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.


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,




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


Editing Adulthood

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Editing Adulthood

By Yash Seyedbagheri

‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎‎‏‏‎Home during quarantine, I rearrange my bedroom.

‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎‎‏‎I’m an editor.

‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎‎‎First, I line up my computer. Pull up edits marked in sharp navy

blue. Pepper the desk with half a dozen Diet Pepsis.

‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎‎‏I strip my bed of soft moon-themed sheets. Take out the old

train set with switch tracks and the power to crash without


‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎‎Laughter rises in my mind, squeaky, unfiltered.

‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ I remove Goosebumps splayed across my desk, smile thinking of

psychopathic piano instructors and time-traveling cuckoo clocks.

‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎‎‏‏‎I carry each item to the closet. Drape blankets over everything.

Tuck edges with tenderness.

‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎‎‏‏Blankets aren’t big enough.

Yash Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA program in fiction. His stories, “Soon,” “How To Be A Good Episcopalian,” and “Tales From A Communion Line,” were nominated for Pushcarts. Yash’s work has been published or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Write City Magazine, and Ariel Chart, among others.


In Abject Defiance of Gravity

In Abject Defiance of Gravity

By Keith Hellard

With her back to the upstairs windows he couldn’t see what she was doing. Even if he went room-to-room, and window-to-window, he still couldn’t tell. He was too high up, and at too steep an angle, to make out the scrap of newspaper in her palm. He’d never understand, she thought, as she surveyed the front yard, the overgrown hedgerow, and the rusted remnants of the wrought-iron fence near the highway. He’d think it, and her, stupid.

For all he knew she was freeing the lawnmower’s discharge of a clump of compacted grass. Maybe she was checking the air filter, or adjusting the carburetor. Those more learned in the ways of machines spoke of those things often. Engines, like people, became persnickety as they aged, and oftentimes downright fickle. They required more attention, more TLC as it were. He couldn’t argue with that, although he undoubtedly would.

Already she felt his disapproval. He was there alright, steely-eyed and stone-faced like the gargoyles in the masonry that held together by sheer obstinacy, the cracked brick and crumbling mortar, shattered slate shingles, and rotting eves in abject defiance of gravity.

No, she reconsidered with a smirk. He was more akin to the crimson-crowned vulture of late seen atop the southern-most gable, mere feet from where he dreamed his vile, angry dreams and glared down upon her now. He could’ve been a vulture in a past life. That seemed apt.

Maybe in her next go around the tables would turn and she’d be the vulture: her penance for insulting the grim, yet noble, work of vultures everywhere. Was that how reincarnation worked? Right now she’d settle for returning as the owner of a lawn tractor. It wouldn’t even need to be a nice one.

Against her sleeve she mopped her dripping forehead and imagined the floodtide of insults collecting on his tongue. “Lay-about,” he’d scold as he wrinkled his crooked nose. “Wastrel.” And though none of his taunts would cut her deeply, if at all, their blunt ends would jab at her relentlessly until she retreated, bruised and somewhat battered, but still living. 

Her attention returned to the scrap of newspaper, and an ad for a theater listing movies of which she’d never heard. Beneath the ad was the photo of an elegant Asian lady with extravagant eyelashes holding between two gloved fingers a long, old-style cigarette holder. Its caption might as well have been written in runes.

From where had the scrap come, she wondered as she recalled the fearsome winds from last night’s thunderstorm. How long was it aloft?

The longer she stared at the ad and the photo, the more she became convinced he was on the front porch behind her. She could almost hear his fragile, uneasy footsteps hissing against the sagging floor slats. The odor of stale sweat, menthols, and off-brand bourbon overwhelmed everything. Not even the freshly-mown grass, the gasoline fumes, or her own perspiration could repulse it. Still, she dared not turn around and acknowledge him, or her own indolence. 

Three half-hearted pulls of the starter later the lawnmower’s engine belched and sputtered back to life. The overgrown hedgerow and the remnants of the rusted wrought-iron fence near the highway seemed further away than ever. Both she eyed suspiciously as she resumed cutting the crisscrossing stripes he favored, and demanded.

Could he do that, she asked as she fought with all her might the urge to glance at the porch and the upstairs windows. So consuming was this notion she roundly ignored the scrap of newspaper abandoned in the grass beside the steps, never mind the million pieces of it scattered in her wake.

Keith Hellard lives and writes in Frankfort, KY. He graduated from Kentucky State University with a degree in English and attended graduate school at Eastern Kentucky University. An internationally published author, his work has appeared in Trajectory Journal, From Pen to Page, and Griffel.


