The Wardrobe, fiction by Matthew Sanborn Smith

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“They pushed past the eighth layer of clothing. This was as deep as he’d dared go his first night in the house, once he’d realized what he had here.”

A TIPSY MARIE Antoinette leaned into Albert’s back until she was uprighted by an Abraham Lincoln on rollerblades. At the king of all housewarming parties, Albert stood in front of the wardrobe, dressed as another king in a late-era Elvis jumpsuit. He held the end of a string in his hand. It was unknotted and unfrayed, no evidence it had ever been attached to a person.

Someone had gone into the wardrobe and hadn’t come out.

Albert had seen movement just beyond the coats as he’d pulled the string—taut only seconds ago—from the darkness. The stirring of suit shoulders and sleeves as a body pushed through, about to emerge. Then the end slipped from the garments to spring at him like a water snake. Nothing remained but creaking hangers swinging old clothing.

This was a bad idea. Jesus, this was such a bad idea. Albert stepped back to keep from falling over. A corn chip crunched beneath his shoe.

He’d watched everyone who went in to explore, everyone who came out with a costume, keeping mental track while he explained to others what a deal he’d gotten on the place and yes, what an amazing thing he’d received with it. No, he hadn’t read the book, but he’d seen the movie. No, no trees or satyrs. Read more »

Arkteia, fiction by Genevieve Williams

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Iphigenia had been Agamemnon’s daughter, sacrificed to and, some said, rescued by the goddess, taken to Greece and set to preside over the rituals there.

Iphigenia, the name Kate had chosen.

THE MAGLEV TRAIN accelerated away eastward, following the route that had once been State Highway 20. Caleb stood on the platform and let the silence descend in its wake. Even the ambient grew quieter here, far from the torrential noise of Seattle. The town of Kulshan was a thumbprint in the wilderness, beneath the shadow of the volcano that was the reason for its existence, or more precisely, the geothermal plant fueled by the volcano’s heat. Nestled in a bend of the Skagit River, surrounded by forest on all sides, Kulshan’s concrete wall stood like a dam against an encroaching green tide.

After a few minutes, Caleb shouldered his pack and walked down the stairs. The gate, the one through which the few visitors to Kulshan’s backcountry exited the town, was just a couple of blocks from the platform. The people he passed on the street gave him curious looks, but none spoke to him. A glance into the ambient was enough to reveal that he was here to find out whether their geothermal plant, wiped out by a landslide the week before, could be recovered. Read more »

Spellman Mathers’ Travelling Show & Zoo of Ordinary Creatures, fiction by Edoardo Albert

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“Sure, back in England Tom would be the wonder of the age and we’d—he’d—be rich and meeting royalty and such like. But what’s a man with a donkey head in a place where wishes come true?”

Scene from “A Midsummer Nights Dream. Titania and Bottom” by Edwin Landseer, 1851. Image courtesy of Google Art Project.

SPELLMAN MATHERS’ TRAVELING Show & Zoo of Ordinary Creatures was shut up for the night. Tasks completed, Spellman kicked back a chair, lit a smoke and, hands behind his head, stared up at the sky. He breathed out, wreathing the stars with smoke, then, holding the cigarette between thumb and forefinger while inspecting its glowing core, said, “I was like you once, kid.”

In his hiding place, in the deep dark beneath the bales of animal feed, Sadhu, his skin as brown as a nut and his eyes black as the sky, all but cried out. Spellman couldn’t have seen him. Couldn’t have! In the hiding place, dark and deep, he was invisible so long as he did not move and made no sound.

“I had no home, no folks. I snuck into the circus one night, and when the circus left town, I went right along with it.” Apparently satisfied with the cigarette, Spellman drew on it again, then breathed the smoke out, and it billowed and writhed until it became a little smoke boy, hiding behind a cage while peeping out fearfully at a frightening world.

“But that was back then, when I were little, and the world’s moved on. The circus ain’t the right place for a youngster to be growing up no more.”

The smoke boy dissolved slowly away. Sadhu, deep in the dark place, moved only his eyes. He was not coming out. Read more »

HEL 266, fiction by Sara Rich

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Susan held the straw for the core. “You know, in the Semitic languages – Arabic, Hebrew, and Akkadian specifically – the word for tree sap is dem. It’s also the word for blood.”

(This story first appeared in Temporary Skeletons, 2014).

