THE BURDEN WALL by Norbert Kovacs

The room’s east wall always had been fine and smooth. It seemed firm, too: one knock on the exterior assured me it was like marble. So, I didn’t believe it when I saw the crack. I turned away, telling myself I had made some terrible mistake. However, I could not forget that short but ugly, dark crack.

Soon enough, there came this rumble from that side of the room that grew louder and louder. I tried to ignore it; I looked through the window at a bird in the sky. I was shocked to find the whole wall came loose then and tilted over me. I responded quickly; hoping the partition might stay upright, I set my back square against it. A tremendous weight pressed down on me; I struggled to stand under it even as my steps careened side to side. Taking the slightest breath, I felt I might be crushed. Then, large chunks of the wall broke above my shoulders and tumbled to the floor. I reached and tried to catch these in my arms; I thought that, by quick half-turns, I could fit them back as I stood there and so keep the wall intact. However, the blocks broke my arms, and I felt the burden on my back the keener.

The room where I struggled to stand collapsed over the next few minutes. The love seat and matching chairs smashed to splinters; the ceiling lights blew out. Then, I found myself in the open air, hurt but sound, the disintegrating wall still on my back. I walked forward, seeking somewhere to stand the partition that I hoped still to salvage. I sensed its great size compared to mine as I went, heaving. It seemed now almost too much for one person to transport. But I had carried it this long–couldn’t I go on with it?, I thought. I didn’t answer myself as I trudged onward.

I went the length of the winding river and crossed many lines of forest trees. In every place I tried gently to set or rest it, the wall wobbled, and its base chipped into dust. It chipped, and it chipped. As the afternoon heat bore down on me, I cried with frustration. I realized the crumbling partition on my back wouldn’t last. I could have gone on carrying it or maybe firmed it at bottom so it would stand, but, unless it all held together, the wall I had admired would not survive. I saw now my diligence in carrying it was all that had let it last even in the poor condition it did. I did not like to believe so, but there was no denying it.

As I thought this, I discovered I was pulling away from the wall. It slid to a side along my shoulders without catching on my shirt. I breathed easier. The dark shadow the wall cast sped, and the sun overhead flooded me. I came free of the weight I carried and stood tall, firm, and straight.

Norbert Kovacs lives and writes in Hartford, Connecticut. He has published stories in Headway QuarterlyBlink-InkHypnopompCorvus Review, and The Write Launch. His website is

Susie Left Home at Age 14 by Quinn Crook

Susie left home at age fourteen. The moon hung in the sky like a lightbulb, shattering the darkness, when it wasn’t flickering out behind the rolling storm clouds. The light poured down until it pooled on the two-story townhouse on the corner of Newton Avenue. It was happy once, but now it was covered in a thick black ooze, staining the brick, like a prick and poke tattoo made into their own soft skin.

It wasn’t that Susie never believed Mama, but she would just tell Susie that she was clumsy or that the wine stains on the skin, which burned like the kisses of a drunk devil, were the signs of love from the ooze. The ooze had not always been this way, in fact when it first came into the house; the ooze seemed kind. Then the pain started. The ooze liked the pain. It had latched itself onto Mama, draining her so that it could feed. Susie was not stupid. She knew. She always knew when the ooze would stagger into the house, knocking over everything in sight as it leaked and slobbered, leaving its thick black sludge on everything it touched.

Susie had learned how to hide her marks from the ooze. It had become a game. The ooze would always soothe Mama after its attacks. It was a form of self-preservation, ensuring the food was never gone for long. Susie was never sure what she was protecting, but she found a way to bring it back to Mama. At school, Susie only thought of Mama. She only wanted Mama to be safe. “I tripped, Mr. Harper,” Susie said. It was an answer that was robotic and vacant, and even to her own ears, it sounded hollow, echoing back in her head like a scream. She knew the teacher meant well, but this inquisition had to end. She could not give an answer that would get Mama hurt. “I’m so clumsy.” Susie looked down on her arm, watching a slow trail of black ooze dripped off her skin, plummeting down onto the floor, pooling under her shoes.

As the black ooze pooled under her shoes, Susie knew.

It was all a lie.

There was a mark on both of them. A stain and there was only one way to ensure that everything would end. There was only one way to stop the ooze from hurting them once and for all. The idea started as a match in the dark, slowly growing, flickering, gasping for air to ensure that the flame feed enough to become a spark.

The scene in her head of the ooze engulfed in flame was lovely. It became an image of a spark on that oil black stain of the ooze, and soon the idea engulfed her. As the sun sank under the horizon, the idea was carried to full term, just waiting to be born into the world.

Susie left home at age fourteen, the flames from the bedroom that the ooze and Mama shared lapped into the sky. She had tears in her eyes as she called the emergency number. “I need to report a fire,” Susie said. Getting onto the bus, she hung up the phone. As the bus pulled away from the station, she could no longer hear the screams.

Quinn Crook  (they/them) is an autistic, nonbinary writer. Their work has been published in Sledgehammer Lit, Warp 10, and Celestine Magazine. They can often be found haunting local coffee shops in their quest to drink the world’s best latte.

