‘Negligence’ by Daniel Schulz

I am trying to tell him something, but, of course, he has to parody the high pitch of my voice. It’s his way of telling me that I’m not masculine enough. He interrupts me to show me I have nothing to say. He is not going to listen. Building myself up in front of him, I glance at him with irony. Suddenly, he laughs and continues to work and that’s the end of that. Harold loves displaying his masculinity. He loves boasting to me about sex. He loves to parody. I leave him be. Packages are falling off left and right from the belt. Our team leader has switched his diet from beer to bourbon. They are trying to drive production rates up. People are falling out with no one there to replace them. 

Workers stuck in the delivery trucks, unloading a long traffic line of packages, working blind every day, ignore how they are overloading the belt. The only thing that matters is speed, as the metro clutters and jams. Standing tall the supervisor hovers over the scenery, tall, delegating one of the workers to stop unloading, fix the jam, all while holding his coffee cup. When I am around, he prefers to act as if I didn’t exist. Multitasking is his strong suit. I grab my work gloves, pump up the lifting carriage, and pull the empty crate behind me, while Harold pulls off in the opposite direction with his priority packages. Rest assured, we will see each other again. But if the world fell apart around us right now, we would not blink an eye, as it wouldn’t come to us as a surprise. 

Everyone seems overworked this time of year. There is hardly enough space to get through with my cart as packages are crowded around work benches, deliveries for our district. With business infinitely expanding in a finite space, we find ourselves buried underneath deliveries, as a team leader recently discovered as a package fell down on him from above. The machine is just as overcrowded as the space we work in. Mending this, mechanics have riveted plastic walls onto the metal frames of our slides to minimize hospitalizations. Mail sort has been expanded in order to keep production rates up without risking lives in order to keep the overload we are experiencing at its limit, though you can still see things falling from above, sometimes.

“It’s as if peace doves are shitting boulders down on us,” Jack tells me, as workers hurry to fill bags with envelopes, neatly sorted by post code. “Do you know that guy?” he asks me, pointing at one of the men loading one of our export containers, nearby. Everyone is sweating and complaining about the pain in their bones. Not Jack. He is complaining about a chill running down his spine.

“He’s gay,” he answers me, “he’s gay. And I mean, good for him, but every time I turn around, I’m afraid he might be looking at my ass.”

“Well, then you know how women feel,” I snap, only to watch his face distort in astonishment.

“But that is something else,” he gasps, talking to me about how that type of desire is “natural.” I tell him about the two gay bunnies I had when I was a kid, but he says that is different, because they were animals.

“But animals are ‘natural’”, I smirk, then retort, “You know, just because he’s gay doesn’t mean he’s into you.”

Shaking his head, Jack turns his back on me. “What do you know?”

Loading my empty cart at the mail sort with packages full of paperwork for global export, I see another colleague waving at me, asking, “Do you even like women?” Cem has been asking me that for the last few weeks now, again and again and again, staring at me with wide eyes. Probably overhearing my conversation with Jack, he utters this question with renewed urgency. Something about the way that I act seems to trigger this question for him, something he thinks seems different about me makes him impose his inquisitions on me. Suddenly, it seems, my private life is his business, making me feel like I’m under surveillance like that man back there in the container.

“Do you have a girlfriend, Jamie,” Cem asks me with repeated urgency and concern, “or are you gay? …  Hey, Jamie, I asked you a question!” 

“James,” I say to him with resentment, because I want some respect, “my name is James.” 

“Okay, Tina, don’t answer me. Your choice. I just wanted to know, because you don’t seem to be like any of us. I mean the way you act isn’t norm…” –

Blurring his voice out, I let the sound of the machinery take over my mind, rolling over the acidic mockery he has been handing me for the last five weeks. It gets to you at some point, the way that people treat you, the way you are constantly supposed to acknowledge their boundaries, but they never respect yours. I stare into the void of my feelings and stay there for a moment, far away from the acid he wants me to swallow. It’s all about self-affirmation. That’s what he wants. Confirmation of his own thoughts on me. And looking up, I suddenly find him grinning at me, mischievously.

“I knew it,” Cem cheers, “I knew it!” And I realize that instead of staring in the air, I have involuntarily stared at some colleague’s well-rounded ass. Closing my eyes, I breathe in a deep sigh of humiliation and get on with my work. Cem nods at me with acknowledgment, because, in his eyes, we both are men.

Washing the filth off my hands and washing my face, after a hard day’s work, I take a breathe and sigh. We’re on the other side of the mirror now, on the abyss underlying the surface. This is the place where I let out all the screams I cannot let out in my everyday life. This is the place where I get to be a human being, instead of just being what I am expected to be, an automaton. Closing my eyes I hear the machine rolling on inside my mind, turn up the volume to blend it out of my head. Music is my sea of calm. I still feel too much like a machine. I go on. I repeat. I want to break out. My freedom is only a few blocks from here, a place where I can be me, a place where I can be with my friends, a place where I can feel gorgeous, instead of feeling like I’m not a human being.

Closing the door behind me, I go out on the street to take a breathe of fresh air. It’s a good night to be out on the streets. It’s a good night to go out to the club, or so I think, as the calm of the air settles inside my chest. Seeing red and blue lights flashing underneath the street lamps, I hasten, not sure of what has happened here. I draw closer, see a body bag, see an ambulance nearby. Police keeping away the crowd to which I now belong looking into my life from the outside. Only a few hours later the News will announce a shooting having taken place here. Only a few hours later the News will spread out about the eight deaths and twenty two wounded, my friends.

There is a mother of two children among the victims, there is a father, a sister, a brother, someone’s sibling, someone’s parent, someone’s child, people who have done absolutely nothing to deserve this. People I cared for and that cared for me and cannot be brought back. But year after year they just keep on coming for us, imposing dress codes on us with a shot gun and shrapnel, telling us how to act and to feel, telling us who to be, because for some odd reason they feel that they are the victims, they that censor us with violence and guns.

Looking around, I try to find my friends, hoping that none of them have been harmed or sent out in a body bag. I am both afraid for them and myself. Heading toward the back alley, I see a friend’s van standing there, shot up with shrapnel. But no bodies to be seen other than the men looting it, steeling packages from the back. How could all of this have happened, I ask myself. And as some of the packages crash down and split open on the asphalt like a special delivery, I realize that a cold breeze has taken hold of the air and that nobody really cares.

Meet the Author!

Daniel Schulz is a U.S./German writer known for his publications in journals such as Mirage #5/ A Period(ical), Gender Forum, Fragmented Voices, Versification, Café Irreal, Cacti Fur, The Wild Word, Shot Glass Journal, Outcast Press Journal, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Word Vomit, Dipity, Flora Fiction, Steel Jackdaw, anthologies such as Heart/h (Fragmented Voices 2021), The Clockwork Chronicles (Madhouse Publications 2022), and the catalogue Get Rid of Meaning (Walther König Verlag). His poem ‘Gorgon’ was shortlisted for the Mono Poetry Prize in 2021. He is a 2022 Pushcart Nominee. His editorial work Kathy Acker in Seattle (Misfit Lit 2020) will be republished this year. IG: @danielschulzpoet

‘Hypothetically Speaking’ by Leanne Moden

Say you see me, getting off the train. Say it’s past midnight, and the taxi rank stands empty. The chip shop closed hours ago, but the sharp scent of vinegar and grease lingers. The concrete bus shelter opens wide, like a mouth.

Say you see me cross the car park, stepping carefully through broken glass. Ascending the stairs to the bridge over the tracks.

Say you watch me stop at the top, look back, move forward.

Say you follow me then, through the nice part of town. Darkened windows, blinds down. Gated gardens, railings black, where the air smells of sweet honeysuckle and hot tarmac. 

Say you watch my pace quicken at the crossing, not waiting for the lights to change. Still slightly out of range. Strides widening briskly, in sensible shoes. The ones I always choose: double-laced, thick soles, comfortable control. Running shoes. 

Say you speed up too.

Say I’ve mapped every shadow between street lights. Where, even on warm nights, no one lingers. I count the paths on my fingers, choose the one closest to the road, know through luck and repetition the right way to go. I hear you breathing behind me, but tell myself it’s nothing, rushing past the edge of the skate park, roundabout, car park, housing estate. 

Say it’s too late to be out alone, that I should have got a taxi home, but I’m skint and I’m definitely not complaining. I mean, at least it’s not raining. 

Say I cross another road, cut through the precinct, and I think you’re still there. No, I know you’re still there. You’ve been behind me since the station. And it’s not just my imagination. So, I stop to tie my shoe outside the late-night KFC. Watch you hesitate, glance down, then walk right by me. 

Say I wait for three beats: one… two… three –

Say, I only follow when it feels safe, inwardly scolding myself for staying out this late. 

Say I walk behind you through the rough estate. Now, say you’ve slowed your pace. So, I slow down too. 

Say I’m scared of you.  

Say you look back at me, expectantly. Only three streets from home, on a narrow road. I’ve got nowhere else to go, and you step off the path, behind a tree. To wait for me. Waiting for me. 

