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Issue number six




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Short Shorts

A Game Called 'Romance' by
Sarah Keevil

When the host asked me the question, I was looking off toward the sidelines. I was faintly aware of the shuffling in the audience and the woman's stare boring into my back, so I nodded.

The audience roared and a big loud buzzer screeched. I tore my eyes away from the sidelines and looked up at the host. "You've lost a hundred points!" she said.

"For what?" I protested.

"The most basic rule of the game is to look at the other contestant when you are giving your answers," the host said.

I turned to the man on the stage. "Romeo" was written in large red letters on a board that was hanging around his neck.

"I didn't know that was a rule," I said. I didn't know what the question had been, but I was sure I had gotten it right. To lose on a technicality would be an affront to my intelligence.

"Not knowing the rules is no excuse," the host said. The audience moaned in agreement.

"I didn't even know there were rules to know," I said.

"Of course there are rules," my irritated host replied. "In any game show, there are rules."

"I didn't know this was a game show!"

The audience moaned again. Our host shook her head. Romeo looked down at his feet, pouting so that drool fell from his lips.

"If you had wanted me to play by the rules, you should have told me there were rules, and you should have told me that I was playing."

Several members of the audience were getting up to leave.

"Wait!" I screamed at them, "You can't side with her! I didn't even know this was a game!"

An old man in the front row stepped up close to the stage lights and said, "Phooey!"

The game show host announced, "This woman has lost the game!"

I looked around the auditorium and saw the dark shadows of people pouring out beneath the exit signs. The game show host was wrapping up the show by making some notes to herself behind the podium. Beyond the black curtains that concealed the sidelines of the stage, I saw what had so absorbed my attention previously.

Yes, that was definitely a swan spreading its wings on the lake. There were rainbows in the mist that rose from the water. And carved into the bank, there was a seat of stone built to seat one.

Romeo would just have to wait.

* * * * *

Sarah Keevil's work has been published by Cyber Oasis and NetAuthor's E2K. She lives in Vancouver, Canada.

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At the End of Time, the Grand Marshall Indulges in a Speech
by Anthony Dowler

My fellow dignitaries, let us congratulate ourselves. Let us congratulate others. Let us congratulate the world for having so majestic an end. Observe how the hot sun scorches the final mists from the most jagged peaks in history? See the corpses? The crater? The volcano? What human eyes have ever beheld such terrifying grandeur? Here, where one can literally see forever, we stand where a stone thrown will continue in a flat trajectory and never fall. We stand at the utter end, the absolute. One step further and we should be plunged into oblivion (or, as some maintain, lifted to the stars, but I digress). There are no more worlds to conquer, no more discoveries to be made, no more pioneers or builders. Let us raise a glass (the final glass!) and then return to our quiet lives with the smug silence of those who have been there (in a way unavailable to any other generation). Let us return to our off-white houses, our universities and lectures, our jobs, children and wives with tragic, cringing hands.

* * * * *

Anthony Dowler lives in Seattle, where he writes and works as a computer consultant. His work has appeared in Spleen, Green Tricycle, Guilia and NetSlaves.com.

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Bored of Dying
by Lucy A.E. Ward

'I don't believe in ghosts,” she said, “even though I see them." And her eyes never left the darkness at his shoulder as she spoke.

"You are in denial,” he said, and she laughed, tapping her cigarette, its ridged ash splitting and tumbling as she ignored the whispers always in her ears.

"They are nothing but memories,” she said, looking again at the shadow that touched the back of his neck with shivering hands. “Best left forgot."

"Tell me how you do it then,” he said, his eyes brighter than the spectre's rage as it prowled about the coffee table, cooling her tea as smoke curled lazily from her lips.

"I…” she said and paused, watching blood fall from the spectre's throat to bloom upon the carpet. “Don't do anything,” she finished, her voice a hoarse whisper.

"And you are not afraid?" he asked, and the spectre fell upon him, clutching at his warmth, leaving scarlet fingerprints upon the collar of his shirt.

"I am,” she mumbled and stood, refusing to tolerate the over-dramatics of the spectre's tragic death on the floor by the sofa, a tedious murder memory loop kept alive by denial.

"I fear the living,” she said and left.

