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"I Built a Fourth House" - J.A. Tyler (Fashionable Fiction winnerorder the t-shirt on the site) "Oriole" - Len Kuntz "Skates" - Lauren Tamraz "Twisted by the Pool" - Matt Potter "Mr. Bubblehead and Dark Swan" - Kyle Hemmings "The Zebra Who Didn't Come for Dinner" - Julie Ann Weinstein "Fixer-upper" - Sue Ann Connaughton "Somewhere Beneath the Sea" - Matt Barden (Thanks to Gene Wisniewski for the great cover art, entitled "Constant Vigilance.")

"I Built a Fourth House" - J.A. Tyler I built a fourth house underneath a mountain. The mountain was tall but I moved it stone by stone, tree by tree, displaced its bulk until there was a hole I could stand in. I stood in the mountain’s lack and built a house there. I went back to my axe, my saw, planks from trees and the mud for seams. I built a chimney for the first snow, gutters for the first rain. I built shelves where the jam I would make could be placed in jars atop it. I built a corner where I could stand. I built a chair where I could sit. I built a bed to cover in a quilt of pine needles and stone moss. I built my mother to rock me to sleep and my father to cook up our fish in the morning. I built a picture frame and a picture of my brother inside of it, to keep track of what I was missing. My brother had been lost from the beginning. He was the first to see me in these woods, he was the first to enter into them and seek me out. He was the first to find me here. In his hand was a piece of paper. On the piece of paper was a black dot. Inside of the black dot were the times we had punched each other in the face and stood up laughing. Inside of those fists were pictures of us as kids. In this fourth house I built, I made a doorway but did not fit it with a door. Instead I restacked what was left of the mountain, tree by tree, stone by stone, leaving open only a space between the mountain’s skin and my doorway, so that I was living inside of a cabin inside of a cave inside of a mountain inside of the dying that I was going through. The layers of that doorway were dark. And only once did a bear come in to find me there already, with no room left for hibernation, and my knife ready. The red on the walls from this bear was invisible in our darkness.

I remember that my brother’s hand was trembling when he handed me the paper with the blackness in it, my death. I remember when my brother and I were deer, the woods a home instead of a lost venture. And I want the tremble of his hand to mean that he was nervous, that he was sad, that my brother didn’t want to deliver my dying. I want my brother’s trembles to have been his fear at losing me in more than a lost woods. I want the sun to come up with other bears entering this cabin in this cave in this mountain. I want to slit them open, to swim in red, to paint myself in anger, to drip with a third and a fourth and a fifth bear. But after a decade, the dark proved too much. On every wall was a sky. And on all the skies there were no stars. This was too much refinement. My brother never appeared, no other bears came, and the blood on the walls dried and could no longer paint words. I never had a daughter. I never loved a woman. I never saw my brother after I died, so there was no longer any secrecy to living in a cabin in a cave in a mountain. The burning was monotonous and bright. The mountain collapsed back down into itself when the structure deflated, one hollow bear within, and me walking back into these lost woods.

J. A. Tyler is founding editor of Mud Luscious Press and author of the forthcoming titles A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed (Fugue State Press) and, with John Dermot Woods, the image text novel No One Told Me I Would Disappear (Jaded Ibis Press). For more:

"Oriole" - Len Kuntz My father’s hands fit around my throat. At first his arm floats over my shoulder as we watch television while seated on the couch. The room smells musty and damp, of ash and fish sticks. On the tube they’re considering a rain delay at Camden Yards and I fix my eyes on a player’s jersey and tighten my focus further, concentrating on the image of the bird that I know is an oriole only because it’s the team mascot. I realize then that I can only name four or five different birds, about the same number of flowers I can identify, and it hits me hammer-hard like it always does, this feeling that he might be right about me after all, that I might be stupid, and like muscle memory acting on impulse a surge of worthlessness slices through me and my skin burns hot and gets rashy and its suddenly a trick to breathe, so I picture that comic oriole again and I flick my eyes at it and lash out with imaginary fists and I kick the crap out of it with my brain, sending it a message to fly the hell away, and I’m so desperate at this point for control that I’m about to throw an ashtray through the tube when my father’s fingers clasp the back of my neck. My father’s hand is loose at first, as if just balancing there, like a head rest, but then the pressure comes and the fingers pinch and dig and the nails bite, especially one that’s jagged and has been chewed up, and I wonder if I will bleed or faint. I change my view and I find his gun on the coffee table, the holster flapped over it like a rubber chicken, like a giant scab. Why not use that on me, I think, but I know the answer. The pistol is for killing criminals,

