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Dear Readers, On October 2, 2017, we launched Montana Mouthful literary magazine, and here we are, just over one year later, publishing our third issue. Despite the steep learning curves and a serious setback, we managed to keep to our publishing schedule. During this time, we experienced joys (the support of many people like you, outstanding submissions by talented writers and artists, the publication of three beautiful issues), but we also experienced grief when we lost our co-founder and editor, Lisa Huff, to cancer. There were also the hardships that go along with running a literary magazine, summarized in the eternal question, “How do we maintain the money and energy to run a growing literary magazine?” Because grow we did! The number of submissions climbed considerably between issues two and three; we feel honored that people want to have their work published in Montana Mouthful, so we’d like to continue onward. To accomplish this, we’re in the process of acquiring 501(c)3 nonprofit status, so we can apply for grants, hold fundraisers and events, and receive tax-deductible donations. This isn’t just to keep Montana Mouthful running but to also expand our reach, especially in the local area. Our hope is to grow to such an extent that we can pay our writers and artists one day. We just need time to get there. As editors, this is the “haunting” that keeps us going. But that which haunts us is not nearly as haunting as the pieces you’ll find in the following pages. With publication so close to Halloween, we received some “hauntings” you might expect: spiders, ghosts, a witch, and a snake. However, other “hauntings” include eerie situations experienced by two campers, a pregnant woman, an Uber driver, a traveler in Northern Guatemala, and more. We suggest you read this issue at night and in bed, with the covers up to your chin. And with Halloween just hours away, Issue 3 includes a special treat: the winners of the Montana (406) Flash Fiction Contest. One week ago, we announced the winners on our website and social media outlets. There were only two rules for the flash fiction contest: the story must be exactly 406 words (not including the title), and the word “Montana” had to appear somewhere in the story. First prize went to Robert Briwa for his story, “No Exit, Montana.” Second prize went to T.L. Sherwood for her story, “The Weight.” Third prize went to Julie Reeser for her story, “Discovery.” Thank you to all who entered our first Montana Mouthful contest! In closing, The Editors of Montana Mouthful would like to thank everyone for your continued support and readership. We also wish you a Happy Halloween if you partake in trick-or-treating, haunted houses, spooky cornfield mazes, and pumpkin carving. If you don’t, you can still find plenty to haunt you in the following pages. Jasmine Swaney Lamb, Editor

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VOLUME ONE • ISSUE THREE Montana Mouthful is an independent literary magazine devoted to short fiction and nonfiction, poetry, and visual artwork. Each issue is themed. We aim to publish three times per year. Although we seek short pieces—just a mouthful— avoid sending anecdotes. Surprise us with your words. Strive to submit stories that build toward something more than a punchline or trick ending. Montana Mouthful is open to most subjects and styles; however, we are not interested in gratuitous sex or violence. EDITORS Jasmine Swaney Lamb Cari Divine Holly Alastra Stacy A. Collette WE PUBLISH Fiction Flash Fiction: 1,000 words or less (up to 2 pieces); Short Story: 2,000 words or less (up to 2 pieces); Non-Fiction Essay: 2,000 words or less (up to 2 pieces); Narrative Nonfiction: 2,000 words or less (up to 2 pieces). Poetry 1,000 words or less (up to 3 pieces) Artwork/Photography Up to 10 images SUBMISSIONS Please send us your work via Submittable at Emailed submissions will not be accepted. VIEWING ISSUU: MAGCLOUD: CONTACT Email:

Introduction .......................................................................II The Cold You Don’t Get Warm From.................................3 Halloween Costume Rules..................................................7 The Baobab Tree ...............................................................11 To The Things That Go Bump In The Night.....................13 Bull’s Eye ..........................................................................15 The Terrible Creatures of Ipanema....................................17 The Snake .........................................................................21 Ghosts...............................................................................23 Clean Livin’.......................................................................25 Two Rooms.......................................................................28 Arachnophobia .................................................................31 Release Naomi ..................................................................33 Harbinger..........................................................................35 another drop threatening flood .........................................38 Madeline & The Eternal Storm ........................................41 Mortals .............................................................................45 on the day i took her photograph......................................50 Fall ....................................................................................52 A Well-Decent Man .........................................................55 Road..................................................................................57 A Patient Knowing Spider................................................61 No Exit, Montana .............................................................63 The Weight .......................................................................64 Discovery ..........................................................................65 Belonging..........................................................................67 Biography..........................................................................69

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The Cold You Don’t Get Warm From by Alexander Luft


omething watched at me from the depth of the woods while I stood at the kitchen sink last night. I was doing dishes when through the rear window I saw a shake in the underbrush. I stopped the tap on the sink, listened. I stared back into the spruce, impenetrable by moonlight, trying to see whatever stared at me. Through the pane I searched the viridescent night for a silhouette or a pair of yellow eyes. My first thought was a doe, drawn by the smell of my dinner. My second thought was Izzy. A woman my age should know better than to expect a lost lover to emerge from the timbers, to come into my kitchen seeking tea and companionship. I should know that she is not out there somewhere, in the abstract of the woods. But I kept the back door unlocked just in case, kept an eye out the window while I scrubbed the frying pan. I’ve lingered on a memory of our first years together, when Izzy was young and perhaps I

wasn’t any longer. I showed her my love of the forest, which she fed generously with gifts of camping gear I could never afford myself. In those days she indulged my urges to light out every once in a while. On one late October weekend I’d suggested we find an overnight backpacking trail. I was desperate to rescue one last trip before the close of autumn. Like many weekends in this part of the country, it was impossible to tell whether the cold front would stall in its advance over Lake Michigan or come for us full force. The dashboard thermometer in the hatchback that morning indicated that perhaps we were too late in the season, but at least we had prepared: the expensive sleeping bags, fire starters, extra layers and wool socks. Izzy asked me how much further we’d be driving, rubbed her arms theatrically to imply she was already cold. We had planned a twenty-mile loop on the Manistee and North Country Trails, the main feature of which is a

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suspension bridge nearly as long as a football field. I told Izzy there were shortcuts if we needed to quit early. “It’s not like we’ll end up like those Boy Scouts,” I said. “What are you talking about?” “The disappearance of Troop 288,” I said. “I was sure you’d heard about it.” Izzy grinned at me, accepted my invitation to make-believe. “Troop 288?” Izzy said. “Remind me how that one goes.” In the ‘60s, a dozen Boy Scouts and one leader went on an overnight, I told her, through the very woods we planned to hike. Troop 288 hailed from the Detroit suburbs and weren’t experienced hikers. They didn’t keep a close enough eye on the forecast, and during their night out, the weather took a turn for the worst. When the boys didn’t return on Sunday, a local search party was dispatched. The searchers combed the forest all that day, and just before dusk they discovered the body of Troop 288’s Scoutmaster, the lone adult, frozen to death in his sleeping bag. There was no sign of the boys. The search went on for weeks, but when the troop was nowhere to be found, public officials had to call off rescue attempts. The winter was coming on. The recovery would have to wait for a spring thaw. But the bodies have never been found. To this day, backpackers still go missing from the Manistee trail, and the locals say the boys are to blame. It happens around this time every few years, just as the autumn disappears into winter. You take one wrong step off the trail and find yourself turned around in the endless trees. You try not to panic. You check your maps but discover your compass isn’t quite working. Then from nowhere a pair

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of boys step from the brush. They wear Boy Scout uniforms, except these don’t look like the ones you’ve seen before. You might catch the 288 patches on their arms but fail to remember. The boys are polite. They ask you if you’re lost. They assure you that they can lead you out. You don’t notice how pale their skin is, how empty their eyes. One of them takes you by the hand. You don’t know whose flesh is colder. And then they lead you into the trees, and that is the last anyone hears from you. “So, the moral of the story is to avoid creepy little boys?” Izzy said. “I think I can handle that.” “You never know,” I said. After parking the hatchback at the trailhead, I helped guide Izzy’s pack onto her shoulders. She bounced up and down to test the weight, fastened her buckles and pulled tight the straps. I put on my own pack and kissed her on the cheek. For safekeeping we took a picture by the trailhead, a photograph I have long since misplaced. Then we started into a grove of dying pine and needle palm. The first miles went by quickly, the noon sun doing its best to penetrate the clouds. In the north the autumn inevitably leaves too early, and by the time you notice the sun’s absence, it will have abandoned you for months. After hours of hiking a thin layer of sweat had crept onto my lower back. My muscles had warmed, my lungs expanded. At Izzy’s suggestion, we broke at a pair of elephant rocks for lunch. We unwrapped our cold cuts and readjusted the parts of the packs that had begun to dig into our shoulder bones. Our fingertips grew numb as we picked potato chips from a bag and licked the salt from our fingers. Soon we heard a pair of backpackers com-

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ing through the trees. We watched them warily in their approach: two guys Izzy’s age, one with a bandana pulling back his long curls, both oddly shirtless despite the October chill. With smiles they approached our lunch spot on the rocks. Tradition enjoined us to bland camaraderie. We began to discuss the weather. The guys had been a little cold the previous night but were no worse for wear. Both wore sunglasses, the kind that conceal their wearers and reflect your own image. One scratched at an armpit. “Not many people on the trail this weekend,” one guy said. “You guys are the only people we’ve seen in hours,” agreed the other. “You might not see anyone else until dark.” We asked whether they’d seen any good spots to pitch our tent. “You’ll want to watch out,” said the guy with the bandana, “for a confusing fork, maybe five or six miles up from here. Someone went and dicked around with all the blazes.” “Maybe we can stay out an extra night,” the other guy said. “It might be safer if you weren’t out here alone.” He let this suggestion hang there in the air indefinitely. We were invited to make of it what we would. The men gone on their way, Izzy hoisted my pack onto my shoulders. E By early evening the sun had sunk below the naked branches of white oaks, but the cloud cover kept the day so gray that we hardly noticed the change in the light. We checked the map and began to make plans to

bed down for the night. The feeling in the tips of our noses had long abandoned us. We sniffled nonetheless. I asked whether it was odd that we hadn’t passed the confusing fork the guys warned us about. Izzy shrugged. “They were probably just fucking with us.” We staked out a site in a gully between the main trail and a piddling creek, set back in the trees and carpeted in crunching brown leaves. I tied a bright cord to the point where we left the path, and we set about the routines of making shelter and gathering firewood. Izzy pumped water down at the stream. The cold remained a motivation against our bodies’ insistences to sit and rest. We added extra layers as the sun disappeared. On that trip Izzy cleaned the plates and bowls, I recall clearly, dunking her hands again and again into the icy creek while I built a fire over the coals we’d used for dinner. We wore everything we’d packed. We hoped the cold would halt in its advance, but there was no going back at that point, and we settled onto a log to watch the flames at their work. Izzy produced a bottle of whiskey and poured a bit into a mug. She offered me some knowing that I’d decline. The fire went about its crackling and popping, the big quiet of the woods settling over us, interrupted only by the yowls of coyotes in the surrounding hills. The clouds robbed us of a stargaze, but they held in the scarce heat. E As I lay in the tent that night I could weigh the presence of Izzy’s body against the multitude of possibilities in my own life. I

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could imagine the dozens of other women I might have slept with, but those prospects offered no warmth. It would be the height of naivete to believe that our current lives were the best ones possible, but I wanted then for it to last forever. I could tell from her breathing that she, too, lay awake thinking. “Those sound like footsteps,” she said, clicking her flashlight back on, sitting up. “It’s probably a raccoon,” I said. We hushed. We couldn’t be sure, and so we sat huddled for warmth, straining to hear any sign of danger. From our position a footfall was nearly indiscernible from the rustle of a breeze. The timber creaked in the cold. Something splashed through the trickle of the creek. Beside me, Izzy shivered, whispered that it was just the cold. An owl flew overhead, hooted. And then silence. An hour or more passed before Izzy said, “This is stupid. It was just my imagination.” We turned off our flashlights and lay down carefully. With closed eyes we tried to stop listening to the movements of the forest outside, tried to suppress the chattering teeth as damp crept up from the tent floor. Neither of us slept. Later I heard Izzy’s bag unzipping, a whispered apology. “It’s so cold out there,” she said. “But I just can’t hold it anymore.” I told her to hurry back, already missing

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her body heat. I could not then imagine my life without her. Izzy, boots untied, must have stepped just deep enough into the brush that I wouldn’t hear her pee. Her teeth must have chattered all the time. She would have pulled down her jeans and let her elbows rest on her knees while she squatted. She would have tried to remember the last time she was this cold, maybe in some predawn track warmup. How nice it would have been to jog in place for a while, anything better than the cold sting permeating her flesh. And then she saw them, a pair of dim grey figures moving between the trees. She distrusted her eyes but nonetheless hitched up her jeans. There they were again, meandering between the dark columns of timber. It didn’t occur to her to shine a light at them. She must have considered turning toe, retreating to the tent and bringing her body heat back to me, but something drew her forward. She must have known something waited for her there in the woods. When the figures came into view, she thought she might be dreaming. Round-faced boys, wearing stiff khaki uniforms and plaid neckerchiefs. They reached for her and she screamed, not because she was scared but because the touch of the boy’s hand froze her through and through, and because she knew at that moment that I would never see her again.

