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As I sat in the bar waiting to meet a friend from work, Mickey the white-haired owner of the place
pointed with pride to framed photos of celebrities who had visited the bar on various occasions: mostly politicians, local news anchors, and athletes. One picture looked familiar. “Is that Cher?” I asked.

“Nah, that’s Kenny Kovalesky. He’s a neighborhood guy that dresses in women’s clothes. He comes in on Saturday nights, drinks cosmopolitans, and wins money arm wrestlin’ guys that don’t know he’s a man.”

Continuing to scan Mickey’s wall of fame, I noticed a frame enclosing a sweat sock instead of a picture. “Does that sock belong to a famous athlete?” I asked.

“No, that’s Jimmy Dombrowski’s sock. He’s one of our regular customers.”

“Why is it framed?”

“That’s the sock he was wearin’ when Richard Nixon pissed on him.”

“President Nixon?”

“Yep, Tricky Dick himself.”

“How’d that happen?”

“Well, it was back in ’72. Nixon was in town reviewing damage from the Hurricane Agnes flood. Our congressman told him that I had provided food and drinks to the Red Cross after the flood, so Nixon wanted ta stop by, shake my hand, and get a couple o’ pictures since it was an election year. He thanked me for bein’ a good American, then asked if he could use the men’s room.

“He headed back ta the john with two secret service guys. I guess he really hada go ‘cuz he got ta the urinal before his guards completely checked out the place. So they didn’t notice Jimmy Dombrowski in the stall sittin’ on the hopper. Just then Jimmy flings the door open and comes outta the stall pullin’ up his pants and cursin’ about his hemorrhoids. That scared the hell outta the secret service guys and one o’ them throws Jimmy against the wall while the other one grabs Nixon to protect him. Well Nixon was in mid-stream and ends up squirtin’ Jimmy’s ankle.

“After they realize that Jimmy is harmless, Nixon said, ‘I’m sorry but these guys were just doin’ their job.’ Jimmy, still holdin’ his pants up with one hand, says, ‘That’s OK it was a nice change. Usually when republicans are in charge people around here get shit on.’ Nixon didn’t like that too much so he zipped his fly walked outa the place without even sayin’ good bye.

“When Jimmy told us what happened I said, ‘I never got a chance to get Nixon’s picture so gimme your sock and I’ll frame that instead. So there it is original stain n’ all.”

Mickey was off tending to another customer when my friend arrived. I asked him if he had ever heard the story of Jimmy Domrowski’s sock.

“Oh sure, lots o’ times.”

“Is it true?”

“I dunno. All I can tell ya is the last time I didn’t believe Mickey I lost fifty bucks arm wrestlin’ some guy in an evening gown.”


This story was written by Michael J. Moran, a retired university professor living in Alabama. Having left behind the writing of scientific articles and text books, he now writes short stories and flash fiction reflecting the people and culture of the anthracite coal region of northeastern Pennsylvania where he was raised. He is a member of the Chewacla Writers Guild. His work has appeared in such publications as Hobo Pancakes, Clever Magazine, and Midnight Circus.


I was literally born with a chip on my shoulder. Lay’s Dill Pickle. The doctors ate it up, literally. My parents at this point already knew they were literally in the deep end with me. It was a water birth. Everything’s been downhill for me since, literally, except for the parts where I went up hills.

My childhood was literally a train wreck. Luckily I survived, but I’ve been scared of trains ever since. Elementary school was a trial by fire, literally, and I got through it with only minor burns. Middle school was literally a whole different ball game: baseball. Though I wasn’t popular in class, I was a hit with the baseball team — literally one time, when the pitcher threw me instead of the ball and the batter knocked me literally out of the park.

High School was literally a different story, so I won’t talk about it here.

When I arrived in College I literally found out I was swimming with sharks. Fortunately, a nice woman heard my screams and pulled me out of the water before the sharks literally had me for lunch. When I looked at the woman who saved me, it was love at first sight — literally because she was blind before we met. We literally fell for each other right then and there, and someone else had to pull us out of the water before the sharks came back. Her name was Elena. She was smart, funny, considerate, and literally radiant — which was helpful when the power went out. Our romance was literally a storm, which drew complaints from those who had to ride their bicycles through our romance on the way to their class.

Elena and I literally tied the knot a year after graduation, and a year later we got married. We rented an apartment on the east side that was literally a hellhole, and I had difficulty gaining meaningful work. In the mornings and afternoons I collected minimum wage literally licking the boots of the literal big wigs. I didn’t have a dollar to my name, thankfully, but still literally only had $269. Elena literally had bigger dreams, so she literally left me.

She was literally the one thing keeping me together, and once Elena was gone my life literally became one bad break after another. And now I’m in a full body cast, with not much hope for survival. I’m telling you all this so that you won’t repeat my mistakes. Instead of living like me, do literally the opposite: be brave, stand up for those who are wronged, make a difference, take pride in yourself, and create something good that wasn’t there before. Do it all with a smile.

