Keys by Tohm Bakelas


Who Is the Clown? by Ida Saudkova, ca 2000



i’m sitting in a

treatment team meeting

listening to a

floridly psychotic patient

speak absolute nonsense

and watch him

shake from the years of



and self-abuse


and as he rambles on

laughing to himself

i begin to wonder

what separates

him from me

and me from him


i only figured it out

after he reaches

under my chair

picks up my fallen keys

and places them

in my hand


About the Author:

Tohm Bakelas is a social worker in a psychiatric hospital. He was born in New Jersey, resides there, and will die there. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, zines, and online publications. He is the author of several chapbooks and a full length book of poetry. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and he intends to conquer the small press and exclusively publish within. More at or Instagram: @flexyourhead

Tackle and Tootsie Pops by N.T. McQueen


A Childhood Map by Stela Brix, 2018

A rod, a reel, a tacklebox and a bag of Tootsie Pops.

In the complex relationship with my father, only one shared activity remains hallowed. Moments where I am afforded the ability to look back without questions or doubts or quixotic lenses.


These moments remain hallowed, untouched by lies and replacements and fruitless applause. These moments, whether in folding chairs or on the jagged edges of the Mendocino bluffs, the bodies of water drowned the demons if for a few hours. In retrospect, I think I understand why my father always ordered us to spread his ashes into the Pacific Ocean off “the rock” in Makerriker State Park. To this day, his affinity for this one rock still has a shroud of mystery. He never caught some massive fish or held an epic tug-of-war with a mighty behemoth of the depths still shrouded in legend. It’s just a damn rock.

For a son, the first fishing trip with your father is one of those pivotal initiation rights. Not just going with your father while he fishes but being a capable participant. Someone who can rig up their own line. Tie a hook with a blood knot, clamp on sinkers and a bobber, untangle a rat’s nest in the reel, dislodge a hook from tulles without snapping your line. Casting without snagging a blackberry bush or tree branch. The autonomous fisherman. The moment you become a peer and not a source of hook tying practice for your dad.

The first trip with my dad didn’t actually count. At six, I remember waking up at 5:30am in the dark, hopping in the Toyota truck, picking up Grandma Olive and driving 35 minutes to Lakeside Park along the channel before the county let the weeds and hydra consume it. Grandma had her plaid folding chair and her nine- foot bamboo rod rigged and ready for any bottom feeder that might snag her nightcrawler. As for me, my rod of choice (actually the rod of my father’s choice) was a three-foot, nail thin reel and rod combo of Superman equipped with three pound monofilament.

Truthfully, I didn’t care much about what rod I used. My heart was in the moment, not the outcome. Perhaps my heart was set on the bag of Tootsie Pops my dad religiously brought on fishing excursions. In a sense, they acted as his communion, his eucharist to partake within his sanctuary from the mysteries after him.

As the sun crept over the oaks on the opposite side of the channel, I sat by my dad on a short bank with my Superman rod and my line floating on a bobber. Maybe a bluegill or crappie might have some interest to the wiggling redworm. Blue jays shrieked in the branches and mallards and their brown mates swam, often dipping with their tailfeathers jutting skyward. The faint hum of boat motors carried from the lake.

To be honest, my six year old mind began to wander and boredom set in. The dreams of reeling in

my first fish faded and I wondered if maybe I should have stayed home with Splinter and the turtles. Closer to my sanctuary and all the characters awaiting my imagination in my toyboxes.

As I sat beside dad, tossing pebbles into the water, I failed to notice my bobber dipping before being sucked under the surface.

“Nate, you got a fish!”

I held the rod which no longer danced but bent in my paralyzed grip. Dad leaned over and tried reeling and I sat, intrigued but not enough to take ownership. Perhaps the battle seemed not worth the fight.

But then the moment erupted in a chaotic burst of water and spray as a massive carp breeched, jerking and kicking. Without a hesitation, my paralyzed grip let go and I fled. I scampered up the embankment and away from the lake’s edge as my dad, along with Superman, wrestled with the beast. I watched from a distance, heart racing and resigning myself that this would be my last fishing trip.

A minute later, dad walked up the bank with a piece of Superman in each hand. The line snapped and curling where it broke. He tried to assure me that was my first fish but, even at six, I knew that if you don’t land it, you can’t name her.