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Halloween Costume Rules by Jahman Ariel Hill When you are 5 years old, And Halloween is fast approaching, There are certain rules to remember when costume shopping: First, You are not costume shopping for Halloween, You are looking for your daily outďŹ t. Whatever your parents buy you will be the one thing you wear Everyday for the next 8 months it does not matter how many ketchup stains you get on it from eating frozen chicken nuggets that Momma threw in the microwave It does not matter the hole in the costume where you stepped on the fabric the wrong way when you were running from room to room playing pretend It does not matter that you have managed to keep your Mom from washing it for the last 16 weeks all that matters is the costume All costumes matter

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Next, Understand that this is not just a costume choice, IT IS A CAREER CHOICE! This is your chance to prove to the world that 5 year old You can be anything! Matter fact rename Halloween “Career-o-ween”... Where we encourage our kids that they can truly be anything You can really be a firefighter or a Power Ranger or a Christmas Tree Warrior and if your kid wants to be President… … ... let me know and we’ll see if we can get them on the ballot for 2020 Anything is possible Really We shouldn’t be trying to bring our children back to reality When they’re trying to forge a new one And third, the costumes made from the stuff laying around your house are the best kinds of costumes from spray painted cardboard boxes to christmas tree decorations the imagination has a way of making a way out of no way cuz who said you had to be rich to build a masterpiece out of some old shoes and a lot of duct tape Halloween is the opportunity for you to finally be yourself without actually being yourself enjoy the possibilities live in a new reality where everyone is becoming something greater if only for a night

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and when you’re 25 watching a 5 year old run around in their Halloween outfit mid-May laugh and realize they’ve captured the magic of a moment and wore it like a badge so maybe one day you can do the same


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With Lips Smoother Than Silence | BILL WOLAK


The Baobab Tree by Karen Shepherd


ebecca keeps a framed picture of a baobab tree opposite the bench in the entryway of her home. Her eight-year-old twins tie their shoes and drop their school backpacks beneath it most days. When sunlight slips through the open front door, the glass over the picture becomes reflective. The girls use it to adjust ponytails or check that the jam from their toast has been wiped from their mouths before heading out the door. After dropping the girls at the bus stop, Rebecca sits on the bench to remove her boots. The earth outside is damp from the overnight rain, but the skies are clear now and a stubborn September is refusing to let autumn’s crisp air take the stage just yet. The smell of wet dirt mixed with the day’s awakening heat evokes the memory of him sitting beside her and the freshly watered tomato plants twenty years ago. Dan was in her volunteer cohort and his

assignment was in the same village on the Kenyan coast. The female volunteers swooned over his green eyes and broad chest. Rebecca saw him more as a distraction, as well as someone who felt entitled to win over whomever and whatever he wanted with his charm. She wondered if ignoring him was in fact what led him to seek her out with greater effort. She was sweeping out her one-room African home when he stopped by one morning. Laundry already hanging, she planned to grade compositions written by students at the secondary school where she taught. Having a schedule, even on a Saturday, was what helped her stay grounded and gave her something to focus on other than the heat, the cockroaches and the strange mix of boredom and stress that came from living in a different country. “Well, look at you, Becca. Not even nine o’clock and you’re getting on with your day.” His voice was sultry like the air as he approached from the dirt path. “Let’s go to the

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creek for a swim.” Rebecca never swam in the creek. Local women wore long skirts or burkas. As a foreigner, she could get away with a bathing suit, but she wanted to follow the etiquette of the community. “I’ve got grading to do. You go ahead.” She put her broom down and sat on the stacked rock wall that framed the bed of her tomato plants. “Come on.” He smiled. “What’re you going to do all day? It’ll take you a couple of hours to do your grading and then what? Killing time is how we survive here.” Sometimes what she disliked most about Dan was that he saw right through her and held nothing back. She could pretend that all her made-up chores and work duties were necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of her assignment. But they weren’t. They were only necessary to get her through yet another day. She touched the leaves and inhaled the citrusy smell of her freshly watered plants. “You’re like that baobab tree.” He sat next to her and pointed to the huge tree at the end of the dirt path. “I have a huge trunk and sprawling limbs? The locals want to harvest me?” She wiped sweat from her forehead. “I’m like an ugly tree. Thanks.” “Well, I think it’s more than locals that take an interest in you.” The sarcasm in his voice was mixed with his usual flirtations. “No. It’s not that. And the tree is beautiful, by the way.” She sighed. “How am I like that tree?” “You’re restless... always restless.” “How can a tree be restless?” “You, with all your cultural knowledge,

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don’t know how the baobab is restless?” He shook his head and snickered. She didn’t look at him directly, knowing that smile of his and how it sucked too many people in. She felt the warmth of his body sitting so close to her. “Just tell me.” “The legend is that it had so much energy that it ran wildly around the savannahs. The gods got fed up with it. They grabbed it, turned it upside down and stuck it back into the ground. And now it stands there, with its huge trunk and its roots stretching up and reaching into the air. It doesn’t run, but it’s restless.” “The gods have turned me upside down and I can’t run?” Rebecca didn’t understand what this had to do with her. “You turn yourself upside down.” Rebecca sensed he was waiting for her to look at him. She didn’t. “You won’t let yourself run wild. You find all these safe and responsible things to keep yourself occupied with. But you’re like the baobab, stationary but stirring, reaching for that sky.” Something swelled in Rebecca and she swallowed to keep it down. A turaco, its red crown and wings bold against a deep blue body flew above them, its barking call resonating over the sounds of a village starting to wake. “You’re restless, Becca. Let’s go swim in the creek.” Rebecca didn’t go to the creek that day. She completed her grading, walked to the market and lingered as she negotiated prices for vegetables. After their volunteer assignments were completed, Rebecca returned home, went to graduate school, got married, started her fam-

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ily and continued to fill her days. Dan took a position doing relief work in Somalia. Rebecca received a letter from a mutual friend shortly after he started there. Dan had been shot by rebel soldiers, his body tied to the back of a truck and dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

She puts her boots under the bench and slides on a pair of sandals as she looks at the framed picture. Stability is learned and comes with the aches of standing still in order to sustain. She reminded Dan that day that the baobab wasn’t just restless and beautiful. Its fruit was also life sustaining and essential.


To The Things That Go Bump In The Night by Jimmy Dread To the things that go bump in the night To the terror that bores its way into your skull To the creatures that penetrate sanity’s hull— I am nothing if not for my beehive of frights. To the shadows that strangle the light To the whispers of wind and its cavorting lull To the festering thoughts without life would be dull— I am nothing if not for my perilous plight. Won’t you render my bones into goo, And my skin into layers of mush, And my hair into prickles of fear— Won’t my eyes turn a sick sallow hue, And a bed of snakes furled in my guts: Bring the angler fish light at the tunnels’ mouth near. To the things that go bump in the night.

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Tangled Thorns | GRETCHEN GALES

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Bull’s Eye by Alanna Pass


beat up blue pick-up truck rumbled by, slowly navigating the pot holes in the road. That’s when I saw him. A massive bull the color of burnt sienna lay upright in the bed of the truck surrounded by an enclosure of rusty welded pipe. It was being transported to the edge of a small town in the Peten area of Northern Guatemala where I was headed on foot. Its final destination I knew, would be the tienda of the butcher. Hooks on chains dangled from the beams of the covered patio where the man went about his trade, converting heaving, breathing, four legged animals into meat for local tables. I had been lost in thought. As I walked beneath the beating sun, my clothing sticking to me from the heat, I had been questioning my purpose in Guatemala. Who was I, an alone 50 something woman, to think I could make a difference here? I was volunteering in a local organization to change a system so

mired in poverty that the best option was for the men to head north to the US and send money home. The political decisions of my own country created such desperation. For other passersby, this event provided something of a carnival atmosphere. Young boys ran along the side of the truck yelling, laughing, and taunting the bull. I knew most of them would stop by the carneceria to watch the grizzly spectacle to come. Signs of fecundity abounded as if that was the only wealth to be had. Small children filled doorways and played in the streets. Women of childbearing age seemed either pregnant or lactating. The female pigs and dogs that roamed the street had a similar fate with swollen bellies or teats that drooped to the ground. Even the trash in the streets seemed to be reproducing. Family was the only real support system here. I was witnessing the “less government” that many aspire to in the United States.

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destroyed. The difference I thought I would make here was upended. I was the one profoundly changed. I canceled the rest of my volunteer service and traveled south to the colonial city of Antiqua with its clean streets and native artisans in their brightly woven clothing selling in the market places. For the next two weeks, I studied Spanish at a language school living in relative comfort compared to the family’s dim, unplumbed home where I had been staying. The role of student and tourist was familiar and a relief for me. Several weeks later when I returned home, I received my pictures back from my trip to Guatemala. The picture of the bull in the pick-up was among them. I destroyed the print and the negative immediately. Regardless, the image of the gazing bull haunts me to this very day.

Odd Eye Circle | CHRIS VALLEJO

As the pick-up pulled in front of me the bull’s head turned to the side and his large glistening eye met mine, brown to brown, lash to lash, life to life. Resignation and acceptance met my gaze. Unconsciously I pulled my camera out of my purse, looked through the viewfinder and snapped a picture, capturing this intimate moment I just shared on film. I regretted doing so immediately. Shaken, I quickly slipped my camera back in my purse, relieved as the truck gained distance down the dusty road. The next day I came to a decision. I was ashamed that I wanted to leave this place after only one week, but life was too gritty for me in the Peten. The only other English speakers in the organization were college students. I had little in common with them adding to my depression and loneliness. My previous self-assessment as tough was

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The Terrible Creatures of Ipanema by Melissa Crickard


e first saw the unusual creature in the surf. It was the rainy season of 2000, and Erwin Schlatter had lived in Brazil for close to sixty years. Every day now, he enjoyed the sounds of the Bossa nova musicians and he walked the path near the shops of the woodcarvers and the painters, paced the beaches of Ipanema with his trunks pulled up too high on his waist, beyond where his pelvis had rotated posteriorly, flattening his rear end. As an immigrant, he’d learned Spanish immediately, refused to speak anything but, yet his accent had an edge and the feel of cold steel to it. Today, the peaks of the Two Brothers Hill, Morro Dois Imaos, looked down to him like the fins of sharks, and the beach warned of impending crime terrible and unpunished. Perhaps it was the way the acai berries quivered on the palms or the way the jabuticaba fruit shook on the Brazilian grape trees as he passed. The beach thieves did not scare him, even

the ones who approached on bicycles or rode up quickly behind him, traversing the exercise path on roller skates. Once when he was 65, a foolish youth had tried to seize his wallet, but he’d swept his feet, poked two fingers into the boy’s eye sockets, spun him around, grabbed him by the braided gold worn around the boy’s neck, and pulled the chain tight against the weakest point, the tracheal cartilage. Then he threw the street tough forward upon his knees and allowed him to scramble away. Often he fished on Copacabana beach in the surf, talking to no one, throwing out his net wide where the rocks were a thing of danger and the undercurrents ripped suddenly beneath his feet. Today, a cold upwelling brought something into the surf that looked like a marlin, but where the snout of the fish should have been, he saw the face of a girl. Her features were something like malnourishment, impoverished in appearance with knotty hair dark and ragged like sea kelp, and skin pale and thin and delicate. Montana Mouthful | 17

He’d learned to brush his nightmares away long ago, and this vision he addressed no differently at first, pulling in the net with guttural force, grunting, ignoring a premonitory hesitation. Instead of disappearing, though, as an imagined thing would have, the creature vocalized a slick growl, and its image materialized something real and vivid, and he saw that its long tail was covered in dark hair, and he saw around its neck the twinkle of jewelry glittering a similarity to the North Star. At once, he was pulled into the net with a current that entangled him. It somewhat resembled a mermaid, and although he’d imagined mermaids feminine, voluptuous, lovely, he’d read that in reality, these freakish animosities of nature set out to reclaim souls for dead. He was certain the thing had come for him, to punish him for his misdeeds. It carried him under a jet of air bubbling white and frigid, where he fought, struggling laterally to break against the line of the riptide. The hideous beast was not alone. Beneath its right arm, it gripped the bodies of two women, who glowed from their abdomens, mesmerizing Erwin with a fluorescent summons and the smell of strawberry. Inside their wombs moved spindly appendages, wriggling, lighting the surrounding ocean a bioluminescent green, and in them three fetuses could be seen tumbling aquatic and immature. There had been a string of kidnappings on the beach. All of the missing women were known streetwalkers, and all of them had been known to be pregnant, and of course the disappearances were suspected to have been committed by clients or boyfriends or the

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wives of such, or possibly by the few pimps that operated the prostitution rings of Rio de Janeiro, but the latter already paid the police well to leave them alone, so they were not the ones being investigated. He hadn’t paid much attention, no one had. E Now a rush of water, warmer, softer, broke the rip current into frothy whirlpools. When he surfaced, he saw the shore, distant, flatter, and the waves sloshed at his head, and he began to swim. Whatever delusion had taken his mind had passed, but he continued to recite the prayers of his youth by rote, asking forgiveness with humility for his wrongdoings, muttering an icy string of promises to God that he be saved if it was His will, where he bobbed in the Atlantic, at least a mile from the coast. After he had said six Hail Mary’s, the mermaid reappeared. Its female form lurked above the water. The two streetwalkers were limp, drowned things now that hung blue, lifeless. She dropped them, let them float motionless and unremembered, about the swells, until their mouths, lungs, filled with water, and they began to sink. Then the hairy creature swam at Erwin as a torpedo moves, forging forward, displacing the water surrounding her with webbed hands that allowed her to move faster over great distances. Terrible claws emerged and she swiped him, ripped the flesh off his back in a loose flap. He bled, and he worried that this would attract sharks, or others of her unfortunate kind. At that moment she grabbed him by his trunk, and they plunged down, deeper, racing

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toward the ocean floor where a deep crevasse seeped sulfuric gas in yellow plumes, where red magma glowed hot in the water. There he saw the pile of them, her victims. Awkward and starved limbs, piled, flaccid, the mountain of bodies growing two higher as the last whore sank to its top. The fire in the victims’ abdomens died, extinguishing all light where they lay barren, beside a wide trench. He swallowed, suffocating. E Leagues beneath the surface, he felt the pressure in his lungs, the pain in his heart that crushed him. The mermaid’s nose grew longer, turning down like a witch’s, and her brown eyes glowed green, heating the water around them to steam. Erwin tore her amphibian appendages away, extricating himself. Her tail lashed at him, but could not hold him. Though he was old, he was strong, a good swimmer. He kicked vigorously for his life, to the surface, hearing the mermaid’s hiss, or was it the whistle of gas? He knew that sound, could not

forget it. She was beneath him now, racing upwards. She did not reach him, though, before the shark bit her. His blood was still polluting the ocean in little red clouds that diluted quickly as they fell away from him. The great white followed the trail, thrashed the mermaid about the water in its clamped jaw, circling. Its hairy tail emitted an odor that washed the smell of strawberries from his mind, from the saltwater, leaving the remembered smell of musk and dead flesh. If it had not been for the disruptive wake of the ship passing, the shark might have bitten him, too. He floated on his belly now, lifting his head only for air, until the beast devoured the mermaid and swam out to sea. E When he told the story to his greatgrandchildren, he asked them why they thought the great white had not eaten him, instead. The little one, Cora, always said it was because he was their Papa, and when he asked his wife, Ruth, this same question that troubled him, she could not say why.

