My Girl and Little Princess

Marcy Dilworth


“Go get ‘em, Little Princess,” yells the helmet-haired woman from her monogrammed camp chair on the soccer field sideline, and go Little Princess does, dribbling downfield around My Girl’s teammates, weaving through them like a slalom skier until she attacks My Girl, my solid fullback, and Little Princess jukes left and My Girl falls for it; Little Princess swings her heavy blond braid thwack into My Girl’s eye socket then elbows her right in the ribs as she completes her sortie and thumps the ball into the net and punches her fist in the air and sticks out her tongue at the goalie, but the tongue disappears in a flash and by the time she turns around she’s morphed into her junior beauty queen simper and girly squeal and like a My Little Goddamned Pony with her plaited horse’s mane and equine prance she permits her teammates to cheer and high five her as long as they step back so Mommy Helmet-Hair can snap photos of Little Princess, victorious, again.

The whistle blows. Little Princess’s kickoff bounces straight at My Girl who passes it forward, a perfect arc, but Little Princess steals the prize and steamrolls along the sideline, taunts My Girl’s teammates as they flail and fail to reclaim it. My red-faced, tight-fisted Girl runs, a calculating assassin, driving in for the kill, carrying her team on her back, flying fueled by the fury of her nine years on this planet, she runs at Little Princess – only at Little Princess – and digs her toe in the dirt, pretends she’s tripping, but My Girl’s aiming the missile that is her sturdy body and levels Mommy Helmet-Hair’s Little Princess, belly flopping, chest thudding, an earthy thump resounding when her dense braid bounces off the pebble-littered turf. The world stops for a collective inhale. Then coaches and players and parents flood the field, step over My Girl to examine and pat and fuss over Little Princess; My Girl pushes herself up, covered in dust and dirt, scuffed from cleat to cow-licked brown bob, and trots off the field sporting a serene smile and plops herself down for a breather until the drama subsides and My Girl and Little Princess meet on the field once more.


Marcy Dilworth is a recovering finance professional pursuing her love of writing. Her stories have appeared in FlashFlood, Writer’s Resist, and Literary Mama. She lives in Virginia with her husband where they serve their precocious rescue pup, Kirby. Oh, and she has a couple wonderful kids. Find her on Twitter (@MCDHoo41).

Pray with Dirty Fingers

Leah Sackett


He’s got his self-righteous fingers in your pocket, just now. He brokers the towering, stony-faced edifice of concrete and stone spirituality. He is steadfast with a hand out at the threshold of faith. This man strokes his masculine show of a robust goatee, a little too Saturday night. In his other hand he is charging fees to climb the stairway to heaven. With the slight-of-hand of a sweaty palm he opens the coffers of token-based religiosity; he delivers dogma bent on cleaving you into the fold with the absolution of your mind.

There is another way to spend your money. The spirituality that hangs out in incensed-burning storefronts selling smells and crystals. A “natural” way to include capitalism in the skein of meditation bowls and tarot cards. You exchange community and a weekly congregation for the “shaman salesmen,” leaning against the Mystic Shoppe wall. He looks familiar to you as he overcharges for the paraphernalia he sells. You dig in your pocket feeling for bill and coin. Your rummaging rains down a feeling of cardboard faith in exchange for the spending of self-respect.


Leah Sackett is a short story writer. Her debut book, Swimming Middle River, was published with REaD Lips Press in 2020. Her short story, The Family Blend, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize with Crack the Spine. Her work has won various awards such as the Gold Award in Art Ascent, Two Sisters Publishing Contest the Institute for Women and Gender Studies’ Creative Writing Award. Over 50 of her stories have appeared in literary journals. In addition, she is an adjunct lecturer in the English department and the Communication & Media department at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, where she earned her MFA. Her short stories explore journeys toward autonomy and the boundaries placed on the individual by society, family, and self. Learn more about Leah’s published fiction here.

The First Snowman of the Season

MM MacLeod


You kneel in the small front yard, scooping snow together with red-wool-mittened hands. Two inches fell, and the patches you clear show grass which no longer grows but, in its greenness, does not quite appear dead.

The first almost-spherical shape uses up half of the white blanket, so you make the second ball smaller than it should be. Once the third and smallest piece is formed it is placed on top. You pull adornments from your coat pocket: a small and crooked carrot for the nose, two black four-hole plastic buttons for eyes, and a cardboard party hat – because you could find no other headgear – for your snow being to wear. You will need to find more; a snow being needs arms and a mouth, at the very least. You find a thin fallen branch at the base of the lone tree in this yard and push it into the right side of the middle snowball. An arm. You are peckish and will have to continue later.