hands are for family. One time I watched him beat Mother so bad I shocked myself. Until then, I had no idea I could tolerate such evil. Violence that raw can be riveting, its own special kind of sin, and I sat in the corner with my knees up to my forehead and every once in awhile I’d wince or close my eyes but only for a second, as if I was afraid I’d miss out on a potential prize if I didn’t pay attention. My father’s strength is not anger but persistence. He didn’t let up because Mother kept calling him this thing or that thing and then she had to go and bring up his being an officer of the law and saying, “You’re more wicked than the ones you lock… up.” He caught her sharp on the word “lock”--uppercut to the jaw, and the blow stuck so perfect and solid that a tooth flew out of her mouth and nicked me in the cheek and, even though that was several years ago, if you met me today or noticed me standing in line at a coffee shop you’d still observe that crescent scar two inches below my left eye. You’d see it and think it was nothing. On TV they’re unrolling plastic mats that look like the world largest tortillas. We had Mexican food once when Mother was still around and the waitress stared at me so much that I started squirming in the booth and couldn’t stop and Mom told me to go to the bathroom, and when I said I didn’t have to, she said, “Well, I do,” and while she was gone I saw Dad grab the waitress’s buttocks in back where her apron strings dangled. The waitress pulled away, flushed but happy, and she spoke with her voice a cross between a whisper and a gargle and said, “Not in front of the kid,” and it was the relaxed state of her eyes that led me to believe my father and the waitress were an item and that it was no accident he’d picked this restaurant.

There have been other women. They come and go. He brings them or they show up. One time a loud pounding came from the front door and then a low, groaning sound and I thought someone had shot a dog and left it on our stoop. When I got up to see what it was, my father grabbed me by the hair and yanked so hard that I fell backward. After awhile, that lady must have given up because she wasn’t there in the morning even though a periwinkle high heeled shoe was. It’s funny the things you think right before you die. It’s all a surprise to me, same as how calm I am. I see now the bird as a logo on a wall by a bank advertisement, and that oriole is flat and two-dimensioned, orangebreasted and stationary, no more able to fly than me. The people in the stadium have filed out except for one pair huddled up near the top row of the grandstands. Sheets of silver rain pelt them at an angle. The camera zooms in. It’s a man and his son and they’re wearing yoke-yellow slickers and eating sandwiches and one of the announcers is chuckling so hard I think he might choke and the other is saying, “That’s one wet picnic.” It goes black for a moment—the television, the room, this world and the universe we inhabit. People always talk about there being a light at the other side, off in the distance, but there’s not one in my ending. No, there’s just this edgeless blanket of ink. I feel my way through it. At least I think that’s what I do because I can only sense my hands, I can’t see them, but then just like that I can. My hands are stretched out in front of me and the room reappears in the same sludgy colors with the same fried fish odors and I’m gasping, gasping, gasping, and when I collect myself I think, There I go again, surprising myself once more, wanting to live after

all. I look at the gun again. I’ve never used one before but I figure, how hard can it be?

Len Kuntz lives on a lake in rural Washington State with his wife, son, an eagle and three pesky beavers. His writing appears widely in print and online at such places as Blue Print Review, Troubadour 21, Heavy Bear and also

"Skates" - Lauren Tamraz "Hold it up higher. I swear to God, if that shit goes all over..." I lifted my head off the counter, felt my neck tendons pinch. "I'm holding it! Sorry--I'm tired. I don't even have my glasses on..." My voice trailed off and I leaned my head back down after adjusting the overstuffed trash bag. Rotting science experiments from the fridge threatened to burst its seams. The dark countertop loomed like murky constellations as my head rested back on the polished surface, veins of cosmic debris better than a clear view of the cheap imitation granite. He tipped a giant pot over the bag and heaved its contents--formerly chili--into the sack. We had already pulled the bag out of the can for fear of it ripping on the way out. Beans and tomatoes clung to the inside of the pot and I squinted at them. I hated clearing out the refrigerator, but always scraped all the containers clean so they wouldn't fester in the sink.