Hopefully these last words will help you live a good life. And now mine is over, and it’s time for me to shuffle off this mortal coil — metaphorically speaking, of course.

This story was written by Jordan Moffatt, a writer and improvisor living in Ottawa.


In 1939, tiny Hale, Connecticut nearly imploded due to its misguided attempt to stage a minstrel show festival.

Like many bad ideas, money spurred the insanity, as the town needed a shiny new fire truck with no funding available to purchase it. Minutes of the town meeting, indicate the following exchanges:

“We need a new fire truck.”

“Then let’s get one.”

‘There is no money in our coffers.”

“So let’s raise the money.”

“How?”

“Let’s stage a minstrel festival, bring in all of the greatest acts in the country and charge people to see this wonderful indigenous American art form.”

“Okay, then all in favor of staging a minstrel festival, say Aye”

“AYE!”

“All those opposed, say Nay.”

“Nay.”

“The ayes prevail, now let’s gobble the cookies Mabel Swing cooked for us!”

Meeting adjourned.

First Selectman Cyrus Bee appointed himself the chair of Talent Procurement, lining up the Christy Minstrels, Gavitt’s Original Ethiopian Serenaders, Kunkel’s Nightingales and the Sable Brothers and Sisters.

Second Selectman August “Gus” Fleezer supervised the construction of the grand minstrel and exposition hall, relying on the generosity of town carpenters and loggers to build it.

Third Selectman Ram Stipulski was responsible for advertising and booze.

Taking on a life of its own, the festival sold out its tickets and Red Man Beer agreed to sponsor the event.

Then the advancing wave of history lapped at our heels, starting with the troublemakers and the pissants, claiming minstrel shows were objectionable.

This we had not thought about.

Outside agitators filed a lawsuit against the Town of Hale, seeking an injunction to stop the staging of this spectacle. At first the citizenry laughed at this attempt to quash our first amendment rights and the judge ruled that nobody, even outside agitators could stop our right to stage a minstrel festival; but then he hit us below the belt, agreeing with the agitators that we did not possess the proper licenses and permits to serve all the booze that we had bought. Plus the agitators picketed the Red Man Beer factory until its owners withdrew their sponsorship of the minstrel festival, changed their name to Red’s Beer and provide 100 cases of ice cold beer to the agitators. The festival promoter stole all of the ticket money that he collected and moved to Argentina.

Stripped of sponsorship, performance fees and unlimited beer, many of the prime acts announced that they were not coming to the festival, although once the town disowned the minstrel concept, Melanie decided to come. Drunk, the outside agitators burned down our monstrosity of a minstrel hall. The town then sued the agitators, and settled with them for enough money to buy that new shiny red fire truck.

This story was written by Don Hubbard.


He’d heard that things were usually hopping on Wednesday nights at Chez Moi. Since the bar was close to his new apartment, he decided to give it a try. He was nervous as usual going in without a wingman, but as soon as his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he slid onto a tipsy stool next to an even tipsier redhead who was swaying to an old Simon and Garfunkel song.

“Come here often?”

Jesus, Ted, talk about corny. You should just leave.

“Every single HUMP-day,” she replied with a wink. He could smell the Tabu, his favorite, wafting off of her.

Hmmm. Maybe I spoke too soon.

“Those your friends?” He nodded to the three boisterous blondes spinning quarters across their beer-sloshed table. They looked at him and tilted their heads in for a group giggle.

“Yeah, but I’m over twenty-one and free to do whatever.” Another wink.


“What ya having?”

“Martini,” she responded without hesitation.

“Can I buy you one?”

I hate friggin’ martinis, but what the hell.

“Sure, but I’d love to share.” Her leg nudged his. One stiletto heel dropped to the floor and her big toe snaked up his pant-leg before peeling his stocking down to the top of his shoe.

Larry said I don’t read social signals very well, but even I’m not so illiterate that I’d miss these.

“Barkeep! Martini, make it a double.” 


She drew the drink and his hand to her mouth. She sucked in his first two fingers for ten seconds and created a loud pop when the vacuum broke as she ejected them from her mouth. Her hand brushed his knee and headed north, way north. “Thanks. I’ve been wanting company.” She tonsil-hockeyed after his half-swallowed olive.

What a tongue. What is she, part anteater?

He surfaced for air. “Ahem. Wow.”

She threw back her head, yanked off the clip shackling her hair and shook out long auburn curls. “Wanna go to my place?” she cooed as she raised her eyebrows and waggled her tongue and the impaled olive up and down.

“Sure. Sounds like fun. By the way, what’s your name?”

“Hey, Buster!” She slapped his face. “Don’t get personal with me, you pervert.”

This story was written by R. Steven Heaps, author of The Rancid Walnut: An Ultrarunning Psychologist’s Journey with Prostate Cancer.


The tall, hungry-looking girl and the bird were being photographed together against the terracotta stone backdrop of the 17th century manor house. One was the focus, the other was the prop. One was all glamour, draped in aquamarine chiffon; the other was pecking in vituperation at the gravel.