You are looking out the picture window at the yard. The neighbourhood dogs have visited. There is a yellow, drizzled line halfway around the bottom of your snowman, and a splotch – the size of a grapefruit – on the back of the middle ball. That was one tall dog.

Did the night pass? It is morning. You had breakfast… maybe. You go outside. There is newly fallen snow. It covers the canine artwork made the day before. The fresh snow makes the snowman new again – and blind. You wipe at where the buttons should be. Someone has removed the buttons and replaced them with pennies.

You know the nose is wrong – it doesn’t protrude the way the crooked carrot would. You wipe away the snow and see a plastic nose there – the kind from those plastic-nose-with-black-glasses disguise gags. But no glasses, just the nose.

There is red showing through the snowy chest, where a heart would be. Maybe colour seeped out of your wet mittens yesterday, and you didn’t notice. You are afraid to wipe the snow away to see what is beneath. You look around the yard – no tell-tale red drops or splotches, but you don’t touch the snowman, except to wipe away the snow from that one arm.

That isn’t a branch. It looks like… like a bone. The kind of straight pale bone with double-knob ends you would see in a cartoon. The kind a cartoon dog would have in its mouth, but it is pretty long, like lower-arm length. You pull it out of the snow, because it can’t be real; has to be plastic, a toy. But it is heavy and there is red on the end that emerges from the snow body. You drop it and run – well try to run, but it is a shuffle – into the house. You remove your mittens, and one brown-spotted and gnarled hand reaches for the telephone as you try to remember who to call for help. And you try to remember why that butcher knife is laying on the hallway telephone table. Were you carving something for dinner? Was that today? Or was it yesterday?


MM MacLeod writes fiction and poetry in Hamilton, ON, Canada. She also edits and publishes Frost Zone Zine.

Mom Wasn’t Wearing A Lampshade

David Henson


When I brought Mom back from Dad’s cremation, she walked to a corner of the living room and stood. To give her some space, I went into the kitchen and had a cup of coffee. 

When I returned, Mom appeared to have a lampshade on her head. That was surprising because Mom was never the life-of-the-party type, not to mention now was no time to be having a party. Then I realized she wasn’t wearing a lampshade – her head had become a lampshade. 

I didn’t know whether to call a doctor or an electrician so I did neither. There was no reason to be hasty because I didn’t have to get back home for a couple days.

By next morning, Mom’s transformation had progressed to where she was a floor lamp. I knew it was Mom because the base of the lamp bore a strong resemblance to her pumps. 

I was concerned that, even though it was a sunny day, Mom was on. (My folks had taught me to not waste energy.) I attempted to switch Mom off, but electricity arced from the harp and zapped me. It hurt like a son of a gun (I’ve always shocked easily), and a cartoon image of my hair standing on end and my skeleton flashing flared in my mind. 

I thought about unplugging Mom, but was afraid if I did, she might starve. How was I to know? No one in our family had ever become a lamp before. I decided that when I left town the next day, I’d leave her on. It wasn’t as if a lamp was going to meter up the utility bill washing clothes or dishes. Besides, I’d watched enough medical shows to know how important it is to first do no harm. 

I spent the day running errands, reading and talking to Mom (a strictly one-way conversation) until bedtime. 

Next morning I awoke to the sound of dishes clattering and found Mom making a big breakfast like she always did when I was home. When I told her what had transpired, she sighed and said it was ironic I would dream about her becoming a floor lamp because Dad always said she was the light of his life. 

Mom almost convinced me the whole thing had been in my mind. But when it came time for me to go, I leaned in for a hug and noticed the pupils of her eyes were shaped like tiny light bulbs.

Mom admitted she’d changed into a lamp. I reminded her how she used to warn me when I frowned that my face might freeze that way. What if something similar happened to her when she was a lamp? She said she couldn’t promise it wouldn’t happen again if her emotions got the better of her. 

What could I say? Everyone has to deal with grief in their own way. Some people transform into floor lamps. Others write a silly little story. 


David Henson and his wife have lived in Brussels and Hong Kong and now reside in Peoria, Illinois. His work has appeared various journals including Briefly Zine, Moonpark Review, Literally Stories, Riggwelter and Pithead Chapel. See more of Dave’s work on his website and follow him on Twitter (@annalou8).

Killing Time

Jan Howcroft


I’m round the back at Earlham Road, throwing a tennis ball against the brickwork on the wall that has no windows, reciting names of vegetables. Mum’s just bought elastic off the market so I’d be in the wash house Chinese-skipping, if I could, but she’s scrubbing the wash house floor and doesn’t want me trailing muck. I need to wee.

