The Spider Trap by Luke Beling

The Spider Trap

By Luke Beling

The spider’s black hairy legs looked like a man covered in bearskin. Dr. Pretorius
pushed his eye into the microscope, then pulled back to find the spider again as though
revelation slipped from being too close or too far from the lense. Whatever lay inside
this insect kept a prayer for Billy, waiting in anguish, subdued by pain, then drugs. 
Trina, Billy’s mother, tried to warn Billy a few weeks prior. “It would be prudent to
take a local or hire a guide. Please, Billy, You’re all I have left.”
But Trina’s tears and shrill voice weren’t enough. 
“You’re missing the point, Mother. The adventure is in the unknown. Fear is what
living is all about.” 
Billy wanted to follow the river like a man unamused by progress. But Trina said if
he had any love in his heart, he’d take a map. 
The vines were the worst of it. They crisscrossed like snakes, thick-skinned
terrors, suffocating any hint of a trail. He thanked Trina under his breath as he found his
maiden outpost under a moon that kept a little less than a match stick’s offering of light.
If the overgrowth and the darkness had been his only foe, he might have found his
nerve, but the rodents, insects, and bats screamed a white noise that kept him up like
the replaying of a horror movie. 
Billy had been a city mouse for years now. At first, those bright lights were
electrifying. Bursts of energy crammed into a void a quarter filled by small-town silent
nights in the palm of the ocean. The deep pang in Billy’s stomach brought him to the big
city in search of recognition, to make a name for himself. If he’d stayed home, he
would’ve always been known as Tom’s boy, walked on a salt line, and dressed in

clothing too big. But soon enough, the thrill of the concrete sky became a dull drum
beating. Billy found black garbage bags worked best to block out the world spinning
outside. The noise was harder to escape. So he bought a sound machine, plugged it
into a giant set of speakers, and turned it on from sunset to sunrise. A neighbor knocked
on Billy’s door one evening and asked him if there was a different noise setting as the
sound of waves brought back flashes of a loved one’s death in a tsunami.
When Billy’s father, Tom, died, Billy found it necessary and easy to reverse. He
buried Tom behind the dunes and took the clothing that now fit him perfectly. 
“To find life is to find what is missing.”
The mantra held Tom until it couldn’t anymore; until his way out was a fallen in
cave. Tom’s ability to muster the courage to venture out on what felt a little less than a
whim of hope was missing. Now that silent note was Billy’s. And of all things, death had
become the hand to push him forward.
They’d spoken about the journey since Billy was a boy, that they’d take it together
one day. If the science was true, it hardly mattered. Tom didn’t think it was. Otherwise,
he might not have died.
“I bet those spiders are in a dark hole or under rocks or made their home in the
highest tree.” 
“I hardly think so, Son. But it’s worth a shot, I guess.” 
Now all the jungle sounds in the background made Billy wish for honking cars,
drunkards on pavements, and airplanes carrying business people. The following day,
first light kept Billy occupied with a girl he’d fancied at a Christmas party in the city. He
was everything he wished he’d been, offering her a drink, spraying compliments like a

garden hose. Then, moments before a tender hand, a cruel pain set his feet on razor
blades. He jumped as though she was his mother, ten stories out the window to an
abrupt ending in blood-sucking leeches swallowing the life from his veins. The ground
was a wet marsh teaming with a string of heads on bodies that looked rather pleased
with his company. He thought the river might suit him best to find his way from there as
though the map was compliant with the feeding thieves. Billy had followed the water
countless times before, noting every bend and shallow crossing from behind his
computer screen on Google Maps. He wondered if the panic he felt could bring it on,
could send him the way his father went and his father’s father before that. But then he
considered his courage. Genetics may have been their shared detriment, but the
bravery to rewrite his hereditary course existed far outside his veins.
The first bit of ankle-deep water reassured Billy. He’d guessed three more sharp
turns after that, and then the trees would give way to an area where he’d hoped to find
the spiders spinning their webs. He’d learned little about them, only that their habitat
was difficult to spot.
Now it seemed strange to Billy that he came with such bare knowledge. When
Trina caught him unprepared, he barked back at her, “Its legs are red. How difficult
could one be to find?” 
Now everything looked red, like a glaze of unconscious torment. Perhaps it’s why
the spiders chose to hide in this area, Billy thought, embarrassed in front of a silent

The sun began to lose its strength, and the red became redder. Finally, he’d
arrived at the end of the trail and, for good measure, took the map out of his back
pocket to confirm his conclusion. 
The light was fair enough to find a dry bed on banana leaves, but any hunt would
shortly end in darkness, and even if he were to bag one, he wondered how long in a box
before it gave up breathing.
Billy’s eyes closed to thoughts of his father and regrets about not leaving the city
sooner. Perhaps Tom would still be around if they’d taken this trip. It certainly wasn’t a
guarantee, more like a wive’s tale recently helped by science. And Tom’s death was a
shooting star, hardly apparent on a night spent searching for one. Once Billy heard that
his father’s eyes had gone skew, tongue trapped to the top of his mouth, an MRI wasn’t
necessary to fill in the blanks. Billy booked a one-way ticket out of the city and guessed
Tom would take his final breath when the fasten seat-belt sign went off. With Tom gone
and no siblings or uncles and aunts, the rare disease would look to attach to Billy before
the hair on top of his head began receding. 
It wasn’t as though Billy’s life was a charged engine of fire that he hoped would
burn until infinity. Even death was a kind stranger he felt fine meeting one day. But he
cringed at images of his eyes going crooked. Or his body tightening like a ball of string
spun for a final garment. He fell asleep with these images, unaware of those former
tones that only yesterday held him in a panic room.
The red was softer in the morning light, but still a trial to find tiny legs in all of it.
He tried to recall all the spider webs he’d seen, like memories of his grandfather’s head
on which he used to bounce balls. He figured they needed water like any other living

