Tag Archives: short fiction

This Is Not A Pretty Story

by Melissa D. Johnston

shadows and faultlines new

November 16, 1992. Clemson University. I am flying. My new blue and white running shoes pound orange clouds from the ground. The clouds multiply, leaving a trail as distinct as any fighter pilot’s. I rewind and play the intro to Tori Amos’s “Precious Things” for the fourth time, fine-tuning the details of the video I’m directing in my head: A lone girl sits on an underground train. Successive light and shadow flash through the windows, illuminating and darkening her face. The alternation syncs simultaneously and steadily with the music and implied speed of the train. Slowly the changing of light and dark lose their rhythmic cadence until there is no discernible pattern and the scene becomes a rapid chaotic flash of light and dark that ends abruptly. Complete blackness. First line: “So I ran faster…” Cut to—

He comes from nowhere.

“And it brought me here—”

A slam so hard my tailbone cracks. I see nothing but his lips. And something shiny. So shiny, catching the mid-day sun.

“If you scream I’ll kill you.” His eyes. Hard. Polished black marble occluding blue-sky iris. I open my mouth and the shiny object takes shape. “C’mon!” he jerks my arm and pushes me into the only wooded section of Clemson’s perimeter loop.

I remember the sun. Through barren trees. Black flat human shadow with liquidly muted colors.  Moving. Back. Forth. Backforthbackforthbackforth. Back. Sweat drips. Mine? His? The crunch of leaves. Reaching. His. My limbs are rock, legs endlessly falling.  He picks up the knife. Holds it, suspended, under my right eye.

“You’ll never forget me, sweetie.”


I wake up screaming. Again. My face chasms, splitting the bed. Far away voice. An arm reaches across the divide. “Annie?” I stone, protecting my side. Again.

In the morning light I can barely see it. A nearly four inch rough-edged, floss-sized scar below my right eye, running nose to ear. Eric always says he can’t see it. He wraps his arms around me and smiles into the mirror, meeting my eyes. I brush his arms aside. “I need to go,” I say, picking up the carryall.

“No human being should be reduced to a thing,” my philosophy professor had said my junior year. “Human beings are always ends in themselves, never simply means.” I raise my hand. “What happens if someone treats someone else as means alone?” He pauses for a moment. “I believe the act of treating someone else as a thing—no matter how small or brief—is an act of force. It cuts both ways. Both people lose their humanity in the interaction.” After class I cry in the third floor bathroom in a puke green stall.

“Are you okay?” a strange voice asks.

“I’m fine.” I wipe my tears, blow my nose, and walk calmly out the door.



My mind somersaults the dusk-colored shapes of Willow Street in an elaborate water ballet.

“You’ve hardly touched your food.” His words float with street shapes, freely and indistinctly.

“Annie!” I startle and turn from the window, in shame. It’s our first anniversary.

“Why don’t we go?”

I grab my coat.

Outside, Eric takes my hand.  Stopping in front of a metal bench, he says, “Let’s sit here for a minute.”

We are silent, our faces mirror. “I’ve been thinking,” he says, nervously spinning his wedding ring. He pauses. “I need to say something to you.”

The bench begins to split.

“I do see it.” He raises his finger against the glare of streetlight and places it gently on my face, tracing the entire length of the scar. My body shakes. I need to leave. Now. I stand up.

“No, you’re not leaving this time.” He tugs my arm downward. My eyes narrow. I will not be forced.

He lets go. “Please.” I sit down. “Please talk to me. I’m so tired of this coming between us.” His eyes graze my scar. “Tell me the story. All of it.”

I turn away. “It’s not a pretty story.”

“Sometimes we don’t need pretty stories. We need true ones.” Time suspends for one brief moment. He holds me. We both cry together in the middle of the bench, for all the world to see.

Martians Don’t Eat Corn

by Laura Eno

istockphoto--corn field with clouds

They found Bart Haskins this morning at the bottom of an old well. Called it an accidental death, but I know better. Third death this week too. They weren’t no accidents. It was the Martians that done it.

Those three men wouldn’t believe me when I said that the Martians don’t eat corn and they better plant something else. No sir, they just went right ahead and planted like they always did, but look at their crops now – withering away even as the stalks are sprouting out of the ground. ‘Course the sheriff said their crops were poisoned, but it was really the Martians and their death ray. I tell ya, you don’t want to get on those Martians’ bad side. They’re some mean, nasty critters, if you ask me.

It all started back in the fall, when I was plowing. I had me some nice straight rows in the dirt when one of their flying saucers landed right smack in the middle of my field. I was some perturbed, I’ll tell ya. A mite scared too, if truth be told. I musta blacked out, but when I woke up there were these crazy circles in my field.

