“My Left Eye Was a Mistake” by Steve Gergley


“So yesterday I asked my dad what he regrets most about his life, and he pointed at me and said my left eye. He said my left eye was a mistake. I’m not sure what that means though, because as far as I can tell, there’s nothing wrong with my left eye. It’s fine. It always has been. But when I asked him what he meant about my eye being a mistake, he just looked away and said that he had always tried to be the best dad he could be for me, but this is just how things worked out.”

It’s Thursday evening, and I’m talking to my therapist, Devon.

“Interesting,” Devon says. “How does that make you feel?”

Devon’s been my therapist for the past five years. In addition to being my therapist, she’s also my good friend.

“Which part?”

“Any of it. All of it. The thing your dad said about your eye.”

To this I wait a beat, and then I say:

“I thought we were talking about you?”

We laugh at this, because, like I said, we’re good friends. We kid. We banter. She even lets me pay on a sliding scale because I’m poor and still live at home. For the past seven years I haven’t been able to hold a job for more than three weeks at a time thanks to my propensity for getting incredibly sad and crying in the bathroom while I’m supposed to be working, so the sliding scale is a lifesaver for me. As for the crying, we don’t know why it happens, but Devon thinks it might be related to my acute fear of getting yelled at by adults, a fear that developed during my difficult and confusing upbringing as an undiagnosed autistic child. Lately Devon has presented the theory that my dad might be an undiagnosed autistic himself, which would actually explain a lot.

The wind blows hard outside, whirling and whistling, and the woody fingers of a naked elm tap against the window of the townhouse we’re sitting in. We’re on the third floor, with a good view of the Taco Bell across the street. It’s January and gray out there, with a cold that will freeze your asshole shut. Staring into the neon glow of the Taco Bell sign, I consider asking Devon to get some tacos with me when we’re done. I know this would probably be a violation of the boundaries of our friendship (or, professional interaction, as she likes to put it), but still. I often wonder how she would act in that situation. What would she order? Would she get hard-shell tacos or soft? And what about the sauce? Based on her calm, patient, easy-going personality, I’d guess she’d go for the mild sauce. Mild-type sauce for a mild-type girl. Or woman I should say, since she’s still very pretty and looks to be somewhere in her mid-forties. Either way, I don’t think she’d go too crazy with the hotness on her tacos. But then again, maybe she’s like me, and she makes up for an empty life by spicing things up with some fire sauce. I don’t know. So I ask her.

“Hey so what kind of sauce do you put on your tacos?”

Without missing a beat, she answers, as if this is a completely normal question to ask someone out of nowhere.

“Medium,” she says. “I like a little spice, but nothing too crazy. Everything in moderation, you know? Including moderation. But let’s get back to you, Ben.”

This sounds like something my dad would say, one of those clever-yet-shallow things he’d rattle off at a family gathering to get a nice laugh out of the relatives, and in thinking this I suddenly get a random idea of what he might’ve meant when he said that thing about my eye.

“Wait so do you think my dad was talking about himself when he said that thing about my eye? That the reason I’m all fucked up is from the half of my body parts I got from him? Do you think he blames himself?”

“Could be.”

“But that’s crazy! The way I am isn’t his fault, this is just me. I’m the one who’s fucked. He’s a good dad.”

“When was the last time you told him that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, I think you should tell him that the next time you see him.”

“That’s a good idea, I’ll do that.”

“Good. I think he’d like to hear that from you.”

The wind tears past the window like a low-flying dragon. I look out at the Taco Bell again.

“Do you want to get some tacos with me after this?”

“Why don’t you ask your dad?”

“But I already know what kind of sauce he likes. I want to know what kind you like.”

“But you already know. You just asked me.”

“Oh yeah. I forgot.”

Now Devon crosses her arms and leans back in her creaky computer chair.

“We’re almost at time,” she says, “but what about you? What kind of sauce do you use?”

“Nothing but fire, baby.”

At this she bursts into laughter, but not in a mean way. The way she laughs, high-pitched, girlish, uninhibited, her small hand shielding her wide mouth, it always seems like she’s on your side in everything.

From here she smiles to herself and looks at me. For a moment it feels like she’s the only person on this planet who can see the real me.

“That’s time,” she says, swiveling around in her chair. Looking at her back, I try to force myself to finally tell her that I love her more than anyone on earth, but at the last moment I stop myself, like I always do.