My birthday wish by Andy Graber

What happened to everyone at my birthday party? Where am I and who in the world are you? No need to worry Craig, you are in good hands with us. What are you talking about, and what is your name? My name is irrelevant, and I just want you to think very hard right now so maybe you yourself can figure out this puzzle Craig. I want you to picture yourself at your birthday party, and I want you to try and remember what you wished for when you blew out all of your birthday candles.
Can you do that for me right now Craig? Alright, I can do that. I remember that I kept my birthday wish a secret from everyone at my birthday party. Now tell me what you wished for Craig? I wished that I could become a mosquito so I could get back at all of the kids that picked on me in my classroom.
Ok, now we are getting somewhere Craig. Please go on and tell me more. Well, the day after my birthday party, I went to school and I heard my teacher call out my name for attendance. I heard her call out my name but I couldn’t respond to her. My teacher called out my name one more time, but I couldn’t tell her that I was there. Now why do you think that you couldn’t answer your teacher Craig? I guess because I was a mosquito and I was invisible to her.
Now we are getting closer to solving your current situation.
Please go on Craig and tell me what happened next.
I remember that I took out all of my anger and I started biting all of the kids that used to pick on me. After a few minutes, I do remember that I felt so bloated. What happened after that Craig?
I threw up so that I could make room in my stomach to bite some more of their bodies. I wanted to bite them a few more times so that the next day they would be itching and scratching their itchy bite marks. So I flew around and started to bite each one of them at least four more times.
After that, I remember feeling very sick and nauseous.
What happened next after that Craig? Well, I flew up to the ceiling and I took a nice catnap up there. Then, when I finally woke up, everyone was gone. I looked at the clock in my classroom and it was already four o’clock in the afternoon. What happened next Craig? Well, I flew down from the ceiling and I just wanted to sit in my regular seat for a few minutes.
Then what happened Craig?
I started to fly from my seat and I couldn’t fly anymore.
I felt like I was caught in some type of trap. Now are things becoming much more clearer to you now Craig? What happened next Craig?
I was trying to escape this trap but to no avail. I then stopped struggling and I took a nap. Then what happened next Craig? I woke up and I turned my head and I noticed that a spider was coming my way. Now do you understand what had happened to you in your classroom Craig?
Oh my goodness, I guess that spider ate me. So does that mean that this place that I am in right now is heaven?
Let’s just say that you are in good hands, as I then began to notice this huge smirk on his face that made me feel that perhaps this place was not heaven.

Besides writing, Andy likes to sing and he also likes to create different types of artwork.

Feed the House by Keith Hoerner

Every time he checks the blueprints, something’s different. When he questions the builder, he sneers, as if to demand “What are ya talkin’ about bub; you were on board with the designs – just yesterday.” But upon today’s examination, the roofline has taken on a monstrous fortress-like appearance. Worse yet, each day, it continues to grow in strangeness. Now, as the house is complete, he does not question its organic shapeshifting. He lies in bed aware—as walls fold and floors slide around him. The house lives, takes on new forms, and against his will, locks its doors and windows.

Keith Hoerner (BS, MFA) lives, teaches, and pushes words around in Southern Illinois. His work can be found in the likes of decomP, Fiction Kitchen Berlin, and Litro—to name just a few. 

Bear Therapy: A Case Study by David Henson

Preword: I knew I had to try something drastic. My hope is that by publishing my experience in this learned journal, Bear Therapy will become more accepted as a mainstream technique.

Note: No responsibility is assumed by the author or publisher for any injury and/or damage to persons or property.

In my 23 years as a licensed marriage counselor, I had never encountered a couple as intransigent as the Spanglers. Neither of them would accept any blame for their issues or make a serious effort to save their marriage. Yet neither was willing to call it quits. It was as if Mr. Spangler preferred to live in hell as long as his wife were there, too. And vice versa.

Mr. and Mrs. Spangler appeared to have no inclination to discontinue our fruitless relationship. I believe they considered our sessions to be a kind of entertainment. I was tempted more than once to terminate my services, but professional pride and concern with getting a reputation as a quitter stopped me. So every Tuesday at six in the evening, the three of us went through the motions.

After nearly a year, I knew it was time to try something radical.

When I introduced the topic of a new therapy that was “a bit extreme, but interesting,” Mr. and Mrs. Spangler looked at each other and shrugged. It was as much commitment as I’d seen from either of them in months. I gave them papers to sign and excused myself.

The Spanglers sat up in their chairs when I returned leading the huge brown bear into the session room. I had their attention. At least Benjamin did. Even more so when he rose up on his hind legs and sniffed the air.

I explained to the Spanglers how bears can pick up the scent of a caribou 10 miles away. Mr. Spangler disagreed, saying 15 miles. Not to be outdone, Mrs. Spangler insisted it was 20.

I informed the querulous couple that Benjamin had been trained to smell the change in a person’s adrenal secretions when they lie or say something disingenuous or hurtful.

Mr. Spangler asked what would happen when his wife was dishonest again. Benjamin growled.

Mrs. Spangler remarked that perhaps this special therapy wasn’t such a good idea after all. Benjamin didn’t react.

