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Volume 6 pre-orders now available!

The Conium Review: Vol. 6 is now available for pre-order. We expect to ship in mid-December.

This volume of The Conium Review features nine new stories from Tamara K. Walker, Jay Vera Summer, Matt Kirkpatrick, Rebekah Bergman, Kevin Finucane, Stephanie Wang, Simone Person, Rachel Lyon, and J. L. Montavon. Readers will experience ghost detector apps, a sentient chalkboard, trippy art museum visits, and more. Throughout this volume, inventive prose, dark satire, and  compelling characters abound.

We’re still processing final copy edits and completing the layout, so page count is still up in the air, but it’ll be a similar length to other recent issues (around 100-ish). As usual, we have a wrap-around cover with just a hint of the main image peaking out. On back, there is a large tree stump gracing the volume.

Vol 6 - mock-up (02)

“Filigree,” by E. M. Stormo

Band Aid sketch

Every friend group has the friend who everyone hits, and for us it was Tommy. He wasn’t even our smallest friend. That was Jean. But Tommy received our violent affection.

At the bar, Lisa kneed Tommy in the gut and then elbowed him in the back because she got bored waiting in line for the bathroom. Tommy held her drink and salvaged it during the attack. The bouncer wanted to break them up, but it wasn’t even the worse beating Tommy got that week. Wyatt slapped the shit out of him over Sunday brunch and afterwards, when everyone was saying their goodbyes, Bobbio did that thing where you point out a fake stain on someone’s shirt and poke their nose, except he broke Tommy’s nose with the maneuver. Jean drove us to the hospital in her minivan. The whole way there, Bobbio made fun of Tommy for his soft bones and weak cartilage. Tommy apologized to us for the inconvenience, stopping out the blood with some junk mail Jean had lying around.

I never hit Tommy in public. I liked to wait until we were alone.

He brought it on himself, according to the doctors. Tommy emitted a violence-inducing pheromone. But every doctor who treated Tommy had been rough with him, tugging his testes too hard, or pricking his veins for needless blood work. The doctor who reset Tommy’s nose had rescheduled several other patients to get right to his operation.

One time I hit Tommy and he hit me back. It felt like a baby animal attack. I laughed at him and he hit me again. I kept laughing louder the harder he punched me. Eventually, he drew blood, a little from my face but most of it from his bruised knuckles. My sides ached from laughing. I covered for him and told everyone I fell down the stairs, so he wouldn’t face any retribution. Such an incident ran the risk of someone else taking it too far, as Bobbio had on many occasions.

Inspection Week arrived after a particularly brutal season. I made sure to shower with Tommy before our full body exam. He had bruises down his back in all different colors: dark greens, blues, and deep purples, and red scars and rashes running through it.

I could make out our individual work. On his lower back, there was the burn from when Wyatt pushed him onto the grill. I called Wyatt into the showers to admire it. Wyatt slapped Tommy on the shoulder and said he’s looking abstract back there. I asked Wyatt who was responsible for a certain bruise cluster and he called Bobbio into the showers to settle the matter. Bobbio claimed authorship, his words, of the entirety of the upper back section. I drew their attention to the filigree and Wyatt switched off the showers to get a better look at it. Tommy stood their shivering. Bobbio called Lisa and Jean in to see. Lisa said those were Jean’s scratches everywhere. Jean blushed and admitted to the filigree.

Tommy beamed with pride as we examined him. Do a spin, Wyatt said and twirled him on his finger. We marveled how the front was just as complex as the back. It was a shame to add anything new to it or allow him to heal.

After passing inspections, we went out to celebrate with a drink. A kid named Carter, who was like the Tommy of another friend group, made fun of our Tommy’s black eyes and crooked nose. But Tommy was ours to abuse and if somebody from another group so much as insulted him, a fight broke out and we kicked their asses so hard they couldn’t be friends anymore. Bobbio smashed a bottle over Carter’s head and it was on, a 5 V 5 brawl. We sized up our counterparts from across the room. I told Tommy to hang back and leave it to us. Let Jean’s nails take care of it. Or Lisa’s famous knees. Wyatt can slap them into submission. Let Bobbio take things too far, kicking Carter while unconscious. Allow me to destroy the bond between them.

In our late twenties, our friend group drifted apart. Tommy was the first to be married. He now lives upstate with his wife and kids.

If I ever hear of her laying a hand on him, I’ll call up the old gang and we’ll pay them a visit, beat up the whole family.

About the Author:

E. M. Stormo is a fiction editor by day, writer by night, and a teacher and promoter of musical literacy at all times. His work has appeared in Thrice Fiction Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, Entropy Magazine, and The Airgonaut.

Image Credit: © nikiteev – stock.adobe.com

“Teaching Them Happiness,” by Joseph Dante

rope noose with hangman's knot

After the first suicide, Mrs. Loomis was determined to teach her class happiness. We’ll talk about our passions, she thought. What makes us feel most alive. At the very least, let’s get some thunder in these clouds.