“So next week, then?” I say, placing three twenties on her desk.

“Yup. I’ll be here.”

“Okay. See you later, then.”


Steve Gergley is a writer and runner based in Warwick, New York. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in A-Minor, After the Pause, Barren Magazine, Maudlin House, Pithead Chapel, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music. His fiction can be found at: https://stevegergleyauthor.wordpress.com/

Excerpt of “Les Essais” by Courtney Bush



The World We Live In 

In the waiting room of the Department of Education where I held my number in the line to get my fingerprints taken, a TV lawyer instructed us to call 1-800-HURT.  The governor who looks like my Chihuahua mix said the attempt to spread fear is the world we live in. So the world we live in is only an attempt. 



The Culkins 

I want to find a long lost Culkin brother. I believe most people I know are secretly on the hunt for a lost Culkin.  We like their skinny pale bodies because they remind us of drugs we are too afraid to take and the desperation it would take to get us to take them which we have not yet experienced but sort of long to and this sensation about the Culkins we get only from movies and paparazzi photos and word of mouth and marketing. The Culkins are marketed by their own lives exactly to me and my friends. I moved to New York without knowing I moved to New York expecting to find a Culkin in some disgusting bar nobody else knew about and who would love only me, only me and party drugs, but now I know this as I search for him, even when I read I search for him. When I read books in my apartment and when I sleep. A blonde Culkin, a light brown haired Culkin, a Culkin who likes art. The Culkins are so baroque. A baroque Culkin endears himself to me when he exists.



The Best Days of My Life

Those were the best days of my life. I listen to the soundbyte from that Bon Jovi song in my imagination every time I think of any memory from my past. I don’t know when I started doing it. Those were the best days of my life. I was at Jameson’s birthday party at Kiki’s the restaurant for cool hot young people by East Broadway and I peed in the toilet and my pee was hot pink because I had been eating only borscht for three days because I made two gallons of borscht by accident and my now ex-husband wouldn’t eat any of it because it was admittedly not that good. The toilet wouldn’t flush and there was a long line of hot young people waiting to pee so I got down on the floor and repaired the toilet and went back to the table full of Jameson and five beautiful female strangers and told them I had repaired the toilet because of my fuschia pee and those were the best days of my life. 


Courtney Bush is a poet, filmmaker, and preschool teacher from Biloxi, Mississippi. Her writing has most recently appeared in blush_lit, Critical Quarterly, Night Music Journal, and Ghost City Review. Her divorce chapbook ISN’T THIS NICE? was published by blush_lit in October 2019. Her films Kim Bush’s Abduction and Marilyn Monroe’s School for French Girls can be found on NoBudge.com. She is the co-host of Letters to a Young Minion, a poets’ podcast about the Minions, alongside poet Jeesoo Lee. 

3 Poems by Brian Rihlmann

Those two…you ever seen
the movie, “Waiting?” Or maybe
more like the real life Beavis and
Butthead…always together,
clowning around, hiding out back
passing a joint before and
after the dinner rush.

Well, one day T shows up by himself,
goes straight to the kitchen, and starts
doing his prep, all quiet and withdrawn.
So I ask someone, ‘Where’s M?”
“T shot him!” “What?”

But it was true—they’d gotten
hammered after work and were playing
around with a nine, and….well,
accidents happen.  But before long
M was back, showing us the hole where
the bullet had passed through the love
handle fat and missed every vital organ.

He held up his shirt proudly, as T
reached over and flicked at the
scar tissue with his finger, then
ran laughing out the back door,
throwing a trash can in his path.
M chased him, and we all laughed.

It was 2009. Mid-recession.  I was
still blessed to have I job I hated.  My
neighbor was enduring the gauntlet of
I’ll-take-whatever-I-can get.  We stood
on our balconies, ten feet away from
each other, drinking tallboys.

“Man…I dunno if I can do this much longer.”
“What?” I asked, “The telemarketing?”
“Nah…I had to leave that.  They wanted me
to bully old ladies into buying their crappy
timeshares.  But this new gig…I’m picking
up bodies for a funeral service.  Last week
they found an old man, dead in his
bathtub for like a month.”

