by Stephanie Kraner

Sleeping Woman

Otto Magus via Creative Commons

I don’t know what I miss more: sleeping or waking. Both represent a change, something new and terrifying. Not many people see it that way, but I have a unique perspective.

The last time I went to sleep, I woke up dead.

Caught me off-guard, especially since I still went to work. Christ, that was a bad day. The goddamn computer wouldn’t work and nobody even looked at me. Then I went home and found my body. If I could’ve shit my pants, I probably would’ve.

My ex-wife used to say I’d die before I stopped working, and I guess the bitch was right.

I stretch, watching her as she lies in bed.

Not everyone gets to come back. Just the stubborn ones. The anal ones, Karen would say. The ones who don’t even call off dead.

Karen stirs. When she sees me, she’s going to flip. Then I get to tell her she’s dead. Win.

It sucked being alone when I woke up for the last time, so I made this my job. A man—even the ghost of a man—needs a purpose.

Karen’s spirit gets up. She sees me and glares. Then she sees her body. Then she starts screaming.

Typical Karen—always making a scene.

“When you’re done,” I say, “we need to talk.”


Stephanie KranerStephanie is a small-town girl who recently moved to Pittsburgh—and she loves it!  Her hobbies include people-watching while stuck in traffic, being overly-opinionated about the aesthetics of bridges, and getting lost in parking garages. She also likes lizards, hockey, and trying craft beer based entirely on the design of its label. Her fiction has appeared in flashquake, Defenstration, The Battered Suitcase, and was Editor’s Choice in Anotherealm.

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.

Evergreen more than eversun

Mashthetics via Creative Commons

“I guess that reputation you have of non-stop rain ain’t true, then?” Gary asked the gaunt-looking cab driver.

“We get our share, true enough.”

“Nice day today, though,” Gary remarked.

“Yep. Enjoy it while you can.”

“I will.” Gary was quiet for a few minutes. Then, “Any suggestions?”

“For what?”

“You know, stuff to do. I just got in.” It seemed a dumb thing to say, considering the cab had picked him up from the airport.

“Space Needle? Seen that?”

“Yeah,” Gary said, leaning back, “I seen that.”

“Lots of people go downtown. The very first Starbucks is there.”

“Nah, I don’t drink coffee.”

“Well, it’s a great day. You could hit the water. Or the mountains. Beautiful scenery up here. Lots of green.”

Gary was quiet.

“Not outdoorsy?”

“Not really,” Gary answered. “But I do like green.”

The cab driver fidgeted. Sweat beaded on his wrinkled forehead. “Green’s nice,” he said.

“You got anything green,” Gary paused, then added, “Frankie? Maybe some gemstones?”

“Ah, crap,” the cabbie said. “Come on, man, I was gonna give them back. I swear.”

“Sure you were. Tell me where the case is and then pull over here.”

“Here?”

“Right here.”

Flashing Red Light

Thomas Hawk via Creative Commons

The officers ignored the protests of innocence as they loaded the woman into the car. “Oh shit, here comes Knave,” one of them said as a slouching man moved from shadow into the dancing red light.

“Gentlemen,” said Jonah Knave, “a moment?”

“Make it quick.”

“How many bullets left in the gun?”

The officers exchanged glances. The smaller one volunteered, “Three.”

“And how many wounds in the victim?”

“One,” the larger said, impatience hanging around him like a stink.

“I see. Thank you, officers.” Knave moved up the walk. He stood in the door, staring past the cooling body just inside, beady eyes focused over the crouching medical examiner at the wide glass pane at the back of the room.

“You’re gonna catch hell if the captain finds you here, Knave,” the M.E. remarked.

Knave grinned but didn’t look down. “Perhaps the captain should be more concerned about finding the shooter.”

“How’s that?”

Knave looked at the door to his right, cocked his jaw and ran his gaze the length of the frame, squinting at last at a pair of small holes near the hinge. “The real perp shot from, and fled through, the backyard. You have the wrong woman.”

Get Out

Annadriel via Creative Commons

May, 1946

 

Arata Ui could tell the difference between the rumble of ocean against sea wall and the buzz of an approaching aircraft when he was awake and alert. Four hours into his second shift, when cursing Ryo for contracting the flu had lost its distracting fire, it became a uniform hum of white noise. His fingers stiffened on the searchlight. Across the dugout, the battery team shared a cigarette, black outlines of huddled bulk nagged by an orange ember.

“Tetsuya! Shin!” Arata hissed, hoping the Gocho wasn’t making his round. “Someone cover me while I go to the latrine.”

The debate was held in susurrus even Arata’s trained ear couldn’t make out. “Fine,” they said at last. After a moment, Shin tapped him on the shoulder.

“Make it fast. I’m only doing this because you’re pulling a double.”

