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Jonas “Gumball” Peters froze in front of the refrigerator, unable to proceed; fishing around in his pocket, he produced a quarter and swallowed it, allowing him to tug the fridge handle. Gumball groaned as he looked inside, subtracting another quarter from the roll in his robe and sending it tumbling down his throat before grabbing the cup of plain yogurt. Yogurt retrieval cost him a dime only a week ago. He recalled his youth, when ten minutes on roller blades meant a reasonably clean penny.

This wasn’t the only recent upcharge: taking a shower, formerly a twenty-five cent affair – dandruff shampoo included – was a whopping six-seventy-five as of last night, with everything from soap bar deterioration percentage to teaspoon spills of conditioner to adjusting the temperature of the water a mere three degrees requiring payment. After gulping down the triple dime charge for thirty seconds’ worth of towel drying the previous evening, Gumball decided to restrict his showering to once every two days, to combat the effects of inflation. However, due to how pricey breakfast was already looking, Gumball considered amending his personal shower edict to once every four days.

Gumball palmed the yogurt and smacked his lips but avoided licking them, figuring he’d rather put that two penny charge towards spoon selection. Gosh, he thought, even the formerly rock-bottom saliva rates would have him feeling like a tollbooth in no time. Perhaps he would avoid using a spoon and take discount slurps from the yogurt container. The quarter that it cost to open the yogurt down his gullet, Gumball then lowered his lips to the container and took long slurps in order to avoid the dreaded slurp repeater tax. One he allowed to go on for too long, which led to a plain yogurt-lined windpipe and a spasm of coughing, which he would have to purchase on cough credit. Dropping the yogurt during the coughing was thankfully free.

When Gumball opened his eyes to the mess of the yogurt spill on the linoleum, he wanted to swear but knew profanity fares alone would send him to the poorhouse. He angrily reached for his roll, but it too had found the floor during his coughing fit, and bending down was fifty cents. Gumball pictured his trusty coin change maker belt, slung over the headboard of the bed he learned this morning would be too expensive to use for more than a couple hours a night, unless he could start swallowing rubies.

He had just enough quarters in the roll to make it to his belt, though leaps and vaults were several bits down the hatch and sprinting was a lavish expenditure. Gumball used his complimentary daily “Yes!” when remembering the emergency fifty-cent piece still in his pocket, but after choking it down and squatting to retrieve the roll of quarters, he froze. Reaching for salvation was now costing thirty-five cents a pop, which he did not have.

Still squatting, Gumball decided not to worry. That was too expensive.

This story was written by Patrick Bernhard, a native of the Chicago suburbs. Patrick received his BA from Oberlin College and his MFA from Northwestern University. His work has appeared in Wilder Voice. He currently teaches English at College of Lake County.

Our app describes itself as “powerful photo editing software;” this may be over-the-top for $3.99, but the 4.5-star rating will convince you to splurge.

You purchase the app and, while waiting for it to download, finish your $14 bottle of chocolate wine.

Our loading screen is bright pink and has a nice, familiar logo that tested well with key demographics. You might recognize it as Garamond, which you’ve loved ever since a college professor declared it a "sexy font."

Now select the intended picture: one of you and your boyfriend, taken at last year’s company Christmas party. The picture is truly a fixer-upper; your eyes aren’t too squinty and his smile isn’t completely forced, but it’s still a first draft. Love, like many things, is never as pretty in reality.

First step: corrections. Slide the scale between 1 and 10 until you like what you see. Brightness gets a 7. Saturation drops down to a 2. Clarify earns a respectable 5.

Filters come next. Focus on making your skin tanner and your hair blonder. With a filter called “Persephone” you’ll look as though you’ve just returned from a trip to Florida. Raise that shit up to a 9. It gives your boyfriend a faint orange tint, but everything comes with a price.

Soon, you’ll start to see more flaws. Why does your face look so asymmetrical? Is that the hint of a triple chin? This is when you discover our premium features—including noise reducers and blemish removers—all for an additional $1.99.

That’s how they get you, you say, shaking your head and authorizing the purchase.

The noise reducer reminds you of those JCPenney family portraits your mom insisted on every Thanksgiving. You’re not sure what it actually does, but somehow you look prettier. After sliding the scale up and down, you decide to leave it at a glowy 4.

The blemish fixer promises to remove the period-induced red bumps around your chin. It zooms in automatically, highlighting problem areas you hadn’t even noticed, and with a few taps your face is dewy and golden.