My head felt none too good so I went back home to lie down. That’s when I had the dream. You see, those Martians had taken me to their flying saucer and instructed me to tell the townsfolk that Martians don’t eat corn and we should plant something else. The dream brought it all back to me.

Well, I tried to warn the others, but they told me I was crazy or drunk. Just because I have a still don’t mean I’m always drunk. I’m gonna miss the corn on account of that, but you can’t argue with a Martian.

So anyway, I figured it’s their loss if they don’t want to make the Martians happy. But now that spring’s here, people are dying and I’m right scared. The law don’t believe me, either. They locked me up this morning, said they was gonna try me for murder and destroying crops with kerosene.

They’ll see though, when all the crops are dead. Then they’ll have to listen. I know the Martians will get me out of here soon. You see, I planted me some green beans. The Martians told me they really like those.

Laura EnoLaura Eno lives in Florida with three skulking cats and two absurdly happy dogs. After spending years immersed in college but never figuring out what she wanted to be when she grew up, she now writes novels late at night with the help of muses from the underworld. And, no, she still hasn’t grown up but that’s okay.

She is the author of fifteen novels and novellas, ranging from fantasy to romance to horror, and has stories included in nineteen published anthologies.

Explore Laura’s work at her blog, visit her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter.


by Myke Johns

Accismus by Hilary Kelly


The crow took flight, not knowing where it was going.

The girl had left home in a similar manner. She had shouted that she was off for a walk, the punctuating door slam throwing up a roadblock between her and home. She realized that she had no plan beyond leaving. So she left.

Eight blocks away was the park, a sprawling green space that eddied and dawdled like a summer afternoon. The trees and grass invited her in and she followed, hoping to lose an hour.


Above, a call and black wings shook the high pines around the east end of the park. The crow pecked at some sap, bored. She walked down the path below and circled the tree, running her hand along the trunk. Her hand strayed behind her and she shouldered the pine, spreading both arms around the rough pillar. She sat down, and as she looked up and scanned the branches, the crow leapt from its perch and spiraled down towards her.

She gasped and nearly lost her balance, her arms giving way behind her back at this sudden break in the still sky. Eyes shaded and narrow, she admired the bird–watching its slow descent. Its wings were spread wide for resistance–a black blade against the green and blue above. It landed at her knees, shook its wings and cawed.

“Hey bird. Hey bird.” she said. It cocked its head back and forth, examining her with both eyes, then looked at her dead-on. “Where have you been today?” The crow ruffled its feathers and rasped and barked. “That sounds exciting.”

A door slammed somewhere–a car on a nearby street. She whipped her head in its direction. She was back at her house–where the yelling was–deep there, in the womb of her beddings and headphones and quiet music. The yelling was usually outside of her room, between the other two. She’d learned to lie low. But every time she heard her name, muffled by all the layers between her and them, she felt like a catalyst. She wanted to explode.

“I’ve been cooped up in a house all day with people who don’t like me much,” she said to the bird. The crow sat still. “They just…” She thought of their faces but could not see them. Their voices rang wordlessly through her, as incomprehensible as the call of the crow. She let it swirl around, quiet, then ease from her nostrils like bitter smoke as she exhaled. “There’s nowhere else for me to go. I’m…” she looked down at the bird. It was staring intently. “I’m talking to a bird. This is the best conversation I’ve had all week.”

The crow stretched its wings to half-span and hopped awkwardly toward her. A flurry of wings and a surprised shudder and it was perched on her arm. “Hey! Hey bird!” It fought to keep balanced on her forearm and looked into her face. The animal’s round black eyes betrayed nothing–she could read nothing in the ancient architecture of feathers and pebbled skin. The crow bent down and pecked at her arm. “Ow! Fuck!” She shook, but the bird gripped tighter, its talons digging in, drawing blood. It pecked again, this time loosing a beakful of skin. She screamed and grabbed at the bird’s neck, but the bundle of muscle and will power drew its head up, pulling a thin strand of flesh.

She pulled at the bird harder, this time yanking it from her bloody arm. It dropped her skin, but managed to snatch it in one claw and hold fast. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” she yelled, and the crow took flight, not knowing where it was going.

The tangle of sinew became wound around the bird’s claw and knotted there. At the other end, she stared in horror as the slender thread pulled from her arm as yarn from a sweater. She found herself focusing on the sensation. The tugging, the pulling away–it felt like a continuous ripping, an old scab being peeled off. The crow flapped against this anchor and pulled more. She gripped the sinew and held fast and raced for a way to free this animal from her body. A sharp yank and a screech of frustration from above and she pulled back defiantly, sank her teeth into her own lost skin and bit hard. It was less painful than she thought, like the flaking end of a hangnail, but the skin stayed firm. The crow pulled harder now as it caught an updraft and soared into the sky. Circling above her, she felt herself unravelling as the bird stole away more and more. The line of tissue travelled up her arm, around her shoulders, and down her back, pulling so fast it nearly lifted her off the ground.

