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Storm Window

by Copper Rose

As the storm clouds gathered and the wind accelerated, Carrie could hold back no longer. The words sprang from behind her clenched teeth. She had been through this too many times before. A storm was brewing, a storm strong enough to rip the flowers from their beds, the branches from the trees, the roof from its rafters. And there he was again. Thunder cracked overhead and a gust of wind sucked at the windows, rattling the glass in the casings.

Carrie yelled into the dining room. “This time, Conrad, you’re coming to the basement with me instead of sitting in front of the dining room window like you always do!”

Carrie cocked her ear, listening. The only sound was the moaning of the wind.
Carrie screamed louder, “Only a crazy man would want to sit out this kind of storm in front of the dining room window!”

Again, the only sound was the wind whistling in through the cracks around the door. Carrie raced into the dining room. “It’s like you to just sit there, but not this time. There’ll be no arguing. You’re coming with me, mister.” Carrie raced down the stairs with Conrad in tow. Midway to the bottom she stopped.

Just like that.

It was wrong, what she was doing.

“I’m sorry, Conrad.”

She trudged back up the stairs, lips pressed tight as the great wind howled and threatened. She slid the urn full of Conrad’s ashes onto the table, in front of the dining room window and then, once again, Carrie raced for the basement, all the while screaming, “There you go! Have it your way, Conrad! I hope the friggin’ house falls in on you!”


Copper Rose perforates the edges of the page while writing unusual stories from the heart of Wisconsin. Her story “Buried in a Book” first appeared in FlashPoint: Inner Circle Writers’ Group Flash Fiction Anthology 2018. Her work has appeared in Night Garden Journal, Spillwords, Soft Cartel and other online webzines. She also understands there really is something about pie.

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Can I Catch You?

by Nicole DeVincentis

It was still snowing. It was late March and I found myself sitting on my couch, wrapped in my favorite plaid blanket, cradling my coffee between my hands. There was still enough heat left in the lukewarm liquid to provide a comforting warmth to my palms. Sammie, my golden retriever, lay asleep at my feet. I loved when I had mornings off from work. I would sit by the window, with my coffee and a good book, enjoying the peace and quiet. But I didn’t feel like reading today.

I sighed deeply, leaning my head against the headrest, as the snowflakes continued to fall outside my window. A few landed on the glass, and I caught just a swift glance at each unique pattern before it melted, the drops of water racing each other down the pane.

Suddenly, I heard laughter, and then two kids clad in puffy, down coats—one pink, one blue—came running through the field across the street. They played in the wide expanse of snow, chasing one another, throwing snowballs. Finally, they both fell to the ground and I could see their arms moving back and forth. They were making snow angels.

Watching them, I smiled a bittersweet smile, and regressed 10 years back into my childhood where I played in the same field with my best friend.

~

“You can’t catch me!” I yelled, running away from Jake with everything I had. My legs, weighted down by my snow boots, pumped furiously; and yet, I could never outrun Jake. He was the fastest kid in the 7th grade, something he never hesitated to gloat about. The thought nearly caused me to roll my eyes; instead, I huffed, my lungs burning from the cold air.

I risked a glance behind me, and threw terror-stricken eyes at Jake, who was almost on top of me. I lost my footing and fell into the snow. Jake jumped, landing on top of me with his arm raised. I looked up in horror at the dreaded snowball, and silently thanked my mother for insisting I wear my wool hat.

Jake stared down at me with a mischievous smile. “I caught you, Emma. You know what that means.” I shut my eyes, waiting for the shock of a freezing cold snow bomb. But it never came. I heard a sound, like someone plunging their hand into a delivery box full of Styrofoam. I opened my eyes to see Jake smiling at me, melting snow dripping off his head. He collapsed beside me and I turned to him. “I thought you were gonna hit me with the snowball?” I asked, perplexed.

“Why?” he laughed. “I already caught you, isn’t that enough embarrassment?” I smacked his arm. “Hey!” he yelled, both of us laughing. I started moving my arms and legs, making a snow angel. Jake watched me for a few seconds, then mimicked my actions. He helped me stand and we looked down at two angels, side by side. His was slightly larger than mine. “Pretty,” I said.

He shook his head, “It needs something.” He laid back down, pressing his mitten into the snow.

“Give me your glove.”