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Enveloped | JESSIE KWASNEY 20 | Montana Mouthful

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The Snake by Amy Stonestrom


e are in a black rented Suzuki, the noise of the constant downshifting and swearing under my husband’s breath unsettle me. The twists and zags in the road make me queasy. Our teenage son has no problem sleeping in the backseat though. Unaware he breathes deep. His head nested in a crumpled hoodie. “There’s a dead snake.” Todd says. I look up from the map and whip my head to the right where he sits in the driver’s seat. Then I scan the side of the road but I’m too late. He says this casually as if we are back home in The States but we are in Ireland. He may as well have said that he noticed a dead unicorn twenty meters back. I want him to turn around but I don’t say this. In Ireland there is no going around the block or pulling off on the shoulder. There are no shoulders whatsoever. There are only centuries-old stone walls covered in thorns mixed with swaths of golden rod and wild fuchsia

that scrape the side of the car. Besides, it is only Todd’s second day driving here and he is stressed. Yesterday we were inches from a head-on collision when he pulled out onto the right-hand side—another car happened to swoop around a brambled corner as he made this brief mistake. It also took us four hours to figure out how to put the car in reverse. “Are you sure?” I say. It’s a challenge more than a question. “There are no snakes in Ireland.” “No, that can’t really be true,” he says. “The St. Patrick story isn’t real.” “Of course not.” I say. I’m irritated. I still want to see the snake with my own eyes but it lays further and further behind us as the moments pass. “It’s a myth that was invented to illustrate a fact. There is no fossil record of a snake having ever lived in Ireland.” I say thinking I sound smart. “Well,” Todd says, “I just saw a four-foot-

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long snake and we are in Ireland.” My heart sinks into my stomach. It was starting to seem plausible. During the week Todd poses as a software licensing sales rep but he is actually Grizzly Adams with a nicer wardrobe and haircut. Rarely mistaken in this arena, he is better at IDing wildlife than Steve Irwin and has 20/15 LASIK vision. I desperately want him to be wrong about this. I want this because it would be nice for a proven fact to remain caveat free, just this once. More important though, Ireland was supposed to be my escape—my reptile-free Eden. My own country had become infested with poisonous vipers. It was lousy with upright snakes in suits hell bent on ruining the environment and mother-daughter relationships. Greedy, slithering things that only count crimes when there’s blood involved. Hypnotic snakes that smile at the sick and the less for-

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tunate as they swallow them whole. We were only twenty-four hours inoculated from the U.S. news cycle that came each day wrapped in a bow of dread, but already I felt free from cognitive acrobatics that my citizenship now required. I am at peace here in Ireland, away from the hissing that makes me anxious and sick—that makes my own family members and I constrict and recoil from one another. A snake was the very last thing I wanted to see. “It was probably someone’s escaped pet then or maybe just a big stick.” Todd says. “If it was one, it’s not a snake anymore anyway.” True. Now it was just skin and meat. I glance in the rear view one last time at the road and then at our son still sleeping. I breathe easier and face forward. No need to go in reverse. No need to turn around. It was just four feet of skin and rotting meat.

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Ghosts by Fern G. Z. Carr On a nostalgic whim we exhumed the family album only to discover a haunted house–every page inhabited by the ghosts of lives that once were, t h e i r existence reduced to snapshots in time: wilful poltergeists smothering pudgy cheeks with slurpy kisses and impossible - toremove lipstick marks, “Come sit on my my knee ! Who’s y o u r favorite auntie ?”; playful apparitions hovering among the pages, “Gotch yer nose! Comehere pinchcheeks!”; and the child ren’s favorites, the patron spirits – grand parents who loved to spoil themsilly with spare change and penny candy when theythought no one was watching. Too many pages are inhabited by phan toms; their legacy – fond reminiscen cesof idiosyncrasiesand kindness. Like them, we too will become shadows – our u n f a m i l i a r images haunting the yellowed photos of someone else’s dust – covered album.

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Blind Imitation | ELINA GHANBARI

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Clean Livin’ by Natalie Troy


arty Halcomb has a hole in his chest. Not the metaphorical kind, say from a broken heart or say from heartburn, which Marty likens to hot agony burnt clean through, especially after a day drinking. No, not like that. Marty has himself a real hole. He can’t stick his fist through. Well, maybe a child could, if it stood on a chair, but Marty’s doughish middle causes most people to misfigure his height and the hole is high on the right side of his chest just above his nipple, so it’d have to be a tall child or a tall chair. “Marty, ol’ buddy,” he says to himself, testing the edges of the hole with his fingers. “You oughta get on over to the Doc’s.” But, the hole isn’t painful at all, like a pimple or less than, and being impartial to doctors, he decides against it. Fact is, Marty feels great, and even stranger, as far as he’s concerned, because it’s like a miracle, that bum knee he twisted in an ATV accident three years ago straightened

full out yesterday morning. And he hasn’t worn his glasses for days. From his porch, he can see all the way across his front pasture, a sweetly rolling five acres where deer graze in the off-season. Heck, he can see some ways into the woods on the far side, straight between the trees. It’s as if he’s looking through that high-powered scope his buddy Hank mounted on his hunting rifle. Pure jealousy had shot through Marty over that scope. Why, he’d downed an extra cold one when Hank bagged himself that five point, and he wasn’t the only one. The guys were all there, drinking, joking around, having a good old time, the self-affirming smell of a fresh kill racing to their heads along the same venous highway as the beer, and their horseplay growing increasingly rough as they hauled Hank’s buck to where they’d parked the trucks. But never mind that, and never mind the number of six-packs they’d polished off by the time the hole appeared, Marty felt downright betrayed by Hank. Same as that buck Montana Mouthful | 25

must have felt. But whether the shooting was an accident or whether it wasn’t, Marty just can’t work up bad feelings around it anymore. He tells himself Hank never meant to kill him. Bygones, Marty decides, and smack on the heels of that decision is when he sees the path. He is out on the porch thinking about his hole and testing his vision. He spies a pair of grouse pecking their way through the scrub at the edge of the pasture and off in the woods, a couple of squirrels jumping from one evergreen bough to another, their chase swaying the tree limbs as if lifted by the wind, when there it is, glorious and radiant, a paved walkway atop the wild grass, each paver as shiny as a new silver dollar. It isn’t that Marty stops questioning the unusual things happening to him. No, it’s not that at all. It’s more that a pressing need starts somewhere in the region of his heart, and a thrumming sets up in his limbs coursing from socket to end. The thrum in his feet turns to a fierce itch that has him entering his small cabin and crisscrossing the floor to gather items necessary for a journey. He threads the sheath for his hunting knife through his belt and adds the sleeve for his canteen. He slides the sharpened knife into the sheath and fills the canteen with water. That should do it, he reckons, but visions of the path crowd his thoughts, so he takes a quick inventory, ticking items off on his fingers: good boots, extra pair of socks, water, knife, stick of peppermint gum. Satisfied, he turns for the front door. A knock comes against it. “Marty, you there?” More knocking against the wood, bang, bang, bang.

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“Hold your horses,” Marty shouts. He clomps to the door. He throws it open. “Nelson?” “Why, sure, Marty. Didn’t you get the message I was comin’?” Marty shakes his head. He didn’t get no dang message, but doesn’t say so because he can’t help but stare at the man standing on his porch, handsome, curly hair as flaxen as a baby’s, a wide smile like to split full cheeks, a tidy goatee. Only thing would’ve surprised Marty more is if Miss July from that there pin-up calendar in Hank’s garage had knocked on his door. It’s impolite to gape, everyone knows, but Marty hasn’t seen Nelson for months. Talk amongst the guys has Nelson doing a stretch inside, but there’s that other rumor, the one that slinked up over the hills from the south hissing that Nelson had tangled with some murderous no-goods in the type of watering hole non of us would ever admit to frequenting and didn’t make it out. Either way, Nelson’s the only person to come around since the hole appeared, and Marty’s glad for it. “Heck, Nelson,” Marty says. “You look great. You been to one of them spas or somethin’?” “Why, thanks for noticin’ Marty.” Nelson puts his hands on his hips and preens as if he’s showing off a new dress. “Had myself one of them, what do you call ‘em?” He tugs on his chin hair. “Oh, yeah, a clean livin’ bounce.” “Dang,” Marty says. “I gotta get myself one.” “I recommend that you do, Marty.” Nelson says. “They’s right fine.” “Say, Nelson. I’m of a mind to walk yonder,” Marty says, gesturing to the shiny

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path beckoning from his front pasture. “Care to come along?” “Why, sure,” Nelson says. “That’s why I’m here.” The two men step off the porch into the sunlight, Marty with his loaded-down belt and his hole, Nelson chatting happily by his side. To the naked eye, Nelson looks to have

a spring in his step, but Marty suspects that anyone using a high-powered scope, say like Hank’s, would see how Nelson floats just above the ground, his toes skimming the earth, sometimes pushing off to skip higher like a fawn in those seconds it spends in the air, graceful and free, bounding after its mother.


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Two Rooms by Lois Wolfe


ou tempt me in that position, head atilt, ear buttoned in your hair with such a sweet swirl that I feel a need to tease the echo, like a shell. I must tell you a story. Don’t worry, not my story. I am nothing, a faint immanence of mammal warmth in a room, any room. Forty years in one room. Not this one, of course. Please. Sit. I have a warm, dormered room above the butcher shop across from the railroad station in Odeen. Forty years I have been there, hearing cleavers fall, seeing meat hung, waiting for a sign of my inheritance. Each year I notify my maternal uncle’s household in Croatia of my current address, and I get nothing, nothing. Wait. Don’t leave. I have money. Saved money. A stipend trickles each month from New York like a wizening stream that reaches me with just enough moisture to maintain a thirst or dampen a cloth to wash my face, poor face. Look, a new liver spot on the temple atop a great vein. Skin stretches so 28 | Montana Mouthful

pinkly to the scalp at my age, thin and diaphanous, with undulate webs that pulse to the surface in brush tips of blue and cocoa, yellow and rust, the colors that cohere an old man’s body. So much skin now, less hair and more skin, and no one to rest a hand on a swatch and waken crosshairs starved of touch. That is your cue, my dear. You are new at this, but sincere. You remind me of her, if I try. It’s more painful in memory than unrequited love. She loved me once, briefly, bright as fireflies, as if met in mid-air. We burned that quickly. I knew you would smile. You can’t know, so unaware that there was a time not long ago when I was clever and bold. Appealing. I could unravel threads of love from the cast-off lives of cast-off women. It was, if I may say, a specialty. Hungry one day, I sat down at the lunch counter at Murphy’s Five and Ten and she took the stool next to me. She ordered a club sandwich. She was obviously well-off. I had money only for egg salad but I did not Vol. 1 • Issue 3

order it. It leaves a bad smell. I did not want to be off-putting. She said her name was Helen and her family owned a furniture store on High Street. I heard the faint accent. I knew then that at home her family called her Jelena. Serb, Slovene, Croat. She was in disguise, like me. Every day, I am in disguise. As what? What a question, dear girl. As a small man in a small town calmly going about my consumption of cheap libation in rat-trap bars as if I’m pursuing happiness in America. I am pursuing success, my dear, though I have nothing except my finer sensibilities. I charmed her with my knowledge of the soft-stroke Impressionists, Matisse and the like. She championed only the bold one, Chagall. I was smitten, yes, even with her questionable taste. It’s rare to encounter an art critic at the Five and Ten. I knew I never would again, one who twisted her tiny waist left and right when she was nervous on that round red stool. Such delicacy when she pried the darkened crust from her toasted bread with red, lacquered nails. I knew I had encountered a singular moment of my life. I pursued. We lay together. Don’t be crude, my dear. There’s undiscovered closeness in the phrasing of such an act. Much richer possibilities than your word of the earth, but be patient. We have time. Each year I save enough for the hour. Long decades of putting aside pennies for the gift of an hour, waiting for my unscrupulous uncle to send the remains of the family fortune from Zagreb. It’s ours. My father was a model businessman. He owned brickworks, a clay quarry and many kilns. He built a great cinema on Varsavska. He was a man of both industry and culture. That did not save him. Converting the

family to Catholicism and changing our name did not save him. He moved us to France and hid wealth wisely, donating to the Church, meeting with the Cardinal on saint’s days, but that did not save him. There was no belief in our Vichy neighbors, only jealousy and suspicion. My father was taken. Mother, too. I have lived in expectation ever since, waiting for my inheritance. Do you recognize the word, Dachau? I didn’t think so. One of the curse words for hell from my homeland. You won’t hear it here. I was saved because I was not at home. I escaped to the coast with nothing. Crossed the sea with nothing. Worked in the way my father began his success, mining the clay pits of a little mountain town, but without his vision, with only expectations and the waiting. You have been patient. Yes, I know. Time is money. You have nearly earned yours. There is a small oddity, a final nicety, I ask of you. Today is the 15th of March, my father’s birthday. Each year I save for this, a different room for one day. You see it has a hot plate. I make strong tea and bring a special treat. Cream cake, a custard pastry from the Old World, father’s favorite. It is the only culinary talent I care to purchase from my landlady, a stingy, potato-breasted woman who had to marry an Austrian butcher after the war and have too many children. Still, we understand each other, to an extent. Do you understand me? No matter. In truth, the young should not. Please. Have a piece of cream cake with me, a sip of good tea, and remember a man you never knew. No, child, it is not my story. It’s yours now.

