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?

Morning Devotion

by Nicole DeVincentis

When he woke in the morning, he ran his hands through his wavy blonde hair and turned toward the sleeping figure lying next to him. His clear blue eyes settled on her face, as the morning light caressed her cheek, finding the red in her dark hair. He shifted closer, curling on his left side, not wishing to wake her just yet.

Her hair was strewn across the pillow, and her face was turned toward him. One hand rested beside her head, and the other was lying lightly on her slender stomach. He rearranged the blankets, covering her up, and then settled back against his pillow. He exhaled gently and her thick, black lashes fluttered, though she remained asleep. Her white tank top contrasted sharply against her tanned skin, and her breathing was deep and even. One thought ran through his head, repeatedly: how lucky he was to wake up to her each morning.

He leaned forward to place a kiss on her nose, and felt her stir. As he leaned away, he noticed the smile on her face, and she opened her eyes. Her doe-like, brown eyes stared back at him in adoration. He held her gaze for a few seconds, before saying, “Good Morning.” He reached forward to tuck a strand of hair that had settled on her cheek, back behind her ear.

She stretched slowly against the pillow, “Is it morning already?” she asked, squinting into the sunlight playing across the sheets.

He smiled broadly, “Yes, it is.” He covered the hand that was placed over her stomach with his own. “Back to reality.”

“Reality?” she laughed. “Is this a dream?” She said, turning on her side and facing him. She curled her fingers with his and closed her eyes, relaxing to the feel of his thumb stroking her hand.

“If it is, I don’t ever want to wake up.” She kept her eyes closed, but a smile curved her lips upward. Her fingers squeezed his lightly in a loving gesture.

She lay listening to the sound of his gentle breathing, lulling her back to sleep. He was content to stay exactly as he was, admiring each of her features. She must have felt his eyes on her, because suddenly, she smiled. “Stop staring,” she said, keeping her eyes closed.

His hand moved to play with her long hair, running his fingers through the even strands. She snuggled closer, nestling her head against his shoulder and letting her hand rest on his bare chest. He rested his cheek on the top of her head and continued playing with her hair. It was a while before he spoke and when he did, it was almost too quiet for her to hear. “How did I get so lucky?”

Her eyes flicked open, and she inclined her head to look directly at him, stating in a sober tone. “I’m the lucky one.”

His face was mere inches from hers and he shook his head, “You’re perfect.” She started to say something, but he put a finger to her lips. “I love everything about you.”

She squinted her eyes at him. “Everything?” she asked, slightly teasing. But what he said next made her heart race, reminding her why she had fallen in love with him.

He brought her hand to his lips and kissed each of her fingers, ticking off the reasons for his devotion.

“You are the most precious thing in my life,” he said, with a kiss to her forefinger. “I love the way your eyes shine when you smile.” A kiss to her middle finger. “I love the sound of your laugh, and the way you snuggle with our children before bed.” Another two kisses.
At this point, he looked up from her fingers to see her staring intently at him. He released her hand and moved to hover over her. She lay back against the pillow while he looked down at her, resting his weight on his forearm.

“I love hearing you sing in the shower,” he kissed her forehead, and then added, “even when you’re off-key.” He said, laughing lightly. She playfully smacked his arm, laughing along with him. He pulled her close, and rolled them so that he was lying back on the bed, with her chest flush against his. Her hair fell like a dark curtain over her shoulder, tickling his bare arm.

He smiled and cupped her cheek, so that he could look directly into her eyes. “I love the way you look at me. The smile that stretches across your face every morning, when you open your eyes. I love the way you love our children. I love how you take care of us, and how gentle you are with my heart.”

Her lips parted and her eyes began to tear. His thumb stroked her cheek, “As yours is mine, my heart belongs to you and it always will.”

Tears started slipping down her cheeks, “I never imagined someone could love me like you do.”

“I do.” He curled his hand behind her head and brought her forehead to rest against his. “And if you let me, I will spend the rest of forever proving it to you.”

