Polar bears like to go dancing in the shallowest bend of the Biekenfau River. They splash gaily in the rocks. They wave colored flags on wooden sticks. They wear coral tutus and bang on tambourines.

The bears come to dance at night when the moonlight makes their fur gleam silver and they look like comets streaking across the frozen river. But sometimes, during long wintery dusks, they even tango too.

The nearest town to the bend in the river is two miles south; an old miner’s settlement, still standing, even though the gold is all gone. Full of broke farmers, loners, and religious zealots, it would have died out long ago if it weren’t nestled between three valleys and lined with balsam firs.

One of the town’s smallest residents is Alfie, who lives with his great uncle down near the bend. Alfie’s a sable-eyed boy with tanned eager limbs. At night he goes down to the river, wearing his grey flannel nightshirt and green rubber boots. An old mutt with yellow eyes follows him, and together they watch the bears dance from the stoop in a tall tree.

Neither of them is afraid. The bears don’t frighten them, but Alfie is careful all the same. He never joins them in the water. He never claps or cheers out loud. The bears are performers, but they’re still bears.


Alfie’s great uncle runs the only bar on the main road.  A run-down place in need of paint. Even the carpet forgets its color. No one cares much for show around the Biekenfau River, except the bears.

After school, Alfie sits on his great uncle’s bar stool, stretching out a cut of leather as he does his homework. The old yellow-eyed mutt lies at his feet, gnawing on a stick. A man trudges into town with a hessian tote on his back and orders boiled potatoes and warm beer at the bar.

He nods at Alfie, “Mind if I sit?” He asks as he sits down next to the boy.

Alfie and the mutt look him up and down. The stranger is neither big nor small and seems tidy apart from his natty beard and a twist of reddish curls.

“Are you a geologist?” Alfie asks.

Geologists come regularly to explore the town. The gold may be gone, but rich sediment remains. Interesting to geologists, but not so much to anyone else.

The man smiles. “Do I look like a geologist?”

“Well, you’re wearing plaid jacket.”

The man laughs. “No. What else you think I do?”

Alfie frowns and looks to the ceiling.

“Truck driver,” he says.

The man shakes his head.

“A drifter then.”

“Is that a job?”

Alfie nods his head. There are a lot of drifters in this town. It must be a job.

When the man finishes his beer, he calls out to Alfie’s great uncle, “Any lodgings around here?”

“We’ve got a room,” Alfie’s great uncle says. “Bit out from the town. The boy can show you if you want.”

The man trails behind Alfie and the old mutt into the dark. They follow the hush hushof the water. Everything else is silent. The polar bears are not dancing in the river tonight.


The next morning Alfie has already gone to school by the time the man wakes up. He is tired, but feels content to wake up in the wooded quiet.

“I have to work,” Alfie’s great uncle says. “There’s bread in the larder and drying meat out on hooks. No need to lock up. Critters are our only visitors and they don’t use a key.”

The man nods and retires to his room. He spends the day in between sleep. At dusk, he hears a scattering sound in the kitchen. Alfie is cutting bread and setting down plates.

“Uncle thought I should come home. Make sure you’re ok.”

The man nods his head and runs his left hand through his beard. 

“So, what did you do today?” Alfie asks.


The boy lets out a grunt. He can never understand why they work children so hard at school when adults seem to just sit around and drink beer.

“I was tired.”

Alfie shrugs his shoulder. His father was tired too before he disappeared.

“I’ll go fishing later,” the man adds, as if to make amends. “Get you something good for breakfast.”

“I wouldn’t do that at night,” Alfie says.


Later, much later. The moon is silver overhead. Alfie is down by the river wearing his grey flannel shirt and green boots. The polar bears are rehearsing a new dance. It’s a bit like the Florentine men who throw their flags into the air, but the bears are having trouble catching the poles. Their paws are not so deft.

The man is there too, but he’s hiding deep in the scrub. He’s watching the bears dance. He’s never seen it before.

The next morning at breakfast, they are both yawning.

“Stop catchin’ flies,” Great Uncle says to them. 

“You look tired, boy,” says the man.

“So do you,” says Alfie.

“Ah, that’s because I went out walking last night. The moon woke me up.”

The great uncle frowns. “You must be careful ‘round these parts. Especially after dark.”

“Where’d you go?” Alfie asks, pouring himself some tea.

“To the river bend and back.”

Alfie frowns at the man, but says nothing more. He grabs his school bag and swings out the front door. The mutt slinks alongside him all the way to the school.


Later, much later, the boy returns. His mood is dark. He eats his dinner without a word and then sits on the back porch with his arms folded, face creased. The man sits on a step nearby. He is paring wood with an old knife he found in the kitchen.

Eventually, Alfie speaks. “You can’t tell anyone what you saw.”

“You mean about the bears?”

Alfie tightens his arms around his chest.

“Your great uncle knows.”

“I mean anyone outside of the town.” The boy leans forward and lowers his voice. “Or the scientists will come and the bears will leave.”

The man passes the boy a stick he just carved. It’s a line of bears dancing the conga. It makes the boy smile.

“Do you think the bears will dance tonight?”

The boy nods his head. They are working on something new. They won’t want to stop.

“Let’s go back to see them.”

The boy shrugs his shoulders, but he likes the idea of someone coming with him. Like his father did before.


At first, the bears are shy. They know their audience has grown. There are a few fumbled flag passes, but they soon begin to find their rhythm.

“Don’t you want to dance with them?”

Alfie’s eyes widen until they fill up his face.

“They’d eat me if I did. They are bears, you know.”

The man smiles and nods his head.

“Well, I can think of worse ways to die than being eaten by a bear.”

“Like how?”

“Hmmm, falling into a silo and suffocating on wheat. No dancing there.”

Alfie grins and shudders.

“Or swallowing a piranha that’s still alive so it eats you from the inside.”

This time Alfie laughs.

“Getting gored by an angry goat while you’re pinned against a prickly cactus.”

“Or by a wild boar with two heads,” Alfie adds.

“Terrible,” says the man.


The next afternoon Alfie finds a note in his room. The writing is shaky, seismographic.

Forgetting to breathe.

Eating soap and drowning in bubbles.


Solving algebraic equations.

