“A Minor Threat” by William Falo

The route I delivered mail in a remote area, but COVID still was here. People stayed in their houses and rarely came out, but they ordered lots of packages. 

Porch pirates thrived now, and since it was fall, spiders set up webs big enough to catch me, dogs barked and growled at me as approached their houses even though I loved them, and

worst of all the bandits with black masks liked to harass me. Raccoons. 

I complained about it, but all I received was a letter saying Erin was out-smarted by raccoons. It was posted on the bulletin board and everyone laughed at me.

I couldn’t afford to quit. Since my divorce, I lived in an apartment and needed this job to survive.

I removed my mask to eat my lunch and a raccoon grabbed the package that I just dropped off. I gritted my teeth.

“Drop it, you stupid bandit.”

I ran toward it holding out my dog spray out. The raccoon joined two others and ran toward the woods. I lost too many packages to porch pirates and got letters of warnings. I would like to add some men who lost packages did not receive any warnings. I chased the raccoons. 

I turned the corner and one of the bandits threw a chicken bone and hit me in the eye. I turned and it looked like the raccoon was laughing at me. I covered my eye with my hand.

“You must have rabies?” I yelled out. It hissed when it slumbered away.

The package was gone. Another one lost. I made a partial eye patch out of some paper and rubber bands.  I finished the deliveries with my one good eye looking out for the raccoons. The last delivery was for a house on a dead-end street. I didn’t even know anyone lived there, but the car in the driveway was the one I saw the girl get in earlier.

Near the front door, I glanced into the window with my one good eye. A girl was laying on an air mattress with a syringe beside her. It looked like she wasn’t breathing.

I called 911. It would take too long if she was overdosing. The window was open and I pushed in the screen and climbed into the empty room. The girl looked like a lifeless doll, I kept my mask on and tried CPR then glanced at an ID next to her. Her name was Emma. She looked like a teenager.

“Emma,” I said over and over, but she remained still. 

The ambulance crew arrived and took over trying to save Emma. Someone ran out the back door. He got a head start, but a girl slowed him down and I gained on him. After a few more minutes, the man dropped the girl, turned around, and pointed a gun at me. I froze and saw my sad life fading away.

The man laughed when he looked at me. “Are you a pirate?” 

“Let the girl go. I won’t tell the cops anything.”

His hand shook and the girl moaned and that idea faded away.

“What’s her name?” I pointed at the girl.

“Hayley.”

“Let her go.” I stepped forward.

“No. I’m not afraid of you. You’re just a minor threat.”

He steadied his hand and his finger twitched. He was going to kill me. I closed my good eye then heard a rustling sound. When I opened it, a blur jumped on the man as sparks flew out of the gun. I dove to the ground and everything became fuzzy, but I crawled forward and grab Hayley then we stumbled away from the scene while the man wrestled with the raccoons. I heard another shot and a searing pain in my leg knocked me to the ground. I looked back and saw a raccoon holding a gun. It sounds crazy, but I swear the raccoon was holding a smoking gun. They saved me, and yet one of them took the opportunity to shoot me. Raccoons are insane.

I limped with Hayley toward the arriving police cars. She wasn’t wearing a mask and that made me worried. When I got closer, some of them pulled guns while others stared in shock. I limped toward them with a drugged girl while wearing an eye patch and with blood pouring out of my leg. I collapsed to the ground when they reached me.

###

In the hospital, my eye improved but remained circled with a dark bruise. I looked in the mirror and thought the raccoons somehow made me one of them. 

A negative COVID test was good news. My leg hurt and was wrapped in thick bandages. Nobody believed that a raccoon shot me, but I knew it was true. I played Animal Crossing and the raccoon in that game ran the town. After my experiences I knew that made sense.

I fell asleep and woke up to a blue wolf trying to catch a fish. I shut the game off.

Emma survived the drug overdose. The police arrested the man and explained away the bite wounds on him as from a stray dog despite what we both said about the raccoons. 

On my third day in the hospital, Hayley and her mother used a tablet to do a virtual visit. 

“You saved mine and Emma’s life,” she said. Her mother nodded.

“The raccoons helped,” I said.

They looked at each other and shook their heads. “Pain meds,” the mother whispered.