“Amazing darling. Hold that pose. Give me more hair. Fuller lips. Great! Pull your top down a bit lovey.”

The skinny photographer lept around like a hyperactive spider. Around him, a tiny (but essential) entourage hovered, keeping out of both birds' way. They had all learnt early on that morning, where the safe zone was.

A maze of birdseed decorated the patio; it served as a lure for the peacock, with only partial success. The bird did his own thing. The model, who hadn't eaten in hours, kept eyeing the seeds hungrily. She was trying to work out how many calories there were in maize. The peacock drifted nearer to the valuable chiffon gown.

The model, nervous, on edge, shrieked, “Keep that bloody bird away from me can't you?”

“Think Karma darling, think Zen thoughts.” The photographer babbled on. “Lift your arms, like you're going to fly.”

Obediently the model lifted her stick thin limbs so that the chiffon fabric would appear wing-like, and would blow gauzily in the breeze. All was a vision of glorious aquamarine and turquoise glimmering in the sunshine until...

….the peacock, plunged in urgent forward momentum, aiming for the only bit of fat on the model, her juicy big toe, which was protruding from the sliver of shoes priced at several thousand.

Screams split the air, “Ow! It got me! That damn bird bit me! I'm going to need antibiotics in case I catch Ebola.”

There was some sniggering among the tiny entourage at that outburst.

“Great shot though darling, with you leaping up like that. Very energized.” The photographer commented. It was part of his job to stay calm.

The peacock, by now totally fed up with the carnival unfolding in his private domain, pulled in his own his own aquamarine cloak and mooched away to find his more tolerant mate.

This story was written by Alyson Faye, who is currently setting up a Wordpress blog site for herself and her fiction. She's on Facebook as Aly R, and has several pieces available online.


It happens every time I call my parents. Mom is watching TV in the den upstairs; Dad has skittered off downstairs to his Man Cave. When my call comes in, they always pick up their respective cordless phones simultaneously. At this point some parents would say, “I’ll hang up and let you talk to Mom,” or “I’ll pick back up after you’ve talked to Dad,” but no. They both stay on, one upstairs and one down. “All George needs down there,” Mom sighs, “is a half-bath and a hot plate, and I’d not see him again til Gabriel’s trumpet calls us to glory. Your dad’d float up and maybe we’d say two words to each other at the top step before flying off.”

To make matters worse they watch the news, which scares them to death. The first item they announce to me is the horrific global Report o’ the Day.

“Natalie,” Mom warns, “You know we’re not long for this world. The Arabs and ISIS is attacking. It’s the end times.”

“I don’t believe ISIS is after anybody in Bruce County, Tennessee.”

“You don’t never know,” Dad mumbles. “Hal went down to the post office other day and told Bobby they was a Arab-looking man in there handling mail behind the counter. We got to thinking about when they started that anthrax mess some years back.”

“We’re betting Bruce County’s going to have a bad anthrax problem before too long,” Mom says. “Hal wants to warn somebody about it but you know Kitty the postmistress had to take a rest at Shady Stone for bad nerves, so – ”

“So ain’t nobody to tell,” Dad interrupts. Then, as always, the subject is changed and I’m out of the conversation altogether.

“George, did you call the yard men?” Mom asks. “I’m looking out here at the front. All that mulch just laying around, it’s a eyesore.”

“I told you, Mildred, I ain’t heard nothing definite. Except Junior did call the other day, said they might have to put it off a week or two.”

“Put it off! I wanted to get that done today. When were you going to tell me about this?”

I try to ease back in. “Well, I hope y’all are enjoying this spring weather.”

“Junior and them got lots of jobs around here, Mildred.”

“You could have mentioned it. Here I was about to put makeup on and change into my good top, when you knew all the time they wasn’t coming.”

As I grit my teeth and listen to my parents interact for the first time that day (by phone in the same house), I wonder: how bad could anthrax be? Better that fate than being Raptured and spending eternity listening to such bickering. Maybe I’ll seduce the Arab working at the P.O., convert to Islam, get him to write me a love letter with anthrax enclosed, rub it all over myself.

Gabriel won’t even have to waste a precious trumpet blast on my lost soul.

This story was written by Ellen J. Perry, a Literature and Humanities instructor at A-B Tech College and UNC-Asheville. Her academic interests include 17th- and 18th-century British life and literature, Restoration drama, and Southern/ Appalachian culture. Ellen's short story "Milk, Bread, Soft Drinks" was awarded First Place in Fiction by the Bacopa Literary Review and published in their print journal (October 2015). Additional works of original fiction have appeared in Steel Toe Review, Deep South Magazine, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and Gravel among others. Ellen enjoys traveling to the beach, dancing, reading, and playing with her stylish cat, Ms. Coco Chanel. For more information please visit Ellen's website at www.ellenjperry.com.