* * * * *

Lucy A.E. Ward resides in the Netherlands, surrounded by street gangs of herons and ducks. She has been published in Muse It magazine and other works are forthcoming in Black October, Strange Horizons, and Fables. When not writing and avoiding militant waterfowl, she enjoys developing her website: www.littlebehemoth.com.

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Calcination by Whitney Trettien

We passed the worm lying shriveled and brown on the sidewalk.

"Water it," she said.  So I did.

"Now watch," she said.  So I did.

Nothing happened.  "I don't see anything," I said.

"Just watch."  And as I stared, it thickened and lengthened, its brown body unrolling into a plump pink worm.  It wriggled happily and began lapping at the crusty pavement.

"He's cute," I said.

She nodded.  "This always happens when it rains.  They like to play Slip'N'Slide on the wet asphalt, but when the rainbows come back, the asphalt fries them."

"Oh," I said.  "Let's water more."  We walked down the trail of white squares, stopping to water each tiny shriveled body, until a trail of happy pink worms wriggled behind us, each hungrily lapping at the cement in a little dark puddle of water.  "This is fun," I said, laughing.

She sobered her glowing face.  "It's not all fun and games," she said somberly.  "Not all the worms can be saved," she said.  "Just look."  She stretched her palm out to the straight endless trail of crusty white squares edged neatly with grassy fur and containing thousands, millions, trillions, and zillions of shriveled brown worms, the numbers growing exponentially until there was no sidewalk on the horizon, only a sizzling pile of crusty dead worms frying in the dry sun.  A tear rolled from my eye and landed on a little dead worm at my toe.  The worm quickly plumped up fat and pink, only to shrivel again from the salt.

"Let's go home," I said.

* * * * *

Whitney Trettien, a full-time high school and part-time Hood College student, lives in Frederick, Maryland, where she has recently founded puerilism.publications and co-owns and operates MOoN*SLuSH. She is currently working on an experimental novelette and a collection of short stories.

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Dance Work by David Oates

We must all dance to quota, so many steps an hour. Here in the dance hall we sense wads of hair, lipstick, an oppressive floral smell, music that sounds like some melodic factory stamping out parts for the cultural machine: creative collectibles, assembly-line bohemian anarchy. Though we're not working piece-rate, our productivity is computer-monitored. And not just steps are counted, but movements of head, arms, hands, shoulders, pelvis, abdomen. Only the facial expression may remain absolutely still, blank. Occasionally we limbo under the descending laser beam which can sizzle the buttons off your shirt, or, if you slip—well, survivors get workman's comp. An ordinary ruined knee or back, a broken arm, must be evaluated by the company doctor, and he always gives shots of steroids and painkiller and sends you back to dancing. He has never admitted that someone can't dance, so long as they still have two legs. In fact, poor Melvin is still out there, hopping for hours. The place smells of sweaty clothing, a sort of electrical singe, brassieres and belts stressed to their limits, shoe soles hot despite the slick floor. How long before the break? Why doesn't it come? I just want to go off to a quiet place and type.

* * * * *

David Oates lives in Athens, Georgia. Two of his previous short-shorts, "To the Woods!" and "The Gift," were published in Issue #4 of The Cafe Irreal.

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From the Other Side of the TV Screen and A Full and Perfect Account... by Toiya Kristen Finley

From the Other Side of the TV Screen

Jimmy Pasado, entranced by the blue-white glow of his television screen, pressed his cheek to the glass. But the screen wasn't cold against his skin--warm static pricked the hairs on his arms and the stubble underneath his chin. Before Pasado understood what had happened, he floated through a thin teal haze smelling of dryer heat and fabric softener. Looking back at the screen behind him, he thought, "So this is what TV smells like," and he realized he was no longer sitting on his couch. From the recesses of his childhood memory, Pasado heard his mother yelling at him: "Boy, didn't I tell you not to spend so much time in front of that TV? Always eating in front of it. Refusing to play with your friends because of it. Well, TV absorbed your brain. No surprise it took you too." Pasado wondered, “How pathetic is this? I've been sucked in by television.

Through the blue haze, Pasado saw the screen, and he stared at it as he'd done for so many years on the other side. Perhaps, if he focused hard enough, he'd land himself back on the couch. But at the rate he was being sucked in, he couldn't make up for all the time he'd spent TV-gazing during his adolescence and adulthood. He worried that he could not float forever, that eventually, the thin teal haze would release him and he would go crashing to the bottom of his television set.

