The Ineffable Hat by M.T. Williams

“This hat is ineffable,” he said.

She had to agree. The way it contoured his head, at once enlarging and somehow, amplifying his cranium, struck her as near impossible. Unexplainable.

“Might I try it?” she asked.

He agreed, but only on the terms that she have a hat of her own. There was a flash as the man spun in a wild, enthusiastic gambol. Light emanated from atop his head. She held up her hands to shield her eyes and something dropped into her lap – a brand new hat. She picked the newly formed hat up in her hands and examined it closely, before placing it on her head. There was something wonderful about the hat, at once masterfully complex and wonderfully benign.

The hat was indeed ineffable, she decided, faceted as it was to astutely represent the whole of the deftly transcendent and the undeniably simple. How like life, she thought, as the man bounded away, hat both askew and not askew – a multifarious and crystalline explosion, reflected and refracted in impossible planes and colours through infinite refinement, on simplistic foundations. She adjusted the hat on her head. A passerby smiled at her.

“Nice hat.”

“Yes,” she returned the smile. “It’s ineffable.”


M.T. Williams is born and raised in Southwestern Ontario, with a quick jaunt to Finland in his teenage years.  He is currently living among the corn with his wife and stepdaughter and far too many cats.  He can be found on Twitter @emptywill13 and on his website, emptywill.com.

The Superior Bank Robbery by Jeff Burt

In Weeping Water, Nebraska, 1934, Louise Martinez ran into Daniels, a distant relative of Maurice “Blondie” Denning, a bank robber the FBI never apprehended, as the sky raged and a tornado swelled overhead. She was attempting to run to her lover, away from her home, and Daniels attempting to run from his stalled car with a large canvas bag of cash from the Superior bank robbery slapping against his side.

When they hit, she, petite but strong, knocked lean Daniels down. His head bounced on the old brick street. Death was instantaneous, the coroner declared, though Daniels’ legs ran and twitched for almost two minutes.

Martinez kneeled by Daniels, clutched his jacket, then cupped his head in her hands, dropped his head, opened the bag, saw the cash, and grabbed it. When she rose, the tornado sucked up the canvas bag then dashed it against her, knocking her over, her head caved in by the curb. The tornado sucked the bag again into the air. Martinez survived, mentally diminished, refusing to leave her basement.

Northwest, minutes later in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, a strong, broad woman named Elaine, a bird watcher, with curly brown hair, downed water from a canteen and pulled a canvas bag of cash back out of a gulley where she had seen it drop from the sky. A thin, almost wispy tornado circled overhead, shocking white in its infancy, attractive. As she stood to watch it, a shingle from an old barn hit her head and felled her. Her partner reached for Elaine at the very second the canvas bag lifted, and his shirt, pulled out of his pants, wrapped around his neck in a quick corkscrew. Between the pull of the tornado and the pull of gravity, it made him dance across the prairie like a sad scarecrow over a few hundred yards. When officers found the ragged body, they said life had been sucked out of it, the strap to the bag still wound around his torso, the bag itself lost in the clouds.

People conjectured the subsequent landing of the canvas bag, plotted, and imagined it fell across the Missouri River near Council Bluffs, Iowa. No one came forward for the reward, and the FBI gave up this search as well after seven years.

A retired treasury agent by the name of Frank Glaspell, however, continued to search off and on, through the 1960s, parking his RV in small towns and on the eastern bank of the Missouri. He searched bank records for large deposits. He searched for a suddenly rich farmer. He searched for a pauper turned prince, but failed to find one.

His wife, Elizabeth, who wore gaudy rhinestone sunglasses and short shorts at all hours, reported Frank dead south of Council Bluffs after a dust devil dashed him to the ground, a canvas bag underneath his head, old and empty.

Or so she said.


Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California, and works in mental health. He has contributed to The Nervous Breakdown, Per Contra, Bird’s Thumb, and Gold Man Review.