I did, and he pressed it diagonally across his own imprint. He stood up, handing it back to me. He’d made it look like the “angels” were holding hands. “Looks better, don’t you think?” I nodded. Soon, it grew cold and we started on our way home. Suddenly, Jake bent down to pluck something from the grass; then turned to me holding a small purple flower I knew to be corn speedwell between his fingertips.

“For you, the first flower of spring.”

I frowned. “That’s a weed.”

He smiled, devilishly, “Think of it as a consolation prize.”

I glared at him, “Shut up, Jake. I let you catch me.”

He threw his head back, laughing. “Sure, you did!” Fuming, I started walking away, but Jake grabbed my hand.

“Then, think of it as compensation.” He lifted my hand and placed the “flower” in my palm.

I rolled my eyes. Jake winked. I blushed.

“Thanks.”

~

I still had that flower. I got up out of the chair, throwing the blanket aside, cold coffee forgotten. On the bookshelf in the hallway, where all my childhood memories were stored, I found the leather-bound journal. As if it knew what I’d come for, it instantly opened to the page where the now withered flower lay, nestled between the pages where I’d recounted the events of that day, and everyday afterward. Whenever Jake wanted to play tag, he’d ask, “Can I catch you?” It was like our code.

It was shortly after that playful afternoon that Jake moved away. We kept in touch for a few years, but eventually lost touch. Oddly, I’d been thinking of him a lot recently. While I was staring into space, the dog started pawing at my leg. I looked down to see him sitting at my feet, softly whining—he needed to go out. I put on my jacket and hat, and walked outside.

We crossed the street to the field. Sammie walked right beside me, obedient enough to walk without a leash. I trudged through the snow in a trance, barely noticing the footprints I was following. Suddenly, they stopped. In front of them, written in the snow, was a question, Can I catch you? My breath caught in my throat. Sammie whined next to me in excitement. I could feel his wagging tail beating against my legs.

I gasped when I heard the voice behind me. “Well, Emma…” I turned to see Jack standing behind me, holding a single purple flower. “Can I?”

I answered by jumping into his arms.


Nicole DeVincentis is an aspiring editor and hopes to work in the publication industry soon. Reading and writing are her passions, among nature walks, workouts, music, and martial arts. Currently, her genres are fiction and fan fiction, but she’s also dabbled in poetry a bit, and continues to spread her wings.

Featured

The Proposal

by Keelah Rose Calloway

He said “Marry me” and got down on one knee.
He opened a box, and inside was a rock.
When I said yes, I envisioned a dress,
Not a life as a wife always dealing with stress.
I thought of an aisle and everyone’s smiles,
Bouquets of bright flowers and fun bridal showers,
Not fighting and shouting for hours and hours.
So now we’re divorced, of course.


Keelah Rose Calloway is a writer, a stand-up comedian and a singer. Her first novel book is being published serially as an audiobook, and the first three chapters are available to hear now on Youtube. She is also now posting daily microfiction stories on Twitter @MissKeelahRose. For more information on her growing list of accomplishments, check her out on Facebook.

Featured

For Who He Is

by Linda M. Crate

musing mildly
a song of flowers
beneath
a stormy sky
cold winter
isn’t ready to leave behind
the fragrance of spring,
and all her warmth;
shivering and starving for light
we resent winter for holding on
but perhaps his last prayer
is that he be loved
for who he is.


Linda M. Crate is a Pennsylvanian native born in Pittsburgh yet raised in the rural town of Conneautville. Her poetry, short stories, articles, and reviews have been published in a myriad of magazines both online and in print. She has five published chapbooks A Mermaid Crashing Into Dawn (Fowlpox Press – June 2013), Less Than A Man (The Camel Saloon – January 2014), If Tomorrow Never Comes (Scars Publications, August 2016), My Wings Were Made to Fly (Flutter Press, September 2017), and splintered with terror (Scars Publications, January 2018).

Catch and Release

by Steve Carr

Although Carton Laxwell had lived in the hills of Kentucky his entire life, he never liked killing another living thing, but he loved to fish.

He parked his pickup truck on the gravel road about fifty yards from Piney Creek. It wasn’t a creek at all, but a narrow, murky river that flowed gently through the woods just a few miles out of town.

