Sticky Fingers by Kellie Scott-Reed

Flash Fiction, Heist

With your head turned away, I could smell your unwashed hair. Girls think they can get away with this. A little dry shampoo and voila! But it doesn’t work. You can smell the weed from the night before, you can smell the fear.  I put my hand over your mouth. “Sticky Fingers” they used to call me as a kid. Always taking what wasn’t mine. I grew up in the care of my Irish Catholic grandmother who spared no rod but ruined the child anyway. I would nick her pocket book when she passed out on the couch. A night of Bridge with her friends sent her to the sofa with a ‘headache’ and vodka, rocks. She would notice in the morning and I’d be beaten and dragged to the confession box to tell of my transgression. I knew that Jesus didn’t give a fuck what I did. I knew the first night after my parents dumped me with that banshee, and I went to bed with my stomach rumbling and my eyes swollen from crying. I was eight.

A priest once told me as we sat smoking a cigarette together on my grandmother’s front porch that every sin is essentially theft. We were sitting on the old glider. It groaned under his weight and didn’t move an inch. Enormous, he showed up to my grandmother on the weekends to administer her communion, when she was too decrepit to attend church. He would sometimes order a large pizza that he alone would consume while he visited.  He was one of the good ones. He wasn’t a diddler.

The way we must look from the view of the security camera, me pressed up against your body from behind. We could be dancing, or fucking. I grab your right hand with mine and lead it to the cash drawer in front of you.  I whisper, ‘all of it’ into your ear. You inhale sharply.  You crumple the cocaine dusted tender into your fist. You pass it into the purple Crown Royal bag I supplied. I used to carry tumbled rocks in them as a kid, then cigarettes and condoms, then my take. The bag is kind of my signature. I wished I could be easy on you, less of an asshole, but I know you’d kill me if given the chance. I press the barrel of the gun deeper into the small of your back. “Hurry”.

There isn’t a second in this odd embrace, we aren’t in tune. You know what my next move is, and the disgust with which you shove the money into my chest shows me what you know.  And while our time together is brief, you will recount it for decades. The memory of me will outlast lovers and childhood friends, even grandparents.  There will be mornings when you wake, and in that blissful lingering in the cloud of your dream, still see me walking past the height strip on my way out the door. 


Kellie Scott-Reed songwriter, writer and AEIC of Roi Faineant Press. In spite of her cheerful disposition, she is fascinated with the dark side of humanity, and most of her written work has threads of stories she has heard through family lore, and her own investigation into her shadowy side. Kellie has been published recently in Synchronized Chaos and Roi Faineant press. She has been a guest on the Arts Calling Podcast with Jaime Alejandro as well her work being read on the podcast Modus Operandi. Her songs can be found on iTunes and Spotify, under the band name Fivehead. The press can be located at roifaineantpress.com.

She Took Her Half Out The Middle by Jesse Hilson

Flash Fiction, Heist

The old woman, whose name was Sandy, figured out a way to get pills out of the pill factory. You got searched by armed guards on the way out when the quitting time whistle blew. It wasn’t really a whistle but that’s what they all called it. They’d look through your bag and body-search you for taped together packages of pills hidden somewhere on your body, smuggled contraband. A female guard would search all the women. No sexual harassment.

Sandy had been working for the pill factory for about a year when she started ripping them off by fudging the count on the assembly line and flushing packets of pills down the toilet. She started with a test run, and sent her son Dwight out to the effluent point on the edge of the factory campus to find the little boat she’d let off upstream. She couldn’t believe no one had thought of this before.

The pill factory, which was run by a pharmaceutical company called Hexaplan, was one of the only places in America to make virocodone, a new synthetic opiate painkiller 3,500x more powerful than morphine. Hexaplan decades before had placed its pharmaceutical manufacturing in the rural upstate New York town of Benson, since it was quiet and away from urban centers, and it didn’t have to pay its workers as much as if it had been in Long Island or Philadelphia or someplace like that. Security was a concern as there was only two roads in and out of the Hexaplan compound and eyeballs were everywhere.

Except on the shitter.

Sandy flushed away thousands of dollars of pills over months at Hexaplan, and Dwight always collected the packages. With supreme care, Sandy counted the pills on her kitchen table at night and rebottled them in orange prescription bottles she’d stored up from not throwing away her 90-year-old mother’s as she went through her prescriptions every month. Sandy put bundles of bottles together and hid them in the drop ceiling at her house in the bathroom.

That’s where I come in. Sandy and I run a house-cleaning business on the days off when she’s not at the pill factory. We called it Two Neet Ladies and had a van that we kept all our supplies in. We cleaned rental houses for all the people who come up here from the City on weekends. Those people are animals and make all kinds of messes that need to be cleaned up so the owners can rent out for the next weekend. Sandy and I always kept our properties in tip-top shape but we didn’t always get paid what we thought we should.

One night at the bar Dwight opened his mouth to me after one too many hurricanes. He starts to let it out of the bag that Sandy had herself a nice little retirement next building up. 

I say “Sandy never told me this.” 

And he says “Yup.” 

“Something from the pill factory?” I say.

“You could say that.”

