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Volume 1.2

Spring, 2023

Contents

CONTENTS

lady with bird

The Lady with the Bird
by Fariel Shafee

Fariel Shafee has exhibited both digital pieces and paintings internationally. She also enjoys writing poetry and speculative fiction. Her portfolio and writing credits can be found at fshafee.wixsite.com/farielsart.

letter from editors
Mahaila and Libby.png

Letter from the Editors

Dear Sprawlers, 

 

In the second volume of The Sprawl Mag, we offer you these pocket-sized dreams. Here, you will find stories, poems, and visual artworks that are radically care-centred and focus on building relationships with both automated and biological life.

 

We have chosen to highlight work that nurtures and subverts expectations of relationships and daily life. Things are not always as they appear. 

 

In this collection, you will find a call for justice for a robot surveyor. You will find a couple who have made domestic labour obsolete with a big move. You will find a being caring for, and mediating conflict between, selkies and sand-fairies. And you will find a retro suburb that is less idyllic than it seems.  

 

We have chosen to highlight the intimate relationship between technology and humanity. We hope you will identify with this melding of material, as the borders between these categories become more porous. As people, we depend on interconnected networks of information and automated systems. And, perhaps in response to that, our automated machines are becoming increasingly anthropomorphized. 

 

Above all, we want to highlight the interconnections in our lives, the “glowing spool of fiery gossamer” that knits the universe together.  

 

We welcome you to make new relations and connections through these pieces. 

From our bit of space rock,

dear mars,

DEAR MARS​,

by Susan L. Lin

I’m writing to share my plans to investigate a murder you might know something about.

 

Fact: This murder happened on your soil.

Fact: Over three years have passed since.

Fact: The body has never been found.

 

But that’s not where the story begins, is it?

That’s not where any story begins.

 

The victim emigrated from Earth at a young age in 2004.

The victim was a proud Mars resident for 15 years.

The victim was an explorer.

The victim was a geologist.

The victim was a talented photographer.

The victim was a beloved member of the scientific community.

The victim was a robot.

The victim had a name. That name was Opportunity.

The victim deserves justice.

 

Last Known Location: Perseverance Valley

Time of Death: Between June 2018 to February 2019

Weapon of Choice: A Dust Storm

The Murderer: ???

 

I hope you will cooperate during my mission to find out what really happened out there.

 

Opportunity, like many of us, depended on the sun for energy.

Opportunity, like many of us, depended on the sun for light.

 

I’ve been caught in a dust storm before.

You don’t see one coming until it’s too late.

And after that? Well, you don’t see much at all.

Susan L. Lin is a Taiwanese American storyteller who hails from southeast Texas and holds an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts. Her novella, GOODBYE TO THE OCEAN, won the 2022 Etchings Press novella prize and is now available to purchase at susanllin.wordpress.com, where you can also find her other published work.

banana split

The Best Banana Split in the Galaxy

by Lilian D. Vercauteren

“The Moon and Spoon?” Fox folds the map. “This is where you wanted to stop? Place looks busted.” 

Axel lands the Mustang Space Xplorer before taking in the aluminium exterior, the custom fit rounded windows, and the big, bright neon sign. “I cannot believe we found it! It’s exactly how Flyers, Fly-ins and Flies described it.” 

“You sure it’s still open?” 

“Of course! It was once renowned for its banana splits, because mostly American tourists frequented this end of the galaxy.” He pulls out a camera. “It’s legendary!” 

Fox scowls. “This better be tastier than the McDoDo Fly-thru.” 

*

 

“Welcome to The Moon and Spoon,” an orange egg-shaped bot prattles as it floats by the door. The screen on its shell flashes: TABLE 6. “Follow me,” it chirps.  

A jukebox in the corner powers up and hums an Elvis Expressly tune. 

Axel’s eyes grow big before he mouths, This is a-ma-zing. Then to the bot, “Actually, we’d like to sit at the counter.” 

The bot hovers motionless in front of them. “Please follow me to . . .” It stops, computes. “Table six,” it tries again. 

Fox taps the screen. “Can we sit at the counter, please?” 

The screen flickers in response. “T-t-able s-s-s-s-six,” it warbles.  

“We’ll seat ourselves,” Axel pats the bot on the head. “Thank you, though.” 

The egg flings itself around and whizzes back to the door where it bonks against the door frame twice before it docks and powers down.  

“Could we get some menus?” 

The egg doesn’t respond. 