The Bible-shouter group arrived too late to occupy the four corners in the heart of downtown Zenna Falls. Their weekly Saturday morning spiritual spouting spots were taken up by people seeking work. On one, stood an older man, wearing a herringbone sports-coat with leather elbow patches.

He held a sign, “Retired English professor…Willing to work under the table…metaphorically.” Another corner was covered by a man so skinny his clothes looked like they were hanging on for dear life.

His sign said, ”Will work for organic food.”

Standing on the third corner was a young couple holding guitars, with a sign held up by a music stand, “Willing to sing one Captain and Tennille song, but only one, please.”

A middle-aged looking woman without much other descriptive qualities stood at the fourth corner, holding a sign that said, “Will visit parents in nursing homes, and pretend I’m you.”

“Damn it,” said the group’s leader, under his breath, fearing his followers might take that as a signal to use wicked words. “We gotta get our anointed positions back. That’s the best spot in town to proselytize to the sinners.” One follower, who saw the situation as an opportunity to follow his real leader, his stomach, said, “Let’s pray on it over a bagel.”

The Bible-shouters, about a dozen in strength, went into the Corners Bagelry to devise a devious plan to get the four employment-seekers off their corners. They ordered plain bagels and butter. They didn’t want to be seen as being self-indulgent, like ordering the blueberry bagel with cream cheese. The group leader began to run his fingers through his white scraggly beard. As he was combing out fragments from his last supper, a devilish smile came over his face. “Brothers and sisters, I know the way.” In unison, the others cried out “Alleluia.” They often used the word “Alleluia,” as a sign of relief from not having to think outside the Bible.

“Here’s the plan,” said the leader. The others leaned in, like they were in one of their prayer huddles.

“We’ll hire the professor to sweep under the church pews.”

One follower spoke up, “Good idea, they really stink.”

“Then we’ll hire the organic food guy to clean the chicken coop, and let him eat the wild strawberries growing around it.”

“Maybe we can get the singers to play a song at the church,” said another.

“No,” said the leader. “A Captain and Tennille song would really bring down the rafters. We can’t afford the repairs. They can go with the nursing home lady and sing. Won’t matter what Captain and Tennille song they choose. The words don’t make any sense to begin with. Perfect match.”

“Who’s gonna hire the nursing home lady?” asked a follower.

The leader responded, “She can go see my Ma. We get her corner, and Ma gets her prayers answered that I’d visit someday.”


This story was written by Dan Allen, who lives in Oswego, NY, with his wife and two dogs.


I never thought I’d spend the happiest day of my life stuck in the toilet. But that’s exactly what’s happened. And I don’t mean being sick, or having the nervy diarrhoea like you get before you board a flight. I’m literally stuck. Arse and all. Trust me to pick the one bog with no seat. I dread to think what state my trail’s in, if I even still have one; I think it got half-flushed.

I’ve been shouting for twenty-odd minutes but nobody’s come to find me. I’m not sure they’re bothered. Everyone knows that wedding-guests only really turn up for the free bar. You’ll never see them from one year to the next, but it’s amazing how they all crawl out for something for nothing.

I wonder how my brothers are doing. They haven’t spoken since Kev broke Terry’s ankle but they were both meant to be coming. I need to be there, to keep the peace. To get married. Another party have booked the hall ten minutes after us and I’m worried we’re eating into their time - that’d be extra.

A noise attacks the air-freshened silence of the toilets. It’s the door outside opening; I can hear chatter from the registry office.

“Cath?” It’s that snobby-squeak from Samara. “You in here?”

I think that perhaps I won’t be found with my dusty knickers around my ankles by archaeologists - just one of the scenarios I’d imagined. As I wriggle, there’s an undignified splash like someone’s taking a dump and I feel even more sorry for myself and my wet, stuck arse. For some reason, I can’t answer. All I can do is stare at the sign on the back of the door telling me to please wash my hands. My perfectly-shod feet are obscuring my view of any illustrations on it.

“She not in here?” Trish must have followed her in.

“No.” Samara says it before I can even open my mouth. I can hear her perfect bloody Ted Baker shoes tottering in time to the swish of her perfect bloody Ted Baker dress. “She’s done a runner.”

“Never!”

The words ‘cheeky’ and ‘bitch’ are dancing around in my mouth. Samara’s always liked Bill, and I want to scratch her polyfilla’d face to pieces. I can’t let them know I’m here now. I need to rescue myself, and watch their faces drop when they realise I’ve heard it all.

I weld my fingers to the sides of the pan, trying a thrusting motion in an attempt to jimmy myself out. Then I remember I’m not a break-dancer or having sex. Hopefully tonight, married or not. I thrash my legs about like I’m warming a bed. They slap against the sides; even the porcelain’s telling me I eat too much. The girls have heard it too - they’re silent.

“Caff?”

I whip off my veil; it pulls my hair about, but I get it off and shove it under the door.

“Woss happened, girl?”

“I’m stuck.”