Alfie stares at the list for some time. He can hear the man coughing in the room next door. It does not stop. It only gets louder. He wonders if the man will die and then the coughing stops. He adds Coughing to the list.


Soon the two of them are down by the river every evening. The old mutt comes along too. They all squeeze into the tree’s stoop and watch the bears dance. Sometimes, as they watch they make lists of deaths that are worse than being eaten by polar bears. It makes them laugh loudly and the bears lose their rhythm.

Occasionally the man coughs. His face begins to whiten. Now it’s the shade of a heavily sugared loaf.

One night Alfie starts to climb the tree, but the man decides to squat down by the river instead.

“Don’t worry,” he says. “The bears won’t get me.”

The bears are late, but eventually they come. Splish-splashing through the water. Pirouetting and falling down. Getting up again. They wave their flags at little Alfie until he waves one hand shyly back.


Later, when the moon rises between the trees, the bears gesture to the man.

Come dance with us.

The man looks up at Alfie with a broad grin and leaps from the river bank. He wades towards the bears, his arms above his head, laughing and shouting. He starts to sway.  He is dancing with the bears. Flipping fish into the air. Spinning hula-hoops. Turning cartwheels. Tossing a bowler hat.

Alfie is shouting and laughing too.  But he stays high up in the branches.

The man dances with the bears until the moon begins to set and Alfie falls asleep on the back of the old mutt.


In the morning, Alfie wakes up with the sun. He feels stiff and unrested. The bears have gone. Only a bowler hat remains on the ice.

He hurries back home, but the man isn’t there. His great uncle hasn’t seen him, and the man’s room remains untouched.

“Wanderer,” says the great uncle. “Probably got eaten by them bears.”

Alfie nods his head.

“There are worse ways.”



Joanna Galbraith is an Australian-born teacher and writer who currently lives in a tiny hilltop village between Pisa and Florence. She has been writing short stories for a number of years now and has had them published in numerous journals, including the highly-acclaimed Clockwork Phoenix series. When she isn’t writing, she likes to pass her time butchering the Italian language (with love) and drinking red wine.




my son
lets me sleep
two or three hours
at a time
and that’s just enough
for the body to function
but not nearly enough
for the spirit

I’m trying though

it’s all I can do
now that he’s here

to try and hold on
to those parts of me
that were once full
of fire

for the drifter’s life

those parts of me
that drove alone
down the desert highway
breathing in starlight
chasing the moon
as it bled
back into the earth

sometimes I see it hanging
outside his window

it’s paler
than I remember
by the passage of time

but it still glows

like a distant memory
it still glows

as I sing
my lullaby




Nathaniel Sverlow is a freelance writer of poetry and prose. He was born in 1983 in San Diego, California and has since spent most of his time hunched over a laptop randomly pressing keys. He currently resides in the Sacramento area with three cats, one incredibly supportive wife, and a newborn son. His previous publishing credits include Typehouse Literary MagazineMap LiteraryMarathon Literary ReviewDefenestrationBlack Fox Literary Magazine, Literary Orphans, and Squawk Back.


I imagine the worst things happening in air. When he texts me that the plane had to land because it was leaking he is not afraid – he doesn’t realize this is my nightmare made real. I do not fear monsters or reapers or rapists, I could face them, could maybe defeat them. But I am terrified of suffocating. I have too often imagined that lack of oxygen. Or my lungs filling up with liquid, ballooning me into a darkness that lasts forever. Into nothing. My husband tries to make me believe that when he is gone it is only temporary, but I only trust in what I see before me. Survival instincts keep me grounded. I don’t sit with my back to a door and I always choose the seat nearest an exit. Nothing lasts forever, except for forever. And maybe the past, always replaying. Unchangeable. I woke up angry today because I dreamed he left me for another woman who wore lipstick and wanted children. Pregnancy scares me – it isn’t just the shifting hips and the ripping open. It’s the responsibility that threatens to anchor me down. It is the sign on the highway that flash amber and silver alerts, and the way that I drive by it and wonder how many years it will be before that sign flashes warnings about nuclear fallout zones. Not too long ago the Larsen-C ice shelf came loose from Antarctica and I learned that calving is the most beautiful word we have for breaking down or detaching. A few weeks ago it rained heavily and our neighborhood flooded – waist deep in some parts, trash left drying in the streets for days. This weekend we went tubing with friends and now I’ve got bruises from all the rocks I couldn’t see until it was too late. Lately it seems like everything either begins or ends in disaster and I wonder if it has ever been possible to fix a broken thing.



Kelly Jones grew up around Raleigh, NC. Their poetry can most recently be found in The Coraddi, Oracle Fine Arts Review, Rascal Journal, and Reality Hands. Having recently graduated with a Masters in Library and Information Studies, they are currently spending a lot of time filling out online applications and reminiscing about the ridiculously long list of jobs they’ve worked and places they’ve lived. Their summer goals include befriending people with access to pools, spending quality time with their dog (the wonderful Mr. Beaux Jangles), and attempting to keep some houseplants alive. 




You were baking shrimp. It was evening in Brooklyn in late October. Yellow leaves were falling off of trees and smacking the bay window. Your mother had just died. Pete was gone, too; had been gone.

The oven dinged. You checked your phone: four missed calls from your father. You walked over, made sure that the cat wasn’t around because he always hopped into the thing, and opened the oven. It was almost time for honey.

Your mother had taught you to drizzle a dark honey onto them just before biting into the shellfish when you were young. It made them syrupy and gooey. Thinking about it made your mouth water, made you miss your mother.

Your phone chimed. Another text from your father: Honey bear—call me when you can. I have news on the service.

He shouldn’t call you honey bear. He shouldn’t call you anything at all. You left the shrimp in the oven and picked up your fluffy lump of a cat. He was purring. You felt his chest move with this rhythm. You put him down, leaving your phone on the counter and the shrimp in the oven. You walked out of your apartment.

You walked out onto the street and it was cold. You hadn’t changed out of your drawstring shorts. You looked down: pink, veiny legs. You paused at the bus stop, telling yourself that you’d wait only five minutes then you’d head home. You’d return your father’s text. Hell, maybe you’d call him.

A bus came barreling down the street within a minute and you walked on, pulling your shorts up past your waist, something your mother had always told you was “unladylike and quite odd.” You missed her.