Curling by Matt Gillick

I need to get the hell out of here, they groan to themselves as the C Train rattles dishes in the cabinet. But no way were they going back to Missouri. Eventually, they’ll have to open it—hands ready to catch any errant plate or ceramic that tap danced to the edge. The train rumbles away (until next time), leaving a wake of potential shatter and crash.

They don’t answer the phone vibrating on the high-top kitchen table next to a sausage, egg, and cheese that’d grown cold. In the bathroom mirror, they look upon their matted, mangled, intersectional hair and Good God does it need work. Something needs to be done with that nested clump, resemblant of a lemony drifter who sleeps outside the bodega around the corner. Too long has bedhead run rampant across their scalp.

The phone buzzes again, probably another invite to meet up at Do or Dive. They’ll have to decline. Ever since that incident at the front gate of Yankee Stadium, they don’t feel like going much of anywhere anymore. The beer-crusted Sabathia jersey crumples drunkenly under the bed. Something must be done about that hair, but instead, they scrub at those sticky, tough-to-reach corners of the bathroom floor—especially behind the radiator. A few hours pass. Weren’t they supposed to eat something?

The notion to just do something already comes from this feverish mixture of hunger, chores, the lack of a functional window unit, and consecutive nights alone with bottles of cheap pinot when they finally say, Screw it! It’s high time I took care of this.

The curling rollers were found at the back of a drawer—their first New York Christmas gift since leaving Westphalia. Wait until they get a load of me, they say, untangling the hairdryer, moving away creams and pill bottles to plug it into the outlet. Failing to wait for the hairdryer to get hot, the first roller becomes its own hidden knot. Nothing a pair of scissors can’t handle. Three clips, four clips, too many clips. Years of progress wisp onto the bathroom tile. Are they pretty yet? The next clip’s too tight, but they’re making progress. They come to the realization that the art of curling is an art of process, not result, and requires training. A few internet tutorials later, half their head is curled in differing lengths and volumes.

But the momentum wanes, hunger settles deep in their stomach, and they stop. They haven’t eaten all day. They’re tired. It’s time to take a break, just a little break. But seeing those curlers in the mirror, staring back at them like one-eyed slugs lamenting to have been relegated to such a task, they know the day is lost. They can hear the phone buzzing again. They lie down on the bathroom tile because it’s cool down here. Take a rest. You’ll have to eat something soon. Fifteen minutes turn to twenty minutes. So hungry. Need to eat something. There’s the C Train, again, choreographing the dishes to the precipice of the kitchen floor. Later in the night, they wake up to a 3 am sweat, unsure of what they were so worried about. The curlers hold on tight.


Matt Gillick tries to be a writer. He received his MFA from Emerson College. Other published work can be found at mattgillick.com. He is currently working on a novel (but who isn’t?).

Bottled Up by Justin Norton-Kertson

“… that emotion breeds inefficiency.” The floor supervisor pauses and raises his gloved hand in the air demanding silence, then holds his wand back up to the side of his throat to amplify his voice above the groan of the machinery churning in the background. “Don’t forget that here at NazCo we’re a family, and families look out for each other. Isn’t that right?” Despite his choice of phrasing and inflection, it’s quite clearly a statement rather than a question. “We want to make sure this family is healthy and efficient. So if you see any one who looks like they aren’t pulling their weight, please let us know. We can’t build a community of vigilance and strength if we don’t know where to root out the weaknesses. Together, we can make sure this family is strong and productive! Alright, we’ll see you back here at work first thing in the morning.”

#

Meri rounds the corner and that damned billboard is there staring her in the face, again. Like everyday on her way home from work she stops and studies the sign, traces the letters with her soft hazel eyes, and reads the words to herself:

“Emotion Breeds Inefficiency” the three-dimensional, bright orange jumbo letters jump off the billboard and down her throat with such force that she almost chokes.

Is it happening? she thinks to herself as she analyzes the physical discomfort it causes. Intellectually, she knows she doesn’t like the billboard and its message, that it hits her in a way that takes the breath out of her. She also understands, however, that there should be more. She should feel not only depressed but also angered by it. The fact that she is even familiar enough with depression or anger to know she should be feeling them is exactly what makes someone like Meri so dangerous in the eyes of The Corporation.

