’s broke. We’ll also make sure we’re sufficiently punished: Wendy will read Finnegans Wake, from cover to cover, in atonement for our shortcomings. (Yes I know, that’s harsh, but the staff voted 10-1 that Wendy can endure it.)

It will take us a few days to agree on finalists and a winner.

Meanwhile a young English teacher in France had her professional debut as a poet today, at The Lascaux Review. Please stop by and congratulate her (comments are open): Hearsay, by Carla Ferreira

#288 Breath

by Jasmine Wang

The world fell and snow came.

In the distance, the black skeletons of structures burned harsh against winds of ice. The screams had long died down and those who did not perish in the blue fires huddled in the remains of the People’s Square where gentler red fires gave out their last vestiges of warmth.

She focused on the breath in front of her to tear her mind away from her body’s reluctance to run. Ever since she was a child she had been fascinated by the mist of her own breath illuminated against the light. It reminded her that even on the coldest of days, she was warm and alive; this gentle cloud came from her and it softened the hue of the world.

With her cloth bound hands, she patted the rectangular shape within her pocket as though to make sure it had not disappeared. After the final mushroom cloud had given way, only the Square had some limited access to electricity and the closest cell site 3 kilometers away was maybe still in operation. Her skin had burned, her left arm was mostly charred bits, but somehow her cell phone had survived. So she ran towards this slim chance of communication because she refused to die with regrets.

As the tower itself came into view, she took her phone out and saw that there was one bar of connectivity. Holding her breath, she dialed and waited as each tone ran the length of eternity, waiting to exhale.

#287 More Things in Heaven and Earth

by Esthel Larsson

The Knight materialized in Neerville exactly as foretold: on a misty morning, on the back of a camel. He ignored the castle and, making no inquiries, headed straight for the waterfall. Fair Lady squinted myopically from the top of her tower and doddered inside to primp herself up. People in the town hall square exchanged meaningful glances and whispered opinions, putting the day’s chores on hold.

By noon the miller’s youngest, curious like other nine-year-olds no longer are, was dispatched to investigate the prospects. The crowd, paper cones of hazelnuts and garlic bread sticks in hand, observed from afar as the two of them chatted, gesturing enthusiastically, until the Knight disappeared, leaving the girl to wait with his camel.

The nearest tavern supplied half-time entertainment, and the remainder of the show was left without spectators. Somebody was already dancing around an improvised bonfire when at sunset the girl finally returned, carrying a silver dagger with the Dragon’s likeness on the sheath.

“Has he taken care of the Dragon?”—the baker’s rosy-cheeked wife asked cautiously.

The girl nodded, grinned, and the town exploded. Strangers hugged and burst into song, fireworks appeared out of nowhere, dogs barked incessantly, the castle’s rusty gate yielded to axes.

At dawn the miller’s eldest joined his sister on a nearby roof and looked at her inquisitively.
“He needed medication,” she said. “For the Dragon. He is older than our centenarian Fair Lady. But the Knight takes care of him. I believe he will be fine.”

#286 Things in Mirrors

by Thaddeus Howze

Cold. Extend tension wire. Run fast, wind blowing. Second tension wire. Third. Spokes complete. Move around, first loop, second, third. So tired. Sun coming up. Around again. Hurry. So tired. So heavy. Breathe. Touch the glass. It has been a good home. For years, it sat quietly. I have seen many come and go, but I remain.

Then last month, it moved. For so long, everything stayed the same. Didn’t have to work much. Could cover entire glass with Thread. We ate well, we did.

Sun coming up. Not done yet. Run. Loop, extend Thread. Finished. Near the edge. We always hide them near the edge. Must hurry. Done. My last sunrise. They will be safe here.

“Honey, have you seen my keys?”

“On the hook by the door where they belong.”

“Thank you, dear. See you after work.”

“How did the repairs go, are you sure you will be able to get to work in your car? It has sat for almost three years.”

“He said call him in three hundred miles, so I have a way to go yet. See ya.”

“I see you washed it.”

“No sense in having it look like hell on my first day.”

“What happened to the mirror?”

“Oh, that? They have been living there for years. Haven’t had the heart to throw them out.”

“What about the web?”

“I got it. Bye, babe.”

Extend tension wire. Second, third. Move around. Run, fast. Wind strong. Touch the glass…

Hayward's Reach is a series of short stories told by the last survivor after an unexpected cataclysm destroys the birthplace of Pan-Humanity and its attendant species.

Click on the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

#285 Intense Magnification

by Lisa S. Williams

“This is what a sarcoma looks like under intense magnification.” The gaunt lecturer flashed his laser pointer at a mélange of cobalt, orange, aqua, fountaining white. “You’d hardly imagine that, would you?”

A twenty-something with a laptop raised her hand.

“Yes, miss?”

“What magnification? I’d like exact specifications.”

Dr. Jamison pinched the bridge of his blotchy nose. “If you do, then you’re missing the point. What do you feel when you see this?”


“Is that what the image itself evokes? Or the word ‘sarcoma’?”

The woman was silent. She narrowed her eyes at Jamison, then dropped her gaze.

A man in the back raised his hand.

“Yes . . . you. Go ahead.”

The man looked around shyly, ran a hand through hair no longer there. “J. M. Turner. That’s my answer.”

“Better! But that’s an intellectual connection. How does it make you feel?”

A blush rose up from the man’s collar. “Peaceful. Like when I was a boy. We spent summers at Cape Cod.”

“Very good.”