When you’ve finished, upload the picture across all social media. Write a simple caption like “happy anniversary, my true love xoxoxo.” Add a heart emoji for emphasis.

Go to your bedroom and crawl into bed, where he’s already sleeping soundly. Your parents still don’t know that you’re living together out of wedlock, but that’s a conversation for another day. Put the phone on your nightstand.

You used to sleep with several night lights; it reminded you of falling asleep during movies. He can’t sleep with any light, so now you do without.

Compromises make you both happy, you think.

But tonight, you turn away and look over at your phone, where the notifications from your social media post are illuminating the screen and your corner of the room. And you’re still thinking about that perfectly edited picture, peacefully drifting away into dreamland, when he begins to snore.

This story was written by Jessye Scott. Jessye graduated from the Florida State University, where she worked as the poetry editor for The Kudzu Review. Her work has previously been featured in The Quotable, The 2016 Scythe Prize, and WFSU’s Fresh Picked Prose. She is currently working on a collection of short stories.

It’s nothing, she said to her super-duper hypochondriac husband for the billionth time. And yes, that’s billionth with a major capitol B.

I think I have this.

I think I’m getting that.

Look at my eyes.

Glaucoma, followed by a coma.

It looks like herpes!

Have you been cheating?

Sorry, never mind.

What if I do go into a coma, and they think I’m dead and they bury me alive, and I wake up? I want to be cremated, but only if I’m really dead.

You do know I’m claustrophobic!

You’re a phobic alright.

What did you say?

I think that I’m going deaf.

I said I love you


I think I have a fever.

She put her lips to his forehead.

It’s nothing.

Get the thermometer. The rectal one!

I’ll get the biggest one on the planet.

What did you say?

I said I love you God damn it.


It was so cute at first. The imaginary maladies, and she was in a place where she needed a man that was needy. It became like babysitting. She would not verbalize to him thou.

He couldn’t take it she thought.

He is so very weak.

Still she loved him.

One night when he thought he was having an asthma attack, even thou he didn’t have asthma, he went into the night alone to get some fresh air in the middle of the dirty city they lived and loved in.

He was waiting to cross the street to get to a bench in the little park he wanted to freely, get some free air in.

The light was red and he waited in back of a woman who he first thought was too loudly speaking on her cell phone.

After a few more overheard words, he realized that she was taking to herself.

A bus was coming by and the woman stepped in front of it.

Still, in her soliloquy heading from stage struck to bus stuck.

He saw her future and leaped out and pushed her out of the way.

He was not that lucky, as the bus ran him over.

But he wasn’t dead, even thou it sure as Hell looked like it.

In the hospital, he was plastered from head to toes. Tubes out of his mouth, dick, nose, and ass, and if that was not enough, throw in some comical traction.

His eyes were covered too but thru his bandaged ears he heard his love crying as she was sitting next to his deathbed.

He mumbled something through the tubes in his mouth to her.

What did you say darling?

He whispered to her in the most positive whisper he was able to accomplish.

“Don’t worry sweetie, it’s nothing.”

This story was written by Alan Berger, who has written and directed two films on Netflix.

“We call her the bakery bitch,” Will declared as they strolled down the sidewalk, passing the bakery. He pointed to a dark haired fortyish woman behind the counter.

`“Is she really that bad?” Samantha asked as they entered a coffee house.

“Oh, yeah, evil,” he answered and then ordered two lattes.

“Evil, bitch- these words sound a little exaggerated. She doesn’t look that bad.” Samantha took a sip of coffee and waited for Will to go on.

“Well, when she filed for divorce from my brother, she sent a card to my mom saying thanks for nothing. He eyed Samantha.

“Oh my god! To your mother?”

“Truthfully, neither of my parents ever liked her that much, but that card was a slap in the face, especially when she lost the baby and her own mother didn’t even come to see her. My mother was there every day for support.”

“Wow, that card seems really uncalled for.” Samantha watched Will drink his latte for a few moments. “So you guys don’t go in her bakery anymore?”

“No, we’re boycotting. I’ve told my friends and my brother’s friends.” Will smiled, looking satisfied. “Actually the word has spread rather quickly- stay away from the bakery bitch’s store. This is a small town. It’s worked. Soon she’ll be out of business.”

“That’s a little over the top too.”

Will’s smile faded. “I’m sticking up for my brother and mother.”

