The Demon Arm by Alice Pow

Ginette took from the dryer a big hoodie, a pair of sweatpants, and a pair of fluffy socks. She dressed and returned to her room where papers and clothing decorated the floor and her dresser. After moving a pile of books from bed to floor, she crawled under the covers.

Cold corrupted the Chicago streets outside her home. Thermal capital passed from feet to cold, contracted wooden floors, and the vacuum of Chicago winter stole that drop of warmth from the broken-heater house.

Awake but absent from her head, she kept quiet, squeezing eyes shut, squeezing herself into a ball of heat under blankets.

She found a bruise of unknown origin on her left shoulder muscle. She poked the raw spot with her index and middle finger; flesh stung and pressed against bone. Continue reading “The Demon Arm by Alice Pow”

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9AM in the Morning by A.E. Nelson

I’d started smoking cigarettes again. My teeth were yellowing. My breath stank. I was having more sex, doing more coke, running faster on the treadmill, and making more money than ever before. In short, I was depressed and doing well.

Sibo, the other woman I loved, was done with me. She told me I had snatched her from the world, changed her, held her up for seven months, and tried to give her back. I told her she had changed me too, made me different, made me shiny under the grime. She couldn’t see it. She started dating a divorced banker who wanted a mother for his daughter. It was a waste of her time. I knew she wouldn’t love him because she wasn’t done loving me. And I knew how she loved, black and white, with both feet in, her mind, her soul, her body, all of it reserved for that one person. More than that, I knew who she loved: boys like me, erratic and needy, like her daddy whose hand she had held on his deathbed when she was twelve. Still, I barely slept. Continue reading “9AM in the Morning by A.E. Nelson”

Crossing Lines by Clare Michalak

You are perched on your counter top, sitting cross-legged across from your roommate who is perched by the sink. These are your respective arena seats for the “girl talk” that happens at 1:52 AM on a Wednesday morning. Today’s discussion is about how no’s and yes’s are a game of chess. You talk about how sometimes the men you are with just can’t take a hint. Move his hand nine times, it comes back for a tenth. Rook to E1. Roll over to stop his hands, Knight to H3. Say no five times before his mouth finally leaves yours. Pawn to C6. “We just need to say no more often,” you both agree. Check. Vocalizing it shouldn’t be that big of an issue. But as you both let that phrase sink in, you both know that no is never taken as a complete sentence. Checkmate.”

You are walking with your two best friends up the street to the apartment. Tammy is walking slowly in back and looking over her shoulder. “Watermelon.” You three share a look before clustering together, still talking as if nothing is wrong. “Tammy what do you see?” You ask. “He has been following us for 5 blocks,” she says. Now the three of you walk forward holding on to your bags and move faster up the street. You see Tammy start to sprint and you notice the man now, eyeing your group to the left and picking up the pace. You begin to run. You all run up the remaining stairs two at a time before slamming the green door behind you and dead bolting it. You all get ready for bed together, escorting each other to the bathroom so no one has to be alone. You can’t stop shaking.

You are at the doctor’s office. You fill out paperwork and wait for thirty-five minutes in a cold metal chair. You are brought into a white room and ordered to wait on the red cushion chair for another fourteen minutes. The doctor comes in asking what seems to be the problem. You say that a few days ago you couldn’t breathe. You don’t know what was wrong. But your lungs filled with something and your skin crawled with heat. He looks you up and down. There doesn’t seem to be anything the matter now, he says. There’s nothing we can do, he says. Before closing the door behind him.

You are dancing with your friend in a 10$ club that puts x’s on your hands if you are under twenty-one. Songs with gyrating beats fill the air and you feel hands grab your hips pulling you closer into Budweiser breath. This is okay you guess. You sway to the music and look back to your friend. She is locked in an embrace too but you give each other the look of approval. As the chorus hits his hands find themselves tracing down your thighs and under your dress. You grab his hands and put them back on to your hips but just as you let go, they plunge back. One arm wraps around your chest. You can’t breathe. You break his grip with your nails and push against him as hard as you can. He screams “Whore” in your face before trudging off back to the bar. You are left in the middle of the dance floor. Your friend gives you a look of apology from between arms wrapped around her waist. Someone from behind you grabs your hips.