A woman across the room blurted, “I get that! Those gauzy, backlit colors. And that blue thing could be a boat.”

“Well, let’s just see.” The lecturer called up the highest magnification, skimmed the screen with his fingertips.

The twenty-something woman stood straight up and faced the auditorium. “‘Know Your Cancer: Learn to Let Go’?” she spat. “What crap this is!”

She whirled about, but Dr. Jamison offered no rebuttal. He now occupied a blue boat and was already far from shore.

#284 Forever Eleven

by Jocelyn Charette

“How old are you?” He asks curiously.

“Thirteen.” She answers.

“Do you have any siblings?”

“Yes, two.” She replies.

“How old are they?”

“Eleven and sixteen. I’m the youngest.” She responds self-assuredly.

His eyebrows furrow at her statement. “If you have an eleven year old sibling then you can’t be the youngest at thirteen.”

She sighs. “Just because I have more life experiences than my eleven year old brother, doesn’t mean I can’t be the youngest.”

“Huh?” He scratches his head. “Oh, I think I get it. Is he a step or half sibling that doesn’t live with you?”

“Nope, he’s my biological brother.” She answers.

He frowns. “Tell me how that makes sense.”

“Ok.” She responds, “Do you have any friends that you haven’t seen since, say, the first grade?”

His lips purse as his head tilts to the right. “Yes, my best friend when I was five moved away.”

At this she remarks, “So your memory of your best friend is when you both were five?”

“Yeah, but what does that have to do with anything? How are you the youngest?”

She replies, “At the age of ten, my eleven year old brother drowned in a boating accident. So in my mind’s eye, he’s forever eleven—just as your friend is forever five.”

#283 Ricochet

by Paula Ray

John’s mother said they’d never enroll a deaf person in band. She was wrong.

He got a standing ovation when he played one of the most difficult solos written for a high school timpanist.

All was going well, until his beloved band director, Mr. Linden, died in a car accident over Christmas break. The new director, Mr. Coker, was impatient and mean spirited. He ridiculed John for not following the music, saying things like, “The music isn’t written on my face. Follow the chart!”

John was demoted to one repeated rhythm pattern played on maracas.

He decided to face Mr. Coker and request a transfer out of band. When he walked into the band-room, the principal was there. Mr. Coker’s face was red, veins bulging on his forehead. He read Mr. Coker’s lips, “How am I supposed to teach a deaf guy how to play music? How many blind kids take art in this school? Give me a break!”

John marched over to the timpani drums, tapped the head of each and let the speed of vibrations guide him as he adjusted the pedals until each drum was tuned perfectly. He gripped the mallets properly and played the solo Mr. Linden had taught him. When Mr. Coker stomped his way from the podium to the percussion section, John made eye contact and smashed the skull of one of the maracas, imagining it was Mr. Coker’s head. Beads scattered across the floor as the principal applauded.

#282 The Leaving

by A. Smith

“Things should be used, not packed away.” She looked at the boxes littering the floor.

“I can’t just give everything away.”

“Sure you can. What’s the point of keeping it all if it just sits in boxes?”

“They are memories. Mom’s things.”

“Things need to be used. They have a purpose, just like you do.”

“You can’t compare things to people.”

“Why not? You put things in a box, and you think that’s any different than putting people in a cage?”

“Nobody ever put you in a cage.”

They stood silently, looking at the boxes instead of each other.

“Where will you go?”

“To the train station for starters.” A small smile, a hint of childhood intimacy.

“Will you call?”


Another pause, as they assessed that probability.

“You will be ok. You’ve got friends, your work…” And Dad, she chose not to say.

“And a purpose.”

“Yes.” A direct gaze.

“Is it your purpose to leave us?”

She shrugged, glanced out the window. “It’s raining. And cold. I should go before it snows.” Another direct gaze. “Don’t keep Mom’s things in a box. Use them or give them to someone who will.”

“Lils.” Blinking back tears, the girl reached out a tentative hand.

“I’ve got to go.” Her hand on the door knob, her hand not reaching back.


The call stopped her halfway down the walk.

“You could stay.”

An eternal moment, filled with possibility.

She raised a hand in salute, and continued walking.

#281 Song of Innisfree

by Jana Andrews

One year already? Nearly unfathomable!

Skin touching skin, she ached to nibble an ear as they lay next to each other, but she knew it was too early to make a fuss. Even the sun sleepily dreamed at 4:00 A.M. Luckily she knew how to wait.

How difficult could it be to wait a few hours? After all, they had been together for almost 34 years before they finally said their “I do”s.

Thirty-five years? Had it been that long since they first bumped into each other in college? Heads down in respective tomes, they—and Whitman and Yeats—collided. Pleasure reading. Later that day they shared poems over tea; they rarely spent a day apart since.

Unlike most of their couple friends, they actually enjoyed each other’s company.

Yes, their lives had been full: two children, five moves (two cross country), a dog, two cats, a tarantula, swimming lessons, karate, track meets, ball games, cheerleading, choir, honor roll, summer school, prom, and only one car destroyed in all that time (children!). Their youngest graduated last spring.

They didn’t need to get married. A piece of paper didn’t make their love more real.

But she wanted to, and so they did.

Thicker in some places, saggy in others—love didn’t erase signs of aging. The smile lines were the same—she loved those.

When orange hues finally burst over the water in the horizon, she slipped her arm around her wife, pulled her close and whispered, “Happy Anniversary.”

#280 The Globetrotter

by Prashant Dhanke

I am going to lose again. About 200 Euros tonight. We’ve already had four drinks each.