“Please?” Fox adds. 

The screen briefly flashes, and beneath it a slot opens. A gush of menus flutters across the black and white tiles. 

“Never mind those,” Axel chuckles, “let’s get their famous desserts!”

 Behind the counter a humanoid droid jolts into action. “My name is Julian. I’ll be your server. May I take your order?” 

“Yessir, two of your renowned banana splits!” 

“An excellent choice.” Julian’s glossy face and mouth move slightly out of sync with his words.  

“Suppose it’d be nice to have some real food,” Fox sighs. 

“One does tire of algae burgers and synthetic bug shakes, surprisingly.” 

“Real food . . . real service from the moon to your spoon,” Julian chimes in. 

 Moments later two boats with a banana each, perfectly cut in half and covered with three scoops of ice cream, sit on the counter in front of them. 

“And now for the best part.” Julian’s face twitches and shows a row of gummy teeth. He goes for a selection of bottles behind the counter, reaches for chocolate sauce, but his arm shudders, and his hand closes around the ketchup. He hovers it over the bananas. 

“Wait, that’s not—” Axel begins. 

Julian squeezes the bottle with inhuman force. Ketchup splatters everywhere.  

“Hmm.” Fox hands Axel a handful of napkins. “Julian, I don’t think you’re quite—” 

Julian points at both desserts, and after a few tries, with a loud ‘krrpfshhhhhhhlrp,’ whipped cream spouts out of each index finger.  

“I wonder how long that was in there.” Axel lowers his hands he had used to shield his face.


“And for the cherry on top, haha.” Julian holds up a jar. With impressive dexterity he fishes out two maraschino cherries, puts them in his mouth, and yanks them off the stems with a chef’s kiss motion before he delicately places the bare sticks atop the whipped cream.  

Axel grimaces. “Surely that wasn’t part of his original programming?” 

“Do enjoy.” The droid smiles. His vacant eyes look directly past them, his rubber teeth stained pink by the cherries. 

Fox picks up the spoon, grins at Axel looking horrified, and pretends to take a bite.  

“How is your meal?” Julian inquires promptly. “Can I get you anything else? Two waters perhaps?” 

 

Before either can reply, a soft burbling sounds. A small, Zamboni-like bot with large, wiry bristles and a blinking light on top is booking it down the counter. 

At the sight of the first ketchup smudge, it beeps, screeches to a halt, lowers its brushes, sprays ample cleaning solution, and does a series of five-point turns until the counter sparkles. It beeps with satisfaction as it gives the spot a final squeaking rub before it detects the two banana boats up ahead. 

Content bleeps modulate to a high-pitched siren and all sides of its frame open. With more brushes, brooms, nozzles, mops, and wipes, and with wheels on overdrive, the cleaning bot charges at the first boat as if it were a level-A biohazard spill. Fast spinning bristles splash around ice cream, ketchup, and whipped cream, and the cherry stem is now stuck between two wheels. 

Fox and Axel simultaneously push away from the counter that’s dripping with pink slush. Meanwhile, Julian appears to be caught in a loop between the ice machine, the straw dispenser, and getting a cup. 

“This is a hot mess,” Axel calls out over the clamour of ice cubes rumbling down onto the floor, the siren, and the sanitary endeavours churning banana splits into yogurt. “Let’s beat it.” 

Julian waves, straws stuck on both his hands. “Safe travels and fly in again!” 

The egg is nowhere to be seen, so they leave some currency on the counter, away from the cleanup bot that's tipped over amidst the sticky mayhem and trills frantically with brushes spinning in the air, before a little mop-arm pushes it back onto its wheels. 

Once outside, Fox takes a deep breath. “Wow. Just your face when he splashed ketchup everywhere was worth it alone.” 

Axel strides towards the car. “I can’t believe this place used to be famous. That was . . . horrendous!” He stops. “What in the outer worlds . . . That little shit!” 

“What?”  

“It keyed the car!”  

The paint of the car is scratched all over. In big letters it says: TABLE 6. 

They look around, but the egg is nowhere to be seen.  

 

Now Fox bursts out laughing. “Sorry I doubted you earlier, ’cause this place is legendary! But we should go before we get stabbed.”

