Jack, Years After the Beanstalk Episode by Linda Lowe

Thanks to the goose that lay golden eggs, Jack was a rich man, but bored with running a restaurant. There was no adventure in linen tablecloths and napkins folded just so. He was annoyed with young knights who bragged and a wife who nagged, and children who were probably his, but what a pain. Jack imagined that the giant was still out there, ready to come for him. Each night he stormed around his mansion, slamming doors and opening windows. “I’m an old man now,” he shouted. “Sorry I stole your goose!” And the night said, “Fee, fi, foe, fum.”


Linda Lowe’s stories and poems have appeared in The New Verse News, Tiny Molecules, A Story in 100 Words, Star 82 Review, and others.

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. 

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.

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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/

Brains On the Mind by Jeremy Scott

I collect brains like some men collect stamps. They’re all lined up in jars on the shelves of my library, arranged by size, species, condition. I get them fresh and preserve them myself, in a proprietary blend of preservatives that I wouldn’t dare share with the world. When I receive a new specimen, I first grade it, from damaged to near mint. I eat the damaged ones. I’m always trying new recipes out. Some of my favorites so far are Brains Creole, cranium cakes, and curried cerebrum. That is unless of course they are from a human, which would be dangerous to my health. Besides, I ate a man’s brain once. I shared his dreams for a month of the worst sleep I ever had. He was a miner from China. I had several nightmares about cave-ins and being crushed to death. People would say to me, “Susie, you don’t look well,” and I would say in return, “I just have a lot on my mind, weighing me down.” It took a lot of melatonin pills and a lobotomy for me to get right again. Worst mistake of my life.


Jeremy Scott (he/him) is from Albany, Georgia, USA. His work has been or will be featured by Beyond Words Magazine, Tempered Runes Press, Surreal Poetics, and others.

THE FIRST STEP by Keith LaFountaine

Come here, my son.

I can see it inside of you – that horrid rage. The saddening stench of terror. The thing you buried deep. Washed down by alcohol and sealed with fast food. It is a weight the likes of which words cannot describe. But you don’t feel it in words, do you? No, you feel it violently, suddenly, without warning. When that boulder decides to shift, it’s like an earthquake is rupturing your spleen and pushing apart your intestines.

I know. It’s okay. Everything’s okay.

Come here. Rest beside me. Take a breath. Swallow in that air that tasted so sweet in your lungs not so long ago.

You say you’re old, yes? That it’s been years, decades since the exuberance of childhood filled you. But I promise you, it hasn’t been that long. That euphoria you once felt is still within your grasp, hovering just in front of you. Like the lightning bugs you caught with Ma.

Oh, yes. I knew her, too. It’s a pity she passed so soon. I know that added to the boulder. Didn’t it?

But I want you to focus on your breathing right now. Suck in the dew, the impossibility of morning. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face. Enjoy now, in all its imperfections and beauties. Notice the way the sun shines through your eyelids, creating a pearlescent yellow glow. Hear the buzz of flies, the croak of frogs from the pond down the bend, the chatter of your old neighbor, Mrs. Carmody, as she brings in her groceries.

You used to the see the world through rose-colored glasses. Streets that had cracks were imbued with personality. Worlds that twinkled above in the night sky could hold aliens. But now you look at that road and see your taxes. Now you look at the sky and wonder if it’s all empty.

But here’s the secret. You can take it to the bank. That road still has personality. When you stare at it just the right way, you can see the aftermath of a righteous battle. The triceratops was a mighty warrior, indeed, and he fought off a T-Rex all by himself, using those horns on his boned helmet to defend and attack in equal measure. Yes, and if you look closer you can see the pterodactyls flying high, swooping over the ocean that froths and slaps against rocky beaches.

And the sky? Why, I could tell you stories about the Martians, but you’ve heard all those before, haven’t you? Why don’t I instead regale you about the crew of the Morgdale, an intrepid ship that sails the cosmos, cruising through black holes, visiting odd worlds. One week, it’s an ocean-ridden planet with a pink sky and yellow soil. Other times, it’s an icy moon that twists around a red giant.

You see? No, it’s not remembering. Not exactly. But it’s a similar process, I suppose. And the boulder, it shifts. But not in that way it does when you stare at the water-marked ceiling at night. Not when those flashes of crimson overcome you, so suddenly and acutely that you can’t help but thrust the color and the heat off your chest.

I know you cry afterward, in the dark, where no one can see you.

No more, you hear me?

Instead, consider a cup of ice cubes. Feel the condensation on the glass. You’re reading a good book now. Remember how enchanted you were back then? Remember the way you could lay in bed for hours, immersed in a world someone else had conjured from the depths of their imagination? Now, reclaim that moment. Reclaim that hope. Remember the ice cubes. Remember the cool sip, the flush of water on your lips as you took a drink. The comforting kiss of a washcloth when fever had the temerity to ravage your mind.