creature, and this particular kind liked lizards, that much he’d read. He pulled a small
wooden box out of his backpack. It had a type of wood that was frail, and if any bit of
rain touched it, it would bend and eventually break. A sliding piece moved up and down
on hinges, up by using his fingertips, down by the slightest weight in the center. He’d
picked it up at a local market in the capital city on his first night. 
“Give me your best spider trap I can carry in a backpack.” 
Billy half-expected something remote-controlled or battery-powered, but the
vendor was sure as the sweat under his pits: 
“This is the most sophisticated spider trap in our country. Only the best hunters
use this.” 
There was something about the smell of the wood that drew the creatures in.
“So do I put some kind of bait inside and then just wait for one to walk in?” 
“No, no. Just leave the door open, and they’ll walk in on their own. The lure is the
smell of the wood.” 
Billy set the trap up against the back of a large palm tree, facing the river. At first,
he hid from it as though he were trying to catch a cheetah, but then he realized spiders
don’t mind the presence of humans too much. So he set a large leaf next to it, made a
cozy sitting spot, and watched and waited like a boy on Christmas morning. When he
could make out the sun directly overhead through the peeping holes of the fauna’s
protection, everything was red again. Not a moment went by without his eyes wide on
the edge of uncovering something so remarkable. He wondered with all this red if he
ought to wait for two, two that looked a little different.

The dark afternoon clouds sent Billy searching for cover. He’d seen a small cave
and thought it suitable for keeping dry for a short while. 
As thunder rolled across the sky, then a quick flash to brighten all the red, Billy
caught a glimpse of what he thought was an eight-legged hairy prize entering the trap.
He left the cave, streams cracking over his head. He assumed his former hiding place.
Then as the spider walked into the center, the trapdoor came crashing down behind it.
Billy’s stomach rose like a helium balloon, pulling the rest of him from the mud.
He held his eyes as well as he could over a small keyhole opening, and the red legs
made him giddy. 
The pools at his feet made a floating device out of his food supply and raingear,
afterthoughts compared to the showpiece now in hand. The former shallow crossings
left him wading water up to his chest as he backtracked with no reason for resting.
Everything was attached to his shoulders. Except for the little trap-box he held in the sky
like an offering to a rain god. When the night fell upon him, he hurried, listening for the
river, keeping its course, watching yellow blinking eyes reflect off its mirror surface. His
feet looked like a boxer moving in and out of trouble, carried by pumping legs full of
blood, unwilling to settle at their former pace. Billy found it strange after a five-round
fight with the darkness that the morning light revealed the same familiar red. He hadn’t
seen it that way before, now minutes away from his starting point.  
Unbeknownst to Billy, three days before, Trina inhaled a surge of fear and hired a
guide to bring her to Billy’s beginning. 
“Best, we wait here for him. If he’s not out in two days, we’ll go in looking for him.
The jungle is a dangerous place.” 

The guide’s words didn’t find a peaceful place in her, but her feet were shaky and
unsure of almost everything, so she nodded. They made a camp at the first crossing
and sat on their heels, watching the trees for any movement bigger than a bird or
“What’s that?” She shot up to her feet, powering through her arthritis. 
“It looks too clumsy to be a jaguar.” 
Trina’s voice shrilled across the river like an alarm before light. 
The leaves stilled. Billy’s ponderous stamping fell quiet. He put his box on the
ground, safely next to his feet. 
“Momma. Momma. Is that you?” 
Billy half-thought the red had colored his mind convincing him of sounds that
weren’t apparent. But Trina kept on.
“It looks like it’s coming our way. Wait here, Miss Trina.” 
The guide put his arm up to stop her progress. 
Billy came shooting out of a far opening, his face covered in mud. 
“I found it, Mom. I found it!” 
Trina broke the fleshly guard, ran towards the water, and extended her hands to
pull him up. 
“Take this.” 
He handed her the box and used the sludge as a grip to put his soles flat again. 

The camp felt like a palace to Billy as his shoulders dropped and his blood
refrained from its bubbling over. 
“Can you believe it, Mother? I found it. I only wish it had been sooner.”
It had always been just a family myth, told by fathers to sons across generations.
But now, the sight of it, or perhaps Billy, brought surfaced buried hope in Trina. ”Can I
take a look?” 
“Yes, just don’t lift the entry door. There’s a small opening on the top.” 
She pressed her eye against a tiny hole in the strange-smelling wood. 
“Aren’t those red legs beautiful?” 
She quickly pulled away from it, then forward again using her other eye. 
“Billy, what color is this overcoat I’m wearing?” 
His giddy face went blank.
“Well, I guess it’s red.” 
“And what about your shirt?” 
He looked at his familiar blue cotton piece, the only one he’d packed. He yanked
the box from her hands. 
“It’s begun, Billy. There’s still time.” 
Billy stared into the small opening. Red everywhere. He released the door. The
spider flung to his face. Its fangs drove into his cheeks. Billy screamed as the spider ran
down his face and into his hands.
Trina’s guide loaded his palm-leafed hand and came down on the spider fly-
swatter like, “That’s the most dangerous creature in our jungle!” He shouted.
Billy sidestepped and slung the spider back into the box. 

His face went gaunt, holding forward rolling eyes. The trap hit the ground, Billy
tumbling with arrested nerves. 
“We must get him to the hospital immediately, Miss Trina.” 
Trina squeezed the guide’s hand. “Is he going to die? Is my baby boy going to

Photo by Eriks Abzinovs on

Luke Beling is a South African-born author and singer-songwriter. He began his songwriting and writing journey after settling in a small rural town in Kentucky, sharing life with storytellers and musicians who helped hone and direct his creativity. He left Kentucky 7 years later and began traveling the world. Beling grew up listening to music from the 60s and 70s, influenced by the records his father played and the surrounding struggle of black South Africa, the melodies of Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, Johnny Clegg, and Miriam Makeba. Likewise, as a twenty-something, he developed a fond taste for subversive literature, fiction defending the outcast, and the grit of the human spirit, authors like Vonnegut, Steinbeck, and Dostoyevsky. Everyday stories borne from world wandering and the belief in the goodness of humanity, Beling’s music and writing are deep pockets of hope, whispers of joy blown in by a wild wind.

