Shadows of Light by Yash Seyedbagheri

My older sister Nan and I watch the streetlights flick on every night. She’s eighteen and I’m fifteen. We marvel at the electrical hum, the butter-colored glow that fills the streets and casts shadows of welcome. Come into the night, she whispers, come, come.

We walk up and down neighborhoods of frame houses and even elegant Victorians with Mansard roofs, absorbing the glow, arcs spilling over dark sidewalks. We marvel at the way streetlamps illuminate homes and silhouettes. Laughter and voices seem to be amplified, elegant, lilting, even delightfully discordant, cheerful agreement over disagreement. We watch silhouettes move through windows watching HBO or Netflix, imagine familial units all neatly accentuated by the glow. We observe mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters piling into cars, the streetlamps documenting their motions. We imagine them going to their favorite Mexican restaurants, treating themselves to camarones a la diabla or voluminous burritos. Or maybe they’re going to the movies to see something stupid, but something they can laugh at in unison. Perhaps they’re relishing shared guffaws and childlike giggles over flatulence jokes or someone being comedically blown up.

Of course, we don’t like blue streetlamps. We avoid them. They glow, frozen like ice and stasis, like Mom awakening to a new morning.

During the days, we move about apartments replete with dust, Fat Tires, Wheat Thins knockoffs and onions, lost jobs and electricity withheld. We wait for responsibility to return. But the Fat Tires pile up, along with Mom’s fleeting cackled laughter, and we’re left gnawing on the ruins of onions, crackers, a lone Life Saver that’s somehow survived, orphaned on an empty shelf.

Sometimes, we walk all night. We lean into each other and murmur jokes about poverty and divorce, Nan smelling of sweat, onions, and Camels. We lean into a streetlamp or two, even holding on, as if it were murmuring a glowing lullaby. Sleep, sleep, a butter-colored blanket being pulled over us like the old days before job losses, lost self-esteem and malaise came knocking on Mom’s door. Sleep, the days when bedtime stories and motherly arms hovered, a shimmering, beautiful weight. Sleep, the days when Mom murmured nicknames. Nicky, Nan, and not Nicholas and Nancy and didn’t beg us to keep quiet. Sleep, the days when Mom graded papers on Lolita or Revolutionary Road, her low murmurs from the dining room a marker to hold onto.

But stares from midnight passengers or a slowed-down police car keep us moving. How do you explain your actions to people who see the world in absolutes? How do you explain the beauty of long angled light? They’d just talk about what makes a streetlamp glow, the science behind it. The annoying neatness of order. They’d say focus on the future, take things a step at a time, not knowing what it means to be propelled backward, backward, backward. They’d talk of bootstraps and putting aside senseless dreams and not being idiots.

We just want to absorb the glow of streetlights, long, angled, shapely, before the sun peeks out over the distant hills and garbage trucks whir. Before coffee-shops fling open their doors and expose maudlin walls. We want to savor stillness, before construction workers start constructing and destructing and hangovers arrive in small apartments whose spaces seem smaller by the day. We slink home, eyes half-closed, as responsibility demands and the lights flicker and disappear in a burst, the sun rising over them, dominant and round. We reach into the morning sky, grabbing, lunging for the streetlights even. We even stand on tiptoes. But we only trip and fall, feeling the chill of now-unheated apartments and morning breezes, colder than ever.

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.

Perceptive by Lee Petroll

The street is flooded with people walking to and from. Street vendors call out, selling various items. People wave at each other and hug, talking and interacting with each other. Bright lights stream out from windows. Horse drawn carriages clatter across the cobblestone roads, stirring up a little bit of dust behind the back wheels. Flags wave from the balconies as the wind blows past. The glow of the golden towers off in the distance reflect sunlight down into the town square. The fountain bubbles, pushing water up from the pipes hidden under the street. Warm smells escape from certain buildings as the legs walk past, coming off of freshly baked pastries. That smell mixes with the fragrance from wildflowers, sprinkled throughout the patches of grass by street corners and in between the stones of the street.

A cat walks up and rubs against a pair of legs as they stand still, greeting the cat. The orange tabby circles around the legs, attached to what can only be a body, until the left leg moves forward, taking a step. The cat trails behind a couple steps, but is still keeping pace with the pair of legs.

Entering a building, books surround any patron as they cover the room, floor to ceiling. The room is small, crowded with bookcases, too full with books. Multiple lamps cast a soft golden light around the room, not illuminating every dark corner. A person stands at a counter, smiling down at a book in their lap. Picking one book off a shelf, the spine feels rough, worn from other hands. The book with yellowed pages smells of a mix of vanilla and age. Letters decorate the page creating words to form a sentence, which can make a paragraph. These paragraphs fill the pages.