No, not yet, but soon … she thinks with anticipation.

She hurriedly shuffles down the wide open avenue doing her best to appear innocuous and remain anonymous. Invisible as I can get—just another piece on the set, she repeats to herself. She slips through the door with a smoothness and ease that only comes through well-worn routine. Navigating easily to the back of the hardware store, she whispers a quick incantation under her breath as she glides through the wall in the spot between the electrical and the plumbing aisles.

“Good evening Jorunn,” Meri grins uneasily as she emerges from the other side of the wall. She exchanges pleasantries with the clerk as she paroozes through the display cases. The inside of the hardware store’s wall has the aesthetic of a musty old apothecary, but instead of jars full of medicines and cauldrons boiling slightly smoking potions, these jars are full of emotions.

She isn’t a newbie though, bare in mind. Like a lot of people, she’s been experimenting with illegal emotions for years now. She’s a fairly regular user of a lot of the more affordable strains like shyness, focus, satisfaction, and appreciation. She has even done her fair share of dabbling in some of the more pricey stuff like love and anger, which is how she had met Angela.

“What’ll it be today, Meri?” The clerk has a look of curiosity in their eyes and if they’ve been dipping into the product, then possibly one of concern as well. No doubt they can sense what Meri is thinking too. Jorunn has always been fairly adept at telepathy.

Meri’s eyes dart nervously from the jar to the clerk and back again a number of times, then a few more … She has been saving her money for this for almost a year. She had been so sure that it was the right time only five minutes ago. Why is she doubting herself now? Probably because she knows what doing this means. Her life will never be the same. If she goes down this road it’s going to be extremely difficult, assuming she even lives that long.

“Meri, what’s up? Are you okay?” The concern is transparent now, they definitely dipped into the stash.

“I’m fine Jorunn,” she finally replied, only slightly breaking the tension her silence had built. “Never been better, in fact.”

“Oh shit. You’re gonna do it, aren’t you?” they asked.

“Yeah, I am,” Meri said, sounding only sort of confident. “I’m ready to try it. I’ll take the entire jar of Revolutionary Fervor.”


Justin Norton-Kertson is a queer and bigender writer, poet, musician, and organizer. They are a founder and composer for the neofolk band Ashera. His music has been written about in publications such as Protean Magazine, The Ark of Music, and A Blaze Ansuz: Antifascist Neofolk. She is also a labor and community organizer who has worked on minimum wage, new union, anti-racism, and other campaigns throughout Oregon and SW Washington for over a decade. He currently lives outside of Eugene, Oregon with their partner and cats.

Variations by Yash Seyedbagheri

A crumpled smile, a frown, an I-love-you, a nickname, a Zoom screen fizzling, sister’s promises, silence, a tear torn, face frozen, seas of statistics. A fist with no place to land. Glugs of Merlot.

Small smile, a fragrant blossom blowing, a moon dancing through silver-gray clouds, a wider smile. Long-stored dirty joke, spoken again. A soft goodbye, a flickering light at the end of a road. A shroud smiling through cracked ice, embers of Camels, traces of lavender perfume. A head turned to wide sky, a shy hello, stars darting out, a moon dancing again, a body following her lead.


Yash Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA program in fiction. His stories, “Soon,”  “How To Be A Good Episcopalian,” and “Tales From A Communion Line,” were nominated for Pushcarts. Yash’s work  has been published in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Write City Magazine, and Ariel Chart, among others.

The Swimming Pool by Christina Holbrook

The dog and I swim through the soft turquoise depths, in languid loopy circles. He nudges his yellow ball, feet paddling beneath him. I hold my plastic Margarita goblet from a set of twelve you and I bought, imagining pool parties. It tips above the water in my unsteady grasp, though now there’s no one to care if it drops or spills.