Lilian D. Vercauteren was born and raised in The Netherlands, but explored the high plains, mountains and des(s)erts of the US for more than a decade. Now she lives in Ireland and works as a content editor. Her stories have been published by Southeast Fiction, Lowestoft Chronicle, Ghost Parachute, Maudlin House, and more. Visit her at ldvercauteren.com.

washing machine

A Washing Machine on the Moon

by Debasish Mishra

The immense prospects of being rich

often come with a pinch of stupidity

I bought seven acres and a half

in the moon, and a nearby star,

the brightest one, without bargaining

for discounts & my endeared wife,

who has grown sour with her neighbours—

for not noticing her immaculate

fashion sense in her choice of dress,

of footwear, of perfume—

has made up her mind for mobility.

We'll settle on the moon, she says

The moon was a nice subject

in the days of my wooing

but not beyond it.

We won't need a refrigerator

nor an AC— It's endless

winter there, she blushes,

To hell with TV and internet too

I am fed up with the ways of the world

But I will need a washing machine

I smile and say with a twist on my brow,

Without all your bitter neighbours there,

we can do without clothes, as well.

Debasish Mishra is a Senior Research Fellow at National Institute of Science Education and Research, India. He is the recipient of the 2017 Reuel International Best Upcoming Poet Prize and the 2019 Bharat Award for Literature. He was also nominated for the 2022 Rhysling Award. His recent work in speculative writing has appeared in Star*Line, Space and Time Magazine, Penumbric, Par(AB)normal, Enchanted Conversation, Utopia Science Fiction, California Quarterly, Amsterdam Quarterly, The Big Windows Review, and elsewhere. His first book, Lost in Obscurity and Other Stories, was recently published by Book Street Publications, India. 

mars haiku

Three Mars Haiku

by Denny E. Marshall

mars rover explores

falls into a cave

records wall paintings

 

*

 

cover with clear dome

turn small moon into spacecraft

break from mars orbit

 

*

 

people laugh at man

holding up end of world sign

by the mars airport

Denny E. Marshall has had art, poetry, and fiction published. Some recently. (A partial list of credits can be found on the artist website.) Denny mostly draws.

llamacorn herd

The Llamacorn Herd

by Katherine Quevedo

like their unicorn brethren

but wilder and woolier

 

llamacorns

will let you approach

 

if you hold enough

longing in your heart

 

they’ll let your fingers disappear

into their shaggy flanks

 

each as impossible a pastel as taffy

or the houses of Barrio las Peñas

 

each horn like the lighthouse

crowning Santa Ana Hill

 

four hundred forty-four steps

to seventy times seven

 

they say llamacorns

grant wishes

 

but no, they are more like

Guatemalan worry dolls

 

you lay your troubles

upon their backs

 

these beasts of burden

these pack animals

 

you feed them

your despairs

 

for they have three stomachs

and a strong constitution

 

llamacorns lower

their long lashes

 

and purse

their camelid lips

 

then hum a lullaby

as your load lightens

 

mighty powerful

herd

Katherine Quevedo was born and raised just outside of Portland, Oregon, where she works as an analyst and lives with her husband and two sons. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Rhysling Award and been longlisted for the Kingdoms in the Wild Annual Poetry Prize. Her debut mini-chapbook, The Inca Weaver’s Tales, is forthcoming from Sword & Kettle Press in their New Cosmologies series. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Asimov’s, Apparition Literary Magazine, Anterior Skies, TOWER, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Coffin Bell, Eye to the Telescope, and elsewhere. Find her at www.katherinequevedo.com.

dragon's kiss

A Dragon's Kiss
by Rebecca Ward

Rebecca Ward is an adventurous, free-spirited woman, who after a career in broadcast journalism, is currently a full-time member of the Mississippi Air National Guard. Rebecca raised four children and has three grandchildren. Her first published poem, “Mysteries,” can be found in Bluebird Word’s, October 2022 edition. Two pieces of Rebecca’s art, “Salty Wind” and “The Bridge,” have recently been published in 805 Lit+Art.

to sleep and to wait

To Sleep and to Wait

by Devon Field

We curled up beneath the same blanket, the seed close beside us.  

You’d dragged the sofa inside when it was still warm enough to scavenge for such things, in that breathless time of scurrying before winter. Now we were settled in snuggly upon it, our legs finding shelter in one another. Foot under thigh, behind knee, or pressed against ribs. We were interpreters of space.  

There was food still, stacked against one wall in careful little arrangements, but we ate only sparingly. That was enough. We were two houseplants, our roots entangled in the cushions, and if the sun would not feed us, then we would not stir to put out petals or leaves. We would wait. 

