A Flash Fiction by Julie Benesh

Publish or perish. Last year, quarantining, should have been the perfect time to work on my research and avoid the fate of the Permanent Visitor. But working at home during quarantine, I got so anxious and distracted, everything blurring into mush. Sometimes you have to …get away. Business people decided the word “retreat,” describing a corporate junket, sounded cowardly, briefly relabeling them “advances,” betraying gender bias and, ultimately, #MeToo connotations. But, I’m a woman and a professor of business psychology, specialization in Jungian organizational interventions. I know my yin and yang. So, after the blessed vaccine percolated through my body the requisite amount of time, I flew to my favorite Santa Barbara resort– retreating, if you will, to advance my research and hopefully maintain my employment.

I stayed in my favorite oceanfront room, and I was getting my mojo back, until my third day there. I was awakened from a restorative sleep by a knock at my door, where, inexplicably, stood my mom, my dad, and a man resembling character actor J.K. Simmons. I figured he was either my mom’s latest boyfriend and/or my dad’s personal trainer/life coach because Dad looked fit and fab, like he lived in Santa Barbara himself. He had a classic tennis cardigan, sleeves knotted over an anchor-patterned polo shirt, and slender cut taupe pants discreetly hugging his toned glutes and legs. The only familiar item part of his ensemble was the deck shoes, which looked entirely different without their usual Iowa Hawkeye hoodie and stained sweatpant teammates.

Out of habit and an abundance of caution, we all refrained from hugging or handshakes.

“We didn’t want to just call you up. We wanted to tell you in person,” my mother was saying, her tone apologetic, as ever. My nose itched, and I felt queasy. Was my mother engaged to J.K. Simmons, and, if so, what did my dad have to do with it? They’d been apart for more than a decade.

I remembered how my mother cried when she saw Dad’s black and white retirement party pictures. He was only 59 at the time but, in the pictures, he looked 75, with deep lines and shadows. “That photographer was too good,” he had said. In retrospect, his retirement was the beginning of the end. They drifted apart, separated, and eventually divorced.

Now I looked at my dad, and he smiled reassuringly. That’s when I noticed his teeth, all in place like in his old portrait in his officer uniform, before the painful army dental work and subsequent dentistry phobia and alcohol anesthesia whose vicious cycle left him toothless. I ran my tongue over my own teeth—I had them cleaned and whitened four times a year.

“Are you a dentist?” I asked J.K.Simmons, and he frowned in response.

“He’s a grief counselor from the insurance,” said my mom. “He’s here to help us say goodbye to your dad.” Her voice got lower. “He passed away yesterday.”

Oh, god. Every time I saw my dad, I knew it could be the last. So hearing he had died was not as shocking as seeing him all tricked out in my room, despite it being so much sadder.

“That’s so nice…” I began “…I mean, so nice of you to come all this way to tell me. But I don’t quite understand how Dad can be here and…there… at the same time.”  My voice caught on the “there” and I could feel a welling behind my eyes and in my chest.

My best friend had a thing for angels—she collected them. Beautiful as he was, Dad didn’t look like one; no wings or flowing hair or musical instruments. I didn’t say the word “ghost” but it also hovered in the air like, well…you know. And I’d read about bardos, those Buddhist afterlife jails, and I wondered if my dad were in one, trying to move on, and, if so, were the rest of us even for real, or just cosmic props? I pinched my arm and it reddened and hurt, but I didn’t wake.

Dad ran his hand over his silver mane and my mother gazed at him, glared at JK and glanced toward me. He was too solid to be a hologram, then I remembered the documentary about the Japanese customer service robots and it struck me as the only thing that made any sense at all. Dad 2.0, as memento.

Everything had been so crazy the past year, and mostly crazy-bad, but within the crazy-badness had been, hints of progress, of betterment, renewal. Techno-fixes.

“Can I…umm…keep him?”

J.K. Simmons, suddenly seeming utterly miscast as a grief counselor, pursed his lips just like they always pay him to do, and said, “Do you really have that kind of plastic to burn through?”

I imagined acrid, toxic smoke, then realized that he meant money, like he had flubbed his lines which probably read “dough” or “coin,” or he was improvising, trying to twist a cliché into a fresh metaphor, (though why not “Bitcoin”?) and that Android Dad (Andrad?) was a demo, like a free sample test-drive, and J.K. deploying the reverse psychology of the neg. My promotion, once I got it, would net me a 7% increase–my dad had always lauded my ambition, saying all he ever tried to do was get by– but I sensed even that might yet be insufficient.

Reaching for my phone, I realized its camera could never do this moment justice, and a more advanced app for recording would no doubt be proprietary. I set it down.

Perhaps I could rely on my own mind to remember him this way, new and improved, or perhaps merely restored, the exact way he was meant to have been all along.

Or not.

Probably not; none of the above.

I supposed I would have to manage to live with that, too.

An alum of Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers, Julie Benesh is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Grant. Her writing can be found in Bestial Noise: A Tin House Fiction Reader, Tin House Magazine (print), Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Gulf Stream, Cleaver, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, New World Writing, and many other places and is forthcoming in Hobart and Drunk Monkeys.

A Flash Fiction by Ronald McGuire

I looked up from my book, then looked again after a pause, and that’s when I saw him walking down the sidewalk. I turned back to my book, hiding shame from some unknown witness.

Yes, I felt ashamed to want him. But it was more than that. I felt ashamed even to see him or, I suppose, to be caught looking at him.

His schedule had become irregular and tortuous, twisting me into knots as I tried to time my reading with his arrival. I often spent extra hours on the hard, stone steps that rose to my family’s brownstone, trying to focus and not focus on whatever book I pretended to read.

Yet there I sat, day after day, waiting.

He was not entirely handsome, yet somehow he appealed to my most entrenched desires. Not terribly tall, but tall enough. Not slender or slight, but built just so, somewhere between beautiful and frightening. Athletic, to be sure, but a bit grotesque with his cauliflower ears.

