Nod Ghosh

Marionette

You pull her up on two-strings, one-string, ten strings. You make her dance her necessary steps, and then you stand her still. When she says ‘please’, you pretty her into indigo happiness, and then you drop her on the ground. Her bamboo legs unfold, her skirt splayed, displayed like an open orchid.

A crowd gathers, curious, not knowing what will happen next. But you don’t want them to see everything you can do to her, this other widow-woman, with her spine made from bricks, her heart on stilts.

She bears all the glitz and silence of an outsider, but she only goes outside when you let her. She is yours, your mother-bride. Seek and hide. The crowd tosses coins, small boys cheer, pleading for more of her catapulting dance. You pour what you can into her, even lose part of yourself in her, though you keep the best for yourself, your hammer-ankles, your wan loathing.

Through your offerings she thrives and feeds small mammals in passing. They leave droppings, oblong turds that stick to your shoes.

You pull her up on two-strings, and then you stop.

Your shoes clack as you walk away.

When the two of you sleep, you hold her close, her hair jasmine and mildewed. You watch her sunless repose in the palm of your hand.

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Originally from the U.K., Nod Ghosh lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. Truth Serum Press published the novella-in-flash ‘The Crazed Wind’ in 2018, and will release ‘Filthy Sucre’ (three novellas) in early 2020. For further details on other publications visit http://www.nodghosh.com/about/

Jefferson Navicky

The Blood Artist

Like a meteor on Mars, red dust kicks up from the bricks. The men in white suits with gas masks and their little buzz saws are tethered to the scaffolding by what looks like a large scrunchie. They’ve covered the ground and all surrounding trees, ladders, trash bags and shrubs with the fine red powder.

They’d spent the morning erecting the scaffolding that would allow them to bloody the world. They had to even everything out with 2x4s. The Blood Artist tells them to look like they know what they are doing, and nobody will bother them.

And if anybody does mess with them, any piddily beat cops or building managers, she’ll bail them out. She’ll get them out of anything. Money is not an issue. She has their back. But the Blood Artist has done her research. No one will bother you, she says. At least this is true at first.

The red rain seems to be accepted as the detritus of a dirty world. A soot blanket. An unfortunate side effect. Something to wipe away. Tiny particles of pain.

When they move their operation to the road side of the building, the waterfall of red sprays down on the line of cars crossing the river.

Motorists begin to honk as if that would stop the storm. But the Blood Artist knows their laziness and apathy and desire to ignore will prevent them from action. On the word of the Blood Artist, the men move to the bridge itself, lay their saws into its steel sides to release a new fiery shower of sparks and dust. The noise itself, a death tooth dentist grind, is enough to bring traffic to a frightened, immediate stop. Still no one does anything other than call the police, who are equally confused at the sight of such industry.

When the police finally silence the saws, a strange quiet sits atop the dust. The men in white suits take their masks off, swipe at their noses like they’re trying to lengthen them. They stand and look over what they’ve accomplished. What have they accomplished? The traffic looks at itself. The police look at themselves. We are at a crossroads, they say to themselves. A deep red covers everyone. We all look at each other. We are all at a crossroads. Tempers rise. We can barely stand the sight of each other like this. Everyone stalls. Everyone boils. Everyone bloody. And the Blood Artist is now here with us too. She’s come down into the fray. But now she doesn’t know anything. She doesn’t know what will happen. She’s just like us, suffering, all of us together.

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Jefferson Navicky was born in Chicago, and grew up in Southeastern Ohio. He is the author of the poetic novella, The Book of Transparencies, and the story collection, The Paper Coast, as well as the chapbooks, Uses of a Library, and Map of the Second Person. His work has been published in Smokelong Quarterly, Electric Literature, Hobart, Tarpaulin Sky, and Fairy Tale Review. He is the archivist for the Maine Women Writers Collection, and teaches English at Southern Maine Community College. Jefferson lives on the coast of Maine with his wife and puppy. He has been awarded a Maine Arts Commission grant, a Maine Literary Award, and was the 2019 winner of the Maine Postmark Poetry Contest.

Stephanie Devine

Only a Skeleton

Fish-Eye

As I breastfeed the baby, he catches me in his fish-eye stare. I’m drinking iced coffee, and condensation has gathered on the glass. Beads of water fall onto his forehead. The baby pulls back and I flinch, expecting a knife-sharp whine, but he only pauses, then smiles. I jiggle the glass, and the ice clinks. Several more droplets fall like rain. He watches with fascination, then grows bored and turns again to latch on, his eyes fluttering shut.

Why Not Eraser?

I think to myself: my nipples are as red and rubbery as the erasers of No. 2 pencils. See how they peel? And just as I think it, a dimpled hand has plucked one from my chest and is using it to erase something I’ve written. Not much, just a slip of paper, a mere scrawl, but I stand transfixed as my words are rubbed out, my body dissolving into pink dust, until the baby moves to put the eraser in his mouth, and I remember it’s a choking hazard.

Thick as Down

I wake to quiet, stillness thick as down, the blackout curtains drawn, the baby, the very fact of him, like a distant memory. Is it morning or night? I check my phone and discover, with a pang, that hours have passed. I come to the door of the nursery and grip the handle tightly, easing it open. I move slowly, silently, with real effort, and lean over the side of the crib. The baby stares back, blankly.