You swiped your card onto the reader and waited for the approving noise to chime. You sat down next to a family of four.

You used to be part of a family of four. You were nineteen when your little brother killed himself. You knew it was an accident. You hoped it was an accident. Pete was addicted to Xanax. The little blue pills you tried a couple of times in high school took your brother and killed him. He’d buy them by the bag-full and take five pills a day, but it was mixing that really got him, your sweet baby brother. You walked in on him.

It was over Thanksgiving weekend and you remember walking down the basement. Uncle Charlie was staying with you and so Pete spent most of his time down there. You had found him passed out before so when he looked unconscious on the floor, you got angry. You yelled, “Pete! What did you do now?” and you stomped over to him, kicking his side with your fuzzy sock-covered foot. You kicked him again. You kicked him harder and harder until you rolled him over with your foot and saw his eyes. They were open, bloodshot, full of something you’d never seen before. Pete was gone. You kicked your dead brother.

At the funeral, you couldn’t stop thinking about how you kicked him hard down your family’s basement. Pete looked so peaceful in his casket and his fluffy brown hair was tufted to the side just like your mother used to comb it when he was younger. Your mother and father were overcome. They sobbed and you were the one shaking hands, thanking them for coming. Your parents were standing behind you just sobbing. And you understood. You did. Losing a child must be the worst thing. You blamed Detroit for a long time. You blamed living in a small suburb next to Detroit. You moved to New York City the June after Pete died.

Where were you headed? You looked at your arms and they felt smaller, shorter. Your feet were pointing up toward the sky.

You looked at the family of four. There was a young girl and a boy. A mother and a father. The boy kept picking on the girl, pulling her hair, poking out his tongue. The girl cried. She looked like you.

You remembered when Pete and you got into a fight in the backyard next to the basketball hoop. Pete got so mad at you. You don’t remember why. He was so angry, full of something you’d never seen in him; only in your father. You remember Pete slapping your face. And then you got angry, too. You slammed his small head into the metal pole and he turned around. He turned around and pulled out a chunk of your hair. You cried for weeks. The bald spot on the back of your head was terrible, but it grew back.

The bus wasn’t hot or cold, but just felt right like when you feel nothing. Not sweet, not salty. Nothing. Nothing on your tongue but spit. Nothing in the air but you. You looked down at yourself: pink. You could see your reflection on the opposite side of the bus. Your eyes were bulging. You were hunched over at some strange angle. You needed help, you needed help, you needed honey. You wanted honey.

You pulled at the wire above your head with small arms, curled over hands, eliciting a stop. You’d made it to Brighton Beach. How’d you get here?

You hopped off of the bus and began stripping down. The bus hadn’t left yet, and the driver was sitting in his bus driver chair watching you. You shot him a look and he drove away, the family of four still inside. Still safe.

You had about a ten-minute walk on sand to the ocean, but there you were, naked, pink, veiny. Your toes were red and shelled-over. With each step, you felt your eyes bulge further out of your head.  You felt your arms retract and spread until you had many, many small ones all down your abdomen. You began hopping.

Your father left you and your mother four months after Pete died. You came home from class one evening to your mother sitting on the porch next to the concrete statue of a dog, the one that Pete and you climbed on top of and rode until it’s neck cracked off and bits of its head painted the front yard. Your father had it put back together. Your mother was smoking a cigarette, the only cigarette you’d ever seen her smoke, and offered you one. The pack was half empty and looking up at you, she only said, “your father left.”

He took the blanket that his mother had knit for you, the coffee machine, all of the hanging pictures of Pete. You were left on the walls. He took Molly and left the other family dog. He took the wooden ducks that adorned the fireplace. He took Pete’s baseball card collection. His car was gone. He took the good suitcase.

You felt like a shrimp. You really did. You saw the ocean at your toes and they weren’t toes anymore. You had a tail. You were different shades of pink, different variances of shell. You were veins. The ocean felt so right on your new body. It felt like the time Pete and your mother and father and you rented a cabin in northern Michigan. You brought Molly, too, and had a neighbor watch Frankie, the other family dog, because he was blind and could barely breathe anymore.

“He’d never make it,” your father kept saying on the drive up.

You had a small boat on the lake there and Molly would let her tongue hang out the side of her mouth. Or maybe her tongue let Molly do it. Pete cannonballed out of the boat into the center of the lake and didn’t come up for a long time and you remember your mother jumping in after him. She was wearing an extra-large Beatles t-shirt and orange drawstring shorts. She was so much wetter than Pete was when he finally came up from the water, gasping for a breath like Frankie used to.

You waded into the water until you were shoulder deep. You could feel your body calling them: Pete and your mother. You let your head sink into saltwater.

You were under there for a long time. You could breathe and you could move and you could see Pete dancing under there with you. He was young again. And you saw your mother jump into the water, too. She was wearing her Beatles t-shirt and she was searching for Pete. He just stared at you. He just loved you.



Laura Manardo is a whale-loving MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago. She spends most of her spare time in coffee shops writing about bodies of water and the people who love them. You can find her newest work in her poetry chapbook entitled “Lemon Water in Lake Michigan” on the Grandma Moses Press website or on the link on her Instagram: MoreSangria.


We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us…

~Gene Wolfe

I wasn’t afraid when I first saw you—
I just felt bad, thinking you must have
the worst real estate agent in history
to end up wedged between the plastic
overhang of my shower
and the dull, beige wall.

You have endured much in your tenure:
toneless renditions of death metal
echoing at disturbing volumes,
mornings after I’ve binged on ghost
pepper tacos and Mexican coffee,
plus the unexpected thud of wet
towel that shakes you in your web—
just to name a few.

Sometimes I like to pretend you
are happy there, that the steam from a hot
shower transforms my apartment
bathroom into a tropical resort,
that the tiny, scuttling ants who
creep up from the molding contain
coconut milk in their hard,
succulent abdomens.

Remember when you adventured
into the shower and I turned on the faucet
without noticing you? You must have
felt immortal when your silk caught
my finger and I lifted you out
from the deluge—maybe you felt
like a god was on your side.

Still, I know one day you will teach me
that we can weave care into anything,
when I find you on your back, curled legs
making you look so small, cradled
by the soft threads that have come
from your body.



