Patrick Siniscalchi, “An Unfinished Death”

“For the thousandth time, it’s not funny,” I say to the wisp of
my former wife, whose opacity varies from translucent to so dense
I almost forget she is dead. Again, she dons the black jeans and
white button-down blouse she died in, not the simple navy dress I
selected for her funeral.
“You used to have a sense of humor.”
“I still do.” There wasn’t any point arguing with her prior to
her demise, and even less so now. If I flee to another room, she’ll
walk through the wall to continue the discussion.
She takes the chair opposite me and pulls out a nail file.
Whereas Marley’s ghost rattled chains, my wife constantly files her
nails like a woodworker coarse-sanding a piece of furniture. The
rasping reverberates throughout the house. I imagine the neighbors
complaining, then remember only I can see or hear her.
“Why must you always do that?” My body tenses with irritation.
“For the thousandth time, I’ve told you—they grow much
faster since I died. I’d always heard that your hair and nails continue
to grow, but this is ridiculous,” she says with a devilish grin, more
substantive than the rest of her form. She raises the back of an
open-palm hand to her face, regards her fingernails, and returns to
filing. I consider suggesting the grinding wheel in the garage when
she changes the subject. “Do you get lonely without me?”
I wait a long moment before responding. “Of course, I do.”
“Yeah, sure. You didn’t seem so lonely when you dated that
Gretchen from down the street last month.” She spits out her name
like something vile. “She appeared a bit too eager to date the poor
widower,” she says in a sad, affected, sing-song voice. With her
paused file resembling a violin bow, she delivers a side-eye glance,
then says, “She’s too young for you.”
“Well, it’s over, so it matters little now.”
“Yeah, she wasn’t too impressed with your performance, or
should I say, lack of it.”
“You’d have trouble, too, if your dead spouse was sitting on
the edge of the bed while you were trying to have sex!”
“Trying is the operative word here.” She chuckles. “You
could have closed your eyes.”
“I did, but I still knew you were there. You’re always there—
grinding your nails, stopping only to give biting commentary.” I stand
in frustration at the prospect of no escape. “When will you go?!”
“You know when.” Her presence, starting with her narrowed
eyes, solidifies with the coolness of her tone. After I can no longer
hold her gaze, she smiles and says, “You could make love to me.”
“It won’t work.”
“How do you know?”
“We’ve been over this. When you touch me now, it’s like
when you think there’s a bug on your arm, but when you look,
nothing’s there. Mist feels ten times heavier than your touch.”
“I don’t think you love me anymore.” Her sly grin reappears.
“Not this again.” Exasperated, I head into the kitchen, where
she is already seated at the table.
I brew a small pot of coffee while she grinds away at her
nails and my nerves. Out of necessity, I drink so much more of it
lately. Restful sleep is foreign to me, for she also invades my dreams.
As the coffee maker gurgles, I pull a mug down to the counter, then
grab a second one. “You want a cup?” She scrunches up her face
with a fake smile while shaking her head.
She says, “Why don’t you use the stevia in the little pineappleshaped bowl in the upper cupboard like you used in my last cup of
coffee? You know, the sweetener with something extra, something
undetectable, untraceable in it.”
“I won’t do it,” I say through gritted teeth.
“Oh, it’s not so bad… imagine two large talons clutching
at your heart. Then a vacuum develops throughout your body that
is quickly overtaken by a white-hot pain, which radiates through
every nerve. The last image your mind registers is the slightest curve
growing at the corners of your spouse’s mouth.” Her nonchalance in
describing the smile she mimics makes it even more unsettling.
“I said, I’m not doing it!”
“Not today, but one day you will.”