She is almost there. Nothing like moist eyes to make a woman look beautiful.

I bite my tongue. I clench my fists hard. It hurts, but still no tears.

Her lips quiver. Her tears will ruin her makeup.

The first one to tear up wins. Loser picks up the tab for the drinks. Thankfully, no one but the barman is around to watch this stupid game.

I think of sad things. My mother in coffin. My dog being put to euthanasia. My amputation. My eyes stay dry.

She smiles. Her tears are wetting her cheeks. I stretch my hand and catch a drop.

“Please pass me a tissue.” Her bare shoulders have goosebumps.

“You are good. When was the last time you cried?” I want to rub her warm.

She puts away the wet tissue. I keep searching her face. She looks away.

“I should be going now.”

“Tell me what made you cry.”

“It’s easy. Just try not to blink.” She turns to leave.

“What’s your name?” I yell while she is still at the door.

“Linda.” She’s gone.

Back in the hotel room, I flatten the crumpled tissue paper. Right below the mascara mark, I write:

Paris (Linda).

Tomorrow I fly to London.

#279 Badges and Medals

by Bobby Siebert

Andy reached under his pillow and drew out a postcard. Light glinted off the glossy surface. The photo showed a towering mosque, built of sandstone blocks, surrounded by turrets.

When first Andy got the postcard, he couldn’t keep his eyes off the photo.

“Mommy, why is this church yellow?”

“They don’t call them churches, honey. Where your dad’s at, they call them mosques, and they’re made of sandstone,” his mom said.

“You mean Iraq? Is everything made of sand there?”

“No, darling. But some of their buildings are. Iraq has a lot of sand, in the desert. You remember what a desert looks like?”

“Mmhmm. Like Aladdin!”

“That’s right, darling. Like Aladdin.”

“When’s he coming back?”

“One more year, darling. They say he might even come earlier. So we have to pray for him.”

“I miss him. I wish he didn’t have to go to war.”

“Me too. But you should be proud of your brave daddy. He even wears a uniform with badges and medals!”

“I know, mommy.”

“You should sleep now. Keep this under your pillowcase, so your daddy stays close to you. Okay?”

Andy kept the light on and stared at the sandstone mosque a bit longer.

“Lieutenant Warner!” a man’s voice. “We need a translator over here!”

“Yes, sir!”

Andy put the postcard under his pillow. He donned his uniform—with badges and medals. One particular medal, dulled by age and the tears that had fallen upon it, had come back to the desert once again.

#278 The Extinguished Star

by Megan Lung

All my life, they spun much more closely to the sun than me. As a result, they received the sunlight for photosynthesis, which contributed to an evolution of herbivores and carnivores that account for the complex worlds they are today.

I never spun close enough to the sun for any of that. I couldn’t turn fast enough. My orbit drifted as the sun’s immense gravity failed to trap me. The farther I got, the more insane it all seemed. All those tiny planets spinning on their imaginary axes so they wouldn’t fall out of orbit and end up on the dark side.

I’ve long since strayed too far. My atmosphere is bleak. My surface is barren. Every now and then, tidbits of garbled news swim towards me through the thick ether of space.

I tried to end my life, but nobody likes to admit that they’ve produced a mistake. So they keep me on the map of the universe for their own ego. So that they can try to convince themselves that I’m the crazy and they’re the normals.

The calming blue colors of this ward are insulting. To them, I am an infant in need for a neural reprogramming. They are trying to lobotomize my thoughts.

I can no longer reflect the images that others want to see. I cannot live on just so they can continue believing in an agreed upon reality.

With a slash of this knife, I am the extinguished star, brighter than the sun.

#277 Aurora

by Aerin Bender-Stone


Pulling her eyes from the report, Mallory frowned at the last tin of pears idling in her hand. She left it on the counter as she snatched her cardigan and went into the loamy night.

“Liam?” She scanned the moors.

“Mal, watch!” Her brother waved, his copper curls bright, his fifteen-year-old frame folded close to the dark earth. The twins had become research assistants early. Analyzing data was Mallory’s forte, while buoyant Liam worked as their parents’ partner in the field.

As he hummed a note—some mid-range vibration—an irregular piece of black puddle lit blue.

She inhaled.

Coming from school by train, they’d beaten their parents to their summer station. A delay, she had reasoned. She continued to reason thus long after the county postmaster had taken pity and driven out to the manor to inform them of the city quarantine.

Liam was humming again, a higher pitch, and—there. A patch of electric violet.

She fidgeted as Liam spiraled away. Like a faery Piper, he sang, illuminating the microorganisms in the scattered pools.

The bioluminescent creatures threw themselves into the air, shining arcs of pinks and roses and golds; emerald, teal; azure and cerulean. Light splashed in fountains over their heads, radiance pouring from each swirl and hue.

Twilight settled again when Liam subsided, but his song was shining in the eyes he turned to her.

She clutched her wrap tighter and exhaled.

“Well, then,” she said. “Time for supper.”

#276 Tweet Tweet, Rockin’ Robin

by Derek Hawkins

Why won’t our little girl walk?! 16 months old and still just scooting. Tracy and I hear other parents saying, “You’re a vegetable, yeah they hate you.” We just want her to be normal.


Doc said it’s a gross motor skill issue. Therapy may or may not help Olivia learn to walk. We’ll both gladly spend our evenings working with her. “Some nights we always win.”


