Sleepless

Rattling at my roof, jangling
until a slate loosens, breaking
a mirror, shattering a flash,
between window and frame.

I am lucid, held tight
as shards of light
disperse the shadows of a lynx.

Turning from wall to wall,
my eyelids invert
their maps to distract the night.
I am lost in their etchings.

Alison Lock’s poetry and short stories have appeared in anthologies and journals in the UK and internationally. Her first poetry collection, A Slither of Air, was winner of the Indigo Dreams Poetry Collection Competition 2010; her second, Beyond Wings, was published in 2015. She is the author of a short story collection, and a fantasy novel, Maysun and the Wingfish (Mother’s Milk Books, 2016). Her website: http://www.alisonlock.com.

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The woman who captured a planet

It was the time of the Wolf Moon
when the planet of winter appeared.

On the hill, every night
she pressed her eye to the cylinder, waiting
         ​   for the magnification.
         ​            ​   ‘Proving it, is impossible,’ he said,

but he did not deny the fact of its existence.
She knew it would only take one click
​​         ​            ​   of the shutter
– one howl.

Alison Lock’s poetry and short stories have appeared in anthologies and journals in the UK and internationally. Her first poetry collection, A Slither of Air, was winner of the Indigo Dreams Poetry Collection Competition 2010; her second, Beyond Wings, was published in 2015. She is the author of a short story collection, and a fantasy novel, Maysun and the Wingfish (Mother’s Milk Books, 2016). Her website: http://www.alisonlock.com.

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Don’t Let This Fading Summer Pass You By

“No, wait,” he pleaded, but it was useless. The other guys shoved him into the disused, board-covered cabin, smacking shut the newly pried door. Bewildered, not up to this, he caught his breath and became aware of her breath. Megan’s—he was pretty sure they’d paired him with the owlish girl named Megan. He took a step forward, pawing the dark like a blind person and wondering if somehow his mom was witness to this scene.

“I’m here,” she said.

He moved toward her slowly, the floorboards creaking as if about to give, the thick musty air swarming like insects. His hands found her bare arms, which were slender and soft and trembling. “We don’t have to, you know.”

“Oh, God,” she whispered, “I’m such a baby, sorry.” Her voice was cinnamon-sweet and just inches away. She swallowed. “Now?”

The kiss—his first—was like tiny wet clouds billowing up against his lips, and he felt almost glad to be alive. Then her mouth parted and suddenly they were frenching.

They were cut short by a bang at the door. Couldn’t he have anything?

“Come on already,” Rockman called. “The snakes are waiting.”

Stumbling out into the fading day, Tom glanced over his shoulder. Megan came out, glasses slipping, eyes averted, and walked over to the other girls.

Rockman grabbed his arm. “Damn, dude. Were you copping a feel or what?”

“It took a second to find her.”

Rockman gave him a shove and nodded for the other guys to follow. “Well, come on already. The snakes aren’t gonna hunt themselves.”

Tom walked along silently. He liked Rockman and the others, but they scared him too; they were the roughest guys he’d ever met. Rockman, in fact, reminded him of the POWs in old World War II movies. He even wore army fatigues.

They ran into one of the counselors. “Where’re you fellows headed?” he asked.

“Oh, hi Mr. Peterson. We’re gonna go check the trail for robins. My friend Tom here’s a birdman.” Rockman had locked eyes with the counselor and was staring trancingly, like a vampire on the make.

“Robins, eh? Good for you guys. I’m something of a birdman myself, actually. Just make sure you’re back in time for the reading and the bonfire.”

Rockman grinned. “Sure thing, Mr. Peterson.” He waved to the departing counselor and then smirked and made for the trail. “What a dope.”

The woodsy trail was so pristine and dusk-swept that it seemed artificial. Rockman passed around a can of Skoal. Tom took a small pinch and—another first—stuck it in his bottom lip. “What do we do when we find them?” one of the others asked.

“Whaddaya think?” Rockman huffed. “We stomp ’em. We spit on ’em.”

Tom laughed. “Hard times for snakes, huh?”