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Jade Habitat | HARSHAL DESAI 30 | Montana Mouthful

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Arachnophobia by Jessica Mehta When I was five, I fled through the screen door to the horse range out back. There, my mother’s screams didn’t carry, my fathers crashes into silence were paused. Beyond the barn, grazing grass stretched tapered fingers to the sun and I disappeared into the wild. As a child, the uncut grass was tall as a castle and solid as stone—but my patch, the hidden one near the hay stacks, was a bed of royalty, the stuff of morning cartoons where no Mom voice could reach or Dad angers dare rumble. It was mine and, stupidly, I trusted it completely. That day, chubby leg leaps into the pasture I burst like a dragonfly into my escape and straight into the threads of a spider’s web. At the time she seemed a monster, clutching fat and tight against my chest, her iridescent work a veil over my head, draperies on my bare shins. Yellow and black with a bulbous body and legs like lightning, I don’t recall the sting or the taste of proteinaceous, but I remember the horror. The freezing. The trespass of it all.

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Bloodstains Darkening on the Trap Door | BILL WOLAK


Release Naomi by James Cato


heard about the feral dog pack on the radio driving to work. Apparently they gathered in Fairmount Park and numbered close to thirty. It caught my interest. I’ve lost a few dogs in my life. Jackie was the terrier that ran out my door when I was fifteen. I blamed myself for it. Alyssa was the boxer who went after a mailman when I was twenty-three. I was forced to give her up to a farmer in Ohio. Naomi was a damaged mutt who despised weak men and so despised me. I still carry her teeth marks on my finger, and the white scar from where they sewed it back on. My wife and I released her by the Schuylkill River. I couldn’t give her back to the pound. She jogged away into some bushes and never looked back. I wondered if she might be roaming in

that feral dog pack. E I heard about the dogfights from my co-worker Poncho. My wife and I had just split because she wanted a child and I’m impotent. I was too weak to convince her to stay with me. Apparently Poncho could tell I was unhappy at the shipping yard. C’mon, Rusty, he said. I told him no at first. But Poncho said that I needed some excitement. Besides, he said, the dogs don’t really get hurt. It’s more like wrestling. He told me that I wouldn’t participate or anything, I’d just watch. It was going to happen regardless so I might as well go. So I went. The dogs’ names were Emma and Lauren. They were going to fight in a basement with Montana Mouthful | 33

beer and nice guys and boom-boxes. Emma was a studly Pitbull mix. Lauren looked like a coyote. The guys braced them by the collars. I should have loosed those dogs to join that dog pack. Instead I put $5 down on Lauren the coyote. Lean and velvety. The underdog, so to speak. Emma bit off her ears and her nose and eventually pinned her down by the scruff and shook her like the ragdoll my wife found under a slide on one of our old weekend strolls. Naomi would have put up a better fight than Lauren. I have the circular scar around my finger to prove it. E The next weekend I explored East Fairmount Park, alone. I could have called up Poncho or Scout but I wasn’t really in the mood to joke with them. I came to sort of remember how I felt when my wife and I would stroll through these woods. I wished I could chat with her here, again. The feral dog pack was running the headlines now. They’d been hunting deer, stopping traffic, chasing joggers. A child had wandered into the woods and was never found. Everyone suspected the pack. They were mating and growing larger, and some reckoned that the pack neared sixty strong. I saw one of them dead by the side of the road, one leg raised stiff. I wondered who released that one. Who hit it with a car and left it.

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Naomi taught me to enjoy the woods before I released her. She would pull me away from the path, until a hush came over us, like a force field shielding us from the hikers and the road. I copied her technique that day in East Fairmount, pushing through a bamboo thicket, weaving fallen strands and hopping roots. A massive black dog crashed past me and into the morning mist. I froze. I heard the pack, panting and yawning through the brush. I rotated, slow and smooth, to see. They seeped from thickets, tongues swinging, over embankments, dark and fairy, jogging and cantering. I scanned. I had come for a reason. Perhaps I could visit her here, untamed. But she wasn’t among the sea of dogs in Fairmount Park. She would have fit in well. They were all tall, wolf-like, the domestic colors digested. Sixty of them slinked around my frozen knees. The massive black shepherd who led the pack approached and I balled my fists, ready to fight, ready to run. So many shiny eyes paced before me. Regarding me. You are released, said the black shepherd. Who would believe me? We’re letting you go, muttered the other dogs. No one would believe me. They let me go. So I turned and walked back to the city. All I had left of Naomi was a white ring on my finger.

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Harbinger by Mark Mayes


his is my wood. I own it. When children used to come here from the village, they’d shout: ‘Witch! Witch! I can see the witch! ‘ They dared each other to touch my door, or the broom I leave outside. They pretended to be frighted, but I knew they weren’t. The children don’t come no more. And since the Trouble, the village is quiet. I’ve never lain with a man. I’ve never bore child. But I have all I need. I have my own well. At the bottom is a chained beast. I throw down windfall apples, hazelnuts, a rabbit’s head. The water is always sweet. The beast whispers my name in the voice of my sister. She lived here too, until the Trouble. This morning I ventured to the village. The bodies are nearly peeled. The clothes have worn better than the flesh. I thought I’d gotten every ring, every bracelet, necklace. But the baker’s wife had a ring around a toe. I eased it off the toe knuckle. It still had a sliver of meat attached. I kissed it. Such lucky charms.

In a clearing I’ve sowed oats, potatoes, Swiss chard. I mean to survive. But what for? If no body comes? Then for my own sakes and the joy to breathe the piny air. Two moons ago I heard what I thought were the sound of the big guns. It was thunder only. Soldiers wouldn’t rape me. How desperate they’d need to be. And yet to feel a man inside me. Touches other than my own fingers. I keep my hut in good repair. My tools are sufficient. I care not to remember now why we came here, my sister and I. A fawn will sometimes step from the dusk to feed from my bowl. I fear I’d lose all language if I didn’t speak aloud. I bathe in the pond and my hair spreads out like white weeds. Something in the shape of the clouds tells me that another survivor will come. Soon. I’m woken in the deep night. It’s not a mouse. The knife beneath my pillow finds my Montana Mouthful | 35

hand. And I control the sound of my breath. There are cautious footsteps in the other room —my kitchen and sitting-room. Now’s a sweep of light under the crack of the door, then black as black once more. My door is locked but would not stop a determined man. My vision is poor in the day but better at night. I sit up, and foxly pad to the door. I clutch my knife and peer through the empty key hole. The key it hangs about my neck. I see a flash of light, as like a torch. Then the innocent dark. Then I see...I eye. I jump back. ‘Who are you?’ I try to keep my voice calm, steady. Betraying nothing. There’s silence, then the creak of feet on floorboards moving away to the door. I hear the handle squeak as it turns. I sense he, or she, has left the hut. I return to my bed and keep the knife in my hand under the bedclothes, straining for the smallest sounds, until sleep overtakes me. Sun streams through my blue-glass window. I can smell morning. I rise, wash with water from my enamel jug, put a green ribbon in my hair, look at myself in the spotted mirror. In the kitchen I heat water for acorn tea. On the table is a folded piece of paper. It is not my doing. I unfold and read: Please forgive my intrusion last night. I did not mean to frighten you. I am a soldier of this country. Or rather, I was. I have left the fighting of my own accord, and have been living in the woods around your hut these last three days. The rations I had with me are gone. I am in need of food, and of temporary shelter. I could not bear to go to the village as I know what I would find there. I am a man of honour, although my superiors may disagree with that. I close my eyes

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and remember a living nightmare. I merely need temporary rest and sustenance before I can move on. If you have such food as you may spare, please place it outside your door. When you realise that I am worthy of your trust, may we talk? That evening, after I’d written a list of wishes, I tie red muri beads to a twig of the Yew. I tie my wire angel with bird’s feather wings to a neighbour twig. Lastly, I loop gold ribbon round a pine cone and tie it to a young branch that faces West. I leave a bowl of cooked potatoes some feet from the door. A metal platter protects the food. The beast whispers when I collect water, but I don’t listen hard. The following morning, the bowl is empty and washed clean. The platter also. A folded note in the bowl says: A thousand thanks, Kind Mother. I will come this evening and introduce myself. Do not be alarmed by my appearance. It is not my preferred attire. I am born of a good family. I once played the violin; that seems so remote now. I once declaimed the old poems. I bowed to ladies in concert halls, before these heavy times. But you shall see, and judge for yourself. Perhaps a little salt with the potatoes next time? Yours truthfully, Marek When he came he was younger than I’d reckoned. His hair was black. His eyes were shy of mine. I bade him inside. His jacket was rags. His shoes tied together with strips of willow bark. I brought him to my table. He sat, looking at the floor. He apologised for his stink. I told him he could use my metal tub later, that I’d provide hot water. His voice was low and his accent was of the city. Yet smooth as a river stone. I looked into him. ‘Why do you hold your arms so?’ I said. ‘Like holding a babe.’

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He gave no answer. His mouth twitched. ‘You’ve killed plenty, haven’t you?’ His hair fell over part of his face. Still he answered not. ‘You’ve killed women? Children?’ He was silent. ‘Babies? Is that why you hold your arms so?’ Then he spoke, in a hush, ‘I lifted it, still howling its last. I plunged my bayonet. No. Enough. Enough.’ He sobbed into his dirty hands. I gave him mushroom soup and the last of the biscuits. I touched his cheek as I served him. It was wet. I went into my sleeping room while he ate. He made a lot of noise with his munching and slurping. This violent boy. I knew then, what I had to do. That night we slept in my bed. I pressed him close. I guided his hand and his mouth. And after our movements, he slept. I rested my head on his skinny chest and listened. I’d been right. There was no heart. No heart. In his sleep he muttered for his mother. He called a girl’s name. A foreign name.

He whined like a puppy. In the velvet dark I heard an animal being torn by another. I heard its cries. And it was good. I touched the sleeping boy between his thighs. So small and warm. My other hand found the wooden handle beneath my pillow. I said the proper words. I entered him. Many times. His light floated to the top-right corner of the room. It glowed gold. Then cornflower blue. Then crimson. Then it died. A season changes. I feel my age. I feel my thickening middle as I bathe in the smoky air. I feel the kick and don’t know if that leg will run on meadow-grass. I place my charms. I give my prayers. As I pass the well, I stop. I peer down. I see a glint. I smell a smell. I hear the whispers. Two voices now. One is the beast. The other is the boy.

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another drop threatening flood by Andrew Lafleche the lake appears a puddle, shallow, muddied raindrops strike the surface and disappear like a grenade detonated, conical, only a pinprick in the vast reservoir a lifetime of raindrops took to fill–what can one drop really do? except dampen a day or tease a thirsty crop still, there are those who find pleasure in days such as this–the same kind of people, I imagine who live lives unmarred by the threat of eviction wondering what to scrape together for their child’s paper bag lunch in the morning, where the next paycheck will come from, when it will arrive why he left her and child in the middle of night and how a mother could die after four years of chemo one week before the start of that new trial which promised a miracle and took six months to get accepted into. yes. there are those who enjoy a good rain, but I am not one of them.