“You’re a hero.” They promised to stay in touch with me. Maybe they would. 

On my first day back to work my pockets were filled with cookies, cat treats, and crackers. 

I threw the treats out and before long a group of raccoons came out and gobbled them up. We made a truce that day, but they still stole food from me since raccoons can’t help themselves. I believe they are born to be mischievous. 

The police never found the gun and I kept expecting to turn a corner and encounter a raccoon pointing it at me. No matter what its intentions are the sight of a raccoon with a gun made me shiver. That would be more than a minor threat.


William Falo studied Environmental Science at Stockton University. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The UK journal Superlative, The Raconteur Review, Train River’s first fiction anthology, and other literary journals. 

“Pieces of Eight” by Jon Fain

In the market, even though preoccupied, I see her headed my way again, in a well-tailored black suit, white blouse with cuffs showing at the sleeves, black heels.

“What are you doing?” she says, stopping this time.

Most people out of work are beat, never curious.

“Picking out dinner,” I say.

That day, in the meat section, a small steak for $6.26 looks good, but then underneath is another for $8.08. So I have a decision to make. Have been making. Leaning.

She says, “I came back this way because I forgot nuts and you’re still here with that same two packages of meat in your hands?”

“You forgot nuts?”

“Yeah, right, I’m the one.” 

I like what I see in her eyes.

And that’s how it starts, isn’t it? The ignited look—right conditions, it rages through the scrub, heads for tall grass.

“It wasn’t ten minutes,” I say. “Not quite eight.”

“If you say so.” 

And that could have been it. But then, another day, deliciously eight weeks beyond, more shopping, there she is again. 

I favor this store, the only one that has the proper lowest items checkout—even though it takes a longer route (4.4 miles from work; 8.2 from home) to properly get there. 

I think she gets it too. I like her basket: smoked oysters, a pack of figs, a carrot juice, two-pack of brownies, pre-made wrapped roast beef sandwich, single roll of toilet paper, what looks like breath mints… and a crumpled white cup from the free coffee station at the front of the store. 

(Does that count?) 

She turns—looks at me looking. 

I should know better but I’m getting drawn into those blue-gray eyes of hers. An edge beckons. She’s like one of those deep dark pools in abandoned quarries, where stolen cars and the parboiled bodies of teenagers end up.


I’ll skip the particulars. After I move in, we fall into routine. First eight days are great. 

Neither of us is much of a cook. She uses the kitchen sink only to brush her teeth, and even then, not so often, but I like to do things right, the microwave my friend.  I use one of the multiples, 24, 32 seconds depending on volume, to nuke or re-nuke. Eight more, if that isn’t hot enough. 

“What are you doing?”

“Heating soup.”

“You ever wonder how the mind can spiral? Loop back on itself,” she says, “so the routine becomes so credible it becomes incredible to believe one could change in any way?”

“Never,” I say, blowing on my spoon.

But she’s one to talk….

She doesn’t want loose batteries around.  When the occasion arises, I have to reload a flashlight in the garage.

Speaking of cars, out somewhere, shopping or something? And she sees a dog someone has left alone? She circles the parked vehicle until the poor animal begins to bark. (If it doesn’t, and it’s time to, I stop her.) 

When she wakes up and goes into the bathroom at night, she throws off the covers, gets out of bed and walks in backwards—comes out and into the bed the same way. 

When she brushes her thick blonde hair? It’s four strokes down the left side, then the same, four, on the right. 

Every time.

So, yeah.

I can live with that.

We all have our quirks. To be fair about it, I like to park in the same spot at work. It just makes me feel comfortable. How I start my day. Part of the set I work with. 

Like when you hit eight minutes in a shower? You know, don’t you? 

Maybe time to get out. 

Maybe it’s what happens to any couple, together for that stretch, the feeling-out time, at the end of which you decide to keep it going or not. After say, eight weeks in, you take a long hard look and what do you see?  

You see maybe, that day at the grocery was not about matched shopping methods, but instead a pedestrian chance encounter, where the compatibility you felt was a pent-up release, a transitional phase perhaps, rather than any soundtrack made from the music of the spheres. 

Number two, you’re in an ice-cold garage puffing breath, changing flashlight batteries.