“Jesus!” I said. “What was that like?”
His face wrinkled as he lit up, took a drag,
and exhaling smoke, said—“Like soup.”

we sit around telling war stories
and watching a grainy VHS tape
of a show we played 20 years ago
while the twenty something kids
grin, and roll their eyes when we’re
not looking, and the grandkids
play air guitar and bang their little
heads in imitation of the guys onstage.
guys with less grey. guys who could
play half the night, and party til dawn.
guys who had life firmly by the balls. guys
who could get away with anything, who
stole the reaper’s scythe and ran away,
laughing, and was that us? a resemblance,
yes…but as the night lengthens, as we
stand in the driveway still talking after we’d
said goodnight two hours before…
(It’s almost midnight, and we’re tired!)
as I’m reminded of taking over a small
town, how we terrorized the locals,
how we arrived like barbarians at that
spot on the river yelling and pouring
beer over each other’s heads, how we
scaled the razor cliffs and jumped
50 feet into the icy green water below…
(just how drunk and high was I?)
as I’m reminded of this and other
crazy times I barely remember…
I’m not quite sure, though they
assure me it’s true. I love these guys…
they’re like the living urns for the
ashes of my immolated, completely
taken-for-granted youth.

Brian Rihlmann was born in New Jersey and currently resides in Reno, Nevada. He writes free verse poetry, and has been published in The Blue Nib, The American Journal of Poetry, Cajun Mutt Press, The Rye Whiskey Review, and others. His first poetry collection, “Ordinary Trauma,” (2019) was published by Alien Buddha Press.

“’63 Ghia” by Sheree Shatsky


The speedometer hits 80 mph with no sign of slowing down.  My Karmann Ghia, it’s old and not in a collectible way. I bought the car for 400 bucks scraped together from working the credit desk part-time at a furniture store on the weekends.  The engine block sat covered in sand and the doors flew open every corner I turned, but I considered both mere details. I knew my grandfather could clean it up and fix the doors and he did with slide bolts, installing an extra set on the passenger side the day I almost dumped out my grandmother on a grocery run.

     I pull over at John Deere and throw the car into neutral.  The engine roars like twenty lawnmowers ready to explode. I switch off the ignition and grab a roll of black electrical tape from the glove box, my go-to fix to keep this heap running. 

     I lift the hood and fiddle with the simple engine.  Someone yells, need help?  A guy walks across the parking lot wiping his hands with a grimy cloth. He’s outfitted all John Deere.

     He tips his hat with the trademark stag and I step back, giving myself a clear getaway, lesson learned post-Ted Bundy.  Even though the creep is locked up in the state pen, a girl can’t be too careful about inspired copycat killers. The guy leans in and I tell him the car won’t slow down, even when I lift my foot off the gas.  Be right back, he says and returns holding a large paper clip.  More trusting now I’ve witnessed his interaction within the actual John Deere building, I step up and watch him fasten the paper clip in and through some thingamabob and give it a tug.  Start it up, he says.

     The car idles in typical sputter.  Rev the engine. He listens and nods.   OK, foot off the gas. The engine slows. Yup. The throttle return spring snapped.  The paper clip will do you for now, don’t wait, get it fixed.  He slams down the hood and thumps an all set. I slide bolt my door locked and ease away, back in the groove of responsive RPMs.  Later, I secure the clip with two slivers of electrical tape. I never take the car to a mechanic, but I do buy a box of large paper clips.


Sheree Shatsky writes short fiction believing much can be conveyed with a few wild words. Her work has been published in a variety of journals including Anti-Heroin Chic, Fictive Dream, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Bending Genres, New Flash Fiction Review, KYSO Flash and The Conium Review with work forthcoming at Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art.  She is twice-nominated for Best Microfiction 2020 by Fictive Dream and MoonPark Review. Read more of her work at shereeshatsky.com.

Twitter: @talktomememe.

“Myrmecia Pyriformis” by Chris Milam


In the backroom of an exotic pet shop, a gentleman from Australia handed the owner a sealed box. The man was excited, he had been waiting for this package for months. He peered into the box and smiled. “Welcome to America,” he whispered.

Two days later he took the box to a nearby wooded area in southern Ohio and set them free. Now, all he needed to do was wait. He was a dark-minded man with twisted thoughts who wanted to cause mayhem because he believed the town had persecuted him whether it was real or just in his head. Time will tell, he thought, as he walked away, climbed in his car, and drove away.




Fairfield, Ohio. 3 months later.