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Still Thinking of a Trick | FABRICE POUSSIN

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Act IV of the Unruly Hair Portraits | J.E. CRUM


Madeline & The Eternal Storm by Rebecca Khera


he wallpaper melted into long ribbons, which Madeline sorted into small piles on the floor. For years she’d watch the walls cry, creating pockets of water between the sheetrock and the floral paper. It bled into dancers who moved in all sorts of directions. Sometimes Madeline would line up her little brothers from tallest to shortest and have them stare at the walls, making up stories out of the shapes and folds the paper accumulated. Her mother used to do this as a child, but instead of paper, she looked up at the clouds and called out the images to her sisters. A cat, a toothbrush, a farmhouse. Lightning flashed through the windows showcasing a fuchsia sky, speckled with grey and violet, but Madeline paid no attention. She was sick of the colors, of the slouching wallpaper, of the wrinkled fingertips, and the sticky air. She bounced a small blue ball across the room, it hit the wall and bounced back. She carried this on for ten minutes or so, until

the bells began to ring. It was the five-minute bell, a reminder the meteorologists casted everyday throughout the town. Madeline jumped up off the floor, letting the ball roll under the metal frame of the plastic covered couch, and ran to the door. Her brothers followed, each lined in front of a pair of boots. Largest to smallest, Madeline was first. As the sky opened up, Madeline was the first out the door. Her mother had made up a list, dividing up the items between each of the children, so that they could all get their things before the sky closed again. Heading east to Oliver’s shop, she scanned the page. Jam, butter (in the tub, not the stick), 2 loaves of bread, and a box of tea. Her list was short, she could gather all those things within two minutes, and if there was no line, she would be out with eight minutes to spare before the sky turned black. As she grabbed the jam and tea, she imagined all that she could do with those eight minutes. The boys would have taken to the swings by then, Montana Mouthful | 41

and surely the girls next door would be filling the carousel. And so, with the park filled to the brim with rowdy children, Madeline decided to be a girl of twelve, and do what any twelve-year-old girl would do: run away. She hated the sky. She hated how it taunted her, turned from blue to black to violet to black again. She hated its weeping, its lightning and thunder. She wanted to be back home in Miss Maverick’s class, playing hopscotch at recess and rolling down the hills collecting grass stains on her school dress like she had before they moved. She hated Jupiter. She hated the twelve minutes, how the eye of the storm allowed each day for errands and nothing more. She hated her mother’s shrill voice, her father’s stern voice, her brothers’ screaming and hissing at one another. But most of all, she hated the wallpaper and how it fell off into puddles. As she thought of all the things she hated, Madeline continued walking east out of Oliver’s. She had never been to the eastern wall before, and as the winds began to twirl and the dark western sky began to encroach, she followed the eye of the storm, adamant she could run with it. Perhaps even outrace it. In the distance she could hear the bells. Warning to seek shelter. But Madeline ignored it, she knew her mother would soon realize she was missing, so she ran faster, as if it would melt her mother into the wallpaper far away. The farther she went the more invigorated she felt. She felt brave and free, until she didn’t. When the wall came into sight, her stomach dropped to her feet, she was filled with fear, remembering the stories of those her town was built on. Of their skin falling off in large masses, too wet to hold their shape

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around their bones. She thought of the animals, the mosquitoes, the fireflies, how they didn’t exist here. How nothing existed here beyond a handful of families and a bright green park that was never wet. The AstroTurf was replaced in small pieces, enough to be done twelve minutes per day, after a year or so, the whole lawn was completely replaced. There was a method to everything. To survive with so much rain, there had to be a method. None of the other houses had melting wallpaper. They had rods and beams and sheets of rust-free metal, but Madeline’s mother missed earth, and refused to have a metal home. Madeline felt a drop of rain hit the top of her head, seeping into her frizzy waves of hair. The bells were ringing endlessly, as they often did when something went wrong—like when Oliver’s shop began leaking from the ceiling and Oliver heard a sound so loud he thought the whole town was breaking, but it was just the wind ripping into the iron. His whole shop was breaking, just the shop, but if was fixed in twenty-six increments of twelve. Less than a months’ worth of work, but also a month without bread, and jam, and tea, and butter. The rain was wearing into her now, washing the color from her skin, and so she began to climb. But the wall was high and didn’t have footholds and her rubber rainboots were slipping. She couldn’t reach the top, and the storm was quickly becoming more vicious. The wind picked her up and swept her into the sky, turning her forward and backwards until she was so high she could see over the wall. She

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was twirling about, and she saw nothing past the wall, no metal, no rock, no AstroTurf, just nothing, as if Jupiter was flat and finite, forever sitting in an eternal storm. The wind tossed her about for hours and hours, like a carnival ride. She had to be quick to dodge the lightning when it zipped around her, her ears could only hear the booming thunder, and after a few hours it grew so loud and sudden, that she could no longer hear, as if the sound had destroyed her eardrums. After nearly 24 hours, the storm began to settle, the eye placing itself right above her town, dropping her out of the sky and at her front door. Her mother’s face was grey with

blood red eyes, and her father looked blue, and all of her brothers were wilted flowers potted in terra cotta rain boots. When the door opened, her mother fell to her knees and began to weep, for her daughter was safe in front of her. Safe, but not unharmed, as her skin was rotted from water and fell off in ribbons. Her mother collected the piles of her daughter, laying them out in rows and moving the heat of her hair dryer over them to dry her skin and reapply it. Somewhere in the process, a piece of wallpaper snuck into her thigh, and Madeline swore she’d never run away again, or she might melt like the roses in the wallpaper.

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Rabbit Heart | NINA WILSON 44 | Montana Mouthful

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Mortals by Storey Clayton


arly February, the edge of Mardi Gras season just making its way toward the starting gate. It’s a Wednesday night, 1:30ish, and I get a call on my Uber Driver app a few miles up from my current location in the Marigny. It’s a bit of a trek from where I am, away from the busier, surgier parts of town, but I decide to accept. The pickup is somewhere in greater Treme, a small ramshackle house on a wild-looking block with almost no trees. As soon as I pull up, the ride is cancelled. I’m frustrated because there’s been surge downtown most of the night, great stuff for a Wednesday, and the cancellation came just after I’d taken the time and gas to get there but before the rider was on the hook for a cancellation fee. I’m muttering to myself about not accepting this ride in the first place as I drive away, headed back toward the Marigny. I get about six blocks when a ping pops up again at the same location as the just cancelled ride.

My frustration melts away—maybe it was a mistake or they reconsidered. But now I have a rider, the same rider (the name is the same), and all is forgiven. It takes her three minutes to emerge from the house and I start to get nervous again, but then she stumbles out and into the car. She is extraordinarily quiet, barely audible, as she confirms her name. I ask, almost reluctantly, how her night was. She replies, “Terrible.” “Oh, I’m sorry. Anything you want to talk about?” “I’m just going a few blocks.” “I know, but. If you want.” “Well, actually, I would, but it’s kind of heavy, so maybe I shouldn’t bother you.” “Please. Bother me. I like talking to people. It’s what I enjoy about this job.” “Okay. Well, my friend, uh, he killed himself last night.” “Oh my God. I’m so sorry.” “Yeah, me too. We all are. Really devastated. I mean, we used to be closer, you know? But we were still friends. At least I Montana Mouthful | 45

thought so. I hope he thought so too.” “I’m sure he did.” “The thing is, I, I’ve been thinking about it all day, of course. This is new for me, I barely had a grandparent that died. I’ve never known someone who committed suicide. And. Well. I hope, I think this is what I think. It’s what I really want to think. I hope it was right for him.” “Yeah?” “Yeah. I mean, that sounds like a heartless thing to say, but I mean it sincerely. There are people that it just seems like everything’s always going wrong and they can’t get better and nothing works. And I. I like the idea that he’s at peace, somewhere, nowhere, doesn’t matter, just that he wanted the pain to stop and now it’s stopped. Does that sound. How does that sound to you?” I sigh heavily. We don’t have time to get into my own history with suicide. My attempt at age ten, my grandmother years before my birth, the countless friends who’ve discussed it with me over the years, including many tries. “It sounds. Brave. It sounds brave to me.” She is genuinely surprised. “Why brave?” “Because,” I said. “You’re not thinking about yourself. You’re not thinking about the pain the suicide caused you. Which it did, of course.” We pull up to her driveway, a very short ride indeed. “You’re thinking about him. And I think that’s brave.” “I didn’t do it to be brave.” “I know,” I say. “And that’s exactly why it is.” “I hope I can stay there,” she says, gathering a light coat, really more of a windbreaker, but holding it in her lap for a moment. “I hope I can just stay in the place where I hope it was right for him. Not let anything else creep in.” 46 | Montana Mouthful

“I hope so too. I hope it was right for him, too.” “Thanks.” She wipes a single small tear from her right eye. “Hey, thanks for asking. I feel a little better.” “Any time.” I pause as she has her handle on the door, just unlatching it. “You. You going to be all right? Tonight?” “Yeah, I think so.” “You’ve got people you can call?” “Yeah.” “Good,” I say. “Call them.” She sighs, one foot on the ground outside. “Okay,” she finally says. “I will.” Two nights later, I pick up a woman leaving work at the Sheraton, a gargantuan hotel on Canal Street that’s one of the tallest buildings in New Orleans. It’s almost the exact same time of night. She is crying, softly, trying to do so quietly. I don’t bother to confirm her name. “Are you okay?” She breathes in sharply, sobs more loudly, then tries to excise all emotion from her voice. “I’m fine,” she says meekly, her breath almost catching at the end. “Are you sure? You don’t. You don’t seem fine.” I’m trying to be as gentle as I can. She lets go. We have just pulled into traffic, heading across the river, and she bursts into a wailing cry, thick and wet and oscillating. I breathe deeply, exhale through my nose, wonder if I shouldn’t have pushed it. “I’m not. God, I’m not. I just got the worst news.” “Oh I’m so sorry.” “My. Uh. My baby cousin, he works on a rig? Offshore? And he. He. He died.” “Oh my God. Oh, I’m so sorry.” “I just found out. I found out ten minutes ago. I didn’t believe it. I don’t believe it. They just gave me the call. Gave me the Vol. 1 • Issue 3

rest of the night off. I’m supposed to be there till five. But I. How can I?” “Of course, of course,” I say softly. “Is there anyone you need to call? Anything I can do?” She pauses, sobs on the verge of a very light hyperventilation. “Well, um. I. Do you think we could add a stop?” “Of course.” “So that, the place that’s in there, on the Westbank? That’s my mama’s house. Staying with her tonight. But if I could go by my place and pick up the mail and just check on a couple…” her voice trails off. She is staring into space, dead ahead at the headrest two feet in front of her. “Of course, no problem at all.” “Thank you.” We ride in relative silence, her tears subsiding mildly, her breath punctuated by sharp inhalations and heaving, sighing sobs. I am torn between taking a genuine interest in her cousin (but possibly making this harder for her) and letting her collect her feelings in silence (but possibly making her feel alone). I choose silence for a while, letting her make the move to say more if she wants. “He’s 24,” she says. “Just a baby.” She pauses. “Was. Was.” “That’s so sad.” “Said there was an accident. On the rig. I. I just hope it was quick. You know? Sometimes those can take a long time. I. I hope he wasn’t scared. Sometimes the fear of it can be worse than just dying. I imagine. I mean, what’s scarier than dying?” “Yeah,” I say, agreeing softly. “He had his whole life ‘head of him. He’s just gone. I saw him Christmas. Whole family. He was laughing, talking, the money he made. Christmas.” “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”

“And his mama. Oh God, his mama. Well I can’t even. I mean, I love him, we’re all close. But you can’t bury your child. It’s just wrong.” “I can’t imagine,” I echo. She takes a big inhale, chokes on it, pauses to blow her nose in the undignified way of those who know there are more important matters at hand than politeness. “You got kids?” “No.” “You want kids?” “I think so.” “I got kids. Never let them work on no damn rig, I’ll tell you that.” “Yeah.” “Christmas,” she adds softly. “Yeah,” I almost whisper. Soon, we’re at her house. It’s in Algiers, near the river, large and inviting, but desperately dark. She says she won’t be a minute, but I tell her to take her time and try not to stare as she ambles up the porch, fumbles with the key, starting over a couple times, and then heads inside. She half-closes the door behind her and it swings back open wide, revealing a wooden staircase headed up into the dark. A light emerges from the deeper recesses of the house, casting a large shadow between the door and the porch where I’d been able to see before. I turn to look out at the river on my right. She’s back in four minutes with a stack of full envelopes and a small duffel bag. She forgets to lock the door, gets to the small set of steps at the porch’s edge, looks back, then returns to turn the key. She returns to the back right seat she’d been in, even though this requires going the long way around the car. She first throws in the duffel, then dumps the mail on top, and finally boards the car herself. “Thanks,” she says quietly. “Of course.” “I. I might call my mama.” “Of course.” As I listen to her side of the conversation, Montana Mouthful | 47

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The cries of the dead are terrible indeed | RAHUL ARASU

I realize she will remember this ride. This ride will be an eternal part of her life, nestled just behind receiving the call at work, maybe up at the front desk, maybe back in an office, maybe walking from the former to the latter in sudden dread at someone’s somber instructions. This is the first time I was in a car after. This is the first time I was home after. This is the first time I saw my mama after. And there is nothing I can do. I can respond kindly, I can be patient and offer, I can listen. But death is the hardest thing we face, hard enough when faced with a legion of friends and family at our side. What match is a stranger for such woes, such sudden ruthless tragedy? The call is all logistics, defying the magnitude of what’s just happened. Who is there, who is coming, have they eaten, has she eaten. Who is with the boy’s mama, who can be with her soon. It is what we do in a crisis,

in tragedy, to get control of our lives in the wake of being reminded that we are not in control. We plan, we prepare, we foresee. We have to. “Love you too, mama. I’m almost there. I can almost see your porch. “Yes, I know, I’ll see you so soon. Okay, mama, I don’t have to hang up. No, I don’t. I’ll stay on the line right till I see you. Yes, there’s the corner. I can see your house, mama. Almost there. “Let me say bye to my Uber driver, mama, okay? Uber. It’s like a cab. You know, what Uncle Jimmy drives? Never mind, mama. He can hear me. He knows I appreciate it. I’ll stay with you, mama. Yes, mama. I’m getting out the car now. Let me get my things, mama, I almost forgot. Okay, mama. Open the door.”