I imagined him walking to me, not by me. In my mind, he saw me as I saw him. Not in exactly the same way, given my condition, but in the moment. Seeing each other, his movement, my stillness.

That day, he did see me. He looked right at me.

He stopped where I sat atop the rampart of my family fortress. Perhaps I only imagined the rays of sunlight splashing around his shoulders, reflecting a black sheen off his glossy cropped hair. If I did, it was a sweet dream of a moment. If I did not, then it was a glorious thing to know.

His eyes were darker than I expected and, when he smiled, my inner world shattered. He looked up and said, “You’re Tommy’s little brother, right?”

I’d spent innumerable hours imagining our first conversation, playing out in my mind how it might happen, how I would impress and enthrall him with my genius, my erudite wit. When the time came, all I could say was, “Yeah, he’s my brother. He’s a jerk.”

I cringed at my utter failure, knew all my dreams had just been ruined, felt my soul caving into nothing, blood rushed to my face and I was about to bolt into the refuge of our castle until he said, “Yep, that’s Tommy alright,” a smile filled with knowing writ large across his face.

“So,” he went on, “watch ya doin?”

I held up my book, Moby Dick, for him to see.

“Oh, yeah, guess I shoulda known, book in ya hand an all,” and now he was blushing.

In that moment, everything changed, a little. The universe shifted to one direction just a fraction of an inch and I knew he was just like me. Nervous and hopeful and wanting.

“Where ya goin?” I asked, as if I didn’t know.

“I’m goin for a swim, down at L Street, wanna come with?”

“What,” I say to give my heart a chance to slow, “you got a membership down there?”

“Well yeah, my pops does. I wouldn’t be goin if I didn’t,” he tells me and I feel my face burn again.

“Cm’on,” he says, “I get to bring a pal anytime, whatdya say?”

Faced with the realization of a dream come true, I had to acknowledge one simple truth, “I don’t have no suit.”

“Don’t need one down L Street, it’s all fellas, everybody goes skinny.”

I set free my desire so it could crush my fear and said, with the casual effect of someone caught stealing, “Okay, sure.”

“Let’s go then buddy, the free sodas ain’t gonna last long so we gotta get a move on.”

He swept one arm out southward toward the water and I stood, leaving my book on the stoop, fluttering in the breeze. I stepped down and rejoiced to find that we were almost the same height, me just a tad shorter.

He threw his arm across my shoulders bringing heaven down upon me and we walked south together as he told me all about the L Street Swimming club and how we’ll have so much fun and the sodas are free and I am already there before we reach the next block.

It was early summer, and my life had just begun.

Ronald McGuire is a novelist, poet, scriptwriter and journalist. His work has appeared in Catalyst Magazine (Athens, GA), Flash Fiction Magazine (April 2, 2021), and on CNN.com. Ronald holds degrees in Comparative Literature and in Journalism from the University of Georgia. In previous lives he was a bartender, bookstore owner, and inventor.

A Flash Fiction by Logan Cox

I’m enraptured the precise moment your fingers first touch the keys. It’s happened every time I’ve come into this place to write and focus, but I can’t seem to do either when you begin to play that infernal piano, so it’s really just two hours of pretending not to watch you.

I stayed longer than normal, just once. I waited until everyone had left the hotel bar.

I laughed to myself, that I’d come all the way to New York to find inspiration, and what I really ended up wanting to write about was you and your delicately applied but abundantly clear passion for your music. You, who existed in the hotel bar. I came all the way to the city, just to find what I needed in the hotel.

You didn’t have a name yet in my story, I didn’t even make one up for you in my head like I usually do. I became convinced that whatever fiction I came up with the satisfy my own curiosity would be utterly disappointing compared with the truth.

When the bar was finally empty, you started to pack up your sheet music. You saw me, and I almost made eye contact with you, but I managed to turn a page in my notebook instead. You froze, and made a different decision.

I tried not to breathe too noticeably, or do anything noticeable at all for that matter, as she sat back down.

She began to play a piece I recognized but could not name. I was never the musician that I wanted to be, but I could recognize beauty anywhere, because I was the writer I needed to be.

This piece had been played here before, every night I had been here, I was sure of it. Somehow, this was completely different. The way she rose and fell, chasing herself where she should pause. The ebb and flow, everything about her became less mechanical and turned emotional.

The music, it was inexplicable. What is the difference between classy and lovely? I have no qualms about my inability to define the separation, for I can always draw upon this memory to satisfy my mind when I ponder it.

The notes were the same. The piano was the same piano it had always been, but the woman, she was no longer a worker, she was who she wanted to be.

My shoulders tensed and my eyes would involuntarily shut when she reached forte, and my heart rate would slow again when the atmosphere calmed.

When the room fell silent and she departed from her platform, she began to walk towards me. I waited longer than normal to look up, I had to be sure she was really walking this way. When it was certain, I placed my glasses on the table and closed my notebook in preparation for conversation.

“Hi, did you enjoy my performance tonight?” She asked with a shaky voice, leaning backward timidly.

“Of course, everyone who came in seemed to love you. I heard many compliments.”

“Not that one,” she clarified, slowly. “The last one. For you.”

“That was for me?” I asked, acting as though I wasn’t here only for her.

“Yes,” she answered. “I noticed you stayed.”

“I did,” I confessed. “To be honest, you’ve been the best part about New York so far.”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” she deflected, smiling.

“It is,” I said, not forcefully, but truthfully, so she knew it wasn’t just a flattery.

“Thank you, really. You’re the only one that’s come here just for me. Most come to drink.”

“Unfortunate reality, working in a bar, even an elegant one.”

“I wanted to give you something,” she said, shuffling her papers. “Here.”

In my hands I held a well cared for binding of sheet music that bore the name of a composer I didn’t know and a piece I couldn’t read. I began to thank her politely before I read it, but as I leafed through, my words trailed off. I was reading her personal notes, clearly written in pencil.

