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“Salvage,” by Marsha McSpadden

 

doodle cloud with rain

1.)

First of the month, sirens startle and scare. Even though he says, one of them drills, that’s all, her eyes go black with worry. Then the wailing. That old familiar dread. He runs for the hatchet. Sturdy, sure where wood dips into blade. He hacks and hacks until the plywood comes free. Look, baby, nothing but bluesky.

How long has it been? The rescue teams have cleared out. All manner of debris sorted and carried off. Signs for free counseling folded and stowed away.

Still, she’s on her hands and knees. Shaking. Shivering. Crawling to the closet.

Matches in her mouth.

2.)

Down at the diner, talk’s turned to runningbacks. Linemen. A different kind of safety.

3.)

He stands in the drive, squinting. Downright mesmerizing, how the sun sparks up the roof. That terrible tarp gone. He pushes the door, ears still screaming, thinking on new beginnings. Of everything hammered down.

And there she is. Ghost of the girl he gave his heart to. In the kitchen floor. Nails bitten to bleeding. Wrapped in that blue plastic nightmare.

4.)

Somewhere the grass greens. Birds chirp. Spiders knit webs lopsided and mean.

But here, days stretch and bend, motheaten with memory. Not even a dog left to yap.

5.)

A full day put down, he lays out for bbq he don’t even like. But he does his part. He tries.

Inside smells like sadness. Like sawdust. Like everything else. The walls hurried into place. Makeshift and bald.

Grayhair at the counter, her hand over his trying to melt calluses, asks, Shug, how you holding up?

 He stares at the sack. Hard to talk on holes that don’t show.

6.)

In the night, an empty rut on her side of bed. He trips over boots. Fumbles, room to room, flipping all the lights.

Finds her pressed in the shallow of the bathtub, under a mess of dirty clothes, clinging to sleep.

He watches, missing her heat. The way their hands would meet in the dark. Seeking. The pulse of that memory nearly dead.

7.)

That wind been going all damn day. Pushing everything about. Impossible to work.

Huddled on barstools, everyone inside thankful for thick smoke and woodpaneling. No windows to be scraped by limbs. To be blown out. To remind him to get home. To her. Where she’ll be crouched in some corner. Crying into the hem of her dress. Waiting for sheetrock to pull away.

He orders another beer. Ready to drain the day.

 

8.)

Dark creeps earlier and earlier. A day’s work slipped between.

His headlights sweep the yard. A flash of silver where she stabs her shovel. Clots of red dirt at her feet. Finally had her fill of that neighbor dog.

He slides from the truck, slow to remember how that dog’s been gone. How everything is.

Leaves, brown and wet, stick to the shovel. Like skin.

April’s coming, she says, smudges on her cheeks. Hair all a tangle. Frantic for a stormshelter.

Across the street, pitch black. Nothing but mud anyhow. Far as the wind goes.

9.)

Thinking on that trailer out at the county line, he scares up the courage to call his cousin.

He snorts. Says, That old thing. Some tweakers blew it straight to Jesus. Everybody wanting to get sideways, I reckon. Why you asking?

Nothing particular.

Thought you was stronger than all that.

 

10.)

That damn sky darkens, colored with smite. Her eyes feral at the tumble of thunder.

All the world ready to rage.

Girl, don’t you do it, he says, sweeping behind, pinning her arms. A terrible noise deep in her gut. Barking. Bucking, going for his shins, trying to yank away, until her shirt rips. He clamps tighter and tighter, a snake around dinner.

Raindrops fat as eggs against the roof. Slide down the window. Witness.

He kicks the door open, slinging them both onto the porch.

Beyond the mangled treeline, lightning opens the sky like a shiv.

Drops fall on their bare feet. Cold as nails. Nails ripped from floorboards. Nails licked by the first frost. Snowed upon. Left to rust.

He hauls her down the steps, into the yard, to that spot where grass is afraid to grow.

Look. See. He lifts her chin to the sky. That weird light they both know. Growing greener.

Still here. We’re still here. His voice slick with wanting.

The rain runs down, onto their skin, trying to wash them both clean.

About the Author:

Marsha McSpadden’s flash fictions have previously appeared in Shenandoah, matchbook, SmokeLong, and NANO Fiction.

Special Note:

This story was a finalist in The Conium Review‘s 2015 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Laura Ellen Joyce.