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on the day i took her photograph: by Margaret Norway i don’t remember how she greeted me with a hello wafted breath, saccharine with something oxide and mascato. i can’t quite recall the rusted hinge of her voice or how her steel-toned eyes were the distant glaze of a porcelain doll, tipped aside on the shelf. the rustle and swish of her skirt— pleated and always, always white— is a faded echo recognizable nowhere else. as is the practiced arch of her wrist, the lit cigarette that materialized between slender manicured fingers. she flicked it in the direction beyond the solarium where her daughters, in the lawn, were planting a marker or flower.

we spoke of idle things, or didn’t speak at all before her husband threw off the tentative silence—whatever fell from the crash of that door was delicate: a spun-glass swan or statuette balanced on the needlepoint of her toes— “anne, you left the gas on again.” did he notice me? i don’t believe so, unless he wanted a witness to the kicked over mound of his shoulders, the pale skin pulled tight around his eyes and— she didn’t look at him. she turned to my lens and smiled, close-lipped and sardonic as if tucked inside her dimples was the perilous divide between laughter and lachrymosity. her steel-cut eyes teetered on the ledge of a chasm where she made promises to herself: she would do it again.

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Red Velvet Voodoo | JOHN CHAVERS

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Fall by Karen Shepherd


is hair was red like the pile of maple leaves in which she had buried him. Anna loved how her four-year old son Markus played in the front yard with his toy rake, scraping and pulling the dropped remains of late summer to the curb. The leaves smelled of the damp earth and stuck to the rake’s prongs under the sun’s autumn orange gloss. For the past week, Markus and Anna came out after lunch to get ready for Leaf Pickup Day. The city organized this once a year to clear the street drains before the heavy rains arrived. Markus grinned each morning when he looked out the window and saw that more leaves had fallen. More leaves meant a bigger pile to jump in, to lie in and gaze at the tree limbs that arched over their street like a tunnel. “The sky is swirly orangey-red,” he said that afternoon, lying in the pile and staring up at the foliage that still clung to their branches. Anna sat beside him on the curb holding a small leaf, examining its soft texture. 52 | Montana Mouthful

“The leaves look like rainbow sherbet,” she said, looking skyward. “Can we send a leaf to Grandma?” he asked. “Grandma would love that. She can keep it on the table next to her bed in the hospital. She’ll know we’re thinking of her as the doctors help her to get better.” “Bury me, Mama.” Markus’s smile was as wide as the sky and framed by his cinnamon freckles. “Don’t forget to cover my boots.” Anna scooped up the leaves and covered him. She leaned down and kissed his warm cheeks. His face was the only part of him not masked by the leaves. “Your nose is cold,” he giggled. The shrill ring of her cell phone left on the front porch interrupted them. “Oh, that might be Grandpa. He can tell us how Grandma’s doing.” She leaned in and gave him one more kiss. “I’ll be right back, Sweetie.” Vol. 1 • Issue 3

Shadows of Fall | GRETCHEN GALES

Anna ran up the front steps as the wind brushed against the dogwoods, black walnuts, and maples that lined their narrow, but quiet, street. The gusts hushed the usual city sounds, rustling the leaves and urging them to release themselves. She answered the phone as she turned to walk back towards the curb. Her father’s voice

was calm and Anna inhaled the crisp air. She hadn’t heard the truck turn the corner. “No! Stop!” She ran across her leafless lawn to the street’s edge. His hair, once golden, was red like the pile of maple leaves in which she had buried him. Montana Mouthful | 53

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The Voicelessness of Terror | BILL WOLAK


A Well-Decent Man by Horia Pop


here was a time in my life when I had flies buzzing all-over my face and I didn’t care in the least. I miss those times. I was twenty-eight years old then. I left home and job at once, to get lost to the end of the world. With only splinters stuck deep into my nails—from the wood benches I used to sit and cry and pray,—and a little money, I took a plane for Australia with not much hope in front nor regret behind. I spent almost all within a month, then I bought an old car and found myself a cabin in a caravan park, somewhere in the bush. I felt lost enough and it felt good to be there. I drank my days away. I used to sit on the porch for hours. The clothes on the rakes, balanced by the soft wind, with their shadows dancing on the grass. The sun was yellow, the sky was blue, within reach. I felt if I only got up I could grasp it with my hands. But I never got the strength to get up and really do something. I just could not find anything to say to

anyone. When, by some trick, I over-heard some conversations between other people near my cabin, what they said, what they had to say made me turn back my eyes to the sky. I met them one afternoon. The clown talked to me first. He was very short, had the belly of an ogre and the laughter of a hyena. He had a beer in his hand and more at his feet. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I do know whatever it was, it was different from the usual bullshit of the world. I liked him at first sight. The clown had a friend, Jack was his name or nickname. He too was a drunkard but when he had too much booze he could be very mean. The clown just laughed more and more. Jack was very thin, almost bald and had scars on his face, that made him look really tough, almost frightening. But his heart was almost left untouched by the world at the same time. More than once, I felt for him and wished I had had such a brother. More than everything else, he was generous as no other man. I had plenty of Montana Mouthful | 55

drinks with him in his caravan, he shared all his food with me, took but a little, and with no money then, real lost as I was, he gave me some precious advice on life. He had left school at ten or eleven, and the world outside was a playground for him. He had the soul of a pirate and we both shared the love for the seas, the freedom of the adventurers. Since I was the only one to have a car, we used to take mine and go some miles away, into the forest. There, we used to have booze by the swamps. We never said much, we never felt the need to talk much. The trees in the wind, the greenish river, the mud, the blackbirds, and from time to time, the unexpected yellow rays of the sun on my face. I closed my eyes then and needed nothing more. One afternoon we were by the river. I said: ‘I’ve lost a woman. That’s why I’m here.’ The clown said nothing, but I saw Jack frowning a little bit more than he used to. I thought I should have kept my mouth shut. He took another sip, finished his beer, and said: ‘Women... Ugh... I’m here because of a whore. She slept with a bastard. And it wasn’t me.’ The clown laughed his belly out, and I laughed too. But then, I felt for him, as I felt for myself when my woman had dumped me, months ago. And I told him I was sorry to hear that. ‘Don’t’, Jack said, ‘I cracked the skull of that bastard in half ’.

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Since the clown didn’t ask, I asked him: ‘And... her?’ Jack said nothing. I looked at him but tried as much as I could not to stare, because he hated that more than anything else. His eyes, I thought, betrayed him. Jack was still in love with the woman who had knifed him in the back. Days after, I saw the clown seated on his porch with beers at his feet, and one in his hand. I asked him if he had seen Jack. He told me the police had got him scuffed and put behind bars. I found nothing to say. I took a sip at my own bottle and we stayed silent for some time. Then, I grew tired of it, of him, of me—all at once. I felt somehow it would never be the same without Jack. And I was sad and relieved at the same time. A parenthesis in my ordinary life had just been closed. I would have to move, get my things together and leave. I knew it. And I did so. There was a time in my life when a woman had dumped me, and I owed this woman the guts to fly to the end of the world. A time when I could share booze by the swamps, in a dangerous forest, with a clown and a drunkard that had murdered the lover of his wife. I was twenty-eight years old, and I was lost. But this was long ago. Those that see me every day at work think I am a well-decent man. They are right.

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Road by Anne Wilding


ack home in the kitchen, after the first trimester scan, she watches him make coffee. His hands, on the old Lavazza tin they bought as students, are stronger now but still elegant. She feels his eyes on hers and looks down at her phone, scrolls through photos of weddings and holidays. She stops. Here is one she didn’t take. “Where’s this?” He comes over and looks, scrunches up his forehead, shakes his head. It is a picture of a road. Could she have taken it by accident? Where though? It isn’t any familiar road. It looks like one of those American interstates: empty, flat and straight. “What’s the date on it?” His hand sits soft on the nape of her neck but the coffee bubbles with urgency and he rushes to lift it from the flame. “Strange. There isn’t one.” She leans into the photo. There is something in the distance where the road meets the horizon. A tiny, blurred dot.

He comes back to the table, places two decaffs on coasters. She puts down the phone and picks up her cup. E The next morning when she comes downstairs, her phone is still on the kitchen table where she left it last night, along with the cups, so tired they were after the traffic home. She shrugs on her coat and her work bag, grabs the phone from the table, taps it awake to check for missed calls as she heads for the door. The screen still shows the photo of the road. But the viewpoint has moved forward. Yes, she is sure. A boulder that was a couple of hundred yards ahead is almost alongside now and that spot in the distance could be a figure. She tries zooming in but the black smudge just becomes a bigger black smudge.

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As she steps outside it is already light – cold, January light. She is late, then. The chill bites her fingers and she pushes them, and the phone, deep into her pockets.

on the figure on the road ahead. It is too distant to determine sex or age, but she only has to wait. It will come alongside just like the rocks. E

E Six months to go. It will be a summer baby—good for birthdays, everyone says. In the office she is asked to relate the routine check-up. Some colleagues listen as rapt as if she were Odysseus returned from Troy. Others, some of them mums, glaze over with an indifference that somehow soothes her. It is a busy day and she doesn’t have time to think about the photo till the drive home. Could it be a hoax? She could ask around whether anyone heard of something similar. And if it is only her? She will google it when she gets in. But when she opens the door, the house smells of casserole and there are fresh flowers in the hall. She goes to the kitchen, kisses his cheek. “This is nice.” “I wanted to celebrate our clean bill of health!” Is his smile a little anxious, though? “I...” She has no words ready to tell him about the road in the photo. She tries “You know… yesterday…” His face crumples in concern, calls to mind countless incidents of morning sickness—his figure helpless at the bathroom door as she clung to the toilet seat against the violent force inside. That very bad morning—the things she screamed at him. So she says nothing, works and smiles and socialises, and each morning in the downstairs loo monitors the photograph. Rocks, tree stumps and patches of scrubby grass, larger and then gone, mark her progress as she gains 58 | Montana Mouthful

By the end of the following week, the figure is close enough to make out clothing— heavy boots and some kind of long coat with a hood. It tires her to look at the slumped shoulders and bowed head. E There is so much to do. They should go to Mothercare. They should look at sensible cars. They should decorate the nursery before she gets too big—the spare room, still filled with postponed art projects and photos of travels, is already called the nursery. They book the twenty-week scan. The same afternoon, in the toilets at Mothercare, the figure in the photo is a few hundred yards away. The next Tuesday, the figure has started to turn towards her. Tomorrow it will be within reach, the next day beside her. After work they visit the car dealer. On Wednesday morning, the hood still covers most of the face but a woman’s cheek is visible. They go to the home improvement place before work, choose colours and stencils. They will start this weekend. That afternoon is the scan. They avoid the traffic and take the ring road. It hurtles under them, dozens of strides a second. When they arrive at the clinic, she will soon be on the bed. Once she is on the bed, they will soon see the scan. When they see the scan it will all be real. And it is—the blob on the screen is a Vol. 1 • Issue 3

perfect baby. Everything is on track. She smiles hard as he squeezes her hand too tight. At dawn next day, she rolls quietly out of bed, picks up her phone, goes to the bathroom. When she opens the photo, adrenaline surges. That she sees her own face is no surprise. What shocks her is the expression of this woman who has her skin, her features, but is not her. This woman is the carefully copied

shell of herself hollowed out. It is cleverly done. Only a good friend would spot this as a replica. Close enough to breathe the other’s breath, she senses a challenge between them—only one of us can be me. Instinctively, she looks up at the bathroom mirror to check her true self. And sees there too the woman from the photo, empty and completely alone.

Idecision | JOHN CHAVERS

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Jumping Spider | MARTHA NANCE 60 | Montana Mouthful

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A Patient Knowing Spider by Ruth Sabath Rosenthal “A noiseless, patient spider, I mark’d, where on a little promontory it stood isolated.” —Walt Whitman Mother dozes in her Geri chair, the corners of her mouth cradling oatmeal I’d fed her earlier.

press random places on her body thinking if I hit upon a hurt she’ll wince. She’s still. I’m heartsick

A lifetime ago she told me she’d been a tomboy. This wilting stranger, once that girl, once my father’s bride,

not knowing what she feels, thinks, would say, if only the phantom spinner hadn’t seized her & squeezed her

wakes, grimaces silent, her hands gripping the wheelchair. Beneath furrowed brow, her eyes squint shut.

last trace of speech out weeks ago. Now, only a vacant stare & a patient knowing spider likely eyeballing me.

Her head bows. Could she be praying to a god I don’t know? I search her wrinkle-lined face for signs of pain,

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Montana Flash Fiction Contest And the Winners Are… The staff of Montana Mouthful extend a big sky thank you to everyone who entered our Montana (406) Contest. (406) is Montana’s area code, and for our first flash fiction contest, we dared writers to send us a story that was exactly 406 words (not counting the title) and included the word “Montana” somewhere in the piece.

First place goes to Robert Briwa for his story titled “No Exit, Montana.” Robert receives $125 and a print copy of Issue 3. The second-place winner is T.L. Sherwood for her story, “The Weight.” T.L. receives $75 and a print copy of Issue 3. Julie Reeser is our third-place winner for her story, “Discovery.” She receives $25 and a print copy of Issue 3 Congratulations to each of you!