Say I veer left, push through bushes that scratch my arms, running from harm across an unlit dual carriage way. Desperate to get away. Run as fast as I can go, don’t stop till I get home.

Say you never think about me again, but I think of you every night for months. Say the one person I tell says there must be a rational explanation. That men don’t just follow young women home from the station. That it must be my imagination. 

But it wasn’t, and they do, and it happens every day. Say these stories get dismissed, again and again and again. What else is there to say?

Meet the Author!

Leanne Moden is a Nottingham-based poet and writer. She’s performed at events across the UK and Europe, including WOMAD Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Sofar Sounds, and Bestival. Leanne’s latest collection, ‘Get Over Yourself’ was published in 2020 by Burning Eye Books, and she’s currently working on her second theatre show. You can find out more about her work on her website: www.leannemoden.com 

‘That 80’s Scar’ by Roly Andrews

A cold rainy day on a wind-swept pedestrian mall. Doesn’t get better than this. Nat rolled her eyes – it should’ve been a Sunday.

A lonely busker stood on the corner, hood up, head down, playing for an audience of one – that’s if you could call a sopping empty hat an audience. He was playing a song with a laconic, down-low Caribbean vibe. She didn’t recognise it, something about sorrow and serendipity.

She shook involuntarily, turned, then walked up the narrow staircase to the clinic.  

Twenty-five minutes later, a chirpy audiologist tried to sell a tepid smile.

“Your hearing is within the normal range; there’s nothing on the audiogram indicating any hearing problems.”

Nat shook her head. 

I’m going mad, she thought.

She stared at the audiologist, tears welling. 

Words failed her, spilling out as silly-sounding staccato clicks. 

She was about to cry.

“I’ll get some tissues,” the audiologist said in a panic.

When she returned, Nat’s tears had already drowned her cheeks and reddened her eyes. The cuffs on her blue jumper were ruffled and damp.

“Here, take these, darling.”

The audiologist scratched her head; it was not unknown for people to cry after a hearing test, but never after learning they had perfect hearing.

Nat sobbed. “What do I do now?” 

“I don’t know, dear, but at least you know your hearing is not the problem!”

Her problem. 

Nat tried to smile; it seemed her problem had just become so much scarier. 

She whispered, “Thank you,” picked up her bag and left. 

She decided to go to the coffee shop on the corner, grab a cuppa-tea.

She sat down, sighing loudly when she heard ‘Madness’ playing Prince Buster’s ‘Madness.’

It could’ve been worse. Over the last three months, she’d quickly learnt that the tempo and production values of the late 70s and early 80s ska revival bands were more to her taste than their Jamaican inspirations.  

Her mind returned to her problem. 

The doctor said there was nothing physically wrong with her. He asked whether anyone in her family had hearing issues. Nat had no idea; she shrugged her shoulders; she didn’t know her family. So, he sent her for a test. And now, there was nothing wrong with her ears or hearing. There was only one conclusion to make – she was going mad! Although they were her words, of course, not the doctor’s. He politely suggested that the emotional distress and trauma she’d recently experienced needed to be explored further, code for you’re bat-shit crazy, lady!

The thought of seeing a counsellor left her feeling colder than the High Street bus stop she’d be standing by in twenty minutes. 

Is it better to think you are mad or have it proven?

“Excuse me,” she interrupted a drenched middle-aged man sitting at the table next to hers. She stole a second glance; he looked familiar; then she recognised him as the busker. 

He looked up in surprise.

“Can you please tell me the name of this song, the one playing through the speakers?”

He cocked his head, sat motionless, tuning in.

“I’m sorry, I can’t hear any music playing; usually, I can hear everything, but I honestly can’t hear any song, sorry love.”

That proved it: she was going mad.

Her problem started three months ago. Just after her mum died. Now, everywhere she went, in every spare moment, ska music engulfed her. When she turned on the radio – ska! Advertising jingles on TV – ska. Walking into shops – ska, ska, ska. It was driving her to distraction.

Her tea arrived as the first few bars of ‘The Guns of Navarone’ started blaring. The volume set at a rock-steady five, just loud enough to fill her consciousness without being migraine-inducing. 

She stared at her milky tea. 

Why, mum, why?

Why was the question. 

Cancer was the answer.

Neville Staple started toasting as her icing sugared pastries arrived; full throated horns squirting joy and triumph. 

It was always like this. Whenever she thought of her mother, her illness, or her death, her thoughts were stolen away by a thumping walking baseline, tightly woven drum rimshot and harmonic brass accentuating the off beats. 

Thirty-six was too young to die. No one died of cancer when they were only thirty-six. 

And eighteen was either too young or too old to be an orphan. Nat couldn’t work that one out. Yet, either way, she was now alone. 

Uni friends had gathered around, laying upon her a soft protective wreath woven from kindness and empathy, so weighty it felt suffocating. Devoid of true understanding and staying power, her friends slowly drifted off. Philosophy lectures, exams, boys, and the irresistible force of élan vital paring them away.

Nat didn’t suffer in isolation though; loneliness, pain and anger gleefully masqueraded as de-facto companions, and she was comfortable in their company. Nat discovered despondence could also be a good friend of the bereaved. It expected nothing from you – you didn’t even have to try. Emotional squalor was cheap, but not necessarily nasty.  

That was until late one night in bed, the 4/4 time signature and choppy guitar strums of Jamaica floated in through an open window and took a rent-free room in her brain. It was weird. It came from nowhere but soon became a welcomed beguilement. She found she enjoyed the toe-tapping rhythms, the testy themes of social justice, and the novelty of hearing something no one else could. She wondered if her mother was sending a message, but she hated ska. She’d told Nat that many times.

“Dope smokers and heathens,” she called anyone associated with reggae or ska. “Bob Marley was the king of the wastrels,” she said, as if she knew him. “Studio One was a den of debauchery.”

No, Mum much preferred the white bread diet of Doctor Hook, Leo Sayer and Roger Whittaker. It didn’t escape Nat that both Bob and her mother had died too young from the ravages of cancer. It seemed perverse that people so different in life could be connected in the manner of their death. Since the ska invasion, Nat wondered whether her mother and Bob might jam together in heaven, maybe doing Glen Campbell covers. Now, that would be fun to watch and listen to. 

Aunty Dot was not really Nat’s aunt; she was her mother’s best friend. Aunty Dot filled Nat’s earliest memories and was the closest thing to family Nat had ever known. Aunty Dot and her mother had been inseparable in life, so it was no surprise that she came to stay and help take care of her mother toward the end. The only problem was that she had never left. 

Aunty Dot was demanding, interfering, and opinionated. Co-parenting by personal invitation, she had to have a say in anything to do with Nat and her upbringing. She was also an outrageous lush and was likely at home right now tickling her throat with a sweet Riesling or some other wine she called pudding plonk. When Nat returned home, she would likely be onto her second bottle. 

Nat sighed as she picked up her bag and was ushered out of the coffee shop by The Body Snatchers jaunty but deceptive and misleading song, ‘easy life’.

“Did you know I knew your father?” Aunty Dot spurted recklessly and dangerously. She was a repeat offender of speaking under the influence. Nat had just walked in the door and kicked off her shoes when the onslaught started. 

“I told your mother she should tell you about him before it was too late. She said no, of course. She said, ‘what’s done is done.’ She’d made her decision long ago.”

This was a well-played record; Nat had heard this tune many times. 

“I’ll get some dinner on,” Nat said, wanting to escape to the sanctuary of the kitchen. As she walked past the lounge door, ‘Save it for later’ escaped into the hallway. It must have been an insurance advertisement on TV.  

Aunty Dot collected and clinked her bottle, then followed her. Objectional behaviour preceding the smell of alcohol, Nat was quickly on the receiving end of both. Aunty Dot sidled up beside her. 

“How old are you now?”

“You know I’m eighteen; you’ve asked me that many times.”

“Well, don’t you think you should know who your father is?”

“I’ve lived this long without knowing, so I see no reason to change that. And I certainly don’t want to hear it from a pissed-up friend of my mother’s.”

“Phwoar, aren’t you feisty today?”

Nat stared. Aunty Dot was a good-looking woman, still in her prime. She was wearing an on-trend geometric bob on top of a two-tone ensemble of black and white. In Nat’s estimation, she could have any man she wanted, yet her choice was to save and ruin herself on the fruits of Brother Dominic. Nat didn’t understand why she’d lived her life vicariously through her mother’s and hers. The only thing she knew was, like her mother, she’d suffered a catastrophic family breakdown.  

Perhaps drinking was just her way of coping. She and her mother had been close; clearly, she was missing mum just as much as she was. Nat changed tact. 

“Tell me more about when you and Mum hung out.”

Aunty Dot’s face relaxed; she smiled, pulled up and plopped herself down on a kitchen stool.