John Thomas Wetmore received his MA in Secondary Education from the University of Connecticut. He now teaches English and creative writing at Arts at the Capitol Theater in Willimantic, CT. His poetry appears or is forthcoming in the publications Bop Dead City and Liminality. Thanks to his teaching position, most of his poems receive thorough scrutiny from a crack team of high schoolers before reaching later drafts. He is very thankful for the opportunity to witness brilliance on a daily basis with his students, and to provide a space where art and performance are a regular part of the day.


The days were so hot that, even late at night, the people of Popadillo had to wear thick-soled shoes to keep their feet from being burned by the ground that refused to release the day’s searing heat. “It’s never been this hot,” people said to one another. Although everyone said that every year, this year they really meant it. Never before could anyone remember when birds had fallen fully roasted from the skies.

Each day the mercury climbed higher, and each day the townspeople tried to find new ways to cool themselves. Some spent the days and nights in their refrigerators, which they had converted into beds and sofas. Others strapped blocks of ice to their feet, only to have the ice evaporate when they stepped onto the ground. Still others, dressed in coats and mufflers, sprayed their lawns and houses with artificial snow, hoping that their minds would deceive their bodies. But nothing worked. As the summer dragged on and the temperatures climbed, the legendary politeness of the people of Popadillo teetered on the edge of extinction as “please” and “thank you” gave way to angry words and obscene gestures. When a group of schoolchildren blew raspberries at him, Mayor Esposito called an emergency town meeting at the Church of the Holy Deity.

 “This weather is nothing but a conspiracy of the power companies to make more money,” said an old man bent over like a wicket. “They’ve wrapped the entire town in thick plastic sheets to trap the heat so we have to run our air conditioners on high all the time.”

“No, God is angry at us,” said a woman in a coarse brown dress, her fingers calloused from saying the Rosary nonstop. “Unless we repent, He will melt all the ice caps and drown us.”

Two college students in tie-dyed T-shirts and dreadlocks scoffed. “This heat wave is a direct consequence of environmental rape, degradation, and abuse. Besides, didn’t God promise Noah that He’d never destroy the earth by water again?”

“Then He’ll bake us,” the Rosary woman said, her fingers snapping from bead to bead faster than before.

Voices rose as everyone jumped in with their theories of why the days were so hot, when the heat wave would break, and what they could do about it. Mayor Esposito, his head permanently tilted to the left from fielding so many telephone calls about the ungodly weather, sighed and mopped his brow, waiting for the arguments to spin themselves out like dust devils. Ten minutes later, silence settled in as the citizens leaned back, drank water, fanned themselves, and caught their breath.

That was when Ferdinand Gustavus rose and walked to the podium set up at the altar. Although he was 138, he walked with the erect bearing of a man half his age. His hair and handlebar mustache were as white as his shirt, his eyes as black as his suit and Stetson. A retired professor of astronomy, he was said to be so wise that the angels would come to him to settle their disputes. “My friends,” he said in a voice as rich as the most fertile field, “I have been studying the sky for many months now, and do you know what I have discovered?”

Murmurs rolled through the crowded church.

“The sun,” Ferdinand Gustavus continued, “is moving closer to the earth.”

A sea of blank faces and furrowed brows looked out at him from the oak pews. Everyone knew that, because of the earth’s tilting rotation, the planet and sun were always closer to each other in the summer. But no one dared to point out so obvious a fact to the town’s foremost astronomer.

Ferdinand Gustavus smiled at his fellow citizens like they were wayward students. “Ah, I know what you are thinking. Now, I ask you another question. Does anyone remember what occurred during the last solar eclipse?”

Suddenly everyone spoke at once, to Ferdinand Gustavus, to their neighbors, to their spouses, to themselves. No one could forget that day in February when the sun was to have met with the moon. But as the people of Popadillo had gathered on the Great Lawn beside the Museum of Historical Artifacts, they had witnessed a heavenly spectacle that no one could recall having even heard of before. As the sun had moved towards the moon, the moon shied away. This heavenly dance had continued for quite some time, until the sun, which had been turning more orange, bounced toward the moon like a giant rubber ball. For a moment everyone stopped breathing, thinking that their eyes had played a collective trick on them. Then the moon streaked across the sky until it was on the opposite side from the sun, and everyone knew that their eyes had not deceived them.

“That is when,” Ferdinand Gustavus said, “the sun began moving closer to the earth. Watch. I will prove.”  Father Marcus set up a projection screen and dimmed the lights, and Ferdinand Gustavus began his presentation of photos of the sun, astronomical charts, calculations of distances, and sundry other items. When the lights came back on, the people of Popadillo knew that the great astronomer had spoken the truth. The sun was indeed moving closer to the earth, and at a frighteningly fast pace.

“The moon,” Ferdinand Gustavus said after several pleas for quiet, “is angry with the sun.  That is why she spurned his advances this winter.”

“Why is she mad?” someone from the back asked.

Ferdinand Gustavus shrugged. “The hearts of human women are hard enough to understand. Surely you do not expect me to understand the hearts of heavenly bodies?”

 “So now the sun,” said Mayor Esposito, whose whole body was now tilting to the left, “is wooing the Earth to make the moon jealous.”

Ferdinand Gustavus smiled and shook his head. “Our Earth is too insignificant for such a ploy to work. No. He wishes only to talk with her, to make amends, but he is a fiery sort, and cannot wait for the next eclipse. So he takes the shortest route, the straight line. Sadly, our little planet is in his path. But I doubt he means anything malicious by it. He is simply lovesick.”

“But what can we do?” Mayor Esposito asked.

One of the dreadlocked students stood up. “Can’t we bring them together before he gets any closer?”


The town of Popadillo had never witnessed such frenzied activity. Delegates were dispatched to surrounding villages and principalities while school children went door-to-door, collecting every inch of rope, twine, and string that the good citizens had. Umberto Largo and Huberto Allegro, the famous astronauts who had once ridden a shooting star to Venus, came out of retirement and began an intensive training program designed by the region’s most learned doctors and coaches. Ferdinand Gustavus, meanwhile, continued watching the sky, though no one needed him to say that each day the sun drew nearer, for soon it looked so close that the fire chief climbed the longest ladder he had and tried to douse it.