Lee Petroll is an artist and writer based in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Lee is currently focused on writing and creating art surrounding their mental health and stories relating to the queer life. Lee plans to study art in college.

Faith and Funerals by William L. Alton

A snake bit Aunt Faye. It bit her in church. Gethsemane Baptist. It bit her face. She pulled off its head but then she died. She died in church. She died listening to the prayers and shouts. She died because she was sinful and the snake knew it.

Grandpa sat in the dining room staring out the window. He sat as if he were waiting for something. “Stupid,” he said.

We had the funeral in the church that killed her. Grandpa told Pastor Foster there would be no snakes. He told Pastor Foster there would be no speaking in tongues. “It will be a quiet gathering,” Grandpa said. “Eulogy. Prayer. Nothing else.”

The church was too full, too hot. The church smelled of snake skins and dust. They laid Aunt Faye out in her simple pine box at the altar. We all filed by. I expected her to sit up and say something nasty, but she didn’t. She lay there in her red dress. Her hair all done up nice. She was no longer real. She existed, if she existed at all, somewhere else.

Pastor Foster took the pulpit. He murmured from Psalms and from Philippians. Grandpa sat in the pew shaking his head. He had something to say but this was not the time or place. Grandpa respected time and place. When Pastor Foster finished, Aunt Faye’s friends told stories. They talked about Aunt Faye’s evangelism and charity. “She could lead the darkest souls to the light,” they said. They said her death was a pity.

Afterwards, old women in their old black dresses and hats that looked like slaughtered birds gathered in groups, clucking and pecking at each other. They talked about how her red dress. “Made her look whorish,” they said, but not too loud. They talked about the time she poisoned everyone at the Fall Festival with her potato salad. They looked at Leon and shook their heads. “That poor boy,” they said. People thought Leon was stupid but he wasn’t. He just didn’t think like everyone else. “What’s he going to do with himself?” they asked. He held down a job at the slaughterhouse in town but that didn’t matter. These old women saw what they saw and thought what they thought.

William L. Alton started writing in the Eighties. Since then his work has appeared in Main Channel Voices, World Audience and Breadcrumb Scabs among others. In 2010, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has published several books. One collection of flash fiction, Girls, two collections of poetry titled Heroes of Silence and Heat Washes Through, a memoir titled My Name is Bill and three novels: Flesh and Bone, Comfortable Madness, and The Tragedy of Being Happy. He earned both his BA and MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. 

Hunting Angels by Dan A. Cardoza

If you don’t believe in angels or death, then this story isn’t for you. Thus, I’ve issued a trigger warning. 
I was raised a believer in angels, thanks to my mother, Mary. They were part of a magical childhood. Mother would parade them in front of the whole damned neighborhood. At least it seemed so, on special occasions. They’d appear up there, in the refracted light she’d cast against her bedroom wall. Amongst the floral wallpaper, they mimicked fly, colorful birds. She’d morph their delicate bodies smaller, then larger, depending upon where she stood with her double D-cell flashlight and the remaining battery life. 
Up there, on the wall, they’d alter their characteristics from dark to light, not unlike the kinetic clouds at the beginning of the night. Over the years, we’d seen them damned near everywhere, including in churches and cemeteries. Stepfather Franck had said, he’d even seen one in the county jail when he was sleeping off a hangover. 
My name is Sam. Some call me S.E., say it’s because I look like Sam Elliot, the actor. We both have a western vibe about us. Shit-kicker boots and a classically full mustache make the package. But, as far as I know, Sam doesn’t hunt angels. 
I’ll get right to the point. What the hell good are they anyway, angels? They’re useless S.O.B’s. Better off dead than alive. The bastards are everywhere. I lost my loving mother, too young, to breast cancer
I hunt them. We all hunt them. Some of us don’t admit it. I’m intent on their extinction. Consider that a purpose, not a reason. I hunt them because they’ve never answered one single prayer. Sour grapes, you retort? Not really, I’m agnostic. The truth is, I enjoy the meat. I hunt angels to fill the large coffin freezer that I keep in the garage. It is choke-full of homemade ravioli, Chinook salmon, and skinned angels. On the occasion of hopelessness and despair, I especially enjoy cooking some up.

