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  • Clay Literary

RAVEN- ISSUE 13 (OCTOBER 31, 2020)

Updated: Nov 1



Image source: Fabio Venni/Flickr



The only summer

Written by Philip Berry


Twenty-two & frank, she fell south

From a town where days don’t fade

Or nights won’t lift, to the parasol city 

Serving blinis & vodka cocktails ten

Steps below the heel shattered road.

She talked herself beyond a bouncer’s

Meaty grip, the glitter on her deltoid

Starring his empty palm. She dented

Our plastic minds with poison theory

& honesty that made walls lean in.

Unaware, she was the pivot of our day

The reference on which we graphed

Each cheap betrayal & immoral act

The purblind tricks of a crowd hungry

For meaning, the slimmest connexion.

We clicked glass under jazz in galleries

Overlooking a sparkling empire of wind

Tipped towers. By equinox the words

Flowing along the history rivers were

Jointed in the foundry of her hot mind.

The prize was cut from a block of ice

Carved by acolytes under the poet’s house.

We gathered to present it, a polished swan

Dripping adoration in the  room of Islamic

Tiles, patterns written with fallen lashes.

We stood in a circle around a her-shaped

Space, but she did not come, called back

To the granite where she’d cut her claws

From the dwindling light of a summer

Topped by the truest skies ever breathed.




Author Bio: Philip is a writer and poet with previous publications in on-line and print journals such as Lucent Dreaming, Poetry Birmingham, Black Bough, Consilience, and Briefly Write. He works as a doctor in the NHS, and lives in London.


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I Catch the Restless Monster in his Lair

Written by Lynn Finger


summon with magpie & moon. He has red teeth

& ears kukri-sharp, hands like giant crabs whose

backs he’s broken. He staggers as he stalks

& his fur is rancid ashes, a long-buried carcass I unearth.

What do you want? His voice a crater. To walk

the forest without fear, like you. Secret terrors

have feet & they follow me. The price for

the loss is a missed turn of fate, people you’ll never meet,

to see the world flat with red-black lenses, & the moon

stuck to the sky like a used bandaid on your heel.

I nod. He jags his claws across his wrist &

blood births, beats slow. He holds it out, from loneliness &

intrigue. When was the last time someone asked him for

anything?  I take a swig, tilt on his power, a seesaw,

fire rips me tail to claw, & I down enough

to see me through this city of maimers & wounded.

I’m knife-edged & real. With crab hands & hatchet

ears radiant in the circle of the oaks, under

a thousand-starred sky, we howl.

I will never be small again.



The Cauldron

Written by Lynn Finger


between us banked in coals,

blood pool of fire,

night listens. We drink

from the livid well, send

longing into the rapt

stars & dead leaves that stir.

We call the spirits of hunter

& stone. Only a fool

would say our transformation

is nothing but imagination.

It is a night of clear

paths, stars aflame. We bite

the moon. We lick our lips,

teeth & eyes sharp,

greedy claws. We savor

our lust for simmering

gods, as we chase them

into the dark sky.




Author Bio: Lynn Finger’s poetry hashas appeared in Night Music Journal, Ekphrastic Review, MineralLitMag, Feral, 8Poems, Perhappened, and is forthcoming in Drunk Monkeys. Lynn is an editor at Harpy Hybrid Review and works with a group that mentors writers in prison.

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SHADOW OF A STAR

Written by Shaurya Arya-Kanojia


It was a grey star. In a nightmare.


She ran as hard as she could, fighting the bone-chilling wind slapping against her body, the numbness setting in her muscles, and the overbearing pain throbbing excruciatingly at the back of her head.


She was afraid to look back; afraid she might lose her balance and fall. But more so, she was petrified that the star might engulf her in its hellishness, where she would be fed by Dante Alighieri's three-faced villain, Satan.


Behind her, looming large, was the image of an inverted star – the symbol representing Satan, she had once read – a silver chain dangling through its face.


She was losing her breath now. Her legs were giving away. Her Curt Cobain t-shirt and Disney shorts were soaked in perspiration. She didn't have the courage to turn to see how far behind she had left the star, but she knew it wouldn’t have been much. The cold breath of the star was casting an icy uneasiness on the back of her neck. If she allowed it to consume her, she knew it would bewitch her whole, drive her past the threshold of sanity.