He ignored convention and dropped the still-mucky chili vessel into the burgeoning pit. Not being a slob, or rather, being a man who could clean up after himself was one of the things that first attracted me to him. He could do his own laundry, make a nice veggie stir-fry and sometimes fix a car if something wasn't too wrong with it. His house was pretty well-kept, he had no roommates and he bought nice olive oil soap for his shower. I liked to shower there. I liked to shower with him. Since I didn't think he was gay, I thought that must mean he could be the clean one and I could be the messy one. I didn't think he'd become Captain Clean Your Shit Up. "Why is there grass? Old grass, white grass, what the fuck is this all in here for?" "Scallions!" I lifted my head, not caring if the bag was falling. "I use green parts for some stuff, white parts for others--don't throw them out!" The truth was I hated waste. I couldn't stand throwing away something I should have used before it was past its prime. They say that's hoarding, when you can't let even garbage go, but I don't know. For me it's easier to see it looking bad in the fridge as a reminder of what could have been, than putting it out of its misery like a pet no one wants to smell around the house any longer. When we first met I was no different probably, but the opportunities for these tendencies to show just didn't occur often. I was too busy trying to look like hot sex than worry about not wasting a quarter-left jar of tahini. Time dictates different priorities.

I took the bag from him and walked it outside. There was snow on the ground, but rain was beginning to fall. It hit the piles like tears on a Carvel cake. The night we met I had been ice-skating on the lake behind my house. He was drinking beers with the neighbor and they would take turns throwing the empties onto the ice to see them slide. I had dragged the record player outside and hooked it up with an extension cord on the frozen dock. It made more sense to me than a cd player because I liked to hear the crackle of the vinyl in time with the scratching of the ice beneath me. When the record ended I went over and put on a new one. That's when he came over to watch. I was wearing green tights and a long, maroon cashmere sweater. It had been my sister's favorite, but once the cat got its nail stuck in it and tore a hole, she gave it to me. It was the softest and warmest thing I owned. It made me feel like someone should touch me. The album was Neil Diamond's Just for You and "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" came on, taunting and promising. My blades wrote my wishes over and over and over again into the lake's surface, fingernails on a cheap bar of glycerin soap. The ice was softer after, full of spots scraped away by aching, repetitive glides in line with the instrumentals. After I threw the garbage away I turned around and faced the house, the way they always told us to do outside at a school fire drill and then about-face, watch it burn. The rain was pooling in crevices in the snow, reducing it, changing its whiteness to translucence. The snow just took it like it had been waiting, hoping. When I listen to that song now, it sounds like a warning, a threat, not so full of promises as I used to think.

Lauren Tamraz believes in the healing powers of tacos and pit bulls. She

prefers to drive long distances others would fly. Her work appears or is forthcoming in HOUSEFIRE, Bluestem, Metazen, Chronogram and others. She lives with her husband in NY's mountainous Hudson Valley where she edits Awosting Alchemy.

"Twisted by the Pool" - Matt Potter “I don’t want to get married, Phil,” I said. “I’m sorry.” He looked at me, searching. “It’s 1962 and the world is bigger than Melbourne,” I added. “And I want to see some of it.” He hung his head, crumpled. “Pam, why now? After all our plans.” I put my glass of pineapple punch down on the teak veneer sideboard. His mother would hate me for leaving a water ring, but easing Eunice Palmer’s domestic routine was not my concern just now. “They were always your plans, Phil. It was always you doing the talking.” He looked up at me again, crushed. With damp hands I smoothed the front of my yellow terry toweling poolside twinset. Playful screams burst through from the Sunday afternoon