It’s always open season on angels. No law prevents it. There’s anecdotal evidence that their numbers are decreasing with all the hunting pressure, especially in North America. A yellow school bus ran over a grade-school friend in front of my house.
I’ve been told the infestation has grown exponentially since religion arrived in the holds of ships arriving from Europe. Once in North America, the horny angels reproduced in numbers like rabbits. 
Our angel contagion is a modern-day rabbit plague, just like the one that possessed Australia. In Australia, domesticated European rabbits arrived with the first inhabitants. They were introduced as food and sport. Fur and leather were bi-products. 
Here, as the result of natural selection, most angels have lost their girth and stature. Some have lost wings. Evolution is causing them to trend smaller in mass. They often appear as wild pheasants. They are cunning. Culling the disease-resistant curse is the only way to impact a further population reduction. It’s a constant battle.
The Kincaid’s managed the local bowling alley. The hard-working couple couldn’t afford daycare. Anna was almost three the day her mother had forgotten to close the bronze cash register drawer. Anna had attempted to pay her mommy back for the wrack candy she’d taken. Anna was crushed to death by the vintage bronze register and all the dirty money.

Joy, as a child, was passing my hunter safety course and totting a sixteen gauge shotgun. In Northern California, we hunt. It’s something you do to fill the freezer.
In flight, their intent, the angels, is to confuse you with their beautiful wings and feathers of fennel, rosemary, and nutmeg. Sometimes, with all the iridescence, you miss. It’s like shooting rainbows. 
Side-eyed Jack is a purebred American Spaniel. He’s loyal to a fault. Jack is at his best sniffing them out in any unknown, thatched location. He’s gifted at holding them tight until I’m able to walk up on him. When I finger whistle, Jack turns into a leopard and moves in. Then he points. Angels panic and flush. I’m not good at much, but I’m damned good with a Browning. Number six buckshot is plenty good at bringing them down. 

I had a few Coors with Billy after his return from Viet Nam in the late ’60s. A week later, he stuffed a .40 cal Beretta barrel in his mouth. I was told clean up was the worse, all the dark thoughts up there on the ceiling
As part of our ritual, Jack fetches the dead and wounded that have fallen from the sky. If still alive, he dispatches them with an indifferent stiff bite to the neck. He’s quick to lay them at my feet in search of praise. I’m good at applying it on thick, “Good-boy,” I tell him and cuff the top of his head.
Once we return home, I feed Jack and down a few shots of rye whiskey. I get the outdoor fire going real good and boil some fresh water in a hunting cauldron. One at a time, I clasp each angel by their yellow scaled talons, dunking each tiny basilisk into the furious water. The process makes it easier to pluck the feathers. After, I cut off their beautiful wings, gut and skin them. I make sure to keep a few exotic feathers for fly tying: Cutthroat, Brook, and Rainbow. 
I lost a close friend in a drunken-driving accident. He was a passenger. He’d recently celebrated his seventeenth birthday. Death isn’t picky in terms of who’s behind the wheel. He was a great kid. I often hunt the golden wheat fields next to the memorial pine of a shrine and notorious crook in the road.
What do they taste like? Of course, just like chicken. As for me, when in doubt, I save a prayer or two during cross country flights.

Dan’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction: BlazeVOX, Bull, Cleaver, Coffin Bell, Entropy, Gravel, O:JA&L/Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, New Flash Fiction Review, Poetry Northwest, Spelk, and Your Impossible Voice. Dan’s nominations: Best Micro Fiction, Tiny Molecules, 2020 and Best Poetry, Coffin Bell, 2020.

Unnamed by Dylan Ogden

—and as he stepped off the train, a sudden wave of unreality engulfed him. He looked around to see if there was some external cause for this sensation. Perhaps it was due to the snow, those misshapen globs of matter that were not so much falling to the ground as floating in every which direction, heedless to the immutable law of gravity. As a matter of fact, snow always disturbed him. He had never encountered it as a child, at an age when one’s mind is capable of normalizing almost anything, and now as an adult, it remained something foreign, unknowable.

The snow couldn’t fully account for his present state of mind, however. He felt as if he were…an actor. Yes, an actor tasked with playing some defined role at this exact moment. But what was the role? After all, Shakespeare’s famous aphorism was nothing to get bothered over, but this stage didn’t feel at all metaphorical: somewhere around him there was a carefully constructed plot arc taking place, complete with protagonists, antagonists, script and marketable genre. And although he didn’t think he was one of the principal characters, perhaps his role was meant to provide some allegorical significance. The slightest gesture on his part—a momentary grimace, the doffing off his hat—could be loaded with symbolic meaning. He felt the weight of this responsibility, and without knowing what sort of effect he was meant to convey to the audience, anxiety froze his body in place, preventing him even from wiping away the fat flakes of snow flying at his face. This inaction was also, undoubtedly, significant.

