by R. S. Pyne

Eva looked terrible.

morning

M&S Weiss via Creative Commons

“Why didn’t you call me?” I asked, looking at her puffy, red-rimmed eyes and haggard features. She had always been so beautiful, expertly made up and not a hair out of place. In the early days of friendship, I was jealous of her, envying the fact that she appeared to glide serenely though everyday life. She was the swan on the surface of the water, but I felt more like the legs paddling like hell beneath it.

Everything seemed so easy for her. When I got to know her better, she trusted me enough to let her guard down – to show the real Eva who had worked so hard to mask her insecurity. If anything, she had even less self confidence than I did but she did a better job of hiding it.

She muttered an excuse but I saw the thick bandages on both wrists – clear evidence she had tried to take the easy way out.

“Let me help,” I said. She stared out of the window as if expecting the Grim Reaper to make a house call.

She wanted oblivion but I refused to give it to her.


R. S. Pyne is a short story writer/research micropalaeontologist from West Wales. Previous credits include Bête Noire, Albedo One, Aurora Wolf, Neo-opsis, Bards and Sages Quarterly, Christmas is dead..Again – a Zombie Anthology and others.

by Anna Hawkins

“Long ago, mankind walked the earth beneath a young sun, and we prospered. But no more.” The Emperor stared into a holocorder, his face expressionless. His image was being projected to every receiver on the planet.

“Our transports will be leaving soon.” The Emperor took a deep breath. He was helpless to save these people. The Council’s breeding programs would not allow it. He turned away from the holocorder, listening to a voice muttering offscreen.

“My Lord Emperor,” the voice said, “Your transport is waiting.”

I’ve betrayed them, the Emperor thought as he turned back to the holocorder.

rno via Creative Commons

“I am so sorry,” he whispered. A tear traced its way down his cheek. “I would not have it be this way.” He balled his hands into fists to stop their shaking. “I would take you all with me.” His tears were flowing freely now. Men and women across the Earth cried with him, in sadness and in anger. The offscreen voice spoke again.

“My Lord! It’s time.”

The Emperor’s face hardened, but his eyes remained wet. People from Council-approved genetic lineages would flee aboard their interstellar transport, leaving billions behind. They might find a new planet to call home, but was it worth this?

The Emperor stood and saluted as the broadcast ended.


Anna Hawkins is a graduate student at the University of Houston working on a Ph.D. in plant community ecology. In her spare time, she likes to write science fiction, fill her walls with her own paintings, and take care of her collection of weird houseplants. She’s currently working on her first novel.

by Monika McGreal Viola

Mad Hat Variation 6

Michelle Robinson via Creative Commons

The remembrance of time not yet passed pulls her under as she laments the loss of her youth. She picks at her cuticles and scrolls down her Twitter, keening for the moments in the days before. And the coldness of the people makes her angry, and she mouths mutely to those frosted life forms, Do You Not Know How You Behave, can you not melt out your hearts, please give back to the world the empathy it has lost… her hollow howl, again and again and againagainagain, hastening the thud and flickering the eyelid, and she’s swallowed whole, hole holee holeee, falling down into it, Alice before she’s met the Mad Hatter, the Mad Hatter before he’s accepted his bipolar disorder, sinking lower together, sipping their tea and eating their crumpets, all the time asking the world to find some balance, to breathe hard into the plastic tube while squeezing with thumb and index finger — please, follow the instructions — puffing and wheezing, each attempt sucking air out of the lukewarm night, driving her dizzy, dizzy like the lecherous lilt of the world as she slides sideways down her seat, lamenting the mornings where problems were contended, where the following of white rabbits ended in triumph over red queens.


Monika McGreal ViolaMonika McGreal Viola’s work has appeared in Hermeneutic Chaos, AZURE, Icarus, Thirteen Ways Magazine, PennUnion, and Common Ties. Her poetry also has been twice shortlisted for the Fish Anthology Poetry Prize. Find her at www.monikamcgrealviola.com

SirensToday we’re going to dive into a new ironSoap feature meant to help spread the word about new or upcoming books by digging in a little with the authors or contributors on some key storytelling aspects: world-building, character, and editing. Since this is the first such feature—for fantasy anthology Sirens—we have all three being discussed by different contributors to the project.

