‘Harley’s Rescue’ by William Falo

She jumped when a gust of wind ripped the restaurant door off its hinges. It disappeared down the street. She lived on the streets, but the restaurant workers fed her. Where did they go? The water got deeper by the minute. It now covered her paws and soon would touch her stomach. She sloshed through the water, looking for the humans. 

The last one hammered something on the building.

She heard someone’s voice. A boat drove toward the building. She meowed, but it was drowned out by the engine.

“I’m leaving.”

The human sloshed through the water toward the boat. 

“Get in. The storms getting worse,” the human on the boat said.

“I will, but there was a stray cat around here. I fed it. I hope she will be okay.”

“They’re tough, she’ll be okay…”

“I hope you’re right. I wanted to take her home, but I’m allergic, so I fed it here.”

“Let’s go.”

The engine roared, and she watched as they faded from view. The wind roared outside as she climbed onto the deck outside the restaurant. The patter on the roof increased as the storm intensified.

A board hit the deck and jammed on the steps, blocking her escape route.

She was trapped. The water streamed onto the deck.

The boat was gone, and she was alone. Things floated by, and she strained to see them. A raft floated by, covered with moving ants. She wanted to jump on it and follow the humans, but the ants would bite her. She remembered many painful bites from fire ants when she was a kitten in the woods. 

The memory made her think of when she was a kitten, she wondered where her siblings were, but there was no way of knowing. One day she wandered away from them, and when she went back, they were gone. Still, she remembered smelling a human and someone saying adoption, but when she meowed, they didn’t hear her, and she was alone, and she followed the scent of food to the restaurant. She’s been living near it ever since. She then remembered the warmth of her mother’s fur and meowed. 

The water now covered the deck. She jumped up on a chair. It wobbled, and she thought it would collapse, sending her into the water, but it stayed up. The human used to sit on it when he smoked a long stick and fed her scraps. She could still smell the smoke.

A long rope floated by before it moved and hissed at her. A snake. She hissed at it, and it drifted away.

She shook repeatedly, but she stayed wet, and a chill grew inside her. She curled up on the chair. The chair rocked like a boat when the wind roared, and darkness covered the area like someone had turned the lights off. She was so exhausted that she drifted to sleep despite the raging storm. 

Dreams. A warm mother, fights with siblings, catching a mouse, food from humans, catnip, a few pets, kind words, and an inside place that was warm and dry. A home that she never knew. 

A strong gust of wind shook the chair and woke her up. The chair started to topple over. At the same time, a bright light shined on the deck. She splashed into the water along with the chair. 

“Look at that sign.” A voice said. “A cat is around here. Please save her. She doesn’t have a home, but I call her Harley. Do you see her?”

She tried to climb on the board that blocked the deck, but it was too slippery, and she plunked back into the water. She was too weak and sank under and closed her eyes. Before she hit bottom, something grabbed her and hoisted her out of the water. 

“I got you.” A human with long hair lifted her up and stared into her eyes. “Give me a blanket.” 

She trembled despite the blanket being wrapped around her. Could she trust these humans?

“The sign says her name is Harley.”

“Harley, you’re a good cat.” She knew those words. They were good words. They got back into the boat, and the engine hummed to life. 

“I will take care of Harley,” Katie said.

“You are a Harley Quinn fan.” The human laughed.

“Yeah, I am. I also had a cat before. She lived to eighteen years old.” Harley felt warmth. 

The memories stayed, but she felt something new too. She stopped trembling and rubbed against the human’s hand. 

“Katie, she likes you.” 

Katie kissed her head and rubbed behind her ears. 

“Harley, you’re coming home with me.”

She knew love. She knew it started slowly; maybe this was the beginning of it. Maybe she would have a home now like she dreamed all her siblings did. She purred.The sun came over the horizon as the storm moved away when they reached dry land, and a new day began. 

Meet the Author

William Falo lives with his family, including a papillon named Dax. His stories have been published or are forthcoming in various literary journals. He can be found on Twitter @williamfalo and Instagram @william.falo

‘Placing you’ by Clive Donovan

I have put you on this hillside
in order to prepare for you
a rock-scree slide-show,
freakish as it goes down
the perfect 45° slope

and over that precipice
about which I should warn you.
Do not move from your spot.
You are placed on a special rock
island of basalt.