He got out of the cab and went around to the back and lowered the tailgate. He took out a small basket containing his lunch of potted meat sandwiches and two cans of beer, his fishing pole, tackle box, and a folding canvas stool to sit on. He shut the trunk, then with everything either awkwardly held in his arms, or precariously balanced on both shoulders, he stepped into the knee high grass and walked through a grove of maple trees to the bank of the creek.

First making certain there were no birds nests or other woodland creature created habitats in the grass, he then stomped a flat area in the grass, making his own kind of nest, then laid everything down. As he unfolded the chair he saw a piece of red flannel in the grass on the perimeter of his newly created fishing spot. He bent down to pick it up, but pulled his hand back when he saw the cloth was wound around the wrist of a severed arm. The hand portion still attached to it was missing all of its fingers, although the thumb was still there, pointing upward as if giving the okay sign. The skin on the arm was gray and decayed, but teeth marks were clearly visible. There was a tattoo of an eagle on the forearm.

“That’s Neb Duly’s arm,” he said aloud. “I’d recognize that tattoo anywhere.”

With no one else around and uncertain what to do, he covered it with grass and returned to setting up his fishing spot.

Sitting on his chair he took a rubber worm from the tackle box and put it on the hook. He cast the line out into the water and watched the worm sink beneath the surface. He sat back and listened to the birdsong coming from the trees and opened the basket and took out a sandwich and opened a beer. While biting into the sandwich, there was a tug on the fishing line. He sat bolt upright, dropped the sandwich and quickly jerked the fishing pole and began to reel in his catch.

When he raised the line out of the water, a large catfish was dangling on the hook. He stood up and stared into the fish’s eyes as it struggled to breathe. “Well, aren’t you fine lookin’,” he said to the fish. He then removed the hook from the inside of the fish’s mouth and threw the fish back into the river. A few minutes later he threw the line back into the water and returned to his lunch.

“What a great day for fishin’,” a voice said from behind him. Carton turned.

It was Miles Pelroy, the owner of the local hay and feed store.

Miles was wearing rubber waders and carrying a fishing pole and a net. He stepped out of the grove and trampled across his nest and stopped at the bank. “What kind of bait are you usin’, Carton?” Miles said.

“Just a rubber worm,” Carton said.

“You’ll never catch a fish that way,” Miles said. “You got to get right in the water and go after the fish with somethin’ alive on the hook.” He held up his pole and showed a squirming worm that was skewered on the hook. “I always catch a big one on my first try. Pan fried catfish is some darn good eatin’.”

“I don’t eat the fish I catch,” Carton said. “I catch them and release them back into the water.”

“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” the man said.
“Ain’t no sense catchin’ somethin’ if you don’t plan to eat it.”

Miles waded out into the water and cast his line with one hand while holding the net in readiness with the other. A few minutes later he let out a scream and began frantically smacking the water with the net.

Carton stood up and helplessly watched as Miles thrashed about, letting loose of his pole and net and was then pulled under the water. Large blood red bubbles quickly rose to the surface. A few minutes later a bloody leg covered by a shredded wader pants leg was tossed out of the water and onto the river bank.

“If only I knew how to swim,” Carton said aloud, “maybe I could have saved him.” He shrugged. “I never much liked him anyways.”

With his pole still in the water, Carton was surprised when there was a tug on the line. Grasping tightly onto the pole he started to reel it in but lost his footing and was pulled into the water. Quickly submerged, he stared, terrified, at a man-sized creature the color of mud, with long sharp fangs, and an exposed human-like brain on the top of a fish-like head. The creature wrapped its sharp claws around Carton’s forearms.

Certain he was going to die, Carton closed his eyes.

A moment later he was flung up onto the river bank a few feet from his nest.

He didn’t take the time to question why he was still alive. He sprung to his feet, gathered his things and ran to his truck and sped off.


Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 150 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. Sand, a collection of his short stories, was published recently by Clarendon House Books. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter @carrsteven960

They Are All Vicious

by Ashley Bird

Footsteps follow me along the dark street. Their steady clicking matches my stilettos. I look around; barely moving my head. Shadows cover everything, making everywhere a nook to crouch in. My mind struggles against a tide of thoughts and fears. Drowns in them.

are they speeding up how long have they been there what do I do

Moments of held breath crawl by as I strain to hear without distraction. This only brings my heartbeat to the fore. The two beat rhythm drumming in my ears is deafening. From way back in the past I hear my mother’s voice.