Over the next week or so I get it out of him. I have to go out with him like I like him to get him to talk. I run my fingers through his hair and compliment his beard and grab his arm when we’re out and I can see that it’s breaking him down. Dwight is out of shape and I would never. He tells me about the bottles in the ceiling over the bathroom.

I give Sandy a chance to tell me. One day we’re cleaning this guy’s mansion and I shut off the vacuum cleaner and say, “Is there something you want to tell me, Sandy?”

“Tell you about what?” she says.

“About your plans,” I say.

“I have no plans other than to mop the kitchen floor. Then I’m going to do the windows. Then I’m going to have a cigarette out in the van.“

Fine. She won’t tell me her plans, I won’t tell her mine. I wait until Dwight is out of town and I go over to Sandy’s house at night when I know she’s alone. I know enough to know that Sandy likes to have a bath and a drink to unwind after a long day on the job. It’s like clockwork.

I let myself in and call out up the steps, “Hey girl.”

“Who’s that?”

“It’s Lisa.”

“What do you want?”

“I’m looking for Dwight.”

“He went to Cleveland for a few days.”

“Oh shit. I had something to give him.” I start going up the steps.

“What’s that?”

“I was going to give him some money I owed him for concert tickets. Sandy, I’m sorry, I really have to pee. Can I come in?”

“I’m taking a bath if you haven’t noticed.”

“I’ll keep my eyes closed. I won’t look at your beautiful bod.”

“You’re about twenty five years too late for that.”

“My back teeth are floating. You’re like my older sister, let me in.”

“Oh alright.”

I go into the bathroom and she’s lying there in the tub. Her hair’s in a ponytail which I’ve never seen her like that before. Sandy’s tits have seen better days.

“I thought you weren’t going to look,” she says.

“I’m not.”

I go to the toilet which is kind of behind the bathtub so we don’t see each other. I purposefully drank a coffee from Stewart’s  so I would have something to pee for this very moment.

“I think I want to marry Dwight,” I say out of nowhere.

“Dwight is not the most eligible bachelor in town.”

“He’s sweet.”

I can hear her light a cigarette in the bathtub. 

“You’d be marrying into a family of crazies,” she says.

“I can handle your kind of crazy,” I say. “It’s not as bad as the average.”

I flush and stand up. I’m washing my hands and checking my eyebrows in the mirror. “You’re sure there’s nothing you want to tell me,” I say.

I can feel her looking at me so I turn around and face her. “Usually when people ask that there’s something they already know,” she says. “What has Dwight been telling you?”

“Something about some pills you got stored up,” I say.

“I don’t have any pills stored up.”

“I think you do.”

“Do you think if I did I would let you in on it?”

“I thought you were my best friend,” I say.

“Well there’s friends and then there’s acquaintances.” She’s eyeing me narrowly from where she’s sitting naked in the tub. 

“Get acquainted with this,” I say, and I grab Dwight’s electric razor from next to the sink and I toss it into the bathtub. It’s still plugged into the wall and it has a long cord so Dwight can shave anywhere he wants to.

Sandy had the funniest expression on her face. I can’t quite describe it. I almost wanted to take a picture but I didn’t.

I started looking for the pills and I found them pretty quick. “Holy shit,” I said when I saw the plastic bags full of orange bottles. I don’t know how she diverted that many pills from the assembly line but she deserved some kind of award.

I wrote a quick suicide note that hit on all the typical points and put it on the kitchen table after I wiped everything down for prints. That housecleaning job came in handy.

I put the bundles of pills in the trunk of my car. I didn’t have any idea what the market value of that much hillbilly heroin would be but I was going to find out. It would be a whole new world of education for Lisa. I had some friends in Albany that might know some people who would pay a pretty penny for some loose meds. Dwight had said that it could be like over $20,000. I could see him coming looking for me. He won’t tell the cops, he’d have to tell them about Sandy and his toilet patrol. Poor Dwight. He’s never going to find me. He’d have to have some idea of the sophisticated places I aim to end up. He’d have to suddenly know how to think like me. And no one I’ve ever met has quite been able to do that.


Jesse Hilson is a freelance newspaper reporter living in the Catskills in New York State. His work has appeared or will appear in AZURE, Maudlin House, Pink Plastic House, Punk Noir, Misery Tourism, Expat Press, Apocalypse Confidential, Heavy Feather Review, Prism Thread, and elsewhere. His debut novel Blood Trip was published by Close to the Bone (UK) in April 2022. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @platelet60 and he has a Substack newsletter at cholorohemoglobin.substack.com.

