Just a Dog by Tim Frank

The dog was named Potato and she resented being a pet. She was well aware of her intellectual superiority to her owner, Pank, an overweight twelve-year-old schoolboy who played Top Trumps for dead spiders, liked mint Crispy Cremes and enjoyed stamping on puddles.

Potato was drawn to her fair share of mundane interests too: chasing raccoons through the brambles at the far end of the garden, and playing fetch with her sticky neon ball, which she found endlessly fascinating – though the repetition often reminded her of the Myth of Sisyphus.

Her life was comfortable but she wanted more – to be an intellectual decoding French symbolist poetry or studying propaganda in modern day Russia. So, in order to elevate her mind, Potato would drag Pank’s science homework into the musty boiler room and leaf through it with her moist nose, page by page. After her studies she would treat herself to a kebab using the takeout app on Pank’s phone.

One morning, while Potato was meditating on the nature of absolute zero, she was interrupted by Pank who scolded her for drinking out of the toilet bowl once again. Potato was pretty down on herself about her conduct and wondered what compelled her to act in such an uncouth manner. Wasn’t she above such antics? Wasn’t she too cerebral for this type of behaviour? She tried to explain herself to Pank and in the process hoped to find answers for herself.

“Master,” she began, “we’ve known each other for some time now and I want to apologise for my behaviour. And yet I can’t help but feel I’m not the only one to blame. Both you and I know you’ve been holding me back – you know I need more mental stimulation than is currently offered. So, I think we’re at a crossroads. I have demands: more freedom and more education. Also, it may be wise for you to throw in a trainer to help me overcome my baser instincts.”

Pank ruffled the hair under Potato’s neck. Before she knew it, she was lying on her back begging for her belly to be rubbed.

“You really are a good dog,” said Pank.

“You’re not listening to me as usual,” said Potato, suddenly feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

“I have a gift for you,” said Pank, and he unwrapped a glitter-speckled frisbee. Potato sighed, feeling misunderstood. But when Pank flung the toy along the hall Potato quickly scampered after it, nails scraping against the tiled floor, barking mischievously. In that moment nothing else in her life seemed to matter. She was a dog pure and simple.


Tim Frank’s short stories have been published in Bourbon Penn, Menacing Hedge, Eunoia Review, Maudlin House and elsewhere. He is the associate fiction editor for Able Muse Literary Journal. 

The Wedding Feast by Amber Bradbury

He tried not to notice
how the priest licked his lips,
how often he wiped his palms,
mistook the trembling for age
as he eyed his new bride.

Outside the church women snatched,
at her bouquet, grabbed gerberas,
caught petals that bruised in their fists.

‘Say cheese.’
And he swore that he heard
over the peal of bells
the grinding of teeth
behind those white smiles.

Nobody touched the starters.
Iceberg wilted, eyes rolled wild.
‘Well let’s eat,’ said his bride,
raised her glass in a toast
that never reached her lips.

Someone slit her stomach
with the knife for the cake,
handed out coiled rings of intestines
portioned up on Royal Doulton plates.

His mother-in-law dug a finger
into one glittered socket, sucked
an eyeball like a sugared almond.

The children hid under tables
gnawed a bone, licked their hands
then wrapped themselves up
in the bloodied wedding dress and slept.

Once the guests had been fed
stomachs swollen, cummerbunds bulged,
they made for the dancefloor
slipped off their shoes,
left footprints in red.

His best man handed him a napkin
dripped blood on his tie,
felt the warm weight
from his wife’s cooling heart
and pondered the hours since
‘death do us part.’


Amber Bradbury is currently studying for a BA in Creative Writing and English Literature with the Open University. She is also working on compiling her first chapbook and a collection of short stories. Her first flash fiction story, ‘Waiting for the Snow’, was featured in Litro magazine and her first piece of poetry, ‘Bluebeard’s Wife,’ will be published in September’s issue of Carmina magazine.