His Favorite was written at the top, near the title.

She started to get nervous when she could tell I was reading her notes, even though she’d intended for me to do so.

Other notes like He jumps and He tries not to look up were written throughout, making me laugh out loud.

“I’m sorry, this is probably really creepy,” she apologized.

“No, of course not,” I said. “I’ve been writing about you for the past few nights anyway.”

“I thought maybe you were,” she told me.

We both laughed, finally feeling more at ease. When the silence returned, the tension came with it, though she was quick to break it once again.

“I wonder what we’d both be like, if we knew for a fact that we were watching each other,”

“New York is the perfect place to explore wonders,” I pointed out.

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

Logan Cox is a young writer currently living in the south of Spain. His work currently appears in the online journals Flash Fiction Magazine and Maudlin House, with forthcoming work set to appear in Beyond Words Literary Magazine. He can most often be found among his family, arguing the rules of in-home game show play.

A Flash Fiction by Chiara Vascotto

“So, this boyfriend of yours…is he tall? Because…”.

“I know, grandad, altezza mezza bellezza”.

‘Height is beauty’ is one of grandad’s quirky mantras. He insists it’s a proverb, but I only ever heard it from him.

A year later, and I am at his funeral. He never got to meet my tall boyfriend, or to learn about the baby that was, and then wasn’t. The emptiness I feel is endless. Grandad lies in his good suit, his Partisan scarf carefully arranged round his neck.

In comes my father and, hooked on his arm, his wife. She’s clad in black lace, sobbing. A poor man’s Sofia Loren, who hardly knew him.  I look at what remains of this tall tribe, and I see no beauty, only loss.

Grandad’s last act of defiance was to dodge the religious rite; but there is no escaping the cemetery.

The pallbearers’ step on the gravel, their sombre rhythm suddenly halting. A ripple of hushed whispers and gasps: “it won’t fit”. If the casket had been made to measure, the hearse could not. Grandad will stand out, to the very end.

The men shuffle tentatively. They tilt, they crouch, their faces battling exertion and the need for composure. Trial, and error. Trial, and error. One more nudge, and the boot finally closes.

“He would have found it hilarious”, I want to say to dad, when he mumbles: “I’ll have the same problem, me”.

Altezza mezza bellezza. And a whole lot of trouble. 

Chiara Vascotto works in brand development and consumer research, and has a strong interest in creative writing. She hails from Italy, is a life-long student of dance and lives in London.

A Flash Fiction by Olag Motobuchi

“Uh, ‘scuse me. Mr. Donkey-Dick?” Tony blurts, “the giant cock section’s back here.” He grins.

His voice blows a melody into Darrel’s ears, even beyond the choir of moaning TVs. Darrel jolts his head around. “T-Tony?”

“Ohhhh! Look who actually remembers me.”

Darrel raises his voice. “Wow. Tony? Quinones? Course, I remember. Weird running into you now. And of all places…”

“Can you stand how fucking cute we are? I’m not even sure how this trash-can of a bookstore is still open. Essential business, my ass.”

“Yeah…Doesn’t all this remind you of the nineties a little? All the paranoia? The cruising? The seediness?”

“Leave it to the gays, right? We’ll find a hole in any system.”

“Guess so. It’s good to see you. You know, I was thinking of you the other—”

“Ha! Aww… Good one, Darrel. How is what’s-his-name? Ky-Kyle?


“Oh, right. Not Kyle. Kye. How’s Kye?”

“Ya know, we’re…we’re good. We’re actually…pretty great! We just, uh, moved uptown? It’s…nice.”

“Niiice. Sure sounds like it. He here with you?” Tony reduces to a whisper. “Should I go scare him too?”

“No…he’s…not here.”

“Oh. Huh.”

Groups of men on TV compete for the most dramatic exclamations of pleasure. A rupture of whimpers accompanies a rapid clapping. For a second, it sounds like an applause.

Thwap-thwap-thwap-thwap! Squiiiiish.

Darrel starts again. “So, uh…” On the nearest monitor, a droplet of perspiration slides down a yelping face. Darrel hardly notices, but he breaks a sweat of his own while Tony watches.

“What is it?” Tony asks, sensing Darrel’s struggling words.

“So,” he clears his throat a little. “You um…you still riding?”

“Pfffffft. Nah, man. Didn’t you hear?” Tony rubs his chin with curled knuckles. “My sis sold my Kawasaki to cover the hospital bills.”

“Oh, right. Sorry… Didn’t mean to…bring that up. I’m sorry.”

“Fuck, you know I didn’t mean it like—“

“You know how much guilt I had to climb out of, Tony? How much time I spent? Years. A decade! I dunno!? Maybe it’s been worth it. God, I fucking hope so.”

“Ch’yeah. Well, I get to live forever as Ricki Riley. Shit. Couldn’t I’ve picked another name? ‘Ricki Riley,’ they’re always saying. ‘Remember him?’ Well…The real me? I, like, never existed. Tony Quinones died a long, long time ago. And you. You coulda said, ‘adiós,’ Darrel…”

“Tony. I don’t know what to—” The air sucks the heat right out of Darrel’s cheeks.

The two hang back while a single TV bursts with a falsetto. Some limit is reached during a percussion of drenched slapping.

Slap slap slap. Slap slap.

“Yeah. Well. Parts of that movie are worth remembering. Right, Darrel? Goddamn. How can I forget how much you and that bike destroyed my back. Cheesh!” Tony smirks, squeezing his lips into a simper.

“Haaaaaaah. Ya know, there was a point where I told everyone I’d just tattoo Crotch Rocket 3 on my face.”

“Right? Who knew you’d catch that many eyes, Darrel. If you ask me, I think it’s that big, old bush you got. Ya fucker. Then you had to get all popular and run away to New York. Right when the gay cancer found—”

“Listen. We were young. It wasn’t anyone’s fault.”