“Oh, my gosh, you couldn’t want for a better friend. She was such fun. She loved to party, loved to dance. She loved the boys too, and the boys loved her. We used to sneak out on Friday and Saturday nights to go to parties and pubs. We wouldn’t tell our parents; we were pretty naughty.” 

Nat interrupted. “How old were you?” 

“We started going out to town during the 5th form, so what’s that, fifteen or sixteen? We didn’t stop until your mum became pregnant. Then, everything changed. Your mum transformed from this beautiful, fun-loving party girl to a beautiful but very serious and responsible young mother. I’ve lost her twice – really.

“We loved going to pubs and listening to bands. I knew many of the guys playing, so we’d never have to pay a cover charge. Awesome times and great music. And, in the eighties, there were so many great bands.”

Nat smiled, “So, what kind of music did you listen to?”

“Oh, anything and everything really: new wave, pub rock, punk, psychedelic.”

“Wow, there was a lot going on.” 

“There sure was, but our favourite was ska.”

Nat dropped the potato she was peeling into the sink and spun around to face Aunty Dot.


“Ska… Your mother and I loved ska; we followed a band called Zooty Tooty.”

“I thought Mum hated ska.”

“She did after she became pregnant.”

“Why, what happened?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t say, your mother promised me to secrecy. She made me swear I would never tell you. Sorry, I’ve already said far too much. “

“Is it about my father?”

Aunty Dot paused, topped her glass, and then after a moment, nodded. “Yes.”

“It’s so hard, Nat,” Aunty Dot confessed, “I’ve been carrying this secret for eighteen years, and it’s so heavy, it’s killing me. You have a right to know. Please release me from this horrible burden.”

Nat thought for a moment. Mum was gone. She now could choose. “Go on then,” she said. 

Aunty Dot burst into tears and reached for Nat’s hands. Through her sobs, she spluttered, “Your father played rhythm guitar for Zooty Tooty. He was a musician. The lousy creep never wanted anything to do with your mother after he found out she was pregnant.”

“Oh, oh no, poor mum. Did you know this guy? Does he still play?”

“Yes, I knew him, and yes, he still plays. He does odd painting jobs but busks on rainy days.”

“Oh my God, so you still know him?”

Aunty Dot drained her glass, quickly topping it up again. She hung her head. “Yes, I do. “


“Well… well, he’s… he’s my brother.”

Meet the Author!

Roly Andrews lives in Nelson, NZ. In his spare time he enjoys tramping. After many years of practising, he is still trying to learn to play the trombone! A champion for everyone, he has mentored rough sleepers and supported people affected by suicide, and is a disability rights activist.

‘An Ordinary Life’ by John RC Potter

My earliest memory was my second birthday, sitting in my highchair in the kitchen of our family home. It was before the kitchen was renovated to include a large picture window. Previously, there were two long old-fashioned storm windows on that wall, with a telephone sitting high in pride of place between them.

You may ask how anyone can have a memory when only two years old. My own family has questioned it. However, I do remember that birthday and that day, and the memories evoked are in my mind’s eye – almost like a film flickering along from the past. My birthday is on February 23rd and my paternal grandfather’s birthday was two days earlier, thus on that day in 1960 two birthdays were being celebrated. I particularly remember the scene because I was sitting near the end of the table beside my mother, whilst my grandfather was at the other end in his ever-present plaid shirt and suspenders. The day was particularly notable because my grandfather’s brothers and their wives were also present; in a matter of a few years my grandfather and two of his brothers would have departed this earth. I recall that my grandfather and his brothers looked so much alike, all balding with liver spots on the crown of their foreheads. Only the oldest brother, Uncle Will, was different in appearance: with a full head of white hair and a moustache (a few years later he would remind me of Colonel Sanders of KFC fame). 

Another early memory is of wandering away after supper. I barely remember it. I was a toddler and always wanting to roam (which was an early indication of my need to roam even further afield than the farm and head off across oceans to other lands). My mother had been cooking supper and my dad would have been in the barn; my older sisters were young too but no doubt playing in the house, the yard, or the barn. I was probably left in care of my sisters, and they may have lost track of me. In any case, I headed off back the laneway that led to the barn but extended past that known place into the more distant universe: back to the corn and wheat fields that stretched to the back of our farm and ended in a small forest of trees. However, just past the barn and to the left of the laneway that receded into the distance there was the swamp, and further yet a small creek that meandered through our farm from north to south and then to the east where it met up with the concession line on which we lived. 

When my mother went outside to check with my sisters as to my whereabouts, I was no longer on the back step playing. My mother was naturally very concerned: a farm is a place not only of discovery, but also of danger. As I was later told, due to the sun setting and the evening proceeding on its daily path, my parents and our next-door neighbours set out in all directions to find the missing toddler. I can only imagine what went through my mother’s mind that evening: had I tumbled into the crick, or wandered into the cow field and been trampled, or worse yet, had I been abducted from the front yard by a passing motorist with evil intentions? 

All families have their legends and their lores, their memories and myths. The episode of the wandering toddler who disappeared one evening around suppertime was one in my life and in my family. For a few hours it caused a sudden panic for my parents and great concern for our neighbours. However, it had a good ending, as we wish all such incidents did: it was my mother who found me late that evening in the middle of the swampland, sitting on a log, illuminated by a full moon, and singing happily as if I were ensconced in the safest place on earth. 

The roamer and wanderer that was a part and parcel of my nature as a child continued throughout my childhood. I was fascinated by travel documentaries, by the National Geographic, and by any information about travelling via airplane, boat, train or even car. My parents were never in an airplane, although my father had ridden in a helicopter. However, I would begin travelling by airplane when a young adult, and then after moving overseas as in international educator, I was always in the air. My thirst for knowledge about other lands, languages, cultures, and peoples has taken me to approximately fifty countries, and I have lived in five. 

During these travels and journeys – the physical as well as the metaphysical – I have borne witness to defining incidents that have been signposts on the journey of my life: more than one earthquake (Turkey and Indonesia), a political uprising (Indonesia), a tsunami (Bali, fortunately far from the epicentre), an aerial offensive (Israel), up to 50 degree heat (UAE), and found myself taking refuge in a church in the middle of a raging, white-out conditions snow storm (Canada). When I was born, I am certain that my parents had no idea where my life would take me; they would have thought it would take the natural course as theirs had done. It was assumed that I would take over the family farm, that I would settle down and have the same life and lifestyle as my parents, and my grandparents, and thus similar to each generation previously. That did not happen. Like the settlers and explorers of generations earlier, deep inside me was the need to uproot myself, to experience the unknown, to chart another course; in a fashion and manner similar, no doubt, to my forebearers who departed from the British Isles in the early 1800s, heading for new horizons ‘across the pond’.

Like them, seeking a new life, an ordinary life. 

Meet the Author!

John RC Potter is an international educator originally from Canada, but who is living in Istanbul.  When in high school John had the opportunity to interview the Nobel Prize winning author, Alice Munro, who resided in his hometown. It inspired John to begin creative writing. His poems and stories have been published in the following: Literary Yard, Down in the Dirt, Bosphorus Review of Books, The National Library of Poetry, Jabberwocky. His most recent publications are ‘Blood from a Stone’, an excerpt from a novel-in-progress (Bosphorus Review of Books, January 2023), and ‘All Roads Lead To Istanbul’ (The Write Launch, February 2023). An upcoming story will appear in an issue of Fiction on the Web (March 2023). He is currently a quarterfinalist in the ScreenCraft Short Story Competition with his entry, ‘She Got What She Deserved’.  2023 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Competition Quarterfinalists – ScreenCraft 

‘Atonement’ by Daniel Schulz


Atonement seems obsolete as an idea, but the idea keeps itself alive, precisely because the moment in which it could have been realised was not met. In sum, all we did was interpret what we have done, instead of changing it. Stunting ourselves, resigning from reality, committing to the defeatism of reason, we fail to change the world. Our appearance is what we put out as our experience, to hide the naive construct of our own innocence through jaded glasses. Nothing ever happened here. That is the truth, because we never changed our narrative.

“Are you flirting with me?” I asked her.

And she said, “You’re a thinker. Why don’t you go ahead and answer your own question?” So I put my hand on her thigh, while staring at the side of her face as she observed our friends’ conversation at the table. She brushed it down once. She brushed it down twice. And the third time she retreated. 

I wasn’t sure if this was what she wanted, until she sat down opposite from me and pale, drawing her girlfriend close to her, like a shield. That was when I got the idea, but did not say a word.

That speechless shame to have gone too far. If you’re a man, they say, you have to be assertive. I never wanted to be this way, but never having had the courage before I tried. You aren’t born a man, you see, you become one. 


Leaving the bar, I went out for fresh air and left things as they were. For a moment reality settled into my conscience like a stinging cold, but it was disproportionate to the world surrounding me. I realised I had misinterpreted the signs she had given me, but did not say a word. It was too late to say anything, anyhow, I told myself. The deed was done. I didn’t change the world, you see, I just left the situation and took a breath.