Praying that somehow he'd wake up on his couch, Pasado threw one more loving glance towards reality. Through the screen, he could still see his den--his desk and couch, the mural on the wall his sister had painted but couldn't sell. In front of his couch, a stack of freshly opened bills rested on the floor next to more bills from last week. From behind the couch, a shirtsleeve poked out from a stack of dirty laundry he couldn't wash because he was still scraping up money to pay the bills.

Pasado didn't crash--the haze set him down on a carpet of silicon. Before him another screen appeared, and he decided to walk through it. On the other side he saw people he had known and watched for years. At least he could hope TV was more real than reality.

A Full and Perfect Account of the Day James Pasado Walked Off the Edge of the World

Jimmy Pasado walked through his TV for an untrackable amount of time, and as he returned to each city, each town, each carefully plotted universe, these people he'd once watched and admired from his couch re-ran him into the ground. He finished their sentences for them. He knew every action before they made it. After an untrackable amount of time spent roaming, he wondered how he could have ever stayed plastered to his couch, gawking at such people.

Grief-stricken by his bad taste in life, Pasado walked to the edge of the world, back to the blue-white glow of the TV screen that once drew him in like a siren, and plunged in. Half of him wished the fiber-optic current below would put him out of his misery. The other half hoped he'd land in someone else's TV.

* * * * *

Toiya Kristen Finley is a Ph.D. candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at Binghamton University and serves as the managing editor of Harpur Palate. Currently, she's working on several novels and co-editing In a Nutshell: An Anthology of Speculative Micro Fiction. Her hobbies include spending way too much time watching cartoons and baseball, and writing musical-comedy parodies of classical lit. She was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee and spends her summers there when she is not masquerading as a professional student.

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Meet Mooshie and Smooshie 
By Stephanie Hammer

Mooshie and Smooshie are big furry blue monsters with large googly eyes, who live in the sewers of Beverly Hills. They eat fried coconut from the Thai restaurant on Olympic and Palm, and newspapers from the long magazine racks on Robertson; when they are slumming, they eat the old dumbbells placed in the trash outside of Bolder Fitness and the discarded hamburger wrappers from the Kosher burger place on Pico and Oakhurst. During rainstorms they come out at night and huddle under the umbrellas at Century City Mall near the Indian take-out stand. The young Indian woman can see them, but the older man who is the owner can't, and this makes for all kinds of arguments in Hindi about LA monsters. Mooshie snaps her jaws of fuchsia-colored teeth at the young woman, and Smooshie makes terrible faces at the man. The young woman likes this, and when the owner isn't looking, she throws them bits of Naan, which Mooshie and Smooshie have twisted into very long necklaces.

They are fond of luggage, rhinestones, carpets from Ikea when they can get them, and all kinds of plates and silverware from the new Target in Culver City. They have quite a setup in the sewers, I can tell you. They also like getting their nails done at night at Hands Up on Beverly. There is a sewer grate in the alley behind the store, and when it is dark and everyone has gone home, they come up and out with very nice Louis Vuitton carry-ons, and they focus their googly eyes on the locks, which turn and click so they can come on in. They sit on the big chairs at the front and conjure up the ghosts of manicurists from the past. Lady Murasaki's manicurist, the women who specialized in Elizabeth I's feet, and the cuticle expert for Catherine the Great all jump out of the nail polish bottles and get to work on Smooshie, who has eleven feet and twelve hands, and Mooshie, who, being the older one and the mother, has 100 feet and 212 hands.

Mooshie and Smooshie talk and use their eyes to turn the pages of the fashion magazines in the manicure place. They roll their big blobby eyeballs at Madonna and Julia Roberts, at Lil' Kim and Ivanna Trump.

Such monsters, they say, and the ghosts and the Louis Vuitton bags all laugh, the ghosts shivering and quivering in hysterics, as the bags open and shut going swish click swish, which, in suitcase language, means ha ha ha.

* * * * *

Stephanie Hammer is a Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Riverside. She is the author of three scholarly books and various articles on the theater, science fiction, women's studies, and postmodernism. Her poetry has appeared in Mosaic as well as in Bridges, and her one act playlet, "Now Read This," is forthcoming in Thresholds. She lives in Los Angeles with Larry Behrendt and their daughter Lillian Behrendt.