A moment passes. Tony speaks up. “What kinda night ya having here, big guy? Hot date with…Hairy Potter and the…who—?”

Darrel chuckles. “Don’t be a creep.”

“A creep? In this place? Isn’t that what the kids call hate speech nowadays?”

“Hmp-hmph. Nice one, asshole. Hey. Did you…look to see if they have it?”

“Have what? You mean Crotch Ro—?

Darrel assumes his porn octave. “Oh-h-h-ho. Fuck yeah, man.”

“¡Dios mío! What a sap.” A few seconds of eye contact, then Tony rolls his eyes.

Darrel steps backwards, and starts for the register. “Hi, sir. I was wondering. Do you have a movie called Crotch Rocket 3? From like, 1992?” He flashes his smile.

Cashier tries to contain a chuckle, looking at The One-And-Only. It is him. He’s been gawking at Darrel this whole time. “Oh, sure we do. He-he-he. Extreme sports. Back between Vintage and Water Sports.

Twenty feet away, and there it sits—just a DVD on some dusty shelf. On its laminate cover, Tony and Darrel look wide-eyed. While frozen in embrace, the Moto gear hangs from their teenage bodies. Both share the hoist of their emerald throne, a hazard-green Kawasaki. Darrel scoops the DVD in his careful hands. “Damn. Look at us.”

“Wow. I look…”

“You look healthy…”

“My eyebrows didn’t. Can you even see ‘em down there?”

“You look healthy here, Tony…”

“Hey. If you could make it through that, don’t you think you’ll make it through this new virus?”

For a minute, Darrel holds a pause. “This one might be worse though, Tony.”

“You ever think you’ll get out of here? Out of Crotch Rocket 3?

“I don’t know. You know, I don’t really come here that often.”

“Uh-huh. Sure ya don’t.”

With one trembling finger, Darrel wipes some dust from the waxy print of Tony’s face. His brows carve perfect ovals around those burnt caramel eyes. Behind him, his younger self holds on tight. To Tony. Both erections point up to the illustrated title: Crotch Rocket 3.

“Listen. It was nice seeing you, Tony.” Darrel parks the DVD back on its shelf, feeling just one more time a little heat from that engine. “Seriously. Was real nice. But uh…Kye is probably wondering where I am.”

Olag Motobuchi is an emerging writer exploring identity, trauma, and queerness. In the storms of 2020, they began publishing their work. Find more of their flash fiction in Typishly and Button Eye Review.

A Flash Fiction by Marianne Mandrusiak

Glancing sideways, Sarah raises her dishevelled flaxen eyebrows and gives me the signal. Oh, it’s on! Our favourite game to play is “detective.” We sneak away while the adults are talking about new co-workers or controversial politicians. Awkward flamingos, we walk on our tiptoes to mimic high heels and jut out our ribs, pretending that we have breasts. We hide in plain sight, under mahogany hall tables and behind corners with chipped drywall, patiently waiting to overhear juicy details that we almost never do. Sarah and I are silent as church mice until one of the adults, usually Aunt Carol, uses some ridiculous expression like, “Well, that just won’t cut the mustard,” which sends us running down the hallway, covering our mouths and shaking from laughing so hard. Convulsing, we flop onto Auntie Carol’s guest bed, finding spots amongst the coats that smell of strangers; old cigarettes, stale gum and vanilla bean perfume. We chortle until we can’t breathe, our obliques aching. The adults don’t come in to reprimand us, because much to our chagrin, they knew we were there all along. They also don’t care because we don’t understand politics or sexual innuendos. Bored of listening to fragments of incomprehensible conversations, we decide to play pretend. 

My role, as always, is that of the daughter. I hate playing the mom, which I suppose makes sense, considering that later in life, I will declare that I never want to have children. Sarah and I make believe that we are packing for a vacation. We are going to take a train trip, that’s it – first class! Going east, to visit her long-lost twin brother, Billy, in Waterloo. I heard the name of the city in an ABBA song, so I know that it really exists. 

Sarah puts on Auntie Carol’s friend Shelly’s fake-fur coat and an anxious thrill makes my face turn beet red. She looks glamorous surrounded by the ebony pelt, like she’s a ten-year-old Jennifer Love Hewitt (except blond). Her look is perfect for our first-class voyage.  

“Now, you need a coat too,” Sarah asserts. I’m too nervous about wearing someone else’s belongings. I shake my head, and some hair gets stuck to my fuchsia lipstick. I nicked some from my mother’s purse earlier, but she never minds unless I have a cold sore. Sarah calls me an old “fuddy-duddy.” Ironic for someone who would dare use that insult. I tell her I’d rather get into trouble for going through Auntie Carol’s things than for sifting through those of a stranger, so I open one of the dresser drawers, which is empty. I pretend to pull out a green crushed-velvet dress with a satin ribbon as a belt.

“You can’t just make-believe,” Sarah says, “you need to put on something real.” She feels entitled to make up all of the rules. Sarah has two younger siblings, and you can tell. 

Sarah opens the other drawers, looking for something to dress me with whilst saying in a piss-poor British accent, “Come on Luv, I’ll make you a cuppa.” This sends us howling again, remembering the film we saw in social studies class about the children who worked in the mines. (It wasn’t supposed to be funny, and we got in an awful lot of trouble with Mrs. Slavinsky because we kept trying to speak like the people in the docudrama). 

We are unprepared for what we see next. Sarah opens the bottom dresser drawer, and at first, I think that it’s full of comic books of some kind. Once my eyes have focused, I can’t make sense of the images. Naked women tied up, bent over with their mouths open. Men grabbing fistfuls of women’s hair, one woman screaming in pain as her breasts are being squeezed. Not just pain, though, her face holds something else…something that fascinates me. I’m not sure if any of the adults heard the drawers open or if the sound was muffled by The Beatles singing something about feeling alright.

