Never Again

by John M. Carlson

I really can’t afford to be here! Rick thought, as he sat down at his favorite table in his favorite restaurant.

Indeed, he knew he’d be lucky if he could avoid having to go back onto his college ramen diet. At the same time, though, he wanted to have a nice lunch to celebrate the fact that his divorce was now final. Of course, there was the small matter of alimony (which was why he’d probably be eating a diet dominated by ramen soon). But the miserably unhappy marriage itself was ended, and he was free to move on.

He sat, thinking of the marriage that had just ended. Never again, he thought. I’m done with relationships!

Of course, he’d said “never again” when his last two relationships had ended. But this time he meant “never again” when he said “never again.”

Indeed, he thought, it might be best if no one had relationships. Based on what he saw with his family and friends, relationships more often than not seemed to end badly for all concerned. A bitter divorce if one got married. Or if one was only dating there would be a vitriolic breakup. But maybe he was just cynical.

He now remembered back to when he was 12. Back then, relationships seemed so crazy. Then, he became a teenager…and suddenly the most important thing imaginable was having a girlfriend. Relationships remained hugely important even to the present day, even though he’d learned from bitter experience that today’s relationship was tomorrow’s expensive trip to divorce court.

I understood something at twelve that I think I forgot: how crazy relationships are! he thought.

Oh, well. At least, his last relationship was finished, and he’d never, ever, ever have a relationship again.

***

After lunch, Rick headed back to his apartment. A woman was moving into an apartment down the hall from his. She was, Rick noted, very beautiful.

“Hi!” she said. “I’m Danielle!” She smiled a smile that absolutely glowed.

Rick introduced himself. They chatted a couple of minutes. Rick could sense she was interested in him. Very interested.

A few minutes later, Rick headed down to his apartment. All he could think about was Danielle.


John M. Carlson lives in the Seattle area. His stories have appeared in a variety of online publications. More of his work can be seen on his website.

Inkling To A Stranger

by Heather Bellinger

Light curves like a question mark
as it enters a stranger’s mouth.

It dives, like a confident downstroke,
and commas to kiss the tongue.

It soothes the throat with assonance,
alliteration, drops ellipses of rhyme,
reminding him he’s more than a forlorn epithet.


Heather Bellinger is a recent Corban University graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in English. She enjoys writing poetry of all sorts, flash fiction, and plays, and can be found roaming around in bookstores, theatres, or her kitchen pantry as she attempts another British dessert. She plans to continue writing as she pursues teaching, graduate school, and theatre.

One Night At Barry’s Nightclub

by John Grey

I was intrigued by
an asymmetrical surface
shaped by the quirks
of ancestral DNA.

A combination of forehead,
cheeks, ears, nose, mouth
and chin
with a neck base,
and bordered by long brown locks.

It operated with some kind
of hinge mechanism,
because it proved capable
of both looking in my direction
and then turning completely away.

The back view
was smooth, covered over,
and far less detailed.
It wasn’t capable of smiling.
Or of much beyond a resounding “No.”


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Midwest Quarterly, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in South Florida Poetry Journal, Hawaii Review and the Dunes Review.

My Ticking Clock

by Salma A. Razak

It ticks, then talks. Reaps then sow.
Breathes when borrowed. And lives at the batteries he offers.
Counts the twelve hours as twenty four.
Allows him to see it glow. Wonders when it will grow.
But then again, it’s just a clock.
Always doing its tricks and then talks.
Living in batteries and hopes.
Waiting for the touch from his soul. And I fix it when it stops.
Watch it leak when it develops a hole.
It may be old but it’s strong.
It must be worn out but it’s proud to survive this long.
He gave me suggestions though. When he saw it in its cracked form.
Ideas that makes it whole.
Encouraging me to create for it a voice.
“Trick then talk,” whispers this old worn clock.
“Give me a voice, to speak to this boy. Make this hope grow and allow me to glow. For I want to roar even when my voice is small. Allow me to talk. Allow him to know.”

Tick and tock. That is the sound it spoke once the boy saw it in its new form.
It clicked and then spoke, when he focused on its voice. My eyes fixed on his, waiting for his respond. Knowing that my clock has chosen him to be its eternal hope.


Salma A. Razak is a day job customer service agent and an owl writer during her free time. A book reviewer and a writer of romance genre that enjoys combing other genres along her stories. She enjoys reading books, Manga and listening to musics that has meaning to it. Although she’s the shy type, she loves to communicate.

Master of Time

by J. Lee Strickland

Steven mastered time travel. He mastered the brutal simplicity of it. There is only one reason to travel into the past, and that is to change it. There is only one reason to travel into the future, and that is to determine it. He started with the past, with his first wife.
He eliminated her.

He didn’t kill her. He simply erased their marriage. To be certain of the effect, he went so far as to remove certain preconditions to that matrimony, like their attendance at the same high school, the senior prom and those embarrassing photos. Sure, there might still be some someone in the world with a past like hers, even a name like hers, but the tangle of their lives together was gone as surely as if it never occurred. It was a much more satisfying separation than divorce had ever been. The residue that had infected his relationships, his life after that divorce, the recursive torment of what might have been, all that was gone.

His second wife was a more delicate operation. He found that there are limits to what one can change when one travels into the past. One cannot recover what fate has erased. Fate had erased his second wife.

He cured her of the horrible blood disease that had debilitated her, that had robbed her of her beautiful smile, that had wasted her voluptuous body, that had finally killed her. He arranged instead for her to die in a shocking, freak accident at the exact day and hour that fate had ordained. At least she didn’t suffer. He could remember her healthy, robust and happy, loving and being loved, until the last instant.

He was tempted to branch out, to correct the difficulties of a few others, but the past is a delicate fabric, and he had already changed much.

He moved his focus to the future, at first a much more simplistic, almost cartoonish landscape populated with vague stick figures who only gained flesh once one gave them close attention. He found a small cottage in a country setting where he would spend his advanced old age. He contrived that he would be fit and engaged. His mind would be sharp and his fingers still nimble. He lined up some neighbors, not too close, who would be helpful, but respectful. He negotiated with Fate to be kind.

He surveyed his work from the wooden chair in the kitchen of his third-floor apartment and felt pleased.

The phone rang.

“Steven, it’s Betty.”
“Betty who?”
“Don’t be an asshole, Steven. Why do you always have to be an asshole? We’re not married anymore, so just cut the shit.”
“You must have the wrong number,” he said.

He replaced the phone in its cradle. As an afterthought, he pulled the wire from the back of the phone. He gazed out the kitchen window, past the rusted fire escape, across the brick-strewn, vacant lot, at a line of stunted vegetation on the far edge. He thought about his cottage, his diffident neighbors.


J. Lee Strickland is a freelance writer living in upstate New York. In addition to fiction, he has written on the subjects of rural living, modern homesteading and voluntary simplicity. He is a member of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild and served as a judge for the 2015 and 2016 storySouth Million Writers Awards. He recently learned that he is short-listed for the Anne LaBastille Memorial Writers Residency, and now spends his time waiting for the other shoe to drop. His sorely neglected website, including a blog and links to some online works, can be found at: https://jleestrickland.wordpress.com/