ARMILUSTRIUM by Rebecca Otter

My dad plays chess like a mathematician. Each of his turns stretch on while he contemplates the board from every angle and I forget my grand strategy. To entertain myself in these gaps, I look where his gaze falls. When he mutters to himself, is he frustrated with my playing? Or is that another tactic meant to confuse me further?

When he finally chooses one lucky piece with a heavy sigh, how that piece gleams in the TV light as he lifts it—slowly, as he does most things. My dad is okay at defense. But he’s ruthless at offense, felling knights who once had no reason to doubt their security, distracting me with someone expendable, all without warning from his cold eyes. After years of losing, I still can’t learn to sacrifice a strong soldier for the good of the army.

After I lose, we sit on the couches for a bit, then the move I always see coming—he packs his computer, laces his shoes, and plants a kiss on my hair. He leaves me with a box of polished wood and returns home to his new queen, unapproachable Venus, the one he readily sacrificed his entire army for. I’ve been watching his strategy for a long time, and so much learning to sacrifice makes it hard to remember when our war should end.

Read More »

HOLD YOUR BREATH by Spencer Litman

Meet your wife in the hallway. Do not make the door handle click by turning it with too much force. Avoid kicking the toys scattered like landmines on the carpet. You do not want to wake your daughter, but you need to see her breathing. Walk to the crib rail like a procession of two. Place your hands on your wife’s shoulders in case she melts like she did when she found your son cold-dead in the middle of the night. Repeat this ritual while your daughter sleeps every forty minutes for the first six months of her life. 

Try not to blame yourself even though you heard him crying much earlier and rolled over thinking, he’ll go back to sleep. He always does this. Babies are resilient, and I am so tired.  

No matter how many times you have gone back and forth reassuring each other that there is no blame to be had, there is a chasm of rumpled sheets on the bed. In this forty-minute reprieve you feel close to her. Maybe if you do this enough, it will be a habit, this closeness, something you both do without thinking.

Your little daughter sleeps on her stomach, face pressed into chevron patterned sheets, butt sticking up into the air, snoring just loud enough to hear it over the soft ocean roar from a white noise machine. Your wife rests her head on your shoulder. Feel her exhalation, her relief when she sees the shallow rise and fall of your daughter’s back, unlabored and steady. 

Breathe to this fragile rhythm that only you and your wife know is fleeting, capable of slipping off while no one’s looking to somewhere implacable and permanent.

Leave the room. Close the door, still careful not to catch the mechanism in the handle. Lay in bed. Make your leg a bridge over the chasm and feel your wife’s cold toes against your shin. Hold your breath for thirty-four minutes.

Read More »
wilhelm scream

THE WILHELM SCREAM by Gregg Williard

Before her senior year of high school she spent every day of the sweltering summer on the side porch of her parents’ house writing an essay on existentialism while her little brother, back to her and arms outstretched for balance, inched past the windows outside, wobbling on a ledge no deeper than his heels until he lost his balance and plunged, screaming, into a sea of lava five feet below, then climbed up the drain pipe and did it again, all morning, every morning: inch along the ledge to Kierkegaard, lose balance to Heidegger, wave arms to Hegel, scream piercing terror to Dostoevsky, plunge to lava sea with Sartre, climb up the drain pipe with Nietzsche, then inch along the ledge with Kierkegaard, again.    

Years later in bed she reenacted the scene (and the sound that had haunted her for years) for her first husband Thomas (the man who showed her she was a writer, and later, that she was nothing at all). Thomas the Cinephile swore her brother’s movie scream actually had a name: “The Wilhelm Scream," a stock sound-effect used in more than 200 films, originating in an early ‘50’s western titled Distant Drums, wherein a Private Wilhelm, that first screamer, dives to his death clutching an arrow in his chest with that distinctive yelping shriek she thought belonged to her brother alone.  

Thomas played the wiki sound file for her. He was right (always, in those days).

Read More »

SCUFF MARKS by Alecz Yeager

The corner of a tortilla chip rested vigilantly against the surface-smooth chest of Ivan’s “School is overrated” t-shirt. Next to it pooled a puddle of drool that was escaping from the twelve-year old’s chapped lips. The remainder of chips lay hidden beneath his hand that limpishly slept inside a plastic cereal bowl. It was five o’clock in the afternoon, and after eight hours of middle school boredom, Ivan had come home, sat in his favorite chair, cracked open a root beer, and began eating chips and salsa: a perfect mirror to his father’s drunken habits.

When his mother woke him up to set the table, he unstuck his lashes from one another and wiped the sleep from his face. He wasn’t even hungry at this point, but Mother had cooked dinner, and Ivan knew that Father would be no such help.