Number three, you sit down with eight chips, eight spoonfuls of soup and an eight-piece pizza pie because what’s eating healthy got to do with it?

Number four, you can’t believe that even if she doesn’t know that the Chinese consider eight a fortuitous number, a lucky number, a number promising good fortune—she should not be so as crass to remark, “We’re not in China.”

Number five, once you point out to her the base logic of certain numerical tidings she should definitely not smile.  

Number six, you see that—don’t you? 

Number seven, you see what you know now is the most important thing.

There is no number eight, so there you have it.


But you move on, don’t you? You go into to work, but you take a slightly different way. You may question the routine if not the reason, but you certainly don’t douse the baby with the cold bath water, as the saying goes.

You cut the wheel a little sooner than usual, and your heart thumps, as you swing it into the spot. 

You take a deep breath, get out of the car, circle it, count each one out. Get inside on the good foot. Step it off, get it right. The new right.

And just that simple, like magic, yes like the music of the spheres, it begins the moment you see her: at the end of the row of cubicles, short black-haired, not long blonde (as if that mattered), seventh one down on the left.

What you hear is a song you hope will never end. It’s got the right beat, the rhythm to which the dance of your dreams plays out. 


Jon Fain’s short fiction can be found here and there. He lies low in Massachusetts.

“WrestleMania” by Daniel Fraser

When Paul came in Susan’s mouth he shouted, ‘WrestleMania!’ It was the second time Susan thought about killing him. On Boxing Day Paul walked out of the toilet saying, ‘the turkey has left the building.’ His hair was damp and swept like Elvis. She wished he’d gone out the same way. 

Susan spat thick like an athlete and rolled onto her side. Paul tried to explain but gave up somewhere between Triple H and 1999. He sighed and said, ‘sorry’. Susan switched off the lamp and patted Paul’s knee. She put one hand against her waist and willed him toward sleep. She didn’t need to wait long. Deep shadows rolled over them. Susan made circles with her fingers. She thought about the sea and Paul Rudd and the dead futures that had glistened on her tongue.

At dawn Susan smoked in a chair and tended to a lily. She ate dry cereal from a box, cracking down on the honey clusters. Paul snored and flopped over on his back, feet stuck out, his sounds heavy and irregular like the confused mourning of a bear. On their first date Susan asked why he was so tall. Paul told her that he was bitten by a radioactive basketball player. Susan smiled and laughed and when he said, ‘do you want to come back?’ she told him that she did, but now she’d moved in the joke didn’t seem so funny and he wasn’t as tall without his boots on.

Susan leaned back against the wall. The low sun burned like spotlights. Pressure gathered in her chest, pins and needles, vague and burning. The room was strewn with clothes and used towels. In the corner was a folded steel chair. Susan looked at Paul: flat out, grunting, helpless. A new strength rose in her. It was now or never. Susan crept towards Paul, a crowd of voices roaring in her head. She slipped back onto the mattress, ducking the imaginary ropes. Susan grabbed Paul’s leg, lifting the heavy, tattooed thigh. Somewhere behind her the referee counted: 1…2…3.


Daniel Fraser is a writer from Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. His work has won prizes and been featured widely in print and online. He lives in London.

“Still Life” by Daniel Fraser

Frank passes by the house a second time, the pack of lithium tablets in a bag on the dashboard of the van, wondering how to tell Anne he isn’t well. The light from the porch swells outward, imitating warmth. He parks.

Anne is walking around in thin linen, floating from room to room. Frank drops his bag and makes for the stairs, head low. He feels the sweat and dirt bound closely to him, a weight that tingles.

‘Don’t change,’ Anne says, woozy in the doorframe. ‘I like you just like that.’ Her voice flicks like a tongue inside his stomach. She pours another glass of Sambuca ‘to refresh her,’ she says, ‘like a holiday.’ 

They are on the sofa. Anne looks over at a bit of skirting board with a dead spider curled up on it like a little hand stuck trying to make a fist. Frank crinkles the medicine inside his pocket, feeling confused and sad and a little bit like “this is a problem” but one he’s not allowed to talk about because how much does he drink and besides isn’t he the one who’s crazy and WHO THE FUCK IS HE anyway?