The Price of Doing Business by Mark Atley

Flash Fiction, Heist

Tanner Brogdon carries a shotgun. He handles it like his riot baton, twisting and readjusting his grip, fighting against the anxious sweat under the black leather gloves. In the reflection of the driver’s side window of the dusty yellow pick-up truck, he’s a figure in a tan jacket over dark blue coveralls with an evergreen ski mask, revealing an abstract image of a face, eyes and lips protruding from holes in the appropriate places—red, white, and intent.
He closes in on the pick-up truck driver, who isn’t looking his way. The driver’s attention is toward the front of the truck, focused on Tanner’s partner, Daniel, standing there, dressed the same as Tanner, pointing a long-barrel silver pistol. Daniel touches the tip of the index finger of his free hand to his pursed lips, shushing the man. From their surveillance, they know the driver’s name is Earl.
The truck is the only one with a camper shell at the Mcdonald’s parking lot over the highway near Vinita. The camper shell is a sun-washed white, dented and rusted, with a cardboard-covered back window. It’s early, three o’clock, still dark. Business is slow before the morning highway rush. The parking lot is near empty with dormant semi-trucks, still, like sleeping dragons, and a few cars. Light poles dot the lot like hunched sentinels and cast harsh white glares across the paint and glass of the vehicles.
Earl, in blue jeans and a Carhart jacket, mumbles a half-believing, “what the hell?”
Then Tanner’s on him, marching in giant, hurried strides. The shotgun slams into Earl’s back, Tanner’s weight and momentum behind it. It drums the driver loose from his frozen stupor, causing him to drop his hot cup of coffee, which splashes across his feet. The guy is wedged between Tanner’s compressed bulk and the truck.
Grimacing like they do in the movies to make his voice deeper, Tanner says, “Keys? Where are the keys?”
Earl tries to push away from the truck to turn to look at Tanner, but Tanner flicks a wrist and clips the bridge of his nose with the shotgun’s barrel.
“Don’t you fucking move,” Tanner says, shoulder-shoving Earl into the truck. Earl groans. He tries to look without moving his body, but Tanner nudges him again, adding a knee strike to the back of Earl’s fat thigh. The blow knocks him off balance. Tanner threatens, “Don’t look at me.”
Tanner doesn’t say, but his actions imply:
Don’t fight back. Surrender. Know when you’re beat.
The element of surprise is a powerful thing; it overwhelms. This isn’t the first time for Tanner; other drivers were like this. They start tough, then come to realize what exactly is going on. Already, Tanner can feel the shivers of fear raking Earl’s body, but he can tell Earl isn’t the type to roll over without an extra incentive.
Daniel provides that. He stomps forward and pistol whips Earl in the face. Tanner pushes Earl tighter against the truck to keep him from falling to the pavement. Earl sags, Tanner lifts.
“Where are the keys?” Daniel doesn’t give Earl time to answer, and pistol whips him again, opening a large gash on Earl’s head.
Incentive delivered.
Earl stammers out an answer, lips quivering, snot and blood running down his face. “My pocket.”
“Which one?” Tanner asks, constricting Earl’s movements.
“You cut me open. What the fuck?” Earl squeezes his eyes shut. “What do you mean, which one? They’re in my pocket. Don’t fucking hit me anymore. You want them; take them.”
“Which one, dumb fuck?” Daniel demands. Eyes searching Earl.
“Left or right,” Tanner adds, increasing the pressure against Earl’s back. Earl’s body tenses. Tanner tells him. “Don’t move for them, just tell us.”
“Jesus,” Earl starts but then thinks better of it. “Left pocket,” he shouts. “Left pocket.”
Daniel slips his hand into Earl’s left jeans pocket to fish out the keys.
Earl says, “do you know who owns this truck?”
Daniel yanks the keys from Earl’s pocket, ripping the man’s pants. He shows the keys to Tanner. They’re shiny in the parking lot lights. Daniel wraps his hand around the keys, making a fist.
“Why do you think we’re here?” Tanner says.
Earl spits snot and blood on the ground. “They’re going to kill you. Both of you.”
Daniel laughs. He can’t help himself.
This load belongs to Fat Tommy and Short Philly, and from what Tanner understands, they’re running it as contractors for some Siriano adjunct. Old man Siriano is done, going to prison. Oklahoma’s quickly becoming a new Wild West.
Daniel says, “If they are going to kill us, they would have done it the first time we did this. They would have taken some precautions.”
Tanner adds, “but they didn’t.”
“Because they don’t care about you,” Daniel says as if he’s offering a revelation of salvation so that a sinner may know the truth. He’s pretty convincing. “They’re like Walmart; they make money no matter. When they win, they’re making money, and when they lose, they’re making money. What they aren’t doing is paying you enough money to act like a hardass.”
Tanner doesn’t know much about Daniel. He’s seen him around, but he doesn’t know his full name and doesn’t know how Daniel likes his coffee or what, if anything, he wants on his pancakes. Outside of here, these moments, they don’t talk. They don’t interact–all Tanner knows about Daniel is he’s old enough to have gone straight for a time, then decided to come back into the life. Outside of these jobs, this being the third hijacking this month, they don’t associate. Just as Daniel doesn’t know details about Tanner beyond his first name, like he doesn’t know Tanner is a deputy or Tanner’s struggled with opiate addiction. How breaking an ankle in high school football led to Lortabs, how Lortabs led to oxy, and how that eventually led to the German. Not that Tanner can’t control the addiction. Most of the time, he can. That’s why he works out. But it’s always there. An itch begging for attention.
The German is what connects them and their third associate, the deadbeat Jeremy, who Tanner remembers as a dirty, stringy-haired kid from high school a couple of grades back. He’s their driver and sitting in his big green boat on the other side of the building, waiting for the truck to roll out.
The German plans and finances these hijackings, using men he has something on. The German knows whose marijuana loads these are, and that’s why Tanner and company are hitting them.
Tanner shifts his weight and position and aims a second knee strike, this time at Earl’s balls while scraping the shotgun up Earl’s spine and knocking the butt against the back of Earl’s head.
With the pistol still pointed at Earl, Daniel reaches forward while Tanner lets off Earl some, grabbing his jacket’s hood with one hand and dragging him a step back so Daniel can open the driver’s side door. Tanner shoves Earl into the single cab pickup and prods him across the seat. Already, Daniel’s at the passenger side, the door flung open, grabbing for Earl’s arm, yanking him toward the middle of the cab while loading up into the passenger seat himself. Daniel shoves the pistol into Earl’s side and tells him to stay still. Daniel reaches across Earl and inserts the keys into the ignition, turning them. Tanner slips in behind the steering wheel. He stores the shotgun barrel down on his left side, protecting it from any brave and stupid move from Earl. Foot on the clutch, Tanner puts the truck in gear as he closes the driver’s side door.
The truck with the three men snuggly in the cab slips around the building, heading west toward Tulsa. The opposite of Earl’s route out of state. They followed him from the warehouse to here, where he stopped to take a piss and get some coffee.
As they leave, Jeremy’s green Marquis falls in behind them, three car lengths back.
Tanner takes the first country road exit and goes a ways before turning around on the semi-gravel road typical of Oklahoma backcountry. He shifts the lever to park.
Daniel exits the vehicle, jerking the silent, rigid Earl across the passenger seat and onto the grass embankment.
“Lie there,” Daniel says. “Facedown.”
On his hands and knees, looking up at Daniel, Earl grimaces but complies. He turns face down into the grass.
“Hands over your head,” Daniel commands. Earl obeys. “It’s just marijuana. It’s not your marijuana, don’t die over it.”
Daniel waits to see if Earl will argue or agree.
When the man doesn’t say anything, Daniel says, “I don’t want to hear about this on the news. We know who you are. We know where you work and who lives with you. I’m not fucking with you. No news. No headlines. Your bosses don’t want the attention either. Call this the price of doing business. Count to sixty—slow—and then take your happy ass home.”
With that, Daniel climbs back into the cab of the truck. He slams the door. He rolls down the window and pulls his ski mask off his head.
“Remember, sixty—slow.” Daniel pauses, staring at Earl in the grass. “Do it out loud, so I know you’re counting.”
Earl shifts from silence to saying the numbers out loud. He’s already at three. “Four…five…six.”
Daniel says, “good.”
Tanner lifts his mask to his forehead and pops the clutch, letting the truck idle forward. He slips it into gear. By the time Earl should be on thirty, Tanner’s been counting at the same cadence in his head; they’re back on the highway.


