First Place, 1st Quarter-2018
THE HORRIBLE HEAT
by T. L. Sherwood - USA
We’re headed for another record breaker. A 90-degree day in Buffalo is a rarity, but in early May? I yell to Sal we oughta tweet to our idiot President and say, “Look, about climate change, it’s real, okay?”
“Don’t waste your time.” Sally packs the striped beach bag and tosses in an umbrella; I pull it out. “They just said there’s a chance of rain,” she snaps. I raise an eyebrow. “I’ll carry it.”
“Whatever.” Neither one of us has said the right thing in months. When she took to the gym, I told her she looked fine. She accused me of not caring about her health.
I drive to the Outer Harbor and at the beer shack, we order a locally brewed IPA. Sal fusses with a hangnail. A sign says, “No Alcohol Past This Point,” so we hang back and sit in the Adirondack chairs admiring sailboats in the distance. We ditch our empty plastic cups in the recycling bin and head down the sad excuse of a lawn to the water’s edge. “No Wading” the sign says, but lots of people are knee-deep. We join them.
I light a cigarette. Sal mutters, “Chimney,” then storms off. I watch her tiny ass and thin thighs dark against the glittering ripples. She stops. There’s a guy staring at her like he knows her. Sally leans over and the bag she’s been carrying almost touches the water. When she stands back up, she’s holding something. It’s small, bent, wounded. Blood drips from the creature. Is it a kitten? Shorebird? It’s too much. The guy walks to her, touches her shoulder. Sal tilts her head like when I first kissed her. I take a drag, exhale, remember the umbrella and wish she had brought it so I’d be shielded from this.
Second Place, 1st Quarter-2018
THE CONCH SHELL
by Pamela Morrison -New Zealand
“Get your hand off there you filthy girl. Don’t ever let me catch you touching yourself like that again.” Gran had flung her door open at 6.30, and seen the mound under the blanket where Alice was cupping the soft parting at the top of her legs.
Since then, secretly, she had let her fingers walk over other silky parts of her body. The tiny buds where her breasts were starting to show. The hollow of her smooth underarms, which she would turn into small caves, capturing her thumbs. Sometimes Alice would imagine it was her mother, soothing her. At other time she would surrender to the ache of this new, sweet, sharp longing.
When the idea came to her insides, it felt the same and different. She had been scanning the middle shelf of the locked cabinet in the dark panelled hallway. The chipped porcelain violets; the shepherdess cradling a lamb in her bunched skirt; the conch shell, folding in on itself, like the softest of soft pink skin…
Like a clock gone silent, Alice’s stopped breathing. Her mind emptied. A feeling was swelling inside her like a sea sponge. Then it came. The thought.
Tomorrow for the first time all summer, she was going to the beach. The offer from her aunt flared in her mind as she stared at the swirls of the shell. She remembered how she’d reached up last week and felt a tiny key on top of the cabinet on its plaited loop of starchy thread.
A thread in her mind, finer still, started linking, linking. The conch shell. The beach. The warm sand, and oh, the sea, the salt sea tumbling the shell, pouring through its crevice, lifting it, floating it, further and further out to sea.
She stood on tip-toes, reached up.
Third Place, 1st Quarter-2018
by Ofir Oz - Israel
“But we’ve been through this, mom, how many times have we talked about this? You knew it was dangerous, and you did it anyway. I was downstairs, you know, not in another town, sitting on the couch watching TV. You could’ve called me for help. Why didn’t you? You’re an old woman, mom, get that through your head, you’ve got to start taking care of yourself. Never mind the bathroom, the kitchenette, but going down the stairs by yourself? What were you thinking? What did you think would happen? So now you’re stuck with this walker, you heard what the doctor said, you’ve got to be more careful, definitely don’t try to go down the stairs again, because who knows if next time – God forbid – you’ll be able to get back up at all. God forbid! I don’t even want to think about it, mom, do you hear me? Do you hear what I’m saying? Just give me a holler next time, for any little thing, OK?
I want you to promise me, promise me now! Do you promise?”
They continued to meander slowly along, side by side, passing us by; the diminutive mother, 90 years old at least, hunched over the walker, and her large, heavyset son, holding her arm. From behind they seemed like a buffalo and a heron, stepping out to graze together on the savanna. I strained my ears to catch the mother’s response. She tarried, stepping prudently, patiently, long seconds passing before she spoke, and in a calm voice said:
“Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”
1st Quarter-2018 Highly Recommended Story
Snake Pit by Fatima El Kalay
“Have you decided?”
The woman narrowed her eyes and smiled at her own question. Across
the table, the girl sat round-eyed and motionless. Her lips twitched in
“It's not that hard.”