‘Are you…?’ Frank says, with no idea how the sentence is supposed to end. Anne’s grinning, pouting, quivering her lips. Her eyes are swollen, full of aniseed and webbed dust. 

‘What?’ She says. Her hand coils round the tumbler like its moulded there. She twitches out a thud of ice like rock hitting crystal or cold hitting throat. Frank shivers.

‘Nothing.’ He chews the corner of his cheek. Frank’s dad comes back from cancer, filling his brain-space with insults, calling him worthless. The voice gets replaced by a montage of drugs and childhood tears. Frank wants things to be his fault.

Anne gulps and swallows, sighing with a snake hiss. Frank smells sweetness. Anne drapes an arm across him, her white bra peaking through loose cloth.

‘You look good,’ Anne says, lilting, a slight slur, thin fingers brushing Frank’s hand. Frank wants to have sex and break up and take Anne to therapy and get a job where he can afford therapy and go back to college and kill himself. He gets up and makes pasta. Anne eats six slices of Parma ham thin as razor blades and smokes two Pall Malls with the door open.  Frank takes the tablets and feels a little further away from himself; like his consciousness and body were somehow a TV he was looking at from across the room. Limbs move, mouths move. There are rooms with lights on, bodies sharing space. It all seems fine in a way that seems dead. Like a still life. 

Anne kisses his neck while Frank thinks about those aniseed sweets his grandma used to suck, little red balls that spilled onto your tongue. Anne puts pressure on his thigh and pulls up her dress. Frank puts his hand under, feels the wet warmth. His grandma dies just as quickly as she lived. Anne slips away her underwear. It stays hooked on one leg like a hula hoop rolled around a belly. They have sex fully clothed, scratching and tearing at the hard places behind each other’s backs. Frank examines them both from somewhere else, his mind locked in a threesome with a slower, greyer version of himself and a woman that several drinks ago used to be his wife. 

They finish and sit side-by-side, breathing heavily, staring out. Frank turns on the news and lets the world do its work, the dissolving bigness of it, the vast expanse of anything that can crush you down and make everything close seem bearable. There were wars and fires in California. It would be ok. Frank holds on to his knees, feeling them shift beneath his hands. Anne pours a drink. Outside the city makes its broken music: sirens, aeroplanes, cheering, and underneath it all a cool wind swirling, whispering with leaves.

Frank gets up and crosses the partition back into the kitchen. He watches Anne through a dark reflection in the window, a mass of hair and neck. He’s there too, an oblong of grey sweatshirt, a piece of face; all the rest of him cut off by the frame, severed by awkward angles of light.

‘The days are getting colder.’ Frank says, pulling a beer from the fridge. 

‘But we’re not Frankie,’ Anne says, ‘we’re not.’ and she lights up another cigarette before she’s even finished laughing.


Daniel Fraser is a writer from Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. His work has won prizes and been featured widely in print and online. He lives in London.

“Unsolved Mysteries” by Adam Jeffrey Jr.

Even though my trailer park butted against the stilted drive-in screen, the fence made it so I couldn’t see the movies for free. But I could still hear them.

The drive-in used speakers you hooked on your car window. They got ripped from the stands when the cars took off and the owner got tired of fixing them. So he put the movie sound on 89.9 FM so you could hear the movie on your car’s radio.

If you drove down 144 late at night, and listened to 90.1 FM, which was WTTX OUTLAW KOUNTRY, and you passed the drive-in, the movie sound would cut-in for a mile or so before it would fade back into David Allan Coe. 

I tuned my Barbie clock radio and waited for it to get dark. I listened to the movies with my dad. If the drive-in played a movie we’d both seen a hundred times, we acted-out the scenes and lip synced the talking. We had our little adaptations right there in the living room. The drunker dad was the better actor he was. When there were new movies we hadn’t ever seen, Dad left because he was only ever interested in things he’d already seen, and I’d lay in bed listening and I’d cast my actors and paint my scenery and cut away and fade and dissolve.

In the winter when the drive-in was closed I watched my Unsolved Mystery tapes. I watched them alone and it got dark early. Some of the stories scared me so bad that I wore several pairs of panties to bed. In my mind it helped with two things: a raper would have a hard time and if I had nightmares and wet the bed all of the layers of underwear would keep my bed dry.