She lowered her lips to meet his, and kissed him sweetly, then nuzzled her head into the crook of his neck. Placing her palm against his chest, she felt his heartbeat and sighed contently. She was very aware of her own heartbeat, and how it had slightly accelerated when they kissed, and now, had settled to a steady pace, beating in rhythm with his.


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.

The Surf Club

by Jennifer Irwin

The listing described the apartment as a railroad track layout which I found out meant; I had to walk through my roommate’s bedroom to get to the bathroom. It was a fourth-floor walk-up, but the Upper East Side was where we wanted to be—safe and swanky.

Mads and I had planned on rooming together after graduation. She touted a trust fund, and my bank account had sixty-seven dollars left after I paid the deposit. She contributed more rent to get the proper bedroom. My mattress laid on the floor in the dining area. I bought a folding screen at a swap meet for a makeshift wall.

I landed a job in the creative department of an ad agency making sixteen grand a year and worked weekends as a coat checker at an upscale restaurant called Sam’s Café owned by a supermodel turned actress who never came around. Her name gave the place panache and patrons came because they thought they might lay eyes on her. Mads got hired by a faux jewelry company called Monet as a sales rep. She’d bring home bags of jewels for me to forage through.

“Take whatever you want,” she said, while I dragged my hands through the chains.

“Hey,” I said. “It’s Monday, free spaghetti at The Stumble Inn. Feel like checking it out?”

“Yes,” Mads said, kicking off her sensible pumps.

“That’s a cute dress,” I said while clipping chunky earrings onto my lobes.

“You can borrow anytime.” Mads turned for me to unzip. Her back was white and doughy. “Want to go to the Surf Club Saturday? They have a guest list only event, and I got us on the list.”

“For sure but I’ll have to meet you after I get off of coat check duty.”

“Dammit. I hate that you have a job on the weekends. It ruins everything.” She stomped her foot for effect.

“I get out at ten; nothing happens in New York before then. Wait for me; we don’t want to be the first ones anyway.”

“Good plan,” Mads said. She changed into dark pants, and a striped blouse then eased a red, grosgrain ribbon hairband onto her head.

I felt underdressed in my faded jeans and converse sneakers. On the way out the door, I threw on my brother’s letter jacket which I stole without asking. It made me feel like I might have been popular in high school.

Since Mads parents paid her rent, she spent her earnings on maintaining her platinum hair, manicures, new clothes, and taking cabs whenever she woke up late for work. Mornings were hectic for me because my hair was wiry and wild which required a bit more time. Mads could get ready in a flash and always appeared pulled together. The only way to tell she was stressed was light beading of sweat that formed on the bridge of her nose.

As the neater person, I took on the role of the cleaning lady. Mads covered the sink in specks of eyeshadow, blush, and tons of blonde hair. The toilet often had remnants of either barf or shit up under the rim so I invested in rubber gloves to tackle that matter. Rumors had been going around school that Mads was bulimic and with the suspicious specs, I was beginning to believe they might be legit.

We rarely competed for male attention. If a guy was attracted to her, more times than not, he wouldn’t look twice at me. Mads was generous with lending stuff but once she asked me for the shirt off my back while I was walking out the door to work. Part of me figured it irritated her that her clothes fit me more loosely. But, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t master the ethereal, helpless aura she exuded which guys seemed to love.

The bar was brimming with preppies wearing alligator shirts and faded khakis. I was adept at pretending to fit in but my last name, a solid giveaway that I wasn’t in the blueblood tribe. It screamed Italian with every imaginable vowel in the alphabet.

We found an open spot at the outer edge of the dimly lit bar. Mads had a twitch that crept up around guys. Her upper lip lifted on the right and made her smile crooked.

“Isn’t it your turn to buy?” Mads said, looking me up and down. She was a cheap one and damn that bugged me.

“Probably,” I said. Halfway to the bar, I remembered I’d bought the last beers on Saturday. I wedged between two people, leaned against the sticky, shellacked wood and attempted to command the bartender’s attention.

