Empty Pockets by Foster Trecost

I recall a smoky room, but I’m sure it was just the lighting. Still, it helped me feel hidden and that’s a good way to feel when you’re picking pockets. Along with everyone else, I entered through the main doors, a shiny leather shoulder bag draped across my rented tux. Rented tuxedos hold less cash, so I hoped mine was the only one. The crisp cuffs tickled my wrists, but the clock was ticking; at most, I gave myself ten minutes.

Waiters greeted guests with champagne and more waiters weaved through the room, their trays a tiny forest of flutes. Cash bars have men reaching for their wallets too often, so I was pleased to see there wasn’t one.

My eyes were trained to detect the subtle outlines of a billfold. Most men tuck them in a back pocket, but some up front because they think fronts are safer. They’re not. Inside-the-jacket was my least favorite. To properly execute that pick you’ve got to make eye contact, and I’d rather be home when I saw their faces. And that’s where I was, sifting through my evening haul: seven wallets, mostly standard black, a few browns. My ritual began with the ID’s. I checked each one like a doorman, pronounced names, introduced myself, studied faces. No one I knew, no one so far. Then an impossibly familiar set of eyes equaled my inspection, seeming to look at me as much as I looked at him. It was a face so misplaced, at first I couldn’t find it. Then the features came to focus. I knew him, all right. It was me.

A quick check confirmed my back-left pocket to be empty, an unsurprising fact given I was holding its occupant. Maybe I’d been careless and mixed my wallet with the ones I’d stolen, but dismissed this thought before it fully formed. Other accounts followed, all dismissed, all but one. A far-fetched conjecture lingered as the sole explanation: I’d picked the pocket of someone who had picked mine first. Predator and prey. That evening, I’d been both.

The desire to look further left me. I slid the ID’s back in their slots and folded the wallets shut, no longer interested in what they might contain. The following day, I found a post office and allowed my victims to do what I’d done, to pick the pocket of the man who had picked theirs first. In each wallet I placed a two-word note and though I doubted anyone accepted my apology, I felt absolved, like I’d been to confession. And it felt good. I thought about walking home but opted for the subway. In my room, I reached into my back-left pocket and pulled my standard black wallet onto the dresser. Then I reached into my back-right. Ken Glasscrack. Hello Mr. Glasscrack, my name’s Nick. Mr. Glasscrack, for whatever reason, carried ten one-hundred-dollar bills. And I, for one, was glad he did.

Foster Trecost writes stories that are mostly made up. They tend to follow his attention span: sometimes short, sometimes very short. Recent work appears in Harpy Hybrid Review, Right Hand Pointing, and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He lives near New Orleans with his wife and dog.

Sensation and the Human Element by Christopher K. Coffman

All of the flowers that had been inside her torso, set free from their confines, spilled on the ground. Bright red petals fluttered across the broken glass and twisted metal, before amassing in puddles of multi-hued lubricants. In the sunlight, she stared, surprised for a moment at the crumbling blossoms, the crushed car, the glittering fluids, before leaving us with the scent of roses and the sound of wooden soles clacking.

After that day she greeted each morning with vacant features. Sometimes, kneeling by the basin, contorted with retching spasms, she watched a dark, viscous pool grow. On other days nothing came out except for a sound as of escaping air. She tried to staunch the flow, but nothing could not be pushed back by slippery fingers.

In the operating room, the entwined lines of the “Quaerendo invenietis” from Bach’s The Musical Offering flowed from her scalpel’s edge. Her mind ran backwards and forwards, chasing the notes. After removing the crab, two golf balls, and a battered copy of Breton’s Nadja, she stitched the incision, crossing one way, then the next. Not even the faintest hum of the machine could be heard when he was finished. A nurse took the tools away, for sterilization.

Later, petals dripped from a kitchen knife’s accidental revenge on the fingers of her left hand. They were scattering across the tiles, dropping into the salad bowl, and staining the marble. Where each landed, a wriggling worm grew, then sprouted wings. Soon, a swarm of butterflies pattered at the window. As the flow slowed, she reached out for the smallest of all the creatures, lifting it carefully from the air, and placed its fluttering form in her mouth. For a moment, it hung on a lip. Then she lifted her head and swallowed. Her throat moved rhythmically, her eyes seeking again the light of the stars.