Sometimes I hear the train whistle: the long line of cars pulls in, and then heads on to some place better. Sometimes I drink too much, my head full of angry conversations where this time I come out the winner. Tonight, I float on my back as another day expires and the world becomes dark. But if I keep looking up, I see that the stars are moving, ever so slowly.

You and I conjured our shared dream of paradise, planting lush hibiscus trees along the pebbly border. Now the blood-red blossoms unfurl, dropping gently into the water as all is lost. Tomorrow the movers will come to take away your boxes of things, your furniture.

But I will still have this swimming pool. Don’t you remember? Once, we bought this house for the pool.


A New Yorker who briefly detoured south to Florida, Christina Holbrook now lives in Colorado. When not writing she is probably out hiking with her dog Luke and trying to avoid surprise moose encounters. She has just completed her debut novel, All the Flowers of the Mountain.

Sky-Blue Pink Unicorns Abound Yellow Rivers by Jonathan Hunter

Mars bars at 3am triumphed Americanos, just. Tossing and turning for hours each night observing the shadows dancing inoffensively on my walls I had forgotten what sleep was. The bitter wind rattling the letterbox of my sixth storey council flat provided me with easy company as I stared out across the sea of grey concrete.

By night I followed my own rhythm. In the midst of the darkness only the faint taps of my feet were heard as I descended the many steps out of my block. Just being another insignificant shadow I drifted down the deserted street and clambered over a decaying style so that it was just me and the wilderness. Nothing was visible, but I knew the way as I felt the overgrown grass brushing against my ankles and my socks tingling with dampness.

Entering the conifer thicket my tensed muscles relaxed as I slumped down on a moss covered log beside a trickling rivulet. Here was truly my world and that was how I liked it. Hearing twigs snap in the undergrowth I knew it was the sky-blue pink unicorns approaching. They had most likely polished off my Parkin loaf by now. Indeed, a ring of sky-blue pink unicorns surrounded me just as the stream swelled greatly, turning yellow and circling around us all. The island we were now on descended down to the depths of the earth faster than a collapsing mine shaft as I held my breath in suspense. The Unicorns vanished.

Opening my eyes I was in a scintillating, charming rose scented sweet shop with an aura of love pulling at my heart strings. A gloriously beautiful life sized Barbie doll delicately placed love heart sweets in the palm of her hand and whispered in my ear,

“I have never seen anyone as handsome as you”.

As I reached across to take a love heart she placed an old Nokia phone in my hand instead. The humongous candy sticks nearby shrieked in terror as I glanced at the screen, but it was too late as a vast, cabalistic force sucked me into the phone.

Floating weightlessly in a welkin of blackness I fathomed it was space. Incomprehensible numbers of text messages shot across the endless expanse at me with each hit a severe blow to the head. Golden winged monkeys sneered vividly at my misfortune as the elder amongst them frowned at his acquaintances inconsiderate malevolence.

Seeing a gigantesque, rusty toilet chain hanging from above I just managed to reach it. Instantly the welkin tore in two and dazzling light overwhelmed everything around. Regaining my vision I was at the head of a long table with many Gods shaking their heads disapprovingly at me. I heard an exasperated whisper

“After five hundred and five years Steve has finally arrived”

Mallard Ducks trotted in neatly dressed in purple naval uniform and laid out a platter of MacDonald’s Happy Meals and Mead. The head chef quaked enthusiastically,

“The best combination of all time”.

Seeing his reflection in his fork Thor straightened his hair before drinking mead from his egg cup. Peering down to tuck into my nuggets a chessboard had replaced my plate as Loki fell back in laughter and hysterics. All he could muster was

“You first”

I decided on the Italian Chess Game Opening move and Loki remarked

“Interesting choice, we now know what path you have chosen”.

Sipping some mead I went dizzy and fell into a trance. Waking up sluggishly I realised that I was at a dinner party at a Victorian Mansion with a servant maid vouching nervously for my attention.

“His Lordship Palmerston requests that you join us for the dance. Your partner Ada is waiting for you” bellowed her exasperated voice.

