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.”

 

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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 »

Big Feet, fiction by Leslie What

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“Though he empathizes with her predicament, it’s a struggle not to laugh at this pretty red monster beside him, at how she’s clad those humongous dogs in ridiculous Satan high heels.” 

"Walk" © Lilya Kouhan, 2016

“Walk” © Lilya Kouhan, 2016

(This story first appeared in Unstuck #1, 2011. Reprinted by permission of the author.)

 

MARVIN IS A giant. Giants die young. If A equals B, and B equals C, well…. His pop’s death two weeks ago reminded Marvin it could happen at any time. He’s an orphan now, without next of kin. When Marvin dies there’ll be no one left to write an obituary for the newspaper. Without an obituary, it’s as if you never were, an easy, if amateurish, way of becoming invisible. Marvin didn’t expect to outlive his pop and he’s grateful (not to God, because he is not a man of conviction) he got to live long enough to compose an obituary for the old man. Not that they were close—he hadn’t seen his pop in three years. Still, his pop deserved some written notice. Read more »

Crocodile Tale, fiction by M. Glyde

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“THE TAIL HAS been in my family since—well no one knows who got it first. You might get it, you might not. When my wela’s husband got too deep in the bottle, she grew one, little by little…”

Engraving by A.-Collaert c.1600 Creative Commons Attribution 4. International Wellcome.

Engraving by A.-Collaert c.1600 Creative Commons Attribution 4. International Wellcome.

(Crocodile Tale won an honorable mention in our 2015 New Voices Contest.)

I.

MY SISTER HELENA had invaded my house: a dripping coffee pot, an ash tray only she had used, the rug that she brought from her trip to our wela’s in Mexico City, a chocolate love seat she gave me when she won a new couch, and a vase-full fake flowers, one from every Valentine’s Day for the last twenty years. Before, I hadn’t noticed. But now her ten-year-old daughter was coming to stay.

My doorbell rang. Down the walkway came the niece with the crocodile tail. The wide thing swept from under her shirt, natural as anything, and dragged on the ground. It knocked out a window pane on the door, and I felt nostalgic. Read more »

The Lost Books Of The Painter’s Wife, fiction by Diane Glancy

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“In travel ideas form. I have to be moving. The same as the brush over the canvas until words cover the page. This is a journal. This is not a journal. Always in travel the spirits struck.”

 

1280px-vladimirka

“The Vladimirka” by Isaac Levitan, 1892

Footnote [2]

I woke with a dream. I was a child standing on the floorboard of the back seat. Looking at the passing land. The land flat and passing slow. The land all glorious just coming out of winter. Yet it was browned. The trees without leaves. The white flowering of others. What makes sense in a dream? I was in a different land. A past land. A place I had traveled as a child. The memory tucked away like a kerchief in a drawer. A moving over the land I always loved. The moving more than the staying. The going somewhere. The house where we were going to. Someone in it. I do not care who. Only the moving to get there. That is what I want to see. The brush moving with us in the distance leaving evidence. The way a chicken drops a feather. The smell of wood smoke on the air. The dusty road. Dryness a form of parole. Look at them. Anointed with plainness. This is your car. This is where it will take you. A bowl of land. A cloth of linseed oil. Read more »

The Cat’s House, fiction by Alana I. Capria

 

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“When the tattooing was over, the cat nuns wiped my back with alcohol and cat saliva. There is no mouth holier than the cat god’s, the nuns said, and applied their own tongues as salve. They worked their tongues up and down my back until I felt faint.”

"Dioses" © Melissa Lozada, 2016

“Dioses” © Melissa Lozada, 2016

IN THE CAT god’s house, nuns carry silver-plated dishes of raw fish.

The cat god has a name I can’t understand, heavy with consonants, limited in vowels. The cat god stands with limbs twitching and does what it was born to do. The cat god fluffs its whiskers. The cat god rules.

The cat god has twelve nuns. They get down on their knees and clean it with their tongues—dozens of pink nubs coming out of human mouths and swatting against coarse fur. They rub the hard crusts from the corners of its eyes. The cat god sits on a litter box throne, the nuns at the ready to clean what reeks—swollen intestines and blocked up anus.

The cat god is gray, of course. The color of nothing. The cat god’s eyes are gold-blue, with flecks of green along the edges. It blinks slowly, lowering its lids as if they are heavy. The languorous act makes it seem ready to sleep. But the cat god doesn’t sleep. The nuns don’t sleep. I never see those eyes close. Read more »