The Snake

By Jessica June Rowe

Shedding her skin is painful; she only does it every 100 years, when she can no longer bear the easy bruising and varicose veins.

However, when she emerges, skin sweet and shiny-taut, there is no hurt. She wonders why but can’t recall; her sharpest memories are back in the cells of her old skin. It remains—the whole, wrinkled shell of her—in bed with an elderly man who married her when she was beautiful.

Beautiful again, she attends her old-skin funeral and watches him and the children of that body cry. She cries, too. In 100 years, she’ll understand why.

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Jessica June Rowe writes with her headphones on so no one will try to talk to her.

Pretending It’s All Okay

By Louella Lester

After she loses the baby, she takes to wandering all night, returning to his house at sunrise, though she can’t see much light shining out through the smoke and fog. Her stomach still pokes out from under his cardigan, the one she stole off the clothesline while his wife went to fetch more clothespins. She brushes back her seaweed hair, pinches her cheeks into a healthy glow. Pats her belly, sure there’s still a tender promise tucked there. Pulls the peashooter from her skirt pocket, and grunts a puff that sends a pea on its way to his morning window.

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Louella Lester is a writer & photographer in Winnipeg, Canada. She writes to get ideas out of her head in an orderly fashion. Her Flash-CNF book, Glass Bricks, was published by At Bay Press in April 2021.

Henry

By Preeti Chandan

There is Henry’s father, walking the dog. Striding robotically, jaw clenched, jutting out like a punch. Leash pulled tight. The tiny dog strains, yelps. As always, he ignores me as I walk by. Henry’s mom waddles behind, greets me in her sing-song way.

Sometimes, Henry walks the dog. Patient, as it sniffs around. His arms hang like knotty twigs; ribs etched on his white singlet. No longer the snotty kid bullied throughout school. No friends in college either, he told me when I bumped into him last, eyes melancholy, brittle.

Haven’t seen Henry in weeks. He is fine, mom says.

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Preeti Chandan is a former journalist, she now works as a sales and marketing professional in Southern California. She digs her annual gig as a publicist for a film festival in Los Angeles.

The Last Hustler in Baltimore

By David Simmons

He put flame to the end of a contraband cigarette and watched the organic constructs rise from the asphalt like stalagmites. Ichor the color of balsamic vinegar ran through the streets, soiling his shoes.

He rolled the bundles in the palm of his hand like Baoding balls. Not a customer in sight. The line outside the carfentanil clinic stretched around the block.

Am I obsolete? he wondered.

Mylar balloons released at nearby funerals filled the sky, turning it a reflective silver.

“You holding?”

A young man with tusks stood before him, crumpled money in hand. Maybe there was still hope.

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David Simmons lives in Baltimore where he has worked as an optician, electrical estimator and drug trafficker.

At a Work Conference

By Ashton Russell

I met a man from Iowa. He talked about his family farm, fields as far as you can see, corn that tastes as sweet as sugar, beef that melts in your mouth. I wanted to reach over and touch his face, take him up to his room, and get lost in his funny accent and brown arms. Watch our hands roam our bodies as our wedding rings shimmer in the moonlight. Afterward, we could have a drink on the balcony, talk about our spouses and moments that linger long past the night we remember and forget.

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Ashton Russell writes “because she has to.”

Crackers

By Brian Beatty

Hurley remembers saltines. Too well. He remembers when saltines were practically the only kind of cracker you could find in grocery stores and restaurants. He’s that old. Hurley’s goddamn old enough that graham crackers are, without apology, his favorite late-night snacks. He’s old enough to know, as well, animal crackers, the ones they used to sell in tiny boxes with red string handles, with box fronts colorfully illustrated to look like circus train cars teeming with domesticated wild beasts, so-called animal crackers are, in actual fact, cookies, not crackers at all. Hurley’s not fooled.

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“I write because I don’t sing.” – the writer

I’ll Go and Get Some Milk

By Slawka G. Scarso

As we sit in this café so far away from home, I tell you I’m married, now, I have one child.
“Alma,” I say, showing you a photo.
You say she looks like me when I was her age, and tell me of your dog.
“Are you happy?” you ask then.
I nod.
“That’s good,” you say.
I don’t talk about all the years in between; you don’t ask me what it was like to be left a preteen by my mum; and we don’t mention that day when you left home, door ajar, no note, with the smallest excuse.

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Slawka G. Scarso has published several books on wine and works as a copywriter and translator. She lives between Rome and Geneva with her husband and her dog, Tessa. She’s currently submitting her first crime novel.

When You Don’t Like the Answer to Your Question

By Keith Hoerner

I open Facebook and a post asks, “If you could hug someone in heaven, who would it be?” After disliking the syrupy tang of the question, I immediately think of my abuser, my mom (not mother, she was never that), and my mind demands that I write. Write THIS. But to what purpose? She made me kneel in front of her like God (move over, Almighty) for years—and suffer at her hands. At 59, I still wrestle with the residual effects of having lived in blackness beneath her. And, yet, now’s when I realize, it would still be her.

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“I write to address life’s issues: light and dark.” – the writer

The Beggar by the Taco Cart

By Jim Latham

The beggar huddled near the taco cart. His skin was dirty, his clothes ragged.
When the old lady offered him tacos, he refused.
She insisted; he accepted.
She passed him a plate with a shaking hand.
He rose, his skin glowing, his rags radiant.
The beggar took the old lady’s hand. Her back straightened, her aches disappeared, her face became smooth.
She attempted to kneel, but he refused the worship.
“Eat with me,” he said.
They ate sitting on a bench.
“Look,” he said, indicating the setting sun.
She looked. When she turned back to the bench, he had vanished.

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“I write because my life goes to hell if I don’t.” – the writer

The Maple Leaf

By Jim Bates

I was one of thousands of scarlet-orange maple leaves hanging in the tree that fall. I fell to the ground ready to decay and turn to dust. But that little girl saved me when she picked me up and showed her mother. “It’s so pretty!” They brought me home, pressed me in waxed paper and hung me in a lovely frame on her bedroom wall. Now, years later, her daughter has left home. Her mother sits heartbroken and alone on her daughter’s bed. She looks at me and cries. I wish there was something more I could do to help.

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“I write to try and bring a bit of happiness to people.” – the writer