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Vol. 1 • Issue 3


No Exit, Montana by Robert Briwa

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1 .......................................................................................................................................... 406


t’s late—last call—but the Stockman isn’t clearing out. Nobody much seems like going into the bitter black, to slip across the icy parking lot and fumble with frozen car door handles. Night like this, who’d blame them for staying? Problem is, most nights are like this when it’s January in a central Montana ranch-town, and it’s hard shifting when the red neon off the Bud sign makes the brown bar glow furnace hot, plus the drinks and the fact nobody took off their jackets make people feel that heat’s true. Cheap drafts and jack and cokes make a warmth down inside, even when a little back-of-your-head voice tells you your brain’s already aching. I’m sure as hell not going anywhere, even if I probably should’ve left three whiskeys ago. Not much to go to, really, except Stella out cold on the couch with the TV’s blue light mottling her face. What’s to be done there? Anyway, I’ve reached that kind of disillusioning drunk and feel that fish-eye look I get on my face after I’ve had one too many, where I look at my hands and not recognize them as mine, where Gene’s drunken remember-whens turn tiresome. “That summer at James Kipp paddlefishing was a good one—shit, remember when you stepped on that gaffing hook and it went through your foot? You clipped the barbed end and pulled it through—” “Yup. A good one,” I say back. Have to: Gene needs it, even if I don’t. Maybe he’s right anyway. We sure had adventures. Gene keeps prattling on. I gaze in the bar mirror and it stares back at me. Fish eyes. Can’t take them too long. I feel mine on me even after I look away. Did my hands really pull that hook? I look at them. Lumpy knuckles, veins blue. When’d that happen? Scar across the left pointer finger, top and bottom, from the tip of shearing scissors when working down near Reed Point. Pink lump between pinky and ring finger, too. Think that was playing five finger fillet with those Missoula boys—God, I must’ve been twenty. Nails have oil under them, will for days, now, but the Dodge needed looking over and now it’ll be good for another few thousand miles at least. I push back, stand up, take the whiskey down until the ice hits my teeth. Outside the bar door, the night howls its black cold.


The Weight 406 ....................................................................................................................................................... 1

by TL Sherwood


week before Harris and Jen were to marry in Hawaii, a small box arrived. Jen didn’t normally check the green mailbox at the end of the drive, but she’d recently filled out a change of address card and was anxious to see what the first piece of mail sent to her new home would be. She feared a bill, hoped for a letter, but it was that tiny package. The wedding invitations clearly stated gifts were gratefully declined. Of course she was only assuming it was a gift. It was addressed to Dr. and Mrs. Wood. It could have been meant for Harris and Lily, his previous wife. They’d only been divorced for six months. Maybe someone hadn’t heard, but no, there was a congratulations sticker attached to the side. Open or wait? Jen inspected further. The return address bore no name. She tested the weight. It felt sprightly, unusual, and…cold. The back door screeched open. Jen inhaled and dropped the box. It landed with a thunk on the kitchen table. “Honey, I’m home!” Harris called out like a sit-com character. “Hi sweetie!” Jen said, exhaling. “Look what we got.” “What is it?” Harris smiled. Jen shrugged. “Someone can’t follow 64 | Montana Mouthful

instructions?” “Well, let’s see what it is.” Harris’s sleek surgeon hands tore through the wrapping. What he pulled out struck Jen as impossibly strange. She glanced at the toy, then stared at her soon-to-be husband’s face. His expression didn’t change, but his cheeks turned red. “Why would anyone send us a Slinky?” Jen asked. Harris chuckled. “It’s a joke?” she asked. Harris glanced at her and said, “Yeah, like Slinky, Slinky, fun for a girl or a boy. “ “I…don’t understand.” “Oh, you know Tara; she’s a goof.” “Of course.” Jen glanced at the floor. She didn’t know. She didn’t know Tara at all. She and Tara had never met. She’s just a friend, Harris assured Jen when he insisted Tara be invited to their very small, very private destination wedding. One of his oldest friends, he said. Lives in Montana. Nothing to worry about. “What a riot.” Harris grinned and set the box down before walking into the living room. “Let’s order out tonight, okay? Thai, maybe?” “Thai?” “Yeah, we haven’t had that in a while.” “You’re right.” You and I have never ordered Thai takeout before. Jen picked up the Slinky and felt the heaviness of Tara’s “friendship” fill the whole damned house. Vol. 1 • Issue 3


Discovery by Julie Reeser

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1 ..................................................................................................................................... 406


he Citizen Scientist advertisement was folded neatly inside Ryan’s leather wallet which was zipped into the side pocket of his pack. The ad stated that for photos of animal tracks taken within the state of Montana, a small cash reward would be paid. The money wasn’t much, but it would be enough for him to buy a new pair of hiking boots. His old pair had a crack in one heel, and the leather was scuffed. He knew there were mountain lions, bears, and coyotes living here. Ryan figured it wouldn’t be difficult to find tracks in the spring mud. While there were plenty of well-maintained trails scattered around town, he preferred the ones deeper inside the embrace of the forest where he could imagine himself the last living human. The day was warm, and the balsam would be in full bloom soon. Last year, he’d had a cold at the start of the season and missed their peak. Instead, he’d hiked through their spent orange sickle-cell petals drooping in batches and promised himself he wouldn’t miss their blooming this year. For the animal tracks though, he decided to go far out to one of the canyons near the lake. There wouldn’t be many wildflowers where winter’s breath still held a last gasp, but he was sure he’d find animal tracks. He was about two miles into the hike when he spotted an enormous print. The footpad was too long for a large cat. Bear, maybe? He tapped the can of bear spray swinging from his pack with a finger to reassure himself, and then circled the print twice trying to ascertain the best angle of light for his phone camera. He bent down to plant one knee in the dirt and leaned in. The blow struck him from behind, knocked him into the footprint, and he dropped his phone. He scrambled on all fours to try and move out of the path of whatever was attacking him. His brain said bear, and his heart galloped like it was his death. He rolled over, but the sun shadowed the creature. He could only see the giant outline of a human shape. Almost-human, but too large. Too hairy. By the time Ryan figured out the Sasquatch had him, it was too late. All that was left was a footprint of a hiking boot with a cracked heel for the next citizen scientist to find.

While Montana Mouthful seeks and accepts stories, poetry, and artwork from around the world, we also feel strongly about connecting with writers and artists of various sorts in our local Helena community. In that spirit, Montana Mouthful has teamed up with The Shop University, to create a new feature within the magazine. The Shop University is a 501(c)(3) non profit organization located in downtown Helena that provides English as a second language instruction to improve the communication, career, and citizenship goals of the community. The Shop University was founded and is operated by Suzy Williams, and she writes the following message: The Shop University is so excited to be a regular feature in the Montana Mouthful magazine. For the past five years, the ShopU has taught intensive daily English classes to teenagers and adults in the Helena area. In this amount of time over 80 students from over 40 different countries have walked through the door. These students are brave. Picking up your life and moving it to a new country to start over takes strength. Learning a new culture, language, and way of life takes perseverance. Every single one of our students wants to learn English to be able to participate in and give back to the community they live in and love. The ShopU exists to help these students thrive in our community by meeting their English goals. These goals include getting a job, passing a test, enrolling in college, or simply better communication, so they are

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understood at the doctor’s office or at their child’s school. Learning a new language is hard. Most adults do not achieve fluency in a second language without extreme dedication and motivation. Writing is often the last of the four skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) where fluency is developed. Each of our students has dreams, goals, and stories. Being able to showcase their stories in a language they have worked so hard to learn for the community to read is an unbelievable gift. This issue features a nonfiction essay written by Clara Maria Stolle. Clara is an American citizen originally from Brazil and a life-long learner of English. She is always looking to improve her English skills, especially writing, and she practices her vocabulary and pronunciation with her son. This is her first published work.

Vol. 1 • Issue 3


Belonging by Clara Maria Stolle


umans have a non-negotiable and profound need for belonging. Many researchers agree that belonging is the need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves without sacrificing who we are. There is no better way of knowing what belonging means until one feels like he/she doesn’t belong. This feeling shows up when you look around and see no one like you, those around you don’t speak your language, you are alone miles and miles away from your family and friends, or you have come to know some people around you but they don’t really know whom you are. The feeling of not belonging is well known by many immigrants—a population that so often experiences isolation. Commonly, immigrants know what it is like to look different from most, the difficulties of striving to communicate in another language, and the awkwardness of an accent when speaking the new language. When in another country, people are not only judged

by the way they look, their social economic status, their political ideology, and their sexual orientation, but also by their secondary language skills, body language, cultural traditions, and beliefs. Having limited English proficiency can prevent people from asking for help, learning new skills, advancing in their careers, making a living, and developing relationships. Many immigrants don’t just leave their families behind, they leave a community of people who deeply know and love them despite their imperfections. They move away from their parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and childhood friends, the people with whom they have shared laughter, tears, joy, and grief and who are likely to sit by them during times of sorrow and truly cheer on their accomplishments. This means that many times immigrants also leave behind their sense of belonging because the reality is that for most human beings it is difficult and it takes a long time to build and Montana Mouthful | 67

cultivate true friendships where there is enough trust to share your deepest self and know that you are loved despite your flaws. To make things a little more complicated, we know that most humans fear and reject the unfamiliar, so it is common that people don’t venture outside of their own culture. However, since we are hard wired for connection, in order to fit into the new society, immigrants often feel the need to hide their beliefs and customs, and if possible many of them would choose to get rid of their accent. In other words, immigrants are at risk of compromising themselves in order to be accepted. This can potentially keep people from showing their true selves, making real connections, and experiencing belonging. That is why ESL classrooms play a vital

role in the lives of so many immigrants. Here in Helena, the Shop University offers our international community a welcoming place. The teacher, Suzy Williams, fosters a space where cultures and traditions are respected and no one is judged by their English skills or accent. Furthermore, for many students, the Shop University is the only place where they can celebrate their birthdays with others, where they can find other people who recognize the struggles of surviving in another country, and where they will gain the knowledge needed to understand and navigate the American culture. The Shop University, not only provides valuable knowledge, which makes students feel supported, but it also gives them what so many need the most, a sense of belonging.

Author Clara Maria Stolle with Shop University founder Suzy Williams

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Vol. 1 • Issue 3

We hope you enjoyed the haunting stories, poems, and artwork in the previous pages, and we thank all of the talented writers and artists who contributed to our third issue. We also want to congratulate our Montana (406) Flash Fiction contest winners. Writing flash fiction stories that adhere to an exact word count is no easy feat! Last but certainly not least, we want to thank Suzy Williams of The Shop University and her ESL students for their partnership and contributions to Montana Mouthful. During November and December, the staff of Montana Mouthful will be taking some much needed down time after our first year of publication. However, beginning on January 2, 2019, submissions will open again for our fourth issue, and the theme will be “clowning around.” The idiom “clowning around” is to joke, play, or act in a silly way. We can’t wait to see what sort of variations on the theme you come up with, and we even anticipate some actual clowns—the red nose variety—in the mix. We’ll post to our website and social media when we open again for submissions. Submissions will be open until February 13, 2019, and we aim to publish Issue 4 on April 29, 2019. During our downtime, we’ll also be completing the administrative tasks that go along with acquiring a 501(c)3 nonprofit status, and we’ll keep you updated on any fundraisers and events. We look forward to publishing in 2019, and we appreciate your support for the magazine. Happy Autumn, Jasmine Swaney Lamb, Editor

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slated for Fall 2018 publication. Carr is thrilled to have one of her poems currently orbiting the planet Mars aboard NASA’S MAVEN spacecraft. You can find out more about Fern at the following:,, g z carr,, Twitter @FernGZCarr, and John Chavers

Michael Anthony Michael Anthony is an artist and writer living in New Jersey. He has published fiction, poetry, illustrations, and photographs in literary journals and commercial magazines. Most recently these include Camas Magazine, Scintilla Magazine, Ilanot Review, and Other People’s Flowers podcast. A selection of his work may be viewed at:

John Chavers enjoys working as an artist and photographer. His work has been accepted for publication at Cream City Review, 3Elements Review, Whitefish Review, JuxtaProse, Camas Magazine, Stonecoast Review, Permafrost Magazine, and Glass Mountain, among others. This November he will be the guest artist at the Petrified Forest National Park in AZ. Storey Clayton

Rahul Arasu is a freelance photographer and and engineer by profession. You can find out more about Rahul on Instagram at

Storey Clayton is a current MFA candidate in Creative Writing at West Virginia University. A pacifist, a vegetarian, a debater, and a non-profiteer, he’s worked as a youth counselor, debate coach, strategic analyst, development director, rideshare driver, and poker player. He is currently revising a memoir about driving for Uber and writing a biography of his father’s family. Storey lives in Morgantown, West Virginia with his wife (Alex) and their rabbit (Brownie). You can learn more about Storey at his personal website, The Blue Pyramid (

Robert Briwa

J.E. Crum

Robert Briwa is a graduate student in the Department of Earth Sciences at Montana State University. As a cultural and historical geographer, he’s interested in ways landscape, place, and identity collide. He’s excited to make his flash fiction debut in Montana Mouthful!