Mark Atley is the author of The Olympian, American Standard, Too Late To Say Goodbye, and the forthcoming Trouble Weighs a Ton and A Bright Young Man, as well as a handful of short fiction. Mark works as a detective for a suburb of Tulsa, OK, and has dedicated his life to crime. Check out markatley.com for more information or follow him on Twitter: @mark_atley.

The House of Dead rock stars by Maria Thomas

Flash Fiction

The sign is crackled, white paint flaking glossy dandruff onto the doorstep. It reads THE HOUSE OF DEAD ROCKSTARS in large gothic script. We’ve heard from friends that this place, this strange, uncanny place, has helped them. It’s our last gasp attempt to save our marriage.

Kurt shows us to our room. We can see peeling flock wallpaper through the ragged hole in his head as he leads us up the carpeted stairs. Tiny puffs of dust rise with each footfall and fill the hall with the smell of dead skin.

Our room is lit by a solitary low voltage bulb and the moon, cobwebs hang in the window, semi-transparent like nets, and there’s a rank smell like something expired not so long ago. Prince is sitting on a low stool in the corner of the room, and he jumps up and yells ‘Surprise’.

‘We are surprised’ says Mike, and Prince tells us that he’ll be serenading our lovemaking with one of his dirty little ditties. Mike seems excited by this, but I ask for Starfish and Coffee. It seems more magical, and I think it’s magic we need.

Prince winks and sings, and we make love and Prince screams in harmony as we come, and the sound of his screams solidify and transform into shards of ice which sweep across my skin, alighting every single sensory point, making me shudder and moan all over again. I think, so that’s why he’s known as such an accomplished lover, if he can do that with just his voice. Afterwards Mike shares a cigarette with the Cuban-heeled popstar, and I lie there watching my body turn silver and scaled in the moonlight like a mermaid. I wonder if the magic has worked.

The next morning Prince is gone and so is Mike. Janis brings me thick, black coffee and a letter. The coffee almost masks the chemical stench of Janis’s body, and the letter almost masks the bilious stench of Mike’s cowardice. Janis holds my hand as I cry. Her touch is icy and burns, leaving a livid scorch mark.

“You can stay longer, if you like” she says, her voice a razor’s rasp.

