by J Benjamin Sanders Jr

The bus pulled over to the curb and Agatha heaved her impressive bulk from the seat. She could feel the large vehicle shift under her ponderous weight as she held onto the rails and moved toward the door. Behind her, she heard children titter and start to sing.

“Fatty, fatty, two by four. Couldn’t get through the bathroom door.”

Hearing the song, she ducked her head and smiled. Reaching the front, the diver turned around and opened the door with a frown, muttering softly when he saw her.

“Good Gawd Almighty, that is one ugly woman.”

Hearing him, she covering her mouth and smiled even wider. Stepping out onto the sidewalk she waddled toward her apartment, humming happily to herself. Pausing a moment to watch a group of children playing, she scratched her sagging belly, and one of the young girls came and stood a few feet away.

“Are you a witch? My mama says you’re so ugly you have to be a witch.”

Tilting her head back, Agatha laughed. A deep rolling cough that rose from deep in her wide chest, and the girl ran away. Reaching her friends, they stood together and looked back, pointing rudely despite Agatha’s wide smile.

Reaching her building, she crossed the lobby and waited for the elevator. The door opened and several people stared out fearfully at the massive woman with the short kinky hair, doughy face, and teeth like a barracuda. Linda Kearns, the slim blonde from the second floor, held her hand out and stopped Agatha before she could step through the door.

“Would you mind waiting for the next one? Fire codes, you know.”

Ignoring the look of distaste, Agatha giggled and stepped back with a nod, her eyes delightfully bright as the door closed and she pushed the button for the next car. Reaching her floor, she opened her purse and fumbled for her key. Inside, she set her purse on the counter and shrugged out of her coat. Stepping over to the table she picked up a massive and ostentatious trophy and caressed the glittering sworls of metal and polished stone and laughed loud and long. No matter what other people might say and think about her, Agatha knew she was special. More special than the world could ever know, as she breathlessly read the engraving out loud.

“First runner up, 1,034 th Galactic Spiral Beauty Pageant.”

◊ ◊ ◊

J Benjamin Sanders Jr
J Benjamin Sanders Jr is a member of the Dallas Fort Worth Writer’s Workshop. His short story “Witchlocks” was published in Sanitarium Magazine, “The Scavanger Hunt” was published in A Lee Martinez’s anthology Strange Afterlives, and “Little Red” was published in Mysterical E.  “The Last Ballad of Nikke Stone” was published in the anthology, Night in New Orleans.

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by Ed Nichols

Sarah loved watching The Walking Dead. I told her that show was crap, and then a few other choice words about how life is short and it is crazy spending your time glued to the TV. Her mind was going to turn to mush, I said. “I could never watch that crazy series,” I added. She got up off the sofa, went into the bedroom, packed her suitcase, and walked out the front door, leaving me stunned and all alone in the apartment. I raced to the hall and hollered for her to wait a minute: I was sorry! Let’s at least talk. She kept right on going, down the steps and out to the sidewalk. I ran back inside the apartment, raised the window and hollered again. Wait! But she had already turned the corner and was out of sight. What stuck with me, for a long time, was the fact that she never even looked back, never acknowledged that I was talking to her. Her mind was somewhere else that day.

I closed the window and slumped down on the sofa. I thought about going after her, but it dawned on me that she would probably go over to Marlene’s apartment. Maybe stay with her a couple of days. That eased my mind. One night last summer, we’d argued and she had called Marlene, and went over to her place until we cooled down. That’s what she would do this time, too. No doubt. I would wait until tomorrow to call her at Marlene’s. I picked up the novel I had been reading and found my place. No use worrying. She would be okay there, and I would tell her I was sorry and out of line saying what I did about The Walking Dead, and about her watching too much TV. She never complained about my reading mystery novels all the time. I missed her already. I was sure we would get back together.

The next morning, I called Marlene’s early, because I knew that she left for work around 8:30. She answered on the second ring. “Hello, Jack. What’s up? How’s Sarah?” she said, as a sinking feeling hit my stomach. She was not there!

“Have you…seen her? I mean we had an argument…she bolted out of the apartment and I figured she was going to spend the night with you.”

“I’m sorry. No. Gosh, Jack. I haven’t seen, or heard from her.”