2 Poems by Elyse Jancosko

Broken Pedals

It’s blueberry pie that I made 
and tossed off the balcony
hot into the dumpster.

It’s ice cream 
passed between scoops,
never a bowl home.
Bloody annoying

curves in the road. It’s a wreck, 
a bicyclist she ran into a wall, 
flat on the sidewalk, 
legs curled against her chest. 

It’s the fetal position,
we all came out crying. 

Ambulance firetrucks 
gawkers. I saw them 
wheel out a gurney. 
It’s a black steel frame,

white cushions. It’s the 
cushions that held her. 

I rode my bike right by
thinking about a dandelion 
puff that I blew when I 
was six. I made a wish. 

My pedals kept me going. 
For just a moment,
I thought about dying 
women everywhere.


Uprooting

Carp experts say 
all goldfish are actually invasive
carp that have traveled 
 
from afar to become people’s pets. 
When dumped into ponds, 
they grow, unlimited 
 
by a fishbowl. 
Native plants simply cannot establish 
roots in those ponds. 
 
Someone 
caught a four-pound goldfish 
of which I saw a photo: 
an orange-scaled football 
 
carefully cradled
by a local fisherman. 
 
A carp that simply 
could not establish 
roots as a pet.
 
A scientist looked 
at its inner ear bone 
under a microscope 
 
to count its growth rings.
Has it reached its
potential? 
 
Did it know 
it was discarded? 
 
I for one don’t feel
sorry for that pond’s fate.
 
Source: Football-size Goldfish Found in a Minnesota Lake


Elyse Jancosko was born and raised in a small town hidden in the Appalachians. She studies theopoetics and conducts poetry therapy and expressive writing groups in Denver where she lives and works.

Photography by Robin Wright


Robin Wright lives in Southern Indiana. Her poems, essays, and photos have appeared in Ariel ChartMinnow Literary MagazineSanctuary MagazineBlack Bough Poetry, Spank the Carp, Muddy River Poetry Review, Rat’s Ass Review, Young Ravens Literary Review, Re-side zine, and othersOne of her poems was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Panoply, and her first chapbook, Ready or Not, was published by Finishing Line Press in October of 2020.

Mac The Pirate by Matthew McGuirk

I first met Mac the pirate on a day where white animals crawled out of the sky in crowds. It was a day where you couldn’t help but look up at the elephants with large ears, lions with rolling manes and lizards with long tongues. The sea threw hot black waves and the air smelled like menthols. Mac leaned against a moored ship on a dock. It looked like it might hold water with holes along the hull and the sails were a tattered off white, but it was tied to a glittering grey anchor. He held a colorful parrot in his arms whose squawks sounded like purrs and meows. The day’s sun boiled the sea and Mac stood with his curly red beard that hung in front of his ruffled white shirt.

Of course, I didn’t know him as Mac back then. He was just a pirate on those black seas. “You have a red beard, so you must be Red Beard.” I remember the words escaping my mouth, immediately regretting them and how he cocked his head and the purring parrot followed his lead.

“Red Beard’s been done, call me Mac, Mac the pirate.” The ocean crashed with blaring horns and yelling people and the waves shimmered in the sunlight, a sparkle of black diamonds. “Well, I need a set of hands and you look like a first mate to me. My last one ran off.” I had nothing else going on that day and he waved his hand, rope burned and peeling from the sun, and I went aboard his vessel. He gripped the wood wheel and pinwheeled it to the left. I lost my balance and fell among a clattering pile of cannonballs. The colorful bird nudged against the wheel and watched me, a tottering mess on a ship for the first time in years. Mac’s whiskers curled in brambles and his eyes squinted against the bright sun. The black waves pulled us from anchor and into the sea. I wasn’t much of a sailor before meeting Mac, but the waves cresting and slapping against the ship’s bow gives anyone sea legs.