Sarah and I should throw the magazines back in the drawer and slam it shut. We don’t. We sit there, silent, on the moss-toned shag carpet for a good twenty-five minutes staring at the pages and acclimating to the images, barely aware of the conversational din in the background. Individually, in our own minds, we speculate about each glossy, naked person’s back-story. Miraculously, nobody walks in on us. I don’t know what we would have done if they had. When we finally break free of our trance and put everything away, we pinkie swear never to talk about what we have seen to anyone and never to go back into that bottom drawer.

Sarah and I exit the room feeling like we have walked into another dimension. Our world has changed, and I suppose so have we. Suddenly self-conscious in our bodies, we slink around sheepish and close-mouthed, glancing surreptitiously at the adults. We see them with new eyes. We are investigating again, seeking some kind of an explanation and yearning to find clues. Back to playing detective, only this time we aren’t teetering around on our tiptoes and sticking out our chests. 

Marianne Mandrusiak is a writer and comedian living in Montreal, Canada. She was longlisted for the 2020 CBC Nonfiction Prize for her short story entitled “Bad Kisser.” Marianne is currently working on a short story collection, as well as a children’s book which introduces the concepts of environmental stewardship and the power of collective action. For details on these projects and others, follow her on Instagram under the handle @mandrusiaki. 

A Flash Fiction by Ken Olson

The sky is flat this morning and words won’t fall out. No words for a poem, no words for a story; mundane, domestic words or stirring, cosmopolitan words for Joe’s daring exploits far from his home. It makes no difference once the sky loses its verve. So, Joe summons Noveldog. S/he instructs Joe to build something wordless, whereupon he journeys to the beach, crafting a sandcastle. Tonight, he writes with words. Noveldog focuses on Joe’s actions, interpreting his experience: Without knowing it, Joe has written a story with his hands. Back home, the sky opens and words haphazardly tumble out.

Ken Olson lives in the Pacific Northwest. His haiku poetry has been selected for the ‘Red Moon Anthology’ five times, the 2019 Special Issue of ‘Right Hand Pointing,’ and featured in Ion Codrescu’s new book, ‘The Wanderer Brush.’ In 2019 Ken published stories in Crack the Spine, Sky Island Journal, and Silver Needle Press. In 2020 the inaugural edition of the Centifictionist, Wild Roof Journal, and The Closed Eye Open.

A Flash Fiction by Matt Petras

In my grey sweatpants and navy blue sweatshirt, I climbed onto the armchair, placed my little hands on the top of the velvet chair and gazed out the window at the lights.

I saw streetlights, houses aglow with yellows and blues through their windows, cars beaming light at the road ahead of them. Red lights would come from the railway intersection. Traffic lights. Green. Yellow. Red.

Most prominent and highest, a small fire burned, wafting smoke into the air, at the top of a tall, thin chimney.

Pap walked into the room, a cup of tea in his hand. He saw me and smiled.

“When I first moved into this house, I would look out that window a lot too,” he said. He sipped his tea. “When I look out that window now, I see what that town used to be like, back when it was booming. I met your grandmother in that town. I see all of the delis you could get a great sandwich. I see the park that isn’t there anymore, where bands would play. Really great music.”

I looked at him. I smiled. I went back to the window.

“So what do you see when you look out that window, kiddo?”

The window chilled my tiny fingertips as I kept looking.

“I see lights.”

Matt Petras is a Pittsburgh-area writer and educator. His journalism has been published in The Daily Beast as well as local publications like PublicSource, Pittsburgh Current and The Mon Valley Independent. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing in Chatham University, focusing on fiction and concentrating in pedagogy.

A Flash Fiction by Rachel Johanna Darroch

The chair creaks under her weight in a shriek of metal and quarrelsome springs. Wheels whirl across the floor, clicking over the divots in the warped floorboards as she takes her place before the computer screen in grave repose. Hesitance tightens her shoulders to her ears like corkscrews. Her fingers settle over the keys, not quite daring to compress. Every muscle is held in suspension, even though she knows nothing has changed.

The clacking of the keys never comes.

A minute or two later, the chair creaks again, its burden now lifted. She stands, the wheels clicking at her like snapping fingers, telling her to get on with it. This an old dance, now, between her and the chair. Back and forth, like today might be different when it never will be.

The computer screen darkens to black while she moves on to another part of the house to simmer in perennial regret.

There will be no words today.

Rachel Johanna Darroch is a Canadian writer from Kitchener, Ontario. She is the author of several published short stories and flash fiction pieces, including At the End of Indigo, The Paradox, Light Years, Minor Key, and The Advent. She is a graduate of the University of Guelph and lives with her two cats, Archie and Edi. 

A Flash Fiction by Philip Redo

It was a big pipe. And it was coated with some kind of cloth. Painted white. As he stared at it he thought that maybe the white paint had been brushed over some kind of adhesive tape or even a gauze. The big pipe turned at 90 degrees into the wall. He thought it would be called an elbow pipe by those who knew about such things. He didn’t. But he couldn’t help but look at the pipe as he swam his daily laps. On each trip across the pool he switched from side stroke to freestyle. He started with side and returned with the traditional crawl. The side stroke trip exposed the right side of his head parallel to the water. Going this direction he couldn’t help but see all the way up the wall that bounded the pool. Towards the ceiling the pipe was easy to spot. Even if you weren’t really looking for it.

He looked at it each time he swam. He couldn’t help it.

Below the pipe hung seven large panels. He had counted them. On each panel were swimming records. Backstroke. Breaststroke. Freestyle. Relay. The record holders were all children. The oldest age group listed was girls and boys between 13 and 18. The youngest group were 8 year olds.

As he swam he would calculate their times against his own. They were impressively fast.

He knew little about swim times. He only knew that these were this particular pool’s record holders. The glory of past efforts by people he did not know. How these times might compare to Olympic times didn’t matter. What he knew for certain was that compared to these times, he was slow. But he wasn’t 13-18 years old either.