Her eyes popped open. Dezl Akhta's clothes were soaked in sweat. She calmed herself, as she did on mornings after waking up from a nightmare. All she wanted was to crawl back in her bed and sleep; sleep till she couldn't see the inverted star anymore.


With growing pessimism, she got herself up to managing her daily morning business. After a dump and brushing her teeth, she peeled the sticky t-shirt off of her, pulled down her shorts, and walked to the full-length mirror she had been presented with on her last birthday.


Today, she felt borderline depression. She detached herself from the mirror, pulled down her underwear, and headed straight to the shower.


She often wondered how, and why, she had let herself get attached to the inverted star. It was Satan's symbol, as she had read on innumerable websites on the Internet, and only meant to be believed or have any relevance in the world of mythology.


Slowly yet steadily, the star – and everything it stood for – had crawled in her conscience, filtering through her layers of rationality. Now, it housed in the dark trenches of her mind.


The inverted star had become a part of her. Until the moment she had realised it, the source of all unfortunate incidents in her life remained mystical. Maybe her conscience was too weak to fight the demons of her life. The star had, nevertheless, brought reason why she was running. The star was the reason, the culprit, and the perpetrator.


The big grey star.


It had snatched Nabam, her sister, from her at an age of ten. It had made her parents indifferent towards her, because looking at her always reminded them of Nabam, and they couldn't live with that pain. She wanted their acknowledgment. The more she sought it, the farther the star made it go.


Fazna, her mother, worked as a high school teacher, while her husband had his own business of selling and buying old artifacts and antique objects "of a priceless value." He was virtually non-existential for Dezl, for he would be touring five months in a year, the majority of the rest which he spent at work.


Being a teacher, Fazna spent her time mostly at school. She would return at four in the evening, only to be picked up by a man who was not her husband (and who, Fazna had told Dezl, was her work colleague with whom she was working on a " school project"), eventually returning home as late as midnight.


Dezl had tried to articulate her concern to her father, but he didn’t seem anxious. Dezl wanted to believe her mother was indeed working on nothing more than a school project, but she was old enough to read the underlying meaning of the situation.


Her first encounter with Mommy's knight in shining armour had been unforgettable. She had answered the door, while her mother was busy decking herself up in her room. She had opened the door to a tall man with a built more authoritative and commanding than her father's, fashioned in a grey shirt and a silver chain round his neck. His smile was charming, albeit sinister; almost demonic. She didn't like it at all.


"Yes?" She asked.


"Hello." The voice said. He smiled that sickening smile again. "Umm, is Faz...?"


"Yes, hey, Adaan!" Her mother's voice boomed from behind. The crispness and sharpness in it spun Dezl on her heels.


Fazna looked like a cross between a fashion model and a fairy tale character. Since Nadam's fatal car accident, she hadn't bothered styling herself, but now a man of an impressive physique had walked into her life and done the trick. The husband, however, who should have taken an action didn’t, pretending to be buried in a towering pile of paperwork; or maybe he was indeed busy. But that didn’t make much of a difference.


"We won't be long, okay?” Fazna said on her way out.


And with that they were gone, feeding Dezl’s suspicions a mouthful of fodder. She had seen it that day, glowing brightly in front of her eyes, bright enough to blind her.


The dreadful, filthy, wretched star. And that wasn't the only time she had been rattled by it.

Dezl was twelve, and her younger sister ten. The family of four was visiting the nearby pizzeria after returning from Nadam's annual day function. Adorned in a pretty pink dress, with golden sprinkles all over it, Nadam had played the part of a fictional fairy who visited the impoverished village and showered the sufferers (especially after the drought that had followed that summer, leaving many famished, and a few dead) with goods of all kinds. A thunderous applause had followed the final act, many people acclaiming Nadam's performance as "the best a child can act."


Her father had crossed the nearest junction and was waiting for the light to turn green, so they could zip through the exit and catch the vacant parking spot. Either it was his mistake to jump the light, or maybe it was the other driver responsible, but Dezl only saw a flash of the car speeding in their direction before she felt a jerk that sent her head crashing into the window. The other car had smashed into the back seat of the passenger side, where Nadam had been sitting, describing animatedly something she and her girlfriends had been talking about post-performance.