She has been dead a long time, my mother. She died when I was seventeen but was gone long before that. I am only left with memories. One afternoon, when I was eight or so, I went into our kitchen. She was sitting at the old wooden table, dented and scratched, under a cloud of medicinal smelling liquor. As I passed, her scrawny arm reached out and bony fingers gripped my wrist. Her face scared me. The hair that framed it was wild and unwilling. Her cheeks were sharp but it was her eyes that scared me the most. Circled in darkness, when I gazed into them I saw nothing.

“They are all vicious” she said.

My mother said more but it is those words that stuck with me.

They are all vicious. They are all vicious. A mantra that affected my entire life. I heard it inside as a young teen in the park, coyly practicing my flirting with boys. When I grew a little and went to my leaving prom, as my date walked me home, it streamed through my head. After I left for university and started going out until early morning, it was in the backseat of the taxi with me. Always and still those words follow me. They are my mother’s spirit, both protecting and haunting. How could I blame her?

I catch his scent on the breeze; a musky aftershave that lingers in the nose. He must be closer now. I want to cough but hold it in and feel the scratch at my throat. Up ahead a street light stands out like a beacon. A dome of orange light fighting against the shadows. I see it with those words running riot in my head.

they are all vicious they are all vicious they are all – enough

When I reach the light I stop and pretend to check the watch my mother left me. The footsteps draw closer. I look up and see his face come together out of the shadow. I look him in the eye, defiant, brave. He offers a near imperceptible nod and smiles. It is a warm smile full of friendly teeth. The smile of someone without a worry in the world. Of someone that has never had to hear the words they are all vicious.


Ashley Bird is a short story writer living in Newport, South Wales. He is in the last weeks of a degree in English and Creative Writing at the University of South Wales. After that, who knows. Anyone want to hire a guy that loves writing stories?

A Thing So Small And Beautiful

by Adam William Inglis

He held the front door handle with the finesse of a safe-cracker, but as it turned, it let out its customary squeak, the exact sound he’d tried to avoid.

“You going out, Steve?” Emily called from the kitchen.

“I won’t be too long, just popping into town.”

“Don’t forget your coat. The telly says it’s bitter out.”

“Nah, I’m ok.”

The metallic clink of a saucepan that followed rang like audible punctuation. Whatever she’d been doing in the kitchen was over. Emily hustled past him, and up the stairs, flashing her finest ‘I know best‘ smile.

“You won’t be able to—”

After Emily disappeared, there came a low, loud noise, not unlike a trumpet when blown out of tune. And then again, before she reappeared on the stairs holding the grey woollen overcoat she’d found in the local charity shop.

“Did you drag the chair?” He chuckled.

“Don’t make fun of me,” she pointed. “I’m short.”

“You’re not short of anything; you just have little legs.” He smiled at that, knowing that five foot three was a perfectly average height for a woman.

“Never mind that, why are you dressed so smart? Do you have a job interview you’ve not told me about?”

“No, I just fancied a change from the usual hoody and jeans combo.” The whiteness of the lie spread across his face. He never lied to her.

She didn’t seem to notice.

“Well, you look lovely!” She looked him over, watching him tug the overcoat over his slim shoulders. “Any chance my handsome fella could grab some food and bits while he’s out?”

Before he could answer, she retrieved a folded list from the kitchen. It had a noticeable dark scribble beneath the page, the original word still visible through the back.

“Change your mind about the Nutella?”

“Too many calories, we need to eat better food.”

He heard cheaper food, but before he could dwell any further, she prodded his stomach, finding nothing but his belly, and giggled.

“Besides, you never know when someone may want to sweep me off my feet,” she continued, before tiptoeing to plant a delicate kiss on his bearded cheek.

“Who am I to say ‘no’ to one so small, and so beautiful,” he grinned. ‘I’ll be a little longer in that case.”

Just what I need.

* * *

His arms and feet ached, the shopping list had been longer than it looked. His pockets were in juxtaposition to the four Tesco carrier bags digging into his palms. He’d saved a little money by walking into town today, and it was a trip he’d become used to since avoiding the bus to work.

Just after noon, with the sunshine attempting to highlight precious things in a variety of differently named, boutique-style shop windows, Steve found the shop he’d pictured as he put on his smart trousers, shirt, and belt, some hours earlier.