James Roth, an English Language Fellow in the U.S. State Department’s EFL Program, is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. His work has appeared in several magazines and journals. His first novel, “The Opium Addict,” is forthcoming. He has taught in Japan, China, Jordan, and Zimbabwe.


Two Poems by Josh Logue

12 Ways of Looking at the Being that Lives Inside My Daughter
In the mornings,
she just stares
at her cereal.
She doesn’t breathe
like she used to.
It inhales for her,
and exhales,
like a pump.
I kissed her forehead
and felt it move
under her skin.
She asked me,
“Papa, what is this?”
and held up
her most treasured possession:
a photo of us
laughing at the beach.
Her voice sounds
like your voices sounds
when you hear
a recording of yourself.
“That’s us,”
I told her.
“At the beach.
Don’t you remember?”
“What is the beach?” she asked.
I hugged her,
and she just stood there
without moving.

In my embrace, it felt suddenly like
she had too many arms,
but when I stumbled back,
it was just her,
same as always,
but dead behind the eyes.
When her skin started peeling
and sloughing off,
exposing the blue-black membrane underneath,
I hid in the bathroom,
hands clamped over my ears,
trying to muffle her agonized wails.
Quiet now.
I peek out
into the hall.
A translucent film has formed
over her bedroom door,
gluing it shut, and,
though I spent the night
wracking my memory,
I cannot for the life of me recall
what we found so funny
that day at the beach.

We’re Dealing with a Lot Right Now
We are all saddened to hear, in the very near future,
via the global neural news feed,
beamed garishly over building facades
and against the backs of our eyelids,
that Ben Affleck has turned into a pillar of salt.
This is perplexing, say the biblical scholars,
without looking up from their yellowing, expired e-readers.
To where must he have been fleeing,
and from what divine immolation?
Brentwood is fine.
This is intriguing, say the scientists,
distorted behind their stained beakers.
Thermodynamically it tracks,
but catalytically, it is quite troubling.
This makes perfect sense, say the gossip writers.
Did you see him ogle J-Lo’s daughter?
“But that’s not even how the story—” the bible scholars reply,
“Oh… never mind.”
Me? I have nothing to say.
The rest of them, enticed by the mystery,
pulled like screaming virgins to the volcano of an explanation,
have lost sight of the salt.
Of the gleaming, six-foot, four-inch tower of you.
Of your simple, essential objecthood.
And I am overcome; overwhelmed
by this singular, driving desire,
this impossible urge
to lick you,
top to bottom,
inch by inch,
with an endless tongue
and oceans of saliva,
like God licked the world.

Photo by Eriks Abzinovs on

Josh Logue is a writer based out of New York. His work has previously appeared in Kugelmass and Aphelion.

Creative Nonfiction

Zen, Miles Davis, and the Dysfunctional Japanese Family by James Roth

Zen, Miles Davis, and the Dysfunctional Japanese Family

By James Roth

Several years ago on Tuesday afternoons I took a train from Akita to Noshiro, on the
northeastern coast of Japan, to teach an English conversation class at the regional offices of
Tohoku Denryoku, a power company. Akita, a city with a population of a little less than three
hundred thousand, is the capital of the prefecture of the same name, and Noshiro, the second
largest city, has a population of about sixty thousand.
This is rural Japan, an agricultural region famous for its rice. The slogan for Akita
Komachi, the local rice, famous throughout Japan, is “The rice that beautiful women are
raised on.” The abundance of clean water and lack of a scorching summer sun contribute to
the quality of the rice, while the lack of sunshine during the winter months, locals believe,
contributes to the fair complexions of the women; hence their beauty. (This winter darkness
also might have contributed, in the eighties, to the highest suicide rates in Japan, mostly
among the elderly, who moved in with their children and saw themselves as a burden on the
family. The government has since then addressed the problem, and the suicide rate has
When I was going to Tohoku Denryoku to teach, I was new to Japan, and the trip
offered me the opportunity to experience the country the way Westerners in Tokyo, Osaka,
and Kyoto rarely do, if they travel to the Tohoku region at all. The train was diesel electric

and passed fields of rice that stretched to the edges of the western horizon before rising up
into the hills, where there were stands of pines, vegetable gardens, apple orchards, and little
black ponds in which women floated around in wooden tubs harvesting something from the
surface. What, I had, at the time, no idea. Now and then the train passed a Shinto shrine
tucked away in the pines. They were all rather austere and weather-beaten; paper, like tails
from a kite, hung from the tori. Crossing the tracks now and then were narrow lanes that
flowed along the contour of the land with the naturalness of a mountain brook.
After passing through this bucolic countryside for about a month, I decided I would
like to do more than experience it as a painting that swept past the window of the train once a
week. I bought a road bicycle. On weekends I went cycling. On several occasions I headed
north, using the rail-line as a reference. (At this time there were no GPSes.) This means of
navigating had its surprises, always pleasant ones, such as heading up a valley on a paved
road, only to find that it came to an end at a hamlet of traditional thatched roof farm houses, a
rare sight even in rural Akita prefecture.
Once I stayed on the highway near the rail-line and entered the village of Yamamoto,
north of Noshiro, and area that was unfamiliar to me, but the village was not. It was like
others I had ridden through: simple homes of wood with corrugated metal roofs, flower and
vegetable gardens out front, and along the main street a bicycle shop and several liquor and
tobacco stores, which often outnumbered the supermarkets. There was usually one
supermarket, one bank, and one post office.
In Yamamoto a Buddhist temple in the middle of town caught my attention. The
shadows of cedars on the temple’s grounds cast very dark, cool, and inviting shadows. A
flagstone pat led through the cedars to the entrance of the temple, passing under an imposing
wooden gate in which there were carvings of figures that had frightening expressions–jagged