As he swam he wondered what exactly the big pipe did. It was clearly part of the air filtering system. Or was it part of the heating system? Are those the same system? He didn’t know. Maybe some sort of vent. Venting what exactly? He imagined that when it was first installed it must have been all silvery and shiny. Like a brand new pipe in the hardware store. Then they taped it up and painted it white to match the walls around the pool. Maybe the wrapping also muffled some noises it might make. He didn’t know anything about pipes. He wondered how long ago the pool had been constructed. The oldest reference he could see was a smallish banner hanging on an adjacent wall from the pipe celebrating a championship won in 1968. 52 years ago. That was a pretty bad year, he remembered from personal experience, as he reached the deep end. He touched the wall. He swam back the other way. In this direction he wouldn’t be in position see the pipe or the names and times that were listed on the wall. Heading in this direction he swam the crawl. Freestyle. Traditional swimming. The way they first teach you as a kid. Face in the water. Up for a breath. Face back down. The entire length of the pool. Up for a breath and then back down.

Swimming was great exercise. Especially for him. He had to exercise. He was not 13-18 anymore. He was about to become a senior citizen. He had received his Medicare card in the mail two weeks ago. It was hard to believe.

At the shallow end of the pool he stopped for a few seconds. He bounced on his toes. He stretched his arms out wide and then he lifted them above his head. Then he kicked himself off the side of the pool aiming for the other side. He examined the names again. And noted their times. “R. Bouchard 24.23”, “K. Chu 21.54”, “M. Singleton 20.37”. He couldn’t fathom how even a kid could swim this same body of water so quickly. Two lengths! 50 meters in about 20 seconds. He had timed himself on occasion. The digital timer attached to the wall would continuously count up both the seconds and minutes elapsed but it did not divulge the hour of the day in which it was happening. It wasn’t a clock. It marked times but not time. He did some calculations in his head, accounting for the fact he had not started his swim with a dive. That would be an advantage. He also factored in his relatively advanced age. The kids were about three times faster and five times younger. “L. Munroy”, “J. Gardella” were their names. It didn’t matter.

The pipe seemed oversized as he went back the other direction. It didn’t seem in correct proportion to the space. It looked to him as if it either had been purposely over built or the wrong size pipe that they decided to make work because it was easier than ordering a new one. But he knew very little about HVAC duct pipes.

It was a strange thing. The pipe caught his eye the moment he first walked into the pool.

Ready to undress and get going with his laps.

It was a big pipe, covered with some type of cloth, painted white.

It looked exactly like the one he focused his eyes on when he had been wheeled into the operating room at the Medical Center. They were about to put him under. The doctors and nurses were milling around him. He was trying to take his overactive mind and put it someplace else. Anywhere else. He stared at the ceiling. At a huge pipe that was coated with some kind of cloth. It was white. He was going to have his heart repaired so he could go swimming.

A NYC native Philip L. Redo is a former broadcaster in both commercial and public radio/tv. Articles of his have appeared in several publications including an OpEd in the Boston Globe. He lives in Maine.

A Flash Fiction by Pamela R Winnick

Marla parked between the yellow lines and slid out of her Jetta, the April breeze teasing her long blond hair. She wore a leather jacket and tight-fitting leggings that revealed skinny, well-toned thighs. When she spotted Art’s Jeep, she waved at him, smiling.  He stepped out, his belly bulging above his sweatpants, his polo shirt stained beneath the underarms.     

“Hey,” he said, “What’s up?”

If only he’d hug her or at least kiss her cheek.

“You’re looking kind of, uh, tired,” she said.

He scratched his head, his hair flecked with dandruff. “Tax season. Everyone waits ’til the last minute.”

Maybe that’s why he hadn’t called, she thought as she reached for his wrist. “Such a tragedy. Losing her to pneumonia of all things. She was only forty.”

Freeing himself from her chokehold, he looked her up and down. “In the mood for a burger and fries?  Looks like you could add a few pounds.”

So he’d noticed the weight loss, she thought as they wove around parked cars, stopping when they reached Charlie’s Burgers, tucked between Target and Walgreens. Inside, he asked for a booth in the back, dropped down without waiting for Marla to settle in.  

“Do you believe in heaven?” she asked, twirling her gold chain.

“I guess.”

“If Claire could see us now, what would she think?”

He shrugged. “She’d be grateful, probably. We’d been out of touch since high school, but all of a sudden you were there. Feeding us when she was in the hospital. Speaking at her funeral. Arranging the flowers.”

Marla might have done more, but, dropping by his house one day with a tuna casserole,  she spotted a pile of plates on his front stoop, covered in foil. Bolting, she realized she’d have to act quickly; she couldn’t just wait around.

The waitress slapped two plastic menus on the table, announced the day’s specials:    French onion soup and fried calamari.

“I’ll take the green salad,” Marla said. “Dressing on the side.”

Art ordered a triple cheeseburger, fried onions, extra mayo.

“I hope I’m not bothering you,” she said. “But when I didn’t hear from you, I worried. So I thought I’d shoot you a text and ask you to lunch.”
With a shudder, she recalled his response. Since you’re asking, I guess the meal’s on you.

 “We’re friends, aren’t we?” she asked.


She twirled a loose strand of hair. “Then why didn’t you call me? It’s been a month since the funeral.”

“Sorry. But, like I said, I’ve been super busy,”

“I would have helped if you’d called. I’m here for you.”

The waitress brought their food, warning Art that his plate was hot. He tucked a paper napkin in his shirt,  drowned the cheeseburger and fries with ketchup, lathered the hamburger bun with mayo, took a huge bite, without waiting for her to start.  Marla filled a teaspoon with vinaigrette and dribbled it on her salad, picking at the lettuce and allowing herself three green olives. He downed his meal as though it were his last, chewing with his mouth open. But unmarried men were few; she could always fix him later.