pool party outside. Phil’s parents owned the first backyard pool in Armadale. Everyone else in Armadale had a tennis court in their backyard, though not Bob and Eunice Palmer: they were ahead of the crowd. “You’ll make me look like a bloody fool,” Phil spluttered. “What am I going to say to Mum and Dad and my mates?” I threw back his gaze, bold with new resolve. “I’ll tell them. Then they can blame me to my face.” Picking up my pineapple punch, I walked outside, hand shielding my eyes from the February sun. Our friends – well, Phil’s friends and their girlfriends – lounged around the backyard: some of the men in the pool, all the girls keeping dry round the edge. Phil passed behind me carrying a large sloshing tin of Golden Circle pineapple juice, ready to top up the punch. “Just don’t say anything,” he hissed. I sat down on a lazy-boy and stretched my legs out in the sun. I felt like a model in a Women’s Weekly diet pill ad. And looking at the tasteful engagement diamond glinting on my hand, a fraud too. “Oh, Pamela,” said Eunice Palmer, opening the back door. “You left a water ring on my nice veneer sideboard.” She stepped outside in pale blue, seagulls appliquéd on her shoulder. And with Marveer furniture polish and a dry cloth in hand, she surveyed the scene. “You’ll learn better once you and Phil have a home of your own.”

“Fact is, Mum,” Phil said, pouring another beer, topping up the pineapple punch, now forgotten. “Pam’s decided we’re not getting married.” The backyard hushed. Phil looked at me, beer froth quivering on his top lip. Eunice raised her Marveer. “When did you decide this?” I smiled through unknowing teeth. “It’s 1962 and I want to see some of the world, Mrs. Palmer.” Eunice whinnied like a horse. “We-e-ell, that’s just the silliest idea I’ve ever heard.” And she waved her cloth at me. “What about all your plans?” “Doesn’t care about plans, Mum,” Phil slurred. “Doesn’t want a ba-a-ar of ’em.” I looked into the vacuum around me. “But we were going to look at bridal frocks next week,” she said. “I changed my bridge afternoon so we could do it.” I looked down at my yellow terry toweling poolside twinset and rued saying yes to Phil’s stylish but understated diamond engagement ring. Rued the family introductions and invitations to Tupperware parties and rued choosing a cutlery pattern that was both classic and modern in the silverware department at Buckley & Nunn.

“But you’re part of this family now, Pamela,” Eunice continued, voice rising. “You can’t throw this whole life away.” And with Marveer in one hand and cloth in the other, she threw her arms open wide, at the pool and the backyard and the whole of Melbourne, like it was an oyster waiting to be eaten. “What girl in her right mind wouldn’t want to be Mrs. Philip Godfrey Palmer?” No one said a thing. I opened my mouth. And all too soon it was writhing on the poolside slate. “I can’t have children,” I lied, my eyes focused on that numbing blur in the distance. “Because I’m all twisted down there.” No one moved. No one even breathed. “You bloody well are not!” Phil blurted, spitting froth from his beer. “You’re as regular down there as church on Sunday!” Eunice looked at me, and then at Phil, and then at me, and then at Phil again. I wanted to laugh. Questions bubbled in her brain but not even Eunice had the guts or bad grace to ask them. Clamping her mouth shut and wafting furniture polish, Eunice turned on her heel. And the only sound was her tapping heels as she disappeared inside the house, and the lapping water against the walls of the first pool in Armadale. The sun shone. And the world stood still.

“Reckon it’s time to go,” one of Phil’s mates said against the silence. “Party’s over.”

Matt Potter is an Australian-born writer who lives between Australia and Germany (particularly Berlin), perhaps following the summer. Also a social worker and an English language teacher, Matt is inspired by the discipline of others and their sense of enjoyment, and wishes both would rub off on him. Matt has been published at The Glass Coin, A-Minor, Magnolia's Press and soon at Gloom Cupboard, and contributes regularly to 52 / 250 A Year of Flash, F3 and the blog carnival > Language > Place.