Christopher K. Coffman is a member of the faculty at Boston University. He lives in Brookline, MA, with his wife, sons, cat, and dog. The author of Rewriting Early America: The Prenational Past in Postmodern Literature, Coffman has also co-edited three volumes, including William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion and After Postmodernism: The New American Fiction. His most recently published short story appeared in the Winter–Spring 2021 issue of Gobshite Quarterly

Hands Down by Thomas Koperwas

I was only eight at the time, but I still vividly remember the sound of those prosthetic tool-hands pounding the surface of our luxury ground vehicle, bouncing off its smooth, composite skin and shiny windows like a hail of fists and fingers. The crowd of irate workers swarmed our vehicle at the gate to Dad’s tech plant, disconnecting their tool-hands, flinging them at us en masse. Every man and woman there had exchanged a real hand for a surgically implanted tool-hand, calibrated specifically for work in that plant. It was a condition of their employment.

* * * *

Dad sold their cryogenically stored organic hands to the medical market on the Q.T. and made a fortune. Then he laid the one-handed workers off.

My father was enraged at what he called their impertinence. “What right have they to protest my business decisions?” he shouted.

The next thing I knew, he’d stepped out of the vehicle to give the crowd a piece of his mind. Meanwhile, our chauffeur Richards sat at the controls of the vehicle, grinning from ear to ear. He knew the score. It was his fellow AI workers who’d replace them. They were willing to work for less and they didn’t require any expensive physical modifications.

The door to the vehicle flew open and Dad fell in, bruised and bleeding. They’d given him a piece of their minds, too. Richards gunned the vehicle across the deactivated electrical security grid. Some of the protesters managed to pursue us through the open gate, and got fried on the reactivated grid for their effort.

The incident at the plant gate gave me a valuable insight into the boundless wealth and power that would one day be mine.

I could hardly wait.

Thomas Koperwas is a retired teacher living in Windsor, Ontario, Canada who writes short stories of horror, crime, fantasy, and science fiction. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming in:AnotherealmJakob’s Horror BoxLiterally StoriesThe Literary HatchetLiterary VeganismBlood Moon Rising MagazineCorner Bar MagazineFree Bundle Magazine.

Throughway to China by Josh Sippie

Mom used to make fun of me from the kitchen window—“you digging to China?” Then she’d cackle with everyone in her bridge club like Muppets in a gallery and I’d go back to digging with my little plastic beach shovel, not meant to upend an entire manicured lawn, but doing a decent job of it. I got deep enough to hide my kneecaps. Shit of it is, dad would fill the hole in every week or so. Pack it in really tight too.

“A man needs a good lawn,” he’d say in that way that meant there was nothing else to say.

The thing is, I was digging to China. That’s where Li Zhao was, my pen pal from our third grade assignment. I wrote him every week and he wrote me back. We talked about all the cool things—mac and cheese, monster spottings, Mario’s latest rescue. He was the only one who never made fun of me.

But he stopped writing in fifth grade. So my digging took on added urgency. Clearly Li was in trouble. Or maybe his parents were even worse than mine. Or maybe he’d already dug half way and I just had to get through the other half.

“You’d have better luck sprouting wings,” Harriet, mom’s bridge club attaché, said. But I hated heights, flying, even floating. Awful. Keep my feet on the ground. I couldn’t even jump. Which ruined my dad’s plans of turning me into a professional athlete and earned me more laughter from classmates when I cried during gymnastics in PE.

Nobody laughed at me now. I had a crew, a city ordinance, the whole shebang. It was the perfect set-up. Fix a pothole. Sure, I’ll fix a pothole. But in the meantime I’ll show that aging hag and her seemingly immortal bridge club that I’ll make it all the way to fucking China through the core of the earth.