An eerie silence settled in as everyone in and out of Popadillo wove and braided all the rope, string and twine together. Soon the numberless pieces became a single one that, even with its numberless coils, stretched from the Pacific to the Atlantic. After securing one end of the rope to their rocket, Umberto and Huberto blasted off into space.

Even the wind seemed to hold its breath while everyone awaited word from the astronauts. After a small slice of eternity passed, the radio at Mission Control crackled into life as Umberto’s baritone voice traveled through space: “She is roped.”

The people of Popadillo wrapped their hands around the rope. Their neighbors in other towns and countries, televised live on Jumbotrons, also grasped the rope. Ferdinand Gustavus, high up in the basket of a cherry picker, spoke into a microphone. “Today is the day we shape our destiny.  Let us see if we shall live or die. I begin my count. One.  Two. PULL!  One. Two. PULL!”

The great rope creaked under the strain of so many hands tugging it.

“One. Two. PULL!”

So many grunts and groans rolled through the air that the trees lost their leaves and windows shattered.

“One. Two. PULL!”  Ferdinand Gustavus looked up in the sky. The moon looked darker, as if she were scowling. She did not budge. “Harder. One. Two. PULL!”

For four hours they pulled, their bodies moving as one to Ferdinand Gustavus’ count. In the fifth hour, even Father Marcus began to despair that their efforts couldn’t overcome the moon’s stubbornness. In the sixth hour, little Esperenza Hippolitto, brushing back her hair, looked up, clapped her hands, and laughed. Everyone in Popadillo and beyond looked up. The moon had begun to move.

The sun glowed brighter. Golden rays streamed out and waved back and forth. Small explosions of light flew off his beams, sprinkling the sky like giant sparklers.   The moon glided towards the sun. But when she reached his outstretched rays, she disappeared.

Women dropped the rope and fell to their knees in prayer. Children began crying. Men, hands on hips, stared up at the sky, fear washing over their faces. “No, no. This is very, very positive,” Ferdinand Gustavus said, his voice low with excitement. “We cannot see her for she has turned her sunlit side to us. She comes to him as a new moon, as his bride.”

A small spot of black spread over the southeastern side of the sun. As the moon slid over the sun, the blue of the sky drained into violet, then black. The sun blazed white and washed everything on earth in a silver light. When the moon fully covered him, the people below swore that the sun trembled and his corona, a magnificent halo of feathery white light that embraced the moon, shot out into the darkness.

The eclipse lasted five days. When the long night ended, the sun, more golden than he had ever been, pulled back to his place in the sky.

The people of Popadillo poured onto the Great Lawn beside the Museum of Historical Artifacts in celebration. Music and laughter filled the air as the good citizens danced, played games, lit firecrackers, or just sat on the soft green of the grass and talked.

And when the sun slid below the horizon, the people looked up and smiled, for there in the heavens was a new star, shining brighter than all the others in the night sky.




Lena Andersson was born in Sweden and grew up in New Orleans (with some forays in Canada, Texas, California, and Colorado). She, like many New Orleanians, ended up in Houston after Hurricane Katrina, and from there, moved to Upstate New York, where she teaches writing and literature at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. Not finding a writing group closer than an hour away, she founded the Mohawk Valley Writers Group. She has been published in The Chiron Review and The Xavier Review and has served as judge for storySouth Million Writers Award. When she’s not writing, she’s kayaking or hiking, or thinking about them.


The house muttered secrets in seven languages
as it slept, creaking and sighing deep in the night
shifting on its bed of brick pillars
four feet above the black earth,
a memory of the river’s visits
now a mile away and tamed by dams

Our only formal cellar was a narrow cell for a furnace and a coal bin
black lumps rumbled in streams from a dump truck
weekly, and at first were shoveled into the furnace
by a tall man in overalls, soon replaced
by a fat green slug of a feeder whose electric hum
the furnace’s breathy song swallowed as coal swallows light
absorbing, becoming even the witnessing eye

combustible and nearly weightless like styrofoam
it crumbled easily in a hand as though it had no interior
only repeated exteriors of soft fine black sand
we found on every neglected upstairs surface

we burned the earth’s dark jewelry as unacknowledged offerings
      to power,
like Inca children thrown into a volcano





Don Brandis is a retired healthcare worker living a happily-married hermit’s life in a small town not far enough from Seattle, reading and writing poems, tending our fruit trees and meditating.  He writes because good poems are invitations to engage intrinsic values in a culture that only values tools.  He has published poems with Melancholy Hyperbole, Wild Goose Poetry Review, Red Fez and Clementine Unbound, and pending with The Hamilton Stone Review.  He has a degree in philosophy from UW but spends far more time now reading poetry.



Jeremy Grand Llama 1 COVER ART

COVER ART BY JEREMY GRAND. This frame is from Uglo, which can be purchased on AmazonUglo is an illustrated tale of an unfortunate (and slightly despicable) soul on a quest to nowhere for no particular reason besides simply being fed up with the world around her.








This is a difficult tale, but I will try to tell it clearly.

There was once a land in which every person had to remain in their own home from birth until death, due to a lethal aversion to crossing the threshold of their dwelling. The houses of this land were so far apart from one another that friendly neighbors could only communicate by the art of letter.

In one of the houses, there lived a young man. His house was a strong house built of big, squared-off stones. He was very pleased to live there and he passed his days with many pleasures. But one day, his pleasures came to an abrupt end.

The fateful day began well, as so many days before it. The young man was tickled awake by a playful wind that wound the curtains around one another like mating birds, and carried the smell of a sweet summer morning to him. He stretched himself awake and leapt from his bed, went downstairs to his kitchen and heated a pot of morning broth. It was evenly flavored and satisfying, and he drank it in six smooth gulps. He then took to his study, where he sat and read one of his favourite books.

When he’d finished reading, he took a leisurely walk around the house, letting his fingers fall on the surfaces of objects as he passed, admiring the ways that the sun was reflected off them: the hazy peach-pearlescent vases in his study, the bright sparkles augmenting his reflection in the bedroom looking glass, the warm indented bronze of the kitchen pots alive with bright semicircles like ripples on water. It was a lovely morning.