Mr. Bubblehead and Dark Swan" - Kyle Hemmings The receptionist from Medical Records, the one whose eyes sometimes drooped like dead roses, forty-ish with too many sick calls, whose soft, slightly mispronounced words stayed with coworkers like the taste of strange spices, yes, she was the one who had a crush on him. It was a playful, lingering kind of attraction, the type that could take up an entire childhood and leave her too old for adolescence. During her breaks, she searched for Mr. BubbleHead, who worked in Materials Management, and said "I think it's time for lunch." He usually looked at his watch and said something like "Okay, just one more minute. I have to phone in some orders to Scrub and Gown." After work, she took classes in jazz and tap dance. That was when the

polyneuropathy rooted in childhood didn’t flare up. On her good days, she danced and she wanted to be a child. It was nearing Christmas and she volunteered at the homeless shelter because she wanted to be loved. Her doctor had told her that her prognosis was poor. Doing something for someone is the sure way to inner peace, her mother once said. As a child she was perceived as a misfit swan in a town where everyone drank or floated upon dirty water. As a young girl with a slithering body, she daydreamed of ballerinas in the orange thick-brick heat of day. With eyes closed, she aged and lived near windows. Her disease played hide-and-seek with her. She decided she was in love with Mr. BubbleHead because he was kind and genuine, even though he reminded her of broken glass or horses with a bad leg. As for Mr. BubbleHead, he claimed he rarely dreamed but one time he went on for minutes about how in this one dream he counted the number of disjunctives in a Dear John letter. He had watched a movie about a soldier coming home to no one. He bought the DVD and memorized the credits and what birthday belonged to which actor. She looked for him in the company cafeteria, finding him ordering the same meal: hamburger well done, bun on the side, a half-scoop of cottage cheese. His trousers were the same color as the day before and they were baggy as the ones her father wore so many years before, driving a local bus. She tried to find some kind of mathematical symmetry in all of it, but she was not good with numbers. At the employee tables, she handed him a box of heart-shaped chocolates. "It’s your birthday," she said, with that

wingspan of a careless smile. “Yes,” he said in flat tone, “April 17, 1952. The same day that President Truman signed Executive Order 10346.” She waited for him to acknowledge the gift. "Thank you," he said with a slight nod of the head. They sat and ate in a dense silence. It was the others who made noise with words, hit or miss, receptors and transmitters, she wanted to count the number of linkages, then gaze into his eyes. She decided no matter how deeply buried, or how distracted by the rush of sensations, there was a longing and a history of hurt inside him. He studied the box, touching it carefully, as if a new baby brother. Mentally, he counted the number of candies within each row, without breaking the ribbon. After all, the box was shaped like a heart. He could deduce and calculate. They sat and ate the candies on opposite sides of the long cafeteria table; dark smudges on their lips. Finally, she rose and said with defiant un-subtlety--I Love You-- as if an occasion for a simple parade. She looked down at his glazed eyes that reminded her of quail eggs, or how easily anything could break by a simple mispronunciation of a word. The left side of her lip quivered slightly. Mr. BubbleHead broke open another chocolate, mesmerized by the soft gooey syrup, coating his fingers like some weak glue. He said he didn't like the cherries. They would make him dream of too many zeroes

and this could lead to disjunctions and null sets. She watched as he ate only the dark sweetened shells. What do I taste like? She wanted to ask. But that would be in another dream. In this life, she concluded, her dreams were all wrong, full of irrational numbers and combinations. At home in her Soho apartment, she watched a TV game of spinning numbers for prizes and began to cry. On the other side of town, Mr. BubbleHead was watching the same show, calculating the odds for each contestant wearing dark shirts with the same number of buttons as his own. I won, he said softly to himself.

Kyle Hemmings lives in New Jersey. He is the author of three poetry chapbooks: Fuzzy Logic (Punkin Press), Avenue C (Scars Publications), and Amsterdam & Other Broken Love Songs (Flutter Press).

"The Zebra Who Didn't Come for Dinner" Julie Ann Weinstein “Wooden, five feet long maple, hardly used, seats eight if close.� The first of hundreds of ads on Craigslist in search of a table for him.

“No,” he said. “Come on, there are just a couple little scratches.” “No.” “Can’t it be sanded?” “Yes, but it’s too light.” “You can stain it. It’s the correct size.” The door slammed. He walked out and later emailed. Send more table pics. It’s not that hard. “Then you find a freaking table.” He refused and claimed to be too busy with work. So I persevered. “Glass table, round, seats six, shows fingerprints and has cover to hide imperfections.” “No.” “Veneer teak, seven feet long, like Thailand wood.” “No. It’s a fake.”