Samantha’s tone became soothing. Maybe she’d been harsh. Will seemed genuinely upset. “All I meant was that your brother remarried and now your mother has a grandson. It’s been awhile. Maybe it would be better to just let it go.” She patted his arm.

He pulled away. “Nah, no way. She’s the bakery bitch and that’s what she’ll always be!” His face had turned red.

Samantha stared incredulously at Will a few moments. “Maybe this should be our last date.”

Will jerked his head around. “What? Are you joking? Just because I told you about her?”

“I just don’t think we’re a good match.” She spoke carefully and sighed. “Anyway, I’ll get my degree in a week and then I have a paid internship in Detroit. You remember- with that financial firm? It’s a good offer.”

Will turned away for a second, and then slowly faced her. “Oh, that’s right; you’re a financial advisor in training.” He smirked.

“Yes, just like I explained on our first date. I’ll be moving soon, so it just wouldn’t work.”

“So why did you want to date in the first place?” It sounded like an accusation and his body had stiffened.

Samantha stood up, ignoring the question. She put out her hand. “It was nice meeting you.”

“Yeah, I bet. You got two dinners and a latte.”

Samantha picked up her purse and started walking toward the door.

“Know what name I have for you?” He blurted from across the room- Finance Freak!”

The customers turned to stare at a shaking Will.

Samantha had already left.

This story was written by Carol Murphy, who is the author of several stories and articles. A few of her stories were "Likely Story", published by, “Dispersion” in Latchkey Tales: Afternoon Storms by Solarwyrm Press, “Whiffs” in Disorder by Reddashboard Press, and “Words” in Children, Churches and Daddies magazine by Scars Publications. She has an MA in Speech-Language Pathology, started a pediatric therapy practice centering on learning disabilities and produced a newsletter for over 25 years. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA. A favorite quote is “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” (Ludwig Wittgenstein) She can be reached through her website

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash, edited by David Gregory.

Helen’s saying something fractious on the phone to John, who’s acting as if she’s stabbed him in an artery just below the throat and wants rave reviews from the 3 of us for his acting.

She gets louder and we can hear everything.

“Let’s sever this John. Come on, you want what’s best for me, you always have even when we were making those movies about randy housewives. You would turn the heating up for me during the filming. You were really there for me love, and I appreciated it. But could you do this one last thing? Sign the divorce papers honey, when the bailiff comes this afternoon, will you do that?”

He insults her, as harsh as a Slavic survivor of the gulags spitting at Stalin.

The three of us get up to leave but John pulls out a hand gun from his baggy corduroy trousers and puts two bullets through one his wife’s favourite paintings.

Now no-one is talking. Bodies are immobile and our six eyes are focused on John.

He’s transfixed on the damaged painting on the wall which has shifted on its hook and hangs uncomfortably low on the right. It’s an oil work by Helen of her naked sister Caroline peeling oranges. The neon-peelings have formed a small mound in front of her vagina at the apex of her two spread legs.

John is still holding the phone. “I wanted Caroline from the start,” he yells, “do you remember, my persistent wife, but no-one would let me have her. She had potential, you see Helen, and you didn’t so they thrust us together. Two pieces of useless shit dumped in the corner of society to re-produce and shut up, and what a sordid little thing it became.” He throws the phone into the air and blows it to bits with one shot.

John had made a bomb earlier in the year when he considered starting an anti-establishment militia group and bringing down Mount Rushmore. He’d found a point in life briefly, he said, but the whole fun of the thing was building the bomb.

The shoebox-sized bomb is on the dining table. Our six eyes watch John move to the bomb, arm it and run out into the pastures and hills of north-western somewhere. Incredibly, the three of us hesitate. The bomb fizzed and coughed and seemed less threatening than John himself.

When John returned an hour or so later, we were watching some of their homemade porn movies shot, mainly by dudes they collaborated with after meeting online. In this one, Helen is having missionary sex with the local preacher in the enlarged chicken coup. The smile on Helen’s face … genuine, unyoked delight.

Then the bomb goes off.

This story was written by Keith Nunes, who lives beside Lake Rotoma in New Zealand where the he undertakes a great deal of reflecting. He’s had works published around the globe, has placed in competitions and was a Pushcart Prize nominee. His book of poetry/short fiction, “Catching a Ride on a Paradox”, is sold by the lunatic fringe.