I read the letter over breakfast served by Amy. She’s reeling drunk, a fag hanging from her mouth, grey ash curling like a fingernail towards my overdone bacon and eggs. Mike’s letter is full of the usual clichés – it’s me not you, we were too young, I didn’t know what I wanted. What it doesn’t say is I’m sorry, what it doesn’t say is I don’t love you anymore, what it doesn’t say is I prefer dead rockstars.

Later I play chess in the library with Marc. His head is crushed aluminium and I think he lets me win. It’s good to win sometimes.


Maria Thomas is a middle-aged, apple-shaped mum of two from London. During daylight hours she works in technical control in financial services, a subject so mind-numbingly dull that she spends the witching hours writing. She has had work published by EllipsisZine, Funny Pearls, The Levatio, Fiery Scribe Review, Paragraph Planet, VirtualZine and (upcoming) Free Flash Fiction. Maria won Retreat West’s April 2022 Micro competition. She can be found on Twitter as @AppleWriter.

Nobody’s seen him for years by Patrick Daniel

Flash Fiction

The younger of the two women looked over to the place by the door where he was sitting, half-aware someone had said something. The hinges of pink under where the man’s eyelids connected at the nose side were swollen. These tended to behold instead of the eyeballs themselves when he got tired enough. He mussed his face self-consciously.

It was just him, a person behind the bar and the two women in there, music pulsing dully. There were no windows. The establishment was owned by the younger brother of an actor who had been well-known in the early-2000s. The older of the two women had heard the thing about how the actor liked to drink in the back room on quiet nights like these and how, when the time was right, any women drinking in the front room were apparently invited through to the back to join him. The younger woman was there because she had heard the thing about how the actor’s brother and his friends liked to strongly imply the actor was in the back room and proceed to get the women drunk enough so that they could eventually take advantage of the women themselves. The younger woman thought this outcome seemed interesting and she had adjusted herself to it. She had said nothing to the older woman about what was probably going to happen.

The man who had spoken crossed one leg over the other and rested his wrist over the elevated knee. He watched his glass of coke and waited for it to meet him at his temperature. The man who had spoken worked for a company that sold fakey walkthroughs of the civil service recruitment pre-interview in-tray task, driving theory test and things of that nature. He had never come to this establishment before. It provided an alternative to the usual – evenings ruined by eating too much out at his little house in the fields by the hospital.

People loved the actor back in the early-2000s because he looked like he smelled great and never washed. That was the finest point ever put on the actor’s appeal. One entertainment pundit said the actor’s particular brand of musculature made it look like he could appreciate the manliest vices without letting them destroy him, and this was aspirational. ‘Sinewy’ another commentator said.

In addition to the fakey walkthroughs, the man generated a negligible second income from Stacker, a piece of software he had developed which allowed kebab shops and takeaways to put together photographs of the individual elements of burgers and kebabs quickly and digitally for their behind-the-counter menu displays. Stacker ensured that the shadows were consistent across the patties, salad, slices of cheese and so on. It was never going to go anywhere and most of the time these days he just played on it for fun.

The actor’s brother would pull the same trick as a teenager, throwing parties that were promoted with the rumour that the actor would stop by. This had been around the time of the actor appearing in some of his earliest nine o’clock television dramas. He had played an infamous serial killer. He had played a doomed post-punk frontman. Each character had been consented to as a reincarnation of the previous character. It was like the connecting presence across these characters was sent down to earth to live again each time instead of achieving the peace of finally being beyond the world. The reason they had really all loved him was the thing in his eyes in each role that screamed get me out of here. People could relate to it.

The younger woman appeared to be in great distress. She was beginning to regret her complicity in the deception of the older woman.

“You have to go,” she said to her. “I’m going to stay. I can’t explain why.”

The man laughed. The man searched in mind for the perfect thing to say in order to demonstrate how mild he had become – how anonymous his life was now. Perhaps he would lead with Stacker. Foiling his brother’s plan would be sweet. The idea that he had ever been the type to beckon women through to the back rooms of nightclubs had been installed in the world entirely by these schemes that his brother had been running since the start. All of that ‘Jack’ll stop by’ and ‘Jack’s in the back’ had reached the powers-that-be and caused them to cast him as a series of manly-men. It had stood in the way of his efforts to emerge as who he really was. Even back in the days of the teenage parties he hadn’t been the type to want to meet girls. It had forced him to quit acting.

The exposed brickwork was lit with the kind of streaked and dramatic surface lighting put on the exteriors of churches or cathedrals in a time of year opposite to the one in question, the one in which the man waited for the right moment to reveal his true identity, like spaceships of faith out into the nothing. His eyes drooped shut again, tired from work. In these moments the nothing won. When his eyes opened his brother’s men were dragging him out into the street.


Patrick Daniel is a writer from Norfolk, UK. His short stories can be found at Expat, Necessary Fiction and Hello America.

Red Pill by Katy Naylor

Flash Fiction

They say nothing is truly innocent. The clearest raindrop holds the promise of the flood. The rot sits heavy, foreshadowed in the seed.

It blossoms without my even trying. The pain drips and blots behind me with each footstep, leaving great inky puddles in my wake. You’d think it would be a warning but it’s not. It draws you to me: a shark sensing blood in the water.