teeth and fiery eyes. I had no idea what any of this represented, only that it had nothing to do
with any religion I was familiar with. This piqued my interest, the satanistic motif–at least to
me–and I proceeded along the path, coming to the temple’s entrance. The doors were open.
My ignorance of objects related to Buddhism made me think think that I was seeing
things imbued with great spiritual importance: a brass figure of the Buddha surrounded by
flames, incense burners, a bell hanging from a thick rope, scrolls, a taiko drum, and
photographs of deceased priests. The one thing that was immediately understandable was a
wooden box at my feet that solicited offerings.
Just then someone broke the mystery of it all by calling out, “Hello!”
Standing off to my side was a man about my age—mid-thirties, dressed in jeans and a
Los Angeles Lakers T-shirt. His hair was cut short, Buddhist priest style.
“The temple is very beautiful,” I said.
He shrugged modestly.
“What does all this mean?” I asked.
He smiled. “All religion have relics,” he said. “Doesn’t the Catholic Church?
Meaning? Why explain it? My name is Yamamoto.”
We shook hands. He had an unusually strong handshake for a Japanese man, who
seem to think a firm grip is rude.
“So the town is named after you?” I said.
He let out a cynical laugh. “Yes,” he said. “My ancestors are from here for many
hundred years.”
I had no idea if he was joking or being truthful. “You’re cycling?” he asked, looking at
my tight, Lycra shorts. “Why don’t you take a rest in my home? My wife prepare for you
fresh melon.”

I could hardly resist this invitation, both the melon and the chance to see how a
Buddhist priest lived.
He showed me past a well, where some plastic buckets were lined up on a stone
wall—there seemed to be meaning in this, too—and we came to the entrance of his home,
which was attached to the temple. Like so many Japanese homes, it was a sprawling,
patched together building, two stories, made of sea green fiberglass siding, a red metal roof,
and some wood trim. It looked like it had been added onto about every ten or fifteen years.
“Please,” he said.
I stepped into the genkan—an area where shoes and umbrellas are kept—and took off
my cycling shoes and stepped up onto the tatami mat floor. The floors of Japanese homes are
all six or ten inches above the floor of the genakan.
Yamamoto showed me down a long corridor to a living room which opened out onto a
garden. In the garden there was a small pond in which koi of various colors swam and pines,
maples, and cherry trees. In a corner was a large, moss-covered stone. A pleasant gurgling of
water was coming from the flow of water into the pond. The garden was so Japanese. It was
if what I’d imagined a Japanese garden was had actually merged with the reality of one, a rare
event, the merging of the two.
“I like your garden,” I said.
“That!” he said. “Have you been to Kyoto?”
I told him that except for changing planes in Tokyo I hadn’t been out of Akita
He looked at me in disbelief. “There are gardens in Kyoto. Akita is a country area,”
he said, a bit disdainfully.
“Akita is all I know,” I said, “And I like it. It hasn’t been invaded by tourists.”

“Stay here for a few years and you not think that,” he said. “I have to live here. I am
my father’s son. I must living here.”
We were now at a table, sitting on cushions, called zabutons. He rapped his knuckles
on the table, and a moment later a woman in a white apron appeared at a door that led, I
assumed, to a kitchen. Seeing me, she knelt down on the tatami and bowed forward, almost
touching her forehead to the mats.
“My wife Kumiko,” Yamamoto said.
I’d thought that she was his housekeeper. I smiled; she wouldn’t meet my eyes, only
responded with a restrained nod.
Yamamoto said something to her, and she rose, brushing off her knees, and returned
to the kitchen.
He then proceeded to tell me about himself. He’d spent several years in Los Angeles
teaching Zen Buddhism. On Friday and Saturday nights he’d played jazz trumpet at a club in
Malibu. He stood and went to a nearby chest and returned with a photo of himself playing the
trumpet in a smoke-filled night club, the outlines of some Western faces appearing like
ghosts behind him.
Kumiko entered the room again carrying a tray, on which rested a large bottle of Kirin
beer and two small glasses. She set the tray on the table. Yamamoto took the beer and glasses
and filled them and pushed a glass toward me.
“Please,” he said.
“I’m cycling,” I said. “Tea is fine. And some melon.”
“Oh, yes,” he said. He said something to Kumiko, and she brought in a plate of
watermelon, the rind cut off, the melon cut into star shapes.
At that moment a boy of about six or seven burst into the room and went to a TV

which was in a corner and turned it on, picked up a PlayStation console and began to play
Grand Theft Auto.
“Yoji,” Yamamoto said, “my son. He play while he is young. One day he be priest.
Every day old people prepare for death. I be tired of this. We drink.”
He drank some beer; I did too, to please him. “Can you explain Zen Buddhism to
me?” I asked.
“You know Miles Davis, ‘Kind of Blue’?”
I said I did. It was my favorite album. I’d discovered a jazz club in Akita called Rondo
and went there now and then to listen to jazz, played on CDs.
“You know ‘So What’ you know Zen,” Yamamoto said.
Listening to “So What,” I always thought it was the only piece of music I could listen
to continuously for the rest of my life. Each time I listened to it, it was as if I was listening to
it for the first time.
“So is that how you taught Zen in L.A.?” I asked, “by having your students listen to
‘So What’?”
“Sometimes we meditated, but . . . better to listen to ‘So What.’”
He tossed down the remainder of beer in his glass.
“Are you married?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“You should be married. Every man needs a wife. You see how my wife take care of
“I’ve noticed,” I said.
“You probably not cook for yourself.”
“I cook,” I said.