In the next instant, Dezl saw the pink dress drenched in a spill of red. Her sister's head was bleeding volumes. In the front seat, her parents sat, their hands shaking and trembling as their voices boomed in and out. Dezl was losing herself. She only caught a glimpse of the woman in the grey dress with a silver chain dangling from one of her shoulders running towards them, a look of worry and utter perplexity on her face, before spiraling into unconsciousness.


Nadam was announced dead after their arrival at the hospital.


A few days later, the wounds had been patched up and the injuries recovered, but the pain of losing her sister never subsided. To Dezl, the star had announced its arrival, in the form of a driver who may or may not have been responsible for what had occurred.


Her father never recovered from the guilt, who still believed it was his sheer carelessness that had not only brought upon the miserable accident but also slowly degenerated him into drunkenness and cold narcissism, which was why Dezl still believed he didn't care much when his wife was willingly driving herself into the arms of another man.


And that's how things had always been. Two strikes – the accident followed by his submersion into inescapable guilt – were all it had taken for him to push his wife into possible infidelity.


***


Dezl disembarked from the bus on her way back home. Her home was a kilometre away from the nearest bus stand, and usually, she spent this time listening to music or just feeding on an idle mind's meanderings. Today, amid those meanderings, she constructed a fantasy; where she and her family were living happily. She, her sister, and her mother were crammed in the same bed trying to nap, each one trying to find enough space for themselves, and yet an inexplicable love flowed through this uncomfortable arrangement. Her father came into the room, and made his favourite little grunts as an expression of disapproval of their organisation. But she liked it. She liked that her family wasn't running in different directions, finding solace in people foreign to her family.


She knew it wasn't reality, but she liked believing the contrary. It made her happy. She walked the remaining route with a smile on her face, knowing she would be facing a virtually empty house reeking with the stench of disregard and unfaithfulness at the end of her destination.


She crept into her room without disturbing the already ravaged demeanour of the house, as she did every day. A large upright star, glistening with a florescent green against the light bulb exuding its power from the opposite wall, stood in front of her. This is what was home to her. This is what filled her empty and thirsty void with motivation to see her through the day. This is what liberated her from the twisted and compound familial ties, of what they had lately become.

It was the pentagram, the one that represented faith, and belief in the self.


A breakup from a relationship when she was nine had left her wounded beyond what she thought was an irreparable damage, making her contemplate self-destructive actions. Her mother, a more nurturing version of the present one, had consoled her, listened to her complaints about how horrible boys were, and had handed her a small green star, telling her it wasn't over just yet, that it wasn't anything but faith in one's own self, which alone, could complete a person – everything else was secondary.


Her mother's words never escaped her memories.


A simple offering had become an obsession with the young Dezl. She read pages after pages about it, drew it on the corners of her notebooks, sometimes unknowingly, and created images of it in her head all day long. She was sharing an intimate sentiment with an inanimate symbol, one she couldn't describe to anyone. It was her secret.


And when she learned about the existence of the inverted pentagram at one of the school's workshops, and the dark, vile meaning tied to its name, she was flabbergasted. She felt cheated; cheated that something she put all her faith in would betray her so harshly.


But she wasn't going to lay down her arms so easily. She immediately went on the defensive, fortifying her love with all guns blazing; in the process of which, she had allowed it to seep deep enough that it couldn't be ridden off.


That's when her escape from the grey star began.




Author Bio: Shaurya Arya-Kanojia authored his debut novella, End of the Rope last year. He is also part of the editorial team of Ayaskala literary magazine. He loves sports (cricket, mostly), eating out, watching reruns of The Office and Everybody Loves Raymond, and sitting in his balcony on a rainy day with a steaming cup of coffee. 

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Who’s There?

Written by Robin Bissett


In a small town full of crazies, Leann was proud to call herself a realist. She had never believed in the supernatural, but something nefarious was at play that fateful October night she closed up shop at Party City.


Earlier that day, frenzied children had stormed the shop, howling for candy corn and the coming of Halloween. Mothers had trailed behind their youngsters like weary ghosts.


Now alone and reorganizing the items earlier shoppers had carelessly discarded, she heard a rustle in the back of the store. Goosebumps prickled along the backs of her soft arms. She chuckled at her nervousness when she discovered a collection of Frankenstein masks that had fallen off the rack. Smiling to herself, she bent down to pick them up when she saw a flicker of movement from the corner of her right eye.


Wait a minute, she thought. We don’t carry costumes like those.