Later that morning, Grandma caught another carp with her bamboo rod. Dad told me to stand next to her as she held it up with both hands. As he wound the disposable camera, I looked eye level with this carp, face to face as its narrow mouth pulsated before spitting a wad of mud and mutilated worm into my eye.

The next trips in the early dark yielded much better experiences. As a family, we’d gather our rods and tackle and Tootsie Pops and fish for bluegill in the reservoir where the Hidden Valley Lake dam released when it overfilled. Dad, Sarah and I would stand on the concrete wall, just high enough from the water’s edge and dangle our lines writhing with worms, watching the bluegill peck and investigate until one fish’s greed consumed it. Fish after fish would take the bait and dad would show us how to grip their lip and pull the hook without getting a palmful of sharp spines from the dorsal and pelvic fins. Then they’d return to the water and we’d fish on. When the bites slowed, Sarah and I would walk the concrete embankment up the hill to the lake and survey the nestled paradise of homes lining the lush golf course.

Sarah contributed to fishing sometimes but, for the most part, the trips became a father and son event. However, even I had my limits on patience. The camping trips to Fort Bragg where dad and I sat on the bluffs, lines taught in the water and moving with the ache of a ship at sea, sucking on Tootsie Pops and waiting and waiting and waiting held a magic and banality my young mind could handle so long. After an hour, my legs would take me to the tidepools, trying to snatch crabs scuttling into crevices, attempting to catch gobys with some fishing line on my finger and searching for starfish before humans committed an accidental genocide against them. Then I practiced my ninja moves, jumping from rock to rock and seeing how fast I could traverse the jagged terrain.

Two hours later, ready to start something new, but dad sat so long on that rocky seat, I wondered if part of him had become stone. Bites or no bites, he stared across the waters, rod and reel at attention, striving to catch something. As if he were in competition with the Pacific Ocean or the God who created it.

Throughout the years, those fishing trips became more sparse but they happened. We’d even have the opportunity to try for salmon in the Sacramento River or off the Mendocino coast in a boat where we’d troll our lines in eight foot swells. My gut handled the river but those swells defeated me and my involuntary duty involved chumming the waters with my breakfast and soul. Even snagging a 27 pounder couldn’t mitigate my misery. But dad fought the sea and always seemed to win.

Maybe the Tootsie Pops were his secret weapon.

I’ve scoured the past for faults in these memories. Agonized and analyzed the minutiae of the trips that stood out as insincere moments. This scrutiny of memory has become normalized in my relationship with my father. But these memories have remained hallowed, untouched, sanctified and pure for some reason. The bluffs, Lake Cleone, the Russian River watershed, Hidden Valley Lake, Rodman Slough, Mather Lake. These bodies of water somehow cleansed him of the pressure of his choices, his demons, his fears. The act of fishing, for a moment, taught his to be a father who taught his son how to bait a hook, tie a blood knot, reel a bass lure, hold a fish. A man who stood at the bow of a charter boat as his son lay on the seats, fighting nausea, waiting for the unmistakable dance of the rod tip and then calling me over to real in his fish on his line.


In later years when the lies he fed became more and more voracious, those moments where he sought cleansing and catharsis from them at the water’s edge became more desperate. One summer when my middle daughter was young, my family camped at Mackerricher State Park (except my mom who loathed camping and stayed in a hotel). Aunts, uncles, cousins, even my in-laws all set up tents and played badminton, horse shoes, catch and drank beer. One of those days, dad spent some time fishing off the bluffs. I joined him for two hours without so much as a bite and I wanted to see my family. So I walked back to the camp with my wife and girls and my mom. Six hours later, dad roamed the edges of Lake Cleone, desperate to not be beaten by the water. My mom complained and ranted about how crazy he was but I felt sympathy for some inexplicable reason. His desperation to validate his time, effort and actions seemed the moves of a man on a precipice. A precipice, at the time, I had no inclination he stood on.


From bluffs to lakeshore, he fought all he could not control for six hours. The trail around Lake Cleone worn even deeper from his incessant and stubborn pacing, trying every reed clearing, rig set up, reel and bait he could muster to catch a trout or bluegill or crawfish. Anything to validate this choice. To attempt and fail, losing hooks and bait and weights in the name of victory on his own terms. When does determination transform into pride? Or perseverance into obstinacy? Or when does a lie become a truth?