Strutting across to the ballroom sheepishly everyone’s eyes were fixed on me. Ada wearing an exquisite pale blue dress and crimped updo hair in the Marcel Wave style took my hand grinning with expectation.

“Let’s go straight in for the Polka” Ada flirted.

“I honour you with taking to the floor first” demanded Lord Palmerston temporarily taking his concentration away from the servant girl rubbing his shoulders.

Trapped like a rabbit in headlights I dashed vehemently out of the great hall ignoring the gasps of the astonished guests. Ada dropped to the floor in disbelief, her face was whiter than snow. By the time she composed herself I had long since hid in the pantry in the servants’ quarters.

I soon realised that the pantry was actually a lift as the floor shook. I stepped out alongside the sky-blue pink unicorns again where I began my journey. As the unicorns licked my face they turned to deer’s grazing amongst the morning dew. Back at my flat I recollected my thoughts before heading out into the other world.

In the council flat opposite a petit, curiously minded girl with black curly hair looked out from her balcony whilst waiting for her eggs to boil for breakfast.

“I saw some birdies on our feeder” slurred her dad lying on his couch surrounded by empty beer bottles.

“That’s nice, I know a secret” grinned his daughter.

“Just by changing what we do we see new worlds. If you had not forced yourself up this morning you would never have seen those birdies. Most life on this planet goes unnoticed” she affirmed.

Spluttering for words her Dad smirked “An unknown world could exist at Steve’s flat opposite when they’re all out. I sure like it”

“Yes Dad, my Unicorn toys could rule a kingdom there during the day for all we know” laughed the girl.

Returning home weighed down intensely by stress Steve poured himself a whisky. Staring into space forlornly he ignored persistent calls from his two lovers and contemplated,

“I love them both and it drives me crazily mad right to the bone. I can either let this world destroy me or thrive in my own Life it’s my story”.


Jonathan Hunter is a Flash Fiction Writer from Solihull, UK. He has had Flash Fiction pieces published in the Secret Attic Anthologies and on the Friday Flash Fiction website. Jonathan enjoys writing Romance, Fantasy and Funny Fiction that stretches the imagination. He is a Public Librarian.