Author Bio: Robin Bissett is a Teaching Artist and Writer from Central Texas. She enjoys absorbing and sharing stories and strengthening her surrounding literary communities.

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Marlboro Man

Written by Karlo Sevilla


At dusk, the grand silhouette of

mountain

mounted by horse

mounted by cowboy

against bright orange sky.

He is upright and dignified.

Must have won a gun duel.

Or slain a dozen bandits 

in a shootout.

Chest out, holed and bleeding,

stomach in and chin up,

he watches the one

run away farther 

across the plain below

with a plump blood-soaked pouch.

He decides not to give chase

astride his stallion,

even when the quarry

flees only on foot.

He pulls out a stick from his pocket,

lights it up and puffs.

The distance yawns

as his cigarette burns

for its smoke that fades away.




Author Bio: Karlo Sevilla is from Quezon City, Philippines. He is the author of the poetry collections Metro Manila Mammal (Some Publishing, 2018) and You (Origami Poems Project, 2017). Twice nominated for the Best of the Net, Karlo’s poems appear in Philippines Graphic, Small Orange, Eclectica, Eunoia, Thimble, Duane's PoeTree, and others.

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The End of August

Written by Dr. Hannah Stevens


The summer started early that year. It began in March when the green shoots of daffodils began to push though the earth. It was a strange start: so much sun, so early on. Nobody was expecting it.

Nancy was glad of the sunshine in the beginning. The old stone house they rented was small and always too cold. The warm weather meant she could push up the sash windows, throw open the door and the hot air could fill the damp, dark corners with heat.

They’d lived here for four years now and she loved yellow roses and hollyhock in the garden. Connor had got a promotion at work. He’d left his wife. This had been their new start.

The house was right on the edge of the city and the street was wide and unpaved. It was just a dirt track really, full of flowering weeds and tall grass. And always so quiet and free of traffic. Opposite were fields that stretched to the horizon and met the sky.

Nancy had said hello to the neighbours just after they’d moved in. She’d knocked their doors and introduced herself. She told them she worked mainly from home, that she illustrated books, and that if they ever wanted to call over for a cup of tea then they would be more than welcome. One woman had arched her right eyebrow when Nancy had said she was from the old stone house just down the road. Nancy had lifted her arm and pointed in the direction of the house. Her sleeve had ridden up to reveal part of the pink peony she had tattooed on her.

‘The rented place,’ the woman had said without taking her eyes from the tattoo, ‘I see.’ Nancy didn’t speak to any of the other neighbours after that.

She’d been surprised when, in the end, Connor had left his wife. She hadn’t planned it, it was just one of those things that had happened. Nancy had taken an administrative job for the company where Connor worked. Her illustration work never paid well and it had been a quiet few months. She needed the cash and answering the telephone and filing paperwork was easy money if you could cope with the boredom.

The office was full of middle-aged men. They were all boring and bored with their lives, and they complained about their wives as if their wives weren’t bored and unhappy too. But Connor had been different, hadn’t he? He’d been interested in her work, sympathetic about how she’d lost her parents young, felt lonely. And so when he’d invited her out for dinner, she’d said yes.

Nancy looks out of her study window. It’s not even mid morning yet but the heat is already oppressive. She’s sketching out a sky filled with a rainbow today but it’s difficult to focus.

Nancy sits up straight in her desk chair and feels the sweat run down the centre of her spine. The news on the radio has just finished. The unprecedented heat wave is the lead story. It’d already been this way for weeks and there was no sign of a change. She picks up her phone and sends Connor a message. ‘What time are you home this evening? Shall I make something Italian?’ She places her phone back on to the desk and waits for his reply. She knows it will be hours: he takes longer and longer these days.

Nancy had left her job once Connor had left his wife. The scandal at work wouldn’t do his career prospects any good he said. And he could support her now. Plus she didn’t really like the job anyway. He was right: she didn’t like the job, and Connor could support them both.

And so here she was on this quiet street, in this quiet old stone house, overlooking the fields while she illustrated books and hoped that the door would knock and a friend might appear.

By August the heat still hadn’t broken. The ground had hardened in the drought and the air was hazy, full of dust flung in to the air from where you walked or drove. It was Friday, though the days didn’t really matter that much. Connor would be home later and Nancy hoped the thought of the weekend would make him relax. He’d been tense since his promotion, never seemed to stop thinking about work.