Collect call from Shanghai Ms. Butterwell, yeah, imagine her face when that happens. I am now. Her face looks kind of like this deep black hole into the earth anyway.

I mapped it out, you know. If we dig straight through from here, we’ll pop out just outside Shanghai. Li Zhao was exactly halfway across the world. Now, I haven’t figured out how to deal with the core and the mantle and all that molten mumbo jumbo, but one scoop at a time, that’s what I always told myself as a kid and that’s what I tell myself now.

“We’ve hit bedrock,” Benny tells me.

“So hit it back,” I told him.

He nodded. They don’t know what we’re doing here. I told them city wants us surveying for abnormalities. Total horseshit. So they think that’s what we’re doing, the city thinks we’re here fixing a pothole, but in reality, I’m rubbing my mom’s face in it, that decrepit witch.

When the jackhammers started up again, I reveled in the faces glaring at me, mostly wondering where I was digging and why it had taken me five weeks. I’d show them too. When I found Li Zhao, we’d go straight home. We’d upend mom’s bridge table and we’d tell her how wrong she was. About everything.

Josh Sippie lives in New York City, where he is the Director of Publishing Guidance at Gotham Writers and an Associate Editor of Uncharted Mag. When not writing, he can be found wondering why he isn’t writing. More at joshsippie.com or Twitter @sippenator101.

Crash & Burn by Lori Cramer

He crashed into my bland existence like the answer to a question I’d never dared ask. A doppelgänger for the leading man in my wildest dreams, he had the chiseled magnificence of a model and the muscled precision of a ballplayer. He issued an invitation without uttering a word, and I rushed to RSVP. Warning lights flashed, golden yellows morphing into crimson reds, echoes of the fire he’d ignited, but instead of slowing down I accelerated. The flames leapt and danced, building to a white-hot intensity—then extinguished without warning, to no one’s surprise except my own.

Lori Cramer’s short prose has appeared in The Cabinet of Heed, Fictive Dream, Flash Fiction Magazine, MoonPark ReviewUnbroken Journal, and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated for Best Microfiction. Links to her writing can be found at https://loricramerfiction.wordpress.com. Twitter: @LCramer29. 

My Buddy, the Moon by H. A. Piacentino

The moon is huge tonight. Its silver light creeps across my countryside, lurks in streets and bursts into houses. I know it does this just to piss me off.

Noise blares long into the night. It starts with the wails of toddlers dragged from glowing windows to beds by frantic parents. They’re joined by the scratching of poets’ pens and followed in turn by the desperate groans of their friends and partners. Long domesticated dogs add howling protests, as if recalling, through some dark magic of the light, times when their kind ran wild, before they were called things like Cuddles. No-one rests and, come morning, everyone is in a terrible mood. My bully, the moon.

This time though, it’s not a piss take. The next night the moon is genuinely massive, abnormally so. People are terrified. Those who can escape do so in rockets that climb quickly and cling to the moon’s dark side. As the moon comes closer, I see its pocked face smiling down at me. I send up waves in wet greeting. It’s been ages since anything bigger than an asteroid paid a visit. My buddy, the moon.

Before I know it, my seas have spilled everywhere, and there’s water soaking into the land. I can’t even tell which continent is which. Screams ring out from those scrambling to higher land. Another restless night. Great. My bully, the moon.

Then my surface falls silent. Silent! It’s been so long I’ve forgotten how good it feels. Was it some point in the Paleozoic? The moon shakes off the stowaways clinging to its back, sending a shower of humanity into oblivion. It touches the point of its Mons Huygens to my Everest in a celestial fist-bump. My buddy, the moon!

When the floods recede, the trees breathe a collective sigh of relief, filling the air with pleasant plumes of oxygen. I begin to feel my seas tingle with the anticipation of new life. I pray to my former residents’ gods that evolution takes it easy this time. Please, no apes, I whisper.

H. A. Piacentino is a new writer based in Glasgow, Scotland. His work is forthcoming in FlashFlood Journal and Night Sky Press. You can find him on Twitter @h_a_piacentino