As the tissue tore away from her back and she felt it spiraling away, the pain bore a new sensation. She felt a pressure between her shoulders–pounding from her spine, it felt. Her skin unraveled and thinned and the pounding inside drank in the cool air. Like mountain wind billowing into the mouth of a cave. She inhaled sharply.

As quickly as the strap of flesh had peeled away from its purchase, her skin drew taut–from the slender thread wrapped at the crow’s foot, through the naked air and down down down to the center of her back. An unpleasant twang reverberated through her chest, in sympathy with her reluctant and airborne twin. The thin line of tissue stopped, anchored right between her shoulders.

The bird was surprisingly strong as it strained at her skin. She danced in each direction it pulled as it circled in the air and it in turn flapped and bobbed at this awkward ballast. As the tether strained, she was pulled to her toes. The air involved itself with a gust of wind, pulling hair across her face and as she spat and brushed, the crow followed the breeze. There was stumbling sideways like a newborn fawn, but then her legs were carrying her after the crow. It felt as if she was being lifted off of her feet, her weight reduced, gravity losing grasp. Her strides grew longer as she ran, until she was bounding over hills with barely an effort. Was the bird leading her, she wondered, or were they moving in synchronicity? Leaping from footfall to footfall, she spread her arms, fingers wide and palms flat. The wind moved through her, swept under her and the strain on her back tugged like an invitation.

At the crest of a hill, she jumped and the sky received her. She felt only lift, only equilibrium between land and sky. The crow carried them and she looked at it and it cawed down at her. She reached up and grasped at the tether between them and began to climb, looping her ankles under her, straining to pull up and up and higher still. As she climbed, the crow took to the clouds. They cleared the treetops and the town below. The rush of cool air filled her ears. It stung tears from her eyes and higher she climbed. When she got to the crow’s feet, she held onto them. The bird looked down and opened its beak; its maw yawned wide and engulfed her. The crow struggled to fly with a girl in its belly, but inside, her hollow chest and strong arms found new homes. When she opened her eyes, she saw straight ahead, the blue of the world reaching farther than she’d ever been able to see. Testing her arms, she flapped once and her new wings beat against the wind. She laughed, and a brand new call echoed against the earth.

Myke JohnsMyke Johns is a radio producer at WABE, Consigliere of WRITE CLUB Atlanta, and the man in charge of screaming in the band Mice in Cars. He also writes things down at The Occasional Triumphant.

Phantom Sister

by Linda Simoni-Wastila

Marlena comes to me on the cusp of sleep and wakefulness, when the world blurs grey. She soars through yellow-tinted waves, her bald shining skull pushing through water. Although she never speaks, she makes a gurgling sound, high-pitched like the bottle-nosed dolphins at the aquarium. I look but never see her face. When I wake, the bottoms of my feet sting as though I walked over a yard of smoking coals. Those mornings I call in sick and sleep in the boat’s hold. The gentle rocking hugs me.

My twin sister Maria lives halfway around the world in the Catoctin Mountains. She paints and writes poems about trees. We rarely see each other but the internet tethers us. Maria has the same dreams about Marlena – we think of them as visitations — but she feels the ache in her chest, the left side, a sharp pain like someone has plunged in an icy hand and wrested out her heart. Afterwards she also feels an uncommon, exhausting peace. We wonder if this is how we tangled in our mother’s womb: hands to feet to heart.

Thanksgiving Day, I find myself alone on the boat, flipping through scrapbooks, missing my sister. I find an old photo of the two of us, a college road trip to Baltimore. Our smiling faces squeezed together, the Washington monument towers behind us. I scan the picture, push send. The image zips to Maria’s mountaintop. Seconds later, she writes back. “There’s a hole between us.” I look closer at the photograph and my soles burn.

Linda Simoni-Wastila writes from Baltimore, where she also professes, mothers, and gives a damn. Her stories and poem are published or forthcoming at Smokelong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, Scissors and Spackle, MiCrow, The Sun, The Poet’s Market 2013, Hoot, Connotation Press, Camroc Press Review, Right Hand Pointing, Every Day Fiction, and Nanoism, among others. Senior Fiction Editor at JMWW, she works one word at a time towards her MA in Creative Writing at Johns Hopkins and two novels-in-progress. In between, when she can’t sleep, she blogs at http://linda-leftbrainwrite.blogspot.

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