“Yes, you American.” He chuckled to himself. “A man should never enter the
kitchen,” he said.
“It’s difficult to cook if I don’t,” I said.
He hadn’t understood me—or was intent on ignoring me—and proceeded to drink
some more beer. Kumiko came into the room with another plate of watermelon cut up into
stars. She seemed to me to be an Akita beauty—her complexion was pale. She was gentle.
Yamamoto finished off the bottle of beer, and Kumiko raced off to the kitchen to fetch
another bottle. She poured the beer into his glass and he drank. She returned to the kitchen,
and she she had he said, “Kumiko is too small.” He cupped his hands over his breasts. “I like
American size.” He pushed his chest out. Then he got up. “I toilet,” he said.
He walked off, and Kumiko came into the room and sat at the table with me. “Thank
you for the melon,” I said.
“You’re welcome,”
She glanced over at Yoji and said something to him in a scornful way, and Yoji said
something back to her without turning his attention away from the screen. “I don’t like this,”
she said. “Children playing video games.”
“Your English is quite good,” I said.
“I studied at university in Tokyo.”
In the brief moment before Yamamoto returned, I imagined my entire life with her,
she was that magical and enchanting. I was new to Japan and eager to to start a new life
there. And then Yamamoto returned.
“I must go,” I said, and stood up.
Yamamoto, Kumiko, and I went back to the genkan, and I put on my cycling shoes.
We said our goodbyes. Kumiko and I exchanged fretful glances.

Five minutes later I was on my bicycle, riding through a dark forest of pines, hearing
the Miles Davis group play “So What.”

Photo by Eriks Abzinovs on

James Roth, an English Language Fellow in the U.S. State Department’s EFL Program, is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. His work has appeared in several magazines and journals. His first novel, “The Opium Addict,” is forthcoming. He has taught in Japan, China, Jordan, and Zimbabwe.


In Stacia’s Book by Maggie Nerz Iribane

In Stacia’s Book

By Maggie Nerz Iribane

Poppy still had flashbacks about that first appointment, when she’d entered the salon
and Stacia sat in her cutting chair, smirking, legs crossed, pointy boots poking.
“What kind of a name is Poppy?” Stacia said, adding, “Late. I charge extra for late.”
Poppy cringed when recalling that original haircut, that first time Stacia pushed and
slapped her head, pumped the chair up high with a forceful leg, laughed at Poppy’s
previous cut. She even rolled her eyes when Poppy said she loved teaching second
Poppy could also recall her first sight of the perfectly shaped Stacia cut framing her
face. That cut-for which Poppy received a torrent of compliments from women, men,
even seven-year-olds-made her feel like an entirely new person. That cut prompted
Poppy to promise herself that she’d never go anywhere else, and that she would
always be on time and totally respectful of Stacia.

Stacia insisted Poppy get her hair cut every six weeks, charging an absurd, never
consistent amount each time, depending on her mood or perhaps the weather. Once,
she charged one hundred dollars, an unheard of price for a haircut in their mid-sized
town, forcing Poppy to tutor extra hours that week. Stacia seethed with insults,
frowns, and contempt the entire time she wacked, chopped, and hacked Poppy’s hair
with her razor, a gleaming instrument removed from a black velvet case. After an
(admittedly gorgeous, transformative) haircut, Poppy had nightmares of Stacia
carving her whole body up into little pieces with that razor. Awake, she lived in
mortal terror that Stacia would dump her from her book. Sometimes, after her hair
appointment, Poppy hated everything about herself, everything except her awesome
haircut. Walking to her car, she often wept over Stacia’s abuse, only stopping for a
moment to grin at her reflection in a passing window.
Stacia’s rough ways inspired Poppy’s approach of Principal Audra, the one who
referred her to Stacia. (You needed a reference to get in Stacia’s book.) Poppy
introduced the topic tentatively.
“Have you ever noticed Stacia can be kind of-?”
“Poor Stacia, she has all those problems at home,” Audra said.
Problems at home? Stacia never shared anything personal with Poppy.
Finally, after waking up in a puddle of sweat, trembling in fear after a Stacia dream,
Poppy called a therapist and made an appointment.
Lucy, with her fresh skin and big eyes, seemed about 16, but was the only affordable
therapist who had an opening. Her face contorted in various expressions of shock and

dismay as she sipped her Dunkin frappucino and listened to Poppy’s story, which
gushed in an almost unintelligible stream.
“I’m really sorry. This is super unusual,” Lucy said.
“Of course, I would never want Stacia to find out I-” Poppy said.
Lucy’s brown eyes grew even larger, rounder, suggesting deep pity.
After a few sessions, Lucy suggested she come with Poppy to her next appointment,
just to observe.
“Stacia wouldn’t like that.” Poppy said.
Lucy came anyway.
Poppy was surprised by Stacia’s smile when the two women entered the salon.
“Any friend of Poppy’s is a friend of mine,” Stacia said, gently adjusting the cape she
whipped around Poppy’s slender form. Poppy tensed, remembering the time Stacia
pulled the neck so tightly that Poppy choked and gasped, a long horizontal redness
lingering at her throat for days.
While Lucy sat happily in a side chair, Stacia engaged Poppy in steady, pleasant
conversation, cutting precisely but gently, without her usual pushing and shoving.
 She charged an agreeable 45 dollars that day, and as the two women walked out to
their cars, Lucy glanced at Poppy a little sadly.
“Do you think there are other things going on in your life that might be causing your
anxiety about Stacia?” she asked. 