He slept over and let you hog the blankets. You get up to shower. You turn on the bathroom light and pull your wrinkled shirt above your head. You gasp. Bruises cover your neck and your collarbone. There are dark spots on your breasts and your ribs. They are deep purple against your skin. They make you uneasy. They feel like a branding mark. Like you’ve been branded with a hot poker. You tilt your head and make a note to cover everything with make up. Bruises are strange. The only thing that separates love bruises and anger bruises is intention. You look again in the mirror. You don’t like how thin that line appears to be.

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Claire Michalak is a recent graduate from Quinnipiac University where she completed her BA in English (Creative Writing) and Interactive Digital Design. She is currently a frelance designer.

Things Will Never Be the Same by Chelsea Harris

Im eating breakfast at the kitchen counter when he comes in and says, Youre pregnant.”  He sets down a pregnancy test and I pick it up like its a slice of toast and I bring it into the bathroom and shut the door. It is negative. I splash water on my cheeks and I come out and I say, Oh my god, were having a baby, in my best surprised voice. I know, he says. I already bought a crib online.I watch his body move as he turns and opens the door. It is stiff. As stiff as the door. I go to the window and look out and I see him out in the yard. I see him digging a hole next to our failed attempt at a vegetable garden with a toy shovel that he stole from the turtle-shaped sandbox next door, and he is sweating.

When he comes back in Im asleep on the couch and he shakes me awake and he says Get dressed, were going to the hospital. You need to get an abortion. I just met with a banker and there is no way we can cover the costs of having a child.He is right. Were living in a studio apartment and our dishwasher is broken and our shower takes twenty minutes to heat up and I havent bought a new pair of shoes in a year and a half and he works at a call center and I take online surveys and I dont know the first thing about  properly installing a car seat and we dont even have a car. We go to the ER and he calmly explains our situation to the receptionist. I watch the stripes on the back of his shirt zig and zag as he speaks, like theyre dancing. She shakes her head and tells him to take a seat. I think she tells him to get out instead but I dont argue with what he says, I never do. It is easier that way. There is a lifetime movie about a couple who is about to have a baby playing on the TV in the corner. Except they have a two bedroom house and an SUV and a family who throws them a baby shower at a venue on the ocean, and there are little storks with blue and pink ribbons tied around their necks strung up everywhere, and a cake shaped like a baby stroller, and not one person has a pimple. I sink back into the chair and I pick up a brochure about Hand-Foot-and-Mouth disease and I only make it through the first panel when he tugs my arm and tells me that we have to go.

When we get home I notice a mound of dirt next to the hole he was digging earlier and he says, The baby has died.He says, We must bury it.He says, I will call a priest.I say, But you dont know any priests. And I am right, he doesnt. Weve never even been to church. He grabs his messenger bag off the chair by the door and he leaves. He doesnt come back for a very long time.

Weve been together since that time I was a taxi driver and I was driving him to his friend’s place on the west side of town and I never stopped. He said, You missed the turn.He said, I could be a murderer you know. I could be a rapist. I could be a psychopath.I said, That might be nice, Ive never met any of those kinds of people before. What do you think murderers eat for breakfast? Do you think they buy scratch tickets? Do you think they go to fairs? Do you think they like cotton candy? He said, I know where we can go.He said, Pull over and let me drive.And I did. And he took me to a dead end an hour away. And at that dead end he crawled into the backseat with me and he kissed me harder than anybody had ever kissed me and he said, You taste like melancholy which is also kind of like stale chocolateand he said, Take off your shirt I want to see your breasts in the moonlightand he said, Your nipples are as sharp as thumbtacksand then he fucked me and I fell asleep and when I woke up in the morning he was on top of me looking down at me and he said, Dont worry, and he held my face like I was the smallest thing in the world, like he just discovered me. Like I was always his.