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Troy Springs State Park:  Algae formations

Phil’s 1stPix via Creative Commons

You expect to lose a few toes to the wet-rot during a contract. Not a single contractor offers hazard pay for getting three of them shot off. I wish I could tell you I took it like a tough guy, but the truth is I howled like a baby sea lion. The deeper truth is, most of my howl of agony had nothing to do with the fearsome pain of taking a zipshot bolt to the wee-wee-wee piggies. It had a hell of a lot more to do with the fact that my ex-wife was on the trigger end of that transaction.

Darla and I didn’t start off as fire and ice. She was a fisherman’s daughter, a naive hick with hair that never dried and a sweet voice that sang songs no one else could remember. I thought bringing her along on a couple of contracts would be good for her, toughen her up a little. But the open water did more than that; it changed her. I didn’t begrudge her taking up a contract of her own, and I didn’t really mind when she was promoted to captain of our skiff ahead of me.

The part I minded was her sleeping with the steward and throwing me overboard when I caught her in the act. That, and when she shot off my toes.

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Rook

Mingo Hagen via Creative Commons

Her mask was made from the head-bones of an aurochs and she ran. Each footfall landed in a violent clatter, the assault of her soles on earth sending the pouches and hanging weapons from criss-crossed belts and harnesses colliding, rebounding off each other. This was no stealthy flight.

Ridgen Village perched at the edge of the great gorge, squatting there as though trying to defecate into the chasm. When the woman clanged and thudded her way into the muddy slums on Ridgen’s western outskirts, her pursuers were nowhere to be seen.

She paused at the rough sign driven into the sticky grey ground at the village’s limit. The words above the faded whitewash of an arrow, gesturing south, read, “Ridgen. Population 1,300. Bridge customers welcome. Gorge floor path.” Words came slowly to Fian; she relished the opportunity to catch her breath while she made sure she understood the sign’s meaning: the bridge lay ahead, through town; to the south, the long road through the canyon.

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pretzel knot

lepetitsaboteur via Creative Commons

“What were you like as a little boy?”

“Normal, I guess. You know, average. Kind of a daydreamer.”

She made a sandwich of her hand between his bare chest and her chin. “What kinds of things did you dream about?”

“You know, stuff I saw in comics; swords and laserguns and adventurous animals.”

“Did you read books?”

“Not really.”

“Tell me one of your daydreams.”

“Like what?”

“Tell me about these adventurous animals.”

He inhaled; breath held. “I used to pretend I was this hero: Roper Raccoon. I had a lasso, and I could tie up bad guys with it. I looked up raccoons in the encyclopedia, found out they were nocturnal. So I’d sneak out at night with my lasso and look for bad guys to catch.”

“That’s cute. Did you catch any?”

“I caught my next door neighbor, few years older than me. She was sneaking in her upstairs window after curfew. I snared her foot and she fell.”

“Wow, I bet she was pissed.”

“I don’t know, the fall killed her. I unhooked my lasso and went back to bed. I never told anyone that before.”

The silence was excruciating. “You should have kept it to yourself.”

My park bench

vincealongi via Creative Commons

The park across the street from the pharmacy was one of those forced development deals; some EconDev deputy’s idea of a compromise. They worked with city planners in some kind of baseball card version of SimCity: I’ll trade you one tiny strip of grass and anemic tree line for six strip malls and a parking structure in our historic downtown, that kind of thing. Ken sat on his bench in the miserable little park and stared at the building, sneering at the painted facade the color of vomited hot dogs, and counted customers.

The padding of his buttocks had worn thin, like a pair of pants he couldn’t bear to throw out and so had weathered away any once-held utility. The bones of his hips ground against the painted slats—green, of course—and he hated everything. His tricycle was parked nearby underneath a shadeless tree, too newly planted to even stand on its own without the support of wooden crutches and rubber lashes. There were no leaves to keep the chrome handlebars from heating in the glare, there was no security provided by the flimsy chain lock (manufacturer’s provided combination: 1-2-3-4). The vehicle was plodding and uncomfortable to ride but beloved for its single provision: freedom.

Ken settled a curving pipe between his long mustaches and lit it with a match. His customer count reached 75 and he checked his watch while the hot summer wind threatened the light of his pipe. Eight forty-nine and Tim’s Discount Pharmacy had been open for under an hour, currently averaging more than one customer per minute.

There came a clarity with old age, a stripping down of mental tartar, revealing the inconsequentiality of sports, politics, news cycles, social engagement, and leisure. It rendered each of them vaporous and easily waved away with a gnarled hand. What remained was the fleeting bliss of family, the inevitability of oblivion, and the sweet allure of perceived injustice. It was this last that brought Ken to the park each day for the past two months, counting customers, tabulating data and biding time.

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