So what is Sirens? It’s part of Rhonda Parrish’s Magical Menageries anthology series, which also includes Corvidae, Fae, and Scarecrow. She sums it up thusly:

Sirens are beautiful, dangerous, and musical, whether they come from the sea or the sky. Greek sirens were described as part-bird, part-woman, and Roman sirens more like mermaids, but both had a voice that could captivate and destroy the strongest man. The pages of this book contain the stories of the Sirens of old, but also allow for modern re-imaginings, plucking the sirens out of their natural elements and placing them at a high school football game, or in wartime London, or even into outer space.

Sounds great, right? Now let’s check in with a few of the contributors to hear their thoughts on some of those elements of storycraft.

Continue reading

by Tara Bradford

4 U Leonard Cohen

Ex-InTransit via Creative Commons

She bent over, examining herself in the mirror, splayed in folds. She pulled her legs apart and saw the pink recede into darkness, becoming indistinguishable. It disappeared into her, silent, and she thought, no, this will never do. So she rubbed her finger and thumb together until it held onto the leathery tip between her legs. When she pulled, she felt a falling, a lengthening of herself into another place. It rounded in her palm and she let it drop powerfully between her legs. Yes, she said, better.

She felt it swing between her thighs and her confidence expanded with its girth. There were comments on the sway of her hips or the taste of her lips or the fall of her hair long and low down the curve of her back. She could not tell if these voices were echoes in her head or said a moment ago, a week ago, now. The extra girth gave her confidence, though. It bulged in front of her like a light leading her to this instance—this time. She knew, with this thing between her legs, that she would finally be taken seriously.


Tara BradfordTara is an international teacher with itchy feet and busy fingers. Having found inspiration in Japan, England and Kuwait, she is now venturing to Ukraine to see what new stories the ‘Old Country’ will reveal to her. Find Tara on instagram @tarajeana or her website www.tarajeana.com.

by Nicholas Antoniak

Paranoia

Sergio Sánchez via Creative Commons

They’re fucking watching me I know it. Through their windows with their brilliant arrogant eyes that reek of the judgement I know they’ll try and bring. But I see the way colours flow through the days of August, and how the trees talk casually in the wind. Jealous. Hateful. Spiteful people. Just leave me alone. Alone. But the lamp looks bright in the corner and it’s making my head spin. Stop knocking. Stop leaving letters. I want to be left alone. In the dark with a canvas onto which I can spill my lifeblood and leave my final mark.

It would be magical.

But they can’t let you be wrong in a world full of rights can they? Arms getting prickly at the mere thought of you out there on the loose. Wild. Free. I’d run without clothes, you think we’re born with these? Because I see through your lies you bring nothing but judgement to my door.

I don’t need judgement though.

I need support, kindness, and a soft shoulder to lean on when it all gets too hard.


Nicholas Antoniak is an 18 year old emerging Australian writer. He writes both creative fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry. In July he will commence a bachelor of arts majoring in philosophy and sociology and hopes one day to become an author/poet/philosopher.

by Simon Hole

I joined the Bureau to find the next great civilization; another planet to join us here among the stars. So far, it’s been one disappointment after another. Fifty worlds examined, fifty Class I civilizations.

I really thought this would be it. The readings from deep space looked good. I rehearsed the ‘first contact’ speech. I even let my mother know I might be on to something.

But no, the final readings are conclusive. It’s just another hope-dashing Class I world. The regulations are clear; catalogue the findings, submit the report, and depart without contact. I hate knowing that when a follow-up team checks back in a thousand years this planet will most probably have devolved to the point where there is no civilization left and any beings still alive will be barely sentient.

An Astronaut's View From Space

NASA/Reid Wiseman (@astro_reid) via public domain

It seems like something could be done, something to nudge these creatures in the right direction. Minimal contact, of course; just enough to keep them from self-destructing.

And so I wonder. Suppose my shields were to ‘fail’—just for a moment—as I engage the star engine. Suppose these half-advanced bipeds on the blue and white world were to catch a glimpse of my departure. Would that be so bad?

More to the point, would it be enough?


Simon Hole lives in rural Rhode Island where he taught fourth grade for 35 years, publishing essays and co-authoring a book focused on life in the classroom. Since retirement he has been playing poker, gardening, and writing short fiction. Some of his work can be found on-line at 101Words.com and in upcoming issues of The Zodiac Review and Bewildering Stories.