“How’s it going?” A dark-eyed guy with puffy lips and short black hair was on the barstool next to me. “Don’t I know you?” he asked.

“You do now,” I said. “I’m Alexandra; my friends call me Lexy.”

“Sexy, Lexy,” he said and laughed. “I’m Jamie.”

“Never heard that one before.” I turned toward the bartender and begged with my eyes.

“I’ll buy,” Jamie said. “I was a tool to say that.”

“Really?” I asked with too much enthusiasm. “Two Amstel Lights.” I swept my hand toward Mads who was chatting up a buff blonde.” My roommate is over there.”

“I’ll buy if you promise to come back after you give your friend her beer.” His smile nearly blinded me. I dragged my tongue over my teeth and prayed there weren’t any remnants of the popcorn I’d eaten at work. Jamie raised his arm and the bartender bee-lined. “Two Amstel Lights,” he said. “Put it on my tab.”

“Be right back.” I sashayed figuring he was checking out my ass. “Here,” I said handing the bottle over.

“Lexy, do you remember Ryan from the Hamptons this summer?” She loved playing the ‘do you know’ game. “Well, this is his cousin, Mike.”

“Cool,” I said. “Nice to meet you.” I shook his hand. I’d learned the hard way she freaked if you so much as smiled at a guy she was working over. “I’ll be at the bar if you need me.”

As I passed the red checkered, free pasta table, my stomach rumbled. I piled a plate with noodles with two garlic bread pieces teetering on the edge. As I eased onto the barstool, the bread bounced to the floor.

“Whoops,” I said. My face heated.

“I’ll grab more,” he said. “I was going to eat anyway.” He stood and turned. “I love a girl who can eat.”

Jamie returned with two plates. One for his pasta and one piled with bread.

“Are you from the city?” I asked, another beer miraculously appeared in front of me.

“I’m from Columbus,” he said. “Ohio.” He chewed with his mouth closed which I liked. His arm brushed against mine, and my stomach tingled. “I’m in a training program at Merrill Lynch.” He swept a napkin over his lips. “It’s a great opportunity but a real grind.”

After we finished eating, I glanced at my watch.

“I’m going to head home,” I said.

“Me too. Wall Street beckons early.” He smiled. An awkward moment dangled in the air.

“Can I get your number?” he asked as he signed the charge slip. I jotted my digits on a napkin which he slipped it in his pocket. We edged away from the bar and I headed toward Mads while he engaged in a few bro hugs and back slaps on his way out. “I’ll meet you at home,” I said in passing so not to give her a chance to beg. As I walked the few blocks home, a sense of hope tingled through my body.

The next morning, I tugged my underpants out from my butt cheek as I hovered over the coffee maker waiting for it to brew.

“Morning.”

I swung around. A guy approached from the bedroom. The exact guy Mads had been talking to at the bar. I yanked my shirt over my crotch and pressed against the edge of the Formica.

“Mike,” he said. “We met last night.” He started opening cabinets until he found a mug. “Is it brewed yet? I gotta roll.”

“Hey.” Miss ethereal floated in wearing a white satin negligée. I’d never seen anyone wear such fancy sleeping garments until I met Mads. As if there wasn’t a man lurking in our kitchen, she pulled a mug from the cabinet and poured herself some coffee. Mike wrapped his arm around her shoulder.

“Fun night,” he said. “Thanks for having me.” He took a swig of black coffee, dumped the rest in the sink and strolled out the door.

“What the hell?” I said with my mouth agape.

“That’s what happens when you leave me alone in a bar,” she said as though it was my fault. “He had the biggest sausage. I’m so sore.”


A native New Yorker and captivating storyteller with a flair for embellishment, Jennifer Irwin currently resides in Los Angeles with two cats, a dog, and her boyfriend. After earning her BA in Cinema from Denison University, she worked in advertising and marketing raised three boys, and ultimately became a certified Pilates instructor. While she has written screenplays and short stories since her college days, A Dress the Color of the Sky is her first novel.