I tried to peek over the drive-in’s sheet metal fence but it was too high and too sharp to climb. I couldn’t sneak in either because somebody sat in the ticketbooth all night. But it wasn’t a total waste of time because I liked to investigate the sweet smell that came from somewhere along the fence. It smelled like Teddy Grahams. I sniffed the leaves and the clusters of showy flowers but I couldn’t locate it. The hot air really made it smell.

The movie sounds with no pictures and the Teddy Graham smell were what kept me from running away. They were my own unsolved mysteries.

But then I started riding around with boys and sneaking into the drive-in was easy when two or three of us girls hid in the truck bed under a tarp or in the backseat covered with a sleeping bag. Four or five of us got into a double feature for four bucks that way as long as we stopped giggling and were still. The smell of the Teddy Grahams was masked by our boozy breath and the boys’ stink of creosote and cum. We  never stayed for both movies or we forgot what we saw. It turned out we made our own movies and I wasn’t missing anything I hadn’t already seen. Ours were better. I didn’t like watching beautiful people on screen try to make me feel things that weren’t really there. I liked making my own scenes.

Once I was taken out to the pastures, somehow alone with somebody. The boy said he was taking me out to podunk with him so we’d get abducted by aliens. He told me the story of Barney & Betty and I told him I’d seen them on Unsolved Mysteries and he got me all witless. We parked by some substation and he flashed his headlights over the sleeping cattle to attract the mothership. All that did was scare away the bats and attract the lightning bugs. He tried to touch me and I tried to stop him. The back of his neck smelled like raw pie dough. I smelled like the hot metal handles of a merry-go-round. 

We sped through clouds of lightning bugs until their phosphorescent ooze was smashed out and covered every inch of the car. Until the car was glow-in-the-dark. Until we looked like the mothership we wanted to be taken up in.

“You ever seen Repo Man?” he said.

“No,” I said.

“Well that’s what our car looks like right now. The car in Repo Man. I hope we start flying away.”

We went faster and he turned the radio up louder. This was our adaptation.

He brought me back to the trailer park. I walked along the fence drive-in fence and found that Teddy Graham smell because the booze evaporated and the boys were gone. I could tell finally that the source of the smell wasn’t from one thing. The smell was an amalgamation. The smell was all the flowers and weeds and roadkill and trash and exhaust. I picked the smell apart into its pieces. I didn’t sense a whole anymore.

With both mysteries solved, I felt untethered but not free. I saw where I had been tied and what was used to tie me there. I thought I’d drift. But all I wanted was to find another mystery that I wouldn’t be able to solve. I didn’t want a bigger world. I didn’t want to know anything anymore. All I could do was be a mystery myself so I got wild until I didn’t know who I was. Until I was like a merry-go-round. Sort of spinning until there were many transparent copies of me. So many of me nobody knew which one to grab a hold of. I drifted and I couldn’t see what I’d been tied to anymore, at least. I knew it was still there. And here I am now trying to cut that piece away that’s still dragging behind me.


Adam is a writer and lives with his wife in Franklin, Indiana.

2 Pieces by Colin Lubner

Slapstick (14:59)

In this video (the kid says) he walks us through the foolproof steps to killing yourself. One: put

on a tune! (He puts on a tune.) The tune should not be melodramatic, but should (he stresses) stand up to postmortem analysis. (The tune builds. Synth, muted percussion. I walk around with a handglove, / shrugging my shoulders, / fucking up everything.) Two: video! Even though, well. Maybe this should be the first step? (He sighs.) Never mind! (At this a rehearsed smirk.) Three: text the ones you love. Ideally something simple. (He shows us his phone. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.) Four: turn off your phone! (He turns off his phone.) Five: attempt to kill yourself. Do your best to make it appear real! (Cross-legged on a baby-blue carpet, his back against a spackled wall. The light belongs to either an early morning or a late afternoon. The T-shirt he wears is ambiguously stained and bears C-3PO’s beaten-gold face. Now hold open the door so I can fall in. Hold open the door so I can fall in. Elsewhere, muted, someone laughs. The kid laughs, too. Then he lifts a knife from the floor at his side and horizontally slashes across both wrists.) Six (he manages): wait to be found. Do not cut too deep, if you choose to go this route. Perpendicular to the veins. Permit the blood to clot, the wound to heal. Or perhaps take pills. Less dramatic. Also less risky. (There’s no more sun, / and no more light shines through. The blood does not clot. And still the blood does not clot. He wipes his wrists upon his shirt, staining it further. Panicking, he attempts to rise, and sways, and falls upon the floor, face-first. Off-screen, muted, someone laughs. The video cuts out.)