Brynn Lietuvnikas, “SteamPunk Revolution”

It was a feeling almost unknown in 2134. This thing couldn’t
see her, but she could see it. Mindy was physically the next best
thing to being inside of that tome. She sat with her back arched as
she curved over the book, a bundle of papers tied together. The book
wasn’t peering into her thoughts; it didn’t know how to document
the time she spent on one page and compare it to another. It created
this butterfly buzz inside of her stomach, which was ruined when
Plier opened the steel door to their concrete apartment. Mindy’s
heart rate escalated. The bright white ceiling lights seemed to dance.
Plier was supposed to have been out all night. He had taken the
12:00 P.M.-7:00 A.M. shift at the robotic hospital. She whirled to
the clock and found that it was already 7:45. She turned back to
Plier, whose eyes had never left her. He stared, and Mindy could
hear herself breathe. She hadn’t done anything wrong; what she was
doing wasn’t technically illegal.
When a minute passed without him speaking, Mindy had
to break the silence. It was a mounting weight she had to throw
off. “It’s just…smut,” she blurted. Plier smiled, covered his face, and
laughed bitterly.
“For you, it probably is. It is romanticized, I’m sure.”
Mindy’s face flushed with anger. When Plier called something
“romantic,” he meant “stupid.” Plier came forward, gently tugged
the book from her hands. If he had done it more forcefully, Mindy
would have fought back, but in this case, she just let the volume slip
away. Plier silently read over the page she was on.
Then he smiled. It was an expression full of venom. “So I
tell you, younger generation: they forged you in the smiths like
their machines and sent you out. Stop taking the updates to your
figurative programming. Stop plugging yourself in at night. Rise
with me and we will reclaim what they have taken–” He broke off in
laughter. “Is this man a preacher or a revolutionist? His tone is all off.”
Mindy’s nose scrunched up as her face tightened in on itself.
She began to shout something, but Plier’s soft voice cut her off.
“Well, he certainly isn’t an editor. Look at all these grammatical
errors.” He moved to show her the page again. He was inviting her
to see the book with his eyes; She refused.
“He had to get it out in a hurry.”
“Had to spread the Good Word?” Plier grinned, making a
reference to a long-lost religion. His smile quickly faded, replaced
by concern. “These words may be pretty, but they’ll get you killed.”
“I haven’t done anything wrong!”
“Not yet…” He read over the page one last time. His eyes
half-closed, too tired to fight anymore. Mindy wanted to take that
as a victory, but he looked too sad. He passed her the book back
with a sigh. In the morning, he’d say “You can’t fight them. They
have tanks; you have poetry.” But right now, he could only sigh.
Mindy got up. She went over to Plier’s bed on the other side
of the sporadically lit room. She pulled back the covers for him. He
nodded and crawled in. Mindy went back to her spot. She opened
her book again and started to read. She kept her posture better this
time. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the light come on
from Plier’s tablet. His thumb scrolled across the screen, leaving a
data trail he couldn’t see, sculpting him in ways he didn’t know. After
an hour, he turned off the device and closed his eyes. Mindy put her
book down and went to sleep. She had a meeting in a few hours.

Naomi Sheely, “The Theatre”

I mock the audience’s unified gasp from the plot twist that
this love disaster has been building to. I can hear the crowd clearly
through the thick wooden doors that I pass on my way to my private
booth. What a bunch of ninnies. Even a blind woman could have
seen his betrayal coming. Maybe one could ignore the late nights at
work or the sudden interest in putting some extra time in at the gym,
but smiling when he’s texting someone else? No ma’am. That cannot
be excused. Neither can the fact that these simpletons were surprised.
I slow as I come to a door with a charred wood finish and
take a deep breath. For a moment, I can smell the fire, the power
smoldered into it. I caress my golden nameplate before entering.
A single white chair sits on the red plush carpet of the booth.
I quickly navigate to the seat, smooth the nonexistent wrinkles from
my bright red pencil dress, and fold into the comfort of the chair.
“You missed it,” calls a familiar voice from the booth to my left.
“I assure you, I missed nothing.”
A smaller, shocked gasp rolls through the audience at the
audacity of whatever tripe the mooch is spouting off now. I don’t
bother to turn my attention to the stage yet.
Instead, I focus on my neighbor’s booth and the light
scraping sound of drawing a tissue.
“It’s tragic, really,” she says over the sound.
“Is it?”
“Oh, you wouldn’t get it.”
“No, I wouldn’t.” I agree, dry eyes and bored with what we
have become.
I stand, sickened by the display and everyone here.
“Where are you going?”
I ignore her even as I hear the rustling of the trademark
navy-blue dress she favors.
“What are you going to do?” she tries again.
I run my fingers along the handle of the bat I keep perched
against the back wall before grabbing it firmly.
“What needs to be done,” I answer as I exit the booth.
The heavy wooden door slams shut loudly behind me, the
nameplate with its engraved “Anger” rattling in its holder.
I swing the bat confidently as I pass doors with their own
nameplates: Grief, Love, Joy, Anxiety.
I head for the stage, confident in my upcoming part, an
unwilling spectator to this travesty no longer.