The Stranger

The Stranger

By Bailey Cole

“I know it sounds insane.”

“I mean, sure, you’ve seen the girl before. We don’t live in a huge city, so it’s not surprising. But that’s all it is.”

“I don’t know. I feel like I know her.”

“Then just say hi one day.”

It would, under normal circumstances, be easy to ‘just say hi,’ but for some reason, for years, Chloe had refused to say anything to this girl. Rebecca was right, Columbus isn’t a huge city, but seeing the same girl in random places over years? That was strange.

Chloe couldn’t remember when it started, but she had seen the girl a month ago, and then a few days prior to talking to Rebecca about it. She had definitely seen her around, at the Polaris mall in the game store, at the zoo, at random parks, at a Kodaline concert at the A&R bar. It wasn’t necessarily strange, of course, those were places that people who lived in Columbus went, but it was strange that she stuck out. How many other people had Chloe passed over the years and never remembered? What was so special about this woman that she remembered her, and kept an eye out for her everywhere she went?

She seemed like a normal woman, young, maybe mid-twenties. She had dark skin like Rebecca and her hairstyle was different about every time she saw her, but she was definitely the same person. Over the years, they started to nod at each other, or smile like one does at a stranger. Then, the last time she saw her, leaving Schmidt’s restaurant as Chloe was going in, she waved.

Chloe wasn’t necessarily shy, she talked to strangers, asked people in the grocery store their opinion of certain foods, and made small talk on the bus. But for some reason, she couldn’t even say hi to this woman. All attempts to find out who she was by other means turned up useless. It seemed easy to walk up and say, ‘Hi, I’m Chloe, I’ve seen you around a lot, isn’t that strange?’ but it never happened. Chloe even practiced it at home, but to no avail. It’s like she froze up when she saw the woman.

Chloe didn’t see her for a few months, which was normal. She put her guard down and stopped checking every face at every place she went into. Life moved on as it always did.

Now in the fall, Rebecca and Chloe went to New York to see the trees changing color. They were a little late and a lot of the trees had already started to drop their leaves. They stopped at some little restaurant in Poughkeepsie and were eating a dessert when someone walked through the door. There was a bell that rang out; it had happened a handful of times since they were in the place, but this time, for some reason, Chloe turned and looked at the door.

The woman was there. The same woman from Columbus was states over, in a small town, eating at the same random restaurant.

“Oh my god,” Chloe said. The woman looked over as she was just scanning the restaurant, saw Chloe, and smiled the goofiest smile Chloe had ever seen. Chloe did the best she could to wave, which was a bad attempt; she slammed her hand on the table in the process, but ignored the pain to save face. The woman smiled back, then turned towards the other side of the restaurant and started to order food.

“Maybe you guys are connected,” Rebecca said, leaning forward to keep and eye on this woman.

“I told you. It’s like I know her. Like I knew her. I don’t know,” she said. She turned back around to face Rebecca.

“Maybe we were, like, sisters in a past life. Spouses, neighbors,” she said. Rebecca, eyes still on the woman, shrugged.

“You believe in that stuff?”

“I do now. What else would explain it? Why would she be here?” she asked and Rebecca shrugged again.

“I don’t know. It’s really weird,” she said, finally looking away and back to Chloe.

“Or maybe she will be important in my life. Maybe we’re connected in this lifetime,” she said.

“So it’s fate you guys keep running into each other,” Rebecca said. Chloe poked at her slice of yellow cake and bopped her head around, avoiding answering definitively.

“Go say hi.”

“What? No. I’m too nervous,” she said and Rebecca rolled her eyes. Chloe added, “Next time. Next time, I’ll say hi.”

Once back in Columbus, Chloe looked at every single person she walked past. Every woman on the sidewalk as she drove by, sitting in nearby restaurant booths, going into the movie theater she was in, but she never showed. She had vowed to finally say hi, and she never saw the woman again. She wondered if that was all it was meant to be, to let her know that the universe had some control, that she wasn’t completely alone, her and everyone else just wandering aimlessly. There was some sort of connection, something laid out.

Bailey Cole is currently working at a museum in Ohio and writes when she has the time. She’s inspired by the little things around her work and the real life stories she reads online.

Fiction Uncategorized

The Candle Maker

The Candle Maker

By Theodore Clemens

The roof was giving way. Already, it had begun to collapse in on itself. The lintel above the doors was rotting, the shutters hanging by a wizened nail, swinging with the wind. The timbered support beams too drunk to stand; the stone foundations overrun with lichen, cracked. Clearly, the cabin had sunk into desuetude in the days since the candlemaker left. 