Image Credit: © dule964 / Dollar Photo Club

Congrats to Our Best Small Fictions 2016 Nominees

Best Small Fictions coverLast week, we mailed off our nominees for the Queen’s Ferry Press anthology, Best Small Fiction 2016. We’re proud to officially announce our selections. There were so many good stories to choose from. Congratulations to the five nominees:

About the Nominees:

Caitlin Scarano is a poet in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee PhD creative writing program. She was a finalist for the 2014 Best of the Net Anthology and the winner of the 2015 Indiana Review Poetry Prize, judged by Eduardo Corral. She has two poetry chapbooks. This winter, she will be an artist in residence at the Hinge Arts Residency program in Fergus Falls and the Artsmith’s 2016 Artist Residency on Orcas Island.

Tamara K. Walker dreams of irrealities among typewriter ribbons, stuffed animals and duct tape flower barrettes. She resides near Boulder, Colorado with her wife/life partner and blogs irregularly about writing and literature at http://tamarakwalker.wordpress.com. She may also be found online at http://about.me/tamara.kwalker. Her writing has previously appeared or is forthcoming in The Cafe Irreal, A cappella Zoo, Melusine, Apocrypha and Abstractions, Gay Flash Fiction, Identity Theory, a handful of poetry zines, and several themed print anthologies published by Kind of a Hurricane Press.

Ingrid Jendrzejewski studied creative writing and English literature at the University of Evansville before going on to study physics at the University of Cambridge. She has soft spots for go, cryptic crosswords, and the python programming language, but these days spends most of her time trying to keep up with a delightfully energetic toddler. Once in a very great while, she adds a tiny something to www.ingridj.com and tweets at @LunchOnTuesday.

Sarah Mitchell-Jackson is a novelist and a short story writer. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in The Critical Pass Review and Really System. Her debut novel, Ashes, will be out this year published by Blue Moon Publishers. You can read more of her work at www.smitchjack.wordpress.com.

John Englehardt’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Sycamore Review, The Stranger, Monkeybicycle, The Monarch Review, and Furlough Magazine. He won the 2014 Wabash Prize in Fiction, as well as The Stranger‘s A&P fiction contest. He’s a recent graduate of University of Arkansas’ MFA program, and now lives and works in Seattle.

 

“The Hen of God,” by Ashley Hutson

Egg Sketch (BW)

Sister Catherine began holding an egg in her mouth during Mass to feel closer to God. Her tongue smoothed over its cool roundness before the Lord’s Prayer; she pressed it against the roof of her mouth during benediction. After two weeks of this, in a fit of faith and daring, she began using her teeth to maneuver it in and out of her cheek.

At the end of the third week, she felt the Holy Trinity enter her. A back molar, cracked in childhood and jagged as a pysanky needle, slit open the egg’s hard shell on a Sunday morning. God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit oozed down her throat, warmed by the heat of her mouth.

When she returned to the abbey after the service, she plucked the pierced shell from between her lips and placed it under her bed. At lunchtime, she walked through the kitchen and picked up another egg, concealing it in the folds of her sleeve.

After entering the nearest restroom and locking the door, she pulled up her underskirts, pulled out a tampon, and slipped the fresh egg inside her. All the nuns bled together, but her blood would mingle with Christ’s. The thought filled her with a swoony kind of love, the kind of love she felt when swallowed wafers became the fingers of God. She dreamed the egg would be subsumed by her body, traveling inward, upward, until it reached the heart.

At evening Mass, she sat carefully. There was talk of Jesus sucking a sponge of vinegar, of bleeding, dying, resurrecting. When it came time to genuflect, she bowed on one knee.

Sister Catherine heard the muffled crack before her body felt it. As she knelt by the pew, she felt the egg crumble inside her, releasing its thick, yellow yolk in a slow, searing gush.

She did not move. She wept. This was God’s rebuke, she was sure. There was no way she could keep him carefully enough: her body would not hold him.

She prayed with shut eyes, but God did not answer. He only touched her blood and slid out, wetting her thighs, staining her tunic, leaving her empty.

About the Author:

Ashley Hutson lives in rural Western Maryland. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, DOGZPLOT, theEEEL, and elsewhere. Find her on the web at www.aahutson.com.

Special Notes:

This story was a finalist in The Conium Review‘s 2015 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Laura Ellen Joyce.

This story was selected by Ross McMeekin for the Ploughshares feature “Best Short Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week.”

Image Credit: © VIGE.co/ Dollar Photo Club

“Pitcher of Cream,” by Caitlin Scarano

doodle stove and firewood

This winter, I live alone.

I collect dolls with marble eyes (ribbon core, oxblood, onionskin) and antler hands. I imagine they have bones and are not just stiff with sawdust. I keep the wood stove humming until the back of my neck is damp with sweat. Each day, I bake a loaf of sourdough, perfecting the ratio of sugar to salt to flour. But there’s no one around to eat it but me – by now, all of my children have gone missing or set out with their little suitcases and weaponless hands.

No matter. I still have all of their shoelaces. The sound of dogs howling from the next homestead over.