“Whew! I don’t know. I’m thinking…maybe—“

“Maybe she called Mark, her brother.”

“Yea. Maybe.”

“Let me know…if I can do anything. Okay?”

Mark said he hadn’t seen her either. He wanted to know more of the details of our argument, and I told him. I said it was nothing really. We’d argued before, about that show, The Walking Dead.

Mark said he didn’t care for the show either. Mark had served two tours in Iraqi. He was still having some PTSD problems.

“What about her cell phone,” he asked me.

“It’s here, on the table. She canceled it last week.”

“Well, that might indicate that she was planning to leave you, or something.”

“Yea. Maybe so, but I…I never had any indication. It’s just strange.”

Mark and I agreed to keep in touch—let each other know if we heard from her. A friend of Marlene’s said she figured Sarah moved south. Sarah never liked cold weather. She would get depressed and in a foul mood whenever it snowed, or the temperature dropped low. I put feelers out for a while, at Starbucks where she filled in occasionally, at Sonny’s Steak House where she worked nearly two years before we met, and some others. I didn’t think I should contact the Police. She was technically not a missing person. She had left on her own. “I prefer to be free as a bird,” she had said once, when I brought up our future and whether we wanted to stay in the apartment or try to get a house—maybe get married. I should have known.

Three months went by, and then coming home one afternoon from the library, I pulled a small envelope out of my mailbox and immediately recognized her handwriting. I tore it open and read:

Dear Troy,
I know you probably do not care, but I wanted you to know where I was and what I have been doing since I walked out on you. I live in Atlanta. Watch The Walking Dead this coming Friday night. Episode number 238.

I called Marlene and Mark and told them about the letter. They both came over to my apartment Friday night and we watched the show. About five minutes into the program, before the first commercial came on, a group of humans were standing on top of a balcony shooting down onto a swarm of zombies trying to climb up to the balcony.

Marlene said it first, “There she is. My God!” We all stood up and stared.

“Look at her shooting that rifle,” Mark said.

We couldn’t believe it. Sarah was on TV, an actress! She looked so good to me, even sexy. She had on jeans, boots and a very low-cut shirt. She handled the rifle with skill and a relaxed familiarity. She grimaced at the zombies as the camera zoomed in on her face. It was amazing. I will never forget her first episode. I determined then that no person can really predict what another person will do—what another really wants to do. Everyone has secret longings, and we all covet different dreams. Sarah went after her dream, and she found it. I still miss her, and I don’t miss a single episode of The Walking Dead.

◊ ◊ ◊

Ed Nichols 
Ed Nichols lives outside Clarkesville, Georgia. He is a journalism graduate from the University of Georgia, and is an award-winning writer from Southeastern Writer’s Association. He has had many short stories published, online and in print. He is currently working on a collection of stories.

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Free Range

Free Range

by Tom Bont

Frank loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar. “How long do you think they’re going to march?”

“Until they get hungry, of course,” Milford answered. “They’re hippies and fanatics. They live on each other’s couches until the sheets start smelling. Then they move on.”

Both men stared out the office window and down at the street where scores of people waved picket signs painted with naive slogans that preached the virtues of giving animals the same rights as human beings.

Frank’s favorite read, “Bite Me!” Yeah, I’m sure you’d like that, you moron. “They have no idea how dangerous these things are,” he grumbled. “The least little thing can set one off. You saw what Victor did to that electrician who was wiring up his cage.”

“Of course, I did,” Milford scoffed. “I defended you in court, remember?”

“Yeah, well she’s going to wish she’d died in there before it’s over.” Frank rubbed the back of his neck. “I just don’t understand it. Anyone in their right mind knows you can’t just turn an alpha predator loose where humans live.”

One of the picketers jumped up onto the hood of a rusty station wagon and talked into an electric bullhorn. “Victor is not an animal! Victor has rights!” It wasn’t long before the rest of the crowd picked up the chant.

Frank turned from the window and sat down behind his desk. “Not an animal? What is he then? It wasn’t too long ago that we were shooting them dead in the streets.”

Milford leaned on his cane and limped over to the wet bar. “We’ve eaten that apple.” He dropped ice cubes into two tumblers. “It’s called the Intelligent Wildlife Protection Act.”