Near the entrance, another woman, smoking her cigarette, had her eye on me, then looked away, not to draw attention. She didn’t belong to our inner circle. I put on an appearance. Disinterested, I stared into the night, telling myself that I was not a threat so that this stranger might believe it, too, then left.


There were no consequences for me.  Some of the women I used to be friends with, kept their distance from me. But that is all I know that happened, rumours. The eyes that locked onto me and paused, because they never expected me to do anything like that. Maybe that was the point. I was the shy guy and everybody’s best friend. If I wasn’t categorised gay, I was categorised submissive. There is nothing you can do about other’s preconceptions. I didn’t mind being categorised as these things. What I did mind was to be written off as a person with no desires of his own. What I did mind was to be everyone’s personal pet and joke. So I pushed my hand underneath her skirt, thinking she might react.

Being feared is worse than being ignored, especially if people start ignoring you, precisely, because they fear you. Self-reflection cannot yield before the events of history. 


Atonement seems obsolete as an idea, precisely because life goes on. But the idea keeps itself alive, precisely because the moment in which it could have been realised was not met. I didn’t change the world, you see, because I never said a word. One evening, ten years later, I remember slipping a poem toward the clerk of an exhibition, believing the double innuendo to be clever. Revisiting the scene a day later, I saw her keeping distance, jaws locked in position, her rage and terror turned to stone. Her anger stood out like a statue in the gallery, hammered down with a weight, she would have liked to bludgeon me with, if I had not been a very special guest on this occasion. This is what happens when you have friends and business connections, you see. The space was very well known for its feminist art pieces and paying its female employees less than it did its men.

Appearance put out as experience, to hide the naive construct of a glamorous image, which is merely a construct of our minds indifferent to reality.


I shed my skin a few nights ago, going through my memoirs. Longing to give some kind of confession, I entered a student bar, well known for its open readings. This is how I told the world my story. Bare of expensive clothing, I read my previous lines and sat down at the counter, realising that my life fit into a specific kind of category, a specific kind of box. You aren’t born a man, after all, you become one.

“What a depressing story,” the man next to me ranted, “Couldn’t you have read something more comedic? You come off as somebody who suffered child abuse by his parents.” Turning my head toward him, I waited for him to tell me more about what he was thinking. He continued without invitation, “Don’t get me wrong. You’ve really got talent as a writer, but if you just would do something more comedic to lighten up the room, you would really be something else, you know? You would be successful. You know? People want to have joy in their life. People want to laugh.” And with those words he handed one of the other performers his card, explaining that he was a well established media producer looking for fresh talent.

Unapologetic about his own behavior, he turned his back on me like a true conversationist and mingled with the other people reading at the bar. From afar, I got a better look at his trademark polo shirt, and the people he was leaning toward, saying he was in the city for a visit. Leaning over toward another table, he handed another group of people his card, resting his hands on the back of a chair, until his hands slid down farther and the woman he was groping told him to get off. Hands in the air, he said, he didn’t do anything, but backed away as her friends stood up. He even said so to my face. “Some people are really uptight.”

Suddenly, I felt my lips move: “I saw you slide your hands down her back.”

And as I said those words, he looked at me in astonishment and fury, self-assured about himself and answered, “No, I did not. I didn’t do anything at all.” Turning his back on me again, because I did not share his song, he interpreted his own actions in a different manner, editing reality before reality edited him out of the room. There was something hilarious about him in that moment, something that made my throat choke with laughter, simply because it was true.

Meet the Author!

Daniel Schulz is a U.S.-German author based in Cologne. He is best known for his short story collection Schrei (Formidabel 2016) and his work as curator of the Kathy Acker Reading Room at the University of Cologne. In 2019 he co-organized and curated an exhibition for the Goethe Institute in Seattle for which he edited the book Kathy Acker in Seattle (Misfit Lit 2020). He also worked as co-editor of Gender Forum‘s special edition Kathy Acker: Portrait of an Eye/I (2019). His works have appeared in the journals Der Federkiel, Luftruinen, Die Novelle, The Transnational, Electronic Book Review, Mirage #5, Gender Forum, Fragmented Voices, Divanova, Kunst-Kultur-Literatur Magazin, Versification, Salut L‘absurde, Café Irreal and Cacti Fur as well as the anthologies Tin Soldier (Sarturia 2020), Corona -Schnee (Salon29 2021), Jahrbuch der Poesie 2021 (AG Literatur 2021) and Home (Fragmented Voices 2021).  Instagram: @danielschulzpoet

Author’s Note: 

The text derives specific parts of its contents from Theodor Adorno’s Negative Dialectics, replacing the subject matter of philosophy with the subject matter of atonement and regret. As Adorno juxtaposed appearance and rhetoric of philosophy against the material reality of actual historical events and acts of discrimination and violence, his concepts could also be utilized in context of what the #metoo-movement made vocal. Appropriating Adorno’s concepts helped with the emotional, hurtful, and heavy lifting of the subject matter at hand. Below are the sentence specifically appropriated for this text, a writing technique I, in this text, have adapt in kinship to Kathy Acker’s work.


Author’s Text:

Atonement seems obsolete as an idea, but the idea keeps itself alive, precisely because the moment in which it could have been realized was not met. In sum, all we did was interpret what we have done, instead of changing it. Stunting ourselves, resigning from reality, committing to the defeatism of reason, we fail to change the world. 

Theodor Adorno’s Text:

Philosophie, die einmal überholt schien, erhält sich am Leben, weil der Augenblick ihrer Verwirklichung versäumt ward. Das summarische Urteil, sie habe die Welt bloß interpretiert, sei durch Resignation vor der Realität verkrüppelt auch in sich, wird zum Dafaitismus der Vernunft, nachdem die Veränderung der Welt mißlang. 

(Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialektik. Jargon der Eigenlichkeit., Suhrkamp 2003, p. 15.)

Philosophy that once seemed obsolete keeps itself alive, because the moment of its realization has been missed. The summary judgement that philosophy has merely interpreted the world, that she, crippled in herself, has resigned from the world, becomes a defeatism of reason, after changing the world has failed. 


Author’s Text:

Self-reflection cannot yield before the events of history. 

Adorno’s Text:

Ihre Kritische Selbstreflexion darf aber nicht innehalten vor den höchsten Erhebungen ihrer Geschichte. 

(Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialektik. Jargon der Eigenlichkeit., Suhrkamp 2003, p. 16.)

Her critical selbstreflection cannot stand still before the highest mounts of her history.  

‘Springboards to Opportunity’ by Mike Fox

Jemima has made it to the end of the season, but only just.

‘I was sure we’d get at least three years out of her,’ Jen says, as I muck out the shed we call a stable.

I put this misplaced optimism down to Jemima’s acquiescence. For a donkey she is not prone to mood swings – what you ask her to do, she does, if slowly and arthritically.

It’s fair to say she has borne a heavy load since Jen acquired her in the spring. Apart from the weight of the local children, few of whom are underfed, there’s been the burden of Jen’s expectation, to which I myself have been no stranger in the two years since we became an item.

In Jen’s mind, Jemima was to be our conduit into the previously impenetrable life of the local community. Staunch as her efforts were, her success was limited. Each day, unsaddled and led sometimes by Jen, but mainly by me, she clopped up and down the sparse, unwelcoming sands across from our seafront house. The locals came, they brought their children, they parted wordlessly with a grudging pound – then, ride completed, went away. Towards the end of the season Jemima’s rear legs ceased to coordinate under load, and she is now an elderly and time consuming pet.

For Jen, however, setbacks are merely springboards to opportunity.

‘I’m a self-starter,’ she said, shortly after we were abandoned by the other members of the ‘collective of like-minded people’, who moved in (then swiftly moved out) of the derelict shell that became our home. Now, though owing much to Charleston Farmhouse with a dash of Gandhi’s ashram, Jen has rebuilt it in her own image. And it is habitable.

With the restoration of our home complete, our thoughts have turned to other forms of survival. Once it was obvious that Jemima had heehawed from the credit to the debit column, Jen applied for a part-time job in the local Citizens’ Advice Bureau. Her client-centred, solution-focussed approach now infiltrates most of our waking hours.

‘Are you sure your role extends to marriage guidance?’ I ask in innocence one evening, after she has spent an hour describing the interpersonal dynamics of her latest client’s life.

Jen stares at me in disbelief.

‘To heal you must become whole,’ she explains, as if to a turnip. ‘Life isn’t just about Council Tax.’

I nod and say nothing. Jen’s vision has always been broader than mine.

I observe my relief when she decides to teach yoga one evening a week. Spring is yet to arrive and the church hall she has hired is damp and drafty, but her classes are proving surprisingly popular, with women of a certain age and men of a definite vintage flocking in.

‘Their last teacher moved further down the coast,’ Jen explains to me, early on.

Others might think this ominous, but Jen does not believe in omens. Soon though, I hear her muttering as she rinses her leotard.

‘I’ve seen more flexible ironing boards,’ she intones, with bitterness, to the sink. ‘And as soon as I start the relaxation they fall asleep.’