Ever keep banging your head against a wall, even though you know you’ll never break through? That’s what doing this physical therapy feels like. Tracy and I are at each other’s throats constantly, a never-ending cacophony of, “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around.” We both know it’s no one’s fault but it feels impossible not to blame someone. Would people hate us if they knew we each pointed the finger at Olivia sometimes? “I ain’t got time for that now.”


Oh how we both exhaled when Olivia finally got her legs under her and began to move. Visions of short buses and special schools have started to fade. We’ve gotten to use those baby gates we never thought we’d get to use……...and then discovered that they don’t work. “And I would have stayed up with you all night.”


Who knew that most marriages don’t survive the death of a child? “Words are meaningless, and forgettable”


#275 Escaping Purgatory

by Lee Carey

I recall the initial impact, that god awful sound. The force was irrelevant to me, but it destroyed her and now we just lay still. Lately all I hear is a constant beep in a steady pattern. My vessel, she just lies here. I am so conflicted, should I escape and put her to her final rest? I’ll try to wake her, but if I fail I will remain in my timeless purgatory. Even for her sake, I cannot bear the thought of this as my forever.

I fear I may have to slip away and leave her behind. I have danced in her emptiness and tried to arouse her sense of being to no avail. I tickled her inner child and screamed at her sensible adult with no response. Why does she leave me with no other choice than to escape her emptiness.

Although I have not finished my journey with this host of mine it seems as though she has concluded our union. She gave me a comforting home with a peaceful outlook on life. I felt free and whole, just where I belonged. It saddens me to break free whilst I know I must. This transformation is new to me, I will slowly seep out of her upper orifice and seek my new beginning.

It has been a wonderful passage with a farewell to remember. I felt your last jounce as your breath sent me off. Now we are each off to our new birth.

#274 The Golden Grove

by Michael Simonds

They met on the internet; two adventurous spirits sharing their dreams of stumbling upon something historic. Having struck up a friendship, Alejandro and Jenny planned the journey of a lifetime. They would find a place more beautiful than any other, hidden deep within the rainforests of South America.

It had just finished raining; the jungle was more alive than it had been in days. Plant leaves reached out greedily, hoping to feast on leftovers as they fell from the canopy. An eerie whisper kept the self-proclaimed explorers aware that they were not alone or welcome.

Jenny was tired; her head sagged as she walked. The beauties of her surrounding were now lost on her. It had been a week since they had seen civilization. She simply wanted to see a warm bed.

“You see that?!” Alejandro excitedly pointed at a brightly lit clearing in the distance; a rarity in the depths of the forest.

The tired young woman sprung to life and the pair ran toward the clearing, too excited to acknowledge their aching legs. Alejandro fell back as Jenny rushed out first.

She stared at the sky and spread her arms, bathing in the warm glow of the sun. It had been too long. Alejandro firmly grasped her shoulders from behind.

Jenny’s smile turned to a gasp as her eyes opened, focused on skeletal remains piled in the vegetation. She turned to Alejandro, horrified.

“Don’t worry; someone will find you here someday. You will make history, I promise.”

#273 Atwater’s Petunias

by Evan Guilford-Blake

He’d spent his entire life trying to make the world a more beautiful place. And he’d done it, modestly perhaps, but he’d done it: His petunias glorified his yard and the yards of many others. At eighty-seven, he sat back and took pride.

Atwater had delighted in his wife. Now, a widower of many years, he still delighted in two things: his flowers, and storms. Thus, when he heard the thunder, he slipped from the surprise birthday party his daughter had arranged and stepped onto his porch, closing the door quietly. It had been dark, but now the late evening was furiously black. The windchimes clanked cacophonously. In his yard the ancient elm swayed and the gate creaked, while the torrent poured down onto his garden, drenching the last of the roses, the lilies and the newly planted petunias. From inside, he heard music and laughter. He shook his head. “Old man,” he muttered, “this is not a night to be celebrating.”

A lightning bolt flashed, illuminating the world. The storm was lovely to see, but ah, the poor petunias. He sighed, then withdrew a folded plastic sheet from the boxful on the porch and stepped into the torrential rain. As he did, another lightning bolt erupted, shattering the huge elm. He had time to think My petunias, they’ll...! before the tree crashed down.

They buried him on bright afternoon, and covered his grave with his beloved petunias. “He’ll like that,” his daughter said. She wiped an eye.

It’s Los Angeles. June, 1947. In the wake of mobster Bugsy Siegel’s violent murder, Private Investigator Robert Grahame is confronted with a case unlike anything he’s ever faced before. Lizabeth Duryea, a stunning yet peculiar young woman, hires Grahame to find her brother, Dan Scott, and leaves him with a small, mysterious package for safekeeping. But Grahame’s investigation becomes much more complicated when another mob big shot gets an anonymous tip that Grahame killed Siegel and hid the evidence in his office.

Click on the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

#272 Authenticity

by Kevlin Henney

“Clarabel, may I just start by congratulating you. First day and your exhibition is already a success, the critics are abuzz.”

“Thank you.”

“These paintings are something of a departure from your previous work. More abstract, more violent, yet at the same time more vital.”

“I’m trying to cut deeper, to capture the essence of life.”

“Let me describe for our listeners this first piece, It’s Over. A gentle background of broad brush strokes and flurries in light colours, with dramatic sprays of dark red arcing across it. Conceptual, yet deeply emotional. Was there a particular inspiration?”

“The paintings here are all about endings. This came from ending the relationship with my boyfriend.”