He knew, of course, that all of this was merely an absurd flight of fancy, but he couldn’t put it out of his mind. Scanning the desolate train station, he tried to analyze the other people nearby in an attempt to determine who was the focus of this scene: a group of teens were crowded by the escalator leading down to the street level, evidently in the midst of an animated debate about whether or not ginger beer was alcoholic. Maybe this was a coming-of-age story, and he was supposed to be some indistinct, stodgy adult in the background. That was easy, if a little demeaning. On the opposite edge of the platform stood a woman in four-inch stilettos, mink fur coat, and a cigarette in her mouth, gazing wistfully out into the distance. At least he assumed that she was wistful, because he didn’t have a good look at her face. She seemed to belong in a tragic romance, or possibly a noir mystery. A romantic neo-noir. Should he go up to ask her something? What on earth would he ask?

He shook his head, dismissing the ridiculous notion, along with his whole train of thought about actors and stages and roles. Really, he chided himself, you shouldn’t get so carried away with this sort of nonsense. He made his way towards the exit, passing by the pack of teens who were now considering the hypothesis that ginger beer did have some alcohol, but not enough for it to legally be considered an alcoholic beverage.

Halfway down the escalator, he frowned, realizing suddenly that he couldn’t recall where he was headed. Nor, for that matter, where he had come from. Unreality descended upon him from the sky once again, pressing down on him, pulling him upwards, pushing him from side to side. He stumbled forward, missing the next step of the escalator, and he would have tumbled to the bottom if he hadn’t seized the railing just in time. Was it possible…? No, it couldn’t be. His mind raced, trying to outrun the terrible epiphany that was closing in on him. How old was he? Where exactly had he lived as a child? Oh god, what was his name? They didn’t even give him a—

With his role now concluded, he promptly ceased to exist.

Dylan Ogden is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, focusing on late 20th-century French and Russian literature. As an undergraduate at Kenyon College, he worked as an associate for the Kenyon Review.

Purple Daze by Kristen Henderson

Nursing the baby had not come easily to Sheila. Chloe was born late, yet Sheila’s milk dribbled in. Other mothers in the “Mommy and Me” group would just lift or slide and the baby would latch, suck. When baby Chloe did latch, she chomped. Maybe too many days of no real nutrition made her ornery. Sheila had no sense of the days or when her baby had eaten. Or when either of them had slept.

A florescent purple flash from the refrigerator door scratched Sheila’s bloodshot eye… there must be some cheese inside — cheddar or pepper jack. Crap. Only moldy shredded parmesan. The purple flash on the closing door now shook Sheila’s head. She froze. A “Barney the Dinosaur” 1-year-old birthday party for her sister’s son was the next day at the Green Hills Mall food court. “Who the hell has a birthday party at a food court,” Sheila screamed, crumbled on the linoleum floor, her plaid flannel pajama pants hanging under her belly.

She should had listened to the warnings: “It is hard enough to have a child when you have a partner, but raising one on your own…”

That night Chloe snuggled next to Sheila, ate only twice and without gums. If Sheila went to the birthday party, she could eat and maybe Chloe would nap in the butterfly-decorated stroller she had borrowed from a neighbor.

They arrived at 12:15, only 15 minutes late, but the food court was already full of crawling, toddling, drooling, mostly hairless children. Fathers, armed with Nikon video cameras, were posed to get film of their children playing with the man impersonating a fat purple dinosaur.

Sheila now understood why her sister would have a party at a food court. Kids could run wild while their moms and dads socialized, mostly comparing developmental statistics.

Chloe was calm and oblivious to the noise and the competition; her glazed eyes ostensibly conjuring butterflies. Sheila ate pizza off of a purple plastic plate, drank punch and flirted a bit. Chloe stirred; Sheila bent to her level.

“Duck,” screamed a toddler’s father.

A purple, splintered commotion shot from Barney’s direction. His oversized hand gave way to a revolver peeking out from his stuffed belly. A bullet struck Sheila in the left chest. Breast milk sprang out. She collapsed. “Take … take care of Chloe,” she pleaded to her sister. “You’re a natural at this.”

Kristen Henderson is a former journalist whose work was published in the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek. Recently, she developed a passion for flash and short fiction, and her pieces have appeared in the Drabble, Limit Experience Journal, the 101 Word Story Journal, amongst others.

Selfies With Bernie by Yash Seyedbagheri

People want selfies with me.