Poppy cringed, repressing the bubble of annoyance pulsing in her chest.
That night, Poppy began a new 1000 piece puzzle, a picture of a babbling brook in
spring, distracting herself from the fear of Stacia’s retribution.
While searching for corner and edge pieces, two texts chimed in at the same time:
Stacia: You are in BIG trouble, dear.
Lucy: I know this might be weird, but do you think you could get me in Stacia’s book?
With shaking hands, Poppy blocked both numbers. 
She returned to her puzzle, anchored by the picture coming together before her on the

Photo by Eriks Abzinovs on

Maggie Nerz Iribarne is 53, lives in Syracuse, NY, and writes about witches, cleaning ladies, struggling teachers, neighborhood ghosts, and other things. She keeps a portfolio of her published work at


Oceania: The Last Beach By Hazel J. Hall

Oceania: The Last Beach

By Hazel J. Hall

Humanity had lessened since its peak of billions; selfishness proved to be as mortal as
they were.
Now there is only one beach. One final shore before the abyss of clouds. Sky void remnants of what no longer shines.
A woman stands before the water. Her toes feel the sand. Plastic. It feels like plastic.
Her eyes wander over the ocean. Oh, sea. Oh, reef. Forgotten words of a distant past.
Far over the water, a neon rain begins to fall. It is green. And when the lightning reaches down to touch the water, it is red.
There are no boats out at sea. All of the wanderers have found their way home. Every road has been traveled. Every path to be seen since discovered. There is nothing else left to know.
There is finally peace.
The woman clears her throat, turning to the bottle in her hand. Strawberry mead.
She lifts the glass bottle, the distant echoes of raging thunder sharing her final toast with her.
But she smiles, beginning to take a sip.
With her eyes closed, she does not even see the flash. The brief instant before contact.
Then void.
The forever stillness. The road finding its way home.
Who is to say we did not know this was possible? The last beach, finally free of swimmers and tourists? A quiet world of acid rain? Acid rain, neon lightning, and desert forests.

And silence.
Balance has been restored in the natural world. There is peace.

Photo by Eriks Abzinovs on

Hazel J. Hall (she/they) is an eighteen-year-old disabled-queer writer based in rural New Hampshire. Right now, she is pursuing an English degree while working on her first novel. More of Hazel’s work can be found in Dream Noir, Poetry As Promised, and Sage Cigarettes, with other pieces forthcoming or visible at their site,


Paradoxes By Abu Ibrahim


By Abu Ibrahim

The universe is a box of paradoxes
The way opposites attract — every night, darkness and light collides,
the moon bulbs the sky
My doctor tells me:
Man is mostly a body of water
Now I understand why I am always at sea
Now I understand why I am going through hell

Photo by Eriks Abzinovs on

Abu Ibrahim Ojotule popularly known as IB is a socially conscious poet whose work has caused tremendous influence and change both locally and internationally. His debut spoken word album “Music Has Failed Us” got a Grammy acceptance, and was in line for a possible nomination by the Recording Academy for the 2022 awards. This body of work is available on all major music streaming platforms. He sees poetry as a powerful tool to cause positive change and redefine society. When he is not writing or performing poetry, he works with brands and individuals across different sectors as photographer and brand strategist/storyteller.


Three Poems By Ellen Huang

becoming more human

I am delivered.
I have arrived, organic
embodied, physical
flesh and bone, feeling
human, skin stretched / muscles tensing

sleep-deprived / sleep-needing
consuming, hunger
chewing, / / digesting,
growing, / / ingesting
contemplating / reaching,
growing, achieving, moving
would you believe h u r t i n g .
the tension, tendon, tortured
laughter, wells deep of joy
crinkling eyes, confused
bursting w/ life and energy,
pulsing, alive, here, hands
conscious, height- ened, crashing.

aware, thinking, confused,
majorly confused, complicated,
urges, dancing, awkward, consequences
moving, movement, inhale, exhale,
holding, delicate, fragile, breaking
weeping, strong, rising
learning, swimming, falling
anger, sorrow, grief, hardened heart
soft, failing, giving, touch
habit, ritual, bowing, lounging
flexing, crossing, walking
standing, fighting, tossed around
knocked out, weak, growing
hitting a wall, growing
control, balance, losing
starving, satisfying, attracted
compelled, convulsions, repulsion
disgust, fear, shivers, angst, lightning
love, warmth, bitter, lashing, wild
running, playing, cooking, creating
watching, intaking, expressing, wishing
yearning yearning yearning
compact, atoms, buzzing, laughing
feeding, praying, philosophizing
connecting, riding, emotions, waves
sitting, reacting, staring, spacing
limited, mortal, wondering, scared

post traumatic stress disorder
anxiety, resistance, depression, numbness
return, nostalgia, memories, longing
difference, existential, sinning
repenting sinning repenting sinning repenting

l e a r n i n g .
b r e a t h i n g .
e x t e n d i n g .
g r o w i n g.
l i v i n g.

m o r t a l . e m b o d i e d . s p i r i t .

what is this life
I have been given
this compact concentration
of genes and stardust and earth
of information and spirituality
makes up the shape of me.
What an accident
that I was created
in their sex.
What a miracle.
All that is natural
is supernatural.

Photo by Pixabay on

Retired Matchmaking God

Imagine a man so focused on God
that the only reason he looked up to see you
is because he heard God say, “That’s her.”

I’ve imagined it. And he’s dumb as rocks.

I imagine a God tired of telling every creature which one to eat for lunch;
every moth which mate to flutter in the air with;
every octopus which lumbering other to dance in the sea with;
every lizard, amphibian, mammal,
which encounters to end their lives on a high note with;
every mutation to every happy painting accident,
happy sculpting accident, guiding evolution along
to get just the right cells and sparks and DNA in place.

What if God is tired of being asked to account for
for every appearance possible to be mutated into reality?
for the uncanny valley, too, for the Neanderthals were His creation too,
that He loved and folded up into later use, a creation that had its run.

He is busy, mandating every mate, sparking every love
and for the birds, it’s a lot of pressure, because they do mate for life you know;
and for the bees, it’s a lot of pressure, because one date means an entire colony;
and for the humans, well, he tried to give a different story—

tested if they could be the first asexual aromantic creatures, actually
to conceive anew from sole spiritual love, to create from outside, beaming
but the world was not ready for that. It only saw miracles in breeders.

And years later, they will divide up a tale of how man must not be alone
and limit that only to monogamy
and all the rest of unloneliness to but temptation.