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Never Ever Boulevard
By Isabelle Sojfer

One of my characters was from Nearville, Mejorado. One night in chapter five, she asked me to do a favor. I was to buy some heart medicine and take it to her eighty-year-old grandpa, who lived alone on Second Street. She would have gone herself, only I'd stuck her at an office party with all the top executives. I drove to where she worked. You can't miss the drugstore, she said, holding her glass of white wine in the company parking lot, it's at the corner of Never Ever and Land Street. Although I had made up Nearville, she knew the place much better than I did because she'd lived there all her life.

I drove up and down Never Ever Boulevard. Couldn't find the drugstore. I stopped at a gas station for directions, but the guy looked at me like I was a loony. Land Street did not exist. No pharmacy would be open this late. I called and Grandpa insisted he was fine, so I drove back to my hotel.

Grandpa died of constipation two and a half months later. My character said it was all my fault. I knew she was getting relief from blaming it on me, so I didn't protest. I had a heavy guilt complex in those days. I hadn't planned the grandpa's death, but he had passed away in my story, so I felt liable. My character sued me.

* * * * *

Isabelle Sojfer was born and lives in Paris, France. In the past few years she has published a short novel and has had stories appear in various literary magazines, including Nouvelle Revue Française. This story, which she wrote in English, represents the first time she's been published in English.

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Nondescript Things and
Strange Utterances by Delo White

I don't know how to describe this. There was this thing, call it a doohickey, made of steel. When I needed to replace it, for the life of me I couldn't remember its name. I'd sadly misplaced any information relating to it. The thing seemed nonessential; however, the device it went with couldn't function properly without it. And there was the next problem. For the life of me I can't name the device the doohickey goes with. You plug it in and turn it on. It has small blades that can amputate just about anything. Yet after I purchased this unnamed device they stopped making them. The doohickey's device obviously was a major nondescript blunder.

Also, I have this thing that's about five years old and goes "Grrr!" No, it's not a cat. A cat is a most definite and definitive description. This thing is in a box. You wind it up and release it. It laughs for a short time before going "Grrr!" And that's all it does. Man, where do I get all of these useless, nondescript items? Another thing I have trouble with is this thing that comes out of my wall every night at eight, then crawls away at eleven. What do you call that? Then there's this lump on the back of my neck. It's not a cyst or a tumor. It just grew and became a part of me. I had a doctor look at it. He gave me a most nondescript and strange look. "That's a truly mysterious and nondescript growth you have there."

Turning away from nondescript items, let me focus on another hang-up for me: strange utterances. These have confused me most of my life. People say things that make no sense or you hear sounds without any identifiable source. There was one occasion where both strange utterances and nondescript things happened simultaneously. While in church I was trying to understand the minister. At first he made sense. Then suddenly I saw his lips moving but couldn't understand what he was saying. Was this the notorious speaking in tongues? Maybe he was possessed. Then most spectacularly, I heard voices and music that I couldn't identify. The minister was still talking. I saw that the choir and organist were idly sleeping. Nowhere could I locate the source of the voices and music. I turned to Mabel, my devout mate, and asked, "Is this real?" She gently slapped me and returned to her crossword puzzle.

Strange utterances can be, well, as strange as nondescripts. There was another time when I felt overwhelmed by these most beguiling utterances. For a while I'd been hearing things like high-pitched sounds and bells and, sometimes, whooshing noises. I might be talking with a friend when suddenly this occurred. I tried paying attention to my friend while trying to block out these sounds. I finally ended up racing down the hall with my hands clasped over my ears screaming at nothing to be released. It turned out to be an inner ear infection. Still some things can't be attributed to a physical cause. The last incident had to do with reading. I was heavily into a good suspense novel when suddenly the words began enlarging and pulsating. They then verbally came to life. I still have problems with certain words. Sometimes adjectives can be quite abusive.

So, that's it. I know this sounds like a very silly story, but hey, you try living with nondescript things and strange utterances.

* * * * *

Delo White works professionally in the computer field and in his spare time writes humor.