I arrange a sprinkling of trees
to halt and hold the flow
and a layer of some hedging roots.
See already rabbit hare
and pigeon hop among the bush

making themselves at home
and a shy tortoise appears
shuffling up to your hand in admiration.
You sit with passive gaze at the distance.
On the river bend a boat.

Meet the Poet

Clive Donovan is widely published in magazines, including Fragmented Voices. He is a Pushcart and Forward Prize nominee this year for best individual poem and his first collection is recently published by Cinnamon Press. Many of his poems explore the eternal circle of desire, control and escape.

‘A Portrait’ by Duncan Bennett

Words fail me – even as I stand before her, absorbing her beauty and marvelling at the cold intensity of her gaze.

I can’t describe her presence. There are words – they rise quickly to my lips – but before this heavenly apparition their portent seems as rudimentary as stone, and I worry my mastery of language is too poor to attempt even the feeblest articulation of her grace.

However, in truth, I know I’m spellbound, and realise that only by conveying something of her allure will I be able to exorcise my infatuation and free myself of her thrall.

And so …

… her hair – a fine, lustrous, ebony-black which promises the texture of spun satin – is both long and full and frames her face perfectly; its loose tresses caressing the line of her high, finely sculpted cheekbones before falling in a cascade of curls about her slender shoulders.

Her face is just so dramatically beautiful: a beauty that I wager even the most passionately enthused artist could never aspire to paint, sculpt, depict nor design.  The delicate features are at once both angelically child-like, and remarkably sensuous.

Her eyes are immediately entrancing; they are hypnotically deep, yet from their dark fathoms emanates a bright, powder-blue lustre. But, though they betray a yielding temperament and vital intelligence, I fear they are perhaps too waxed and haunted to be properly described as vibrant.

If her eyes offer a window to her soul, then her mouth reveals the pathway to her heart: it describes a perfectly formed bow; rich, yielding and inviting though, as I can’t imagine it has ever been kissed, would, perhaps, seem far more readily given to hushed whispers than passion.  Their fullness contrasts vividly with the ivory-white pallor of the flesh upon which they are so delicately stencilled for, though unpainted, they are yet possessed of a deep, naturally blossoming, cherry-red flush.

However, for one whose features are so exquisitely endowed and classically composed, her expression is one of fast held – and seemingly long suppressed – anxiety; the pain of life is clearly etched upon a slightly gathered brow, and mistrust – so potent that it is almost offensive – draws a hard line upon a jaw too firm for familiarity.  Likewise, the eyes are held just slightly too focused, just slightly too alert to ever – one might imagine – evoke a passionate concordance with the world they observe.

Sonorous and languid; attentive yet unmoving; she gazes forlornly through a vivid dream of long, un-slept centuries.

Her blood no longer flows – but sleeps, cold and still in her veins.

She has no name.

She is a vampire, imprisoned within an impassioned canvas.

Meet the Author

Duncan Bennett is a West Lothian based poet, writer and photographer who enjoys a wide range of subjects but has a penchant for horror writing and street photography in particular. He can be reached at duncan.bennett121@gmail.com

Bex Hainsworth’s ‘Walnut Street’

is lined with oak trees.
No sharp crack of fossilized
brain tissue, all ridges, like the inside
of a rodent’s skull, beneath my feet
as I walk to the bus stop at dawn.
Instead, cupless acorns bursting, splitting,
as furniture becomes firewood.

There is a mushroom. It seems to be
growing out of a paving stone,
pressing its bare feet against the cold slab,
far from soil, leaning wearily against a wall.
It is a pound of grimy flesh, an amputated limb.

Passed over, like a beggar in a doorway,
head bowed beneath his grey-brown cap.
Displaced, rootless, lonely, in a land
with a strange name that doesn’t match,
from forests and fields to this urban plot.
I pause, and mourn for this mushroom:
a headstone for all the disinherited of the earth.  