Inside, wax drippings covered everything like bird feces. Counters, benches, stovetop, walls—ubiquitous. Insects snared within, fossilizing, preserved. Obsequious armies of ants never to reach their queen. Grumpy spiders dead, unfed. A bottle solitarily stood: the centerpiece of a wax-laden table. It was empty, but the reek of cheap alcohol lingered. Whatever else had been left behind was gone, the space stripped bare. 

The woman slid her finger through the wax and sniffed. Paraffin, she thought sadly. Refined petroleum. Or coal, or shale oil. Clean energy, yes, but what about clean candles? Beeswax, or better yet, soybeans for the apiphobic. 

A wildcat stalked stealthily across a windowless sill, soundless. Black suit, white tie. Wrong, she thought. Tabby fur, wildcats have tabby coats. It turned its head, as if listening. Its gleaming yellow-green eyes met hers. Suddenly, it disappeared down through some hole in the floorboards. Curious, the woman followed. She inspected the spot of the incident but found nothing. Disconcerted, fear edged into her being: she was not yet afraid, but shivers of terror and panic danced around her, waiting to take over.

Hinges creaked. She jumped. 

To her left, the wildcat was watching, encouraging, urging her without words: follow me, come, join me. And just as suddenly as before, it was out of sight. 

This time she didn’t hesitate. The hole was no wider than an oak tree, and she struggled to fit her body through. Down below, darkness abounded. A subterranean blackness, endless, suffocating. She should have turned back, but she couldn’t. She squeezed herself through and entered freefall. Blindly, she fell. She might have screamed but for the taste in her mouth: a sordid mix of dirt and radish greens. She reached out her hands for support but found some material foreign and spongy. A soft, pliable dough into which her hands sunk readily, alacritously. Hastily, she retrieved her hands and tucked them tight to her chest. Her knees curled, and in a ball she sped through that bottomless blackness. Time stopped. She grew and shrunk and shrunk and grew. Her stomach swallowed itself. She was weightless. She was two-dimensional. Spinning, changing, falling. Blackness engulfed her, an ocean: capsizing, overturning, spilling chests and spreading contents whimsically across the seafloor. She fell, dizzily yet calmly, patient yet anxious, fearful but ready, poised. 

Finally, she slowed and contacted the ground. It was soft, sandlike, but ungraspable, almost like some sort of carpet. Cautiously, she opened her eyes. The light was as blinding as the dark. How long was I spinning? Quickly, she banished the thought. Posted on the ground in front of her were footprints like trail markers deliberately placed to guide the way. She got up and brushed herself off, but she was totally clean. Not even a speck of dust. 

The passageway was uneven, even hazardous with its pitfalls and jagged edges, and the footprints careened left and right to accommodate. She followed as best she could, eyes flashing up and down from trail to surroundings. Thrice did she almost fall, but always she kept her footing. Miles she must have traveled before the path narrowed. It was nearly impassable. Blood filled her body, her heart beat madly, muscles tensed. There’s no turning back. She turned, flattened herself against the passage wall and shimmied through to the other side. Breathing became difficult, her body sandwiched between sheets of unknown rock. But in the end, she succeeded; one step at a time, one foot delicately before the other. 

The trail opened onto a hexagonal field. Flowers, vibrant and variegated, rung the perimeters. A spring flowed around its edges, and there was a ramshackle bridge of rusted iron. 

“Turn back,” a voice warned. “This is not your place.” 

But she knew. She couldn’t turn back now. Not even if she wanted to.

A figure approached, withered and wrinkled, hunched and hooded. Golden rays cloaked them. The air grew cold. 

“Go,” they warned; though the voice was soft, sweet, like honeyed donuts and homemade apple pies. “This place is not for you.” 

But she couldn’t move. She couldn’t go. Not even if she wanted to. 

Face-to-face, the figure unveiled herself. Beneath the glowing robes rested a face aged by death. Pallid skin taut to the bone. Teeth missing, decayed. Eyes sunken. “Go,” she said again.

The woman smiled. Tears welled in her eyes. 

“But I never got to say good-bye.” 


Theodore Ludwig Clemens is a local of Buffalo, NY. His interests include avoiding the cold, chasing the sun, and eating with chopsticks. A proud member of the LGBTQIA community, he loves traveling the world.


The Sun Was Just Rising

The Sun Was Just Rising

By: Mercury-Marvin Sunderland

“Are you scared?”