He lifted his body from the pleather, sweat-drenched chair and placed the last bit of chips on the ground for later. He knew that Pepper would probably find her way to the bowl at some point, and he’d only have to refill it later, but for now, Ivan could see the Golden Doodle wagging her tail in the yard and deemed his snack safe.

The placemats that hid in the third drawer from the left of the stove were always used for everyday dinners. Mother only let Ivan pull out the fancy cloth mats if company was over. The plastic mats were plain except for a rooster pattern that bordered the edges, and they came in a pack of four. Ivan’s family only needed three, and that was a good thing because one of the mats was melted in the middle from when Ivan accidentally put it into the dishwasher. That was the same day that Father caused the scuff mark on the dining room table when he thought that Mother had been the one that made the mistake. The other three placemats covered the table’s mark nicely, though, just like Mother covered her own.

Read More »


Reaching with a blind hand, Rebecca pulls a loaf from the back row and reads its scarf. David buys the wrong sort; he buys bleached, ghost-bread, even though he knows she doesn’t like it. The price of bread is an economic barometer. There’s a trick to selling a house: bread in the oven. She sniffs the loaf. Bread is as old as farming, as old as the domesticated dog. She wants a dog. David doesn’t. In the UK, we throw six million loaves into our waterways each year. This disrupts the whole ecosystem and is bad news for amphibians, fish, and ducks. Bread is wrapped in plastic. She watched a TV programme about the Pacific Trash Vortex. There was a time the baker would take a loaf from the shelf and hand it over, dusting the counter in flour. No plastic. Her nan had a breadboard, breadknife, and a square yellow gingham towel to cover the bread. Only self-checkouts these days. Less contact. Next to the self-checkout machine are three loaves, white, the ones David buys, each with a sticker: ‘Still Fresh.’ She hovers the barcode over the glass. Beep. Contactless. She hovers the card above the machine. Plastic hovering above plastic, a sliver of space between, like reiki, hovering hands, ch’i. Contactless. She moves the card closer, narrowing the space, and she can’t remember the last time David kissed her, or a time he went down on her, or a time they did that thing with their hands, interlacing fingers so it looks like a zip on a coat. Beep. She swaps the loaf for one that is ‘Still Fresh,’ and walks out of the shop, the loaf, expiring with every second, held close to her chest.

Read More »

ANALOGUE by Sara Kachelman

I share a face with a famous killer. Before I was nobody. Now women ask to have their pictures made with me. When we stand together I slide my hand down their backs until they quiver. It thrills them. I am a dangerous man! The killer kills women. He says it is not sexual. I know him. We stood next to each other in a lineup. I admit he is attractive. We shook hands at the station. “You are good at what you do,” I said. “You are good at what you do,” he replied. Then he winked. I had the extraordinary feeling of watching myself on film. They released him that day. Lack of evidence. I know I should not like him, but I do. He is a man who does not take himself too seriously. The killer has a good supply in Amsterdam. He passes a woman in the bike lane after the bars close. He has no preference on how they look. As I said before, it is not about that. Maybe she looks slow or small or kind. He crashes a few meters in front of her and grabs his leg, moaning. Then the woman stops and offers to call an ambulance. When she gets off her bike, the killer jumps her and drags her aside.He's a strangler. He is consistent that way. But women are so stupid, they continue going out at night. They pretend they are smarter than the others before them. Many died before he was caught. They caught him in a public latrine. People have no respect. Before the killer was arrested I squatted in a cathedral with other young foreigners. But now, with endorsements, I may be able to afford an apartment of my own.  I am the most popular disc jockey in town. Dark wave, doom metal, post punk. Many women want to fuck me. I take them to the park at night. I put my hands around their necks. I squeeze until I feel their pulse in my hands. They beg me never to stop.
Read More »

ANIMAL HOUSE by Kara Vernor

Hard Rock Hare clamped headphones over his ears and hopped around in front of the stereo. He liked The Clash and Black Flag, but today he listened to Johnny Cash. He thought Cash was good too, if not a little somber.

Stoner Hare reclined on the couch and smoked a joint, first watching his roommate’s pogo, then becoming distracted by the involuntary twitching of his own nose. He focused on it, his eyes crossing a bit, and tried to still it with his mind.

The Tortoise barged in, as much as a tortoise can barge. He said, What’s going on in here? I can’t concentrate with all the banging.

The hares rushed him, laughing, and bounced back and forth over his shell.

Cut the crap, the Tortoise said. I was trying to meditate. Now I’m going to chomp some lettuce. Maybe you’d like some, too?

Stoner Hare would have eaten a couch leg had he been offered one. Hard Rock Hare never turned down food. He’d toured extensively in a multi-species grindcore band and learned to eat whenever the eating was good. They joined the Tortoise around the lettuce bowl until they grew sluggish and full, eventually tilting onto the floor.