Meet the Poet

Bex Hainsworth (she/her) is a bisexual poet and teacher based in Leicester, UK. She won the Collection HQ Prize as part of the East Riding Festival of Words and her work has appeared in Visual Verse, Neologism, Atrium, Acropolis Journal, and Brave Voices Magazine. Find her on Twitter @PoetBex. 

Four Flash Fiction Pieces by Victor Schwartzman

Entry Level

Miriam’s job, an entry level position, was to cut open garbage bags in the city dump.

She cut open garbage bags to inspect their contents, eight hours a day with a forty-five-minute lunch and two coffee breaks. She worked for the city.

Her job was to look for what did not belong in the garbage. This dump was destined to use the garbage as landfill. Plastics and other recyclables were forbidden.

Miriam opened garbage bags, looking for the forbidden. If a district sent forbidden garbage to the garbage dump, its taxes increased.

Miriam had the job for six months. The promotion was running a tractor to push the bags into large holes, filling in a swamp.

Each bag told a story. One was full of used toys, another TV dinner cartons and plastic utensils. Another had body parts. When Miriam found a foot she called the police.

Miriam fretted about her career path but civil service jobs were hard to find.  

Achieving Happiness Through Career

From childhood, Thelma read obituaries of great achievers (regular folks never get obits.) In her twenties, every morning before leaving for work she read obits. And continued reading them at work. Indeed, her career had become writing obits.

Great success, she believed, came partly from genuine talent but mostly from a single-minded focus on one issue. Over- achievers were obsessed with one issue, whether it was in the arts, business or science. They followed it all their lives.

Obits, Thelma believed, kept their achievements remembered. But along with the achievements came unpleasant realities. While over-achievers were universally celebrated, frequently Thelma wrote obits of famous people she’d never heard of before getting the assignment. Over- achievers were eventually forgotten.

Also, their personal lives were often disasters.

The issue was personal. Thelma recognized herself: single- focused, isolated, troubled social life. She felt alive only when reading and writing about dead people.

Thelma wanted to change but denying her obsession was impossible. She tried therapy but withdrew–after helping her therapist write an obit about his father.

However, after writing the obit of a method actor whose obsessive behavior drove his colleagues crazy, Thelma took up acting classes. Pretending to be a nicer person was the solution, given she could not be a nicer person. She eventually learned where her inner niceness was and, after intensive study, used method acting to smile.

Eventually Thelma retired happy, believing she had achieved something unique. Her crowning achievement was to write her own obit.

It was printed after she died. Her story was widely spread and celebrated until a new obsessed obit writer emerged.

In the afterlife, Thelma regularly met people who complained she’d gotten their obits wrong. 

Making Old Movies Marketable

The movie executives met in a panic. New films were an expensive, difficult gamble.

The company had a huge catalogue of old films, but no one wanted them.

“The problem is bias,” a consultant, Melanie, told the executives. “Up until around 1990, films targeted audiences which were white. Minorities were ignored. However, yesterday’s minority is today’s majority. The paying audience now is White, Black, Latino, Asian and more.”

Melanie paused. The executives were all White men.

“You can accept the racism and low sales. Or,” she added, “you can make money by altering the movies to eliminate the bias.

“That would open them to new audiences.”

Thus began the digital altering of old films.

Stepinfetchit and Willie Best, two Black actors used as stereotypes, were digitally turned white. Their dialogue was redubbed.

However, that was not enough. Now the casts were all white. White actors were digitally altered to be from other groups. Sherlock Holmes became Japanese.

Also, almost all actors were able-bodied, so some now had disabilities. Some actors became gay, some non-binary. Most films had to be changed because bias was so pervasive. Stories were altered. More dialogue was redubbed.

The new old movies reached different audiences and made a decent profit. The company went on to changing music it owned which had been appropriated from other cultures.

Meanwhile, Melanie met with the news media. 

Living Art You Love

Marina thumbed idly through her many streaming channels, bored. Years ago she turned on the tv and rediscovered favourite films. Now she could watch them anytime.

Marina decided to implant movies into her brain. That certainly would make old movies special again because she would see them in a totally new way. She would be closer to living the art she loved.