Finally, God gave in and gave the humans sex just as the creatures before them
and though He emphasizes Adam chooses Eve
and though Eve is, just as much, loving Adam

they will add that her love was submissive, while Lilith’s unmatch was rebellious
though Lilith and Eve were friends, perhaps. They never fought over Adam.
(Can Liliths and Eves ever be friends? Can Adams and Eves?)

And now the people, how they cry out for matchmaking;
and how they plan love for political gain;
and how sometimes marriage is the only thin thread keeping peoples
from killing one another.

Tired matchmaking God adores when His beloveds meet at last
but delegates to the angels all this nonsense about going to hell for singleness too long
for ungratefulness for being attractive;
for selfishness of not mixing DNA every chance they get;
for cheating on future husbands, spare a thought for people who will never exist,
as if God could ever neglect to make a single soul.

Meanwhile, single souls are shot down in the land of the living, too,
every survivor not pitiable enough.

Tired matchmaking God delegates to the cloud of witnesses: all that cry of losing heaven’s pass
for horrors of loving more than once, and not bundling up all their hearts and feelings;
for the sin of knowing their own created body and what feels like comfort to them;
for the spit in the face of creation for loving truly, healthily, with full adoration
if they have too much in common, like anatomy, or talk too much beforehand.

The ancestors themselves struggle sometimes, to be more than ancestor,
to call them more than descendent. What else can we call them? they ask God.
They can barely hold themselves up, and worry too about failing generations down the line.
How to tell them it’s okay, souls already shall be, outside of time? We exist either way?
How to tell them, God knows? God has not answered yet.

Tired matchmaking God wants to turn to the cosmos and heavens
keep on creating there, for God does have others to tend to
but something keeps calling Him back, sweet children He cannot leave
crying out when they get to be loved, when they get to be loved, when they get to be loved
in a world so full of love, so crammed with heaven,
that they buried it, and misplaced their treasure,
and damned the earth that holds them up.

Photo by Olha Kobylko on

bioluminescence philosophy

In the deepest dark
where you’d think is colder than the poles,
where food is a blue whale carcass
stocked for years, or none at all
Where light hypnotizes, and jaws snatch
in a world without our eyes;
Where the smallest may feast
making clean this world [unseen]
and oceans, too, without skies—
In this deepest dark,
close to the earth’s heart
where sun is a myth
and the surface unheard of
(is such ignorance bliss?):
If light filters not from above
falling to serve those below—
then let my light be from within
and in this universe, glow.

Ellen Huang (she/her) is an aroace lover of the whimsical gothic and spec-fic. She reads for Whale Road Review and is published/forthcoming in K’in, Resurrection Mag, Serendipity Lit, Brown Sugar Literary, The Sock Drawer, South Broadway Ghost Society, miniskirt magazine, warning lines, Moss Puppy Magazine, Messy Misfits, Persephone’s Daughters, and more. She is currently working on a fairytale chapbook and an asexual horror anthology.




By J. Archer Avary

Victor’s social sciences teacher wheeled a TV into the classroom.

“Let’s watch,” said Mr. Glasscock. “This is history unfolding.”

They tore down the Berlin Wall. It had the aesthetic of a Pepsi commercial. Manic overjoyed youth, sledgehammers, shattered concrete. It was almost 1990. A new generation had emerged to save the world from the baby boomers.

Victor was a naive freshman at Vanderpol Academy, intimidated by the ivy-shrouded red brick buildings of its sprawling campus. His homemade clothes made him an easy target for the juniors and seniors. They were all over him when he stepped off the bus.

“Look at those clothes.” said one senior, a jock. “Are those french fries?”

Victor’s parents were hardworking and frugal. Instead of ‘wasting money’ on new clothes, his mother sewed him custom jumpsuits made from eccentric bolts of cloth she found at the fabric store. The day the Berlin Wall came down, he was wearing the one with the french fry pattern.

“Let’s call him Fry Guy,” said another jock, this one a junior. “Are these clothes a symptom of some mental deficiency?”

“My parents are just cheap,” said Victor.

“My parents are republicans,” said the senior jock. “They pay tax so leeches like your impoverished family can live large on government cheese.”

“People like you make me sick,” said the junior jock. “If we catch you alone, we’re going to kick your ass, Fry Guy.”

“That’s a promise, not a threat.”

That promise weighed on Victor like a backpack full of chemistry textbooks. If he wanted to avoid a beatdown, he needed to watch his back.

They tore down the Berlin Wall. Everyone was caught up in the euphoria.

Victor tuned-in to breathless television pundits live via satellite. It was almost 1990. The cold war was over and the cable wars were on. The sun was shining on America. Bono from U2 uttered inspirational words into a camera’s lens. It was a beautiful distraction and Victor was blinded by the light.

“It’s that french fry eating dork,” said the senior jock, the ringleader. “Kick his ass!”

The junior jock lunged but missed. Victor sprinted away, towards the social sciences building, down a cobblestone path. He flung the door open and was immediately blasted with a torrent of chemical
foam. A third jock was in on the joke, extinguishing the fire extinguisher with Al Pacino intensity.

“Take that, you french fry eating freshman!”

Victor waited in the principal’s office, caked with foamy residue, a sad excuse for a powdered donut. They tore down the Berlin Wall, but Bono was wrong, that the world would never leave the 80’s behind.

His parents were on the way to Vanderpol Academy with a fresh change of clothes. Victor hoped it
wasn’t the jumpsuit with hot dogs on it.

Photo by Vural Yavas on

J. Archer Avary farms cactus in the windowsill where he writes poems and stories. He wants to finish a novel one day but lacks that kind of focus. Sometimes he goes to hot yoga, but most of the time he makes excuses not to. Fun fact: he used to be a TV weatherman. Twitter: @j_archer_avary

Creative Nonfiction

Freckles By Jocelyn Jane Cox


By Jocelyn Jane Cox

I nestle into the covers beside my mother at naptime. I hold her arm in front of my face to examine her skin.