Hailey Stoner, “Coming Home”

Previously published in BOMBFIRE Literary Magazine

Coming home is terrible. It’s terrible, and I’m not quite sure
why. My husband loves me. Every morning, he makes me coffee
and sneaks a note into my lunchbox before work. He always lets me
play my music in the car, even if it’s something he doesn’t like, like
Beyoncé or Backstreet Boys. He leaves every Friday night open on
his calendar for our date night, and he runs me a bubble bath every
Sunday night.
My son loves me. He dedicates every painting he makes in
art class to me, and only me. Each time I go to the grocery store, he
insists on coming to help with the list. I was the subject for his reallife hero project in English class, and named me “real-life Wonder
Woman, but ten times better.”
I’ve been sitting in my car, parked in the driveway for ten
minutes now, staring at the closed garage door. I don’t want to go
inside. Talking to my husband is exhausting. He asks too many
questions. Can you pick up Noah from school tomorrow? Who’d
you talk to at work today? Do you still want to do poker night with
Danny and Vannessa on Saturday?
I don’t want him to see me through the front window. My
legs stick to the leather seats. It feels like I just ran a marathon by
the time I finally psych myself up enough to get out of the car. All
I want is to fall to the ground and stare at the clouds until my eyes
are so dry that it hurts to blink again, but I don’t. I force my legs to
move toward the house.
As soon as I walk through the front door, I start to sink. The
floor pulls me under, slow like quicksand. It sucks the shoes off my
feet, and I use the banister to pull myself up, but it holds onto my
ankles. I think it’s going to pull me all the way under, keeping me
hostage in my own home before it stops at my knees.
Coming home is terrible. My husband is already in the
kitchen making dinner. He asks where I’ve been. I should’ve been
home two hours ago.
I try to tell him I was sitting in the office parking lot because
I didn’t want to drive home. I try to tell him my brain finally gave
me a little break, letting my mind drift in the nothing for a short
time. To tell him coming home is terrible. Work is terrible. The
grocery store is terrible. The park, the gym, the school. It’s all so
awfully terrible.
I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. My tongue is like
a brick, cemented to the roof of my mouth. There’s a tickle in the
back of my throat, and I try to clear it, but the tickle grows, and
grows, until I’m overtaken with a coughing fit. I cough, and cough,
and with every cough, I sink a little lower into the sand that has
become the floor.
At the stove, my husband flips a patty, the grease sending a
puff of steam into the air as if nothing here is out of the ordinary.
I don’t know why he can’t see the sand. He says he will pick me up
from work tomorrow, so he’ll know where I am.
The steam makes me cough, and sink, and cough, and sink,
until a fish comes flopping out of my throat. It lands right in front
of me. It flips around, gills opening and closing, gasping to breathe.
Its little black eye stares up at me, begging for me to save him. The
sand has taken me up to my knees.
Coming home is terrible because I have to continue being
the good mother, and the good wife, even when my mind won’t
let me. Even when it feels like I’m living in somebody else’s skin,
in their house with their family, while my body floats in a tank of
water somewhere.
My son runs down the stairs and yells Mommy! when he
rounds the corner. He runs across the sand’s surface as if it were the
usual hardwood and jumps into my arms.
I sink to my hips. The longer I hold him, the further I sink.
His lips move as he speaks, but I can’t hear anything. He waves his
arms, and my ribs sink under. My husband sprinkles seasoning into
the pan, and my son turns to tell him a story after he realizes I’m
not much entertainment at the moment. When he opens his mouth
again, I hear the sound of water. Like I’m in the ocean, swimming
with the fish that came from my throat.
My son jumps from my arms, and runs over to my husband,
watching him set the plates. He loves to help in the kitchen, but my
husband doesn’t trust him with those tasks just yet. I try to move
towards the table to sit, but the sand makes it nearly impossible to
use any of my lower body. It feels like I’m melting into the floor. It’s
going to trap me. My husband says something, but still, I can only
hear the water.
It starts dull and distant– the water –but it grows. The harder
I push against the sand, the louder it becomes. The boys sit at the
table, ready to eat, and my husband waves me over to join. I use
everything I can to move, but the sand is too heavy.
Suddenly, the walls lean and crack. The house creaks, and
groans, and the water is strong. It swooshes so loud in my ears that
for a moment I believe it will crush my skull. I reach for my husband
and son at the table, but the walls come crashing down before I can
get to them. Water pours into the house through every crevasse,
quickly filling up to the ceiling. As I drift underwater, I see them
eating at the table as if nothing is wrong. I want to shake them from
their trance. To wake them, and save them, but I don’t. I just float.