THE MUSIC WAS like a one-handed cyclopic Chopin. It was simple music, or seemed that way, but it stirred something infinite and unpredictable and tracked time more honestly than any calendar. No gridded day-in-day-out blocked in black ink, but hundreds of concentric rings spiraling in and out of each other, each year interacting with the ones before and after it, each year connected through scars from fire and lightning, drought and wind, early and late frosts that sent the delicate lignin fibers into hibernation behind the cellulose walls of their microscopic caves. It was those miniscule frost rings that made the almost inaudible tinkling sounds, snowflake fairies with frostbitten toes, and then suddenly, without warning, that faintest echo of a chime would be destroyed, waylaid, massacred when the needle fell upon the gaping demoniac wounds left by some apocalyptic storm. Fantaisie impromptu. Tempo rubato: stolen time.

Read more »

Rockport Boys, fiction by Megan Arkenberg

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Their family trees are full of beautiful men who were hanged as witches or lost at sea, and all their houses are haunted.

(The Rockport Boys originally appeared in Aghast #1)

IT’S HARD TO stay haunted in California, she says, taking a slow drag on her cigarette. That hungry something is in her eyes again, the animal glint you saw in her smile under the gas station’s fluorescents, only out here in the fading sunlight it looks a little softer. A little more like longing. You nod, shaking the last of the six-dollar syrah into your glass, and lick the rim of the bottle. It tastes like aluminum foil. And she closes her eyes.

She’s moved again, she says, put the mountains between her and the Pacific. The sunlight here feels hot, unfiltered and clean, almost chemical. Now the bad nights, when they come, ride in on rain and too much coffee. It was time to shift anyway, she figures—you can understand that. Four days a week, she loads the second-hand pickup truck with tomato plants, spring garlic or crates of persimmons and heads to the markets, down the straight country roads with numbers for names, the radio blaring in static-broken Spanish and seaglass rosary beads jangling from the rearview mirror. The rosary and the radio station came with the truck. You don’t hear about Rockport, Gloucester or Dogtown out here, and nobody would recognize the names if you asked. Mostly, she keeps quiet. Read more »

The Passenger, fiction by Jane Flett

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“By the time the train skips East Broadway and hurtles under the East River towards Brooklyn, uneasiness is beginning to catch beneath the exasperation, a low burbling panic like the sound of scuba tanks exhaling…”

“The Passenger” first appeared in Gutter Magazine

Subway Tunnel by Allen Lai, licensed under Creative Commons

You board the F train at Broadway Lafayette, even though the coffeehouse is closer to Second Avenue, even though you’re exhausted by the day. If someone asked why, you would find it difficult to articulate—you’d probably shrug. Somewhere though, you’re thinking it’s a good omen for the tiresome midweek, this pleasing name. It reverberates with Franco-American relations, Sinatra scooping Charlotte from Serge’s arms, running her into the sea himself. It’s fun to say in an accent, rolled on the tongue like bitter ristretto, chin tilted in Givenchy and silk scarves. Sometimes, you like to eschew geography and let more poetic forces dictate your route: there is never telling where that might lead. However, no one cares to question your station choices. The train is grumpy and silent; the commuters are not seeking friends. You hide your face in a Metro, tuck your feet up on orange plastic and murmur: Lafayette, Lafayette.

It is a stupid habit, this reliance on romantic notions. Alan has always told you so. It isn’t something that will get you anywhere; it doesn’t gel with progress. There is a way to do things—a way to bone a fish, to wire a plug, to ensure the straight lines of skirting boards—ways, which are, in fact, the way. So: it would be churlish to act otherwise. It is churlish to indulge in the small rebellions you sometimes do. It would be sensible to board the closer train. Read more »

Animal Husbandry, fiction by Jeff Fleischer

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“Nothing about it’s right,” Herm Dublin said, smiling at his friends while still regarding the animal in his arms with a sense of horror.

(“Animal Husbandry” first appeared in Printer’s Row Journal)

AT AROUND TWO in the afternoon, on an otherwise unimportant Tuesday in June, Herm Dublin’s prize heifer gave birth.