Self-belief might be Jen’s default, but she can also feel underappreciated. 

I meanwhile, in the absence of other possibilities, have taken up busking. On overcast mornings I stand alone and unamplified in the town square, adjacent to the cultural hub that is the local Tesco, trying to imagine I’m Mississippi John Hurt.

‘Nobody listens to thirties rural blues in this day and age,’ Jen advises me later, as I drop a meagre palmful of coins on the table. ‘But perhaps if I come with you…’

I don’t think of myself as a jealous person, but find it painful to admit that Jen’s ability to engage a crowd exceeds mine by about three hundred percent. Her voice, when she so chooses, is indistinguishable from that of Memphis Minnie, her harmonica sound from that of Sonny Terry. Standing at just over five feet tall in her flip-flops and crop top she effortlessly galvanises the local shoppers into generosity.

‘You have to make the effort to project,’ she explains to me later, not unkindly. 

But soon a chill wind blows from the advice bureau. It would seem Jen’s professional involvement with the concerns of others has not been entirely consistent with her job description.

‘They don’t want creativity, they want time servers,’ she laments, as we sit together over a debriefing coffee.

‘It was tactless of the manager to offer to pay your notice if you agreed to leave immediately,’ I suggest.

With Jen, you’re never unsure when you’ve said the wrong thing.

‘Tactless bordering on bloody criminal,’ she yells.

‘I’ll make us pasta tonight,’ I mumble to her back, just as the door slams after her.

But with Jen a dark mood is but the passing of a rain cloud. Summer, she assures me, is the time of fresh beginnings. She has taken an online course in kite making, and sits at the kitchen table constructing tiny frames of dowel and balsa wood, stretched with brightly coloured painter’s cloth.

‘It’s like making miniature shoji screens,’ she tells me, her face absorbed, her fingers busy.

First batch completed, she sets up a stall on the beach. There’s a certain panache in the way she flings one of her ‘bijou aerobats’ to the wind, then manipulates its flight with supple wrists. 

‘I used to fly kites on the Downs as a kid,’ she explains, when I comment.

The sight of Jen’s aerobat pirouetting on the sea breeze has immediate effect. Kids tug their mothers’ arms while old men look on wistfully. Sales prove brisk, and in response to discussions about technique Jen offers group tutoring at a reasonable rate. Mothers guide their daughters’ hands and fathers tag along with their sons, as local defence mechanisms start to crumble.

I knew they couldn’t hold out for ever,’ Jen tells me, matter-of-factly.

 Lacking Jen’s powers of self-reinvention I tart up my CV yet again and address it to a company I know nothing about. They are seeking versatile people with initiative, they say. When I press the send button it feels like leaving an orphan on a doorstep. I decide to start a vegetable patch to preserve my self-esteem.

As the year lengthens into autumn, I take to sharing my morning thoughts with Jemima. She is a ruminative animal, in more than one sense. We stand together in the small field in front of her stable, and I explain that the future is not entirely without hope, while she grazes, and offers me the occasional solicitous glance. In moments of extreme empathy she stops chewing and rubs her muzzle against my thigh. She knows I have taken to filling my trouser pocket with oats. It is a secret we choose not to share.

Meet the Author!

Mike Fox has co-authored a book and published many articles on the human repercussions of illness. Now writing fiction, his stories have been nominated for Best of Net and the Pushcart Prize, listed in Best British and Irish Flash Fiction (BIFFY50), and included in Best British Short Stories 2018 (Salt). His story, ‘The Violet Eye’, was published by Nightjar Press as a limited edition chapbook. A collection of mainly new stories is being prepared for publication by Confingo Publishing in 2023.

‘Distortion’ by Clara Roberts

April 2015

When I was a child, I never thought I would become part of a junkie’s dream, where real clouds are research chemical and methamphetamine smoke, where needles are used for injecting liquid euphoria that turns veins brown, rather than healing the body. It’s an unorthodox healing process – a disappearing act taking me away from my soul.

“We’ve got to get the fuck out of here,” he says. It seems like I hear him say the same thing every day. Getting the fuck out of here is our mantra for living a wrecked existence. 

I wipe the blood off of my arm and stash the needle in a hole in my suede purse before driving off into the Baltimore night. The shot was impressive, but the void inside of me cried for an additional shot. Kitter agreed. 

“Let’s go to the park and do a little more and then walk around,” I suggest. My sweaty hands are gripping the steering wheel. Like clockwork, I check the rear-view mirror to see if any cars are following us. Thank God, the black Escalade behind us does not make the same turn down the street. Every car looks like a government surveillance vehicle.

We do end up going to the park. I lie down with him underneath a huddle of leafless trees and a black glassy sky. He lays his head on my concave stomach and strokes my right thigh, my faded black tights slightly shielding the ability to feel all of his touch. He grabs his overstuffed backpack sitting next to me as I dig through my purse for my stash of meth. We pull out what we are waiting for: more. More is what we want. More is our addiction.

Our tools and spoons and crystals are sprawled across his Marilyn Monroe sweatshirt on the damp grass. The preparation is exciting, but comes with an uneasy weight of impatience. My stomach flutters and my entire body aches to feel the venom drown my body right that very instant. 

“Can you hit me this time?” I ask.

“Of course, sweetheart.”

I sometimes do not administer the drug on my own because when someone I feel love for sends the pleasure into me, I feel closer to them. The act is a different form of copulation, one where I can drift outside of myself but feel whole. He also could qualify as a skilled phlebotomist. The punctures he makes never bruise my arms.

“Shablackity!” he exclaims once the needle connects to my vein right away. I take my supple veins for granted, not imagining that one day maybe they will fail to work anymore.

“Shablackity,” I repeat, my voice staccato, and ears ringing. My heart becomes heavy with dense beats. I get the urge to talk a mile a minute, but no words slip out of my mouth. Instead I turn my blurry gaze straight ahead and pray that this rush does not leave. The stream of perfection always fades, even though the side effects last for hours. The first couple of minutes after the initial blast are the moments you want on repeat.

“Sleep in the stars,” he says. 

February 2015

3:00 A.M. on an early February night. Kitter and I have been in the motel room together for about ten hours, minus the time we went out to grab some food and cop more Tina. I am lying on the bed holding a plastic vial filled with crystals, about to put it away, until he stands in front of me.

“Can I have some more since I found that other vial in the drawer that you would’ve forgotten about?”

He is talking of when he looked in one of the drawers and discovered that I had accidentally put away some of my stash in there. I probably was going to find it later before we left because I usually tear apart motel rooms just in case I’ve misplaced some of my drugs. In this case, he is proud he found something of mine so he can potentially manipulate me into me giving him more. I have been giving him my stash throughout the day and night. He had a bag for himself earlier, but he blew through it within a handful of hours. This was not my problem, but he was making it mine.

“I don’t know. I gave you shit all afternoon and it’s not my fault that I saved up my stash and you’ve run out,” I reply.

“I set up everything for us tonight. I went all out and even got you some baggies—“

“All of which I did for us last week and the week before and the week before that, so it’s about time you contribute.”

“Why can’t you give me a little?” He starts looking more perplexed but heated and vexed by my “stubbornness”. 

“You think I’m weak—that I’ll always say “yes,” staying all complacent and ready to give you anything you want! Not this time.” A lump is forming in my throat as I raise my voice. Nothing I do is ever enough when it comes to me hooking him up with Tina and I know he was trying to manipulate me again.

“You don’t have to yell. What’s your problem?”

“You don’t respect me,” I say, without hesitating.

“Yes I do! Are you sure you didn’t buy another time this week behind my back and that’s why you have such a big stash?”

“I saved since Monday! Monday! Ben gave me extra and I’ve been saving it for us.”

“You sure you didn’t go again Wednesday or Saturday?”

“Fuck you.”

“You know what? If I wanted to I could rob your whole stash right now right in front of you.”

I fall apart crying, stinging with the realization that this drug is all he cared about. I start packing up my belongings.

“I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have said that,” he says.

I pretend, before I say anything else or continue to melt down, that it was a couple hours earlier. We were having sex, fucking, and making love. He’d held me so close at times that I’d also wrap my arms around him. Moments like those confuse me because I feel some strange energy from him that brings him closer to me, but my walls are not broken and neither are his. If I let mine down, I am almost certain I will only feel regret. 

I am washed up after our fight, the second one in one week. I cannot remember the last time I screamed at a person I am so close with. My temper has always been present beneath all of my other reactions, but he knows how to sting me. Anything negative that I sense when it comes to my generosity (money and drugs) — jadedness — shuts right into my face.

Everything that is quiet in me comes out in powerful tears down my face and cries from my heart. He knows how to fight, to beat down anything I respond with. And he can make things seem like they never happened, even pull out a few jokes when we converse during the aftermath. I am still holding onto his words as I’ve always done, both the beautiful and the ones meant to make me disappear just a little more.