The sky picked guitar solos and steady grey statues watched with a thousand eyes as we passed. “That’s our first target.” I remember Mac’s voice, a rasp against those axe picking clouds. I saw we’d caught a ship starboard and we were closing fast. “Man the cannon,” he screamed and his eyes widened as he leaned over the wheel. I located the cannon, grabbed the first cannonball and loaded it. I had no hesitation as the flare in his voice prodded me on and I lit the fuse. “Fire!” The smell of whiskey canvassed the air as the blazing ball left the cannon and smashed the side of their ship with a spray of glass across the black sea. “That’s a hit, load it again!” He pumped his right fist along with the words and I listened, wondering what kind of treasure they had. Another spray of whiskey on the air and another direct hit as I watched the cannonball smash into the left shoulder of the captain at their wheel and send him into the first mate; the ship pulled right when he fell and crashed into one of the grey statues sending fiery tendrils reaching skyward.

My eyes glazed for a moment and I sat dumbfounded. I saw the sky twist from the blue canvas with white animals to a scrubbed black with snarling purple snakes that snapped at me.

“No time for watching the sky, we’ve got work to do. Let’s board!” His voice split the trance and pulled my heart from my throat back to my chest. We moored in front of them and boarded their ship. We saw the mangled captain slumped into the first mate’s spot. I looked for the other sailor feeling that darkness descend again, but the mate was nowhere to be seen. The wreckage was riddled with broken glass and twisted metal.

A crashing scream came from behind us and turned our attention from the mess to the newly surfaced first mate. Mac put an arm out, pushed me backwards and pulled a dagger from his belt. “Back off! Now, where’s your loot?” Mac lurched forward, dagger in hand. His twisted face and that small, but pointy dagger shifted the gaze of the second mate, his eyelids peeling back in fear and he dove into the black waves. “Arrr, what a pale fish that one is.” The smell of whiskey was overwhelming in the captain’s quarters of the ship and one of the sprays of glass from the broken cannonball had landed there. It didn’t bother Mac and he sent his hand through a panel digging out the gold he was looking for. He stuffed it into his pockets and exited the ship back to ours. “Matey, you are a good one, you are.” He threw out his hand and shook mine with a conviction I hadn’t felt in many others. We hit two other ships that day and came away with gold to last us until the next marauding.

Mac and I see each other in passing, but I jingle the coins in my pockets when he’s not around and my eyes light up when I see someone that resembles him on the horizon. Mac is gone right now, but I know he’ll return again soon with that bruised hull and those wind beaten sails to carry me onto our next adventure. Mac and I are pirates on those black rolling seas with animals crawling out of the sky, riffs of metal playing on invisible guitars, a parrot that purrs like a cat and cannonballs that smell like whiskey.


Matt McGuirk teaches and laughs at his puns by day and scribbles somewhat coherent words nightly. He lives with his family in New Hampshire. Words in The Daily Drunk Magazine, Goat’s Milk, Idle Ink, Literally Stories, New World Writing, Purple Wall Stories and Versification. Twitter handle: @McguirkMatthew and Instagram @mcguirk_matthew.

On the River by Steve Gergley

On the first day of spring, the child emerges from a warm cave on a boat. The river cuts past the frozen cedar faces of his family, and in this way, he stays safe from the cold churn of the water. Inside the boat, the child sits atop a mat of green grass and fresh berries. The colors are beautiful: bright red, shiny black, marbled blue. He reaches for the most exciting berry of them all, the red. It feels soft and spongy between his fingers. He closes his small hand and squeezes. Sticky red juice runs down his arm. He mashes the mangled flesh into his mouth and licks his fingers clean.

#

At the end of the summer, the river narrows to a thin creek choked with sharp rocks. Gripping the tiller firmly, the back of his hand baked red by the sun, the boy steers his boat carefully down the creek. Soon he sees a young woman picking wildflowers on the shore up ahead. Thin white robes cling to the curves of her body; a cool summer breeze ruffles her ebony hair. She’s the most beautiful thing the boy has ever seen, so he waves his free hand above his head and calls out to her. She glances at the boy for a moment and then turns her attention back to the flowers. His face burns with blood and he tries to look away, but he can’t. His body doesn’t let him. The young woman’s beauty is an elemental force as powerful as gravity’s pull. The boy’s boat slips down the creek. He loosens his grasp on the tiller. A black crag scrapes across the bow, gouging away the curves of his father’s mouth, the pits of his mother’s eyes.