The path between the fences had never seemed so long, but Talbert was enjoying the conversation with Warden as they strode toward the gate. “Remember,” Warden said. “Remember what you’ve learned these past three years. Nothing comes easy. When you walk through that gate, it’s going to hit you like a ton of bricks. Steer clear of any signs of trouble. Stick with what you know. And don’t press. Don’t try to do too much too fast.”

Talbert nodded. He was eager to get past the hazing, break through to a new life. All he had was his high school behind him, and now three years to learn the hard way. And it was tough—all of it. The long work in the pen. The constant ridicule. The shit food and the crowds who cursed at him on the other side of the fence. All he could do was take it—which was the most difficult learning of all . . . finding a way to stand tall through his mistakes.

Warden patted him on the back—a first—and Talbert swelled with confidence as he neared the gate. Talbert wondered if the other side would be receptive to him, welcome him. He wondered, if he should run, would the grass hold up under his feet and if all of the space beyond would be as beautiful as he had imagined in his dreams. But he was nervous, not wanting to blow his chance, holding out hope that he had not squandered his years in the pen.

Talbert rounded his shoulders, drew in a couple of deep breaths. Warden patted him on the back again just before he opened the gate. “It’s all yours,” Warden said, sliding back the bolt. “Go get ‘em.”

Talbert hesitated briefly amid the chorus of cheers and jeers that greeted him, and then he sprinted across the silken grass, blinded by light, his energies focused on the pitcher’s mound as Warden barked at him from behind, “Welcome to the Major Leagues, rookie!”

This story was written by Todd Outcalt, who is the author of over thirty books in six languages. He live in Brownsburg, Indiana.

Just after Jasper turned seven, he began swallowing objects, things he found and put in his mouth. At first it was just small plastic non-descript items; the prize that came in the cereal box, the cap to the milk bottle. There was not any particular logic to his choices, for he was very young and unschooled in the ways of the world. His mother wondered what had happened to these things but since they were not particularly valuable, it was of little concern.

Then one day he swallowed three pennies he’d found on the coffee table, and later that morning he swallowed a clothespin, and the bus token he was supposed to use on the Number 10 bus to Jefferson Elementary School. After walking the three miles to school that morning for lack of the bus token, carrying a heavy book bag, he realized there was wisdom in not swallowing things he might need to cough up later.

He picked up several paper clips from the teacher’s desk, sucked on them till recess, then bolted them down on the way to the soccer field. When the bell rang to end recess, he picked up two small acorns that fell from the Oak tree just outside the classroom, and stuffed them into his mouth.

As Jasper grew a bit older, he came to understand and appreciate the more sophisticated world around him. By fourth grade he was tearing ads out of the Yellow Pages, for places he wanted to visit …Dale’s Roller Rink, Big Boy Doughnut Shop, Frosty Freeze…then wadding them up, and gulping them down.

One day he opened the Encyclopedia and found pictures of a tropical island called Kauai. He ripped out the picture and swallowed three palm trees and a hula girl. A delightful sense of calm and satisfaction swept over him.

His mother began to worry when Jasper wouldn’t come downstairs for dinner. He would simply holler from the top of the stairs, “I’m not hungry Ma… I just ate the Eiffel Tower and Grand Central Station.” She finally coaxed him to the dining table by insisting he have some soup to wash them down with.

The source of available material in the world was astonishing to Jasper. By the time he was in Junior High School he had devoured all of Manhattan, from 38th and Lexington up to 80th and Park. He had eaten the Metropolitan Art Museum and Central Park Zoo. He’d gotten a tiger toe stuck between two of his molars, but he managed to remove it by flossing with the crowd control rope from St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

His mother would ask him each day when he came home from school, “What did you eat today, dear?” And he would rattle off “At snack time I ate the Mississippi Delta, and for lunch I had the Leaning Tower of Pisa”, or “Oh, I wasn’t very hungry today. I just had a piece of Antarctica and three polar bears.”

His mother smiled. He was learning to absorb the world in a most unique way. She was very proud. She took Jasper’s picture from the mantel and gazed at it lovingly for a moment. Then she quietly slipped the photograph out of its frame, and ate it.

This story was written Sally Stevens. She's worked in film, TV, recording and concert music in LA for many years, and has written lyrics for film and recordings. Her short fiction and poems have appeared in RavensPerch, MOckingheart Review, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, and No Extra Words Podcast. 

Photo by Zivile& Arunas on Unsplash (edited by David Gregory)

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