Eros Lusts (22:51)

A familiar disorientation, this. One deriving from either the original Blair Witch or any of its sequels or copycats. A human face steals the scene from leaf-littered earth. Baby face. Flushed cheeks. Watercolored eyes the same color as the eggshell fragments we glimpse above and beyond him through warm-colored leaves. His breath smokes. It is cold. “I’m sorry—” he says, breathes. “But—it’s been a minute since I’ve gotten out. So if we don’t bag anything. Sorry. Anyway.” He breathes.

But he does. He bags many and without mercy. It is a crisp fall day and couples and families are out. They fall with hardly a sound. In another sort of film, one more traditionally shot, we hear a high whistle as the man’s missiles search out their marks, a satisfying thwack as they find them and sink. In another story, the hunter’s victims scream. A group of his would-be victims forms. They fight back. A couple (either old or young, old or new) survives, thereby asserting the importance and indomitability of love. But in this film we hear only the man’s heavy breathing, the steady progress of his heavy boots crushing fallen leaves.


Colin Lubner writes (in English) and teaches (math) in southern New Jersey. His work has either appeared or will appear, temporally speaking. Recent pieces can be found through his He is keeping on keeping on.

Twitter: @no1canimagine0.

“I Blew My Nose” by Levi Krain

I blew my nose this morning. I know it’s gross to say but it was a big honking load of snot. I opened the tissue afterwards, to examine my harvest. What had I reaped?

I mean, was that the locket I gave my high school girlfriend? Was that a ticket stub from the baseball game where I got drunk and fell down the stairs? Was that a ragged piece of my own body, snipped away by an arrogant surgeon?

There was this green army man I stuck in my pocket when I was eight, who went through the wash and lost a hand. I promoted him to the grizzled captaincy of my ragtag force (from Navarone). He punched a whole crapload of Nazis with those binoculars in his left hand!

A crumpled can of Natty Light, too. I bet it was from that liquor store. You know? The one you and Billy and I’d hit on the way to the “ugly” bar? We’d grab a six-pack and drink some but always donate one to the old guy slumped on the sidewalk outside. Joe. That’s what we called him, even if it wasn’t his name. Do you think he minded? Probably not.

There was a lot of sand. 

Was that the sand from the beach where Jules and I made out behind the palms? Or the one where the waves slammed me down and, I think looking back, I came away with a concussion? Was it the sand from all the beaches ever, all mixed up?

Or was it just the sand from every empty lot I ever crawled through and every worksite I ever sweated over? That gray-brown sand, not the good white stuff.

There was a rusty chunk of my honor, a jagged piece of my dignity, and plenty of tarnished copper hopes. 

And there was so much more. I wanted to save some of it but, in the end, I just folded the tissue and tucked it into the garbage can, pushing it deep down under other, bloodier tissues and lengths of rancid floss. Easier that way.

Still the questions linger, though. Am I the hero of this play? Or its villain?

EXEUNT


Levi Krain rose from a clear, cold northern lake and enveloped a small midwestern city. Since then, he has moved on to greater things and now resides in the heart of Lovecraft country where he spins tales and refuses to drink the water from the well. His fiction has twice placed in The Molotov Cocktail flash contests.

Twitter: @LeviKrain

“The Good Eye” by Levi Krain

There’s a hole in my eye. I don’t think people notice it but that’s probably good. It might freak them out, especially if they got close enough to look through the hole to the other side.

My good eye sees the people talking to me, clear as day, like you see me now. But through that peephole in my other eye, I can see the coming darkness. The creeping doom and crawling chaos set to engulf us all.

Yeah, all of us.

It’s not pretty. And it’s not a fun power, or whatever, to have.