Susan Quinn, “Waynesboro”

George sat on the sewer cap spinning the back wheel of his
bike. He had flipped it over, standing it on its handlebars and had
taken off the Jack of diamonds that made the wheel sing. He liked
the zing sound the card made against the spokes when he rode, but
that creep Joey had called him a baby. So, he had taken it off. It spun
mutely now and so; he heard the grind of the moving van as soon as
it turned onto his street.
The furrows between his brows deepened and he glowered
just a bit more, someone else to call him Georgie Porgy. He spun the
wheel again, watching, as the van lumbered inch by inch up the hill.
It struggled with the weight of its load; the engine screamed; the
trailer squawked. Its gonna blow, George thought in anticipation.
But it didn’t. Instead, the moving van made its troublesome way
past him. George reached up to spin the wheel of his bike again and
a face peered out through the cracked and dirty window of the cab.
She stared down at him. He stared back. The van crept along. The
wheel spun.
The truck pulled into the driveway next to George’s house.
So, someone finally bought that old thing, he thought and spun
his wheel again, faster this time. The air whizzed as the spokes tore
through it. The truck came to a stop and hissed as if in exhausted
relief. The passenger door opened with a loud painful screech but
stopped in only a few inches. Then, it slammed all the way out with
a shriek. George saw the girl’s boot sticking out after her angry kick
and then watched her pull it back just before hopping from the
truck. One corner of George’s mouth lifted just a bit. It didn’t erase
the frown on his face, but he watched now with more interest.
The girl looked at him for a long moment and then cut
across the weeds towards the sewer where George sat watching.
“Charlie! Where are you going?” a man’s voice bellowed.
She turned for just a second, said something to the man
who had appeared around the back of the truck and then continued
towards George. The slight smile on George’s face dropped back
down into a frown and he turned away ignoring her, but his palms
began to sweat, and his heart picked up a beat. He heard every
crunch of her steps through the scorched weeds as she moved
towards him. He listened to the silence when she stopped next to
him, his eyes cutting sideways towards her.
“Hey,” she said.
He turned to face the voice and squinted up into the sun.
George couldn’t see her. She was just a dark silhouette against the
glare and then she moved slightly, blocked the intense light, and
cast a cool shadow across his sunburned face. He could see her now
and the scent of something sweet floated around his head.
“Hi,” he said.
She sat down next to him, and his mouth went dry.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“George,” he said with a look that challenged her to make fun.
“Hi, Georgie.”
He cut his eyes at her, but her smile was honest, and it
didn’t sound so bad coming from her. He smiled back, much to his
surprise. “What’s yours?”
“Charleston, but people call me Charlie.”
“They named you after a city?” he asked.
“It’s where I was conceived,” she said with a roll of her eyes.
“Wow,” George said, “Good thing you weren’t conceived here.”
“Yeah.” She grinned and nodded. Her fingers toyed with the
buttons of her shirt. It was a green plaid button down with the
sleeves cut off and rolled up to make a cuff. He knew they were cut
off because one side slipped down and exposed the frayed edge. The
tails of the shirt hung loose over her shorts which were also cutoffs,
faded denim and instead of sneakers, she had on worn and dirty
cowboy boots. Her hair was long and dark and pulled back into a
thick ponytail. She reached up and spun his tire.
“I’m going into the seventh grade here,” she told him.
“Me too.” He grinned at her. “Mrs. Peebles. She’s a mean
old hag.”
“Yeah. I thought it was gonna suck.” He paused and then
grinned at her. “But maybe it will be OK now.”
She glanced up at him and smiled, then looked away, and
reached up and spun his tire. “Maybe it will.”
She had freckles on the bridge of her nose and her eyes were
green. A rosy blush filled in the gaps between those tiny brown dots,
and he realized he was staring at her.
“Charlie!” a voice yelled from behind them.
She turned towards the man and her ponytail brushed
his cheek.
“I’m coming.” She turned back to George. “I gotta go help
unload and stuff. See ya later, Georgie Porgy.”
He just waved; his mouth was glued shut. The thought of
that feathery sweep against his cheek engulfed his mind. She stood
up and brushed the dirt from her butt and then headed back the
way she had come. He dragged his tongue off the roof of his mouth
and stood also.
“Hey, Charleston.”
She turned with a grimace and stood jaunty in her shorts
and boots, the heat and little puffs of red dust shimmered around
her. “You can call me Charlie. Everyone does.”
He shrugged. “I kinda like Charleston.”
She laughed lightly. “What do you want Georgie Porgy?”
His hands searched his hips for pockets he didn’t have. So,
he spun his wheel instead.
“I got nothin’ to do. I could help.”
She smiled then, all the way to her emerald eyes. He was
wrong. She wasn’t beautiful after all. She was radiant. She dipped her
head towards the truck, an invitation, and the world changed forever.