She pushed her bowl away, tilted her head. She’d planned the words, rehearsed them again and again, but now they eluded her. Summoning her courage, she plunged ahead, unscripted..

“I hope it’s not too soon.,” she said.

“Too soon for what?”

She twisted her napkin. “I was thinking you might be lonely.” Looking up, she drew a deep breath. “If you want to catch a movie or something, maybe you’ll think of me?”

The waitress cleared their plates, asking it they’d like dessert. Art ordered pumpkin pie with whipped cream, lots of it.  Marla demurred.  Beside them, two tables had been joined together for what looked like an office party. A promotion. a birthday.

Or maybe an engagement

The waitress set down his pumpkin pie. He ate lustily, his mouth open, not a crumb left on the plate.  A crowd formed a line by the entrance, entering in twos and threes. He licked the whipped cream off his fingers.

“So what do you think?” Marla pressed. “You and me? It’s not like we just met. We’ve known each other since first grade.”

He patted his belly. “I’m kind of seeing someone.”

“A woman?”

“I’m no queer.”


“Suzanne Mills. We went out for a while senior year. She called me after the funeral and, well, one thing led to another.”

“I ran into her recently. She’s obese.”

He smiled apologetically, a crumb caught between his teeth. “Yeah. I guess she’s sort of heavy, but I like a little meat on my woman.”

The waitress set the check in front of him. He slid it toward Marla, but she couldn’t bring herself to pick it up.  

“What was I supposed to do?” he went on. “Sit home nights and cry?” He crunched his paper napkin, tossed it on the table. “I mean a guy’s got needs.”

A graduate of Columbia University’s Schools of Law and Journalist, Pamela R Winnick was an award-winning journalist before turning to fiction. Her debut novel, Betrayed, is due out in 2022.

A Flash Fiction by Aditi Ramaswamy

So my car breaks down a lot…

I really should replace it––but somehow, I can’t bring myself to. Fine, I’ll say it: I’m fond of the damn piece of junk. I think people nowadays are far too focused on their destinations that they don’t take time off to enjoy the journey itself. So it’s kind of nice, being forced to stop so much: you meet the most interesting people.

Anyway, it always happens to conveniently sputter to a stop right smack dab in Nowheresville, USA––and always next to a dilapidated inn named “The Shady Hotel of Horrors” or some crap like that. You can practically hear the banjos playing.

That being said, you’d expect me to have met a whole bunch of creeps––you know the type. Toothless inbred hicks with a taste for gruesome murder, and all that. I had to admit, part of me really did hope to come across one, just to see if they really do exist. But the closest I’d ever come to Encounters of the Urban Legend Kind was the one-eyed weight-lifting gas station attendant in Pennsylvania who insisted on stepping out back and showing me an entire camera reel of pictures of his goat. (Her name is Albertine, by the way, and she likes wearing pink ribbons in her beard.)

Until the other day. I was down in––well, I’m not naming names here, but let’s just say it was one of them states known for great food with a side of whackjob evangelism. It was maybe one, two in the morning, and I was putt-putting along one of those winding country roads in the Crapmobile when it had suddenly decided to stop cold turkey on me. No amount of turning the key or cussing at the steering wheel would make it move––so I’d finally given up, gotten out of the car, and surveyed my surroundings. Nothing but broad, squat tobacco leaves for miles around–

No, wait, over there––a few yards off the side of the road. Yeah, definitely a house. I’d kicked the Crapmobile one last time, then waded through the thick sea of future lung cancer toward the light in the distance.

Upon closer inspection, I’d realised that calling it a “house” was actually pretty generous of me. It was a hovel, a shack, a moldering pile of boards held together by a handful of nails and the will of God. And when its door had creaked open and its sole inhabitant had stepped out, I’d definitely seen the family resemblance: she looked as if someone had stretched a sheet of white paper haphazardly over a jumble of bones. Her eyes had leisurely slid across me from head to toe; then she’d licked her cracked lips and bared a set of sharp, crooked teeth the colour of coffee stains.

“Well hello there,” she’d drawled in a voice like nails tap-dancing on a chalkboard. “And what’s a tender scrap like you doin’ outside my old home?”

“Sorry to bother you, Ma’am,” I’d said, smiling ingratiatingly. “But my car broke down, and my phone is near dead. Mind if I use yours?”

A spark of hunger had ignited in the depths of her pale bloodshot eyes. “I’m afraid I don’t got no phone. But you’re welcome to some supper, and to use my guest bedroom after. It’s a very comfy bedroom,” she’d added. “So comfy, some folks never wanted to come out!”

“That’s very sweet of you,” I’d said, stepping around her to get in the door- and nearly tripping over a bloodied axe lying out on the sagging porch. Frankly, I had been pretty thrilled: my first real crazy! This would be an experience to write home about for sure.

The first thing that had hit me when I’d walked inside was the smell: a heavy curtain of warm metallic tang enveloped me the moment I set foot in the shack. The woman had gestured to a narrow black hallway in the back of the dwelling. “You’s sleepin’ there. But first––supper!”

“Oh, it’s all right–” I’d started to say, but she had already shuffled into the kitchen and was busy clattering pots around.

“Nonsense!” she’d snapped. “You’ll eat, and you’ll enjoy it. I even got a whole pecan pie left, all the better to fatten you up. You’s thin as a beanstalk!”

I’d stifled a giggle when she’d said that. A lunatic who sounded like she’d just fallen out of the pages of Hansel and Gretel? ’Twas my lucky day, indeed.

She had come out bearing the aforementioned goods on a tin platter, and had set it down with a firm thump on the rickety wooden table. “Now, I want to see you eat this all up.”

I had eyed the food distastefully before looking back up at her. She certainly wasn’t a gas station attendant––but, I had supposed, something was better than nothing. “Thank you very much, Ma’am,” I’d said finally. “But I’m afraid I can’t partake of this. See,” I’d continued, smiling politely, “bit of a quirk of mine––I only eat fresh meat.”