First Prize

A Reason to Celebrate

by Tasha Teets

Fireworks

Victoria Pickering via Creative Commons

Fireworks boom and crackle as they soar through the night sky. A kaleidoscope of colors rain down until my view is blocked by the old church steeple; the mounted cross tinted green with rust. Children race through the streets with sparklers in hand while adults gather around grilles and drink cheap beer. I bring the pilfered cigarette up to my split lips for one last drag, the tip burning red in the darkened room; the smoke fading in the humid air. 

My husband would be furious if he caught me smoking his precious menthols. That fat, lazy hypocrite. Tossing the used cigarette out the window I walk toward the kitchen, stepping over the broken lamp still spitting sparks across the dirty hardwood floor. The pool of blood had congealed into a tacky mess while I was watching the vibrant explosions in the sky. In a way I’m grateful for the noise. Any interruptions to the TV would have once heralded screams and fists much stronger than my own. Now, the thundering fireworks had covered his pleas for help as I stabbed him with a carving knife. 

Looking down on his motionless body, a smile curls my lips for the first time since our wedding day. Happy Independence Day to me.

Tasha Teets is the Customer Service Representative for Gerber Collision. She also assists with managerial duties to run day to day operations. Over the past 3 years, she has worked with various Maryland locations to improve productivity and sales. Tasha Teets has taken classes at Anne Arundel Community College and plans to transfer  to Bowie State University. She resides in Bowie, Maryland with her family and one spoiled rotten dog.


Runner Up

Happy Independence

by Eliza Redwood

Alicia hadn’t wanted to attend her brother’s stupid barbecue. Just because she didn’t have plans for the Fourth of July didn’t mean that she was a social pariah! It was only because she loved “wasting” her life exploring. Not getting tied down with roots anywhere was part of the gig.  

But she was in town, so she had to go to her brother’s stupid barbecue.

As host, he was obligated to slave by the grill, flipping burgers and chattering with friendly-faced strangers. (All strangers to Alicia but important people in his life, she was sure.)

Piano man

Mauro Luna via Creative Commons

So she hovered alone by the dusty piano on the porch.

“Do you play?” a grinning man, a half-drunk beer bottle in hand, asked.

“Not anymore,” she said, inspecting the instrument for dust. “It’s beautiful though.”

“Allow me.” And soon his fingers danced over the ivory, spinning a simple tune that reminded Alicia of home. When it was over, she clapped, taking pleasure in his flushed cheeks.  

“Could you teach me?” she asked.

“Sure, but it takes time.” Fireworks boomed in the background, underscored by the delighted laughter of nearby children.

“I love fireworks,” he said, his boyish grin beaming towards her. “Happy Independence Day.”

Alicia leaned in close, “I think independence is a little over-rated.”

Eliza RedwoodEliza Redwood is a budding twenty-something writer with a mathematics degree that’s been gathering dust and a passion for military history. When she’s not writing, you’ll likely find her on her computer playing solitaire or on her phone playing solitaire. (She just really likes solitaire.) Find her on twitter @ElizaRedwood.


Runner Up

The Machine

by Yohan Luechtefeld

Consider for a moment and compare
The differences and similarities.
Perhaps you’ll chuckle with me
At the glaring hilarity.

Machine

Martin Howard via Creative Commons

The free world minimum security
The unfortunate in super-max.
Varying in degree of suffering
Quality of life and purity.

In a free world you can do what you want
Cough, Within reason.
To expose the mighty machine
Well ‘That’s just treason!’

You’ll eat what WE give you
No you cannot grow your own.
Water your grass and flowers instead
Or risk the wrath history has shown.

You’ll drink the water WE provide
Nevermind what is in it.
Don’t you worry about that Plant next door
WE watch it every minute.
Now the very air we breathe
Chemtrails in the sky?
Hit you from every angle
Hoping soon you’ll die.

You’ll pay more than your share of taxes
Never you mind the rich.
You’ll pay your taxes in prison
Or you’ll end up someones bitch.

Marijuana has been outlawed
Inspite of the benefits you see.
The honey bee being exterminated
‘Can’t have a cure for free!’

When so many examples made visible
‘Well what to do?’
Stand on a corner with a sign?
Hell they’ll come for you its true.

MY suggestion the 4th AND 5th of July
Everyone stay at home too.
Show those in power
The many outweigh the few.

Yohan Luechtefeld
Elmhurst Illinois
Amateur lyricist/musician/children’s book author
Additional works available
JRL112772@gmail.com
Children’s ebook avaiable on amazon


Honorable Mention

Our Loss

by Cathy Bryant

“How could they? They were like our children.”