But the space between our houses grows while I sleep. The forest around me deepens. The trees fall in love and multiply. The snow an intoxicant. I pray the pines don’t get bolder, that they don’t grow organs and hands.

This winter, the sun only rises on certain days. I record them and carve a chart into my headboard. The townsmen would not believe me if I tried to teach them the patterns I’ve discovered, how things secretly align.

Like the woman I am, I keep to my house, my mule, my tasks.

One day I am out chopping wood and a little boy appears on the edge of my yard. He is not made of skin.

“There’s no one left to play with here. You should carry on your way.” I rest the axe on the splitting stump, but keep a hand on the handle. For some reason, I am afraid.

The boy doesn’t say anything. Against the snow, he is hard to see. He has no coat. I cannot tell if he trembles. I do not turn my back on him. His black eyes follow me. I try not to imagine how many rows of teeth he might have. I pull the axe from the stump and yell, “Git!”

I don’t see him again for four days. When he returns, it is on a day when the sun has not risen. On the edge of the yard, I scoop snow into pails to melt on the woodstove. Behind me I hear a little cough. In the dark, he seems smaller, less frightening. Maybe I imagined him wrong the first time. I invite him into the house but I do not touch him. After lighting the hurricane lanterns, I tell him to sit at the table like a good boy. He hesitates and then climbs into the chair where my husband used to sit. Some boys turn into men.

“Would you like some bread and butter?”

“Yes and cream.”

I keep cream in the blackest pitcher. I pour it into a bowl for him and he licks it as if he were a cat.

“Where are your people?” I ask.

“Will the winter end?” he replies while buttering his second piece of bread. His hands are dirty and rusty with old blood. His voice is so little it seems to get lost in the long corridor of his throat. But he is strong. I can see the tight muscles in his neck, and imagine how he’s come to hunt and scavenge.

“It always did before.”

“Does that make a thing true?”

After dinner, he fingers the hair of my dolls but does not take them down from the shelf to play. I give him my oldest son’s red coat. The buttons are missing so I use a bit of rope to belt it around his waist. In a blue lunch pail, I wrap bread and cheese between strips of cloth. I don’t give him meat. He doesn’t ask to stay. If we are both to survive this season, it will not be because of each other.

At the edge of the yard, he turns back to me, his black eyes inky with moonlight. “Where did they go, your children?” he asks.

“Does that make a thing true?” I reply.

 

About the Author:

Caitlin Scarano is a poet in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee PhD creative writing program. She was a finalist for the 2014 Best of the Net Anthology and the winner of the 2015 Indiana Review Poetry Prize, judged by Eduardo Corral. She has two poetry chapbooks. This winter, she will be an artist in residence at the Hinge Arts Residency program in Fergus Falls and the Artsmith’s 2016 Artist Residency on Orcas Island.

Special Notes:

This story won The Conium Review‘s 2015 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Laura Ellen Joyce.  It will also be made into a micro-chap for distribution at the 2016 AWP Conference in Los Angeles, California.

This story was selected for inclusion in the Queen’s Ferry Press anthology, Best Small Fictions 2016, guest edited by Stuart Dybek.

Image Credit: © dule964 / Dollar Photo Club

The 2015 Flash Fiction Contest Winner is Caitlin Scarano!

Caitlin Scarano‘s piece, “Pitcher of Cream,” is the winner of The Conium Review‘s 2015 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Laura Ellen Joyce! This year’s finalists were Ashley HutsonGary Joshua GarrisonEmily KiernanAri LaurelMarsha McSpadden, and Jan Stinchcomb. An honorable mention goes to Kitsune Hirano.

Laura said that Caitlin’s story “was haunting and beautiful and every word was chosen with care.” She went on to say “The story felt complete: a whole world in a few hundred words. The chilling ambiguity of the missing children and the unreliability of the narrator made this a perfect flash fiction.”

Caitlin Scarano

Caitlin Scarano

Caitlin Scarano is a poet in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee PhD creative writing program. She was a finalist for the 2014 Best of the Net Anthology and the winner of the 2015 Indiana Review Poetry Prize, judged by Eduardo Corral. She has two poetry chapbooks. This winter, she will be an artist in residence at the Hinge Arts Residency program in Fergus Falls and the Artsmith’s 2016 Artist Residency on Orcas Island.

Caitlin will receive a $300 honorarium for her winning piece and a copy of the judge’s latest book, The Luminol Reels. You’ll get to read Caitlin’s winning flash fiction piece on Saturday, December 19th when it goes “live” on The Conium Review Online Compendium. The story will also be made into a broadside or micro-chapbook for distribution at the 2016 AWP Conference in Los Angeles. Caitlin will be on-site to sign copies for AWP attendees.