Do I really know which words are true and untrue — mistaken? I notice the times when he is patient. He looks me in the eyes as we lie on our sides, talking slow, but with self-assurance. Those are the moments when I don’t feel as scared. But then, maybe even the next day, I bring up some feelings which I think need to be shared, and I see how perplexed he is — like I’m telling him concerns that are only a part of my irrational thoughts. He looks surprised and annoyed when I express anything that makes him feel insecure. I once said that he seems to talk about himself and not really listen when I voice my thoughts. I know he’s working on his listening skills because I see him trying. He still tends to bring the conversation back to his own similar experiences, attempting to empathize and relate to me, but only muting what I’ve been saying

“Don’t get upset,” I say to myself.

“Don’t cry,” I repeat in my head. 

He’s asked me before not to point out everything he is doing wrong, even though he does it to me; he denies doing it. My goal is not to make him feel bad or berate him, but to address what I see going on. I do not want to have to tell him that he is being unappreciative or greedy, that I feel like giving up when he asks for more from me. 

When I slam the motel door as hard as I can, I hope he sees how I am checking out. 

January 2014

Kitter. He goes by Be-bop. He goes by Kwik and is part of GDF (Grateful Dead Family). He watches the world go by with a smirk on his face. His nails are dirty, but evenly bitten. You love his sand-colored short wavy hair, his distracted gaze, his angular features, and his thin raw body chiseled by fourteen years of chronic dope and meth abuse. His voice is monotone, but oozes conviction — a desperate attempt to use crafted manipulation and fling it at everyone.

You hiccup laughs while falling into his scar-tissued arms. You both stay on the splintery floor of his room and reminisce about the world and the absurd people you’ve met—laughing about drug dealers with non-intimidating names, like Baby and Money. Each day of using represents all of the nonstop madness for each Baltimore hardcore drug addict, which is an impending torment, no matter how much willpower and control you believe you possess. You can be a kid with him.

Thirty-one years old and he makes it look “okay” to be a full-time drug addict. If pleasure comes in the form of an IV shot, then it makes sense to spend every single fucking day chasing a substance with no brain. He licks the blood running down your bruised arm, and then kisses you. You forget that you are able to cry.

You are no longer at the beginning. You try to retrieve the days lost to maniacal chaos, the complete necessity to have needles on you at all times, and watching meth smoke float away from filthy glass pipes.

And after three years he still wanders into your life. You go back to him, a habit you have not kicked. But you know if you answer him over the phone or on Facebook you will descend beneath the murky way of life, which you might never leave, ruining the opportune life you are capable of having. You wonder about what life could have been, while you dance with a void that is never as numb as the ones in your dreams.

You wake up this morning, checking your phone and finding missed calls—ringtones ignored from the guy your parents would never want you to marry. Your mind is shaken by a foreign sensation. You feel clean.

December 2013

The first time I meet Kitter is the end of December 2013. He comes down the damp cellar steps of Kenny’s house — a safe haven for drug addicts to live. He has a winter hat on that looks like one an elf would show off. He is bundled up and I assume he has spent the entire day out on the streets hustling. Even now he is going to hook me up with Dilaudid and I will give him one of the four pills in exchange. He has a good routine going. My friend Peter introduces us and I am uneasy watching Kitter nod off and talk about how we do not have to drive far to get the shit. 

Kitter coughs and hacks up phlegm onto the street as we walk up the block to my car. I try not to act like I am with him. He picks up a cigarette butt off of the sidewalk as I let him into the car. He gives me directions to that old lady’s house, the one who has the pills. His words are slurred and he is taking hard puffs off of the lit cigarette butt. I tap the back of another car while parking. I am anxious to get my drugs, but more on edge because of Kitter being there. I hate driving when there is another person in the car. 

On the ride back, he all of a sudden does not stop talking and I am in a trance from his disjointed speech, trying to drive but wanting to look over at him the entire time. Just in that short amount of time, the stories he shares are mesmerizing, verging on utter fiction. His mind is not a room temperature-IQ one like some of the other dregs who come in and out of Kenny’s house. He has a Charlie Chaplin-esque beauty to his disposition and an artful eloquence. 

I continue talking to him later that night after I inhale the drugs while in bed. I keep Facebook messenger up on my phone so we can talk more. But I have one image in my head: A needle. Kitter mentioned in the car that he shot the Dilaudid, along with all drugs. Every drug I use flies up my nose.   

I remember the day when I went to Kitter’s room and left behind a life that could have been beautiful. I pull the sleeve of my fleece jacket and stretch my pale arm out, showing off one of my various supple and untouched veins. 

I bring my own needle. I purchased one for a dollar the other day. I know very little about where the needle exchange program is, so that’s why I went down the street with a guy named Jack who lived at Kenny’s. He has Hepatitis C and yellow eyes. He ran into a row-house and came back to my car holding the foreign tool that supposedly had never been used. I wanted to make sure it was clean, but the top of the plunger had heroin dross on it. Jack said that the person told him he just used the top to mix the heroin with. Part of me wanted to give the needle back to Jack because the thought of getting Hepatitis C, HIV, or God knows what else was realistically scary for me. But I took the swing and did not let myself get out of this situation. I gingerly put the needle into one of the pockets of my purse, waiting for the opportunity to use it once I copped more dope.

Later on, after buying $60 worth, Kitter shows me the preparation for the first time. He is fastidious, each step flowing into the next. He makes sure to not even give me half a cap (each cap was $10) because the potent drug could easily make me overdose the very first time I use. We are left with a residue- burned spoon and a syringe filled with food. I do not look away when he breaks through my skin and fills it with one of the substances I almost want to do every day for the rest of my life until I am literally no longer a part of this world.  

Present Day

Kitter finds a way to see and talk to me again: a shared cell phone in prison. My heart beats faster than usual when he messages me February 2019. We Facetime. He’s at San Quentin for a minimum of 15 years to life. He shaved the side of his head and he’s grown chin-length dread locks on the other side. He says he buys Tina all the time—that it’s better than any Baltimore kibble, and that he can get an ounce for $200. I tell him I cannot send money over to him, even if it would be for Tina. He hides the cell phone whenever a CO walks by his cell.

I hear from another friend that the courts can extend your sentence if a cell phone is found on your person. What more does Kitter have to lose? He’s adapted to prison and might have to do life there anyway. He says he’s taking college courses and eventually will be granted a degree if he completes the program. He gives me the correct mailing address and I have yet to compose a letter to send those thousands of miles away. Maybe he’ll find himself in San Quentin or grow complacent with whoever he is now. He brings back our memories every time I converse with him—even the cloudy ones from the beginning of our connection. He’s drawing; no one can ever take that gift away from him unless they cut off his right hand. He has not contacted me via cell phone in almost six months. 

I’m not scared for him anymore, but I am scared for myself. The addiction is still in hibernation and the threat of its coercion has never left, even after spending months of my life in multiple rehabs and psychiatric hospitalizations. I wake up in the morning, not only wondering if I’ll hear from Kitter, but speculating if the addiction will ever control me again. I am only a few decisions away from ambling down Baltimore’s pot-holed streets and into the arms of using buddies, dealers, and drugs.

Sobriety and Kitter cannot coexist, but sobriety and I might be able to make it through the fog.

Meet the Author!

Clara Roberts is a graduate from the MA in Writing Program at Johns Hopkins. A Best of the Net nominee, her nonfiction and poetry have been published in Idle Ink, Heartwood Literary Magazine, Downtown Archive, Ethel Zine and Micro-Press, Back Patio Press, Portland Metrozine, Door is A Jar Magazine, Journal of Erato, trampset, and other venues. She lives in Baltimore where she finds material to write about every day.

Twitter: @BurroughsTieInstagram: @freezedriedyo

‘You Can Always Do It The Wrong Way’ by Arthur Davis

Corey came back yesterday, as a woman.

“I’m thinking of becoming an amphibian,” she said.

“Any reason?” I asked, always careful not to step on her dreams.

I have an impressive record of not stepping on the dreams of my friends. The Wall Street Journal once wrote a human-interest article about me. Not a very long piece, as one of three other people they cited about respecting the dreams of friends and family. According to a national survey, the three of us had stepped on the fewest number of dreams in our lives.

I imagine the two others, both women, were also deluged with offers to sponsor products, have movies made about their lives, and offered cash to simply put their face on the cover of a product. Lara Richardson was the most tempted of the three of us. She was quite ill and, in her late fifties, hadn’t long to live. She was appreciative, as were Karen and myself, but in the end, it just wasn’t something we wanted to pursue.

Those years were some of my best. I traveled widely because of a small stipend I had received from the Journal of Astrophysics arguing that God was left-handed, which apparently a world of reticent right-handers out there happened to agree with.

I went with Orville, as my love life was generally unreliable. Orville had been with me since I was eight. My parents were shopping for linens on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which was the heart of the linen district in the city many years ago, where I found him in an old toy store. Orville, whose biography I wrote about several years back, was, as expected, excellent company for a teddy bear and on more than one occasion seemed to be more informed about significant geopolitical issues in northern European countries than the guide we had been using at the time.