#

By autumn, the man sees many more women on the shore. One sits in the grass and offers breadcrumbs to the starlings and the cardinals and the sparrows and the crows. Another strums an acoustic guitar and sings a beautiful song in a language the man doesn’t understand. Yet another writes in a small book and watches a gold leaf spiral to the ground. Stranded in his boat on the creek, the man falls in love with all of the women on the shore. To win their affection, he offers them the freshest, most delicious berries in his boat. He compliments their songs, their beauty, their creativity, their kindness. But the man’s efforts are clumsy and transparent. Some of the women glance at him for a moment and look away, but most don’t acknowledge his existence. After weeks of failure, the man lays in his boat and stares at the gray slab of the sky. Soon his boat slams into a rock. Then another. And a third. Instead of patching the hull, the man crosses his arms and listens to the splintering crunch of the bow. He draws a deep breath. The prickly smell of snow hangs in the chilly air.

#

On the coldest day of the winter, the old man’s boat gets stuck in a lake of ice. There are no strawberries left, so he no longer has a choice of what to eat. Bitter and angry, the old man sucks on a frozen blueberry and curses everything and everyone in the entire wretched world. By the next morning, the old man can no longer feel the cold. Soon the young woman he saw at the end of the summer appears beside his boat. She’s more beautiful than he remembers. Her ebony hair hangs to her waist; her white robes glow with a soft pink light; a pair of skin-sheathed wings lay folded on her back. The young woman smiles at the old man and offers her hand, but the old man’s poisonous resentment takes hold of him, and he severs her arm with a blade of splintered wood. Pink light explodes from the stump of the young woman’s shoulder; she disappears without a sound. When she reappears the next day, her body made whole again, the old man is as cold and stiff as the keel of his trapped boat.


Steve Gergley is a writer and runner from Warwick, New York. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Atticus Review, Cleaver Magazine, Hobart, Pithead Chapel, Maudlin House, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music. He tweets @GergleySteve. His fiction can be found at: https://stevegergleyauthor.wordpress.com/

2 Poems by Jason Melvin

A proper burial

you ended up on my bookshelf
tiny urn in an over-sized jewelry box
stuck in a library man cave
no bigger than a closet
between Lehane and Palahniuk
between mystery and satire
I don’t know where to place you
but I do know you weren’t much of a reader
My wife has seen too many Hollywood pratfalls
and fears you will end up in the Shop-vac
if displayed

there’s a chair in there
nothing fancy
one fifth of an unused kitchen set
I see you sitting in it
when I peek through the cracked door
and the moonlight from the lone window spills in
but not all of you
just where light would touch
most of you rests at home
with your wife and kids
some of you is with mom
I’m not sure where they put you
I doubt it was a bookshelf


Where the grass grows higher

stationary
the grass grows
wraps around my legs
squeezes my hips
slashes across my chest
scarfs around my neck
restricts airflow
covers my eyes, ears, nose
enters my mouth
like floss between my teeth
my tongue fights, loses
mounds of dirt form
cover my feet
wildflowers
sprout out of my armpits
parents tell their children to stay away
something could be living in there
thorns replace my fingernails
earthworms and grubs tickle my toes
parents tell their children to stay away
There might be something living in there

There isn’t


Jason Melvin is a father, husband, grandfather, high school soccer coach, and metals processing center supervisor, who lives just north of Pittsburgh. Most of his poems come to him while riding his lawnmower around the yard. His work has recently appeared in Rat’s Ass Review, Kitchen Sink Magazine, The Electric Rail, The Front Porch Review, Shambles, Spillover, Olney, Last Leaves, and Zero Readers, among others.