“Goodbye,” I think to myself, as people talk about new cars, new homes, old girlfriends, rich husbands, medications, and jobs.

Do they notice the sad set of my mouth when they talk about their children? I hope not. I don’t want to bum anyone out. You know?

“That’s so sad,” I say to myself when they talk about the future, about dreams and aspirations. I have to concentrate on not shaking my head and pursing my lips. 

Does that sound fun to you?

Plus, it’s hard knowing what to say to people. I don’t want to lie, of course, but I don’t think they’re ready to hear about the end, either. I’ve opted to be polite, like when someone asks you if their new haircut looks good or when someone shows off a new car. You say something polite, right? Even if you hate it.

So, like, when my brother told me he and his wife had decided to have children, I said, “Won’t that be wonderful.” It’s not going to be anything, of course. But I can let them enjoy the thought of it. I even smiled to add to the moment. He’s my brother.

Or, when a colleague said she was pursuing her dream of starting her own business, I told her, “That’s going to be great.” Didn’t do me or her any harm, pretending like that.

One day, my friend Frank told me how bad things have gotten with his wife. She kicked him out. He never saw his kids anymore. In a dark moment, half-drunk, he said, “Maybe I should end it all. No one would miss me.”

“No. Don’t bother, Frank,” I said. I patted him on the back, tried to be reassuring. “It’ll all be over soon.”

He didn’t seem reassured. But he took my advice, so maybe I was helpful without saying too much.

I have looked into the mirror, you know. To satisfy my curiosity. I looked closely. Right down into that hole in my eye.

I wasn’t going to tell you this but I think I figured something out. Remember when I told you I can see what’s coming, the end that’s coming? Now I think I know where it’s coming from.

I’m not proud of it. It’s just a fact. Like when you’re the fastest runner in your class. Or you did really well in the stock market. I looked inside there and now I know it’s getting bigger and there’s no stopping it, so don’t bother trying.

Well, this isn’t something I feel the need to brag about, that’s all I’m saying. 

No, I’m not winking at you! Ha-ha! I’m just trying to get one last good look at you, that’s all.

With the good eye.


Levi Krain rose from a clear, cold northern lake and enveloped a small midwestern city. Since then, he has moved on to greater things and now resides in the heart of Lovecraft country where he spins tales and refuses to drink the water from the well. His fiction has twice placed in The Molotov Cocktail flash contests.

Twitter: @LeviKrain

2 Portraits by Donald Ryan

A Portrait of a Man Who Wanted to Be a Millionaire, Now Retired, Watching Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

The old man in apartment 254 settled into his recliner. It was 7:30 on a weeknight. The residents in the apartments beside, above, below knew this, without question, from the game show’s theme song penetrating the walls, the floor, the ceiling. This episode’s contestant was on his second night. Polka, and now with $300 dollars, on his way to a million. At commercial breaks the old man would mute the television. Closed captioning would scroll, and he’d watch for the stage to reappear, unmute the tv, in time for the bassline’s bombarding beat down throughout the second floor, parts of the first, parts of the third. The questions, like the banter, like the old man’s hearing, like the sounds seeping through the walls, the floor, the ceiling, were muffled, but the answers were always clear. Tombstone, $16,000, on his way to a million. The old man played along silently although he didn’t know many of the answers. However, this was alright by him because A) he felt he might be learning something in his ever growing fondness for game shows in these twilight years, B) he’d treated life like a game show with its chance for easy money based on skill, odds, and luck, C) this contestant’s name reminded him of that horror film the time he and Frankie laid low in that theater after a job well done on his own way to a million, or D) all of the above. D, final answer. That is correct. We’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors. (An interlude quieted apartment 254, the second floor, the apartments below, the apartments above. The old man watched a woman mop behind the captions he couldn’t see to read. He had no children. Nor anyone for that matter. But it was the life he chose. Or did this life choose him? He’d known a few women in his prime, even if they didn’t know him, not truly, not by name. His lies and life bridged by f—) He, the second floor, the apartments below, the ones above, heard the return of the bass heavy melody, of muffled banter, a question, I.M. Pei, $500,000, one question away from a million. But only the old man heard his heart invigorate in excitement. Waves of dramatic tension washed over the complex like the lights on the stage. The final question read. The contestant, who needed no help, phoned a friend, called his father. No one had ever won the million, but he was about to be a millionaire. The old man shared this feeling, himself winning many years ago. A guard and a vault his host to the prize. And even though he hadn’t played since, a SWAT team battered down the door. He, his neighbors, beside, above, below, heard the crash of the television off its stand. The game was over, the jig up. A phone call now his only lifeline. He never heard the final answer. 