This story was written by Charlotte Byrne, a published author currently working towards an MA in Creative Writing. She writes with dogs at her feet and tea to hand, or sometimes the other way around.


Crime Scene Investigator Jerry Black entered through the already open front door of a hundred year old house. Jim Simon, the County Coroner, followed behind him, carrying a well-worn satchel. An old Who song was blaring from an adjoining living room. A police officer stood in the middle of the room next to a closed black body bag, waiting to greet them.

Inspector Black stopped short and looked to the side while listening to the music. “Is that Pinball Wizard?” he asked.

“I believe so, sir,” the officer replied. “I’ll go turn it off...” He raced into the adjoining room while Inspector Black and Jim turned their attention to the body bag. The music suddenly stopped while Inspector Black unzipped the body bag and spread the top part partially open. He quickly straightened up and turned to fight a sudden gag reflex.

“That is the grossest one yet,” said the police officer, returning from the other room. “Do you have any idea what happened?”

“Uh,” muttered Inspector Black, still struggling with a churning stomach. “That’s what we intend to find out. Jim?”

The coroner got down on one knee and dug around in the body bag, eliciting some pretty wet and nasty noises. Both the inspector and the police officer turned away in unmasked disgust.

After about a minute of examination, Jim said, “Well, the pheridectum has been abstuded by what appears to be a massive serectal anomaly. That spread into every brentacial orifice within the cerebral gropex.”

“In English,” said Inspector Black.

“I’m sorry. I thought you wanted that in Latin. Anyway, this man literally laughed himself to death.”

“Laughed...” blurted the police officer. “Why so gross?”

Jim looked up at the officer condescendingly and said, “Have you laughed really hard? I mean REALLY hard!” Jim looked through him as if viewing a disturbing scene far away. “Things happen. Embarrassing things. Long before you would actually die from it. It gets bad—real bad!”

Inspector Black looked around and said, “That explains the no signs of struggle.” That is when his sharp eye noticed that the TV on the other side of the room was on but displayed a blank blue screen. Looking at the box below it, he pushed a button on the top of the box. A door opened and a DVD disk slid out.

He read the top of the DVD aloud, “Americas Funniest Videos Cat Antics.” Using a handkerchief, he picked up a disk case from the top of the TV. Reading it, he said, “120 minutes of cats spazzing, crashing, falling into toilets, and doing amazingly silly stuff.” He looked over at Jim. “Two hours?”

Jim looked incredulous. “Two hours of cats falling into toilets. That would be too much for anyone!”

“If any but the victim’s prints are on this case,” said Inspector Black. “We have a murder on our hands. One thing for sure—there is definitely something funny going on here.”

This story comes from John Beavers, a self-described luddite just learning to blog. He works as a software engineer by day, but he’d rather just write fun stuff. Check out his blog at https://johnbeaverspen.wordpress.com/.


Robed to the heels in teal, mortared with green strands, pips on the shoulders, dodgy left knee, salutatorian arrives at the lectern with watered-down wee dripping off the tip of my dick like a loose faucet needs work. Accoutred thus it was a challenge to pee last minute; splashage ensued. I dipped it under the bathroom tap but the Associate Dean of Students came in so I pulled my gown wide around it and stared up close at my brown teeth in the mirror till he, vastly more experienced, left. He is in the front row.

My stain hidden behind the wooden monolith on which I lay my speech, the audience of graduants and loved ones begin to laugh at the formalities of my opening gratitude to the president, the dean et al, this is Obama’s alma mater. As ever here it’s the accent, the quirky Brit who’s been getting away with deadline murder from professors because I tell them I’m most awfully sorry. I also delight meatheads in the gym who beg me to insult them again in that quirky Brit way. To today’s packed auditorium every name out of my mouth sounds like an audition for Monty Python and the rows begin to quiver with mirth.

Being a mature student comfortable with metaphor, I introduce the idea of exigency in life to hundreds of deserving scholarship recipients, who broadly approve of my ‘Try to duck the shit stick’ message imbued with Nietzsche’s ‘All that does not kill me’, closing with ‘while you will survive the shit-stick battering not many people will help you clean up or likely have the stomachs to talk to you again at which point survival might be pointless’. How they laugh, at me, with me, it hardly matters, let laughter rule on its own terms, bang in the present moment, I’ve a turd in my undies. I leave for the wings to healthy applause, lots of chortling, head straight for the bathroom.

With great fortune the valedictorian, a heavily-accented German in a rigidly-pressed gown, speaks in high-quality monotone for 30 minutes about freedom of the press during the Third Reich and how we mustn’t let this happen again. From the wing all I can hear is someone’s grandad coughing. Most stuff, I’ve learnt, we can control. Other times what’s out of reach up front gets it so wrong that second place is just as good as first.