“Rectangle glass ten feet long, seats an army of friends.” “I hate glass.” He meant guests. “But, it makes a room look bigger.” “No. People who live in glass shatter.” “No! That’s bull shit.” I lied. He broke a glass coffee table in rage in a past apartment. I guess he didn’t want any reminders. The broken edges, I wanted to glue back together. He hauled it out to the trash. A dozen more glass tables on Craigslist. I saw beauty in the glass and in the reflections of someone else’s life. He said I didn’t listen, EVER. He wanted wood. It’s more stable. He was wrong. I found a paper Mache, Zebra table with four legs, stripes, and a head. It was decoration, an entryway piece. He liked it. It cost $5 bucks. Four months later the zebra sill sat in the hallway. He found a table, after I abandoned the search. His chose a long black piece of wood with matching stiff back chairs. It looked like a coffin. He ate his meals there and spread out his paper work. I gulped my food down, preferring to pet the zebra in between bites. Sometimes a neighbor’s child would come by and play on the zebra. One time the child jumped on it and broke the zebra’s neck. I glued it back together.

I asked him to move out and he took the black table, leaving the chairs. They didn’t look so dark around the new glass table I purchased. Sometimes there are fingerprints on its surface, but I know there’s a life that’s been living around them. Mine. And sometimes the edges are sticky and sweet. And as for a zebra, he remained for another year until one day he wanted to gallop. And so he did, well sort of, by way of a car. A new couple wanted him. They liked horses and his stripes.

Julie Ann Weinstein is the author of Flashes from the Other World, She writes in the magic realism vein and loves exploring the fine line between reality and not. Websites: and

"Fixer-upper" - Sue Ann Connaughton “Ahhh, she’s a beauty,” Jerry Mahoney declared as his wife and fiveyear old twins tumbled out of their van. “What do you think, Margie? Was it worth it to buy the property sight unseen?” His wife surveyed the brambly yard and narrow stone path that zigzagged to the entrance of a tall brick house. “The house has potential, Jerry, but the neighborhood looks iffy. All the houses look so forlorn, half hidden behind weeds. The last two foreclosures we bought were in better neighborhoods.”

“After I landscape, neighbors will fix up their yards. That’s how it starts in depressed areas; someone leads and others follow. With the profit we make here, we’ll buy a house in the best neighborhood.” “A decent house in a decent neighborhood will do,” Margie sighed. “I’m tired of moving.” “What about our playscape, Daddy?” “Little Jay. I’ll build you and Peg-Peg a playscape when we get our permanent house.” Jerry adored his children. So well-mannered, Margie raised them properly. Inside, Jerry poked walls, ceilings, and floors. “Solid plaster, original molding, good hardwood floors. With paint, paper, and minor fixes, we might get out in a year. It’s odd: the house has been maintained, but the grounds haven’t. It appears the previous owners just gave up on the yard.” Margie shivered, “It’s gloomy inside. Wisteria blocks the windows.” During the fall, Jerry excavated weeds, trimmed hedges, pruned wisteria, and planted bulbs. Curb appeal improved ten-fold and light bathed the interior of the house. In winter, Jerry cultivated houseplants. Eventually, he ran out of interior projects and spent most days lying on the couch. Bored, the twins taunted each other. “Peg-Peg smashed my truck.”

“Little Jay threw my puzzle in the toilet.” “Peg-Peg, break your leg.” “Little Jay’s an ugly blob of clay.” Jerry hollered. “Go to your rooms! Wherever do they get this language, Margie? They’re turning into little animals.” Her voice grew edgy. “You could help with their deportment, instead of always yelling.” Jerry trotted around. “I spend my time and energy fixing up this place so we can sell it to buy your dream house.” “I don’t dream about houses. That’s your dream.” Margie caught up to him and circled her arms around him. A hug, that’s what he needed. Jerry brushed his chin against her silky hair. He whispered,” I’m sorry for lashing out. I’d do anything for you.” Margie dug her nails into his back so hard he felt the slices through his flannel shirt. In a low, measured voice, she warned, “I’m tired of moving.” In the spring, daffodils bloomed. Margie gathered basketfuls for bouquets. Little Jay plucked blossoms, “to make a garland for Peg-Peg.”