She’d been staring at the painting for hours, her mind as blank as she wished the canvas to be. He’d walked in, joking about suffering for her art. Mockery that hit the wrong note, a note that ended in gurgling silence and arterial spray. She’d surprised both of them.

“This next piece, Stepsister, is executed in the same vein, but as a triptych. Any particular challenges?”

“Yes, placement was difficult.”

Difficult, but she’d managed to get a perplexed Annie in the right position before pulling the knife.

“With such a large body of work, you must have encountered logistical issues?”


The bodies. Dozens. So many.

“What next for you?”

“One last painting in this style, then I want to move on. I’ll be putting myself into it.”

“Clarabel, thank you for talking to us.”

“Thank you.”

#271 A Mirror’s Just a Bad Approximation

by Mark Alvarez

You know how you feel that shiver? It's because the mirror stores every soul that has ever looked in it.

On the first day God made light, so that he could diffuse the rest of the world. A medium were he could diffuse his actions through heaven and earth. It’s a plane. A pinhole that inverts.

When you look into a mirror, the light from your eyes shoots out to the surface. The mirror’s own light reaches out. Where the two meet, an image forms.

You leave the mirror but you do not leave. Your soul is stuck there with the thousands who came before.

Don’t kill me. Don’t kill me.

I’m drowning.

Don’t kill me.

The mirror’s light is a hand; when you approach it reaches to embrace you. Your eyes reach back. A mirror’s like an eye that’s always searching.

If you look at a fountain sideways, you can see that the water is really light. When it flows from one level to the next, when it whirls and eddies warps and whorls, it’s just white; it’s just white and an absence of white. It’s the slipperiest mirror.

When you enter the water, it sees into your soul. The light passes through you skin to attach to all those little things. Your genetic code, your history, your fears.

When you step into the water, you have given it to me.

The mirror’s just a bad approximation.

In the past, a superteam made up of the history’s most famous philosophers (and Shakespeare, since the Renaissance didn’t have famous philosophers) band together to help the Allies stop World War Two in its tracks. In the present, a private detective is hot on the trail of a man cloned by aliens; a man who’s clones are serial killers. In the future, a man and a woman drink champagne in Barcelona, unaware that they’re the key to everything.

In Paris, a black cloud hovers, waiting to consume the world.

Click on the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

#270 Wall

by Alwin Debeus

More than once upon a time, great barriers have been put up to divide the high from the low. In any civilization, it keeps the populace on one side and the privileged few on the other. Some are constructed from blood and bones to invoke fear, others from overcomplicated ideals and doctrines. Anything to keep your curiosity pointed anywhere on or before the barrier, otherwise it would fall.

Once upon one of these times, a massive wall was constructed from shining gold, and thusly dubbed the Golden Wall. The soft, sugary smell emanating from the high side had convinced all: whoever ruled over them must be sweetness incarnate. Folks referred to him as the “Fatman”—for everyone knows there is inherent kindness in obesity. Blindly they threw demanded taxes over the wall. And blind they were indeed, spending their daytime staring at this structure in obsessive awe, as reflected sunlight scorched their eyes until pop.

Unable to look at the wall, the blind despaired. Moreover, the sweet smell grew stronger daily, beckoning all to climb over.

The high side of the wall was, in fact, a plain sight: a vast ocean of precious honey as far as the eye could see. The Fatman simply spent his days devouring. At times he choked on some taxes, which he would cough up and put in his pocket.

As no eyes ever passed his wall it still stands, but the corpses in his honey are starting to rot.

#269 Essence

by Karen Jones

The boss looked at the sketchbook on his desk. He turned it on its side, upside down, on its other side and then back to upright. He rubbed at the stubble on his chin and sighed.

“I don’t think you’re getting this, John.”

John smiled. “I had a feeling you were going to say that. People always say that, but I know what I’m doing. Trust me.”

“Trust you. You really feel you followed the brief here? That this,” he threw the sketchbook across the desk, “is what I asked for?”

John shifted from side to side. “I can explain, Sergeant.”

“Go ahead. I’d love to hear it.”

“Well, the blue represents eyes…”

“Ah, yes, I heard the witness say the man had blue eyes. You know what would have been nice? If you’d drawn eyes. A mouth would have been good—wide, she said. A nose maybe?” He held his hand up to stop John speaking. “Yes, red—she said his nose was red. Got it. And just as a bonus, if you had drawn a head to frame all of those features—white, yep, I see it—that would have been splendid.”

John looked at the floor. “She said vibrant, piercing, dancing, lively. I interpreted her words. I captured his essence.”

“Brilliant. If an essence ever commits a crime, you’ll be the very man to capture it and we’ll give you a call.”

#268 Shattered

by Kitty Jakeman

The vase is broken, shards of blue glass sent skidding across the wooden floor. Water splashes and pools mixing with the glittering splinters. Flowers already dying, now sodden, are strewn around, one here, one there, a heap by the stone hearth. The floor is littered with debris from its assault.

After the crash, the terrible silence.

We both look at what she has done.

‘I’m sorry,’ she says in a barely audible gasp echoing my words when I gave her the flower gift.

But neither of us is really sorry, not now. We have gone beyond retribution and have become islands in a sea of destruction.

Her foot is bleeding. Black-red blood mixes with the cold water on the floor in searching fingers, growing longer, reaching out, blindly creeping towards me.

The instinct to protect takes over and I step to help, offering her comfort but she recoils. I stop, where I am allowing my socks to soak up the blood and water mixture. I think of times past when I have enveloped you in protective hugs. I suppress my urge to sob.