“And I’ve done everything the Act requires,” Frank exclaimed. “Secure enclosure, plenty to eat, regular medical exams, television, blah, blah, blah.” He took the proffered highball from Milford and downed it in one swallow. “Mil, I paid good money for him, he’s well cared for, and now they want me to turn him loose! What has happened to this country? Where has the common sense gone?”

Milford sank down into the stuffed leather couch. “The Supreme Court feels it needs looking at. I’m not so sure they’re going to overturn it though.” He swished his drink around in his glass before taking a sip. “You heard my argument. There are too many precedents in our favor.”

“Maybe.” Frank grimaced. “I’m just glad that bleeding heart, Jackson, recused himself.”

Milford laughed. “We wouldn’t have stood an outhouse fly’s chance in a frog pond if he hadn’t. If there was ever a conflict of interest, that was it.”

“Yeah, well I’m sure he’s waiting on the outcome just like the rest of us. If that section of the Act falls, his daughter won’t have to live in that private zoo any longer. Like Victor and all the rest, she’ll be a federally protected, free-range werewolf.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Tom Bont
Tom Bont is a United States Navy veteran, has a degree in computer science from Louisiana Tech University, and lives in north Texas with his family where he owns a small software engineering company. Even after 24 years of marriage, he still spends as many hours as he can on the dance floor with his wife. He is the author of two self-published books and dozens of published essays and gaming articles. His work has appeared in various online magazines, in Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers from Eakin Press and in The MOON Magazine (coming April 2017).

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Hood River Man Saves Cat From Tree

Hood River Man Saves Cat From Tree

by Henry True

Old scratchy was yowling up at the top. The orange-coated tabby was sure able to cause havoc from afar. Many figured she knew how to get down from the tree, but only want their attention. After all, what cat climbs a tree, but does not know how to get down? The neighborhood had put up with enough of her crying for the last few nights, so they decided to call the Hood River Man.

He was your typical handy man, in terms of skills. Many did not think of him as their typical man. His arms were dotted in purple lines, and his clothes were a mismatch of ragged patches. He could lay siding, or place new shingles on your roof, but his appearance off set much of his usefulness. In a small town, your options were limited on who you could call to get work done. Most residents either did not have the skills or the time to take care of their own home maintenance. Therefore, the Hood River Man always had a steady supply of clients, even if they did not extend their hand in friendship. It was an arrangement that suited him well.

After work, he always slinked back to his residence to sleep. Beneath his eyelids, he watched shadows crawl back and forth as cyclists and children crossed in front of his sunbeams. He doubted any of them knew they were blocking his light. Their sounds of play echoed through his screen door, and he imagined a life outside of his own. His life as a handy man had not been his first career choice. He won the job in a contest. The small town lacked a repairman to undertake the many jobs they required. Their last worker retired, and left them to face the world of faucet repair, circuit breaking, and leak closing alone. Their town council decided to pay for the training and services to retain a new repairman in their time of need.

The Hood River Man answered their ad for two reasons, a desire to leave behind his current residence, and a desire to learn new skills. The town council did not care for his reasons, but gladly trained their only applicant. He sat through the classes, which did not take place in the community. While he was trying to pay attention to an older man explain the difference between grout and mortar, he thought about why the community did not have their own classes? He had yet to move there, but it seemed strange that a community so invested in it’s own upkeep did not attempt to train any of it’s own citizens.

He offered to teach his own weeknight class at the community center. The town council felt the residents were too busy. They had children to pick up from school, and soccer practice to take them too afterward. They had meals to make, errands to run, and taxes to file. The Hood River Man let the suggestion die. He continued to take jobs to fix squeaky doors, and tighten loose hinges. It was easy money, and he still liked to eat.

Eventually, he moved to his tiny rent house right above the creek, not a river, as the kids like to call it. His job was at first to wait by the phone from nine to five on Monday to Friday, but the jobs kept being called in. He was there only source of relief when the shower faucet broke, or the pipes beneath their house burst, and now for when a cat was stuck in a tree for too long. He approached the tall pine tree, and looked up to see the tiny orange cat dangle onto a thin branch.

“Isn’t this a fireman’s job?” He asked the woman who called him.