Orville suggested that I collaborate with Karen on a book entitled How Not To Step on Dreams. Karen, a shy and hesitant woman, declined and wished us the best of luck. Orville and I completed a final draft in a year. Perkins, Elmer & Ross, one of the most well-respected publishers in the country, contracted for the deal. The advances on the potential royalties were startling, as word spread that one of the last surviving members of the three who were cited in the Wall Street Journal was creating a follow-up piece that was to delve deeper into the psyche of mankind.

I believe their enthusiasm was also based on an earlier treatise Orville wrote about the fallibility of mankind titled You Can Always Do It The Wrong Way, which was picked up for reprint in 193 of the 195 nations in the world.

We had completed a strong first draft when Corey returned. I was taking that day off, as Orville was at the Smithsonian in Washington on a separate research project on cosmology, his favorite subject. A bright, sunny April day in the seventies, I took lunch to Central Park, when a tiny green lizard jumped up on the bench where I was sitting.

“Hey, I did it.”

I looked down and recognized Corey’s dark-blue eyes. “Congratulations,” I said, beaming with delight. I had faith in her to pull it off. She was that talented, and I was that convinced that if it were possible to go from a man to woman to amphibian, it would be her, or him. Whatever.

She was wearing a three-piece suit with a plaid bow tie and brightly colored ascot. Her sartorial taste was always remarkable, and even though I thought the fit a bit too snug, when you considered all the jumping around she had to do, it was nonetheless impressively British.

We chatted for a while until a patrol car pulled up. Apparently, several people grew suspicious of a middle-aged man looking like he was having an intense conversation with himself on a park bench. Central Park has what is called Controlled Conversation Codes for that kind of behavior, and I and another fellow nearby had obviously crossed that line without knowing it.

The officer was tolerant. 

“You look like a sane fellow, so I won’t give you a fine, but if you want to have a controlled conversation, try after 4 p.m, when there is less of a crowd, and not on a day that is so beautiful, where you could sing and dance in the streets and thank your maker, or makeress, for being blessed for just being alive,” he said, got back into the squad car where his partner was fast asleep, and drove off.

“I have to be going,” Corey said, poking her head up between the wooden slats on the bench where she had taken refuge when the squad car approached. Corey flipped around and jumped into the bushes, and that was the last I ever saw of her. I was unhappy to see her go and without discussing her next transformation, something I was always envious about, but we had both noticed the falcon circling overhead toward the end of the officer’s advice so I knew it was best for her to flee.

A family of peregrine falcons had recently made a roost in the upper floor of a fancy building on Fifth and Seventy-Second Street. The newspapers covered it. It was hailed as a sign that nature, in all its glory, was returning to the city.

The falcon family was growing rapidly, mostly because the park hosted a world-class buffet of fresh pigeons.

I spent another hour in the park, knowing that Orville would be back in our apartment by dusk and both of us would be eager to get back to the manuscript. Before I left the park, I decided to take a turn on the carousel, a ride which had been my favorite as a child and to this day brought back wonderful memories of a world growing up in the city.

I made my way further down into the park toward the carousel. The Central Park Carousel, officially the Michael Friedsam Memorial Carousel, a vintage wood-carved carousel located in Central Park in Manhattan stands at the southern end of the park, near East 65th Street. It is the fourth carousel on the site where it is located.

Children, adults, everywhere. I was beaming with delight. Then I noticed as I stood amongst the spectators that the time of the ride was running too long, and there was no one at the controls. I walked over to where the attendant should be and saw a note saying he had to go to the bathroom. I instinctively knew where the controls were and slowed the carousel. When the carousel stopped, I asked the lineup of parents and kids if they would mind if I could take a turn by myself in honor of saving the lives of terrified children and horrified parents. A quick vote was taken. Over 92.6 percent agreed that I deserved the treat.

By then, the attendant had returned, barely hitching up his pants, then brushing off the crowd for being so demanding and critical, mostly because he repeatedly said he left a note and that his handwriting was nearly perfect and they were overreacting, but grudgingly agreed that I deserved some kind of reward for my services.

I rode the carousel myself for a full cycle. In the beginning I was delighted, but as my turn continued, I started remembering all those who had made my life worth living and longed to share the ride with them.

That would have made for a perfect day.

Meet the Author!

Arthur Davies has been published in a collection, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, received the 2018 Write Well Award for excellence in short fiction and, twice nominated, received Honorable Mention in The Best American Mystery Stories 2017. Additional background is available at Arthur’s website, www.TalesOfOurTime.com and Author Central site on Amazon, (https://www.amazon.com/Arthur-Davis/e/B00VF0GDG4).

‘Lidice’ by William Falo

Steffen felt the villagers’ hatred as they peeked out of dark windows when he walked by, and knew they despised his presence. He hoped the terrors of war would stay away from Lidice after he met Julia.

Hey, German, she called him.

Fredrick was making regular rounds in the distance, and his black helmet bobbed up and down like a crow strutting around a cornfield. The radio crackled.

“Steffen, the order has come that this village is going to be targeted.”

“Targeted for what?” 

“For extermination. Commander Heydrich was killed. A message the SS found hinted that the assassins had a link here.”

“What about the people?”

 Fredrick remained silent.

“They can’t just kill them,” Steffen said.

“I heard the orders came from the Führer himself. The woman and children will be sent to Ravensbruck. The men killed.” 

He stopped talking when Julia walked toward him. “What’s keeping you?”

“Nothing, you look beautiful.”

“You just love me because you’re lonely.”

“That is not true. It’s because you’re the prettiest girl in Czechoslovakia.”

“What about Germany?”

“Yes.” He wanted to warn her, but if she told the others, he would be killed or worse. He had seen what the SS can do.

“Can you leave here tonight? It’s going to be dangerous to stay here.”

“No. I can’t leave without telling anyone.”

“Don’t go to the town center later.”

He ran away.

A man gave instructions to bring all the residents to the center of town.

The soldiers forced the woman and children to board a truck. Julia was with them, and she was crying. 

“No,” he said. He paced while the misery spread. Children called for their fathers while mothers sobbed. 

A line formed to enter the trucks. He would never see her again if he didn’t do something now. He saw her blonde hair start to flutter when the wind increased. The line shuffled forward.

Blonde hair. Lebensborn.

“Major,” he yelled. 

“Yes, what is it?”

“That woman with blonde hair is pregnant.” He pointed at Julia.

 “From you?”


“Good job. Now she can have the baby in Ravensbruck.”

“I wanted to ask about her going into a Lebensborn home. She has blonde hair and blue eyes.”

The Major thought for a while. “You there.” He pointed at a soldier sitting on a stump. “Get that blonde hair girl and bring her here.”

“Thank you.”

 The soldier dragged her over while she struggled to get free. “Send her back to the medical unit in Prague. Tell them that she is for the Lebensborn program.”

He forced her into the jeep. 

“Steffen, where are they taking me?” Julia yelled out.

“To a safe place.”

“Why?” The jeep started forward.

“To have a baby.”

“I’m not pregnant.” The jeep drove away. He saw her look back once and hoped they wouldn’t find that out for a few months.

He heard gunshots and laughter coming from the barn. He ran toward it. 

He saw Fredrick pointing his rifle at the villagers lined up in a garden at the back of the barn.

“No,” Steffen yelled, and he knocked Fredrick to the ground. The others threw him against the wall. 

“Fredrick, help me stop them.”

He didn’t, and he heard the shots as they dragged him out.

The major shook his head. “It must be because you’re going to be a father. Instead of shooting you, I’m sending you to the Russian front.” 

Before they took him away, he saw the soldiers burn every building until nothing was left. Lidice vanished.

Four years later

Steffen limped to where Julia’s house used to stand, reached down, and picked up a clump of purple heather. It felt soft in his hand, and filled the space left by losing two of his fingers. He put it up to his nose and hoped to smell traces of Julia. 

The wind changed directions, and he heard a soft voice. A blonde-haired boy ran to him, “Mister, you want to see the garden my mother planted?”

“Steffen, leave that man alone.” It made him stop. He knew that voice. He looked up. The face looked older and the eyes emptier, but she was beautiful. 


“Steffen, this is your son.”

He fell to his knees. “I’m sorry.” He cried. “I tried to stop them. I’m sorry.”

She reached down and touched his face. “You saved my life.”

“But how?” he pointed at the boy. 

“It turns out that I was pregnant.” Julia smiled. “They put me in the program, but I was able to get my baby back when the war ended.

The boy ran over and asked, “Are you okay, mister?”

“I’m wonderful.” He looked into her eyes.

Julia smiled and helped him up, then held his hand while they walked toward the center of Lidice, where a field of wildflowers had started to bloom.

On the orders of K. H. Frank, 173 Lidice men were shot on that fateful day in the garden of the Horak farm. The women and children were taken to the gymnasium of Kladno grammar school. Three days later, the children were taken from their mothers and, except for those selected for re-education in German families and babies under one year of age, were poisoned by exhaust gas in specially adapted vehicles in the Nazi extermination camp at Chełmno upon Nerr in Poland. The women were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp, which usually meant quick or lingering death for the inmates.