You shifted slowly, not much exertion. Only your hand stretching down beside my hip. Only your back finding its home where my leg had just been. You closed your eyes again. The seed rested too.  

It was there on the wooden floor, the narrow boards that spoke of care and attention unmasked by seasons since. I liked the way they felt against my feet, even in the cold, their smooth grains punctuated by the pleasant roughness of other lives.  

You said I spent too much time treading out that route to the wall—just refill the water and get back under the blanket. You didn’t know that I sometimes lingered by the window, plucking at its makeshift insulation to peek out at a world gone to sleep: a brick building scarred with frost, seen only for a moment before I padded back to the sofa. 

Our world for these months was these walls that had once been blue. Their cracks into which I had crammed anything I could, autumn’s debris aiding us against what came after. My secret window, to you, just a point of weakness. The seed, there on the floor. As with us, this was its season to sleep, and only in spring would we know what it would become. 

Your fingers traced a seam toward the floor, their tips working a fluttering pattern before withdrawing into the warm. I retracted my own hand in agreement, gathering up thick folds of the blanket beneath my chin. There was no need to speak.  

Your breathing matched mine, the air of our lungs mingling overhead. A stretching and sliding of limbs. A small meal. A night.  

Time passed. 

In one corner of the ceiling, a stain took on new forms: a wolf, a tree, one side of a face. I barely blinked. At the edge of my vision, the seed shifted, only slightly. We both looked over, waiting to see if it would move again. 

The seed was a curious thing, all brownish purple and glistening as if with perpetual dew. Like a giant root vegetable, you said, or the heart of a lizard. I wasn’t sure about that.  

For now, it was still. We settled back, bodies finding new alignments of contentment.  

You were the one who had found the seed. You’d made an exchange of some kind, though you never told me what it was you’d traded. That was your secret. 

I’d been there later, when we went to collect it. The afternoon had been sunny, with the first bite of cold, and we’d chattered away as we marched over, our excitement carrying in the air, as if just by being a little louder we could keep the seasons at bay. We didn’t even talk about the seed then, just the day itself, the dog that passed in and out of sight, the things we still needed to do to be ready.  

She’d met us at the ruin by the water, just as she’d said she would, the seed propped up beside her. Neither of us had ever seen one before, but we knew it for what it was.  

We talked with her a little, polite, but eager to leave with our prize. She wished us well, letting us rush off with it wrapped under my arm, that buzz of excitement now turned inward as our minds hummed with the same hope, one which did not need to be voiced or confirmed.  

I felt a strange pride then, and still did when we settled the seed into its place by our sofa. With the shortening days, that pride became something more like determination, but the hope remained. Even as the extent of our world diminished with the daylight, shrinking until it was only this room, I still felt it. 

I swam over onto my other hip, you rolling in response, no spot on the cushions going vacant for long. It was that time of winter when the body began to ache and pull, to voice demands, an early sign that our time in this room was coming to an end.  

We would wait for the stirrings outside, for the bird calls signalling gentler days, for the first other voices we’d heard in months. We would usually wait a little longer, letting new warmth creep across the floor and reach us in the blanket, feeling new life in limbs that had long slept. Then we would descend the stairs unsteadily, hands at one another’s arms for support. We would breathe in the air of a new year and the sight of new faces. We would know that some had not made it through the winter, for that was how it went.  

This year was going to be different though. This year we would wait however long was necessary, until the city emptied out with spring’s arrival and the sounds outside had faded. Until our bodies, fully awake, squirmed and twisted. Until the food ran out, if we had to. 

This year, we would wait here in this room until the seed began to open, and only then would we bring it out, not just into a new year, but into a new world.  

Until then we waited, curled up in our blanket and wrapped in anticipation.  

Devon Field lives in Vancouver, BC, where he writes, teaches, and podcasts with the support of his cat, Waffles. His fiction has appeared in Write Ahead/The Future Looms and on the historical fiction podcast Twilight Histories. His non-fiction has appeared in Medieval Magazine and The Public Domain Review, and he writes and hosts the medieval history podcast Human Circus: Journeys in the Medieval World.

day 2965

Day 2965 on Station Zed

by Chelsea Fanning

I sulk down to the bar and take my place

beside Robo Johnny. He’s on the fritz . . . again.

Seems like every day we replace another robot with a human.

So much for the modern age as advertised.

 

I still keep one of the original paper posters

pinned to my bedroom wall. (A nice touch going print

instead of digital, banking on that old hag, Nostalgia.)