As soon as you walked in, I could feel the tension. The air crackled with it. The almost-touch across the bar, the words calculated to sting just right. It makes me catch my breath just to remember.

Your eyes were bright with truth, and with a kind of anger. You told me that you’d seen. You weren’t going to fall for the world’s bullshit anymore. And I, I was different. I was too smart to be taken in.

You might have been sharp, but you were shining. The grain of grit that might just make something precious, break the dull row of empty days lined up along the counter. A pearl is just an oyster trying not to choke.

We walked together through the bombed out city. The traffic, the trees, the lonely office worker backlit in the high tower at midnight: all these things were hollow. Peel back the layers, you said, and it would all seem so different. I just had to listen, just had to see. You suffused the world with your light, and my eyes were open.

I don’t remember when it started to wear thin. Maybe when I tired of that fire spilling out into bruises on my wrists and the inside of my thighs. Or maybe when I found a handful of your glittering words in print, written, as it turns out, by someone else.

All I know is that one day I looked at you and saw only grey, where blue light had once sparked and fizzed. But still I couldn’t make the break – I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror without your shadow to sharpen it.

We stagger our pleasures through the hours, now. Broken china at teatime and glass in our dinner. Indulge ourselves too much and it’ll all come tumbling down. We’re experts at drawing out the pain, pulling it taught until it sings.

Of course, you blame me. The femme fatale: I made you who you are. As if it’s the sweat that makes the flies and the meat that makes the maggots. All I had to do was sit here and wait for you to come.

You were only too eager to lift the veil, reach out a hand and push your fingers into the warm dark underneath.


Katy Naylor lives by the sea, in a little town on the south coast of England. She is EIC of interactive arts mag voidspace zine, and has work published in places including Expat Lit, Outcast Press and The Bear Creek Gazette. Her debut chapbook, Postcards from Ragnarok, is out now. 

Brittle by Melissa Flores Anderson

Flash Fiction

The clerk at the front desk of the hotel handed Ash a welcome package with brochures and a sample of sweets from a local candy shop. She held it aloft as she managed an overnight bag and a laptop case, tired from a long drive that morning and a full day of sitting in conference sessions.

She didn’t travel much for work, but when she did, it took her to what she and her husband had dubbed the B-list cities. Cities you wouldn’t plan to visit on purpose, but that if someone else paid for you to be there you might find something to like about them. Indianapolis. Minneapolis. Columbus. Virginia Beach.

The current locale couldn’t have been a C-list or even a D-list place. 40 miles from anywhere worthwhile. The hotel had the name of a lake in it, but Ash hadn’t see any water from the exterior of the grounds. When she reached the fourth floor, she expected a view of it off in the distance, but instead her room looked out on the parking lot toward her SUV and the other suburban cars of tourist and conference attendees.

The hot weather had risen from street level and pooled in her top-floor room. She stripped off a blazer and a blouse, slipped out of brown slacks, and tossed the clothes onto the bed furthest from the window. She turned on the air conditioner and flopped onto the bed in her underwear and camisole, a throttle of cool air emitting from the unit on the wall.

When she was younger, she would have done the same thing, abandoned a bag just inside the doorway and thrown her body stomach down onto a comforter. But back then, a companion would have followed, his hand on the curve of her ass, toying with the hem of a dress, before pulling her back toward the edge of the bed. This bed would have been the right height for that, if she weren’t alone, if she weren’t approaching middle age, if anyone still wanted her in that desperate, urgent way.

Ash closed her eyes and breathed in the stiff scent of the white sheets. If she stayed still, she could fall asleep. But instead she put on a fresh shirt and skirt, then headed out to the networking thing at a wine bar two blocks up.

She asked for a glass of pinot grigio and stood off to the side. Close enough to smile across the room at people as they came in, but far off enough they wouldn’t make the trek away from the center of the room to talk. She finished the drink and moved to place the empty glass on the edge of the bar, when a man approached. She’d seem him earlier, two tables away, at the conference. One of those comm guys with the slick hair and the slim fit pants. Too polished, too pretty. She wondered if he might be a salesman. They always found her at these things and thought she was an easy mark, her soft smile and long hair a disguise for her skeptic’s heart.

“Ashley, right?” the guy said. He held out the lanyard that displayed his name. Darren.

“Hi,” she said, and took a step toward the bar. Not encouraging, still skeptical.

“Want another drink?” he asked and held a glass of white out to her. “I was hoping you’d be here tonight. I recognized you at breakfast.”

“Recognized me?” she said, trying to place him.

“You worked for the paper in San Benito, right? Crime reporter?”

“I wasn’t a crime reporter, but I did work there for a while.”

“My hometown. Read your investigative piece on that homicide in 2007 when I was a high school senior. Inspired me to get into the news biz.”

At this, she let out a sharp laugh. “How’s that going for you?”

“I mean, we’re both here at this government comm conference so I think you know.”

The investigative piece had earned her an award, the first of many. Her current job didn’t offer bylines or accolades.

She looked at the man now, with his shaped eyebrows and sharp cheekbones, no wrinkles on his smooth face. She put him at a decade younger than her, at least. The kind of beautiful boy she would have fallen for and never talked to in her 20s.