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On Blackberry Wine by Andy Miller

The dragonfly in the blackberry bush cried out, wailing a song in E-flat on its third wing, accompanied by a squeaky hinge on its multifaceted eye. The hinge needed oiling, but the noise appealed to this poor dragonfly--the animal that leaves all other animals in its wake, being the paragon of flight.

A germ stood by, waiting for the appropriate moment. The hinge opened, in the midst of an arpeggio, and the germ slipped in, to settle in the moist visions of the eye.

"The perfect place for sunbathing," the germ announced. The various lenses of the eye concentrated light on that spot. The germ reveled in the heat and began to reproduce.

The dragonfly had many such guests. It had poor hygiene, believing itself to be the last of its kind. This dragonfly occupied itself in learned discourse and in the art of the cantata --and in the development of yeast cultures, on which it feeds.

Benjamin Franklin had such a dragonfly on his list of species, on a tattered yellow envelope addressed to him while a correspondent in London, 1761.

Franklin, in Philadelphia, continued to carry this tattered yellow envelope around simply because it reminded him of a waif, a child he had learned to trust on the streets of London that year, a girl eleven years old who wore only paper. She led him by the hand to concerts in Hyde Park, for the performances of his floral imminence, the king.

The king often mistook this waif for the illegitimate daughter of said Franklin. The paper of which her dress was composed had on it, between ink smudges and dried rice pudding (and buttons made of hard coniferous cheese) a Certificate of Authenticity.  Franklin said, no, she was not his daughter. Nor was she the daughter of the king. Nor was she anyone's daughter, as anyone could see. She slept in the street, in the open sewer that is a London street in the year anno Domini 1761. No parent would allow such a thing.

So, obviously, she was not born of man or woman.

Like Macbeth, said Franklin.

The king laughed at that, and he laughed at the drawing of a rattlesnake, in thirteen pieces, which suddenly appeared on the nameless waif's dress, the dress made out of paper.

Benjamin Franklin was not known to blush.

The waif, however, had the cutest pink cheeks, the cheeks of a consumptive.

Her coughing soothed the king in his assassination of a violin. Franklin played the viola da gamba, but not while juggling scientific achievements with diplomacy. Unless, of course, he had had a glass of wine.

Blackberry wine.

The dragonfly at the beginning of this story had the irrational fear of horses and dogs, called syphilis. Or, in polite circles, The Clap.

This should not be mistaken for applause.

The king has paid the Earl of Sandwich especially to lead the Londoners in their clapping.

* * * * *

Born a little ways from the shore of Lake Erie, Andy Miller studied anthropology and Romance languages in school, and is a writer. He also paints, and his writing extends to Color Music.

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One Domestic's Theology 
By David Solum

When I open the dryer and remove the collected lint from the lint trap, I cannot help but surmise that the lump of fabric which I then hold in my hand represents the precise quantity of clothing and towel that I have used since my last washing, or, to be more exact, my last drying. I admit--I intend to be quite frank with you on this matter--I heartily admit a soft swell of pride when the lump is large or if the lint retains its collected integrity after I have removed it from the tray and I can hold it at one end and let it dangle in the air like a sponge or some such style of bandage without it filtering and drifting off in airy little pieces; how not, then, am I to feel that some quality was endowed to the dirty laundry by my use of it, or, for such is in fact to say, I wore myself particularly well throughout the course of that particular week.

It is only natural, once I have held these soft abstractions and torn and manipulated their shape with my own fingers, to want to measure the quantity of each successive drying and compare the results. Soon I would begin washing my shirts, socks, towels, etc., in separate loads so I could isolate the characteristics of their various uses and then compare these headings over the seasons and years. For example: do my shorts work harder warming me in the winter or cooling me in the summer? It is also gratifying to discover in such a case, through the quality of the lint, how well I wear my shirts and whether I do as well or less so than my pants. By such a method a more full and appreciative awareness of undergarments could be achieved. It is, however, a still greater pleasure to collect these specimens and watch the sum build steadily, drying by drying, over the months and years. As the pile takes on size and becomes substantial, I am overwhelmed by the visual evidence, the insuppressible sense of how effectively I have traveled along my days.