By the outside toilet there’s a white hydrangea that’s taller than me; it rained last night so when I lift the latch and push the door, water trickles down my neck. I leave the door ajar.

The walls have been distempered but the damp’s come through and there are things you just don’t want to see like spiders in the corners and the empty husks of houseflies in the webs. Grey light enters through a tiny window level with the garden, high up on the right. Outside, you can see it just above the ground.

While I sit there on the wooden seat, I hear my father digging, his sharp blade cutting into the earth. He’s going to put potatoes in. The Izal roll is damp. When I’m done, I pull the metal chain and run.  

I go to see how many spuds my dad’s put in and if he needs my help. The forsythia’s out. There’s a robin on the handle of his spade, waiting for worms. Dad’s buried the potatoes and is making furrows with a stick for beans.

‘Ugh! What’s that,’ I say, pointing at a long brown object on the earth, about the size of my little finger.

‘Don’t know,’ he says. He picks it up and turns it over in his hand. It sticks to his skin. He drops it on the concrete slab and grinds it underfoot.

‘Don’t touch it,’ he says.

For a while I practise handstands on the grey-green garage door, but I can’t stay up for long so instead I balance on the wall outside the greenhouse. Inside are dad’s geranium cuttings. If Diana was here, we’d be running our obstacle course – flicking cardboard off a jam-jar to let the sixpence fall inside, or double-skipping on the driveway – but she’s in France. I’m going to see if I can climb the apple tree.

It’s getting cold but I’m hanging on till Dad’s gone in because I want to know what the weird thing is. I can see it from my tree branch lying in its slimy stain beside the gooseberry bush.

I don’t want to touch it so I get two twigs to prise the thing apart. It’s not easy because what was round is now flat but eventually, I succeed. Then I wish I hadn’t, because you can’t un-see a thing: that the wings are bruised and shredded; that someday soon it would have been a butterfly.


Jan Howcroft lives in Essex. She started writing when she retired. Since then, she has produced a wide variety of short stories and flash fiction and her work has been shortlisted in several national writing competitions.

First Contact

Daevid Glass


One twilit morning late in August, mere weeks after the Curiosity rover landed on Mars to look for evidence of alien life, alien life landed on Earth for the only time in the planet’s history.

It plopped onto a pavement in residential north Oxford, plunging to its demise from the skies.

It had the texture of a starfish with the plumpness of an overripe mango and was curled in on itself like a human foetus. It went unnoticed until a lurcher sniffed it during a morning walk. The dog found it uninteresting and moved on to a musky lamppost.

Half an hour afterwards a sparrow had a go at it, nibbling off a morsel here and there, but the bird soon gave up and sat squat and puffed up beneath a sickly elm.

Later, a passing child kicked it rolling into the unseen shade beneath a hedgerow. By sunset the flies had seen it off.


Daevid Glass reverse-engineers morsels of reality and extracts their meaning, injecting this concentrate into carefully assembled words and hoping for a positive outcome. This process began when, as a child in Essex, a school teacher asked him to write a poem about a rocket launch. He hasn’t stopped writing since. He lives in Oxfordshire and is working on his novel, Resuscitating God. Find out more here.

Divorce

Shirley Hilton


Her mother asked, “What do you plan to do now?”

“Take up lots of space,” she replied.


Shirley Hilton writes in multiple genres, never knowing which she is creating until the words appear on the page, and at times not even then. She is also an accidental lyricist for award-winning Jazz musician Ryan Middagh. Her writing has most recently appeared in Backchannels, Cedar Valley Divide, and Lyrical Iowa.

The Stone

Eleanor Silk


When Hob the baker’s son whispers that the cows speak to him, I tell him to stay far away from Madam Thistle and that bloody tavern of hers. It’s not right. 

He’s not been right for days. It’s to be expected; his wife’s having their third and it’s not been smooth sailing according to him. I tell him to pray, but mostly because I don’t want to broach the subject any more than he does. Me and Maggie are expecting our first, and the last thing we want is any bad luck. 

“A stone, Mik,” he gasps, “a stone… red as anythin’, right there in the middle of the milk pail…” 

Can’t understand the man. Too much mead and too many humours, I decide. I offer him some leeches, you know, draw the bad blood out. He shakes his head and says they tell him they’re suffocating. 

I avoid him for a bit, but a few days later I’m out in the field and every man and his wife are running down into the square. Curious, I follow, and Hob’s there, writhing. Everyone’s gathered around him, and there’s some kids hovering, pebbles in hand.