Predictably, Rockman was the first to find one. He launched himself into the air and landed both feet on the slithery stick, stomping viciously, as if getting even.

Walking along, Tom felt loose and relaxed from the tobacco, but still, he was troubled. He thought of Megan and his poor dead mother, and wondered if Megan was thinking of him and if he would have the nerve to ask Mr. Peterson or one of the other counselors why God would steal a mother from her twelve-year-old son. The answer, of course, was that God didn’t have anything to do with it; to be held accountable, He would have to exist first. It was like trying to blame the air, or the trees. All the other guys considered themselves staunch atheists, but none of them seemed bothered by the lack of God, whereas Tom was bothered plenty, had always been. After all, where did that leave you? He knew where—alone. A scared defenseless creature at the mercy of predators, no better than a snake in a world of stomping Rockmans. Alone—alone was where.

Rockman drew up alongside him. “How ya doing, buddy? You feeling down about your mom?”

“I don’t know, maybe a little.” He leaned over, pursed his lips, and shot a stream of spit into a pile of crumpled dead leaves.

“Hey! Not bad. Anyway, don’t tell the others, but I got some contraband.”

“Yeah?” He was getting the idea that Rockman had packed nothing but contraband. He absently slapped at his prickling arm; the trail was thick with skeeters.

Rockman nodded. “Sex pics I printed off the Internet, a big ol’ stack of them. Come by my cabin after lights out and I’ll give you a look-see. You’ll feel all better.” He spat. “And that Megan girl? I think she likes you.”

Tom’s spirits lifted a little. They took their time getting back and missed the eight o’clock scripture reading in the main lodge.

“There they are,” Mr. Peterson said when they joined the bonfire circle. “Another hour and we were going to send out a search party.”

Rockman unleashed his stare. “Hi Mr. Peterson. We got a little lost, is all.”

Mr. Peterson grinned. “I figured as much. Just wear a watch next time and bring your compass. Church camp isn’t equipped for late-night rescue missions.”

Tom almost laughed. Church camp? It was more like sin camp. And Peterson really was tranced if he thought the contraband king had packed a compass.

The crackling bonfire sent sparks popping up into the dark night. A few campers were serenading the fire with one of the folk songs they’d learned this week, the one about the magpie and the vulture. The girls from the kissing game wandered over; their fire-lit faces seemed both angelic and witchy. Rockman shoved Tom toward Megan, who was wearing a sweatshirt and keeping each hand balled within the sleeve cuff.

She wiped hair away from her cheek and nudged her slipping glasses back into place. “Where you guys been? You missed the scripture reading.” She seemed polite, nothing more. Either she was playing hard to get or she was hard to get.

Tom shrugged. “Just walking around. You know.”

She smiled, just a little. “Guy stuff?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

To the girls, Rockman said, “Tom here’s a little down on account of his mom. She died this spring giving birth to his baby sister.”

One of the girls covered her mouth, shocked. “Oh no!”

Meanwhile, Megan turned her owl face to Tom and drifted closer to him but said nothing. Rockman gave Tom a thumbs-up and whispered, “Score!”

“Does your heart hurt?” Megan asked.

“Sometimes, I guess.”

“Bright, Megan, real bright.” She bowed her head. “That was a dumb question, forgive me. Your mom is your mom.” Sweetly grainy, like cinnamon sugar—hers was the prettiest voice he’d ever heard. And it was better that she was calm and serious and not giggle-prone; he had never liked giggly girls and these days liked them even less.

She was observing the night sky, so he did too. The stars seemed strangely fake, like pegs from a Lite-Brite set, but then, didn’t everything seem fake lately? Only Megan seemed real, seemed really alive. After a while he said, “I don’t ever want to die.”

“Oh, sweetie.” She shook her head. “Jesus won’t let us. He’ll save our souls and we’ll live forever and ever. In glory, Tom. In beautiful shining glory.” She turned to him and smiled. “We have Jesus, and we’ve got each other, too.” Her hand slipped from its sleeve and—a day of firsts, truly—caught his palm and gave it a good long squeeze. Then, instead of letting go, she slid her fingers down and laced them in his.