All was quiet at 924 Catalpa Drive on a boring Thursday night. Wayne Richards was dozing on the couch in the living room, Dateline playing on the TV. He was worn out from his shift at the steel factory and fell asleep after a dinner of meatloaf and green beans. 

Outside the front door a line was forming, a tiny buzzing coming from within the pack. The bulldog ants began to enter the home beneath the front door, over the threshold. There were thousands of them, maybe a million. A swarm of death. They crawled onto the couch and all over Wayne. The ants made their way to his nose and eyes and ears, rooting themselves inside and biting him, releasing their venom. He was eventually covered in bulldog ants like a live blanket. They bit into him at every part of his body, eventually reducing him to a red-stained corpse. 

Next, the giant line moved through the kitchen into his wife’s bedroom. Becky was sleeping, a book open on her lap. She was tired from her job on the assembly line at Metal Sales Manufacturing. After dinner, she had put the toddler to bed and went into her room to read for a while.

The bulldog ants found her. They climbed up the legs of the bed frame and violated her, biting her as they formed a massive ball around her head. They injected their deadly toxin from head to toe. She briefly woke up, but couldn’t yell because the ants filled her mouth. She died a fast death. The ants were not satiated.




Across town, the exotic pet store owner, Tim Rivest, read the local paper. He laughed out loud at the article about the invasion of deadly ants native to Australia. Seal your windows and doors, the article read. They can kill a human in a matter of minutes. Tim thought about everyone in Fairfield who snitched on him for having illegal animals at his store and house. This was his revenge. He drank his beer as he finished reading, a smile never leaving his face. 

What Tim didn’t know was that his front lawn at that precise moment was filled with hungry movement.



The swarm left the body of Becky Richards and marched to the next bedroom. They inched their way up the crib. Little Joshua was still awake. The ants moved in, their legs moving quickly across the boy.

The last sounds coming from inside 924 Catalapa Drive were the horrifying screams of “Mommy, Mommy.”


Chris Milam lives in Middletown, Ohio. His stories have appeared in JMWW, Jellyfish Review, Lost Balloon, Bending Genres, Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter: @Blukris.

“Bleach And Cats That Are Black” by Ryan Purcell


I woke up with your black cat curled up dead on my feet.
The black cloud was over me and I pretended she was asleep
and nudged her away and went back to depression sleep.
When I woke up she was right where I left her so I took her to the trash freaking out and the furry weight and her empty food bowl made for a fucked up midnight morning.
I drank tall boys until the pharmacy at CVS opened
and bought syringes for my diabetic mother but the clerk and I both know that judgy bitch is healthy as an ox and needs no insulin.
She could use the sweets if anything.
If I shoot enough electricity
I can sanitize this 600 sq ft apartment with bleach
that’ll reek out the building and make
that witch that lingers in the hall ask me
“What the fuck is good with that bleach?”
And I’ll say
“Fuck off Juanita, I got no time for your shit.”
But I’ve got nothing but time.
And echoes.
It moves slow and black through me and I clean the outside because I can’t clean the inside and don’t even ask me what’s in the fridge.
I haven’t gotten to that yet.
Just don’t open it.
You’ll miss the smell of bleach.
Not all my compartments are hollow but we keep them separate.
I put water in the cats bowl then remember and leave it anyway cause fuck, I might have
nightmared it,
and I could’ve sworn I heard a meow two seconds ago.
The oven.
I should really clean that oven.


Ryan Purcell is a poet and writer from the New York Metropolitan area. He writes about heavy topics like depression and addiction with the light hand of someone that has walked through them and come out the other side. A decade of bartending and eavesdropping has given him a special interest in communication, language and their inherent breakdowns/limitations.

“Eyes Ahead” by Kim Kishbaugh

Past pitted buildings the boy tramps sidewalks by day
sandals padding hot pavement
loneliness icing his soul
he has learned to walk alert but calm
claim his space
look at no one
look away from no one
The dog that paces beside him
has no name
but has learned to wait for scraps
in exchange for the snarls she directs
at anyone not the boy
At night they bed together
mostly in silence


Kim Kishbaugh is a former journalist whose poetry has been published or is forthcoming at Escape into Life, goodbaad, Headline Poetry & Press, and Tiny Seed Literary Journal.
She wanders through the world looking for magic and sometimes finds it. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @kkish.