He’s brick red and screaming, screaming as if he’s been set alight. There’s some crows circling, and I swear they’re laughing; their cries mingle with the kids’ braying as I prop Hob up and drag him off. There’s blood down his chest where he’s smashed his face into the ground.

I clean him up, and hand him over to the farthest inn I can find, one where the news hasn’t yet reached. God, I’ve never seen a grown man cry like that before. He kept looking at me, not really looking, because his eyes weren’t right. They were all funny, all dead-looking. He kept saying ‘red’ but it wasn’t really the word, more a long, agonising groan.

I’ll be taking him to the church-house tomorrow to speak to Father. Goodness knows where his wife’s got to. Or their little ones. He sobbed that they’ve left him, but I just can’t believe that. I give a bit more to the beggar outside the inn today as penance. Lord protect me from whatever’s rattling on inside his head. 

I eat my last meal quietly. The dog keeps giving me looks. Strange creatures they are; my old man reckons they know exactly what’s going on. I sleep soundly, waking up alone as I suppose Maggie’s gone to milk the cow. Don’t know why she won’t let me do it, it’s not long until the kid’ll be born and all that bending can’t be doing her any good. The dog licks my hand, reminds me gently that Maggie’ll be wanting eggs again for breakfast. I stumble into the chicken coop, and listen to them all chastise me for waking them. 

I feel my hand curl around the eggs, and jump back. Nestled among them is a warm red stone, red like the setting sun, red like old blood. 

“Not a good sign, that,” sighs a fat hen to my right.


Eleanor Silk has previously been published in literary journal Strukturris, and is currently working on her first fantasy novel. Most days she can be found knitting, baking and blogging.

Sexist

Annabel Banks


She knows it will be a boy, because she eats blue fruit; blueberries, yes, but also plums, served with aubergine and dusty, dark grapes, while she soaks the stiff red cabbage and drinks the coloured broth. There are other foods, but no strawberries, or some pinkly perfect peach. While taking her meals, she activates her aggression in controlled circumstances, watching Hollywood movies about women who’ve had enough, feeling the swell of euphoria at each justified killing as they take their third-act revenge.

The blood looked like her cabbages. She licked her lips for more.

In the daytime, she reads articles from hunting magazines and angling periodicals, or the newsletters from sites about cars. She makes new social media accounts and follows large-breasted models, aggressive CEOs, hedge fund managers and tech billionaires, scrolling page after page of their thoughts, manoeuvres, and preoccupations — or at least the ones they allow to slip from their minds to the minds of people like her — eating lunches made of last night’s leftovers, checking the balances of accounts held with high street banks.

It’s not enough. She needs more, so fires a gun, shoots an arrow, harasses women online. Hoodied and heavy-footed, she follows teenaged girls through darkened streets, imagining she can smell the flood of their pheromones, the stink of fear, breathing deeply as she thinks of her body’s delivery system, tiny globules of hormones balancing her blood.

She gave birth. The baby’s passage from womb to world is long, with pain like a guillotine blade, like a punch, like pain from food poisoning or from a torturer being appraised.

Congratulations, they say, on your beautiful child. She looks just like you. Just like you.


Annabel Banks‘s work can be found in such places as Granta, The Manchester Review, Litro, The Stockholm Review and 3:AM, and has been broadcast by the BBC. Her recent collection of short fiction, Exercises in Control, is available from Influx Press. She lives in London.

New Neighbors

Mandira Pattnaik


in a new normal, is a cauldron. Always boiling. Two souls, okay, two bodies, combined, and put in a two-room apartment next to mine. Conditioned in salt and pepper, between toil and tears. Throw in a spell without work for either, a wailing bundle just too soon. We’re placed on a slow burning stove. If you happen to be here, smell it burning. A recipe failed. The other day, I overheard — their dough just too gooey. They were trying to retrieve bits. Weather turned soon enough, pans and ladles flew; shout and screams echoing back from the walls. I’m mapping out ‘where else’ scenarios, because I need to finish the only project I have at hand. I’ll be thinking out rental budgets while I’m out for a smoke. I hope they know what’s ruined is ruined. Maybe they’ll be adding wine or love; but, I’m sure, the baby will wail still and the man will be shouting more. She’ll try crying; let the whole thing simmer. She’ll be checking for tips/shortcuts, realize there aren’t any. If you’re one of us, you’ll meet her and me at the snaking queue for employment registration at the JFK Library one of these mornings. We’ll all be trying to start all over again. Quickly realize it’s no use. It might not be the worst yet.


Mandira Pattnaik writes short fiction and poetry. Recent publications include Splonk, PanoplyzineCabinetofHeed, Lunate, BrilliantFlash and Spelk. Twitter: @MandiraPattnaik.