This story was written by Daniel Roy Connelly. A former British diplomat who left school at 17. He holds a first-class honours degree from Columbia University and an MLitt (dist.) and PhD in Shakespeare’s Othello from The University of Saint Andrews. His poetry is widely published online and in print. He was the winner of the 2014 Fermoy International Poetry Festival Prize, a finalist in the 2015 Aesthetica Magazine Creative Writing Prize and winner of the 2015 Cuirt New Writing Prize for poetry. His recent work has been published by The North, The Transnational (in German), Ink, Sweat and Tears and is forthcoming in Critical Survey. Check him out on his website Rumination and Publication. 


Hank, or more commonly known by his nickname Four, had been having a difficult year. His wife had left him for someone younger, he’d been fired from his job, and he was living with his oligodactyly diagnosis. Well, actually, that last one had always been true. You see, Hank had the unfortunate luck to have been born without any thumbs. Hence, the nickname.

Thumbs - or more specifically, his lack thereof - had been a constant theme in his life. He’d been made fun of ever since he could remember. Even his ex-wife used to force him to wear gloves whenever they went out to nice places. He’d always felt cursed, constantly blaming his abnormal hands for everything that went wrong in his life.

Looking back, Four had to marvel at the irony of the event. It was as if God himself had planned the entire thing, just for a laugh. But to fully appreciate it, we have to go back to that day. The day that won Four a $10,000 lawsuit . . .

Four poured himself another mug of coffee. He had a job interview at noon and had spent all morning stressing about it. His nerves were on edge as he read through his notes for the millionth time. If this interview went well it could change things for him. Having a purpose again, a reason to put pants on every morning, was something he desperately needed. With his confidence so low he’d barely left the house in weeks. His personal hygiene had really been taking a hit. But here he was; showered, freshly shaved, and dressed in his best suit.

As Four grabbed his keys and coat he noticed the red numbers on the clock displaying 11:11. Make a wish. As a reflex, his mind went straight to thumbs. Glancing down at his hands he decided to focus on something a little more realistic - nailing this job interview. With that optimistic thought in his head he headed out the door.

-----

Four stopped to buy a soft pretzel and soda on his walk home from the interview. Chewing slowly, he thought about how horribly the meeting had gone. The man was definitely not going to hire him after that. He blushed to himself, remembering his awkward attempt to avoid a handshake. What was I thinking? A fist bump!

Four wiped some crumbs off his tie, throwing the rest of the pretzel into the trash. He rolled his eyes as he walked past the nail salon on his block. Seeing all the perfectly manicured people inside always annoyed him. Cracking open the tab of his Coke, he lifted it to take a big gulp. Four paused, furrowing his brow. He peered into the can before laughing aloud to himself, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” And there it was, floating at the top of his drink: a thumb.

This story was written by M.B. Claire, who is a self-proclaimed amateur writer, aspiring novelist, and screenwriter for TV shows.


I hate Christmas.

Every year my family’s relatives come over—all twenty-seven and a half of them. (Kate counts as one and a half since she’s expecting a baby). As usual, I get kicked out of my own house as soon as they all arrive, while great-grandma Josephine’s full-blooded Pomeranian, Baryshnikov, gets to stay inside. But does the family’s loyal pet cat get to stay inside too? No-o-o! I get thrown out into the cold.

They say that I “get in the way.” I might “bother” someone. Well, Baryshnikov the Pomeranian bothers a lot more people than I ever would. Whenever he’s not the center of attention, he yips and yaps until someone makes over him. I can even hear him from outside, here in the freezing cold.

On Christmas morning, the family always sticks a scrumptious-looking turkey in the oven. It cooks all day long while I stare up at it. I always wish they’d let me have a bite, but that never happens. About the time it gets done, the relatives start arriving.

First there are the usual greetings and pleasantries.

“Hello, Isabella! How’s your arthritis?”

“Oh, you know me. I never complain.”

“Great-grandma Josephine is here!” If Great-grandma Josephine is here, then so is Baryshnikov. Hiss!

Then the mom of my family always manages to say, “Is that cat still in here? Somebody put the cat out!”

As Cousin Billy Bob drags me to the back door, Baryshnikov the Pomeranian snickers. He doesn’t think I heard him, but I did. What a rotten Christmas!

So, now I’m sitting out here in the cold while they eat turkey. They forgot to give me my usual half can of wet cat food. They forgot to give me anything at all. I’ll probably starve out here. It’s not fair. Baryshnikov gets to eat all the scraps that fall from the table. You’d think they’d at least give a few crusts of bread to their poor, hungry, freezing cat.

Now I can hear them singing. “We wish you a Merry Christmas!”

Oh, no they don’t. They don’t wish me to have a Merry Christmas. They threw me out in the cold without any food while I listened to them eating. No, they don’t care about me. Just forget about the loving, family cat. He doesn’t matter.

Now they’re opening presents. I can hear them laughing and thanking each other and having a good time. Everyone gets presents, even Baryshnikov the dog. Everyone, that is, except me. What a lousy Christmas!

I paw and scratch at the screen door. “Mew, mew?”

Nothing happens.

“Meow?”