The woman crammed her fingers into her skirt pocket and pinched out a
skinny cigarette. She flipped a match, breathed out slithering smoke.
” You have nothing to lose, nothing you haven’t lost already. It wasn’t
that bad, was it?”
The girl closed her eyes. A memory clogged her mind, like some gutter in an alleyway stuffed with chicken guts and black potato peels. She
recalled dark faces, clammy hands, the clutch of serpentine bodies.
Then came the venom stings that called for screaming. It was a
nightmare. The girl opened her eyes but said nothing.
The girl gave the slow nod of a small child repenting for peeing herself.
The woman lifted both feet to the table. Her shoes were darkly
patterned, the heels pointy like fangs.
“Look how well you are dressed! You’ll be everyone's favourite, isn't that
The girl hugged her silk shirtsleeves. She looked down at her feet in
oversized shoes, slippery as rocks and just as heavy. Shoes to save her
soles the sting of sharp things, to protect her feet, but not her footsteps.
“You’ll have a great job. It’ll feed you honey and honeydew melons, and
juicy meat. The girl nodded. Her eyes spilled tears. The woman rose to
wipe her cheek, her touch chilling, almost cold-blooded. Don’t cry
darling; money brings dignity, even if it comes in an undignified manner.
It won’t always hurt. One day you’ll be thick-skinned. Your round eyes
will narrow to calculating slits. And you’ll know when to bite, when to
slither away, and when to swallow your prey whole.”
1st Quarter-2018 Recommended Story
How to Practice Becoming a Private Eye
by Paul Beckman - USA
Dress to look like “Everyman”. Carry a disguise kit: mustaches, sideburns, beards, makeup., clamp on false teeth, cane, hats, glasses (sun and regular). Carry a newspaper, book (How to Be a Gumshoe), magazine, (Saturday Evening Post), briefcase, or backpack. Pick out a stranger and practice following him/her for a day and change your look, your walk, e.g. stoop, limp, panhandle. Take pictures of your subject—both close-ups and with anyone he stops to talk to. Watch and follow from across the street keeping subject in sight using store windows, side mirrors on parked cars. Read Jack Reacher and Harry Bosch books. Fill out the paperwork for a private investigator permit and a gun permit (conceal carry). Do nothing with them. After two days of following your subject change your clothing to the opposite sex. Walk up to a complete stranger and head butt him without warning—forehead to nose—any Jack Reacher book comes with instructions. Take his picture with his cell phone. Take his wallet. Copy his address. Stop following the original person you’ve been following and stake out the person you head butted. Use his credit card and send an ostentatious “Get well” bouquet in the shape of a horseshoe—the kind and size the mob would send. With his cell phone take pictures of a gravestone, church, and funeral parlor. Mail him his camera and wallet. Use the return address of the person you were originally following.
Decide that the private eye business isn’t for you and make a list of threats your mother made to you
when you were growing up. Start with: I’ll break every bone in your body. You’ll never amount to anything. If Jimmy’s mother lets him jump off a cliff . . . ? Stop when sufficiently depressed to need a drink.
1st Quarter-2018 Recommended Story
Fourteen and Fifteen and Sixteen
by Megan Tieszen
Fourteen and she’s angry. She’s dyed hair, too much make-up and an attitude that doesn’t hide her new unwanted curves or her long legs. It certainly distracts from them, though, and that’s the point.
Fourteen and nobody likes her least of all herself, which is fine. Her attitude’s bigger, walls thicker, fury constantly turned up to eleven. The longer she has this body, the more wrong it feels, the more it chafes, like ill-fitting shoes.
Fourteen and a boy calls her beautiful. She’s offended and she tells him to fuck off and it’s just as well because he wasn’t interested I nothing but the backseat of his car.
Fifteen and they’re angrier yet. Their mom tries to wrangle them into a dress for their Aunt’s wedding but they’re not doing it, no way. Just something wrong about dresses, about heels, about girl things—girlish pronouns, even. ‘She’ and ‘her’ rub at them, foreign yet insistent and being called Ms. is physically painful. Whoever they are, it ain’t Miss.
Fifteen and they learn the word ‘Transgender and they think: This is it; this is me. This is what I am.
And I am not alone.
Sixteen and he’s starting to figure out who he is, how he feels, that his soul and his body don’t match.
He knows he’s a boy and all evidence to the contrary is agony. He’s short hair and baggy clothes and the attitude that he never did drop, that he wears like a shield.
Sixteen and he sits his parents down because he can’t go on this way. I have to tell you something, he says and You can tells us anything, they reply, you’re our daughter.
Sixteen and he’s sat them down. Begins Actually… and reminds himself to breathe.
Actually, I’m your son.