Yes! That’s it! Beat at that boulder. Don’t drive it deeper. Instead, pull it. Break it apart. Chisel away at it. Use your manifest destiny. This is your moment. This has always been your moment, ad infintum, as long as you are willing to claim it.

You can cry. I know it hurts. But I am right here.

I know it pains you to weep in front of someone else. I know it feels unnatural, like dancing on one leg and tapping the ceiling with the opposite hand. It may even feel painful at first. But let this flood come forth, raging, coursing, with the power of the universe behind it.

And calm. Breathe. You are okay. You are safe. You are enough.

Is this the end? Oh no, my child. This is not the end.

But this was an important first step.


Keith LaFountaine is a writer from Vermont. His short fiction has been published in various literary magazines, including Dread Stone Press, Wintermute Lit, and Red Fez Literary Journal.

Dance Floor in My Mouth by David Thomas Peacock

I’m afraid. Not full-blown panic, but my anxiety is still on a low simmer. Stay in the moment, I repeat silently, like a mantra. You’ll be there soon.

Excited, nervous anticipation begins to kick in.

“Now, just relax and breathe through your nose,” the man instructs me in a kind and reassuring manner. He looks like an unlikely guide, but we’ve been here before. The party always starts this way.

He places a small mask over my nostrils. “Crank it all the way up,” I say, settling back in the chair, confident I can handle this. In my mouth goes the suction tubing, putting out a steady stream of white noise that will serve as the aural backdrop for the event about to unfold.

I try to stay calm while he turns on the gas and putters around with his equipment. “I won’t start until you begin to feel the effects,” he says, proceeding to make small talk in the meantime. I focus on taking long, slow, deep breaths — in through my nose, exhaling through my mouth. Desperate to get on with the show, I’m hoping the vapor will build up in the mask, making the next inhalation even more potent. I’m afraid if I breathe out into the device, I’ll displace the precious substance coming in, diluting my next hit. At least that’s what I tell myself. I’m mildly anxious as I wait for the drug to take effect.

“How’re we doing?” he asks. “Feeling anything yet?”

“Maybe a little,” I lie. The DJ has already dropped the needle, starting the set off with a drone of noise. Somewhere off in the distance, a pulsing bassline is slowly coming into focus.

“OK, we’re going to get started.”

I nod in affirmation.

By now, my head is swimming in what sounds like the crescendo of a thousand rockets preparing to take off. The rush is beginning to overwhelm me, but instead of being frightening, its intensity is somehow warm and comforting.

I’m on my way.

“Open wide.” His voice is gentle, and I comply. Now a synthesizer is pumping out a two-note bassline against the drone of white noise, and the party in my head is starting to ramp up good and proper. I go to step on the dancefloor, but I realize I’m already on it, now part of the crowd, my body moving to the beat. The light show kicks in as I become lost in the moment, at one with the sweaty mass.

I’m aware of some kind of tool in my mouth, probing and chipping away, but I don’t care. Every time the man moves his hand close to the suction tube, it acts like a smooth low-pass filter on the drone of noise, damping the sound, rolling off the highs, changing the texture of the music.

It’s hypnotic.

“You OK?” He sounds far away. I nod as if everything’s normal, wondering if he has any idea where I am. Now I’m beginning to feel ecstatic; the ebb and flow of randomly filtered noise seem to be building to ever-greater levels of intensity. At some point, distracted by my trance, I didn’t notice the drums kick in, but now the groove is relentless. I melt into an ocean of sensual humanity, a writhing mass of bodies moving as one complex organism with a thousand hands waving in the air, swaying with the beat.

I’m vaguely aware of water spraying somewhere in my head and the suction clearing it away, but it’s somehow woven into the experience I don’t want to stop. The noises of metal instruments in my mouth are now part of the hypnotic music, syncopated with the pounding kick drum and filtered noise. The light show is pulsing with the groove, a million multi-colored slivers raining down through the smoky mist onto the crowd, lasers slicing through the room like weapons of pleasure.

The party’s in full swing.

I’m lost yet somehow still there, in two places at once. Never losing awareness of my mask, I maintain slow, deep breaths, my body melting into the chair. I’m no longer sure which reality is more real, but it doesn’t matter. It’s like the intensity of a building orgasm that never seems to come, an aching pleasure leading to a release you never want to arrive. There’s only the moment — the music enveloping you like a drug, the lights immersing you in an alternate reality, the sensation of being part of a collective throng that’s somehow become a single organism, all yearning for the same thing — nirvana.

Now aware I’m existing in multiple realities and having absolutely no problem with that, I hear a voice say, “OK, now you’re just on oxygen. We’re done.” In an instant, I’m back in the real world, sitting in the dentist’s chair.

“Your teeth look fine,” he says, taking off his gloves and turning to wash his hands.

Still a little woozy, I open my eyes and smile.


David Thomas Peacock is a musician who became an ER nurse who survived cancer and somehow became a writer. Sometimes you don’t discover what you were meant to do until your third act.