There is nothing more to say or so much that I don’t know where to begin. I can’t decide so I turn and step away from the mess peeling off my soaking socks as I go. I reach for my keys, slip into my waiting shoes and don’t look back. Silence follows me so I close the door.

#267 The Optimistic Exerciser

by Martina Hennessy

Saturday 10th March 6am: 1 packet goji berries, 1 litre skimmed milk, 500g quinoa, 1 bag baby leaf spinach, 2 litres mineral water.

Saturday 17th March 6.25am: 1 punnet blueberries, large tub probiotic yoghurt, 500g porridge oats, 2 litres mineral water.

Saturday 24th March 6am: 1 punnet strawberries, 1 litre skimmed milk, 2 litres mineral water, 1 bottle champagne, gift bag, 30th birthday card.

Saturday 31st March 6.30 am: 1 melon, large tub probiotic yoghurt, 1 litre skimmed milk, 2 litres mineral water, long lash mascara (black), nail polish (Siren Red).

Friday 6th April 4pm: 1 bag prepared salad, 2 sirloin steaks, 1 bottle Chianti, prepared fresh fruit salad, 1 tub half-fat whipped cream.

Saturday 14th April 10am: half dozen eggs, 1 packet bacon, small sliced pan, half pound of butter.

Saturday 28th April 7pm: 1 pepperoni pizza thin crust, 1 bag mixed salad, dozen cans Budweiser, large tub Ben & Jerry's Cookie Dough ice cream.

Friday 4th May 8pm: 1 bottle vodka, 2 litres Coke, small box Belgian truffles, box of tissues (large).

Friday 4th May 11.30pm: large bag crisps, large box milk tray, box of tissues (large).

Saturday 5th May 11am: 1 box Panadol.

Sunday 6th May 11am: 1 packet cleaning wipes, oven cleaner spray, 1 pair rubber gloves, 1 bottle bubble bath, 1 packet L’Oreal Hair Essence (Rich Auburn).

Saturday 12th May 6am: 1 punnet blueberries, 500g porridge oats, 1 litre skimmed milk, 2 litres mineral water.

#266 My Celebrity Girlfriend

by James Coates

She’s running late.

While I wait, I study the artwork on the bedroom wall. She always requests a tranquil canvas, or something fresh and inspirational for her private rooms. She said in an interview once, that they help calm her after the elation and stress of a performance.

I’m not keen.

I’ll tell her that none are as beautiful as her, she’ll smile, then...

From the window, the balcony blocks my view of the hotel foyer, but her arrival is announced by the excited murmur of waiting fans and the fluttering flash of photography. Still there are too many moments before I hear the drumming of footsteps along the corridor. Footsteps, finally bringing her closer to me.

The door swings inward. Every nerve in my body tingles in response. I reach out, yearning, ready. But, it’s not her at the door. It’s the huge bodyguard she’s employed.

“What the—.” His menacing drawl makes me cower. Hands grab roughly at my neck. “You little pervert!”

Dragged unceremoniously along the corridor, I see her amongst the leering crowd. For the briefest moment the entourage parts, and her eyes meet mine.

I stumble from the hotel, nursing my ribs, wiping blood from my nose. The angry split on my lip will soon heal, and then I’ll smile without pain at the memory of that beautiful, brief glance. More poignant than any painting.

She looked at me. I, exist.

Her next show is in Berlin, I booked my ticket months ago.

#265 He Taught Her to Fly

by Teresa Stenson

And now it was time.

When her feet lifted she gasped. Still holding her hands, he said she’d be okay.

He had found the sky for her, tilted her head and showed her the stars.

Now, as he let her go she caught the breeze and billowed a little, afraid at first, then laughed.

He cheered, shouted encouraging words; she moved her arms like wings.

As he watched her go he imagined the tingle in her insides, thought of her heart filling, expanding, and leaving no room for him.

#264 Absence

by Sarah Charsley

Adam stands in front of the bedroom mirror contemplating his naked reflection: beanstalk legs widening slightly at the top where his butt should be; his torso, a long blank sheet of paper with arms dangling from the margins like branches knocked loose in the wind; spindly fingers and twigs for toes; a face barely wide enough for its features. He knows what he’d look like as a skeleton—exactly the same but without his cover on. He wonders why people have bodies at all: bones to break, blood to bleed, lungs to block, hearts to stop. He imagines a world where only minds exist. Perhaps he’s imagining heaven. He hopes so.

His parents’ shouts seep under the door, filling his bedroom like smoke. He opens a window to help him breathe. His mum screams, calls her husband a lying cheating bastard, tells him to go and this time not to come back, the slut is welcome to him.

The front door slams. His mum’s footsteps pound the stairs. From the window, Adam watches his dad stagger down the path towards his car. The car revs, jerks and then pulls away.

Adam opens his bedside drawer and takes out the penknife. Positioning the blade above the inner crease of his left elbow, he takes a deep breath before gently pressing down. He stares as a red bubble appears, swells, then trickles towards his wrist.

Soon, the familiar fading away. The intoxicating absence.

#263 Cracked

by Sarah Hina, Guest Writer

He had a voice as big as the sky: it ran from lunar-gray to sun-lathed. When listening to him, she felt both the calm and excitement of a bell being struck. On the handful of occasions that she heard him sing, she wanted to laugh from the joy of it.

She loved him with her heart, which was a pump, constantly recycling its matter into energy. But the system faltered when hearts were divided. And lovers spread carnage at the speed of light.