Julius’ phone was unpleasantly pressed to his ear. He sighed. The hospital was so quiet.

“No,” he responded. “I’m not scared. Just worried.”

“You’re just so young—”

“I’ve known this for a long time. I don’t want kids. I’ve been sure of that ever since I was ten. I just don’t want to be pregnant. You know that I’ve been saying that for a long time.”

“But I want—”

“This isn’t a thing about you, Mom. And besides. I’m not your only son.”

He listened to his mom’s silence. He looked out the window. The Sun was just rising.

“Besides,” he continued. “You know that I’ve always been a big fan of adoption. I’ll do that if I ever change my mind.”

His mom continued to be quiet.

“It’s gonna be okay, Mom. The surgeons know what they’re doing. And they’re a lot more trans-friendly than those ones at you-know-where.”

“That’s good, honey.”

Julius bit his nail, and then stopped. He’d been trying to quit that habit for a long time. Painting them didn’t help as much as he’d hoped. He usually liked to paint them in the colors of the trans flag. Blue, pink, white, pink, blue. They were so pretty and they’d get so eaten up by his anxiety sometimes.

“Is Diego there?”

“We broke up, Mom.”

“What?! When?!”

“Like, two months ago. I thought you knew about that.”

“Well I-I’m sure I—”

“Mom, it’s okay. I know you forget stuff. It was mutual. We’re just friends now. But we’re giving each other space.”

“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.”

“Mom, really, it’s okay.”

Julius sighed.

“Mom, do you have work today?”

“Well, yes, but that’s not in for a few hours.”

“You’re a schoolteacher, Mom. Go back to sleep.”

“I—” she hesitated. She sighed. “I just get so lonely. It’s been so long without any kids in the house.”

“Mom, I’m twenty-five.”

“Well, don’t you have a few hours?”

He looked at his watch. “It’s starting in an hour, yes.”

“Then we have plenty of time. Isn’t it going to hurt?”

“What, and childbirth doesn’t?”

His mom sat there, silent.

“Look, Mom,” he clarified, rubbing his forehead. “I know you want what’s the best for me. But I’m my own person. I can know what’s the best for me. Or whatever version of me you’ve made in your head. Even if it wouldn’t be the best for you.”

The Sun was getting in Julius’ eyes. He pulled the drapes. His mom was quiet.

“Besides, Mom. You know this will help. I won’t get the cramps every day any more.”

“Okay, dear.”

“I need to get ready. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Love you, dear.”

“Love you too, Mom.”

Mercury-Marvin Sunderland (he/him) is a transgender autistic gay man from Seattle with Borderline Personality Disorder. He currently attends the Evergreen State College and works for Headline Poetry & Press. He’s been published by University of Amsterdam’s Writer’s Block, UC Riverside’s Santa Ana River Review, UC Santa Barbara’s Spectrum Literary Journal, and The New School’s The Inquisitive Eater. His lifelong dream is to become the most banned author in human history. He’s @Romangodmercury on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


Ducks Don’t Like Fritos

Ducks Don’t Like Fritos

By: Dan Nielsen

He took the standardized test and went from Slow to Genius. He moved to a place where everything was free.

He set the clock radio for ON instead of ALARM.

“Mary had a brief affair with a shepherd named Moe,” the radio said.

He dreamed zippers. He dreamed alphabetically. This was his final dream. 

At Mother Superior Genius School, their mission is to educate the smartest people to believe in God because lots of people believe in God, but few of them are educated and smart.

The light bulb burned out. He went to the convenience store. The convenience store was miles away. A Piggly Wiggly sat across the street. He knew where the light bulbs were at the convenience store; he had no idea where they were at The Pig. The last time he went to Piggly Wiggly for a light bulb, he left The Pig with a bag of Fritos.

He didn’t like Fritos. He fed them to ducks. The ducks didn’t like them either but ate them anyway.


It’s dark as he arrives at the convenience store. He wonders what time the ON went off. He unscrews the top of a two-liter Diet Cherry Coke. He doesn’t want it. He likes the sound and the fizz. The clerk doesn’t say anything.

He goes directly to the place where the light bulbs are. They aren’t there.

Dan Nielsen is a part-time stand-up comic. His least favorite flavor of jelly is petroleum. Most recent FLASH in: Defenestration, The Daily Drunk, Backchannels, Potato Soup Journal, and Jokes Review. Dan has a website: Preponderous, you can follow him @DanNielsenFIVES. He and Georgia Bellas are the post-minimalist art/folk band Sugar Whiskey.