The operation was unusual but not difficult. Marina then sat in bed and watched The Maltese Falcon in her head. It was good! She used parts of Lawrence of Arabia while at the beach, Road Runner cartoons when caught in traffic and Lust For Life when looking at skyscrapers.

But soon Marina felt more bored and distanced than ever. She saw movies better but was not living them! She had to change!

One evening, strolling downtown, considering how to become more involved, she realised everything around her had turned black and white.

Suddenly Marina was IN a movie! Her desire and implant had merged. She was in New York City, downtown, in the 1930’s, judging from the cars and clothing. She was no longer a bystander, no longer an audience. She was actively involved, in an entire black and white world!

Fantasy was finally reality—what could be better?

She boarded an elevated train, holding onto a strap, enjoying being in the movie, not realizing it was King Kong.

It was too late for Marina to realise that, given the content, much of the art you most love is best viewed from a safe distance.

Meet the Author

Victor Schwartzman decided to take his writing more seriously at a later stage of his life. His work has appeared in Cherry Bleeds, Zygote in My Coffee and St. Vitus Prose and Poetry Review.  Recent acceptances have been in The Academy of Heart and Mind and The Potato Soup Journal.  

‘Smiley Face’ by Harry Wilding

When I bought you
five years ago?
your                      smile
your big innocent smile
it was cute
but now as you lean
lean still against the side
your                      smile
your big mocking smile
it condescends 

I wanted to learn guitar
was able to vaguely produce 
The Simpsons theme
‘Seven Nation Army’
parts of       ‘Come as You Are’
‘All Right Now’
lo-lo-lo-lo-‘Lola’

but really 
I just wanted to play guitar
round the campfire  in the stadium
on my knees  ten minute solo
smash smash smash like Simonon
impress the girls  impress the boys
so you         are what?
not as rock & roll but
less strings   less size   less chords
= the easier option?
your                smile
your big rigid smile
it is unyielding
below your hollow empty eyes
dust layering your sunshine yellow while
your             innocent  mocking  rigid
smile
it remains sickeningly optimistic
that one day   I will play
I will learn
perhaps a chord or two
of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’
on you

Meet the Poet

Harry Wilding writes in Nottingham, where he fantasises about elaborate heists that steal from the rich and give to the poor. He has had poems published by the likes of WriteresqueThe Drabble and Selcouth Station. He likes doughnuts and equality very much.

‘It’s Hard To See When You Don’t Have A Head’ by Ross Crawford

‘That’s Hugh Headless outside again,’ she said, looking through the curtains.

‘Right, I’ll go and speak to him.’ 

The man walked down the driveway and cleared his throat. Hugh Headless spun around as if alarmed.

‘Evening Hugh, it’s John from Number 32 again. It’s Angie you’re haunting, isn’t it? She’s just down the road, Number 43.’

If Hugh had a head he would have nodded.

Meet the Author!

Ross Crawford is a writer/scriever/poet based in Stirling, Scotland. He takes most of his inspiration from the history, nature, and folklore of his home country, especially the rural landscapes of Ayrshire, the Trossachs, and the West Highlands. You can find him on Twitter at @RRMCrawford.

‘One Day This House Will Be Empty’ by Tom Kelly

with messages found behind wallpaper
photos buried in pelmets
strangers smiling back. 
Walls disappear, make way for a glossy kitchen,
have visitors asking, ‘Who lived here?’
Filigree ceiling dust settled for too long disappears.
Orphaned keys in a jar under the sink.
Walls, floors and ceilings gouged,
leaving gaps where only memories lie.
Children once filled every room: cots to king-size beds, 
long legs sliding out of a too small divan.
One day this house will be empty of us.