When dad finally returned, walking along the narrow road between Ten Mile Beach and Lake Cleone into Makerricher campgrounds where his children and grandchildren and brothers and sister-in-laws all sat around the campfire, laughing and eating, he emerged from the redwoods empty handed save his rods and reels. The flippant promise of fish for dinner that night faded from everyone’s memory but he must have still been back at the water in his mind, wondering what he did wrong. Why all of his efforts proved fruitless.


Whether he ponders all those fishing trips with empty buckets in his prison cell, I can’t say. And if he tells the few left in his life those thoughts, can you trust the words of a pathological liar? Perhaps the foundation of his memories lies in those empty buckets or the one that got away, not on the fish I landed or those moments at Mather Lake helping my daughters reel in bluegill and watching bobbers.


As a father now, my daughters speak of a desire to fish but tremble at the early morning wake up call or the empathy for the worm. They may join me in the early dark and watch the sunrise over the mountain. They may go through a metamorphosis from boredom to anticipation as I did, but maybe not. My oldest just practiced casting a lure into Honokohau Harbor as I directed her on how to flip the bail, hold the line, when to release and all the subtleties of the cast. Maybe the spark lit. Maybe not. Maybe using Tootsie Pops creates the incentive for them.


Regardless, if that is the memory given me, I will store it with the others. Canonized for the remainder of my days.


About the Author:

N.T. McQueen is the author of the novel, Between Lions and Lambs and The Disciple. His writing has appeared in issues of the North American Review, Fiction Southeast, Entropy, The Grief Diaries, Camas: Nature of the West, Stereo Stories, and others. He has done humanitarian work in Cambodia, Haiti and Mexico and teaches writing at several colleges and universities in California.

Cinderella by Alwyn Bathan


Catch by Stela Brix, 2020


In the back of the Ford Transit, Karam was cold, wet and bloodied. His heart beat in his throat. Every bump in the road hurt. The gaffer tape binding his wrists and ankles cut into his cold gooseflesh. The gag choked, forcing his breath through his nose. Only able to sit upright until the next corner or when the van braked, he rolled, braced himself.

The van came to a stop. Karam shuffled to the back doors.  Lined with plywood, covered in paint and dirty scuffs, the windows were covered in reflective foil. He looked down the length of his body to work out what was causing the pain. His black bomber jacket was pulled up to his shoulders, his fingers and hands covered in scrapes and scuffs, his jeans wet in large patches. He was grass stained and mud spattered. One foot was colder than the other, his right foot shoeless and sockless, throbbing with pain.

Tariq’s face was bloodied and wet from tears. He looked across at Karam, who shrugged.


In the cab, spindly roll-ups were lit and passed between the occupants of the bench seat. Amidst the tobacco fug, they exchanged congratulations, slapped one another on the back.

‘Can tell you’ve been working out mind…picked him up like a frightened rabbit, that skinny ‘un. Clean and jerk. Thought you about to press him up above your shoulders!’

‘I’ll do it for you when we get there. Always happy to get the guns out.’

‘Where now? Should I follow Billy’s Golf?’

‘Nah. Take the A38. MacDonald’s anyone? Carbs for when we get there?’

‘What about the, erm…cargo?’

‘No full English for them tomorrow morning, I’d be thinking.’


Flashes of blue light illuminated the motorway. The patrol car slowed, pulling onto the hard shoulder. Raindrops on the grass were picked out by its headlights.  Reflected light skimmed the wet tarmac. Every nobble and bump in the surface, visible. Beyond the guard rail was a drop, sudden and steep. Opening the vehicle door, the officers put on their caps and silently surveyed the scene. Sharp shards of rain furrowed their brows, their eyes narrowed in the darkness.

The police radio on Burden’s lapel crackled and spat.

‘Charlie-delta-six to base. Exact location of this incident please?’ he asked. He looked at his colleague, whose eyes darted around, scouring beyond the guard rail. Plumes of frozen breath unfurled from the officer’s nose and lips.