Nobody answers my cries. Every time I meow, a cloud of fog comes from my mouth. I’ll probably turn into a frozen cat-sicle by the time someone remembers to let me back inside.

Evidently no one is paying attention to Baryshnikov either. He’s barking up a storm in there. I can hear him clearly all the way out here.

“Yipyipyipyipyipyipyipyipyip!”

I can’t stand that dog. He would even try the patience of Saint Nicholas himself.

“Yipyapyipyapyipyap—yipe!”

Suddenly the barking stops, and the back door flies open. Baryshnikov sails past my head and lands in the snow, the Christmas snow.

Maybe this Christmas isn’t so bad after all.

This story was written by Rebecca Linam, who teaches German at the University of North Alabama. Her previous work has appeared in "Lights and Shadows," "The Write Place at the Write Time," "Skipping Stones," and "Times Daily." She has also published four novels. For more information, please visit her website at www.rebeccalinam.com or follow her on Twitter @rebecca_linam.



Captured on the giant canvas, a gray-haired man stands, palms outstretched, shoulders in a deep shrug. He pleads with the woman militantly posed opposite him. Her wrinkled face tight with rage, she points an arthritic finger at him. Under the table in a corner an orange cat cowers. How long she has been angry with him – minutes, decades – this elderly man who appears to be her husband? Who is the painter depicting?

They are, in fact, the artist’s parents. Barry Ridge breaks out of the painting and walks into the kitchen. He returns to the living room five minutes later with a tray. On it are two cups of tea, a plate with two scones and a bowl of milk for the white cat that now sits on Pamela Ridge’s lap. “You are always so very kind,” she says, smiling at him.

They have calmed downed considerably in the past few weeks. When they drove to the art gallery in Mystic and viewed their daughter’s double portrait of them for the first time, they were stunned as they hadn’t been since JFK’s assassination over fifty years ago.

They spent the two hours on their drive home from Mystic probing their daughter’s psyche. “What would make Riva do a thing like this?” Barry asks, tears invading his voice. “How many times, in the years she lived with us, was I ever angry with you? And we never had an orange cat… and the hideous furniture in that painting.”

Was Riva on the verge of another breakdown? They were paralyzed with the year-long one she had suffered when she was twenty. Had Riva’s own daughter condemned her for the mythic never-ending battles she engaged in with a variety of lovers? Was the double portrait revenge for their not supporting her when she left her job as a portfolio manager to take up painting?

During the car ride home they couldn’t figure out what was behind Riva’s behavior. Pamela told Barry, as she had often, that he had been a caring father who spent more time with his daughter than most. Pamela had been a terrific mother, too, building Riva’s confidence, flowing with her whims and whines.

They went the next day to talk to the priest in the church they regularly attended. He calmed them but did not have an answer about what might have motivated their daughter to create such a monstrous canvas.

Now, as they are finishing their tea, Barry retrieves his iPad from the bedroom. They are planning to return to Florence in two months, and he wants to purchase tickets online for the Uffizi and Accademia. It’s been a quarter-century since they’ve seen the David. He moves next to Pamela to show her a photo of a newly-discovered Botticelli.

“I have an idea,” he says. “You can find everything on the Internet.”

He types in “Riva Ridge” on the Google search bar. What they found sculpted them in stone.

This story was written by Lee Marc Stein, a retired direct marketing consultant living in East Setauket, New York. His poems have been published in Blast Furnace, Blue & Yellow Dog, Blue Lake Review, Message in a Bottle, Miller’s Pond Poetry,River Poets Journal, Slow Trains Journal, Still Crazy, Subliminal Interiors,Write Place at the Write Time and The Write Room. His first book of poetry, Whispers in the Galleries, features ekphrastic poems.

Lee has had short stories published in Bartleby Snopes, nicollsroad, Write Place at the Write Time, Cynic Online, and Down in the Dirt. He leads workshops at Stony Brook University’s Lifelong Learning program on modern masters of the novel. A poor golfer, he excels at creating excuses for not playing well.


Dead cats aren’t funny. Especially to my neighbor, Holly who stood on her porch with tears in her eyes looking at the scattered remains. “Everybody knows there’s coyotes around here,” she said.

“Why didn’t they listen?”

I didn’t know.

“Sorry,” she blew her nose. “It’s just that my cats are like my children.”

Her sixteen-year-old son Ben confirmed with nod, “It’s true.”

“I couldn’t imagine if that was one of my cats,” she said.

School was starting soon and I didn’t want the children to see the mess as they passed on the sidewalk. Holly’s son shrugged and went inside. The dead cat was my problem. I gripped its remains through a trash bag and slipped it into another trash bag like a wet clump of old carpet. “Thank you,” Holy said. “You are such a good neighbor. But just look at all the fur that’s left.”

At a glance I knew I was going to need a rake.

Surprising amounts of flesh and blood was spread throughout her grass. I raked several mounds of leftover leaves and tabby. I hurried because I needed to get my daughter off to school and get to work. There was something insufficient about leaving the remains in the alley. It felt like I was digging a pauper’s grave using plastic bags for a pine box. But what else could I do? I just hoped to get the image of the poor animal out of my head.