He grinned sadly and stared into the fire. They were all goners, of course, every last camper, every one of them a stick in a slow-burning fire, and in a hundred years there would hardly be even so much as a trace of their lives left intact. It was a cruel world. Her trembling grip felt pretty and alive and lasting, and so he allowed himself to be initiated into her world of fairy-tale lies, but still, he knew the truth. That this was a death camp. That it was a cruel world. How could anyone not know? Except…Are you out there? I miss you, okay? I miss you and nothing seems real anymore and my heart hurts so bad. But please don’t worry, I’ll look out for little Mary, I promise. And, listen, I’ll—oh. You’re not there. Alone is where…He sighed and held tight to Megan’s hand. The bonfire blazed on. It was a cruel world.

Mark Benedict is a graduate of the MFA Writing Program at Sarah Lawrence College. He has previously been published in Bird’s Thumb, Columbia Journal, and Westchester Review.

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Embers

The church smelled of old wood and incense. About ninety people were bunched around a casket at the front of the church.

They were twenty rows back from the mourners. Jack had spotted her, hesitated, then walked over and sat down next to her. Carole winced, then shrugged.

“We shouldn’t be sitting together, Jack.”

“The gossip won’t be much worse than if we were separated by the aisle.”

They were noticed – faint murmur ripples, then graying heads atop dark clothing pivoted to reveal pale faces that quickly glanced backwards into the pews at them.

“I noticed we weren’t mentioned in the obit.”

“No, we weren’t. Janice made sure of that.”

He smiled. “Weren’t invited to their wedding either.”

“As the ex-wife who cheated with the ex-best friend we went from A-list to exclusion.”

“Yeah. You look good in black. You probably still look good in anything.”

Carole’s mouth twisted. “Looking good wasn’t our problem, Jack.”

“It’s been a long time. Pete married Janice, what, twelve years ago? About the time we broke up.”

“Jack, you moved out of state and didn’t take me with you.”

“You didn’t want to go.”

“No, I didn’t.”

The priest recited with due gravity, but the responses were patchy.

“When did you go from receding to bald?”

“After we separated.”

The funeral service had reached the point of eulogies. Relatives and friends, most of whom Jack knew, described the portions of Pete’s life that had floated above the surface. Pete was described as cherished and having no enemies or vices. Jack wanted to raise his hand and object.

“Remember Pete’s 30th birthday party, when we all got drunk and Pete picked a fight with a bouncer? Pete and I got beat on pretty good before they tossed us out.”

“You were an idiot to step in and take on another bouncer when Pete got wrestled down.”

“He was losing. Thought I should help.”

“Like I said, an idiot.”

“Did you go to the wake, Carole?”

“No, I would have just upset the family.”

“Neither did I. I wanted to try and talk with some of the friends Pete and I had shared, but it wasn’t the place to laugh about old times.”

“So why are you here, Jack?”

“Pete hated me right to the end, but he was as close as I ever had to a best friend. I needed to acknowledge his passing. Besides, I was hoping to see you.”

“Don’t go there. It’s been way too long since our overwhelming lust dissipated.”

“But we were awfully good together, weren’t we? It’s never been as intense with anyone else. You admitted it was never as good with you and Pete.”

“It was just different. Pete was comfortable and predictable. You and I were crazy.”

“But we loved it. Look what we gave up to stay together.”

“For a while. But we didn’t last very long after the divorce, did we? You still have a waist. How painful is it to hang onto?”

“Not painful, just boring. I don’t eat or drink what I want to, and I drag myself into the gym three times a week. You ever think about Provincetown?”

Carole showed a twisted smile. Provincetown had been the hormonal high point of their relationship, just before they’d told Pete.

“I always thought that our being a heterosexual minority sauced up the sex. We were never quite that wanton again.”

It was Jack’s turn to pause. “I do miss Pete. I miss his nasty sense of humor, the way he would always take my side in an argument, even when he knew I was being an ass.”