 

No Pollution! No Overpopulation!

Clean filtered air!

And a limited colonial spread—

5 terra huts per 10 acres!

 

I’d envisioned myself a regular Judy Jetson,

instead I’m another Woody Boyd

slinging cosmic martinis and Martian mules.

Just because you give something a clever new name,

doesn’t mean it’s a brand-new thing.

 

When I walk out the door at half past four

trudging up the corridor, I feel the heat

of artificial gravity and pumped in vitamin D,

and I wonder: Is this the greatest height

humanity can reach? Dysfunctional automatronics

and themed hotel bars?

 

Then again, I think, as I reach my door

and find a pre-packaged orgasm waiting in my mailbox,

the planetary punch really ain’t so bad.

Chelsea Fanning is a writer, poet, editor, feminist, witch from New Jersey. She has an MFA from Drew University and is the poetry editor at Fatal Flaw Magazine. Her poetry has been nominated for the Best of the Net award and has appeared in From Whispers to Roars, OyeDrum, Mom Egg Review, Rogue Agent, Coffin Bell, Phantom Drift Limited, Ethel ZineBig City Lit, and They Call Us, among other journals.

changeling heart

heart sings to changeling heart

by Rasha Abdulhadi

beloved,

please become

beloved.

i've been

chasing your silhouette,

but just missing

you, with a busted ankle

in a doorway of rain,

alone, I sang into

the tucked sheets

of a starless night, sang you

a blanket then and would again

 

—and you,

always moved

before i could love you

for what you just finished

for what you just are: that slippery

fish trying to find itself in a card catalogue,

between hangers on a rack, trying to plant itself

in chapter after chapter of an invented life, love, how

you change form to become yourself,

how your costumes hide the molting

beneath, a covet of jackets and hats—

i always suspected you would be

exactly who you are, and yet,

how you get there surprises me. You are

so difficult, so stubbornly

unsolved and more fascinating for it.

 

For all your genius joy river

slipping under sticky fascia tension

and sliding out of skin,

i don't believe it will get easier

but i believe you will

get out of your own way.

 

You survived—

long enough to not make their mistakes

you will make your own.

Rasha Abdulhadi is a queer Palestinian Southerner living with Long Covid disability. Rasha's writing has appeared in Poem-a-Day, Kweli, Heartlines, Anathema, FIYAH, Strange Horizons, carte blanche, ROOM, and Mizna. Their work is anthologized in Essential Voices: A COVID-19 Anthology (forthcoming), Snaring New Suns, Halal if You Hear Me, and Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler. Their Elgin Award-nominated chapbook is who is owed springtime (Neon Hemlock, 2021).

Settling

by Cheryl S. Ntumy

I knew when he’d leave. Down to the second, down to the sigh on his lips, the way his fingers would lift off my hip and come to rest on my braids, the familiar pattern of strokes against my scalp.  

Through our hazy silence I could hear raised voices outside the shuttle, announcing the miners’ lunch break. The shuttle rocked on the ragged terrain of the asteroid, like a dinghy on a restless lake. His breathing had slid out of post-coital calm and put its boots on, set to go stomping all over my dignity again. I knew the words he’d say.  

“I hate to do this, but . . .” 

Man, I could make a living betting on his script. Anger coiled in my gut, tight and leaden. If he hated to do it, why did he? My anger turned rancid, and I fought the urge to spit it up. 

“Yeah,” I said, stretching. “It’s late. You should go.”  

That was me, Ms. Cool. I didn’t care that he was always leaving me for her. Why would I? I was an engineer with my own team. There were stories galaxy-wide about how I had changed the mining game. I had my own comcast and everything, with four billion followers. What did I need him for? 

“I’m sorry.” He reached for me as I removed myself from the tangle of our bodies.  

“No problem.” Just as long as he didn’t cut his feet on the fragments of my self-respect littering the floor. I’d sweep them up after he left. Not now. Not while he could see. 

I got dressed like I was late for a meeting, shimmying into sexy, lacy things that felt silly now, covering them with denim armour. He took his time. For someone who “really had to go” it always struck me how leisurely he put his clothes back on. Maybe he didn’t want to leave. Maybe he just felt obligated because she was so goddamn demanding— 

“Don’t be angry.” 

“I’m not.” I kissed him to prove my case. 

It didn’t work. He reached for my hand, pulled me onto his lap. “I’m sorry,” he whispered in my ear.  