The door buzzed twice. Once as Steve lumbered in with his shopping, and again—longer this time—as the door closed behind him.

“Good afternoon, my boy,” came the cheerful voice of an aged shopkeeper. “What can I help you with today?”

As Steve looked over the cabinets and the items tagged within, his heart began to wilt. Not unlike the handpicked rose poking from his inside jacket pocket

“Are you ok, you’ve gone a touch pale?”

“Y—yes, sorry, I just need to catch my breath.” He shrugged as if to show the shopkeeper the weight he carried.

“Here, sit down a moment.” The shopkeeper offered a fold-out seat, placing it beside the counter.

After regaining some of his composure, and feeling somewhat daft with his bags of budget shopping, smartest clothes, dying rose, and too little money, he stood up to leave.

“Thank you; I’m ok. I’ll be out of your way.”

“Oh now I see,” said the shopkeeper, tilting his head as he looked at the rose. “Don’t you worry about that, wait there just a moment longer.”

Ashamed, Steve remained still, like a faithful dog brought to heel. The anxiety only increased when the shopkeeper returned.

“Here we are,” he said with a flourish, exactly the type one might expect from a magician, as he lay a little tray upon the glass counter. “These aren’t new, but believe me, when they’ve been through my hands, in my workshop; they’re better than new.”

The grandfatherly tenderness of the shopkeeper did little to lift his spirits, but rather than excuse himself and seem ruder than he already felt, Steve looked in the tray.

His mouth fell open, utterly dazzled. Inside the tray was one item. A small, silver-coloured ring, with a bright–albeit–small, twinkling stone.

“It’s perfect,” he said, surprised to find that his words were true.

“Thank you, it’s quite special, this one. You see, it’s been waiting for someone for quite some time.”

“There’s no tag, how much is it?” His stomach tensed.

“No need to worry about that,” he smiled. “How much can you afford?”

Steve told the jeweler the exact amount left in his bank. To the penny, as his wallet seemed to heat his trouser pocket, empty but for a single debit card.

“I will accept no more than one-third of that, if you promise to pop next door and buy her flowers, too.”

So with four bags of shopping and a bouquet of fresh roses tucked under one arm, he walked home thinking of the ring, his words, and her answer. Carried on the wind, he heard the shopkeepers parting words as if he walked beside him.

“You needn’t fret about that, my boy, how can one say ‘no’ to something so small, and so beautiful.”


Adam William Inglis is a short fiction enthusiast who enjoys experimenting with unfamiliar genre and styles. He is also a keen poet with a passion for rhyme. His favourite novel is Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ and believes that even the bleakest moments are capable of hiding staggering beauty. His featured work, blog, reading list, and bio can be found at www.adamwilliaminglis.com and he is always happy to chat on Twitter @AWInglis

Dinner Stains

by River Rivers

$7.25 an hour doesn’t pay the bills.

At least it couldn’t when Tully was a school Janitor. Years passed since those days. He had since moved up in the world, finding respectable work in his trade. His current employer, Immaculate Worship Church, hired him $15.00 at full time with all the included benefits. It was dirty, repetitive, thankless work, but it allowed him to support a large family and spend time with them too.

This morning Tully and his trainee Henry weren’t upkeeping the church grounds, they would be taking the company van out to the worship’s privately owned warehouse. Tully was surprised the boy was ever hired. Henry was a self-proclaimed Protestant, who believed Mary wasn’t an eternal virgin and had natural born children before Christ. Tully reminded Henry when he began to keep his beliefs private. The Immaculate Worship didn’t tolerate such hearsay among its affiliates. Tully learned fast to keep his thoughts to himself. He’d be fired if he told the Elders that the idea of virginity is sexist and promotes slut shaming.

“Be respectful when entering this place,” Tully warned Henry upon arrival. “It’s on these site grounds that the Vestal apprentices who failed to keep their hymens intact before they age to thirty are buried alive under stones to preserve the order’s sanctity.” The Vestals, also called the Roman Women, were virgin priestesses honored among the Immaculate Elders. They attended to the many properties and practices of the church.

The boy nodded his head as he listened, reassuring him with an, “I will, I will.”