The Perfect Day

by John Taylor

The other day, I was invited to a very dear friend’s wedding. At 48, I don’t go to many weddings anymore, but seriously, I love weddings, and I don’t say that with any sense of irony or sarcasm or even humor. Weddings are awesome. Weddings are a terrific party. And more than that, weddings are one of the last bastions of ancient tradition in an American culture devoid of customs and a sense of connection to the past. I love the ceremony, the vows and the ritual that underlies every part of it. Weddings are the ultimate “uniter” (to get all George Bush on you) in a society that almost embraces its divisiveness; it uses traditions as old as human civilization to unite two different families, two sets of friends and two souls into one.

And you get to eat and drink on someone else’s dime.

It was, as all brides desire, The Perfect Day. The bridesmaids were perfectly beautiful in their perfectly tailored dresses. The Bride was perfectly gorgeous and glowed like a bride, while the groom, though admittedly bearing the pall of a man ready to blow chow, looked perfectly studly in his Ricky Ricardo tuxedo. The ceremony was perfect, as two people so obviously and madly in love with one another made their vows of devotion.

Love, you see, is a commitment to a person, while marriage is a commitment to a process. The promises we make in a wedding ceremony are our way of saying, “Look, I love you and you make me happy and I want to feel this way for the rest of my life, so here’s what I’m willing to do to make that happen.” So we make vows. We vow to honor, to cherish, to respect both our identities as individuals and as a couple. We commit not just to one another, but to a set of ideas that time has proven will help nurture a lasting relationship – one that prevails through sickness, poor times and the worst life has to offer, until freaking death.

And so, the perfect day continued. The food was perfect. The beef was perfectly beefy and the chicken was perfectly chickeny. The cake was perfectly delicious, the wine flowed perfectly and when “We Are Family” blared from the DJ’s speakers, everyone hit the dance floor in perfect unison. And when the bride and groom whisked away to their perfect honeymoon spot, they did so under a shower of perfectly spherical bubbles blown by the guests. It was…perfect.

I was solo that night, as my Beleaguered Wife drew the short straw when the babysitter flaked out an hour before the event. Though she left the porch light on, the inside was completely dark, so I stood at the entry and took off my shoes and socks so I would be quiet as I walked across the hardwood floors to the kitchen. No sooner had I started tip toeing than I stepped directly in a warm, mucoidal substance, the viscosity and soft-chunky texture of which could only be dog vomit. So as not to smear the Cocker Spaniel effluent all over the living room, I hopped on one foot across the floor towards the kitchen to get a rag. On my third hop, I landed directly on an up-turned 3×4 inch House Builder Barbie Block, shooting a searing, Roman crucifixion-style pain blast from my arch to my frontal lobe. In an effort not to wake the family, I lunged face-first into the couch and screamed into the pillow like the three-year-old girl who left the block so inopportunely placed in my path.

As my eyes started adjusting to the darkness, I could see that in fact the whole living room looked like Hurricane Katrina had landed at Toys r’ Us, so I decided not to risk the potential mine field to the kitchen. I took my shirt off, cleaned the bile and half-digested chunks of Hap-E-Hound Dog Food off my foot with it, and threw it in the general direction of the laundry room. Hey, that’s what washing machines are for.

I had taken a small, wrapped truffle from the wedding and was going to leave it on my three-year-old’s nightstand, because she just goes crazy-ass happy over that sort of thing, so I made my way down the hall to her room. The kids had been sick, because kids are sick EVERY DAY, so I could hear that the humidifier was running in their room. When I slowly opened the door, I was greeted by the putrescent smell of a diaper that my Beleaguered Wife had most probably forgotten to throw out in the sheer anarchy of trying to put two kids to bed. Combined with the warm, moist air of the humidifier, the smell showered on me like a fecal monsoon, and had I not developed an iron clad gag reflex through years of having a nurse as a wife (“You want to know the grossest thing I saw today??”), I would surely have joined the dog in downloading the entire contents of my stomach. Holding my breath, I quietly placed the truffle next to my daughter’s bed, grabbed the guilty diaper, threw it the hall bathroom and shut the door on it like so much radioactive waste. Note To Self: Take Morning Pee in Master Bath.