Her students stood up one at a time. She asked them to be completely honest with her.

“I want to have sex with as many girls as possible,” Jack said.

“I want to kill as many boys as possible,” Lana said.

And so on. A whole day of this complete honesty and somehow Mrs. Loomis refrained from reprimanding any of her students. After all, they’d only done what she asked.

After the second suicide, the school brought in a grief counselor. Memorials weren’t enough. The regular school counselor wasn’t enough. This greying woman with an enormous mouth made everyone gather in a circle, throwing around terms like closure and coping mechanisms.

Mrs. Loomis wasn’t a religious person, but she still believed suicide was a very selfish act to commit. “Suicides not only cause grief, but often cause more death around the victim,” she told her class. “It becomes infectious, like a disease.”

She made them write essays about how else selfishness can spread. Maybe this dissection would suture their softer parts that’d come apart, would make these deaths seem even more real.

After the third suicide, Mrs. Loomis became terrified. She wondered who the next victim would be, if it could be her. She read about pacts and tried to understand what could convince a hundred people to jump in front of a train at once, or serve arsenic from a punch bowl.

This time, she had her class write essays about how they’d spend their last day on earth. Despite the change in topic, it was still more of the same. Having sex as much as possible, discovering what it’s like to kill without consequence. All that naked hunger, the pulse becoming the body.

Mr. Loomis tried to reassure his wife. “Don’t despair,” he said. “It’s probably just a phase. Like my dreams in high school of training for the seminary and believing something made the heart grow fonder, but it certainly wasn’t abstinence.”

 Was she supposed to laugh? The hallway mirror only reflected her perfectly blank expression.

After the fourth suicide, Mrs. Loomis thought more about the apocalypse. She always thought it’d be a lack of resources that’d bring about humanity’s downfall, probably an environmental disaster. But could it possibly end like this instead? With a suicide epidemic? In bed at night, she pulled her husband closer.

One morning, Mrs. Loomis found an anonymous message under her door as she was walking into her classroom. It read: You are your serotonin, signed with a drawing of the appropriate molecule. She tried to match up the message with her students’ in-class essays to figure out who may have written it, but nothing seemed a good match.

When she reported her discovery to the principal, he simply dismissed it. “You aren’t special,” he informed her. “Many other teachers have received the same message. Rest assured though, Mrs. Loomis, anyone else who tries to kill themselves will be immediately expelled.”

Again, she thought. Was she supposed to laugh?

After the fifth suicide, Mrs. Loomis circled around the school a few times. She saw the serotonin molecule everywhere she went. Did catching the culprit even matter? Would raiding the den stop the howls?

It was not long until a girl came into class with the molecule tattooed on her wrist. Mrs. Loomis stared too long at the fresh ink as she was passing back papers. The girl turned around, clearly feeling the stare a mile away.

Mrs. Loomis found herself in front of the class, nearly shaking. “Have I taught you all nothing?” she blurted out. It was loud, but expected. There was no surprise in their faces.

The newly tattooed girl was quick to confront her. “You need to understand,” she said, “it’s a symbol. Surely you, as an English teacher, can appreciate multiple interpretations.”

A sigh came from somewhere. A bit of silence. Not long after, the students went back to their assigned reading.

After this long-awaited outburst, Mrs. Loomis began to imagine appropriate deaths for her students. Jack would asphyxiate himself in an intense moment of self-pleasure, dying before ever having an opportunity to finally lose his virginity. Lana would slash her ample arms, one cut for each boy not properly killed and tossed into the canal behind her house. The hallway mirror showed Mrs. Loomis more and more wrinkles until a smile formed. A smile almost turning into a laugh that had threatened to bubble up since the very beginning.

She wrote on the board the following day: You are your self-prophecy. No molecule, no signature.

At her desk were copies of her newest assignment for the students: Write, in detail, how you would kill yourself. Record the entire process. As always, creativity counts. She made it worth 50 percent of their final grade.

As soon as suicide turned into work, they’d stop. That was her reasoning. Who’d get tattoos then? Where was the romance in that? The cryptic notes? The principal agreed and gave her the go.

Her fingers formed a steeple. Treating these young people like porcelain dolls or bombs with countdowns, Mrs. Loomis thought, seemed to imply that breaking or exploding were just endings. That we could only have danger as signs before the exit.

She waited for the bell to ring.

About the Author:

Joseph Dante is a writer from South Florida and currently serves as an assistant fiction editor at Pithead Chapel. His work has been featured in (or is forthcoming from) The Rumpus, Best Gay Stories 2015, PANK, Pear Noir!, Corium, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. He has been nominated for both the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net anthology.

Image Credit: © dule964/ Dollar Photo Club

“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