Meet the Poet

Tom Kelly is a Jarrow-born writer now living happily further up the Tyne at Blaydon. He has had eleven books of poetry, short stories and a play published in as many years. His new poetry collection THIS SMALL PATCH has recently been re-printed by Red Squirrel Press.  His second short story collection, NO LOVE RATIONS, will be published in April, 2022. 
Website www.tomkelly.org.uk

                                                     ‘Chasing a Bear’ by Victor Okechukwu

When Tolu was at Comprehensive College, Aguda, he was regarded as a tiger, yet in every annual running competition for Lagos state schools, he always took bronze. When it came to the relay races he usually asked his running mates whether they were mad, for they either took last or second to the last. He got admission into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka at the age of seventeen and kept jogging around the school three days a week, amidst the hectic schoolwork. He never wanted to join the Runners’ Association in school, as he felt they ran occasionally and went to the gym often, and each time he saw them while jogging past the gym, he called them ‘fools for nothing good’.

When he graduated from the University, the self-assertion of being a sprinter had died and a new notion weighed upon him. This time he ran from Bolaji Avenue to Oshodi Road, chasing down his troubles and confusion to free himself from the indictments and abuse. Each day he pursued it, eight hundred meters away, and returned happy as though he had won an Olympic Gold medal, yet it came back with greater force. It came tempting him to depression and suicide, and the more he resisted them on his desk, the less he became conscious of himself.

Every day he chased his fears. While returning, he looked around the decayed houses, pothole roads, noisy streets, the dilapidated grammar school, the empty bookstores, the unsigned brothels, the madmen flocking around in rag clothes, and the corners where drug addicts slept. He wanted to scream when he gazed at all of these, asking himself each time: when would he wake up one day in the streets of New York or somewhere in Europe, or one of those places he had often read about in the novels?

He lived with his parents; his father was an obstinate, indoctrinated, old man trying to please the old century by always speaking against globalisation and technology. Anything that had to do with the twenty-first century was demonic; he loved to wear baggy shirts and four-button suits to work. His mother was gentle and always thoughtful, but she supported her husband by wearing only her native attire (Ankara) and criticized the new world fashion. Most times Tolu’s father – Femi – called him to the sitting room and asked him several questions about his move for the career he was trying to build, but he stood saying either motivating jokes or useless plans for the future. But most times he pretended to listen, though he kept thinking about how to twist the plot of his three hundred page novel. And each time he came back from his run, he had a new idea, or felt his characters should possess a new demon.

He didn’t run this morning, because he woke up too weak to think properly: confused, empty and lonely. He had switched off his phone, the windows were closed and the door shut; the room smelt of burnt corn. He rested his head on the table, sighing, almost in tears as his disappointments pressed down heavy on him. It wouldn’t have been this way if Professor Aloysius hadn’t always told them to seize the day. He taught them in his final year, Factors Affecting Contemporary Africa, and spoke largely about the revolution of the mind. Tolu loved his class and always sat in the front smiling. One day after class he met him at the carport.

“Sir, you spoke about doing what gives you joy,” Tolu said. “I have a flair for writing, but I don’t know how to go about it.”

“Just read and write what you know – that’s what every good writer does.” Professor Aloysius touched his grey beard. “Don’t take any other advice, because great men are non-conformist: they reject rules and methods because they only lead to laziness.”

“But I’ve tried reading and writing, yet nothing I write makes sense.”

“Then try harder. You need to fail so you will give life its full worth.” He approached his car, opened the front door. “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, go get that book and read the life about it.” He closed the door and drove away in the silver Toyota Corolla.

He felt annoyed anytime he thought of Professor Aloysius, his optimistic lies and foolish zeal. He stood up, paced around the room before opening the door tentatively, and peeked at the dark passage – checking for his siblings, he saw no one, so he went into the kitchen and took a loaf of bread and butter from the fridge with a cup of water. He turned only to see his two stubborn brothers – Bimbo and Kehinde – staring at him, with their gaze asking, ‘what are you still doing here?’. He walked out of the kitchen nervously, felt pained, and turned back.

“Jesus! Are you guys devils?”

Both turned to each other and smiled. He rushed into his room, banging the door. He began to eat in the dark, heard his siblings laughing in the next room, and felt ridiculed. He wanted to take a knife, walk into their room, and warn them never to insult him again, but he remembered when he did that to Ezinne, that she screamed and never spoke to him again. He felt bitter that people’s gaze held more words of hate than what they said. When he began to have feelings for Sister Abigail six months ago, when he asked her about having a relationship, she asked what he did and he said he was a writer… she stared at him with that same hate.