After a light lunch, he took another stroll, then settled back down in the study. He read a small pile of letters from friends, and wrote letters in turn to each of them, sharing some of the pleasant things he had enjoyed that day. In the late afternoon, he took another turn around the house, then came back to the study to rest in his chair, with a bowl of soup and a book to slowly consume. And there it began. A clanging sound that was so irritating he dropped his book and his spoon. A clanging ­sound so ugly he could not imagine what had produced it in his lovely home. It rang and rang, not holding true to any exact location. Keen to solve the problem, he examined the room, pressing his hands to the walls and sending his fingertips into the crevices his eyes could not see. Nothing was apparent.

The young man was unhappy with this ugly visitor, but determined to remain light-hearted. He investigated the rest of the house, trotting about it alert and curious. He sprang at corner shadows, stalked floating rays of light, ran his hands over the kitchen pots, and murmured into the fireplaces.

By nightfall, he was drained of his humor and energy. The clanging had not stopped. He retreated to his bedroom, where the clanging was somewhat fainter. But when he snuffed his candle, the clanging was made all the more vivid by the darkness, and when the young man fell into sleep, he was gripped by nightmares which twisted around his limbs and tightened at his throat. He woke early, shivering, and the clanging of his terrible dreams became the sharp inescapable clanging of his beloved home.

Each day after this, the clanging persisted from morning until night. The young man went to bed pale and awoke paler still. Soon, the noise had bled the distinction between wakefulness and sleep, cold and hot, rough and smooth, so that the world around him became a frustrating stranger.

On the seventh day, he arose before the warmth of morning had settled in, went downstairs without breakfast, and took a blackened poker from the fireplace. He gripped the poker in his hand and raised his shoulders like a dog ready for a fight, stalking from room to room. His stomach felt hard and cold and had risen up towards his throat. His limbs were burning to attack the source of the noise, but the source was hidden and would not reveal itself. The young man fell on the floor, the poker at his side, and hot tears washed over his face. Even as he cried, the clanging penetrated his chest, and the weight pressed on his heart was not relieved.

That evening, he sat in his study. He passed his bloodshot eyes over letters filled with friendly chatter from his neighbors, tracing their words with a weakened hand and trying to think of a nice reply for each. But their news felt strange and distant, and he had nothing pleasant to say. He stared at the wall for a long time, and then took up his pen and wrote a letter addressed to the local doctor. “I write to you with troubles weighing upon me. The troubles began a few weeks ago but now it feels a very long time. A terrible clamoring noise, which I cannot locate the origin of, has taken over my house. I pray that you might guide me in alleviating it. With my sincerest thanks.”

For a while, anticipation of the doctor’s wise assistance soothed the young man’s discomfort. But the clanging was still hard to bear, and he became agitated that the doctor would not reply, and soon the clanging became more terrible than ever before. His house became ugly to him and he walked with tightened fists and a lowered glare. He missed meals and began to mutter to himself. He lost count of the days before a letter came from the doctor, but eventually it did, and he read it carefully three times, mouthing the words to himself through tightened lips.

“I am sorry to hear of your situation. Sometimes the disturbance can be eliminated quite simply. Please take the following actions. Gather up all metal objects and other resonant materials from around the home. This may include musical instruments, vases, and so on. Cast all these items from your home so that there may be nothing for the sounds that are troubling you to reverberate through.”

As he read and re-read, the young man let the doctor’s instructions penetrate his chest and mingle with the anger in his desperate body. The clanging pressed and pressed and pressed. The young man stood up from the desk and set to work.

He gathered, one by one, many things from around his home: the huge brass kitchen pots, the cutlery, the pearl vases, his reading lamp, his looking glass. And he put them all in a sack, and dragged them to the highest window. He then heaved the sack over the window ledge, and let the contents fall out, so that the bag became suddenly as light as the air. Then he looked out of the window, and saw the lifeless pieces smashed against the courtyard’s flagstones below, tiny and pale and indeterminate, fingered by the wind.

He stared out at the ugly sight for a while. His hands wrapped round and round the sack, and they wound it so tightly into a knot that his skin went white. He felt a terrible numbness inside him and couldn’t think. Behind him, pressing up against his back, was the clamoring clanging sound as loud as before, and when he turned towards it, it filled his nose and eyes and mouth and he had to duck his head to proceed back down the steps.

The next day he sat in his bed and wrote another letter to the doctor: “I thank you for your advice. However, the noise has not abated, and I am in desperate need of assistance. The trouble is not just the ugliness of the noise itself, or the fatigue. It is how it presses on my thoughts and disrupts my natural feeling.”

The young man then took to pacing the hallway, eyeing the letterbox for word from the doctor, and on the third day he fell to his knees to grab up the officially stamped white envelope. The young man held the letter in trembling hands.

“I’m sorry to hear that your situation has not improved. Can you give me a precise description of the noise you are troubled by?”

The young man listened to the sound as directly as he could bear, and wrote back: “It is a terrible noise that seems to take up every single frequency but mainly those of the human voice. It sounds like the devil shouting to kill the world. It sounds like something being ripped apart over and over, but the thing being ripped apart isn’t paper, it is an animal and it is myself.” Then he screwed up the paper and wrote again. “It is a clanging sound. It is very loud and unpleasant.”

The next letter from the doctor arrived a week later. “Thank you for specifying that it is a clanging sound. I would suggest that you now try stopping off the entrances and exits to the house, to block any errant winds that may be causing the disruptions you describe. This should include all windows, the fireplace, and any other miscellaneous passages in or out other than the mail slot. Please allow at least two weeks for this to take effect.”

The young man gathered up strength and will as best he could. The clanging reverberated more sickeningly with every step he took, but he crossed the half-empty study, went up the stairs, and sought out sheets and blankets and rugs from around the house. With weak hands, he fumbled to plug the beautiful fireplace, the stove pipe, and every window.

When he was finished, the place was dark and the air clammy, and the stark, plugged-up rooms felt like a different house without an owner. But the clanging seemed to have softened a little. The young man went into the hallway, closed each of the doors leading into it, and found it even quieter still. He was so relieved that his muscles seemed to melt down the length of his body, and he then crumpled to the floor and fell straight asleep, his cheek pressed to the cool tiles.

He awoke not knowing if it were night or day, damp from a night-time fever. He stood up and looked around his new protective shell, in which the clanging remained muffled. The hallway, lit by pallid lamps along each side, was not much wider than himself, and only a few paces long. The ceiling was curved and yellow, set with heavy wooden beams. The walls, too, were a deep yellow, something that had never been so apparent with the doors thrown open and the addition of fresh daylight.