After a week, the daffodils wilted, their stalks strangled by weeds that sprouted, no matter how much Jerry yanked or mulched. Crabgrass overtook the lawn. Vines clawed across windows, shading the interior, killing the houseplants. The Mahoneys’ property blended in with the neighborhood. Jerry drew plans for a playscape. The Mahoneys had found their permanent home.

Sue Ann Connaughton writes from a draft old house in New England. Her fiction and poetry have recently appeared in Twenty20 Journal; With Painted Words; Every Day Poets; On the Premises; South Boston Literary Gazette; Everyday Weirdness; American Tanka; and Modern English Tanka. Her story, “An Elegant Revenge” received an honorable mention in The Binnacle’s Seventh International Ultra-Short Competition.

"Somewhere Beneath the Sea" - Matt Barden Beep, goes the radar. Beep. Once every ten seconds. Beep. The radar’s centrifugal search is punctuated by a periodic beep each time it passes north. Beep. Alain had learnt a lot about himself in the last sixty-one days, like how long his fingernails grow before they snap into splinters; like how his

attitude to food has changed. Food was a valuable commodity here, each morsel eaten by the crewmembers bringing their ultimate death slightly closer; the opposite of life on the surface where every mouthful gives you life. For when the food had gone, there would surely be nothing left to do but die. The first pan-European nuclear submarine had a small crew: two Spaniards, Ludwig from Hamburg, an English engineer, an Estonian and Alain. The Frenchman now found himself deep in the ocean, safe from the nuclear fallout that he had signed-up to prevent. Though the crew ought to be united at all times, they were divided in the endless winter. Emilio, Mark and Alain felt it their duty to keep going for as long as possible; Sergei, Antonio and particularly Ludwig took an altogether different view. The quicker they used up the remaining food, the sooner they could face the inevitable and wither away from this living nightmare. They rejected outright any desire to survive. Ludwig considering death onboard the vessel, circumnavigating the globe, to be preferable to whatever might remain for them on its surface. Alain lay flat on his bunk, staring at the ceiling less than a metre from his face. If time still mattered it would be early evening, but such things were inconsequential; they ate when their hunger began to hurt and slept when they could. Nonetheless, Alain still wore his wristwatch, the slight movements of its hands as regular as the beep of the radar and the rhythmic pulsing of the sonar. It had been a gift from his father-in-law six years ago on the event of his marriage to Claudia. Its diamonds may well be the last diamonds on earth. He wished he couldn’t think of Claudia, but however hard he tried to

dream of something else, she returned to him: smiling in an Alsace vineyard; laughing as the water of Lac Leman sprayed into her face from his handling of the speedboat; touching him with her damson lips as the Mediterranean sun cast her hourglass shadow over his chest. Or more recently, imagined scenes that tortured his sleep: maple hair fading to grey as it fell from her withered scalp; black clouds poisoning her as she and their village friends tried pointlessly to run from the heavy, tainted skies. He would wake from these dreams drenched in sweat and panicked. It made him insanely jealous of Ludwig, whose calm acceptance of fate granted the German undisturbed rest. All six crewmembers duly got their wishes. They kept going for another week, sustained by recycled water and air, but the food ran out and death was inevitable. The Frenchman was the last to die, sustained by the feeble energy granted from raw human flesh; something that for a further four days was his own nuclear reactor, pushing him on. After a final dream of Claudia- her body feasted upon by a frenzied cockroach- he awoke once more covered in sweat, tears and Germanic blood, and then succumbed to a dreamless sleep forever. Beep. Every ten seconds the radar beeps. Unseen and unheard, it detects a foreign submarine, ghosting past. Beep. Beep.

Matt Barden is an Englishman currently living in Wales. He plans real towns for a living, but has started to write about fictional lives as a means of escaping them. Although fairly new to writing, he has been published in various places, most recently in Structo Magazine.

Fix it Broken issue #2  

Issue #2 of Fix it Broken

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