He was married to another woman, she to another man. Depending on the day, this a priori arrangement felt more or less pressing than the fact of their love. He and his wife had three children; she and her husband had two. But one would have done it.

They were both good people, if there is such a thing.

They never consummated the affair. Not so much as a kiss betrayed them. Later, she came to regard their abstinence as a mistake. Longing didn’t care a fig for the welfare of husbands or wives or even young children. Longing was a gawping, greedy mouth, and when it didn’t get what it wanted, it would gnaw on the soul like a dirty dog.

Weeks after his family moved away, the ringing started in her ears. Dizzy spells followed. She wasn't crazy, but she felt like she was. The difference was theoretical.

Because everywhere she went now, she had to carry it.

Blood-blue. Church quiet.

Post-grad neuroscience student Daisy Lockhart has never been short on brains, but after her longtime boyfriend, Andy Templeton, dumps her through e-mail, she is short on dreams. Alone for the first time in six years, Daisy allows herself to finally be an individual instead of half of a couple. On a mission towards self-discovery, new adventures, and healing her wounded soul, Daisy travels to Paris. Upon her arrival, she meets Mathieu, a mysterious intellectual with a carefree spirit, and Daisy begins to experience the passion and the fulfillment she craves. Daisy's tense battle between possible love and her newly found freedom forces her to decide what she really wants.

Click on the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

#262 Origin Lavender

by Melissa Watt

He isn’t exactly a horse, but something like it. He feels it when he dances with his wife or puts magnets on the fridge or uses a stepladder. Something is nagging him—is it his mouth? He pokes a finger at his molars, examines his tongue in the mirror. He checks his scalp for anything growing. Everything seems in order, human, but he can’t stop feeling like maybe he should be somewhere else. Maybe he should be somewhere else, galloping.

An appaloosa colt beneath a cherry tree with his mother, the scent of her onyx mane, and then she’s gone in spots and wind, and he’s running.

“Sleepover!” His daughter shoves past him to scoop up her toothbrush. “Bye, Dad!” He squints and taps his foot a bit.

From down the hall, “I’m driving her now. Do you wanna order sushi when I get back?” And closer, “Philip?” The bathroom door opens and his wife appears. “You okay, Phil?” She pinches his earlobes and he snaps back: the blue tiled bathroom, butterfly wallpaper that had been his grandmother’s, bras on the shower rod—beige. “What’re you looking for, baby?” Standing behind him, she looks in the mirror too. For a moment, they’re both quiet, and then she turns and leaves.

He gets branded. It hurts but it’s just the way things go. He sleeps out in the sun after; the day passes in whiffs of lavender and smoke. By the time he notices the stars above him, he’s whole again.

#261 November Fog

by Barry Chantler

I walk through dense fog, water droplets swirling round on my approach, as if somehow they sense that I’m there.

Spider webs, etched silver, cover the clipped yew trees; so many webs—different shapes, different sizes. They were invisible yesterday, when the fog was absent.

Everything is muted—the colours, the sound. Patchworks formed from shades of dark green and light grey; fuzzy edged shapes that create an impressionist painting across the immediate.

A thrush flies low across my path. Normally I wouldn’t have got so close. But the thrush can see as much as I, and has to choose his flight path with care.

Once, long before, I came upon a cuckoo, forced to the ground by dense fog, huddled on a cliff edge. At first I thought I’d found some rare exotic bird, turned from its seaward path by dense sea mist. It took me ages before I realised that it was just a cuckoo.

I return to the present. The fog is quiet; it represents loneliness—and a dull moroseness.

My thoughts turn inwards. I let my mind wander. It finally settles on Christmas—it often does on days like this. Warm fires, laughter, sideboards stocked with alcohol. My brother and I hanging decorations. Drunken singing late on Christmas Eve…

Nostalgic memories—memories tinged with a painful sadness. I envelope them as the fog envelopes me. I drift onwards… becoming just another fuzzy shadow… until finally, I blend in completely… and am lost from view.

A world comes under attack by a vast alien cloud that thrives on consuming life. The book centres around Briony, a Garulii who is having a secret affair with Beryllium, an Emerald Amulii. The Garulii and Amulii are sworn enemies and avoid any contact with each other. The Amulii have stones implanted into their heads at birth, through which they can control Earthpower. Meanwhile the attack by the alien force is growing stronger resulting in bizarre events and powerful, dangerous creatures roaming the earth. Time is running out. Will the Amulii and Garulii stop fighting each other in time to prevent their world from destruction?

Click on the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

#260 Not Kansas

by Gavin Broom

The bang so loud, it’s thick. It’s like someone has picked up the whole basement and thrown it to the ground. I feel it in my teeth, at the back of my throat, in my chest. Papa used to say the loudest noise in the world was disobedience. He lied about that, too.

I crawl into the corner where Maria whimpers. I stroke her hair. I tell her Papa’s gone. In the dark, I can still see the brick, the crawling blood. Papa’s phone glows on the floor and I remember the nice lady’s voice, telling me I’m brave, promising that it’ll just be a little longer.

A corner of the ceiling is ripped off and sharp light bursts through the room, burning my eyes. It’s like looking at God. I twist away and push harder against the wall until my lungs feel crushed. Maria’s whimpers grow louder. She’s praying.

Words are shouted from the hole in the ceiling and when I squint and turn back, I see a shadow with a gun being lowered into our world. He asks if we’re okay and where Papa is but before I can answer, Maria is on her feet and attacking him, her puny kicks and swipes useless against his size. Still protesting, she’s scooped up and passed through the hole to waiting, bodiless arms.