Skin Suit

I unzip my body, strip off my skin, and hang it over the back of a chair. Run out the door as innards, head straight down the stairs, organs spilling, bones clacking, into the wet grass. Who cares if it’s raining? I leap and cartwheel and toss aside my entrails until I’m just a skeleton, only a skeleton, running down the street.

In the Shower

The walls of the shower are tile, and, in the swirls and marbling, I can make out the lines of faces. Each one in profile: A queen, a devil, a little boy. Once a face emerges, I cannot help but see it. Worse, the patterns repeat, so that every time I wash my feet or rinse my hair, no matter whether I turn this way or that, I am always coming eye to eye with one, always turning my back on another.

Things a Skeleton Might Say

Why are you so afraid of me?

Why won’t you come near?

Is it because you can see right through me?

Is it because I’m empty inside?

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Stephanie Devine’s fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Fugue, Gone Lawn, Nano, Louisiana Literature, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, The Austin Review, Joyland, Pembroke Magazine, Cheap Pop, Atticus Review, Fiction Southeast, Treehouse, and Glassworks Magazine. Born in Pittsburgh, she now lives in Atlanta with her husband and son.

Epiphany Ferrell

Regeneration

The doctor told her it wasn’t exoskeleton. “Melanoma can hide in surprising places,” she said.

“But,” Cassie said, “our bodies acquire trillions of new mutations every day. Why couldn’t it be exoskeleton?”

Dr. Orr patted Cassie’s melanomed claw. “Always look on the bright side, we caught it early.”

There would be a scar. Right in the middle of her life line. She had spots of melanoma in her right ear, inside the shell of her ear, too. She could hear houseflies humming from across the room. In the key of F. She hummed with them, harmonizing.

Her daughter treated her like the enemy. “You never let me have a childhood!” she said. Of course there’d been a childhood. Cassie had documented it meticulously.

“See, it’s here, it’s right here, your childhood, it’s in my phone, on the Cloud too, see, here’s where we went to the botanical garden and here we are at Johnny Cash’s childhood home!” she said, brandishing the device at her daughter.

“Mom, that’s Instagram. That woman has hands, not claws. That child is happy. It’s not even us.”

Cassie sat under the umbrella on the back porch. She’d always thought she’d become something beautiful, that the death and regeneration of cells would at last produce a work of art or, failing that, at least someone who knew how to be a good mother.

Cassie watched her daughter, her young cells regenerating every day, and she tried to stop it, to hold her daughter in place with filters and funny captions. There were so many pictures. Band concerts and plays, softball games and science fairs. She used her elbow to slide the screen. Her mutated scorpion hands could no longer do it.

“Even a small amount of alcohol will make a scorpion go crazy and sting itself to death,” she said, reaching with pincers into the bottle for the worm.

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Epiphany Ferrell lives and writes on the edge of the Shawnee Forest in Southern Illinois. Her stories appear in New Flash Fiction Review, Third Point Press, Newfound and other places. She recently received a Pushcart nomination, and has a story forthcoming in Best Microfiction 2020. She blogs intermittently for Ghost Parachute and is a fiction reader for Mojave River Review.

Kim Hagerich

The Fourth Wall

My neighbor broke the fourth wall. It started innocently enough when we both found ourselves on our verandas watering the plants and she asked about the music we were playing inside: classical, so we didn’t feel too worried. It’s not as if she started quoting lyrics; that would have been a bit much. Then one night we heard a scratching in the walls and thought it might be rats. But my wife said it sounded too steady to be wild. It seemed to be participating in our conversation in a kind of Morse code, though this sounded preposterous, so we let it go. Then came the day when we ran into her at the bus stop. I nodded my head in greeting and she asked me what had happened after they entered the vortex of light, and I thought a minute and was on the verge of asking if she was referring to 2001 Space Odyssey, which we had been watching the previous night, when she said, I couldn’t hear everything, but it has a very distinctive soundtrack. I know in this world there are people who are so lonely, they feel compelled to insinuate themselves into the lives of others and who lack sufficient social skills to realize how this might come across, but when I was pouring some food into the bowl we leave outside for strays, she asked me if I had heard the yowling with a mischievous wink (Not us! That would have been brazen even for her), the implication was clear. My wife and I don’t have sex anymore. I press myself against the small of her back and she says, I can’t stop thinking about her. It used to be that I sometimes imagined, while making love to my wife, the face of the woman I lived with before her – Jaqueline, who left me – but now I see my neighbor, chained up on the floor like a prisoner enduring our sounds. I hope you understand there’s nothing kinky about this. I’m not even being metaphoric: the wall is gone. It’s true the walls are thin; it didn’t require brute force. Nonetheless, we feel its absence.

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Kim Hagerich is a writer, English teacher, and intermittent bookmaker. Her stories have appeared in DecomP MagazinE, CutBank, and NANO Fiction. She won the 2015 Montana Prize in Fiction and the 5th Annual Gigantic Sequins Flash Fiction Contest.