The art of J.E. Crum can be haunting, as the artist creates a myriad of self-portraits which are transformed into allegorical figures and muses. The artist describes her work as a journey of self-discovery as she creates work related to philosophies about fate, destiny and dreams. As if from the artist’s subconscious, J.E. enjoys working intuitively to create art, and tends to draw inspiration from mythologies as personal narratives evolve from the abstractions. The artist is best contacted via email at You can also find out more about J.E. on Facebook

Rahul Arasu

James Cato James Cato studies creative writing and the environment in Northeast Ohio. He tends to write past the hour of the wolf at a frantic pace in a soft chair with a mug of it’s-too-late-forcoffee. He is writing a novel with his lifelong friend, which has been nearly finished for two years. Fern G. Z. Carr Fern G. Z. Carr is a former lawyer, teacher and past President of both the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Project Literacy Kelowna Society. A Full Member of and former Poet-in-Residence for the League of Canadian Poets, this Pushcart Prize nominee composes and translates poetry in six languages including Mandarin Chinese. Carr has been published extensively worldwide from Finland to Mauritius and has had her work recognized by the Parliamentary Poet Laureate. Other honours include having been cited as a contributor to the Prakalpana Literary Movement in India as well as having had her work taught at West Virginia University, set to music by a Juno-nominated musician, and featured online in The Globe and Mail. Her debut collection, Shards of Crystal, is 70 | Montana Mouthful

Harshal Desai Harshal Desai traces life in the silhouettes of neon lights that encompass city outline and the larger identity of the place: of its inhabitants, chipped blocks of architecture, and natural ecosystems that thrive within its peripheries. He is the founding editor and art editor of Parentheses Journal. Email him on You can also find out more about Harshal on Twitter @parenthesesart or at Jimmy Dread Jimmy Dread is a deadbeatnik poet and musician hailing from the swamps of Southern Maryland. His poems are sallow bones with skin like a CBGB’s bathroom. His debut EP, “and the Graveyard Doldrums” releases October 2018. His favorite horror films are Hereditary and Troll 2. Vol. 1 • Issue 3

Melissa Franckowiak Melissa Franckowiak writes as Melissa Crickard. She is an MFA student and a practicing anesthesiologist in Buffalo, NY. Her short fiction piece, The Very Pertinent News of Gabriel Vincent DeVil, recently placed in the 86th Annual Writer’s Digest Literary Fiction Awards, and her work has appeared in Nanny Magazine, Motherly, Parent Co., Bird’s Thumb, Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, Motherly,, Rio Grande Review, Dark Ink Anthology, the anthology Children of Zeus, and Ghost Parachute, among other publications. Melissa attended Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Buffalo, and after being awarded two Bachelor’s degrees in Physical Therapy and Chemistry, she advanced toward her M.D. degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Melissa is the mother of two children, the owner of a chatty Panama Amazon parrot, and a lover of all things outdoors. Find out more about Melissa at and on Twitter @melissacrickard. Gretchen Gales Gretchen is a writer, visual artist, and the executive editor of Quail Bell Magazine. Her art has or will appear in Lady Blue Publishing, cream city review, Memoryhouse, Moonchild, Bad Pony, and more. See more of Gretchen’s work at You can also find out more about Gretchen on Instagram @writinggales and Twitter @GGalesQuailBell. Elina Ghanbari Elina Ghanbari was born in Iran. She is a self-employed artist and believes that, in art, you should set yourself free. She uses her emotions to express herself through her art. She finds an awesome connection between mind and heart that turns the emotions into art. Elina has published artwork in various places including Open: Journal of Arts and Letters, Internet Void, and more. You can find out more about Elina at Kristina Harrison Kristina Harrison grew up in Dayton, Ohio and studied Drama at the The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. She has performed in plays and musicals on both sides of the Atlantic, including The Traverse, The Public Theater, Steppenwolf Theater, The Goodman Theater and the Fox Theater. She is currently a member of the acting company at the Pacific Resident Theater in Venice, CA. You can see her in this season’s HBO series “Room 104”. She began her photographic travels in earnest three years ago. Her work was part of a group exhibit in 2015 at the Columbus Museum of Art. As one of 20 finalists for FOCUS photo LA’s 2016 Competition, her work was exhibited in Berlin during Art Week in September 2016, and subsequently exhibited in Los Angeles in January, 2017. She has been twice-featured by the LensCulture editors in their 2016 and 2017 street photography competition gallery. Her first solo exhibition, LIMBO LORE, was on display at at The Icon in Los Angeles from July

23 - August 31, 2016. Her images Crossing and Puddle were recently selected for Your Daily Photograph, curated by Daniel Miller. Her work was shown in PORTAL, curated by Lori Vrba, a group exhibit that opened December 2, 2016 at the SE Center for Photography in South Carolina. Kristina represented Icon Gallery at the internationally renowned exposition Photo LA ( January 2017) with recent work, including her installation piece, DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE, comprised of 60 5”x 7” street shots. On January 20, 2018, her work was part of LINES OF SIGHT, a group exhibit at Quixote Studios in West Hollywood, curated by Bonny Taylor. Her work will be published in August and October (2018) in Virtual Artists Collective, 3Elements Literary Review and Montana Mouthful. In April, 2019, she will be the featured artist in Ink and Voices. You can find out more about Kristin at, on Instagram @wickedwanderer, and on Twitter @kristinatown. Jahman Ariel Hill Jahman Ariel Hill is a poet, student, teacher, and activist who combines his passions of protest, Black identity, and foreign policy through poetry. Last April, he published his first book, Made from my Mother’s Ceilings, followed by his first album, Ceilings, published this April. He received his Bachelor’s in Middle East Relations and Master’s in Communication Studies at the University of Alabama, where he is currently working towards a Master’s in Women’s Studies, researching Black identity, religion, and death. Additionally, he is co-founder and vice president of the Alabama Student Association for Poetry and the recipient of the 2018 Marsha Houston Award for Outstanding Student Work in Social Justice and Diversity. He also loves bacon. You can find out more Jahman on Instragram, Facebook, and Twitter @Jahman_Rondo Rebecca Khera Rebecca is a Chicago-based writer. She is currently working towards her MFA in Nonfiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago where she tries to do way too many things. Her work has appeared in R.KV.R.Y and Reservoir. When she isn’t writing she sells wedding related crafts online. Find our more about Rebecca on Instagram and Twitter @bekyy337. Jessie Kwasney Jessie Kwasney is a 31 year old B.F.A Ceramics Candidate at the University of Montana. Jessie Spent 10 years in the Active Duty Army and found art once he came back to Montana. Jessie’s work is focused on creating conversation and dialogue about topics that are generally hard to talk about socially. You can find out more about Jessie on Twitter and Instagram @jessie.kwasney. Alexander Luft Alexander Luft’s fiction has appeared in Yemassee, Midwestern Gothic and other magazines. Visit for more of his work.

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Andrew Lafleche

Horia Pop

Andrew Lafleche is an award-winning poet and author of six books. His work uses a spoken style of language to blend social criticism, philosophical reflection, explicit language, and black comedy. Andrew enlisted in the Army in 2007 and received an honorable discharge in 2014. He lives in a small lakefront home with his wife and two children. Visit or follow Andrew on Twitter: @AndrewLafleche.

Horia writes about peculiar people and about his travels. When he was a little boy, he wanted to be an astronaut and a sweeper: he’s half-way through.

Michael Lebrón Michael Lebrón struggles with severe seasonal depression, and he uses his camera as an outlet and a source of light during the dark winter months. You can find out more about Michael at or on Instragram @y_ _lebron.

Fabrice Poussin Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, and dozens of other magazines. His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, the San Pedro River Review as well as other publications. Julie Reeser

Mark Mayes has published stories and poems in various magazines and anthologies. His first novel, The Gift Maker, was published in 2018. Mark also writes songs.

Julie Reeser lives in a stone bowl in Montana. Her work has been published in over a dozen magazines and anthologies, including Zoetic Press and FrostFire Worlds. Her poetry on a postcard brings joy and connection to readers around the country each month. If you’d like to join in you can sign up at her Patreon.

Jessica Mehta

Ruth Sabath Rosenthal

Jessica (Tyner) Mehta is a poet and novelist, and member of the Cherokee Nation. Jessica is the author of 13 books from traditional small presses. She’s been awarded numerous poetin-residencies posts, including positions at Hosking Houses Trust and Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-UponAvon, England, Paris Lit Up in France, and the Acequia Madre House in Santa Fe, NM. Jessica is the recipient of a Barbara Deming Memorial Fund in Poetry. She is the owner of a multiaward winning writing services business, MehtaFor, and is the founder of the Get it Ohm! karma yoga movement. Visit Jessica’s author site at You can also find out more about her at, an Twitter @ndns4vage, and on Instagram @ndnsav4ge.

Ruth Sabath Rosenthal is a well published in literary journals and poetry anthologies throughout the U.S. and internationally. In October 2006, her poem “on yet another birthday” was nominated for a Pushcart prize. Ruth’s books: Facing Home; Facing Home and beyond; little, but by no means small; Food: Nature vs Nurture; and Gone, but Not Easily Forgotten are available from (U.S.A.) You can find out more about Ruth at the following:;

Mark Mayes

Karen Shepherd

Martha Nance is a physician in Minnesota whose camera likes to take pictures of small things.

Karen Shepherd lives with her husband and two teenagers in the Pacific Northwest where she enjoys walking in forests and listening to the rain. Her poetry and flash fiction have been published in various journals online and in print, but most of her work just lives on her laptop. Follow her at https://

Margaret Norway

T. L. Sherwood

Margaret Norway resides in Upstate New York. She is a recipient of the Shields McIlwaine Poetry Prize. Her publications include Arch; SUNY University at Albany’s Fine Arts Exhibition “Future Perfect: Picturing the Anthropocene”; The Cliffhanger; and Chronogram.

T. L. Sherwood lives in western New York near Buffalo. She’s the Managing Editor of Literary Orphans and Assistant Editor at r.kv.r.y Quarterly Literary Journal. Her most recent work appeared in On The Premises. She’s currently working on a novel and blogs at

Alanna Pass

Clara Maria Stolle

Alanna Pass is a multi-media artist & writer who lives and works in rural NW, Oregon. She holds a BA in Natural History/Botany, a MA in teaching and spent 10 years in various parts of remote Alaska, all of which influence her work as an artist today. She resides in an old farmhouse with her two dogs and spousal equivelent. Find out more about Alanna at

Clara is an American citizen originally from Brazil and a life-long learner of English. She is always looking to improve her English skills, especially writing, and she practices her vocabulary and pronunciation with her son. This is her first published work.

Martha Nance

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Vol. 1 • Issue 3

Amy Stonestrom

Nina Wilson

Amy Stonestrom is a writer and designer living in Hudson, WI. For fun (not really) she and her husband rehab old houses. Amy is an MFA candidate in Bay Path University’s Creative Nonfiction program. She is also part of the year-long Memoir Writer’s Project at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Her work is forthcoming in Brevity magazine early next year. Amy writers about the taboo subjects of spirituality, religion, and politics but promises she won’t discuss them at Thanksgiving or dinner parties. (All bets are off for backyard barbeques.)

Nina Wilson has a BA in History and Writing, and has published photography, essays, poetry, and fiction previously published in The Pearl, Coe Review, The Fishfood Magazine, Adelaide, Rascal, Sea Letter, Dark River Review, Literary Juice, and Red Weather, Deluge Literary and Consumnes Literary. She is currently working toward a career in novel writing as she has published a book with Adelaide books titled Surrender Language.

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is an award-winning photojournalist who sees the heart on the other side of her lens, trying to capture that split second moment that betrays truth. She has shot images of stars and blues harp guys, of grief, of joy, of protest and anger and secreted love. You can find out more about Kathleen at Natalie Troy Natalie Troy spends her days reading and writing near a beautiful lake in the wilds of northern New Jersey where she recently completed her first novel. Her work has appeared in Firewords Quarterly. Connect with her on Twitter @_natalietroy. Chris Vallejo Chris Vallejo is a young enthusiastic student born in Barcelona (Spain) in 1994. Her first projects are related to the Mediterranean lifestyle, thus she has been published in American magazines such as Azahares and Hispanic Culture Review as well as been awarded in some Spanish literary contests. She is devoted to nature, her family and the beauty of life.

Bill Wolak Bill Wolak has just published his fifteenth book of poetry entitled The Nakedness Defense with Ekstasis Editions. His collages have appeared recently in Naked in New Hope 2017, The 2017 Seattle Erotic Art Festival, Poetic Illusion, The Riverside Gallery, Hackensack, NJ, the 2018 Dirty Show in Detroit, 2018 The Rochester Erotic Arts Festival, and The 2018 Montreal Erotic Art Festival. Lois Wolfe Lois Wolfe is an author and educator whose background spans print journalism and college teaching. She is the author of The Schemers/Bantam and Mask of Night/Doubleday-Bantam. Her short fiction has appeared in Coastlines and poetry in MidAmerican Review. Forthcoming are short stories in Levee Magazine and Appalachian Heritage. Literary criticism has appeared in critical anthologies on topics that range from female Latin American Essayists (Cambridge Scholars Publishing) to the fiction of South African Nobelist (Cambridge Scholars Publishing). A native of Appalachia, Lois lives in the Florida Keys. Since 2015, she has led the Marathon Writers Workshop in Marathon, FL.

Anne Wilding Anne Wilding is an English teacher and occasional tour guide living in Bilbao, Basque Country. She works part time and spends the other days hill walking, exploring and writing.

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