He touched her arm as she finished off the second glass. The buzz from the alcohol and his light brush spread a flush across her chest and face. She relaxed into the conversation. His movements mirrored hers, lifting a glass to his lips when she did, hand in his hair as she pushed her bangs aside. After most of the other conference attendees had left for dinner, Darren put his hand on the small of her back.

“Walk you to the hotel?”

She gave one nod.

They waited for the elevator and entered it alone.

“What floor are you on?” she asked, as she reached for the silver buttons.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said, and pushed her back into the wall of the elevator, his lips hard against hers as she fingered the 4 button.

In the room, she didn’t pause. She didn’t hesitate. The stranger with the perfect eyebrows undressed her and pulled her to the edge of the bed. And after they finished, Darren prattled on about journalism and awards she’d won as she drifted off to sleep.

Ash woke alone in the morning, showered and began to repack her overnight kit. She picked up the bag with the brochure into which Darren had slipped a business card. Ash lifted the small box of candy out of the bag, some kind of peanut brittle and caramel chews, and dropped the sweets into her purse. She’d give them to her husband and kid when she got home.

She left the rest behind.


Melissa Flores Anderson is a Latinx Californian and an award-winning journalist. Her creative work has been published by Vois Stories, Rigorous Magazine, Moss Puppy Magazine, Variant Lit, Twin Pies Literary, Roi Fainéant Press, Chapter House Journal and Voidspace Zine. Follow her on Twitter @melissacuisine or IG @theirishmonths

Fallen Leaves by Jason Melvin

Flash Fiction

The incessant barking from the little yippy dogs is what alerted us. Two little shit-stain chihuahuas that strutted around the neighborhood, barking at everything to remind the world that they were some kind of hot shots. I hadn’t seen them, just heard them, which was odd. Hadn’t seen their owner either. Officially, the neighbor has been declared missing. He wasn’t in the house when the police went in. His car is still in the driveway.  He being an older gentleman, not much in the way of family or friends, I expected them to be pulling him out of the house in a body bag.

The neighbor and I had a few arguments, over the years, about those dogs – shitting in our yard, running out in front of our cars as we traveled down our dead-end road. For the most part though, we stayed out of each other’s way. The only other argument we ever had was about the leaves.  With the trees being on my property, but a large majority of the leaves falling onto his property, in his mind, they were my responsibility every autumn. Truth be told, I never cared about raking up the leaves. When the kids were little, we raked them up so they could jump and play in them.  But now, I’d much rather let the wind carry them to the woods at the edge of our properties.  Whatever was left come spring, I’d chop up with the lawn mower.

I felt bad when I saw him, rake in hand, surveying the leaves in his yard. He’s too old to be raking leaves. I yelled down to him, letting him know I just bought a small battery-operated leaf blower. Told him not to worry about the leaves, I’ll take care of them. He assures me it’s not an issue, it’s just something for him to do. I tell him to just rake them into the ditch, I’ll take them to the woods. That was two days ago. When the police asked, I let them know that was the last time I saw him.

There’s a small grade where our properties meet; the ditch I was referring to. I’d take the leaves from the ditch and rake them into a bedsheet, along with whatever was left in my yard. I decided to wait a few more days though, as not all the leaves had fallen yet, and I didn’t want to do this once, let alone twice.

I was surprised by how well the little battery-operated blower was able to jostle the leaves around. Once I started pushing them into piles, I loved the way the forced air made it seem as if something was burrowing underneath the pile. The leaves would billow up and ripple as one unit, me imagining some creature crawling under a blanket of leaves. The earth rippled like in the-so-bad-it’s-good early 90’s Kevin Bacon movie where they’re being chased by giant prehistoric earthworms.

As I pushed the leaves into bigger piles around the ditch, I noticed the rake handle first. Just the tip of it. It wasn’t odd to find wood under the leaves with the number of branches that often fall too. But to see the treated finished handle startled me. I continued to blow until I saw the fingers still wrapped around the handle. There was something under the leaves, but it wasn’t moving. I needed to call the police.


Jason Melvin received a gimmicky T-shirt from his teenage daughter on Christmas with a picture of one large fist fist-bumping a much smaller fist.  The caption read, “Behind every smart-ass daughter is a truly asshole Dad”. His work has recently appeared in A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Roi Faineant, Outcast, Bullshit Lit andothers. He can be found on Twitter @jason5melvin and on his website at http://www.jasonmelvinwords.weebly.com.

You are what you eat by Bobby Crace

Flash Fiction

Jenny’s father gave her nourishing words covered in hot cocoa and ancestor blood. Words like, “You’re great.” and “I love you.” But Jenny ate other words. She’d hear someone on the street yell, “You’re a fucking asshole,” and Jenny would bite the words out of the air and swallow. She ate words like that every day. It was a diet that corroded her into a toxic place.

Jenny’s father, Max, had a father who gave him military words covered in sandspurs and motor oil. Words like, “Shoot the fucking deer, boy. Be a man!” and “You better toughen up, son, or life’s gonna kick you in the teeth.” Max ate the words so they didn’t stick in his ears. He poured a thick epoxy into his stomach to cement the letters down in his guts where they wouldn’t be able to break free and find his voice.