He heard a gentle knock on his door and pushed the remaining piece of bread into his mouth, then drank the cup of water. He finished eating the bread before opening the door to see his mother standing there. He switched on the white fluorescent that streamed its rays on her black skin and an Ankara blouse and wrapper.

“Why are you sweating?” she asked.

“I was doing pushups.”

She walked into the scattered room, with dirty clothes around and stacked books on the floor and table. She gazed at them.

” Aren’t you tired of locking yourself in with these troubles?” she asked.

“I’m trying, Mama, but you wouldn’t understand.”

She sat down on the wooden chair and gazed around the dirty orange wall, allowing the quiet atmosphere to settle. Both could now hear from outside the screeching of iron wheels, a fiercer noise of clashed horns, fenders bumped, and tires careening into potholes.

“You didn’t run today?”

“No, I had a muscle pull and back pain,” Tolu replied, standing.

“Have you heard from Chigozie recently?” 

“No.”

“He has bought a car for his mother,” she said. “Since his father died he has always been supportive and thoughtful.”

“I guess he had a gift for that,” he replied.

“What about you?”

“I believe in the next two years people will read my novels,” he said, trying a faint smile.

“Tolu, what do you want from life?”

“I think it’s the best that everyone wants.”

“Do you think being a writer will achieve that?’

” I would try my – “

“Why haven’t you applied for a job yet? You graduated with a distinction in sociology and anthropology.” She raised six fingers of both hands. “Tolu, this is six years staying at home writing crap and reading about these dead men.”

“Mama, I’m a writer and I love what I do.”

“What have you ever written? And what do you expect from me?” She held her stomach, “and your father.”

“I don’t know but with time I can do something. Probably if I can leave this country.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m struggling to be an artist here. In this place, with everything I see – “

“Do you love me?”

“Why are you asking me all these questions?” He walked close to her.

“Have you ever loved anyone else in your life?”

“Of course.” He said, wanting to touch her hand, which she rejected and a silence breathed upon them. They tried not to have eye contact.

“I’m trying, Mama, you know this is me. And I love you and Papa more than you can think of.” He said, “I am not a rebellious son.”

“Then do something, find something better than all these troubles you bury yourself with.” Tears trickled from her eyes. “Your father is too old and about to retire from his managing job, and I’m about to die.”

“Mummy.” He knelt.

“Why do you hate me so much?” She glanced at him.

“I love you, you’re the best thing in my life. I will make it this time. I would do anything to please you.” He searched her watery eyes.

“Why did you allow me to die?”

“I didn’t kill you, Mama. I can’t.”

“A cancer is growing inside of me, and they say I will die.”

“What can I do to stop the growth?”

“Go get a job, so that when I die you can look after your siblings.”

She cleaned her eyes and walked out of the room, leaving the door open. He rolled on the floor, then stood up and began to tear all the stacked books in madness, until he was exhausted. He looked at the door and saw his two brothers standing there, and didn’t mind.

“Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Meet the Author

Victor Okechukwu is a writer based in Lagos, Nigeria. He is currently studying mass communication at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves reading and writing, and working towards being persistent in creativity.

‘Moth’ by Holly Jackson

How did you come to be here?
A fluttering intruder in my home,
Hypnotised by un-natural light.
Beautiful, but modest, you prefer the night,
Unlike your slutty sister, butterfly.
I watch you dip and twirl –
Yellow wings beat faster than I can perceive,
A miracle of nature and evolution.
The cat sits and watches you – but doesn’t move a muscle,
Lazy bitch.
You flutter ‘round His head, but he doesn’t see,
Oblivious to your presence,
And your beauty.

Meet the Poet

Holly Jackson is a thirty-five-year-old writer of poetry and short fiction from County Durham, UK. Her work has previously featured in: The Language of Salt (Fragmented Voices, 2020), MumWrite, Periwinkle Lit Mag, Skirting Around, Analog Submission Press and others. Her debut collection of poetry and short fiction, ‘Banana and Salted Caramel’, is now available from Austen Macauley Publishers. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram at @hjacksonwrites.