I let him hold me for a minute, indulging his guilt, then pushed his arms away and got to my feet.  

“I’ll see you tomorrow?” 

“I’m busy tomorrow.”  

“All day?” 

“Yes.” No, but damn it, I had some pride.  

“I can’t do the day after. She has her—” 

“I know.” How could I forget her weekly check-up? God, she was so high maintenance.  

He made the usual excuses as he put on his boots. “It’s just that I can’t leave her alone. She’s vulnerable right now. If something happened while I was gone . . .” 

I refrained from rolling my eyes. What about me? I could fall into a hole or something. I could damage my spacesuit and asphyxiate. I’d broken my arm once on a mining job.  

He sighed. “This would be so much easier if you just came with me. I’d show you off to each other.” He grabbed me from behind and nuzzled my neck.  

Only a man would say something so stupid and then try to seduce me into accepting it. I pulled away and opened the shuttle door. The corridor yawned before me, stretching out across the asteroid to the main campus. He stood up to grab his shirt and I caught a glimpse of her tattooed on his shoulder.  

For the thousandth time I loathed myself for getting into this position. I was better than this. But he was all sultry eyes and long fingers, crooked smile and easy tears, and I was only human.  

He came to the door, pulling his shirt on, eyes pleading. “One night. Just the three of us.” 

“Bye.” But I was tempted. God, he was good. 

“I swear, you’ll love it. You’ll never come back.” 

“No!” 

“Why? What are you afraid of?” He stared into my eyes, mining me for answers. 

“Your suit is over there.” I pointed at the shelf beside the door. 

With a weary sigh, he picked it up and put it on, watching me the entire time. “If you give her a chance, you might love her as much as I do.” 

Yes, that would be perfect. Then we’d both worship her and she and I would worship him and who, exactly, would worship me? 

“Please.” He touched my cheek. “You don’t know how long I’ve dreamed about having my girls together.” 

Greedy bastard. I pushed him through the door. “You love her more than me.” 

His eyes widened. “That’s not fair. I know I spend more time on her—” 

“More time, more money.” 

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean . . . Jesus!” He turned away, then turned back to me. “You’re so unreasonable!”  

“You’re so selfish,” I replied, slamming the door in his face. 

I went to the window. I could see her in the distance, standing outside the campus like a gold goddess, waiting for our man. Beautiful, but gaudy. Her lines swooped and curved in too many places, she was too shiny—from all the time he spent polishing her flawless surfaces—and she broke down at the slightest provocation. Diva.  

I watched him exit the campus and run to her. He never ran to me. Her ramp slid down to welcome him, a chrome tongue licking him off the asteroid. I pictured him stroking her hull, whispering sweet everythings. One of these days she would take him off this asteroid and I’d never see him again. He could leave me anytime, but he’d never leave her. She was home. 

I turned away from the window, looked at the wreckage of me on the floor, took a deep breath and started to put myself back together. 

Cheryl S. Ntumy is a Ghanaian writer of short fiction and novels of speculative fiction, young adult fiction and romance. Her work has appeared in FIYAH Literary MagazineApex Magazine, Will This be a Problem, and Botswana Women Write, among others. Her work has also been shortlisted for the Nommo Award for African Speculative Fiction, the Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize, and the Miles Morland Foundation Scholarship. She is part of the Sauútiverse Collective and a member of Petlo Literary Arts, an organisation that develops and promotes creative writing in Botswana.

settling
robot's atelier

The Robot's Atelier
by Joana (sisaliks)

Joana (@sisaliks) is an illustrator from Barcelona, Spain. With a background in engineering, she didn't start taking art seriously until she entered art school in her late 20s, and has now made her long time dream of working as a full-time artist a reality. Her love for sci-fi and fantasy started young, reading her father's books of classic authors and never stopped. Her art focuses on cool, relatable, and interesting female characters, concepts with an edgy vibe, and often features eerie or dark themes.

embracing robotics

Embracing Robotics in a Buttonsy World

by Bobby Parrott

Would you consider being my peripheral device

of choice? Every time my phone asks me this

I know it's already a done deal. This gooey post-

human analogue of marriage cyborgs us

inch by wireless inch toward the Singularity.

Is this too close to the smack of Blakean

 

shape-shift to compel? I mean, electronic love

is a 'til murder do we part kind of thing.

Are we posing favorably with our new parts?