It happened the way such things normally did. She’d been heavy with a calf for some time, and Dublin looked forward to the birth the way all small, organic dairy farmers did. A pregnant heifer was a heifer who’d soon be producing a lot of milk, and a calf meant a potential future source of even more milk. Dublin’s farm was hardly in trouble, but a successful birth was always welcome. When the time came, the heifer began to grunt loudly, and several minutes later she’d expelled her offspring onto the ground behind her, a trail of vibrant red afterbirth still hanging off her flanks. Read more »

The Absence Of Cows, fiction by Kristen Falso-Capaldi

 

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I don’t know Jeremy Mitchell or his wife, and I couldn’t possibly comment on the existential angst of cows. I look at Jeremy’s face and try to conjure the snapshot of him as a skinny thirteen-year-old, fumbling for my lips in the dark, but missing and catching the side of my mouth instead.

illustration to The Absence of Cows, short story by Kristin Falso-Capaldi

“Climbing to the Cows” © Margarita Kvaapagarrot, 2016

“The Absence of Cows” won a first place prize in our 2015 New Voices contest.

 

“MA? MA!”

My mother has been staring at the cows all day. Well, to be truthful, she’s been staring at where the cows used to be. They disappeared while we were sleeping last Thursday. They were beautiful beasts, really. Brown or black with a white stripe that wrapped around their bellies. My mother has always loved the view from her front porch, even before the cows came; she once told me that living out here was like being surrounded by a painting of field and sky and nature going about its business. It bothers her, this absence of cows. Read more »

Swansong for Trump, fiction by Marleen S. Barr

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“Hitchcock knew that birds have power. As a bona fide fairy god mother, I fraternize with fantastic creatures—such as fire-breathing trumpeter swans.”

 

trump-vs-swan_web“But Paul [Manafort, the former Trump Campaign Manager] didn’t know how to play the Trumpet—Maureen Dowd, “Open Letter From Mr. Trump”

New York Times, August 21, 2016, 11

“Donald J. Trump supporters sell T-shirts emblazoned with ‘Trump [italics mine] That Bitch!’ One reporter noted that mentions of Mrs. Clinton at a Trump rally in Greensboro, N.C., were greeted with gleeful shouts of the word [‘bitch’]”—Andi Zeisler, “The Bitch America Needs”

New York Times, September 11, 2016, 2

 

PROFESSOR SONDRA LEAR decided that she could not—not for one more microsecond—abide Donald Trump’s diatribes. “I wish I could do something science fictional to silence Trump,” she said aloud. She was distraught to the extent that she continued to talk to herself. “It’s a shame that I know all of this science fiction theory, but can’t reify my knowledge. I wish I could send Trump to the Phantom Zone. I wish I could give him a one way ticket for a voyage to Arcturus—or to any planet located in a galaxy far, far away. Fantasy princesses have fairy god mothers. Oy, just because a feminist theorist really doesn’t fit the usual Jewish American princess qualifications, why can’t I have a fairy god mother? I wish I had a fairy god mother.” Read more »

The Lawn Fairy War, fiction by James Van Pelt

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“Figures hid everywhere behind the boulders, invisible from the street: scorpions, spiders, a weird half-bear half-man the size of a puppy, trolls, and by the porch, a pair of pale stone lions. Ashley had even painted the sidewalk black.”

 

johann_heinrich_fu%cc%88ssli_die-elfenko%cc%88nigin-titania-und-zettel_der-weber-mit-eselskopf_detail_-elfe

Detail from Füssli Die Elfenkönigin Titania und Zettel_der Weber mit Eselskopf, by Johann Heinrich, licensed under Creative Commons

GRACE LILY WHITE parted the curtain to peer through her kitchen window into Ashley Tombley’s yard. She squinted. Are those gargoyles? Yes, they are! It was bad enough that Ashley moved in, pulled up the grass, replaced it with black and gray gravel, and then tore down the nice, white picket fence so that she could erect a black, cast iron one, but now, gargoyles?

When Ashley repainted the house, Grace said nothing, although the house didn’t need new paint. The Dearborns had freshened the property when they decided to sell. It had been a beautiful robin-egg blue with slightly darker trim, but Ashley painted it a stark, yellowed white with black trim. It looked like a daguerreotype of the house that used to stand there. Cast-iron furniture appeared on the porch. Two cast-iron benches faced each other in the black-graveled back yard. Cast iron meant a lot to Ashley, Grace decided.

No plants in Ashley’s yard, just gravel, boulders and twisted hunks of driftwood. It looked like a nuclear wasteland as far as Grace was concerned. Read more »