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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.

Categories
Fiction

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.

Categories
Fiction

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.

Categories
Fiction

Home

Home

By: Katie Fisher

We walk down the narrow hallway mindlessly, and I feel the blood recirculate to my legs. The world feels fuzzy. My ringing ears process the stomp of feet and rolling of wheels on wax floors. 

The air is stagnant despite the crowd of people, yet infinitely more pleasant than the staleness of the cabin that had been my prison cell for the last nine hours. In the palms of my hands, I hold the blue booklet that measures my worth in my hands, and it bites into the soft flesh. 

Blinking slowly to counteract the blurriness, I notice monitors hanging from the ceiling of the hallway; their screens cycle between an animated Star-Spangled Banner rippling as if it were blowing in the wind and a blue page with the words “Welcome to the United States of America.” 

One of the monitors isn’t connected, displaying a Windows 7 error page. I have a fleeting thought of the oddity, of the disconnect that one system is still using outdated software that has ceased updates, but it passes quickly as I stifle a yawn. For some reason, I point out the error screen to my teenage brother, and we chuckle. 

I think it’s from the combination of dehydration and sleep deprivation, but as I’m watching another of the screens, the flag bursts through its digital confines before swiftly retreating as fast as it appeared. The corners of my mouth pinch into a frown, parading my confusion, yet the crowd pushes on, unimpressed. 

I follow my family like we’re little ducklings in a row. Turning the corner, the corridor opens to a massive hall, the Customs area. My mom scans the room, searching for an unused kiosk, and whisks us off in the general direction. We take turns scanning our faces and mixture of blue and red passports. I go last.

My heart flutters as I watch the ticket print with a giant X. At five in the morning on a Sunday, I’m too tired for this.

“You have got to be kidding me.”

“There’s always one,” my mom jokes.

Tucking the ticket between the pages of my passport, I weave my way through to the border agent who’s calling for the next person to come forward. My family members and I hold our own passports in front of us as we approach the navy-uniformed man. With a flat face, he eyes each one of us with our mismatched passports before questioning “So, what’s the story here?”

My dad, the most charismatic man in my life, responds. “The girls were born here, but we returned home to bring them up around family, and then our youngest was born there. Now, we’ve moved back to the States.”

The agent’s eyes flick between us again, and I’m surprised that he doesn’t succumb to my dad’s charm as everyone always does. It’s the deep voice and accent they say. Skeptically, the border agent stamps through each of my family’s tickets until I am left last, again. 

I am beckoned with a blue latex-gloved hand. Shuffling forward, I place my passport in the man’s grasp, and he flips it open to the photograph, holding it up at eye level so he can see. 

I stand awkwardly, feeling embarrassed about my disheveled appearance in the photo that was taken around seven a.m. on a Saturday morning after a Friday night basketball game I was cheerleading for. 

“You’ll look that after you get off the plane anyway,” my mom quipped when she first saw the image. 

As any teenage daughter would be, I was mortified—not to mention that it won’t expire for ten years.

“Take off your glasses,” the border agent commands nonchalantly. 

I silently comply, taking off the prescription glasses.

“Undo your hair.”

Again, I silently comply, pulling loose the soft braids.

The agent shakes his head. “This doesn’t look like you.”

My mouth is frozen, but my empty head is now filled with thoughts, worse-case-scenarios. I turned eighteen two weeks ago. He can legally separate me from my parents. I could be detained. I have school tomorrow. I don’t want to miss class.

I fumble for words, “It’s just a bad picture—” 

“This doesn’t look like you,” he punctuates in a staccato rhythm, waving the passport as a taunt.

I don’t know what to do. We’re young, my siblings and I, sheltered in a protective bubble of naivety that borders on ignorance. We’ve been raised in small town America, where homogeny runs rampant.

I’ve fended these questions since the tender age of eight, but my existence has never been doubted.

There’s a lump in my throat, it could be the dehydration, but probably the nerves too, and I tense as my eyes get prickly. I don’t want to be separated. He stamps my ticket and reluctantly thrusts the passport back into my possession. 

My small hand reaches up to pinch the passport between my fingers and out of his grasp. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding as he lets go, and a golden bald eagle leaps from the booklet. One talon grasps an olive branch and the other arrows as it soars about the massive hall before perching on the Customs sign. Even in the artificial lighting, it glitters as brilliant as the sun.

And suddenly in that moment, I know what it feels like to be an immigrant in America. I don’t laugh anymore at the memory of a broken screen.


Katie Fisher is an undergraduate at Illinois State University, studying English in the Publishing Studies sequence and working as an academic peer advisor for first-year students. She enjoys spending time with her two lovely cats and listening to BTS.

Categories
Fiction

Mahmet

Mahmet

By: Elissa Russell

I couldn’t recognize your accent as foreign any more than I could my own. Each muddy ‘R,’ each forced vowel we produced hung in the air unacknowledged, suspended like mobiles in the damp atmosphere.

It was your eyes that first betrayed you—those flame-gold eyes, the color of honey exactly, fixed always toward the East.

We met at a neighborhood party over hard punch and galettes and too many glasses of Muscadet. Rain swelled the clouds overhead as the fluid language swirled around us. I was dizzy, drunk, still ticking on Central Standard Time. The Atlantic-soaked air had long ago swept my pride and my verb conjugations out to sea.

You commiserated with each awkward ​bisou​, heard each garbled syllable, pulled me aside:

“Yolaine and I met twenty years ago,” you told me in her language: smooth, yet biting. “​Elle est ma marie​,” you emphasized, the bitter ‘R’ accentuating the phrase’s harshest word. You paused, downed the contents of your glass in one sharp gulp. The closer you drew in, the faster my heart beat. “I hate this rain, this place. I want to learn English. I must. It’s so… beautiful.” Flickering amber eyes, now locked on my blue ones. “Let me walk you home. It’s dark.” You squeezed my bare knee, hard, and stood. The walk home was neither dark nor far, but you knew that. You’d been here now for eleven years, after all.

Upon reaching the yellow house with the blue door, you braced my shoulders and brought your nose within an inch from my own. “Sweet dreams,” you exhaled at me in English, your breath forming a sea-salt cocktail with the night as I dumbly watched you stumble back up the path.

I fished out an ornate house key, which seemed to belong more to the Victorian era than in my Jansport. I winced as it turned loudly in the heavy door, fearing to wake the members of this house, this family that was not mine.

From the peephole, I glimpsed your brown peacoat. You disappeared past the stone wall, back toward your home, where your wife was washing our dinner plates.


Elissa Russell holds an English degree from the University of Texas at Austin. After graduating, she worked as an English teacher in Calais, France. A theatre educator and administrator, she now lives in Colorado, where she continues to explore her passion for writing.