“How many do you think you have?” I ask.

“Oh I don’t know.” She laughs. “Hundreds? Maybe thousands?”

“I think millions,” I say with awe and proceed to count them.


At work one day, I notice that my shirt, bag, notebook, and umbrella are all patterned with polka dots. I chuckle about this and show my work bestie.

“I might need to do an intervention,” she jokes and I nod in agreement. But we both know I won’t change my style.

I don’t wear polka dots, squint at the stars, over-use ellipses, marvel at the pointillists, or crack unseemly amounts of pepper onto my food in honor of my mother’s skin. Or I don’t think I do, anyway.


“Life is complicated,” I tell my son, long after she is gone. “There are a million ways to think and a million ways to be. A million different things can happen, including a million things you don’t expect, and most of them are okay.” Most of them.

He holds my arm up in the sunlight, my sleeve falling back to my elbow, and, just like I had, he proceeds to count.

Photo by Eriks Abzinovs on

Jocelyn Jane Cox holds an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. Her memoir-in-progress, Zebra Party, is about losing her mother on her son’s first birthday. Her essays, short fiction, and humor have appeared or are forthcoming in Slate, Brevity Blog, Roanoke Review, Penn Review, Belladonna Comedy, Slackjaw, and Five Minutes. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives near Nyack, NY with her husband and son.

Creative Nonfiction

Impressionist Art By Jennifer Ly

Impressionist Art

By Jennifer Ly

nothing good starts in a getaway car
I’m still trying to figure you out. I still talk about you in bars, to strangers that I’ve just met because my friends are sick of hearing of you, a man I barely knew but left his fingerprints pressed against the skin of my neck, the impression of your impression of me slid permanently on how I would look at myself in the mirror for years to come, even when I’m sure you don’t remember how it felt when we kissed. When we first met, I was just out of a job and lingering around the edges of an existential crisis, four years of my life gone into a career I no longer wanted and the foreseeable future mired in the shadow of a looming pandemic, September 2020; in hindsight, that winter would be the worst of my life, dealing with your ghost, my grandmother’s loss, a friend’s suicide, the mounting death toll from COVID, the dark, sweeping depression that felt like years. I would not be the person I am today without that winter, but I wish I was. I want to go back to who I was, before you.

the water filled my lungs
The first piece of writing I ever got published was about you. You were one line in a piece about my ex-boyfriend, that guy I told you about, but I still think about that line all the time when I write anything else. That piece is the last time I’ll ever write about him,
but I still find you in every single page of mine, all my insecurities bled over the still image of your face, blurry, I forget what you look like, I look you up on Instagram every time to remind myself. I wonder if you ever read it – if you recognized yourself in that one line, or if that moment simply lives with me, forever, and never even graces your
mind. I have to write about you to get you out of my mind. Some version of you must care.

all the kingdom lights shined just for me and you
Sometimes I worry that the guys I’ve dated will find out I’ve been writing about them on the internet, but then I remember that most guys I date don’t read. When we first met, you told me that you’d been reading some self-help books, finance textbooks, one fiction book your ex-girlfriend gave you that you haven’t had the heart to start or to throw away. I thought that was romantic. Now, almost two years later, I realize that it was a warning sign, flashing bright red, and I closed my eyes against the sight, let the afterimage of you burn itself into my mind, flicker and burn in the darkness. I’m over her, though, you said,
or maybe I imagined you said – her picture is still on your Instagram, baby girl is the caption, and I wonder about her, now, what she’s doing, if she wants her book back.

the world moves on, another day another drama
When I started writing, at 11, I began with fanfiction. I used to be ashamed of this – pretended that I didn’t know what people meant when they talked about shipping, about Tumblr – but these days, I wish I was that person again, that I hadn’t squashed her down
into the hidden corners of myself and of the internet. I want to love something that much again. I want to watch a show and wonder what-if and dream of scenarios between characters, in alternate universes, in songfics, where lyrics would be randomly incorporated through the story, would they still fall in love if they were in high school
instead of a magic boarding school, would this group of friends still find each other if they were in space instead of an ancient Japanese land, would they kiss this time and not break each other’s hearts? My definition of love keeps shifting as I grow older – no longer all-encompassing, but now it’s that my boyfriend texts me before he goes to bed, handing me my preferred mug even if he didn’t have to – but I think the foundations are found in the fan-fiction I read and wrote growing up, oh, love is two people falling in love because they want to, they choose to, and in each story I tell, I make it happen. Even ours. Even though you didn’t want it.

i want to wear his initial on a chain around my neck
You said once, after it all, I used to date a writer. I wasn’t aware that we’d been dating – you specifically told me that we were not dating when we were together – that was something you reserved for other girls –

we tell stories and you don’t know why
When writing about you, I think of how a colleague jokingly or seriously, I couldn’t tell, said to me once that I was writing about my exes so much that I was turning into Taylor Swift. It’s not that serious, I said, but then I started to wonder if Taylor Swift was taking it seriously or if she stares at herself in the mirror and wonders what that boy from 2020 thought when he saw her, and tried to put that feeling into words, despite knowing that she’ll never really know and it’s all conjecture, and at this point – what does it matter what he saw when he looked at you, besides the fact that it meant something to you, that
you could put pen to paper and immortalize how you felt in that moment, that fall, that time? Let it go, my colleague said, let them go, as if I haven’t. Sometimes I think of you and wonder what you look like when you think of me, if you ever do, and wish I was able
to paint, or draw, immortalize the way I can still imagine you between the pages. It is a sickness and an antidote and I’m not sorry, you live on here, you live.

Photo by Eriks Abzinovs on

Jennifer Ly is a Vietnamese-American writer from Los Angeles. Her work has been featured in Hobart, the Daily Drunk, and others.