Tears fell on the old man’s frock-coat.

“I think that was the point,” said his daughter, Cecily. “They’ve grown up. They have to find their own way. And there have been tales that our army has behaved rather badly sometimes – “

“None of that!” His fist crashed onto the table. “The British Army is the finest in the world!”

I expect every nation believes their own is best, thought Cecily.

“It’s the king,” her father went on. “He isn’t himself. Everything’s ending…”

“No!” cried Cecily. “It isn’t the end. Perhaps it’s a new beginning!”

Love Letter

Sean via Creative Commons

Her father seemed a little comforted, and after a while she left him to catch up with her correspondence. There was a particular letter that she wanted to write, to an American boy she had known. They had both been eighteen and – and she could not bear to think that he might not love her any more. He had written secret, passionate letters to her that she treasured.

“Dearest, good luck in your country’s new adventure,” she wrote. “Please forgive us. Then love us, as we love you. Be happy – but don’t forget me!”

She held her head so that her tears did not fall on the letter.


Cathy Bryant worked as a life model, civil servant and childminder before becoming a professional writer. She has won 24 literary awards, including the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Prize and the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest, and her work has appeared in over 250 publications. Cathy’s books are ‘Contains Strong Language and Scenes of a Sexual Nature’ and ‘Look at All the Women’ (poetry), and ‘How to Win Writing Competitions’ (nonfiction). See her listings for cash-strapped writers at www.compsandcalls.com, updated on the first of every month. Cathy lives in Cheshire, UK.

by Anne E. Johnson

N- ALGOMA WI.

James Stutzman via Creative Commons

Not a soul heard my mournful keening. As I swept across the foggy moors, the banshee’s cries swirled in my mouth. Her pitchless shrieks overpowered my own voice. I was merely silent wind, carrying another’s sound.

Moon after moon I labored, bearing the harbinger of death to huddled mortals. “Ayyyeee!” the banshee howled.

At last I could withstand this shame no more. “You are not my better,” I warned the noisy spirit. “My moans are as frightening as yours.”

“No,” she argued. “Wind is my servant. My shrieks foretell death. You carry me, nothing more.”

“Behold,” I said. I blew a roaring gale and cracked homes in half. Swinging off to sea, I pushed the swollen waves ashore, drowning a village. When my anger subsided, people wept and buried their unexpected dead.

“Where was your warning cry?” I asked the banshee. “All these deaths, and no sound from you.”

The banshee lowered her hell-black eyes. “You are right, wind,” she said. “I depend on you to be heard.”

Now we cry together, the banshee and I. When you walk the moors, you’ll hear our wails, high and low, twisting around each other. And you’ll know death is near.


Anne E. JohnsonAnne E. Johnson lives in Brooklyn. Her short speculative fiction has appeared in Alternate Hilarities, Urban Fantasy Magazine, FrostFire Worlds, Shelter of Daylight, The Future Fire, Liquid Imagination, and elsewhere. Her series of humorous science fiction novels, The Webrid Chronicles, has been described as a cross between Douglas Adams and Raymond Chandler. Her most recent books are the YA adventure novel, Space Surfers, and a collection of children’s stories, Things from Other Worlds. Learn more on her website, http://anneejohnson.com. Follow her on Twitter @AnneEJohnson.

by Joseph Musso

A woman picks water spinach...

USAID Nepal via Creative Commons

She drinks almond milk and grows her own vegetables in a backyard garden. When she was little, she wanted to be a ballerina and wear pretty clothes in front of an audience. Later, she wandered into literature and politics and spent more and more time alone. By night she studied Yeats and Blake and Dickinson and the Brontë sisters. By day she plotted how to make the world better. She wrote love poems in the high attic with the single-eye window that looked out on the romance of the land. She built clocks in the basement of her mother’s house in the country with the petite and precise fingers of an olde German clock-maker. She is my sister. The sweet girl who raised me when our drunk mother was out chasing men every night. The 13 year old girl who went without supper so her eight year old brother could eat. The sister who has always protected me, and still does, by never making contact with me. The FBI follow me everywhere I go. My mail is read. My computer hacked. My wife left, and took the kids. How do I know my sister drinks almond milk? How do I know she grows her own vegetables? Go fuck yourself, that’s how.


Joseph RussoJoseph Musso lives on the east coast with his best friend Jack—a most soulful Chocolate Lab. His books include I WAS NEVER COOL, RED SOMEHOW, and APARTMENT BUILDING.