They gathered their cleaning supplies into a cart. When allowed inside the warehouse the two Janitors were made welcome by several Vestals. Practicing nudists, the vestals saw the naked form as a non-sexual entity. They were permitted no clothing when performing duties. The common vestal was known for their white cotton masks and pearl jewelry. Their nakedness made Henry uncomfortable. Tully, a married man, took no issue with this and was used to their eerie presence. Only a Lead Mary was allowed to speak on the group’s behalf. Any other Vestals were wraiths that waited in silence, otherwise, they moved about their tasks almost unseen.

The Lead Mary, a tall woman who Tully recognized, greeted them with standard prayers and asked them to drink from the cups her apprentices offered. It was ‘Elders Brew’ a blisteringly hot and bitter tasting liquid which was custom for church hosts to offer their guests. Tully always had to pee minutes after drinking it and would need to use the restroom before getting to work. Henry didn’t feel the need and waited. Upon return he noticed the Lead Mary was carrying a strainer with water miraculously held within, not a single drop had fallen through the mesh holes. She said nothing of it and led them where they needed to be.

The main room was locked and it took an elder’s own key for the Lead Mary to open it. She blessed them with a bow and left. “Is it true that come Armageddon the Elders will sell the Vestals to powerful men in order to secure assets? Virgins go for a high bride price.” The Trainee asked him the moment she was out of earshot.

“What did I say about respect, boy? The Elders could be listening.”

They opened the door to a warm blast of stinking air. Enough to make any man vomit. A poor ventilation system and smoke coming from a recently abandoned fire pit worsened the smell. The scene was pure gore. They walked to the table over lily flowers that covered the floor from corner to corner. By the bust of Athena displayed in the center, he determined this warehouse room was set up to mimic the Parthenon Dining Hall of the main church building. He pictured the Elders in here during the twilight hours clinking their dinnerware and casting spells.

We are cleaning after a Conception Feast. Henry is not ready to see this, thought Tully.

The sins of the cult needed to be washed away. The dinner remains were left a bloody mess as if a giant had spilled a cup of deep red wine onto the room’s contents. Blood didn’t simply stain the symbolic marriage-bed-sheets hung up like tapestries. It stuck to the dinner plates, congealed together in pools on the tablecloth, splattered onto silverware, filled bowls to the brim, even the glasses contained foggy fingerprints. There were too many knives to count and a tattered white dress tossed aside to be forgotten. Strange symbols and words spread out and written in a language he could not read. The evidence of virginal sacrifice and spiritual consumption were obvious. Nothing Tully hadn’t seen or cleaned after before.

However, the boy wasn’t expecting this, he was in shock and trying to process the scene before him. Tully informed Henry they would need more than what was brought in the cart if the task was to be completed in time. Sending him to the van for supplies would save him from viewing the nearby body. Henry would have no idea that the girl’s sacrifice would allow a Vestal, most like the Lead Mary, to become pregnant with a future Master and Elder. That a Vestal was prophesied this century to give birth to the next Prophet, the next Saviour.

Tully then remembered that Conception Feasts came in pairs and a male virgin was more valuable than a female in the eyes of the Immaculate. This sin was forgiven, but soon another will be committed. Suddenly he feared for his trainee Henry. That was a stain he didn’t want to scrub out.


River Rivers is a writer lost in the Cascadian mountain lands of Oregon. He spends his time with his two adopted Pitbulls, Gemma and Murphy. Somehow in between their chaos, he finds a time for work and fiction.

Gay Cowboy Vampire Highlander

by Duane Simolke

My cowboy vampire highlander wears only a kilt and cowboy boots. The kilt his mother made for him. The cowboy boots were a gift from an American ex-boyfriend, cursed with good looks and bad timing. He turned my love into a vampire on a moonlit night before going home to Texas and an arranged marriage.

My cowboy vampire highlander has absolutely torn every shirt with his hairy beer belly. He wears them tight or not at all. Being turned immortal while failing on a diet never worked out for anyone, but I never needed a muscle man, just a man who loves me forever.

He steals my heart attacking druids who try to sway me with the spices they mix in their magic grinder. They can’t steal me from him, even when they splash him with holy water or chase him on horses with stakes and swords.

Legend has it that a bear roams the Scottish highlands. That bear roams the hills and valleys of my heart and shares my bed. He slips into it wearing the cowboy boots, but not the kilt. Never the kilt.