‘Incident reported beside emergency phone, ID 767.  Four IC1 males handling two IC6 males on hard shoulder. One vehicle nearby, red VW Golf, index November-delta-one-five-golf-yankee-foxtrot. Believed stolen plates. Running checks on ANPRs in vicinity to locate vehicle. Report when checks made please.’

‘Weird,’ muttered Malik, his warm breath funnelling from the raised collar of his service waterproof. ‘We’re in the right place. And only one person rang it in?  A scuffle at the side of the motorway?’

Approaching the guard rail, the officers shone their torches across the grassy drop in front of them.

‘No tyre marks.  Bit of road rage between boy racers?’ speculated Malik. ‘God, my stomach is rumbling. Is it buttie o’clock yet?’

‘But just the red Golf?  For six guys?  Must’ve been a second car, especially the way they’re built around here.  You and your stomach. Like that plant, Audrey! Feed me now! I don’t have a good feel about this. Let’s look down the slope. We’ll call time if there’s nothing else.’

Slicing the soles of his boots into the incline, Burden smiled.

‘This is how mountain sheep feel,’ he muttered. ‘And, by the way, it’s your turn at The Greasy Spoon when we’re done.’

Malik disappeared, landing with a bump at the bottom of the slope. His grunt echoed through the darkness. Burden smiled, until the cold hurt his teeth.

‘Yes, I can confirm that I am OK, thanks mate. Found this, tripped over it.’

Malik produced a black Puma training shoe. A man’s, worn and muddy, its laces still tangled in a tight knot.

‘You were right mate. Looks like we’ve just missed our Cinderella.’


When the engine stopped, the van was in total darkness. Karam could hear the hoot of an owl close-by. Tariq cried beside him. The padlock securing the back doors rattled against the outside as the key was turned. The door-handle creaked, the door opened. Karam squinted out into the darkness.


Moonlight illuminated skeletal trees lining the brow of a distant hill.


And the silhouettes of his captors.


About the Author:

Alwyn  Bathan was a teacher for 39 years before deciding to return to formal learning through the MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University. She works for Unicef UK, promoting children’s rights in education settings. She is a keen on social justice and work-life balance, not necessarily in that order! She won the Evesham Festival of Words Short Story Competition 2019 and is considering her post-University options, but is certain that creative writing and the persistent purchase of stress-related handbags will feature in her plans. This story featured in the Bridges 2019, published by Bandit Fiction this February.


Two Poems by Penny Blackburn


A Lady by Stela Brix, 2020

One Day at a Time

Each day brings a new tide.

Imperceptibly, our grief is washed away;

broken up – broken down

into its smallest parts.


The beach looks clean;

wet sand smoothed, packed flat

ready to be walked on.

We leave careful footprints

along the ridges.


A stray piece will catch us,

scratch us unaware –

the razor edge of a shell

or Lego from a cargo-fall twenty years ago,

that will not stop washing ashore.




I do not dream the sea anymore.

Its shoreline exhalations do not call

into my dormant mind to bring

me word of gulls and shoals of fish.


I track the waveform paths

through a Tower scope that restricts me

to a given axis of rotation and permitted

range of view.

My surveillance of the watercalm


is wasted; shredded nets

and broken lobster pots

trail uselessly through my sleep.



About the Author:

Penny Blackburn lives in the North East of England and writes poetry and short fiction. Her publications include pieces online in Bangor Literary Journal, Atrium, Black Bough and Ink, Sweat & Tears and in print with Paper Swans Press, Reader’s Digest, Poetry Society News, Broken Spine  and Maytree Press.

She is on Twitter and Facebook as @penbee8 


working pattern internet abstract

Photo by Markus Spiske on


Dear readers, authors and supporters,

I would like to apologise for technical issues we have been experiencing, which resulted in many of you not receiving any email responses. We do reply within two weeks to all submissions, however, on this occasion my server decided to act in an arbitrary manner and not send and deliver my emails.. It has been brought to my attention that this has not been the case for many weeks, or even perhaps months.

I am very sorry for the inconvenience it has caused. I have re-booted the whole system, which seems to have fixed the problem. I have also contacted all authors that are going to be featured in our publication until the summer break. It concerns prose writers, creative non-fiction writers, essayists and visual artists.

If you have not been contacted by me in the last week or so, it means that unfortunately your submission has been unsuccessful. Nevertheless, I would like to assure all of those whose work has not been accepted that there are many reasons why it happens and that they should not give up. Please keep writing and keep smiling.