Do you think there’s life on other planets? Stoner Hare said gazing at the popcorn ceiling above them, its moon-like divots and bumps.

Most definitely, said Hard Rock Hare. They’re here already, running biological experiments. How else do you explain ferrets?

(His drummer had been a ferret.)

The Tortoise thought to defend ferrets but instead said, Let’s focus on our breath.

The hares breathed themselves into a soundless slumber, the headphones bellowed I'm stuck in Folsom prison, and the Tortoise, his mind now alight with thoughts of alien life, tapped a foot to the beat

Read More »


I live with my best friend in a mansion. My room is a small box. Sometimes we go swimming in the mornings, other times only I do, in white underwear that's small and classic and only gets caught up sometimes on the insides of my thighs. It's purple outside when we finish swimming, and I use my grey towel to dry up so I can have wheat thins inside. We close all the windows and watch tv on my best friend's tv set while we sit on hard wood benches. Then we go to sleep before the Sun comes, in a big bed, and I'm always on the outside, looking at the wall. My best friend gets close with her whole body and no sheets. She wraps her arms around me and whispers I'm her little spoon as I go to sleep. I pretend the walls are glass, and I can see the people outside with strollers pass our mansion's grass while they go for walks, jogs, in sweats or jogging pants and with their hair tied up in pony tails. When I fall asleep I dream of my best friend's hands wrapped around me, tight because she wants to show me that she's there. She is always holding so tight that I am almost red from it.

We have to keep close in this big, empty house where we live alone. It's so easy to forget everything and wander into a dark corner. I wake up almost every day to knocking above us, like there are people walking on another floor. “There are 89 rooms and 5 stories in this house,” my best friend says, “And there is never any knocking.”

Read More »

A WANTED WOMAN by Paul Beckman

I told him not to call anymore so he started sending me postcards. I had my lawyer tell his lawyer onay on the postcards or any mail. Then the texts started. This time we went to court and the judge gave him a restraining order and we left figuring that was that and no more and good riddance to bad rubbish but the planes started flying low and slow pulling messages—I Love U— I Miss U, etc.

So it was back to court and the judge threatened him good and added planes to the list and threw in drones for good measure. Hot air balloons. We can’t think of everything so I hear what would have been our song blasting.  At Last by Etta James over and over and over and I stood on my deck holding my cell phone up so he waved goodbye only to show up in the balloon the next day when I was sunbathing in the yard and no music but he started dropping leaflets until my yard was covered and yes they all said the same thing—Marry Me—I love you.

So the next day back in court and the judge takes a shotgun out from under his desk and hands it to me. He tells me I can shoot the balloon down. So the balloon is out of the picture and he’s gone to ground and I ask around if anyone has seen my Maid of Honor and the looks and coughs and subject changes come out and one day I get a wedding invitation to their wedding and no I’m not going and no I’m not pissed at Sally but I’m not going because I’m afraid these two have cooked up a surprise wedding for me and I don’t want to have to use that shotgun.

Read More »
bram riddlebarger

MARBLES by Bram Riddlebarger

"Sit down and take a load off," said Jack.

"We've been working like the queen's bees."

"Yeah," said Tommy.

He was tired.

"Which one did you go out on today, Tommy? I thought I saw that #4 sagging a little."

Jack wasn't joking.

Tommy was real fat.

He was tired, too.

"No," said Tommy. "I stayed on shore and flirted with that cute little Amy. The one with only one eye. Besides that, she's real cute."

"Are you shitting me?"

"Nope," said Tommy.

They drank warm beer out of brown bottles.

Jack couldn't believe this Tommy.

"Hitting on the ladies, huh?" said Jack.

"You know, I'd watch out for that one-eyed . . . "

But that was as far as Tommy would let Jack go.

He let Jack have it with some real dialogue.

"Now, hold on there, Jack," said Tommy.

"Just watch your mouth about the one-eyed women.

Amy seems okay."

"Okay?" said Jack.

"Have you lost your marbles? Or did this one-eyed Amy eat ‘em already?"

Jack was a mean-spirited man.

He had watched Amy switch around in the office at the building beside the water many times himself.

He had wondered what it would be like to be with a one-eyed woman.

Tommy said, "Yeah. She ate them."


"She ate them."


"She ate them."

Jack emptied his brown bottle of beer.

He looked at Tommy.

He squinted at Tommy with one eye closed.

And he knew that they weren't there anymore.

Poor guy, he thought.

No marbles.

Jack stood up to get another warm bottle of beer.

Tommy said,

“We both got something missing now."

Read More »