I fall onto the couch and turn on the TV. The lifetime movie about the pregnant couple is still on. Theyre in the hospital and theyre about to have the baby and the woman isnt even sweating. Theyre wheeling her to her room and the man is by her side and hes rubbing her neck and she is smiling and holding her tummy and every time she passes someone they say Good luck! or You get em girl! or they give her a really exaggerated high five and I think, is this a football game or a maternity ward? I think, boy, this is the happiest hospital Ive ever seen. I think, is everyone getting paid extra to be this nice? And then I remember that this is a movie and they are just actors and I bet in real life this woman wanted to walk the red carpet but she was only good enough for the lifetime network and then I feel bad for her.Theyre in the room now and the woman is in the bed and her family is there and theyre holding balloons and one of them has a six-pack of cupcakes and all of them are radiating happiness. Like this is a game show and they all won six million dollars and four corvettes and a jet-ski and theyll never have to worry about paying their electricity bill again. Sometimes I think I want this. Sometimes I want this life with the Coach wallets full of cash and the Ferraris and a husband who works 9-5 Monday through Friday and on the weekends takes me and the kids out for ice cream, or to the beach, or on a vacation in the Alps because he can. Sometimes I want it. But then I remember that that life takes choices, takes decisions, and I think that this is easier. Being with him, here. Watching these other lives when I feel like I might want them, just to get a taste. Just to convince me I dont.  

He comes home and I am standing at the stove making a grilled cheese and he says, Pack your things. Were moving.I turn off the stove and open the fridge and begin throwing food into the trash can across the kitchen like its a game. He says, Dont you want to know why?I shrug. It doesnt really interest me. He says, The neighbors.He moves closer to me and he says, The neighbors know about the baby.He puts his hand on my shoulder and he says, I killed the baby.I try to look surprised but not too surprised, I dont want to give him the wrong impression, I dont want to freak him out. I put down the carton of eggs Im holding and I stand up with his hand balancing on my shoulder like a parrot and I cup his cheeks between my hands and I can feel them oozing through my fingers and his eyes are saying things that Im pretending not to see and I kiss the tip of his nose and I say, in my best soothing voice, I say, Dont worry.

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Chelsea Harris received the Follet Graduate Merit Award to attend Columbia College Chicago, and received her MFA from the Department of Creative Writing. Chelsea was named to Glimmer Trains top 25 list for their Very Short Fiction Award and has had work published in Cigale Literary Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, Habitat Magazine, and is forthcoming in Quaint Magazine. She is also the editorial assistant and event coordinator at Fifth Wednesday Journal.

Where the metal meets my hand by Isabel Ball

Oxana did not think about the things she was supposed to think about. Not because she didn’t know or care, but simply because she knew no life without the wall. For her, it had always been there. A plant from the earth that grew taller with age. The only difference was that it was a plant that knew no bounds of time. She never thought of the wall as something that could die, or that had been planted in the first place. For how could she think that? If the wall could die, then what she understood herself to be could die too.

The only time Oxana thought about the wall was the day she got stuck in it.

She had been late and she did not know by how many minutes. It was seven in the morning and the sun burned painful reminders into her back. With every step she took away from it, the rays reached farther across the earth and grew hotter, angrier. She was late and her shoes were already coated with desert dust, her dress splotched with sweat seeping out from beneath the yellow cotton. She was late and it was too late to fix her lateness. Continue reading “Where the metal meets my hand by Isabel Ball”

Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond edited by Bill Campbell and Edward Austin Hall

Reviewed by Vanesa Pacheco

“We can also assume that it’s dead because a melanin-devouring plague (Schuylerosis?) either killed all people of color or that same plague killed all the melanin on the planet, leaving only a handful of affable sidekicks in its wake.” – Bill Campbell, editor of Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond

It’s not surprising that, to this day, depictions of the future (be it utopian or dystopian) continue to create worlds where people of color only exist as token splashes of diversity. The genre of science fiction and fantasy has the power to construct a world where artificial intelligence takes over Earth, magical serums save humans from zombies, or life as we know it now happens in space. Nevertheless, the majority of popular sci-fi/fantasy texts have only continued to perpetuate the social constructs of western society. We basically see white saviors or societies that show “everyone else” as lesser–and that isn’t too far off from how the world works now.