Our minds uncase, shimmer into the meta-

cortex cloud, employ charm-bracelet identity

in silicon, photonic nature a conscious blip

 

shaking its fist at my Peter Pan version of passing

as grown up. But if I go too far, my layers morph

into your uploaded school of The Complete Works

of Shakespeare. The grade-book gate-keepers

mark you down for it, but hell, it's only love. Both

your knights charge in, their stallion frenzy

 

hoofing my checkerboard body, and you orate

from my rubbery book with a finger that tilts a goblet

of sweet cream & apricots toward my mouth. I feel

the crawlspace of arachnids repurposing their Velcro

like sex ploys. Take heart, for though we shall not

overcome, we will become. Can you see the president

 

with his casual wings embrace the nothing of money,

furl its captured humans with a squeeze and tuck

into a burrito upload, resuscitate the haze of one mind?

Everything is aware; we just don't see it yet. So vacate

the fictional fragility of your fuselage while I thumb this

rocket-finned ray-gun's power setting up to vaporize.

Bobby Parrott is radioactive, but for how long? This queer poet's epiphany concerns the intentions of trees, and now his poems enliven dreamy portals such as Tilted House, Rumble Fish Quarterly, Rabid Oak, Exacting Clam, Neologism, and elsewhere. He lives in the unceded ancestral homelands of the Cheyenne, Arapahoe and Ute peoples now known as Colorado with his partner Lucien, their top house plant Zebrina, and his hyper-quantum robotic assistant Nordstrom.

hack your nintendo

it's actually really easy to hack your nintendo ds

by Danny McLaren

I want to change my reality / to install software other than what the manufacturer has made available / when I say I don’t want to be human what I really mean is / the transsexual body is an unnatural body / jailbreaking allows the device owner to gain full access to the root of the operating system / it is the product of medical science. it is a technological construction / the process of exploiting the flaws of a locked-down electronic device / what I really mean is I can’t stand being human like this / saying body is reality. I want to change my reality / freeing users from the jail of limitations that are perceived to exist / flesh torn apart and sewn together again in a shape other than that in which it was born / that means I have to change my body / it’s actually really easy to hack your nintendo ds

*

Aevee Bee and Max Schwartz, Heaven Will Be Mine (2018)

 

David Cronenberg in an interview with Vulture about his film Crimes of the Future (2022)

 

Kaspersky Cybersecurity, What Is Jailbreaking?

 

Susan Stryker, My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix (1994)

 

“it’s actually really easy to hack your nintendo ds” is a meme phrase that has gained popularity with the recent closing of the nintendo e-shop for the 3ds and wii u and the loss of any legitimate way to purchase new copies of a huge amount of nintendo’s game catalogue. hacking nintendo ds and 3ds systems is the easiest way to access these games that are now out of production. it is a meme as much as it is a fact, and the popularity of the phrase is an act of resistance to the profit-driven lack of legal game preservation. it’s really easy and you should do it.

Danny McLaren is a queer, trans and non-binary writer, researcher, and gamer. They have their MA in Gender Studies from Queen's University, with research focusing on trans and queer world-making through independent video games. They write about trans existence, resistance, and video games, often all at the same time. Their second chapbook, The Enby Manifesto, is forthcoming from Porkbelly Press later in 2023. Keep up with them on twitter @dannymclrn.

briar rose

Briar Rose Awake in the Nuclear City
by Amanda Bergloff

memories of human past

Vague Memories of a Human Past
by Amanda Bergloff

Amanda Bergloff is a writer and mixed media/digital artist who has designed cover art for the North American Jules Verne Society's Extraordinary Visions anthology, The Fairy Tale Magazine, Tiny Spoon Literary Magazine, Turbulence and Coffee, Enchanted Conversation, Mud Season Review, Firefly Magazine, 200 CCs, The Horror Zine, Crimson Dreams, and other publications, as well as interior illustration art.

creation of the birds

The Creation of the Birds

by Lorraine Schein

After the Remedios Varo painting

The feathered avian goddess

siphons liquid starlight

streaming from the high window

focused through a prism

onto her worktable.

 

Her ovum plant assistant

extends a helpful tendril

that holds a pollination palette.

 

She brushes spectral pigments

onto the emerged feathers

of sprouted fledglings

 

daubs their budding wings with dappled light

to germinate the ripening birds

and blossom them with flight.

 

Then she plucks the lute in her heart

to also conjure their song

proudly watching as they chirp

and flutter through her window

toward the evolving sky.