Having rid the village of its inhabitants, the Nazis began to destroy the village itself, first setting the houses on fire and then razing them to the ground with plastic explosives. They did not stop at that but proceeded to destroy the church and even the last place of rest – the cemetery. In 1943 all that remained was an empty space. Until the end of the war, the sight was marked by notices forbidding entry.

The news of the destruction of Lidice spread rapidly around the world. But the Nazi intention to wipe the little Czech village off the face of the Earth did not succeed. Several villages throughout the world took over the name of Lidice in memory of that village, and many women born at that time and given the name of Lidice still bear it today. Lidice continued to live in the minds of people all over the world, and after the war, the Czechoslovak government’s decision to build it again was declared at a peace demonstration on June 10, 1945, at Lidice, which was attended by Lidice women who had survived. 340 Lidice citizens were murdered by the Nazis, 143 Lidice women returned home after the war ended, and after a two-year search, 17 children were restored to their mothers.



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 at @williamfalo and Instagram at @william.falo

‘Kaliadne’ by Eva Maria Spekhorst


Perfectly clean white tunics. 
Short naps on moss in woods. 
Echoes in empty temples. 
Newly polished arrows. 
Looking out at a full moon. 
Letting your feet dangle while sitting on a high cliff. 
Feeling the cold wind on your face. 
Holding a person’s hand you love dearly.
Discovering old and crumpled scrolls. 
Making art on hot summer days. 
Dancing at midnight. 
The sounds of the sea.  Pastel coloured skies. Foggy mountainsides.

Hello, my name is Kaliadne, and this is my story. 


As I sat there, legs crossed, I could only hear the sound of waves hitting sand and my own breath. 

I used to go there often. It calmed me. I could finally let go of everything and watch the sun slowly descend behind the horizon. 

I go there still. It gives me hope. Hope, that there is more out there. More to be discovered, more to be learned, more to be known. 

“Kaliadne, dinner’s ready!”

Maybe I’ll disappear behind the horizon, too.


She was like colourful clouds stretching across the Mediterranean sky. Never staying in one place, never taking in a form for more than a short moment, shifting into a deep coloured drizzle raining down on the ground. 

She was the wittiest person I knew. 
She was the fairest person I knew. 
She was the bravest person I knew. 

I hugged her one last time before she sailed off to Delphi. 

I couldn’t bring myself to say the three words. 

I still regret it. 

I love you, 



It was a cloudy day. Silver glitter fell down from my fingers, landing on the frost-strewn ground. The mist swirled around me, making me shiver. 

My bag was slung across my shoulders, its weight the weight of leaving my hometown. 

It was for the better. 

I was going to be a priestess!

Yet the morning air stung at my throat. 

As I looked back towards the hill, I saw the shadows of what my life used to be.

I saw my mother, waving at me from afar, my father, resting his hand on her shoulder, and my little brother, who didn’t have the chance to meet his bigger sister yet. 

I saw six figures in white linen clothes floating in the distance and I turned around.


The sunlight blinded me. 

My feet were tired and scarred, but my mind was buzzing with excitement. 

The mountains around me hummed with adventure. 

The wind swirled around me, dipping me into the summer heat and the smell of fresh bread. 

I beamed as I looked up into the crystal blue sky, a tiny ray of sunshine wreathing itself across my fingers. 

There, up in the distance, I saw a majestic temple shimmer. 

This was the place I’d soon call home, 

but for now, 



I looked up into the illuminating light. 

I could feel its warmth making its way through my veins, setting me on fire. 

I took in the beautiful scenery. The misty forest all around me, the river flowing relentlessly, beckoning the beginning of a new day. 

Breathe in, breathe out. My legs carried me towards the hurtling water. It was luring me in. Talking to me, hushing me. I wanted to be nearer. The cold gripped my hand and wanted to take me with it, but the warmth kept tugging at me, making me resist the water’s urge to carry me away. 

“Kaliadne,” a soft voice spoke “come back to sleep.”

Isn’t it all about balance anyway?


Her hair was flowing around her as she stared into the distance.
Freckles visible on her face, she finally smiled at me. Her auburn eyes shone brightly with happiness and pride. 
Oh, how peaceful she looked. 
Peaceful with no one but herself. 

She was the definition of “carefree”.
She was the definition of “soulmate”.
She was the definition of “naive”.

That carefreeness I always admired was taking over her life. Somehow, very slowly, the word “care” dissolved. The only thing she was left with was her freedom. 

Did she ever care about me? 

I didn’t care.


Water droplets on grass. 
Twigs, turning and twisting, forming a pathway through the woods. 
The shadows of trees and bushes, dancing with the sunlight. 

The wind making leaves flow through the air, landing softly on a patch of moss, dissolving into green colors. 
Tiny huffs of air turning to silver smoke. 
Feet hitting the ground. 
Adrenaline pumping through your veins. 
Your head spinning. 

You’re falling, my brave one. 
Do you know why?


She was like first fallen snow in winter. 
She was like forest rivers, flowing calmly at dawn.
She was like the moon in the sky, guiding nature. 

She was recklessness, yet she kept her cool. 
She was wildness, yet she struck with precision. 
She was loyalty, yet she stood alone. 

She was as bright as the day and as mysterious as the night. 

She was Artemis.


He was like the sound of birds singing in the morning. 
He was like ancient texts written on stones. 
He was like the sun, lighting up people’s lives. 

He was foresight, yet relied on the past. 
He was poetry, yet didn’t need words to speak. 
He was intuition, yet trusted his plans. 

He was music, filling people’s hearts with joy. 

He was Apollo. 


It was getting colder by every passing second.
I took out the blanket Kalipso gave me and went to sit near the edge of the boat. 
It was a calm night. The moon was out, giving the water a silver coat. 
“Hopefully she’ll protect me on my journey,” I whispered to myself as I wrapped myself in warmth and the familiar smell of home. 

The waves chose a steady rhythm, racking the boat so softly it was lulling me to sleep. 
I didn’t feel like the clumsy little girl from Troia anymore. I felt like a different person.
My sisters called me a “mature, serious and confident leader”. I didn’t feel like that either. 

Maybe, I would reach that kalokagathia someday. 

But now, it was just “me”, and that was enough.


The first thing I noticed as I stepped out of my boat was the overwhelming smell of fresh watermelons. It was surprising to say the least. The coast was full of people, brimming in their extravagant clothes, bargaining, chit-chatting, and in the worst cases, fighting drunkenly. I was nervous. I’ve never liked it to be around this many people. The sun was now up in the sky again, shining majestically, giving everything a nice warm tone. I grabbed some of my golden drachmas as I went to stand in line for the famous watermelons. An old lady sat on a stool nearby, smiling at me in an almost crooked way. 

“Came from afar, haven’t you?” Despite her thick accent I understood and nodded reluctantly as I gave her my money. I tried to leave as fast as possible, still feeling her eyes boring into me from behind. 

I certainly did enjoy my watermelon that morning.


She was like dandelion puffs flowing through the air. 
You could never touch them while they were flying, only observe and admire them from afar. 
She was like snow melting in your hands by the fireplace, cozy and tranquil, safe from the outside storm. 

She was the epitome of intelligence, fierce yet understanding. 
She was the epitome of wisdom, all-knowing yet still learning. 
She was the epitome of calmness, sending you into slumbers with a smile. 

She was just like a dream. 
Are you still asleep? 


I sat on the grass, back against a tree, and closed my eyes. Serenity.

I breathed in the smell of figs and pines, the grass and the trees, the sea breeze that was gently blowing the hair out of my face. I was alone and for the first time in my life, I enjoyed it. I was thankful for it. This place calmed me in a way no place has ever done. I could forget my worries, my fears, myself. 

I could just be. 

Exist. Imagine myself as the light sea breeze, flying across the magical mountains overflowing with colorrs of orange and green. 
I could become one with the trees around me, their ancient spirit binding me forever. 

For now, I could enjoy being nobody. 
For now, I could be free. 


As I lay there, unmoving, on the cold ground in the middle of the woods, I counted stars.

It didn’t matter to me if they were big or small, alone or in a constellation. Each and every one of them was beautiful and unique in their own way, taking in a position in the night sky. 

If I reached out my hand far enough, would a star fall down on me? 

Or would it stay put with the others, awaiting the right moment?

Then I realized. I didn’t need a star. I already had one. It was rooted deep inside of me, guiding me my whole life, lightening it up. 
Maybe, just maybe, I could be one of them someday. Maybe, I am one of them. And maybe we all are, even if we are too blind to see it.

Trust the star inside of you. It will show you the right path.

Meet the Author!

Eva Maria Spekhorst, 18, is a student at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität in Freiburg, Germany. She is studying Middle Eastern archeology and Mathematics. She writes poetry and prose, in addition to illustrating. She has illustrated her upcoming novel “Drachental”. She can speak 28 modern languages and 20 extinct ancient languages.