And finally, poets do not need to panic as they will be contacted after 30 June regarding their submissions for Love Poetry Anthology. Many thanks.


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Best wishes,


Natalie Nera

Head Editor





Introducing Victoria Holt


Northumberland artist Victoria Holt studied Fine Art at Camberwell College of Arts, London, where she experimented with multiple approaches and media: from stop-motion animation to conceptualism. Since graduating she want back to basics, rediscovering her love of drawing and figurative painting. In the last four years, she has collaborated with poets and writers, which culminated with her illustrations appearing in three books in two different countries and two art exhibitions in The Forge, Allendale, and Queens Hall, Hexham, United Kingdom.

We hope that the illustrations, many of which you have seen in our online publication already, will, in return, inspire poets and writers to create something new. Today’s prompt: Search.

Left to right, top to bottom: A Lost Shoe;  A Child’s Hand; Friends;  The Shoe of Childhood; In the Cage; The Rutting Stag; A Moth to a Flame; Queen of Hearts; A Swallow

Driftwood by Bill Stifler


Lost by Victoria Holt, 2017

We only think we remember the flowing current of our past.  Instead we remember eddies, that branch cutting the water, a mist-hung spider’s web limply swaying above long ripples.  There are no words for one yesterday distinct from another.  I try to remember–long days sitting in the sun, half-sleeping, lulled by the drone of locusts as evening slips in–weaving the past around me like a shawl to keep off the night’s chill–memory, fantasy, daydream blending into dusk.

Sometimes as I sit here listening to the river slip away, she comes to me. She never speaks, only stands smiling shyly at me as if waiting.  She wears the dress she wore the night of the flood, pale green like the first shoots of new grass.  I’m glad she comes, I think, but she frightens me.

It was summer then, too, July and sticky, the air heavy with heat, crushing us.  I didn’t want to go out.  I wanted to stay home, maybe read a book before going to sleep, but she was restless.

She drove.  She liked to drive, especially at night, running fast down back roads, the wind racing past us, and sometimes she turned off the headlights and drove with just the moon and stars for light.  At night she was like the wind.  I never watched the road, only her long black hair swept back, dark pools, hiding her face, defining it.  She drove more slowly as we came into Braddock, turning on the headlights, as though we were any young couple in from the country for a night on the town.

We ate, I can’t remember where or what.  I should remember.  It may have been Fortelli’s.  We often went there.  She liked Italian, especially the long Italian loaves of bread served with real butter, and she always wanted seconds.  The waiters all knew her.  They teased her about the bread, telling her if she kept eating it she’d end up looking like a fat Italian wife.  She smiled at them from under her long lashes, her head tilted shyly, seductively, her hair falling easily across her face, hiding her.  I can’t separate that night from any other.  All I remember is this image of her face above a candlelit table and soft music.

Afterward, we danced.

Sitting here by the river, I watch the swallows dip and soar above me.  They seem almost to fall into the river, then catch themselves and pull away, only to dive again, a constant rhythm of rising and falling blending with the rhythms of the river.

The musicians announced the last song.  Only a few of us were still dancing.  Sometime during the night it had begun to rain, and I remember hearing it striking the roof, steady and loud.  The doorman was drenched from helping people to their cars, and his shoes squeaked.

Driving home, I saw the river making its way across farms, at times crossing the road as if traveling with it.   Once, I glanced over at her.  She was sleeping, her arms stretched along the seat not quite touching me.

I might have stayed in town.

The road was bad, slick with mud.  Wherever the river crossed it, I’d feel the car slip for a moment with the current.  Then the car slewed one last time, the engine drowning, and the river was in the car.

I want to dance with her again, here, by the river.  Only, today, she doesn’t come, though the sky is bright, and the sun glints on the water like laughter.


About the Author:

Bill Stifler teaches composition and mythology at Chattanooga State Community College.  Originally from southeastern Pennsylvania, Stifler has lived in the Chattanooga area since 1972.  Stifler also serves as the webmaster for the Meacham Writers’ Workshop, a biannual event featuring readings, discussions, and group conferences by creative writers from around the world who share their experience and expertise with local and regional writers.