I am overcome, however, with questions, all of which choose to dress their conclusions in the self-same linen, namely, that it is my life itself which has filtered into my clothing through wear and soiled them and that it is this quality alone which is sifted and removed from those impersonal articles and collected as lint. This pile, which I so venerate, then becomes the essence of my life, flitted away before my very eyes, expressive of nothing but arrogant dumb show and sedimentation. It seems to me that I can put a stop to this whole process if I simply cease to wash my clothes, making myself impervious to age if not to time by effecting the lack of the loss of it. It so happens, however, that, satisfied with myself over this newest insight, I put my hands to my breast and slide them admiringly down my shirt. How soon I find that the lint has rubbed off on my hands and has slipped through my fingers, uncollected, lazily over the carpet. . .

* * * * *

David Solum lives in Corvallis, Oregon. He is 29 years old and is fairly amazed that after six years of sporadic writing and heavy reading he can finally tell people, with some justification, that he is actually trying to become an author. Which is to say, this is his first story to be published.

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Sandwiches in Belltown 
by Kathryn Rantala

There is a kitten in the mews, but I wanted to live in the City View Apartments with Lazarro and Lucca.  We are moving in 1) Friday, 2) Saturday, 3) Sunday if we can get the hand truck and if no one is having sex with anyone else that day.

When was the last time I had Borscht?  And there is so much sand in the archipelago!  Alberto said, "Never mind, cara mia, the snow, the beach, like the wine and your throat, they are all of them so white and so here.”

Not like Angelina.  When Angelina got her wings she was a waitress in Belltown.  The push-up bras of suburbia topped her.  "But don't worry your little headgasket, Portia," I hummed to myself out loud, "some guy with a razor at Funkydog will be sending her back to you soon."

Lately I almost cannot remember anything; that is, my eyes are on one side of my head, my phone on the other.  "Oh, god of the inside," I hear someone saying, "help me.  Wave at me on this side if you hear this."

The menu has a page for Iceland.  I wonder what they eat there?  Recuerdos of whale, yogurt, sure, but when they are through making a movie, alone with a drink and the Mid-Atlantic Rift, tippling and tilting, what then?  Do they order off the menu when the ground comes apart? I hear that no one at all is saying, "Half a sandwich, no sprouts."

Outside the restaurant a woman hit a train.  She leaned out to see if it was coming and hit it.  She became her aura quickly as did everyone else nearby.  Maurice arrived.  He said, "Check your watch."  He was smiling, and I saw that for the first time in his life, he was on time.

This morning I read 347 poems.  It took several books, several long drinks of ginseng.  I didn't want to do it, but they were leaking under the door like dog pee.  I used some towels.  I can't feel them anymore, but they wind around my legs like cats.  Animal poems inside, outside my head, barking, hissing, a whole want of them.  The scent is potent.  "Oh god of the outside," one of them tries to keep me from saying, "hide me.  And please take my eyes and ears, my nose also, please.”

* * * * *

Kathryn Rantala's work has recently appeared in or is forthcoming in Niederngasse, La Petite Zine, elimae, Tatlin's Tower, Third Bed and others. She is founder and co-editor of Snow Monkey, an Eclectic Journal out of the Pacific Northwest. Her book, Missing Pieces, from Ocean View Press follows by some years a chapbook, The Dark Man.

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The Melatonins and Watermelon Opera Stars by Ellen Lindquist

The Melatonins

Two of the tablets fell in love with each other and off the table to the floor, where one of them was stepped on. It shouldn't have surprised anyone that the broken tablet was reconstructed and the surgery was expensive--it set the other tablet back thousands--and when the two had children, one of their tablet-kids was born split tragically in half. As the years went by, and the male tablet's edges became frayed, it was obvious he'd be the first to dissolve. The way his tablet-spouse cried over him caused his dissolution to occur all the more quickly. It shouldn't have surprised anyone that the widow had to have one of her offspring farmed out to a package of birth-control pills to ease the burden of raising so many little ones. It was a sad day of leave-taking when the young tablet left the other melatonins, but also inevitable in a melatonin drama.

Watermelon Opera Stars

The watermelon seeds I planted longed to be opera stars, to stand on the stage and sing as clearly as only seeds can, to strum the earth with vocal cords primed with loam and lessons learned from earthworms generously aiding their apprenticeships. I watered them with champagne till they spawned librettos, and learned to bow, sun-drugged, at the word "bravo." After listening a time, the watering can went home, stripped off his black tie and tuxedo and turned out his lights, his mind transfixed by the memory of singing pods.