And then I drew my knife.

Aditi Ramaswamy is twenty-four years old, and her dream job is to haunt a pond in the woods. Until she becomes the forest spirit she’s destined to be, though, she’ll stick to software engineering and writing fiction. Ramaswamy’s debut novel, Nathaniel Keene (The Lovelace Chronicles Book 1), is available here.

A Flash Fiction by Kevin Reigle

Johnny Rutledge flipped open the lunch pail as he straddled his usual bench.  His legs kicked out at each side like a jockey waiting at the starting gate. He rummaged through the lunch pail for his sandwich.

Johnny grimaced at the loud clanging that pulsed through the walls and into his brain.  His eyes snapped closed, and his teeth clenched.  Just as he was about to open them, he heard a familiar voice.

“Are you alright?”

Johnny relaxed his jaw as he looked across the table at Erik Newsome.  “Yeah, the banging was just getting to me.”

“You should be over that by now,” Erik said with a chuckle.

Johnny rubbed his temples as he watched Erik sit down on the bench across from him.  “It just gets to me every once and a while.  It’s not a regular thing.”

“I guess I’ve been here so long that nothing bothers me.  I can still see myself walking through that door the summer after high school.  I was pretty nervous, let me tell you.  My old man got me this job.  I worked right beside him till the day he died.”

“Heart attack, wasn’t it?” Johnny asked, unwrapping the tinfoil around his sandwich.

“Yeah, it happened right there in the back room.”  Erik extended his arm and pointed toward a rusted-out door in the mill. “I went to get a replacement part from the floor manager, and when I got back, he was face down.”  Erik looked across the table at Johnny’s sandwich.  “A bologna sandwich again?  She packs that for you every day, doesn’t she?”

Johnny started to lift off the bread, deconstructing the sandwich.  “I guess she doesn’t know how to make anything else.”

“You’d think she’d figure something out,” Erik said as he unsnapped the metal clasp on his lunch box.

“Every penny counts.”           

“How is the overtime going?  Is Anderson giving you any?”

“Not yet.  I went to see him earlier,” Johnny said as he put the sandwich back together and took a bite. “He said he didn’t have any to give me.”

“That college boy is such a jackass.  He doesn’t know anything.  Those kinds of people just swoop in here and think they know what the hell to do.”

“I’ll tell you; we aren’t doing too well at home right now.  I don’t know if I can get this check to stretch, or not.”

“Things are tight for everyone, aren’t they?”

“I guess so,” Johnny said as he shook his head.  His gaze froze on a poster beside the snack machine.  It was a picture of three dogs playing poker.

“You know, I do know a way you can make a couple extra bucks,” Erik interjected.

“How’s that?”

“If you want to place a bet on a horse, I got a pretty good tip on the sixth this Saturday,” Erik said as Johnny’s face went flush.

“Come on. Are you serious?”

Erik raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I’m sorry.  I thought, uh, maybe you were over that.”

“That’s not how it works,” Johnny said as he reached into his lunch box and pulled out a can of soda.

“I hope Anderson changes his mind about that overtime.”

“Yeah, me too. Before I forget, did you see the flyer on the bulletin board?”  Johnny pointed at the slab of cork hanging beside the hallway to the administrative offices.

“No, I hadn’t looked.  Why?”

“At the company picnic, they’re having doubles for horseshoes.  You’re pretty good, aren’t you?”

“Pretty good, do you know who you’re talking to?”

“Oh, I know exactly who I’m talking to.”

“So, you want me to be on your team, is that what you’re asking?

Johnny finished his sandwich and tossed the crumpled tinfoil into the lunchbox. “I think we could win.”

Erik nodded his head. “As long as you hold up your end, we will.” Johnny closed the lunchbox and started fiddling with the metal clasps. “You know that horse race you were telling me about?”

Kevin Reigle has previously been published in the Pensworth Review. He works at the University of the Cumberlands.

Flash Fiction by Rob Reynolds

I’m pulling out of Fresno late one night when this baboon waves me down.

He wants to know how far I’m going. I say I don’t know.

He shows a fifth of Jack.

We’re on our way.

I wonder sometimes why I keep this up — the stench, the hair, the hangovers. But it’s late in the game for those thoughts. I lean over and kiss the beast. His lips are soft, a hint of passion. He pulls away.

After a while, he asks me what kind of music I like.

“I like the three-word, one-syllable bands.”

He snickers. “Goo Goo Dolls?”

“There you go.”

“Third Eye Blind?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

My kind of primate, but I don’t tell him that. I tell him to pop the glove compartment, see if there’s anything he likes.

His big paw burrows beneath the owner’s manual, finds a Snickers bar.

“No, I mean the CDs.”

He pulls out Miles Davis’s Some Day My Prince Will Come. It’s the only CD I own. But I own ninety-six copies.

“Faith No More?”

“Jesus, give it a rest!” I run my hand through my hair. Humans, baboons. Give ‘em an inch, they want two.

I cue it to the title track and steer us toward the desert. Miles blows away the miles. We pass the bottle between us.

He tears the wrapping off the chocolate bar, slides it between his lips, sucks each long, beautiful finger. Says, “We never talk anymore.”

Rob Reynolds‘s comic novel Wire Mother Monkey Baby was published in 2017 by Outpost19, a small, independent publisher in San Francisco. His stories have appeared widely including the Tampa Review, Kennesaw Review, Vestal Review, flashquake, Mad Hatter’s Review, and Hobart Pulp. “What You Can Learn in a Bar” was anthologized in Ooligan Press’s You Have Time for This: Contemporary American Short-Short Stories.  He’s a former Contributing Associate and Contributing Editor of the Harvard Review and the Boston Book Review.

In what seems like a previous life, he taught English at Tom Petty’s alma mater, Gainesville High School. He’s lived in Austin, Texas, since 1994 and is a big fan of cats, dogs, and children.

Check out more of his writing at robreynolds.me.