She shrugged, before scowling at his joke.

“I think they have fires to fight.”

The Hood River Man did not carry a ladder tall enough to reach the top of the tree. He would have to shimmy up the trunk in order to catch the furry critter. If she did not want to come down, he was in for a hell of a fight. He was not a pest control specialist, but he had been pulled into jobs of collecting raccoons from attics. He asked for some money to take additional classes, but the town had yet to hear complaints about his possum collecting, besides his own, so they denied his request. While climbing up the tree to retrieve a stray, he wished he had fought harder. Maybe they could at least invest in some new equipment.

At the top, the cat was not unfriendly or welcoming, just scared. He tried the typical tactics he remembered from his own childhood. Both the pressing of lips to squeak out here kitty kitty, and the soft whistling that was supposed to entice the beast to slink over, failed in to lure the cat into relinquishing her grip. He tested the strength of a lower branch, and began to edge out towards her. Her claws dug in tight to the swaying branch. Instead of trying to pry them free, he stroked her back hoping to hear a purr that might loosen her stranglehold. Her eyes turned to the strange figure that grasped her. Was she willing to trust the Hood River Man? The townsfolk had often trusted him, even if they did not care for his presence. He spent much time inside their homes, and greeted them as friendly as he could muster. The cat was a completely stranger. He had never seen her stalk around the block. Her meows were a completely new phenomenon on this street corner.

Two strangers stranded in a tree. He hoped it was enough of a connection to pull her out. It did not have to be because as she was considering crawling over to him, she arched her back, revealing a space between her stomach and the branch. He scooped her, and placed her between his arm and the tree trunk. Shocked at being tricked, she tried to wriggle her way free, before unfortunately being faced with the ground below. Then, she attempted to claw her way into the Hood River Man. Her grip, as tight as it was on the tree, now felt the same on the Hood River Man’s side. Still, he managed to walk her down to the base of the tree.

He offered the cat to the neighbor lady who called, but she turned away and walked back into her house. The town was not a place for animal shelters, so the man took the cat home. Maybe, it would one day repay the Hood River Man for the marks it left in his side.

◊ ◊ ◊

Henry True
Henry True is a writer born and raised in Austin, Texas. He has been previously published in Sigma Tau Delta’s The Rectangle.

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Knowledge of Things Forgotten

Knowledge of Things Forgotten

by Daniel Wilmoth

Some things are learned, and some things are forgotten, and some things are known without being learned. The crow watching sunlight glint from the brass buttons of Charlie’s jacket knew many things.

Charlie’s jacket was jean, and it was new, and he was proud of it. At school, he had told the other children to look at it, as if they didn’t already see it. He had wanted them to share his excitement.

Ahead of him on the sidewalk, two older boys from school, Gunner and Greg, were standing near a white fence with a paper ‘Wet Paint’ sign taped to it. They pretended not to notice Charlie as he neared.

When he passed between them and the fence, Greg rammed into Charlie with his shoulder, knocking him into the fence. Charlie felt the wet paint sticking to his jacket as he bounced off. He lost his balance and fell to the sidewalk.

He scrambled to his feet, checked his sleeve, and found paint. By a strange coincidence, the shape was like a bird in flight.

The shape looked like a hieroglyph from ancient Egypt, and it was an ancient symbol, but it was older than any Egyptian hieroglyph. It was so old that no human still remembered its meaning, or its power. Some things still knew, though. The crow began to caw.

“What did you do that for?” Charlie asked, furious.

Greg didn’t have an answer.

Gunner smirked and said, “Looks like you got some paint on your nice new jacket.”

Greg followed his lead. “Yeah, uh, that’s too bad.”

Charlie balled his fists, furious. “You did that on purpose.”

“Duh,” Greg said. He and Gunner exchanged a smirk.

“You’re a jerk,” Charlie said.

Several robins landed on the power lines above them.

“What did you call me?” Greg asked.

“A jerk.”

“Apologize,” Greg said, moving toward him. “Apologize, and maybe I won’t do it again.”

“Apologize! For what?”

“For calling me a jerk.”

“No way,” Charlie said.

More birds landed on the power lines, arriving singly and in small groups. A vulture landed on top of a telephone pole.