I’ve been hit by a train. Police try to keep them from me.

But they keep coming.

“He smells interesting.”

“I can make him smile.”

They put an arm over my body, drag me around, Weekend at Bernie’s style. Brag about how many likes they’ll get.

Someone mimes me masturbating.

No one speculates about what I felt when the train hit.

Answer: Tons of metal.

No one knew I called for my sister Nancy.

No one knew I also felt the weight of harsh words, drunkenness, and debts.

They can’t hear.

Contrition doesn’t get likes.

Yash Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA program. 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.

Deconstruction by Allison Whittenberg



SISTER ARDETH: In the name of the Father, the Son, and the … oh, you
know the rest… I’m Sister Ardeth Margaret Katherine D’Arby, and I have
just been sentenced to three years. He knows what He’s doing. It will
be three years well spent, that I assure you. Those souls locked away
need my guidance, and it won’t be my first time on the inside, as they
say. It won’t be so bad. I hope we will be able to stay together
though — myself with the other Sisters Jacqueline and Carol. I pray
that they won’t split us up. I’ve known them since I first entered the
order. We were so young then, thinking we could save the world…
The judge had such harsh words for us. Such harsh words. He said we
were “dangerously irresponsible.” To that Sister Carol said, “Nuclear
warfare is dangerously irresponsible!” And that judge told her to Shut
Up! Shut up, he said. Imagine such talk. Shut up, he said.
Some government property should be destroyed. All the papers made such
a big deal about the blood. We used our blood to make crosses on the
missiles. I’ve been with the order for 20 years. I would do it again.
And then we used a hammer. Pounding and pounding. If only we could
turn it into salt.

A Whittenberg is a Philadelphia native who has a global perspective. If she wasn’t an author she’d be a private detective or a jazz singer. She loves reading about history and true crime. Her other novels include Sweet ThangHollywood and MaineLife is FineTutored and The Sane Asylum.

One Morning by Linda Lowe

The gardeners were busy, their lawn mowers humming, when cars crept into the cul-de-sac. Young men tumbled out with real firepower slung over their shoulders. Was someone about to be shot? It was hard to tell, with them smiling so. They could advertise for Crest toothpaste, or in the old days, Pepsodent. “You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush with Pepsodent.” This was no ad though, we knew it when the bullets clicked into their rifles. We peeked out our windows. The gardeners stood frozen. I turned away, thinking about the past.
How innocent we were, how mistaken.

Linda Lowe’s stories and poems have appeared in Outlook Springs, Tiny Molecules, Star 82 Review, A Story in 100 Words, and others.

Battering Ram by Marc Tweed

Norma can’t find my name. With her eyes fixed hard on my face, she searches bright, empty corridors, digs along pebbled shorelines stippled with geysers of lavender brush, feels under the seat cushion of a grounded ski lift in summer. I point to the snack on the table next to her bed. It’s Ron, it’s no bother. Let’s eat. She forms an empty cavern with her mouth, lips stretched purple. I spoon up something butterscotch and she squeezes my forearm when I stand to leave. Dan’s crew cut is outrageously overgrown and he curses me when I walk into his room, says I’m AWOL. I laugh and tell him the barber’s plane was shot down over St. Louis. His eyes go wide as he exclaims I knew it! and considers the bowl of pretzels I brought. His roommate murmurs maple syrup in his sleep as I steal past. Sigrid says here comes the big boss when I carry her sewing tray in with what new supplies they could muster in Rec. She props up on elbows and swings skinny legs out from her bed in excitement. I get her settled in her chair and refill her water as she sorts through the spools and swatches. I get on the half-full bus and find a seat toward the back. I watch the blocks of people and taverns and corner stores pass glistening in a new rain. A man has an argument with the driver. He marches down the length of the bus and turns to me, holding a live pigeon. My eyes refuse his face, his hands are dirty clutching the bird, his pants are unzipped. He throws the pigeon at my head and it explodes away from us and someone on the bus yells hey! The man says to me, spitting, you know what, motherfucker? I squeeze past him and get off ten blocks early. The neon sign in the window asks me in and I agree. I sit at the bar next to a woman in a tube top. I put my face in my hands and through my fingers all I can see is the deep red countertop, as clean and delicious as a nightmare.

Marc Tweed is a self-taught painter, writer, and musician living in the Pacific Northwest. His work explores themes such as alienation, catastrophe, real-life monsters, and elements of nature – often all at once. Marc’s story, Senescence, appeared in Potato Soup Journal in 2020 and he’s working on a collection titled Seasick on Land: Stories by Marc Tweed.