My Rock’n’Roll Sex Story by Leah Holbrook Sackett

It was not like the movies. I was supposed to be passed out from all the drugs, drinking, and sex. It was supposed to be a dimly lit morning victory. I didn’t feel like a victory, something closer to nausea. I hadn’t done any drugs. I had drunk something fumey, but not much. I don’t know why people rave about liquor. It burns, and it doesn’t even taste good. Whatever I had tasted like medicinal flowers. I’d rather have a smoothie. Anyhow, I thought it would be like in the movies. But it wasn’t, I’d only dozed lightly and tossed and turned in the Egyptian Cotton sheets. Weren’t they supposed to be silk or satin? Something I could slide on? I wanted to go home, but I didn’t want to be rude. To be honest, I wasn’t ready to leave because I still hadn’t achieved. Ya know, orgasm. I mean, how can you have a Rock’n’Roll sex story without an orgasm? But I was beginning to wonder how many authentic rock sex stories were there, really. I had been lying in the dark with the blackout shades for so long I could make out the barest trace of light among the edges of the drapes. I lay on my stomach with my face punched deep into a pillow and one eye open. I probably looked dead. That was a Rock’n’Roll story I was not interested in.
He lay beside me, snoring, stripped. When I had made it backstage, I was appalled at how old the band was. I never considered the age difference, the distance of row N seating, the lighting, the half-melted makeup with yet perfect eyeliner. How did he do that? The fact that the band poster on my bedroom wall was a picture from two decades ago had completely surpassed reality and solidified my fantasy. Needless to say, I was disenchanted and wondered if this was worth my virginity. Most of the girls backstage looked like they could be a school mate study buddy of mine. I was 16 but could pass for 18. I had the right tits. The night before, the band members and roadies were like vampires preying on the self-sacrificing youth. Is this how they rocked with such intensity at their age on stage? Sucking up youth? Upon entering the din, I wrapped my arms around my chest and dropped my gaze to the floor.
Then someone stood before me. “Pouting?” He said.
It was almost a fatherly tone, like your best friend’s father, if your best friend’s father was a rock god. I lifted my head, and my attention was immediately snagged in the hairy chest before me like a sexy Muppet. I started to reach out to pet him, but I was suddenly unsure if I had said any of that out loud. He had a knowing look, not a knowledge of Muppets look either. His was a world of influence and intercourse. He handed me a drink. That’s how it began.
I pretended to be under the influence, but I wasn’t. I didn’t want to miss this in a drunken stupor. I wanted to remember my first time, remember him. This luxury suite was loud and vulgar, but still, it was better than losing my virginity to Jimmy Saunders in the backseat of his mom’s Volvo with my long blonde hair getting caught in the slack seatbelts. Rock’n’Roll man pulled out a condom after a few hungry kisses. At least Jimmy put the work in when he was trying to score. I wasn’t wet with anticipation, but I was sweaty between my thighs. It was sweltering in here like a sauna. The one window that had somehow gone unshuttered at the time revealed beads of condensation and fog. But I would not be deterred. Luckily, Rock’n’Roll God wanted privacy. We moved to the pitch-black room. He turned on the lamp, because he wanted to watch. So did I. He was sinewy and covered in thick black hair. This time I ran my fingers through it. When he mounted me and pinned my breasts under his fur. It felt kind of like a stuffed animal riding me. I wanted him to do it again. It had been so fast, I wasn’t sure I’d actually lost my virginity. I felt a bit sore, but I wanted to be sure. I wondered at his age if he’d be able to give a repeat performance in the early morning light. And I was afraid he just might kick me out. I’d have nowhere to go. I told my mom that I was spending the night at Jenny’s and would be home by noon. Shit. I tried curling up to him to either wake him or, let the heaven’s be thanked, fall asleep myself, but his pits were the worst. I rolled back to my edge of the bed, and this time I took the lion’s share of the blankets.


Leah Holbrook Sackett’s published books include Swimming Middle River and White Knight Escort Service. Additionally, she has a third short story collection, Catawampus in Sweetgum County, scheduled for publication in spring 2022. Leah was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and over 60 of Leah’s stories have appeared in literary journals. She is an adjunct lecturer in both English and the Communication & Media departments at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, where she earned her M.F.A. Leah’s stories explore journeys toward autonomy and the boundaries placed on the individual by society, family, and self. Learn about her published fiction at leaholbrooksackett.com.

Delta by Mahalia Smith

The river tumbled in the wind and lightning, taking our boat along with it. I struggled to pull on my life-vest while Dad scrambled around the slippery deck trying to balance us. A hard wave tipped the boat to the left, and he slid down into the dark water. I screamed out for him, but he never came back up. I fell asleep gripping the rails.

“You’ll love it when we get to the delta,” Dad said when I woke up. He had always wanted to sail this river with me as he did with his family when he was young. It only took two days to get from our town to the ocean.

He was sitting at the wheel, smiling as if nothing had happened. Sunlight filtered through him as if he were a drop of amber. I looked down at my own hands. They were solid as they always were.

I couldn’t tell him.

“When will we get there?” I asked him.

“By sunset,” He said.

“Sunset,” I said. We only had the day.

The river was somber and still. For a while, a small family of ducks paddled behind our boat, quacking softly. Dad put on a playlist of his favorite songs, singing along every now and then. The sky was golden when the river’s mouth opened into small streams. Fireflies dotted the low-hanging trees.

“It’s just like I remember,” Dad said. We stepped out onto the bank. My boots squished the muddy sand, while Dad’s hovered lightly over the ground. He reached out to put his arm around me. We both watched the waning sunlight poked through his arm.

“I’m not going back with you, am I?” Dad asked.

“No,” I whispered, looking down at his transparent hands.


Mahalia Smith is a fiction writer from Nashville, TN. She is a 2021 MFA candidate at Lindenwood University and is currently working on three graphic novels.