A Portrait of Don With His Best Friend In a Dimly Lit Dive Bar 258 Miles From Home 

They were halfway on their trip towards blacked-out memories in New Orleans, crashing where they landed for the night in nowhere. The bar a few blocks down, Foxes & Hounds, shared its name with a strip club back home. The one traveler, black, had tattoos from his chin to his knuckles. The other, white, had shot glass sized holes in each ear. They both wore plaid shirts. Back home in the city, they blended in nothing special. But halfway from home, only their attire didn’t stick out amongst the peanut casings on the floor and the equal amount of burnt out bulbs as cowboy hats (4) on the heads of these don’t fuck with us blue collars in a state of rednecks. The air smelled like heartland, musk and sweat, salty with spit and dip and shells. A woman in what else but her finest rhinestone blouse and frilly boots, hair teased closer to God, sang Loretta Lynn in the open space that was the karaoke stage. They sat at the bar, ordered beers, avoided the peanuts. The karaoke DJ thanked our Mrs. Lynn for her rendition of “Don’t Come Home A Drinking.” Darn tootin’. Claps passed around the bar like an offering at church. The guy with tattoos said he was going to vomit the lizard. The guy with holes in his ears didn’t see him sign up for a song on his return from the bathroom. A beer and a half plus whiskies, for the taste of ambiance, later, they were no longer avoiding the peanuts, when “Welcome to the stage…” showtime. Darn tootin’. The old timey twang on repeat since they’d entered was replaced with shredded guitars blurred to distortion. The guy with tattoos screamed into the microphone the inaudible words that bounced across the screen as if it was this trip’s sole mission to fuck up these speakers. The guy with holes in his ears felt the air shift heavy, could see hate churn like the cigarette smoke around the bar, could smell that lard fried scent of them getting their asses kicked. So fuck yeah he wanted in. He rushed the stage, didn’t follow the words, didn’t matter, belted alongside his bash bro like a true fucking D2 Mighty Duck. The honky-tonkers boot scootin’ boogied their way to the make-shift stage, fists raised like pitchforks, their voices joining the vocal chaos, as in tune as red, white, and blue bald eagles eating apple pie. The charge was led by a God bless America Loretta Lynn, horns up, in all her rhinestone glory. 


Twitter: @dryanswords

“Gord’s still right pissed” by Sheldon Birnie

Motherfucker tossed a 10-pin bowling ball through neighbour Gord’s windshield by mistake there. August long weekend. I mean, motherfucker had every intention of tossing it through the windshield. Only Gord’s Aerostar wasn’t the intended target. Oh ya, motherfucker’d been drinking. Everybody was. Long weekend and all. No excuse. But what ya gonna do? Motherfucker figured buddy was stepping out with his ex. Probably was. But she’s free to do what she wants, right? 2020, baby. Live laugh love eh? So, buddy says something and motherfucker goes off. Fuckin right off, bud. Someone kept ‘em from fighting there out front of the Inn. Sent motherfucker packing one way, buddy stumbling back into the bar—thank Christ—or who knows what woulda happened. Remember last time? Anyways, motherfucker fucks off. Only, he’s back an hour later with the bowling ball. Dunno where he got it. No idea. Don’t wanna know. Gord, he was sleeping, passed out hard, at the time. Shitty news to wake up to. No fuckin doubt. He’s insured, though. Sure. But there’s your deductible right fucked. Nevermind explaining to insurance why motherfucker put a 10-pin bowling ball through the windshield and all. Gord’s still right pissed about it. Oh ya. Big time.


Sheldon Birnie is a writer, beer league hockey player, and father of two young children who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada whose writing has appeared recently in BULL, Rejection Letters, Cowboy Jamboree, Riot Act, among others. Find him online @badguybirnie