Duane Simolke lives in Lubbock, Texas. Three of his books received StoneWall Society Pride in the Arts Awards, and one received an AllBooks Reviewers Choice Award. He edited and co-wrote the fundraiser The Acorn Gathering: Writers Uniting Against Cancer. DuaneSimolke.com includes some of his writing, as well as a variety of links to his work.

Smudged

by S. Kearing

None of us can say for sure when it started. But we all know that something just isn’t right with Serena Sellers.

Maybe it began when her feelings for Amity Fleming transitioned from mere annoyance to boiled-over hatred. Maybe it began when she took up with Professor Moriarty, a move we all considered cliché as hell.

Maybe it began when the black talons of Serena’s jealousy closed in on Craig Honig, choking the Craig Honig right out of him. He used to be the hub of our social group, but now he belongs to Serena and Serena alone. His agreeable disposition and good-natured sarcasm have been replaced by uncharacteristic rigidity and a constant scathing commentary. Basically, Serena poisoned him, and by extension, poisoned our group. But we can’t cut her from us like a tumor from flesh. If we did, we’d lose Craig, too.

So my sisters and I have a sleepover. That’s right—a slumber party.

Our sorority house is filled with the scent of buttered popcorn and the early spring air that flows in through our windows, which we always leave open just a crack. Throughout drunken Twister and a raucous game of Never Have I Ever and the arrival of our greasy pizza, Cara and I notice something.

Serena is giggling, making inappropriate jokes, and swigging her craft beer merrily. This is the old Serena—the one that we know and love. It’s Craig that’s insufferable. And it’s not because Serena’s hanging on him or whispering in his ear; on the contrary, she’s spending most of her time catching up with the girls. Everything that Craig does, he does of his own volition.

He makes joke-veiled criticisms about our bodies as we contort them over the colorful play mat. He refuses to drink after the Never Have I Ever prompts for which he should clearly be imbibing. He takes way more than his share of pizza, then proceeds to pick off almost every topping.

After everyone’s eaten, Cara holds up a tattered game box and announces, “Ouija time, guys! Go wash your hands and then come see me.”

“Wash our hands?” Serena says.

“We always clean up before we start one of Cara’s spooky activities,” I say, hoping I sound casual. “You don’t wanna go into something like Ouija dirty—physically or in any other way.”

Craig sneers. “‘In any other way?’”

“Meaning energetically. If you’ve got dirty energy, you’ll attract dark spirts! Duh.” Cara says, lightening the mood with her obvious enthusiasm for all things esoteric.
Thankfully, everyone washes their hands, even Craig.

Cara stations herself in front of the coffee table, hovering a bundle of lit sage over her “sacred” bowl. “Everyone, before you sit, let me smudge you with this white sage.”
“Welp,” Craig says. “I’ve never been smudged before.” He bumps past the girls who are arranged single-file before Cara. “And if I actually wait in this horrible line, I could die a smudge virgin!”

When our cynical guest presents himself to Cara, she volleys me a satisfied look. But then we notice a shift in Craig’s demeanor as he takes in the fragrant smoke billowing from the bound herbs.

“May Craig Honig be cleansed of all negativity, darkness, and stagnation,” my sorority sister chants, beckoning him to come closer.

“Wait.” He takes a quick back step. There’s a franticness in his voice when he says, “That stuff is making my eyes hurt.”

“Oh, come on, Craigy. Let her clean you, ya filthy animal,” Serena jibes, pushing him forward again.

He shrugs off her hands with shocking volatility. “Stop it, Serena. Can’t you see I’m allergic?” He turns toward her, revealing swollen eyelids and reddened cheeks. He barrels out of the room, unconcerned with who or what he bumps into.

“Allergic to sage?” Clara frowns at the smoldering bundle.

Serena chases after Craig. Before long, we hear them burst out the front door and pound down the wooden steps.

“Jeez,” I say to Cara. “Those two are getting ruder by the day.”

“It’s fine.” She puts out the burning herbs with some bottled water. “All the sage in the world probably couldn’t’ve cleansed him.”

I offer my immediate assent. “Yup.”

It’s true. Something just isn’t right with Craig Honig.


S. Kearing is a night owl who loves writing dark fiction inspired by the works of Gillian Flynn, Lionel Shriver, Blake Crouch, Stephen King, and Han Kang. She has just signed a contract with Horror Tree for her short story entitled “Servitude.”