Jenny’s stomach rotted out from all the rusty words she ate. She tried to cram more shrapnel letters into her mouth. Her face squeezed and leaked until she couldn’t breathe. Max tried to Heimlich the overdose words Jenny was choking on. He reached down her throat and yanked out pieces of “You’re a fucking asshole.” “You idiot.” “You’re ugly.” “You’re pathetic.” He was able to yank out most of the vowels and some of the hard consonants. Jenny began to stabilize.

Max worried over Jenny as she recovered. He could barely keep down worry words like, “Is she ok?” “Am I making things worse?” “How can I fix her?”

One morning, Jenny and Max ate cereal together while a small kitchen TV flashed sports. They didn’t talk. They sat with each other and dug out eating strategies with their spoons. Max and Jenny looked up at the same time. Jenny’s face gave an endangered smile that melted Max’s name.

Jenny’s dad did not savor the joy of seeing her before face. He cracked his teeth on the white space. Why hadn’t he seen the smile in so long, “I’ve failed as a father,” Max thought and then quickly gulped down the hurt words before they could escape his mouth. The poison pills flushed through his esophagus and landed on the epoxied words frozen in his stomach. The shape and velocity behind the letters F, A, I, and L cleaved the resin so that a couple of his dad’s words came bubbling up. The hereditary letters tried to find Max’s vocal cords so they could vibrate casualties at Jenny. Weapon words like, “Where did I go wrong?” But instead the cancer letters lodged in Max’s throat. They began to metastasize toward a lymph node until Jenny puked up some chemo words, “Dad, you’re a good dad. Relax… Thank you… Love and stuffs.”


Bobby Crace is a writer, editor, and teacher in New York City. He has been published by various literary, sports, and trade publications. Bobby has an MFA in Creative Writing from Stony Brook University and a BA from Berklee College of Music

ASL no crime by David Hagerty

Flash Fiction

Judge

I not understand. You keep me here why? ASL no crime.

Last month police arrest me. Dog they say I steal. French bull dog with big ears and sad face. True I take but I think no one want it. It run up to me on street. True it have collar but dirty. It small and weak. It not eat. I take to vet for help.

There police arrest me. Dog they say I take. Someone see person steal dog from back yard. Not me I tell them. I find. They not understand me. ASL they not understand. Interpreter I ask for. No police tell me. Ask lawyer.

Lawyer not understand why I take dog. Steal he think also.

Money I have not so I stay jail. I not like. Every day same. Same clothes. Same food. Dry orange and green meat sandwich. Green meat no one like. Green meat we throw away. Only bread we eat.

Jail busy and noisy. People think Deaf people cannot hear but noise I hear. Always noise here. All day and night loud voices and buzzers. Sleep I cannot.

Other men different from me. Sign they cannot. ASL no one understand. Every day I watch TV and card games but words I cannot understand because of noise.

Read I try but no books I like. Every day same books. Books about crime and criminals. Cowboys and Indians. No books about Deaf people.

First other men ignore me. Second they hear me try talk. I cannot talk good because I cannot hear how people talk. Third other men insult me. Fight me they want so I ignore them.

My hearing aids guards take. They need recharge. Guards refuse recharge. Guards mock me with fake sign but I understand lips and faces.

One man friend me. He see me stand alone in yard. Your name what he ask. I read lips some so I write on dirt JAMES. OMAR he write back. We write in dirt until we tired. Then he ask me sign for ASL so I show him. It two fingers roll backward. He like that so I teach him more sign. Signs for cigarette and smoke and medicine.

English he teach me. Before no one teach me. ASL school teach ASL but English I know not. ASL different. Word order different. Many words we not use like the, is, to. Words we waste not. Face and body we use instead.

Before I never need write. Animals I help. Dogs I walk. Cats I watch. They understand I communicate how. Words we not need. Body language they read like me.

OMAR say I learn fast. More books I read. Same books he read. Books about history and sciences. Letters I learn write.

He fast student also. Soon we sign across glass walls separate us. We sign you read what and you eat what? We sign even from cells. Little windows big enough for that.

Then ASL we teach his friends. We sign together. Men talk all day and night.

Our sign guards not like. Stop they tell us. No gang signs they say. Plot they say we have. Plot we have not. We friends.

Single cell they lock me in. Stop plot they say. No plot I say. We friends.

Friends I cannot see. Single I eat. Single I go yard. Single I sleep.

Yesterday my lawyer say plot bring drugs into jail I start. Plot I know not. Drugs I use not. I born Deaf because my mom use drugs. Quinine. Drugs I never use.

Ten years they say. Ten years for ASL. My job I lose. My apartment I lose. My life I lose.

In court my interpreters understand not. They not interpret right. Then my lawyer understand not. ASL he know not. My case he care not. Proof he say they have. Videos. Videos from what? Sign he say.

ASL no proof. ASL no crime.

Understand I want you. Understand me.

I not understand. You keep me here why?


I’ve written four political mysteries about a renegade governor trying to punish his daughter’s killer. I’ve also published more than two dozen short stories online and in print. Read more about me at https://davidhagerty.net