Now, the waxy closeness threatened to turn his stomach, and he had to cast his eyes to the floor, which to his dismay was patterned with frantic geometric shapes that seemed to shift like a snake’s writhing belly. He looked up again towards the ceiling, but felt afraid that the heavy beams were going to crack and fall on him under the pressure of the insistent clamoring about the house, so his eyes returned to the floor. He went to one of the doors leading back into the house, and opened it. A moan slipped out of him, but was dissolved beneath the loud clanging that broke into the hallway. He shut the door again, and sunk to his knees.

From the shut-up hallway, he wrote again to the doctor. When the reply eventually arrived, the young man struggled to read the doctor’s words, spread out like a fuzzy puzzle across the clean page, but slowly and carefully he pieced them together.

“I’m sorry to hear you have not experienced sufficient relief from the clanging and are experiencing some distress. It is good that you have developed some coping mechanisms. Ongoing, be vigilant about any household activities that seem to exacerbate the noise and maintain any effective restrictions. We will review your case in six months. Regards.”

And so, the young man made his home in the hallway. His daily activities began whenever he awoke, as he had no idea if it was day or night. He had little appetite. He paced the hall, up and down, down and up, seeking patterns in the tiled floor and sometimes shouting at the heavy beams that he wished would fall and kill him. He picked up the few items that lay about the hall in turn, and let them fall from his listless hands. Time passed and this new existence became familiar.

Then, one day, the clanging stopped. The young man held himself very still for a while. Suspended in the air was a sweetness he had never so fully appreciated, and he wept with pleasure as the knot in his chest unwound as smooth as silk. He left the hallway and sprang from place to place. He began planning letters to his friends, and read passages from his most beloved books, feasted on forgotten treats. He was spread eagle on the polished wooden floor, admiring the cornices on the grand ceiling, when the clanging began again.

The young man felt very little. His heart and eyes and fingers all seemed to lose sensation as if suddenly choked, and he returned to his hallway obediently. But the memory of his adventure lingered, and over the coming weeks he revisited it in his dreams, and in his waking hours he became aware of the call of his forgotten home beneath the clanging. And he opened the door from the hallway to his study, and let the clanging fall on his head and neck and back as he walked forward into the room.

Standing in the study, his eyes shied from the tall shelves of books that he knew he could not read. His hands found the gnarled carved back of a chair and he drew comfort from the hard textures that pressed into his skin. He smelt the dust that cloaked the velvet seats, and the sour mildew gathering in the air. He took his hand from the chair back, dug his nails into his palms, and he walked his way around the room, several times, until his body was drenched in sweat and his chin was on his chest.

And alongside the sickening repetition of the clanging he felt a tender forgotten feeling that he wanted more of. And so, he walked once more, despite the difficulty, before he returned to the enclosure of the hallway. In the hallway, he took the final letter from the doctor, and ripped it up into tiny pieces. They fluttered to the floor, gathering in the dirt that had been settling for many weeks. He swept the floor clean, and slept a contented sleep.

The next day, he once again went into the house. He pulled away the corner of a sheet stuffed into one of the windows in the study, and watched dust play in the narrow beam of light. Then he tried to climb the stairs to his bedroom, but the clanging gurgled out of the open doors and through the walls in ugly bursts and split the air around his head, and the thought of his beautiful bedroom cracked a hole in his chest. He returned to the study, and walked around it with clenched fists, examining each section of the mottled floor.

And the new life of the young man continued in this way, with expeditions that varied in length and success, in misery and apathy and occasional pleasure. It was a hard and tiring life, but he did live, and it was his life, and this is the end of the story.





Frances is a writer and artist who currently lives in Brighton with five rescue rats and one human partner. She works in digital communications for left-wing activist organizations. She makes synths and facilitates electrifying workshops as half of Rat City Synths.  You can contact her here:










My father picked up Martin and me for a visit once every couple weeks, on a Sunday after church. Martin was at swim practice, so today I would be with him alone. Any hope of my parents getting back together had diminished a few weeks after Mom’s release when they had seemed so affectionate.

“Stop hovering,” my grandmother said. I was peeking through the sheer curtain of one of the bay windows in the living room.

“He makes me nervous.”

“Why would your father make you nervous, Aiden?”

“I never know what to say.”

“Sit down on the couch next to me.” She wore a hairnet and sipped a mug of coffee. Her face looked drawn. My mother, who was still asleep, had been acting strange, she said. She saw that ghost man again, she told me the day before.

She put her warm hands over one of mine. “Tell your father about school, your friends. Ask him about work. He loves to talk about that job.” She lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, then exhaled. “Dry shite to me.”

“What?” I scratched my cheek.

Boring. I find your father boring.” She pushed my hand away from my face. “Stop scratching yourself. It’s a nervous habit.”

“You don’t like Dad?”

“Of course I like him. He’s a good man, just dull. Or maybe I’m dull.” She laughed. “We have nothing in common is all. He’s the total opposite of your grandfather, God rest his soul. He was curious about everything and had the gift of gab. Sometimes I would pretend to fall asleep.” She smiled, closed her eyes, and leaned back.

I laughed.

A car honked.

I smoothed my sweatshirt and straightened my jeans.

“Do you think they’ll ever get back together?”

She tamped her cigarette, stood, and kissed me on the forehead. “I don’t think so, darling. Some things are not meant to be. It’s nobody’s fault.”

He honked again.

“Go on. You look fine. Relax. Talk about the weather. They say we’ll have snow today. You’re a smart boy. You’ll think of something to talk about. Don’t forget your coat.”

The sky was gray and the air brisk. I was glad my father had the heat on.

“Where’s Martin?” he said.

The hot air blasted from the dashboard vent. It felt good.

“He’s at swim practice.”

“The miracle of heated swimming pools. At the YMCA?” He smiled.

I nodded.

“It’s just you and me then.”

I thought he sounded disappointed.

“If you don’t want me to come, that’s okay.”

He put his hand on my head. “Of course I want you to come. We’ll have a great time.”

“What will we do?”

He checked his mirrors and turned into the street.

“You wanna watch the game?” He rubbed his beard stubble and smoothed his dark hair. The skin under his eye looked bluish.