Bria A Moon-May, “Rooted in Honesty”

“Thank you for tonight,” said Daisy to Marigold.
“Any excuse to spend time with you is a good one,” Marigold
replied as he pulled his date closer to him.
Her skin was soft as petals.
Daisy’s eyes drifted to the small, metallic circle at Marigold’s
right temple, and her smile wilted.
She looked away, and he felt the chasm between them.
Hesitantly, Daisy spoke, “You know… I haven’t wanted to
push, but it’s been a while now… You say that you love me, but I’d
really like to see it for myself.”
She turned her face to his, a delicate blossom searching for
the light.
Hurt, Marigold responded, “Haven’t I been good to you?
Don’t you trust me?”
“You can’t keep me in the dark forever,” she insisted, thornier
than before, “I’ve been open with you, I want a partner who can do
the same.”
He could see the resolution, clear as day on her face. The
colors of determination and courage radiated from her own metallic
circle at her right temple.
His face burned as echoes of his father’s voice reverberated
through his mind. Lock that thing down. Real men don’t make a
spectacle of their feelings.
“Marigold, please, I need to know that you love me.”
“Am I a game to you? Are you just playing with me??”
“No! Of course not, you’re the most important person in my-”
“Then show me!”
The wind was cold…
The blazing red of her Mood Ring softened, deepened,
tinged with colors of pain and sadness. She explained herself, “If I’m
just something to pass the time… I need to know. Please, Marigold.”
Once he showed her, she would see everything. She might
not want him anymore, damaged as he was.
“Ok, but… Please don’t hate me.”
He pressed a clammy finger to the metal in his temple.
She gasped and stepped back, hand flying to her mouth in
shock. Tears welled in her eyes and what must have been a dozen
emotions played over her features in a dazzling array of color.
He knew the deep purple of fear all too well, shifting into
teal confusion, into the warm tones of sympathy and compassion,
into tenderness, and was that love coming through? He could hardly
believe his eyes.
“I didn’t want to burden you with this. I’m sor-”
She lunged forward, arms outstretched.
He flinched but could not escape her loving embrace.