I reminded the Spanglers that they had already signed the consent forms and made my exit, locking them in the session room with Benjamin.

From my office next door, I heard the couple bickering, shouting and sobbing. Benjamin growled most of the time. Then his roar rattled the framed diplomas on my office wall. After that … dead silence.

I waited a few minutes then returned to the session room. I opened the door and peeked inside, knowing that, one way or another, I would have the pleasure of working with a new couple next Tuesday at six.

Did Benjamin eat Mr. and Mrs. Spangler? Did the bear fix their marriage?

Neither, of course. To expect those outcomes would be unrealistic, even absurd. But I knew the Spanglers, like any couple, would never want to return to a counselor who had locked them in a room with a grizzly. The desired result had been achieved.

This new approach isn’t for all psychologists. It requires special training, equipment and facilities. But the technique can be useful in the right circumstances, particularly when dealing with intractable patients.

Afterword: I believe the approach can be efficacious in counseling disciplines in addition to marriage therapy, and, in fact, beyond the field of psychology. Think lawyers, financial advisers, extended car warranty sales personnel.

I even can envision a future where variations of Ursidae-based techniques could prove invaluable in dealing with politicians who refuse to bow out gracefully.

The sky is the limit for Bear Therapy.

Respectfully submitted,
Dr. Wedloe Morey — LP, LCSW, LMFT

David Henson and his wife have lived in Belgium and Hong Kong over the years and now are retired and reside in Illinois. His work has been nominated for a Best of the Net and has appeared in various journals including Moonpark Review, Literally Stories, Bewildering Stories, Flash Fiction Magazine, Fiction on the Web, The Fiction Pool, The Eunoia Review, and Fictive Dream. His website is His Twitter is @annalou8.

The Mist Maiden by Jeremy Scott

Veronica was only 14 years old when her wicked stepmother plunged the ice dagger into her heart. She was a beauty, nonpareil, the captain of the junior varsity cheer squad, beloved by all that knew her. The jealousy swelled in her stepmother’s cold heart until one day, she decided to do the unthinkable and kill the poor girl. The stepmother took all the hate that she had stored up for the girl and formed it, shaped it, poured it into a mold, and stuck it in the freezer to set. At the end of the night, during the witching hours, the stepmother took the dagger she had made and snuck into the girl’s pink and purple Disney Princess themed room, killing the girl in her sleep.

As the knife sank into the center of the Veronica’s life, she let out an ear-piercing scream, deafening the evil stepmother permanently. The stepmother was thereby indicted and tried for murder. It was a big sensational news story, making it into the National Enquirer and was even featured on one of those low budget true crime show docuseries.

Though the girl had perished, her spirit remains. Haunting the early morning hours of her town, she is formed in the mist, ethereal, ever present. Locals have reluctantly grown used to hearing her scream out in the near darkness, as the fog is settling into the early autumn mornings.

“There’s the Mist Maiden again,” they say.

“Wish she would keep it down sometimes,” they say.

“Poor girl, she didn’t even get to go to prom,” they say.

The Mist Maiden is harmless, as long as you stay far enough away. Her scream has been known to freeze those who risk commuting to work during the thick mist she creates. The hospital has had to stock up on space heaters and those metallic space blankets just in case someone is unlucky enough to be frozen by the power of her voice.

The father of the girl cries each night over his loss and searches the fall roads before dawn, hoping to track down the Mist Maiden and return her home, but like all 14 year olds, she is stubborn and refuses to appear for him. He has consulted with priests, ghost hunters, witch doctors, mediums, all of who tell him that it’s not too late for reconciliation. She just needs time to process what happened to her. Like most children of divorce she blames herself for what occurred. He just wants her to bring her back, tell her that he’s sorry for being gone for work and leaving her with that woman, even if she is going to remain incorporeal and stuck at 14 for the rest of his life.

Desperate beyond measure, he finally decided to form a dagger from all the tears he shed for her. Using the mold that the stepmother left, he froze the tears and planned to stab himself out in the middle of the country highway that the Mist Maiden most frequently haunts one October morning. He reasoned that if he can’t bring her home, then he could be with her instead. But, before he could complete the act, the Mist Maiden appeared to him. He dropped to his knees in relief, the dagger of iced tears slipping out of his hand and shattering on the ground. It was overwhelming finally seeing her after all those years. He begged and pleaded with her to come back and live with him. He told her that he kept her room just the way she liked it. She agreed to come home after seeing him repentant and willing to go to any length to be with her.

The early mornings of the fall are quiet for the townspeople now. They rest easy knowing that they can commute to work through the mist without fear. The father went on to take a remote work position with his company so that he could stay at home with the girl. They fight and argue; just like any family does, but in the end they know that they love each other and that is enough. She’s no longer the Mist Maiden, but just your typical, run of the mill, ethereal girl.

Jeremy Scott (he/him) is from Albany, Georgia. He’s @possiblyarhino on Twitter. His debut novella, Marginalia, will be published by Alien Buddha Press. His work has been published or is forthcoming in All Guts No Glory, Angel Rust, BOMBFIRE, Fifth Wheel Press‘s flux digital anthology, Selcouth Station, Versification, and others.