I opened the door to my room to find the wife dead asleep on the bed, the covers pulled over to her side. All the covers. My side was barren like the Sahara, her side was all cozy like..like..like when your wife takes all the damn covers. I slipped off my pants and crawled in, performing the timeless ritual of Repossessing My Fair Share of the Blankets Without Waking The Wife. Finally and safely ensconced, I curled up next to her and listened to her breathe for a while, my grown-up lullaby for the past ten years.

“I do,” I whispered, though I knew she was sleeping. “I do.”


John Taylor has been writing about wine since 2012, but his meanderings on life began way before that. Born and raised in San Diego, California, John moved to Los Angeles in 1982 to pursue dreams of screenwriting and filmmaking. John’s writing career started in earnest at this point with blogs, essays and short stories appearing in various publications. John began working full time in the wine industry in 2011, and is currently the Director of Consumer Sales for a winery based in Napa Valley. He’s a Certified Sommelier and WSET Level 2. In May of 2017, be completed his first full-length novel, The Flight of The Dolphin, and is currently at work on novel version of Pairs With: Life.

Life After Debt

by Derek Hamilton

As of this week, I’m officially debt free. As a millennial, just saying that feels unnatural.

I must have logged into my student loan account three times per day this week to be greeted by the “Congratulations!” zero-balance notification. It’s a celebration GIF that makes confetti rain down on my screen. I don’t get any satisfaction from it, so that’s not why I keep checking my non-existent balance. I keep logging in because I’m afraid the bills are going to somehow re-materialize on my account.

It’s like I’ve become so accustomed to student loan dread that I’m filling the void with my own fabricated version of the anxiety it caused. It’s debt-related PTSD.

The journey started at the low point that all new grads experience: tallying up the bills and realizing what I’d gotten myself into at the behest of my teachers, family members, and even my own overly-idealistic self.

Student loans felt like an anchor. They felt like a prison. They felt like a tombstone. Here lies: my financial stability, and all hope of establishing personal wealth. It was like being in an abusive relationship – where there was a domestic disturbance every time my paycheck was deposited.

Throughout my repayment process the past five years, I realize that I became financially anorexic. Even now, knowing I’m in the clear – it’s incredibly difficult to splurge or treat myself to anything. I’m such a fiscal fascist that I can’t even justify my own celebration. After years of practice, I can tactfully convince myself to avoid any non-essential purchase.

The only glimmer of assurance in this story is that I couldn’t have done this without my wife. She had her own set of student loans that needed to be addressed as well, so the threat was on both of us. We’ve kept a running tab in our minds of everything else we could have spent this money on. It has been painfully unmistakable to us.

Paid in full. That’s the only concept we’ve been focusing on since we graduated. Now that our student loans are gone, we’re finding ourselves becoming more and more debt averse. We don’t even want to purchase a home unless it’s with savings and we pay for it outright. We’ve already experienced the smothering curse of debt.

We have drunk from that cup, my friends, and it is bitter.

We keep asking ourselves how we feel about all of this, but we still don’t know what to make of it. It’s insane that we’ve joined the minority of Americans who have paid back their student loans without defaulting. It’s sickening to think that we’ve paid off the equivalent of a 30-year mortgage in five years and have (basically) nothing to show for it. We know it’s for the best. We know we did the right thing. We know we finally achieved what we set out to do – but we don’t feel any relief from it right now.

Paying back student loans is a personal victory that has all of the symptoms of an absolute defeat.


Derek Hamilton is a writer, musician, voiceover talent, and self-proclaimed nerd from Northeast Ohio. He’s a Columbia College Chicago alumni, a published poet, and currently works as a streaming media producer. You can find more of his work at derekhamiltonedits.com