“You asked for it,” Greg said. He grabbed Charlie. Charlie hit him with a big, looping punch that landed awkwardly against the side of his head and did nothing but make him madder. Charlie tried to pull away, his feet sliding over the sidewalk. Greg let go, and he fell.

Charlie tried to push himself up, but a kick to his ribs threw him onto his side and brought bile to his throat. He looked up and saw Gunner and Greg looming over him.
“Tough guy, huh?” Gunner asked.

Over one hundred birds were now on the power lines, and a flock of starlings maneuvered in the sky above.

“Help!” Charlie screamed. He looked desperately to the windows of nearby houses, but no adults were there to save him. He tilted his head back and screamed as loudly as he could, hoping that someone, anyone, would hear him. “Help me!”

The birds descended on Gunner and Greg.

◊ ◊ ◊

Daniel Wilmoth
Daniel Wilmoth is a writer and economist living in urban Maryland. He enjoys finding the wild places hidden amid asphalt and concrete. Read more about him at

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Sturgeon and the Dawn of Time

Sturgeon and the Dawn of Time

by Stephen Howard

When it all began, was anyone caught in the explosion?

I should be able to tell you shortly.

Everything that ever was, has been, and is yet to be. And so it goes. Time is not subject to bureaucracy, which is why it is always on time. So long as you’re certain, then you’re always on time. It tends to bend itself around you, I’ve found. I am Sturgeon, Sturgeon Pickering. I have a pot of tea, a fold-up table, a red and white striped deck chair, and a wonderful view. I appear to be resting on a nebula. A chromatic concoction, its wispy lavender blurs into indistinct blues and greens, punctured with bright spots. And it’s all dazzling beneath me. Whether I should be sat here isn’t my business. I am 83 years’ old. Or I was. It’s hard to keep up and a lot has happened to me in order to get here, probably too much to go into detail. But I can remember when it started. The way it would always have started, nearly 14 billion years from where I am right now.

In the lab, late at night, surrounded by diagrams on discarded scraps of paper, Wilkins showed me his final theory. Numbers and symbols performed an elegant dance, possibly to Twist and Shout, across the board as he inputted data into his little laptop in a frenzy of equation forming. Time isn’t linear, he declared. It is changeable, slippery, flexible. And it can be shifted around you! Well, what do you think of that?

I can’t remember what I said to Wilkins. Would I have said anything different if he’d shown me his machine’s designs after the moment happening right now? One could argue he did, of course. Travelling as I have, taking this pilgrimage through the patchwork quilt of time, seems to leave a mark on one’s memory. Wilkins warned it was to do with the human body being susceptible to our own concept of time. Not that of the universe. So it can struggle to adjust. I remember this because I wrote it on the back of a receipt that I slipped into my jacket pocket.

Sipping my tea, sitting comfortably, I look ahead at a blank vista. Below me, the nebula fades to black. Nothingness. It’s just me, my red striped deck chair and my pot of tea resting upon my little fold-up table. I take a quick look at my watch.

And then there came a pop. And then something like the sound of fizz escaping a cola bottle when you first open it. Except this one had a lot more fizz.

Before my eyes it all burst forth. Everything that will be. The moment in which everything is just potential passed and everything simply was. And then I saw it all before me. My parents’ joy at my birth, my first day at school, college, work, the day I met my wife, the day our daughter was born, the day my mother died, and not long after when my father died, the birth of my grandson, the premature death of my daughter, my divorce, my illness, my death, and beyond. And so it goes.

The nebula has returned beneath me. Its colours are much the same as before. I knew this to be so.

I could see now I could not have prevented my mother’s death, nor my daughter’s, and felt relief. But then I considered how, though I hadn’t been responsible for the bad things in my life, I hadn’t been responsible for the good either. I felt oddly empty.

Slowly, my tea went cold. So it goes.

◊ ◊ ◊

Stephen Howard
Stephen Howard is a 27 year old writer from Manchester. He self-published his first novel, Beyond Misty Mountain, in 2013. Stephen also had his flash story, “Non-human Animals”, published in The Flash Fiction Press. Stephen works in marketing and is currently studying for a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. One day he hopes to quit his real job and just write stories.

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