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From the desk of Vanesa Pacheco 

Continue reading “Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond edited by Bill Campbell and Edward Austin Hall”

The Golden Girl from High Below by Courtney Kae

I brush the soft white rose against my lips, slow enough to feel like her kiss. The touch brings moonlit memories of last night. Of Charlotte’s fingertips tingling my face. Of her arms curving my braid around the smooth, shimmering length of her bronze skin until we were tangled up in gold.

Birds sing as the sun stretches its arms across the sky. From high up here, the ground is hazy with morning mist. It fills the smallest of spaces between the pines and piled stones, and looks as if I could dive down and fall forever.

I do not know how long I have stood at the window, or what time in the late hours Charlotte climbed down from it. Or if Mother heard and will make me suffer. But my head is filled with light, my tongue tastes of magic, and I will pay any price for those gifts. Any price at all.

A knock calls from far away. Continue reading “The Golden Girl from High Below by Courtney Kae”

I BREATHED YOU FIRST by Maya Kanwal

—even though he claimed you. That you were forbidden, not to be had, was something I had assumed—but only until the moment I brushed those raven curls out of your eyes. That drenched winter morning you were still new to our town. You passed by my mist-laden window, all kohl-lined eyes and plum lips. I thought I was the one falling, but then you slipped in the mud at my threshold. I ran out barefoot, more to see the creature you were than to check if you were unhurt.

Your head lay in my lap and you would not blink; those unflinching pools reflected the rainbow of me, gave me vertigo, like the vortex in my dreams that I willingly descend into and never can escape. So I lowered my lips to your ears and whispered, “It’s okay. You’re okay.” I thought to say “I’m here,” but just then my broad-shouldered brother strode out of the house and towered over us, legs splayed, and you fluttered your eyelashes at him.

After that he had no choice but to rescue you. In one swoop he raised you from my lap and said, “I’m here.” Continue reading “I BREATHED YOU FIRST by Maya Kanwal”

Steven’s Shit by Sara Adams

I’m taking a late morning walk with Steven, hoping our favorite brunch spot will have outdoor seating available so we won’t have to tie Billy up to the bike rack outside.

I’m holding Billy’s leash and our tote of brunch reading material, and Steven is holding the small green bag of Billy’s first poop. Steven has gotten too close to bumping me with it several times. “Steven, please hold the poop in your left hand,” I remind him. He doesn’t know when he’s touching people and when he isn’t.

We pass the flower shop where Steven bought me the flowers I wanted for our anniversary. The sidewalk narrows and a young woman approaches. Her hair is unbrushed and she is wearing basketball shorts and drinking a large soda at ten in the morning. I wonder where she’s going, looking like that. I hug the right side of the sidewalk but Steven doesn’t catch the cue. He doesn’t move over at all. I nudge him. And in that exact moment, Steven’s sack of feces, on the upward side of the swing caused by Steven’s bouncy walking, flops against her basketball shorts-laden thigh. Continue reading “Steven’s Shit by Sara Adams”

A Girlfriend’s Guide to Amy Fisher | Kristie Betts Letter

We get that your teeth are sharp points and she stands in your way but remember: Amy Fisher jokes never go out of style in New Jersey. With that unflagging optimism, Amy’s gun butts right up against her romantic problems, her sweet Daddy-age mechanic and his there-first bride. Amy marches up to the door, rings the bell, and when the wife opens wide, well, we all know the story. Instead of a proposal, a conviction — plus those magazines, the jokes and three made-for-TV movies. Continue reading “A Girlfriend’s Guide to Amy Fisher | Kristie Betts Letter”