“What game?”

He laughed. “Football. The Chicago Bears against the Green Bay Packers. We can order pizza.”

“Sure.” I knew nothing about football and hadn’t any interest, but watching TV would suck up time. The games lasted at least three hours.  We wouldn’t have to say much.

When we passed the rotary by the police station, he said, “So, how’s school?”

“It’s good.”

“What’s your favorite subject?” He glanced at me, then turned on the wipers. The snow had begun to fall.


“I was never any good at English. What are you learning?” A red truck whizzed past us. “Did you see that asshole? I almost hit him. Too many irresponsible drivers. They don’t give a shit about other people. Always in a hurry to get places.”

“Maybe he’s late for work.”

He laughed. “On a Sunday? I doubt it…Hey, I interrupted you. Tell me about your English class.”

“We’re reading Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.”

“He wrote A Christmas Carol, right? Never read the book, but I liked the movie. The ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.”

“The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.”

“Huh?” He wrinkled his nose and rubbed it with the edge of his leather coat sleeve.

“Dickens calls the Future Ghost Yet to Come.”

“I get it. So what’s this book about?”

“A boy named Pip. His parents are dead and he lives with his bitchy older sister on a marshland in the outskirts of England. His uncle is nice, though.”

“That’s a weird name for a kid. What happens?”

“I just started it. I’m at the part where Pip meets an escaped convict in the graveyard. This scary man in rags jumps up from behind a tombstone in the marshes and grabs him. The guy orders him to bring food, and a file so he can saw the chains off his legs. He threatens Pip if he doesn’t follow through.”

My father nodded. “I like crime and suspense.” He turned the heat down. “You comfortable? I hate the sound of that fan.”

We passed the Arnold Arboretum, where Nanna took Martin and me. The snow was falling softly on the Spruce trees. My father put the wipers on high. I liked the swooshing sound. Snow collected on branches and the grass below.

“How’s your mother?”

“She had a vision of that old man again.”

He shook his head. “I thought she was getting better.” His Oldsmobile Cutlass slid to the right. He slowed down. “I know you think she’s psychic, but I still find that hard to believe, Aiden.” We were on the Jamaicaway, a four-lane parkway, one of the curviest roads in Boston.

“I think she is better.”

“For Christ’s sake, Aiden, your mother thinks she sees ghosts.”

“Scrooge sees ghosts.”

“That’s a made-up story.” He turned into the parking lot next to Jamaica Pond, the largest body of fresh water in Boston. We pulled into a space in front of waves rippling from the wind. The snow swirled outside the car.

“Made-up stories can be based on real life.”

“There are no ghosts, Aiden.” He took a cigarette from a pack in his shirt pocket and lit it. “We shouldn’t have released her from McCall’s. Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness. The nurses and psychiatrists said she wasn’t ready.” He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.

“Are you and Mom ever gonna be together again?” I felt my eyes tearing up.

He slid closer on the seat and put his arm over my shoulder. A few ashes dropped on my jeans. I brushed them off. “No, Aiden. Your mom and me, we aren’t meant to be together.”

“Why not?”

He tightened his lips and paused, as if thinking what to say.

“I’m moving to Arizona.”


“I met another lady and there’s a good job for me out there.”

“What about Martin and me? And Mom?” I pushed his arm from my shoulder. “You’re dropping ashes on me.”

He cocked his head back and raised his brows. “Sorry, buddy.”

“I’m not your buddy.”

“Fuck it.” He looked in the rearview mirror and put the car in reverse. “Someday you’ll understand.”

“I understand now.”

He laughed. “Aiden, you’re just a kid. When you get older, you’ll realize that what I’m doing is the best thing for all of us.” A shiny blue car sped by the exit of the parking lot. “People are crazy. Don’t they realize they could lose control in this weather?” My father looked both ways before starting to turn.

“You’re going the wrong way.”

“No I’m not. My place is in that direction.” He pointed.

“Take me home.”

“You don’t want to watch the game?”

“I hate football and I hate you.”

“You don’t hate me, Aiden. You’re angry.”

He turned right. We passed the arboretum again. The pine branches seemed to droop with the snow. A father and his son shoveled their walkway.

When we were in front of my grandmother’s house, Dad said, “Are you okay?”

I opened the door and stepped onto the curb. “You’re irresponsible. You don’t give a shit about us and you just want to hurry away.”

“You’re pissed, Aiden. I still love you. We’ll talk about this again when you’re not so upset. I planned to tell you and Martin over dinner. I was gonna take you out to a nice restaurant. Sorry it happened like this.”

My grandmother and mother were shoveling the front steps. They stopped and looked up.

Mom shouted, “You’re home so soon. What happened?”

“Nothing,” I said.

My father waved to her, then whispered, “please don’t tell them, Aiden. Your mom’s not ready to hear the news.”

“Dad, I’m sure she already knows. That’s the difference between you and her. You think she’s crazy, but she’s not. Mom has the ability to see things you can’t. You’ll never understand. I think you’re a sad guy, like that Ghost of Christmas Past.” I kicked some snow. “Maybe I just expect too much, or maybe I’ll understand someday like you said.”

“You won’t say anything, right?” He looked like a child and an old man at the same time.

“I won’t say anything, Dad.” I shut the door and walked towards the steps.

“What the hell happened?” My grandmother wrapped her arm around me. Mom kissed my cheek. I heard my father drive away.

“The streets were getting icy. The snow was falling harder. Dad wanted me home before the roads got bad.”

My mother stared at me. “They already are.”

Nanna said, “My ma used to say, ‘Never dread the winter till the snow is on the blanket.’ Let’s get inside.”

We leaned the shovels against the side of the house and walked up the steps. I felt the beating of my heart and the passing of air into my lungs. The smoke of my breath rose, and dissolved like eddies in a careless sky.

My father drove onward, streets glistening, snow like piled linen, and Arizona far away.




James Mulhern has published fiction in many literary journals and received several accolades. Three stories were selected for different anthologies of best short fiction. In September of 2013, he was chosen as a finalist for the Tuscany Prize in Catholic Fiction. In 2015, Mr. Mulhern was awarded a full-paid writing fellowship to study at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. That same year, a story was longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. He has also received other awards. His writing (novel and short story collection) received positive critiques from Kirkus Reviews.