Nancy opens the front door. She wants to go for a walk. Outside the heat is as oppressive as ever. The buddleia bush’s once green leaves were curled and crumble in Nancy’s hand as she touches them. The cones of purple flowers are still beautiful but they’re so dry. Thirsty butterflies flutter frantically around the flowers, searching for nectar.

Nancy walks down the driveway and towards the road. It’s quiet, like it always is and there’s no traffic. The tall grass in the centre of the dirt track has turned to straw in the heat. Dust particles cloud beneath her feet. The air is hazy when she looks to the horizon. She’s never known heat like this for so long in England.

Sometimes couples come to the fields to eat picnics and be away from parents who don’t approve of their relationships. She’d asked Connor to come and picnic here but he’d always said no.

Something moved to her left then and Nancy looks down. A hedgehog picks its way slowly through the straw and parched vegetation. It’s probably looking for water she  thinks. She knew it shouldn’t be out during the day: that this was a sign it was unwell. She understood that it was probably dying of thirst but knows that there is nothing she can do. She couldn’t catch it because she didn’t have a box and she’d left her water bottle at home. If she left and then came back she’d never find it again.

Just then she hears a car on the dirt road. She looks up, turns and sees Connor pulling in to their driveway. She checks her watch. Six O’clock. She hadn’t realised it was this time already. She takes one last look at the hedgehog and walks back towards the house.

They’re drinking cava on the doorstep side by side and looking out across the fields.

‘It really is a beautiful view isn’t it?’ Nancy says.

‘It sure is,’ Connor answers. He gestures broadly with his arms. ‘I knew you’d love it.’

‘I do, she answers, though, it would be nice to see more of you here.’ Connor swallows more cava.

‘Well you know, work is just so busy now.’ He leans towards her, touches her briefly on the shoulder. ‘I love you, you know that.’

‘So how is work?’ she asks. He rolls his eyes.

‘The same as it always is,’ he answers. ‘Come on, let’s eat.’ Connor stands and steps in to the hallway. She hears his footsteps down the hall and then clattering in the kitchen as he opens the oven to check on the food inside.

He’s always been good at avoiding questions.

Later in bed, the heat is oppressive. The window is open but the breeze is too faint to cool her. Nancy kicks back the thin sheet. Connor’s breath has slowed to sleep now. She tries to slow hers too: she inhales and counts to five.

The smell is faint at first, but then as she breathes more deeply, it gets stronger, more distinct, more unmistakable. She inhales again: the smell of smoke. Nancy opens her eyes. She thinks of all the things downstairs that might be burning, and she quickly stands. The carpet is old and thin and she can feel the floorboards beneath. She looks over to the window and outside it is brighter than it should be.

Nancy pulls back the curtain. Across the road the fields are ablaze. The bone-dry, parched landscape is now an orange sea. For a few seconds she stands transfixed, watching as sparks spin in the air.

‘Connor, Connor,’ she says, ‘there’s a fire. We need to leave now.’

‘A fire?’ Connor sits up, ‘in the house?’

‘No, outside in the fields. But it’s getting closer and it won’t be long before it’s too close for us to get out.’

She knew the road wasn’t wide enough to be a firebreak, that it was too narrow, too full of tinder to be any help.

She begins to get dressed. Outside she can hear dogs barking and sirens: fire engines approaching. She throws on a shirt, pulls some shorts over her legs. Connor is out of bed now, scrambling in the dark to find a t-shirt. She heads over to the door, feels for the switch and the room fills with light.

‘That’s better,’ says Connor. He pulls open a drawer and pulls out jeans, a t-shirt. The smoke is beginning to thicken the air in the bedroom now: a hazy grey fog. Nancy’s eyes sting and she rubs them.


She watches him scrambling in to his jeans. She notices the softness of his body, how he is beginning to look old. She coughs and covers her mouth with her sleeve. The sirens are closer now and she can hear voices outside.

‘God, I’m sorry, I’m almost dressed. My shoes are by the door downstairs I’ll just grab them as we pass.’ Nancy coughs again and nods but does not answer.

Connor drops his t-shirt.

