by m.nicole.r.wildhood

Balloons

Matthew Peoples via Creative Commons

The first week, my classmates brought their parents in to tell us about their jobs themselves. One girl’s mom is a cop who catches moms like mine wandering the streets in teetering heels and jewelry around their wrists and necks that clatters like teeth in cold. Ms. Shaeffer decorated with balloons and streamer paper that tasted like stale salt.

The second week was for the kids whose parents couldn’t come. Like me. We had to tell our peers about what are parents did to keep us fed. The red and blue and green streamers are still up, though they’re drooping like frowns, and the balloons are heavy looking. Ms. Shaeffer doesn’t understand why I don’t want to share and moves a bouquet of tired green and purple balloons next to me at the front of the room, smiling like my grandma before she forces a spoon of cod liver oil into my mouth every morning at breakfast.

In front of the class, I gag just like that, but as silently as I can. We have to talk for seven minutes. The only thing I can think to say is how my dad splits stones and digs ditches by the roads and how my mom loves any man who needs it.


m.nicole.r.wildhoodm.nicole.r.wildhood is a Colorado native who has been living in Seattle—and missing the sun—since 2006. She has been a saxophone player and registered scuba diver for over half her life.  In addition to blogging at http://megan.thewildhoods.com, she writes poetry, fiction and short nonfiction, which have appeared in The Atlantic, xoJane, The Atticus ReviewFive and elsewhere. She currently writes for Seattle’s street newspaper Real Change and is at work on a novel, two chapbooks (one in Spanish) and two full-length poetry volumes.

by Gregg Chamberlain

Flip Phone

EightBitTony via Creative Commons

“Did your mother teach you that?”

The little girl gave a reluctant nod, looking down at her feet.

Her father frowned. “What have we told you about playing nice with your brother?”

“He asked me!” she retorted, with childish logic.

Her father sighed. “And you can’t fix it, I suppose?”

A defiant frown vanished. The little girl looked back down at the floor, one foot twisting back and forth as if trying to dig through the bedroom carpet. “I tried,” came a muttered frustrated reply.

Her father shook his head, sighed again, and took out a cellphone, flipping it open.

“Sam? It’s me, Phil. Call me back as soon as you can, please. We got a problem. And Sam, when you show AnneMarie how to do something, would you please make sure she knows how to undo it too?”

He snapped the phone shut and tucked it in a pocket. “It’ll be okay, champ,” he said, turning around. “Mom’ll be home soon and fix everything.”

A disgusted grunt was the only reply he got. Snout wrinkled with the effort to hold back tears, a sad-eyed little pig boy looked up at his father, then nodded with a soft snuffling sigh.


Gregg Chamberlain, a community newspaper reporter four decades in the trade, lives in rural Eastern Ontario with his missus and a clowder of four cats who allow their humans the run of the house. Past fiction credits, from microfic to novelette, include webzines like Daily Science Fiction, and NonBinary Review, anthologies like 100 Great Fantasy Short-Short Stories (Asimov, Greenberg, and Carr, editors) and the Alternative Hilarities series from Strange Musings Press, and magazines like Apex and Weirdbook.

Drink me

~Zoe~ via Creative Commons

by Anne Lawrence Bradshaw

In the evenings, the gin would have taken effect, and the barbed words drawling from your tongue sounded smooth from over-use. I was cursed for never being the shock of red you’d wanted to see. I was a monster, something you’d always longed to sluice away.

Your eyes would be glass when I tucked you under your blanket, your bruised legs purple, so cold. A thin trickle of saliva would dribble down your chin, marking your blouse. I would wipe your mouth with a tissue, throw it in the bin.

But the heavy scent of juniper lingered. Sometimes I would lift the near empty bottle, tipping the dregs into my mouth. I’d wait a few seconds for the familiar bitterness to coalesce. How it burnt, leaving nothing but the afterglow of a perfumed sigh.

One night, as the other kids played in the dusk outside, I sat in the half-light, felt myself change. It was a moment, a sordid understanding that I was just grit between your teeth. You would rather spit me out than make me into a pearl.

As the moon rose over the house, I felt myself drift, go with it. One by one, the stars pricked the underbelly of night, while I sat, listening to you breathe.


Anne Lawrwnce BradshawAnne Lawrence Bradshaw writes poems and short stories. She lives in a dilapidated cottage near Hadrian’s Wall, drinks too much tea and walks a lot. Tweet her @shrewdbanana.

by J. Bradley

Fire Extinguisher

Jennifer Luis via Creative Commons

Helen stared at the smoke seeping through the seams of the closed oven door, the fire consuming last night’s pizza box. I opened the front door. The fire extinguisher case was bolted next to the apartment door across the hall. The landlords thought ahead. I freed the fire extinguisher, opened the oven. The kitchen didn’t give me enough space to aim properly. We stumbled through the mist of smoke and sodium bicarbonate, onto the balcony.

Before my father “rescued” us from my mother, he listed all the reasons why we were better off without her: listened to talk radio, sucked her teeth at the dinner table, stole the blanket while they slept, never voted in local elections, believed The Doors were better than Pink Floyd. He said the list gave him the conviction he needed to walk us out of her life.

I looked over at the refrigerator. The sonogram pinned to the freezer door looked like a black and yellow blotch from here.

“My hero,” Helen wrapped her arm around my waist.

When Neil is old enough, I’ll show him my list. He’ll see on the first line: doesn’t look in the oven first before turning it on.