When I returned home from work Holly said owner of the cat remained a mystery. “It’s so awful,” she said. Tears rimmed her eyes. That’s when I knew I would be going door-to-door for the dead cat’s owner. It was the right thing to do.

My other next-door neighbor Tom, a retired accountant, answered the door with no shirt on. Women’s tennis played in the background. He had a beer in one hand and a remote in the other. His cat vaguely resembled the mess on Holly’s lawn. I apologized and explained the situation.

I was truly sorry.

“Nope,” he said. “Ginger is on the couch lickin’ her crotch –see?”

Ginger paused, leg raised, obviously bothered.

I darkened five doors before I decided to give up.

“Maybe you could try in an hour when everybody else is home from work?” Holly suggested. My wife texted she was on the way with our daughter. I needed to start dinner.

“Fine,” Holy said, her eye wet. “I just couldn’t imagine if my cat didn’t come home for supper. Imagine if that were your cat –your child?”

It would be devastating, I agreed. But the hunt for the dead cat’s owner could start anew tomorrow. Halfway through my bland chicken and yams, our doorbell rang.

“Scott down the street says it might be his cat.”

Ok.

“He wants to see it,” she choked up, “to identify the body.”

Ok.

“I told him you threw in the trash in the alley.”

Great.

“So, which bag is it in?”

“All three.”

This story comes from Patrick Love, who paints pictures and writes. His humor has been published by Praxis Magazine and Sediments Literary-Arts Journal. His website,www.ploveart.com, is in slow development.


Denise shook her head with motherly disapproval before pouring. “What are you doing in here anyway?”

“What do you mean, what am I doing here? I’m drinking.”

“No sweetie, I mean, why are you drinking here, today? I’m used to seeing you on Tuesday nights.” Denise cracked a smile, and set the glass of suds in front of him.

“It is a bar. That’s what people do at bars. Why wouldn’t I be drinking here?”

She rolled her eyes. He was missing the point, but she wouldn’t be a good bartender if she didn’t egg him on. Denise placed her hand on her hip, and continued. “I don’t know, maybe because it’s ninety degrees outside and it’s only three o’clock in the afternoon.”

Carl rose a finger, with one eye shuttering open. This ought to be good. “What are you doing here?”

“I work here. I have to be here. Trust me, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t.” Denise pointed towards the tavern’s door, which was propped open with a phonebook. “I’d be out there, basking in the beautiful sunshine.”

“And what am I supposed to be doing out there?” Carl was a dirty old bastard, but he asked sincerely like a five-year old lost in a grocery store.

“I don’t know. Fly a kite?”

“Not windy enough.” Carl grunted.

“Play Frisbee?” Denise tossed a coaster Carl’s way. She looked up to see a few snickering guests. Bingo. Happy drunks mean happy tips.

Carl snatched it out of the air and placed it under his beer. “No one to play with,” he responded.

“How about a picnic? That’s it—why don’t you go to the park and have a picnic?”

“I fucking hate picnics!” Carl pounded the table.

“Whoa, easy now.” He better not start something. As funny as that’d be, bloody guests are the worst tippers.

“Who hates picnics anyway?”

“I do! I literally just said that. Are you not listening?”

“What I mean is, why do you hate picnics?”

Carl took a gulp of beer. “When I was a kid, my parents took me to the park for a picnic. It was beautiful outside—just like today. I was so excited, having never been on a picnic before. Everything I knew of them was from what I saw on TV—cheeseburgers, potato salad, watermelon, and, ugck, tofu dogs. Then, just as we were about to eat, an entire swarm ants carried everything away forever, even my parents.”

Denise laughed like a Batman villain.

“Why are you laughing?” Carl growled.

“That story about your parents being carried off by ants—it’s just funny is all.”

“Well, it’s not that funny. Because it’s true.” Carl’s eyes began to water as he stared down into his now empty glass. “It actually happened. There must have been a million of those six-legged demons.”

Denise rested her hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry buddy. I thought you were kidding around.”

“Well, I wasn’t.”

Denise was hard as a rusty nail, but her eyes swelled the sight Carl sobbing. “It must be hard losing your parents.”

After a few bouts of emotion in his sleeve, Carl sat up, and wiped his face with a cocktail napkin. “Oh, me hating picnics has nothing to do with losing those damn vegan hipsters. I hate picnics because the only thing those ants left was those damn tofu dogs. Nearly starved walking to KFC.”

Denise threw a napkin at his head, and the bar erupted in laughs. Best tips she’d ever gotten off a Tuesday afternoon shift.

This story was written by Jon Penfold. Jon is the author of The Road and the River: An American Adventure, which tells the true story of his travels across the United States by bicycle and down the Mississippi River by canoe. His short stories have been featured in numerous anthologies. For more of his writing, please visit jonpenfold.com.

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