‘Shit.’ He bends to pick it up and as he stands Nancy notices the dark mark on his shoulder. She steps closer, thinks that maybe it’s a trick of the light, of the thick air. But no, there it is: a tattoo of a dove. It is beautiful and delicate and drawn in black and grey. The bird’s wings are fanned out: suspended in constant flight.

The air is thick with smoke now. Nancy presses her sleeve tightly to her mouth and inhales. She can’t believe her eyes: this mark, so unfamiliar and strange on a man who she shares a bed with. Why didn’t he tell her? When had he got it done? How did she not notice it before? For a second she can’t move.

He pulls the t-shirt over his shoulders and turns to her.

‘Come on,’ he says, ‘follow me down the stairs. Here, take my hand.’ There is shouting outside now, children crying, heavy vehicles arriving. Nancy takes his hand. And then she follows him down the dark stairs and out in to the heat of the burning, stifling night.




Author Bio: Hannah is a queer freelance writer and teacher with a PhD in creative writing. Her short story collection, In Their Absence, exploring missing people and broken lives, is forthcoming. Hannah has published short stories, flash fiction and creative non-fiction widely, including in Archer magazine (AUS), Litro (UK) and Loose Lips (CAN). Her stories have also been anthologised by Fairlight Books, Valley Press and Unthank Books. Originally from Leicester in the UK, Hannah is currently in Sofia, Bulgaria. 

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Atop the Battlements

Written by Jason de Koff

The ancient castle was hung against the horizon, by the flowing hooks of mist along the marsh. The lone soldier kept his post among the battlements, on the night of the harvest moon.

The shadows played across the grotesque statues of sin, and the soldier’s footfalls gave speech to their mouths, as roosting ravens pecked their eyes in vain, confused by their likeness to those camped outside the walls.

They had poured from a great crevice of ground, created by the great shakings of the last new moon, after fires and disease had wiped most of the life, the next battle of the year was served.

Led by a beast with whipped flames on its head, the rampage had been endless until, they converged at these walls, the last stronghold, for the courageous and unyielding of souls.

The next day would decide the fate of a world, if the defenders would break or stand firm, to uphold the lost lives of their ancestors, or succumb to the sins of the swarm.


Ghostly Howls

Written by Jason de Koff

The castle’s cold walls and damp insides, seeped into the bones when still, and the shackles made louder clankings, that carried further through empty halls.

Darkness was an all-encompassing shape, that almost left one preferring, the luminescent walkers, searching for secrets that no one could answer.

On those occasions, of course, the blackness was sought, leaving the mind to its own dark recesses, to avoid the horrors yet unknown.

One nightmare necroteur, stopped outside the cell door, turned its head, staring through, with rotting flesh covering its face.

The chill deepened with fog exhales, further enunciating the living’s location, to undead eyes, as more aimless wanderers, filled the hallway, assessing their quarry.

The soundless movements instilled greater fear, as heart and breath could be heard more easily. Soon all movement ceased and the corridor denizens, were turned to face the fettered soul.

As the silvered moon outside the walls, lent light to ashen human faces there, the shackles around four feet strained, and the fate of the living would soon be decided.


Southern Secrets

Written by Jason de Koff


The twists and turns of tree limbs, create many-fingered hands, with upraised claws, to grasp birds from flight.


Where gray beards of moss hang low, they rake through the hair of passersby, with their thick, rough spiderweb tendrils, leaving the detritus of past lives in their wake.


The criss-cross pineapple patterns of palmetto, with their effusions of fronds, shush sounds, with oceans of whispers.


As twilight falls, and mist clings to moon-shined surfaces, the once hidden apparitions of old eras, once more regain their mortal coil.


They walk old paths with surprising surefootedness, seeking life to replace their own, finding one, they seep as icy drafts, engulfing their newfound home.




Author Bio: Jason de Koff is an associate professor of agronomy and soil science at Tennessee State University.  He lives in Nashville, TN with his wife, Jaclyn, and his two daughters, Tegan and Maizie.  He has published in a number of scientific journals and has had over 30 poems accepted or published in literary journals, including Clay Literary, this year.