J. BradleyJ. Bradley is the author of the forthcoming story collection, The Adventures of Jesus Christ, Boy Detective (Pelekinesis, 2016). He lives at iheartfailure.net.

 

by Rita Jansen

“Better an empty house than a bad tenant,” Mum would say, shovelling the weekly dose of castor oil into me. “When the bowels are out of kilter, the brain turns to mush!” Over the years, many of Mum’s aphorisms made good sense, except for her take on my sixteenth birthday present from my granddad.

“If you ask me, you’re granddad lost more than his right arm in the war,” she said. “Who in their right mind gives a gift like that to a young girl?”

“Granddad’s not crazy,” I said in his defence, although, truthfully, it wasn’t something I would have chosen for myself. “He knows they’ll all be taken by the time I need it, and I got to choose the nicest one.”

2009-11-22 The gift

Henning Mühlinghaus via Creative Commons

Both have passed on now. Mother died suddenly at the age of fifty-two and Granddad didn’t make it to my seventeenth birthday. His gift has remained untouched although I’ve kept an eye on it over the years.

However, it won’t be long now until someone opens it on my behalf and lays me to rest in the best plot in Heaven’s Door Cemetery; Granddad’s gift to me.


Rita JansenRita was born in Drogheda, Ireland but left the Emerald Isle to work as a nursing sister in South Africa. She’s been fortunate to live in many interesting places, including Zimbabwe, finally settling down in a small fishing village on the South Coast of Natal. Now retired, she has the time to pursue a life-long desire to write about the many characters and situations encountered along life’s journey, which lie in wait, like hidden treasure in her memory box.

by Sandra Grills

“Mama, I need a hug” a small voice calls into the darkness. She believes, even at the age of eight, that her little voice will be heard. She trusts that someone will be there. Not just any someone, her Mama, ready to give her a hug.

With a sigh only perceptible in my sleep weary mind, I roll over and push myself out of bed. My eyes open just a crack as I shuffle down the hall. She’s sleeping when I reach her room—a little cherub running around in the land of nod—but experience warns against leaving. It would only result in a louder, more urgent call. I reach down and do what many would consider an unthinkable sin, I wake a sleeping child.

Delicate eyelids flutter open, and a smile cracks the flawless face with a look that says “I knew you’d come.” Heavy arms reach up and claim their hug. The smile continues, even after the arms drift back onto the bed, and the eyes slide closed.

Sleeping

Mark Probst via Creative Commons

I tiptoe past the creaks in the floor, careful to lay my feet on soft carpet, before I lay a weary head back on my pillow. A little noise floats up the hallway. The contented sigh of a sleeping child who feels safe.

 

 


Sandra GrillsSandra has been a director, a business owner, a project manager, a bookbinder, and a mother. Her current passion is reading and writing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where she lives with her husband, two amazing children, and a gecko named Captain Doug.

by Deborah Walker

Only astronauts from New State China will travel through the Ghost Rift. In the Ghost Rift sleeting particles of dust make the unseen visible. The Chinese have always known that spirits fill the air.

The crew of the Silver Nightingale laugh at the tortuous routes Westerners take to avoid the Rift. They’re surprised, but they’re relieved when quiet Sung Li, the newest recruit, volunteers to pilot the ship.

She watches the crew as they climb silently into the stasis pods. When they wake, they’ll imagine the feel of ghosts lingering on their skins. They will make loud, nervous jokes.

Sung Li dresses in the captain’s uniform. She has travelled far from the factory slums of Neo Shanghai. She has risen like a leaping salmon from the swarms of her contemporaries. Sung Li has travelled a thousand light years from her childhood, and from her mother’s incessant encouragement.

Sung Li watches the approaching Rift through the metal-glass window. She smoothes down the captain’s uniform, and she smiles. Sung Li has travelled far. She is looking forward to meeting the familiar look of her mother’s disapproval.

Milky Way - Full 180 Degree Panorama

inefekt69 via Creative Commons

A version of this story originally appeared in the Dark Stars anthology.


Deborah Walker grew up in the most English town in the country, but she soon high-tailed it down to London, where she now lives with her partner, Chris, and her two young children. Find Deborah in the British Museum trawling the past for future inspiration. Her stories have appeared in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Nature’s Futures, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and The Year’s Best SF 18 and have been translated into over a dozen languages.

Sweat

Marek Pokorny via Creative Commons

I don’t mean to suggest that Dominic Delveccio was a remarkable person. His job required security clearance and he took pains to reveal this information to those he met, but the secrets he possessed were of little value. The near-hero he saw in the mirror scarcely resembled the sagging flop of nervous sweat and ill-timed anecdotes I knew.

The air conditioner was out the day he finally triumphed. It was a morning of damp armpits and crinkle-fans made from printer-paper. Everyone made the same joke about Indian summer. Dominic pried a yard of fabric from his generous backside and twirled a pen around his finger. The boss blamed Dom’s team as usual. Dominic’s jaw pulsed beneath a bread dough cheek. Boss got worked up, started in with the cussing and the personal insults.

That reliable gleam of hateful insolence tempered by resignation never left Dominic’s deep-set eyes as he fished in his pocket and pulled out his phone. The boss’ tirade trailed off as he stared at the number with a hint of recognition.

“What’s that?” he demanded.

Dom cracked his neck and said, “I called your mother. She’s been listening. She wants to talk.”