“And I envied what you had with him and resented that he was never like that with me.”

“Jesus, Carole, how wrong I was about Pete. I figured he’d eventually scar over and we’d be able to talk again.”

“There was nothing temporary about his hatred of us, was there?”

The organist started off into a hymn. Nobody seemed to know the words. The singing rose and fell in ragged, off-key voices. Jack was afraid to start whispering more loudly in case the organist stopped while he was in mid-comment. He silently reached out and wrapped Carole’s hand in his. She twitched but didn’t pull her hand away. The hymn limped to its Amen.

Carole tugged her hand out of Jack’s. “I can’t deal with this. I don’t want to see you again.”

“I’ve moved back here, Carole.”

“When?”

“About three months ago. I’ve wanted to get in touch.”

“Didn’t want to be rash?”

Announcements were being made about the drive to the cemetery and the usual gathering with drinks to follow the burial.

“Carole, we have a choice of facing the mourners as they file out or slipping out the back door now.”

“Back door.”

They stood together in a side garden featuring the Stations of the Cross and watched mourners and casket bobble down the steps and onto the church drive. They’d lost their gossip novelty with the other mourners and were being carefully ignored. Once released from church the attendees become chatty. Janice seemed almost strident.

Carole sidled up behind one of the obelisks, shielding them from the crowd’s sight. It read “Jesus Falls the First Time.”

“So Jack, how significant is your other?”

“I wish. There’s never really been anyone else. Not for more than a few months. How about you?”

“Not really. It seems twice bitten was enough.”

They stood close together. Closer than strangers, not so close as lovers.

“Carole, would you like to come with me next week to visit the grave? I’m sure by then we’d be the only two people there.”

“That’s such a bad idea in so many ways.”

Pete’s casket was dolly-rolled to the back of the hearse and loaded in.

She faced him more directly. “But I should visit his grave. When would you want to do it?”

Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty-odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had a hundred and forty stories and poems published so far. His collected fairy and folk tales, The Witch Made Me Do It, was published by Gypsy Shadow Publishing. His novella The Witches’ Bane was published by World Castle Publishing, and his collected fantasy and horror stories, Capricious Visions, was published by Gnome On Pig Productions. Ed’s currently working on a paranormal/thriller novel tentatively titled The Rule of Chaos. He works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of five review editors.

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A Sky Full of Shadowy Beasts

Looking out the kitchen window, I
run my eye over the remoteness of
the back yard & take an inventory

of what remains the same…
The way the watering can never moves
from its station beneath the crabapple

tree, or the wheelbarrow turned on
its side, where our red & brown chickens
scratch inside its bunker full of last

fall’s leaves. Tell me, who comes
to judge this yard gone numb? What
motivation would change this?

I’m at a loss in the world that has
made me heavy as a stone marker.
Nothing is sacred, not even this.

M. J. Iuppa’s third full-length poetry collection Small Worlds Floating was published by Cherry Grove Collections in July 2016. For the past 28 years, she has lived on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario.

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In the Gloom of Late April

These mornings taste of iron; somehow, its bitter
tang doesn’t wash off the tongue but stays in the back

of the throat, like a cry that suits the constant hunger
of just-hatched robins, wanting their bellies full be-

fore it’s too late. Our windows are pried open
a crack, letting daylight swirl in & out, casting

a spell that makes us realize that we too are rudder-
less and strangely naked and full of doubt.

M. J. Iuppa’s third full-length poetry collection Small Worlds Floating was published by Cherry Grove Collections in July 2016. For the past 28 years, she has lived on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario.

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alba

the 6am alarm you set
‘collect newspaper’ jolts us
to dawn’s arrival
I lie with you till morning
to discover dust on your body.
the sparseness of these sheets irks me.

the 6am alarm you set
screams at us to leave, leave
and never return. now I watch
us collect dust.

Ryan Foo is a student of the liberal arts. He enjoys writing, playing the guitar and the struggle of life, but he chooses to spend most of his time on people. Some people call him a charmer, others call him a playboy. He hopes to be the former.

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