The shadow with the gun looks down at Papa and spits. He tells me I’m safe now. He tells me I’m not in Kansas anymore.

A collection of short fiction and poetry published during 2009.

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#259 Lines

by Cath Barton

The line in the middle of the road stretched on and away over the horizon where the air shimmered and split in the heat of the afternoon. On the distant horizon rise I saw a big roo lumber out of the bush, too late for the ute to stop. I closed my eyes against the disintegration. When I opened them again everything had settled, like the wind had blown them all away.

I continued walking the line, on it, beside it, astride it, glad now that the ute had failed to stop, that some upstanding citizen hadn’t wanted to pick up an old hobo like me. But my feet were dragging in the heat. There might not be another ute. Then, the heavy clack-clack of a ‘copter, coming from the sun, low and leaden. Energy drove my legs and I was running and shouting.

They were quick, those boys, quick and good. Saved my life for definite. How many times in a year this happens I don’t know. Never makes the news. They don’t care about us Australians of course, those settlers. Apart from the ‘copter boys. Have to hand it to them. I tried talking about it but they said to save my breath. Not interested in politics, says one. But it is politics, says I. Nah man, says he. We’re all people. People is people and roos is roos. That’s my philosophy. Teacher at school told me to write it out 100 times once. Never forget it now.

Things are not always what they seem in this collection of short stories and photographs by Cath and Oliver Barton. For one thing, there are quite a number of angels popping up, and some of them are not very angelic. And what about the gnome and the soup? After reading them, you might feel it's better to stay away from trains and bendy buses—but are you on any safer ground in the pub or at home?

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#258 Fade

by Joy Ralph

My new glasses aren’t right. I clean and clean them and still I see things that ain’t there. Ain’t supposed to be there, surely not.

I don’t care there’s no such thing as ghosts. I didn’t say I saw any ghost. You never listen to half of what I say and it about drives me to drink.

I didn’t mean that. I’ve been dry for almost a year now, and plan to keep it so. I told you I was sorry, and I meant it. I don’t ever plan to drink again, and you know why.

No, you can’t smell my breath, and NO I am not seeing things ‘cause I fell off the wagon! Damn it, sis. I don’t want to get angry, here. Let’s not fight.

No, I didn’t. How could I start something with nothing? Oh, it’s some white thing that hovers and fades. Lace curtain-y looking. In the marsh, down by where you died. I thought it might be you at first, but there was nothing there.

See, that’s why I said I don’t believe in ghosts. You’re dead but you still won’t leave me be. Nothing’s changed. Ghosts are remnants! You’re still the hateful same. Cold, scolding, I can’t do nothing right. Not even murder, yes I know!

I wish I HAD thought twice. I should have known you wouldn’t leave. I wish you were the whole way died, a proper corpse and gone. I’d fix it if I could. Yes, kill you for good!

#257 Resplendent Demise

by Meg E. King

I loathed their pity, despised their kind words. Their attempts at sympathy were meagre and unsurprisingly petered out before long. The rumours remained, spreading like contagion. I feigned ignorance as the whispers followed me ubiquitously.

“She’s scarcely more than a child herself,” a gaunt woman with watery eyes murmured.

A brazen looking man with pinched face nodded, “I always thought he was vile” he shook his head, “what a foul, revolting man.”

The woman hesitated, “they say the boy looks like him, how she can stand to look at it, is beyond me.”

My hands gripped the corners of my book, my knuckles white from the pressure. I concentrated on the words until they blurred indistinctly, obscured by the tears threatening to spill. I yearned to dig my nails into her coarse skin and spit the truth at her.

He was dead and I’d allowed his name to be dragged through the mud. I’d let them think the worse of him. How could I ever explain that I’d fallen in love with a murderer? A man who had slaughtered my parents and afflicted the worse form of agony upon me, I couldn’t possibly justify loving the man that tortured me for months. So, I let them talk. I held my tongue. I raised his child alone, never revealing his origins. I refused to confirm their assumptions. I didn’t need to; the evidence was written all over my son’s face. Those brave enough to ask the obvious were shot down venomously.

#256 The Way Through the Waves

by Charlie Berridge

It seemed as though there wasn’t a man left on the vessel. Every one them could had been shot or drowned as the landing craft dashed towards the beach. It was as though the machine was delivering an invisible troop as it drove through the waves lashed by enemy fire. The surf shook and white salt water shot to the heavens. Fierce fire took out the engine room and lit up the stern as the craft headed for the barbed wire sand. The dive bombers screeched, loosed their high explosive loads, twisted and turned up and away back to try and have another shot. And still we found our terrible way through the waves.

Then the shout went up and we surged ashore running, yelling, shooting and dying. Wave upon blood red wave, soaked in sea and sweat. A foreign sea, a home made sweat. We ran up the beach away from the chaos and into hell itself.

French Letters, or a journey to at least three places, is a work of non-fiction written by a fifty something English man. A heart attack gave him the tap on the shoulder and changed his life. Quitting work and Britain for the French High Pyrenees, he tried to become a mountain man but found himself journeying around France in an unreliable three-wheeled vehicle, called Peter, at a frustrating stop-start pace. With a head for escape, a desire to keep moving and a dodgy heart torn between the girl he thought he loved and the new life he thought he could sustain, the true story unfolds gently to culminate in Brancaster on the North Norfolk coast of England. This is the place where he comes to be with his dying Father and it's probably the place where he learns more about himself and those he really loves.

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