* * * * *

Ellen Lindquist's prose poem/story, "The Erstwhile Wire-Woman," was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Purdue-Calumet's Skylark magazine. Her work has also appeared in The Small Pond Magazine, US1 Worksheets and Pif Magazine, and is forthcoming in Many Mountains Moving, 5 a.m. and O!!Zone. She works as a content developer in Atlanta. A short short of hers, "One Pigeon Saved, One Lost," appeared previously in The Cafe Irreal.

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The Missing Child
by Wyatt Bonikowski

The child draws cryptograms on the dirty window while his parents sleep. He is only tracing the random figures that occur to him--a triangle, a trapezoid, a spiral--but to the creature in the forest outside, the shapes spell an invitation.

His mother groans in her sleep and struggles with the bed sheets. She throws her arm around her husband, who lies rigidly on his back, his sleeping face drawn tight in concentration. The mother's dreams are for the first time in many years full of the vague, terrifying shapes that haunted her childhood. Things reach for her out of the shadows. She flees. Other shadows surround her. Everywhere she runs, the dark shapes follow her, grabbing at her skin. Many of them try to speak to her, but she screams before they can get the words out.

The father dreams of a screen of running numbers. He has to count them, to add them up, so that when he wakes in the morning he can write the figure down. They will ask him for it at his office building before work. The figure is his daily password.

In the child's room the window is open. When they wake, his parents will swear to each other that they locked it. They will touch the cold, rumpled bed sheets where they had last seen him, as though they might discover him in a fold they had not yet uncovered. They will follow silently with their fingertips the shapes their son drew on the window. Every object in the room will seem to hold a secret, and they will want to ask questions but will have no words. This day will be the only day for the rest of their lives.

The child rests in the arms of the creature deep in the forest. The creature is the color of shadow and has fireflies for eyes. It teaches the child how to speak in a language of shapes, and as the child repeats the words spoken to him, he traces his finger in the air. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he is thinking that if his parents knew how to read the shapes on his window, they would know where to find him.

* * * * *

Wyatt Bonikowski is a graduate student in English at Cornell University. He has published stories in Exquisite Corpse and The Berkeley Fiction Review. He also serves as Consulting Poetry Editor for the webzine Margin.

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Transformation by Maggie Mountford

On my flight to Africa, at least twenty seats were taken up by an elephant. No one dared to complain, though the cabin smelled terrible. We tried to ignore it. "After all," said the cat, who sat next to me, "elephants belong to Africa, whereas we don't."

The cat seemed friendly, and I was moved to confide in it. "I, too," I whispered, "am waiting for transformation. It should be quite soon."

"Have they given you a number yet?" it replied, with a pert flick of its tail.

"No. It should come in a month or two. They said they would send me a rope, too. What does that mean?"

"It could mean anything," said the cat. "Before I was transformed, they sent me an egg."

"An egg?" I said wonderingly.

"I planted it in my garden, according to the instructions. The next day, I woke up a cat. I feel safer now. They don't shoot us as much as humans. Did they tell you to plant your rope?"

"They said just to keep it. And wait for my number to come."

"It's been worse since the election," said the cat. "No one knows anything any more."

I was silent for a while. The elephant was dozing. I couldn't hear myself think above its snoring. After a while, the cat prodded me with its paw.

"Don't go to sleep," it said. "I would feel lonely." And then, as an afterthought: "Perhaps they'll send you the number nine. When it's your turn, I mean."

"Number nine? Is that a good one?"

"I've heard it's a Dodo. You'd be the only one in the world. Up to now they've refused to issue it."

I must have dozed off then. When I opened my eyes again, we were descending. A prawn across the aisle was frightened by the change of altitude. "They get hysterical," said the cat. "But they taste nice."

"I don't like the world any more," I said, half to myself. The cat, with its sharp ears, heard.

"The world? The world? The world went long ago. Instead of the world, we live inside storybooks. You'll see when you get your number. It would be nice to be a Dodo, but I expect that honour is reserved for the President."

When I opened the letter a few weeks later, it said: Number ten. I never wanted to be a hyena. But I can laugh, now, which is some consolation.

* * * * *

Maggie Mountford is a writer living in Wells in the United Kingdom where she's had some number of short stories and poems published.

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