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Volare

Written by Leah Sackett

She looked naked with hair, shoulder-length and earthy, dirty blonde tendrils mixed with an old grown out dye job in crayon red. The shag hair cut magnified the bare, featherweight limbs and tight framed abdomen. She sat with modesty, which provided a shadowy under lair. I didn't want to ask about her hair: afraid of saying the wrong thing, throwing her back into rebellion, away from Sweetgum County, away from me. In her typical style, Volare had left for Brown in what was a long line of unusual asymmetrical shaved hair-dos in a circuitous rainbow of colors. She sported this jacked-up look most of her Senior year at Sweetgum high school. Returning home to Sweetgum, she wore the fade of red crayon color in her tangled locks depicting the clear line of demarcation from the roots down to the worn-out color in the tips. I had stayed home and was enrolled at the Sweetgum community college. I was lonely. She'd gone off to Brown and left her former self teetering on the edge of a developing gulf between adolescence and imitation of adulthood.


I wondered what it was about Brown that returned her to me in the remnants of unshed glory. I didn't dare give lip service to these thoughts. The girl I knew was tempestuous and as easy to scare off as a jittery starling. I just needed to keep throwing bread crumb compliments. I knew that was what she wanted. It was always what she wanted from me. Others, Volare, would take in romantic trysts. For me, she posed. Sitting all that time under my brush's exposure so I could capture her form, make an effort to expose her inner beauty, render her eternal, but I was not that good. I had to use different tools to get inside her to paint her immortal.


I declared we needed a break. I'd ordered pizza and unscrewed a bottle of wine. The day had fallen into twilight, and it felt like a pre-party atmosphere. The moment rent with frisson. The modest smile she had worn all late afternoon was now amplified and ruined in mastication as she sluggishly ate her pepperoni and olive pizza. The olive was new. Whose influence had that been? I had a thin crust with everything, a damned mess to eat. Volare slurred about friends I didn't know, friends at Brown. She mewled like the newborn kitten she was and always would be. Her one semester away wasn't enough to change her into a young woman I didn't know; it just masked the real girl underneath. If I wanted to capture her virtuous underpinnings and save her from the world, I would have to make her timeless to reverse her to the girl she used to be. I'd always known she could not return to me as she was just those 4 months ago. Volare barely squeaked in our weekly chat, always being called away from the phone by newfound friends.


Now, I could still see enough of the real Volare under that nervous breath, her chest's shimmy. She was petite and shallow enough that a hard bump could render a collapsed lung. The faint press of her gentle smile in her face so pale; she would always burn in the sun. There are some things you can never change. But she was here now, reiterating the highs and lows of her new world. Only I could make her whole again, bring the past immortal into now, into tomorrow. I had to shape Volare into the risen, Dr. Frankenstein's model.


As Volare slipped out of her pizza sauce stained robe, she settled unto the uncomfortable white plastic cubes I had placed before a white sheet draped background to suggest how unanchored she was. A semi-finished basement with a futon in the corner was my campus housing, except when mom had to come down to do a load of laundry. I'd found myself doing laundry for her all week, so I would rest assured she did not interrupt my time with Volare. Who was now a giddy jumble, which phased into confusion and Vertigo. Volare fell on her face. I put the cubes into a new arrangement. I positioned her so I could tell all of her. I used my own scissors and Bic razor for my creation. I made a mess of my setting's purity. I funneled water from the utility sink and crayon red do-it-yourself hair dye—a chore to get done when your customer is rendered temporarily unconscious. I don't think I did a poor job and thought I should look into post-mortem cosmetics. If the art thing really was a starving venture, there would always be dead people to make-over. I would have to look into classes at the community college. I shaved Volare's pits, calves, and pussy. She never shared this part of her with me, but she had shared herself with a significant number of Brown men by the sound of things. Volare was unveiled. I pulled forth my palette's knife. I had blued it for just this occasion. I spread her wings to fly on the canvas, a textured lift. Her dreams excised and placed just where her angel's wings would be. Volare took a shallow breath. She was exposed, just now, and her gift to me was yielding an immortal image that would bleed onto my canvas. Our privacy would be made public, in the overly lit gallery just off-campus, a place where the mediocre were applauded. The viewers would bear witness to our intimacy. This canvas, a confessional spout, would pour into the viewers' minds and leave them with the stink of guilt for their intrusion. This was the abiding feminine captured by my saving hand. With my brushstrokes, I birthed the underdeveloped in her. I pushed her from the nest, and I gave her wings to fly.




Author Bio: Leah Holbrook Sackett is a short story writer. Her debut book, Swimming Middle River, was published with REaD Lips Press in 2020. It is available on Amazon and in select bookstores. Additionally, her short story, "The Family Blend," was nominated for a Pushcart Prize with Crack the Spine. Leah's work has won various awards such as: the Gold Award in Art Ascent, Two Sisters Publishing Contest, and she was the recipient of Institute for Women and Gender Studies: Creative Writing Award.

Over 50 of Leah's stories have appeared in literary journals. She is an adjunct lecturer in the English department and the Communication & Media department at the University of Missouri - St. Louis. This is where she earned her M.F.A. Leah's short stories explore journeys toward autonomy and the boundaries placed on the individual by society, family, and self. Learn about her published fiction at LeahHolbrookSackett.website.

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Simulacrum

Written by Joseph S. Pete


The dapper corpse seemed preposterous,


staged, inauthentic,


the dark-coated mourner thought as he lurched over the flower-lined casket,

paying his obligatory last respects.


That rictus is ghastly, the rouge too obvious,

the face too pallid, too waxen,

the lowered eyelids too creepily doll-like.


In death, the doughy ashen cadaver

looked nothing like it did in life.


The mourner couldn’t get over

how the blanched, makeup-smeared remains were so unrecognizable,


how the inert meat sack bruised and rotted,

turned so fetid

once the animating spirit was gone.


When he returned to his seat,

the mourner noticed the drip, drip, drip

of moist wet blood

falling from the glossy casket

to the dingy, well-worn carpeting


in the dim-lit funeral parlor.


He scanned around to see if anyone else


at the visitation had noticed,

and wondered if he just offered a valediction


to his own sanity.




Author Bio: Joseph S. Pete is an Iraq War veteran, the author of two local interest books, an award-winning journalist, an Indiana University graduate, a book reviewer, and a frequent guest on his local NPR affiliate. He was named the poet laureate of Chicago BaconFest, a feat that Geoffrey Chaucer chump never accomplished. His work has appeared in 365 Tomorrows, Horror Tree, Shotgun Honey, Zero Dark Thirty, Pulp Modern, Line of Advance, The Five-Two, Chicago Literati, Dogzplot, shufPoetry, The Roaring Muse, Blue Collar Review, Lumpen and elsewhere. Like Bartleby, he would prefer not to.

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his body on the shore

Written by Caroline Murphy


one day the bird leaves home. flies south for warmer weather & is welcomed home with open arms after enough winter


has passed. the nest remembers him, provides its twigs & feathers as humble respite after a long journey. 


in a different world the bird flies too close to the sun & becomes myth. Daedalus asks, 


where are you flying to & why do you think you deserve to go there?


the nest is a crumpled fist & a pile of ash. bound by his own labyrinth Daedalus defies legend & refuses exit to his own flesh.


you will die here just like me


in this version there is no south & no one returns from it, just places that burn from the inside then blame the world for having too much kindling. 


the bird crashes into the screen door, begging to be let in, to be fed, to be more than myth. the bird 


beats his wings against the metal & mesh, weeps into the solstice sky,


pleads for absolution for daring to fly in the first place. 




Author Bio: Caroline Murphy graduated from the University of Maine at Farmington in 2015 and spent the last four years teaching English in western Bulgaria. She currently lives and writes in Saint Paul, Minnesota. You can find her on social media @tameorchids.

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Start of a Weekend

Written by Stephen J. Golds

I watch a once beautiful woman dancing

alone to Zumba music in her kitchen.

She has a quiet satisfaction in her face

I am sure I’ll never know again.

With a sad kind of smile

I press the doorbell to pick up our daughters.

The music stops and I wait.



The Old Hospital on The Hill

Written by Stephen J. Golds


My mother worked there nights as a nurse and

in the summer time the patients

would all be draped in starched white wandering around the yellowed lawns.

We would sneak onto the grounds

to watch them, one of the older kids

said he’d fucked one of the women.

I laughed, pretending to smoke a cigarette.

The last time there, a fat tattooed man with purple facial scars chased us away

screaming ‘no good cunts’, a scratched CD.

Even at eleven years old I knew

I was running from something

that was a part of me.




Author Bio: Stephen J. Golds was born in London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life. He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling, boxing, and listening to old Soul LPs. His novel, Say Goodbye When I’m Gone, will be released by Red Dog Press in October 2020 and another novel, Always the Dead, will be released by Close to The Bone Press in January 2021.

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