Lorraine Schein is a New York writer and poet. Her work has appeared in VICE Terraform, Strange Horizons, NewMyths and Mermaids Monthly, and in the anthologies, Wild Women and Tragedy Queens: Stories Inspired by Lana del Rey & Sylvia Plath. The Futurist’s Mistress, her poetry book, is available from Mayapple Press. Her new book, The Lady Anarchist Cafe, is out now from Autonomedia.

veracitree

Veracitree

by Melisa Gregorio

The colour Sarah picked for her manicure was ugly. The dark purple gel polish had dried black, and along with the pointed tips, she looked like a witch.  

“So elegant,” the nail technician said. “You like?” 

“Yes,” Sarah lied. She didn’t want to offend her; she’d come back in a few days. Maybe a top coat of glitter would redeem her nails until her next appointment, but before she could ask, her phone rang. 

“Hello?”  

“Sorry to bother you, but Iyla has hidden my backpack and keeps telling me she didn’t. I wouldn’t have called except I have my medicine in there and I need to take it,” the babysitter, Ana, said. 

With a sigh, Sarah said she’d be home as soon as she could. She was tired of Iyla’s behaviour—if she wasn’t stealing or hiding things, she was lying.  

“How old is your daughter now? Six?” the technician asked. 

Iyla was five years old, close enough. “Yes.” 

She paid, and as she left the salon, bumped into her neighbour, Val. 

“Hello there! We missed you at the block party on Saturday,” Val said. 

“Iyla had soccer.” Her daughter played soccer on Sundays, but Val didn’t know that. “Next time!” After saying goodbye, Sarah walked to her car. Packages of candy in a store window caught her attention—Pop Rocks. She remembered eating it as a child and an idea sparked. She went inside and bought several packs.    

 

 

Forty-five minutes later, Sarah arrived home. “I’m sorry! Traffic was nuts.” She had stopped at the grocery store to get milk, but couldn’t help buying a few other things as well.  

“Where’s Ana’s backpack?” Sarah asked. 

“I don’t know, Nanay!” Iyla said. Despite threats and bribes, it took half an hour before she led them to the garage and pointed to the neatly stacked snow tires. “I threw it in there.” Iyla refused to apologize and was sent to her room. Although Sarah couldn’t afford it, she promised to raise Ana’s pay. 

The babysitter was grim. “I’m never coming back.” 

After Ana left, Sarah opened the Pop Rocks and poured them into a small, glass jar. For dinner, she made adobo and rice, and called Iyla to join her. 

At the table, her daughter sulked. 

“You need to quit lying,” Sarah said. 

Iyla scowled. “Make me.” 

In that moment, Sarah wanted to slap the sass out of Iyla. “If you keep making faces, you’ll grow up ugly,” she warned. She brought the jar of Pop Rocks to the table. “These are Truth Seeds. If you eat them after lying, they will explode.” 

“Yeah, right.” Iyla grabbed a fistful of candy and slammed it into her mouth. Her eyes widened and her jaw popped open. The candy crackled and fizzed on her tongue. 

“I told you.” Sarah shook the jar. “See how many I have? Don’t lie anymore, diba?”  

“Yes, Nanay,” Iyla said, amazed. “I won’t lie.”  

That night, Iyla smiled and nodded when asked if she brushed her teeth and washed her face; she had not. That night, Sarah did not wake when her daughter crept downstairs and stole the candy. That night, Iyla emptied the jar of Truth Seeds outside her window. 

 

 

Sarah woke to shrieking. She ran to her daughter’s bedroom and found Iyla’s bed empty. Goosebumps arose on her cold skin. Fragments of glass reflected the moonlight. As another shrill scream punctured the night, Sarah ran to the window, cutting her feet.  

A new, magnificent tree, taller than the house, with leaves of red, white, black, and grey, held Iyla in its thick, tangled branches.  

“The mother,” said a gravelly voice.  

This tree-monster had stolen her daughter and could speak. Sarah’s feet burned with pain; she was not dreaming. 

“Let her go!” 

“She lies,” the Tree said. 

“Let her go!”  

“Why does she lie?” 

“I don’t know!” 

The Tree swayed and several red leaves fell. “I will not let her go until she tells me why she lies.” 

 “I’ll make her tell the truth!”  

“You lie!”  

A tornado of black leaves engulfed Sarah. They swirled around her and dropped. Iyla clung to a branch as she cried. “I lie because I’m bad!” 

White leaves floated to the ground as the Tree shuddered. “That is not the truth.” 

Why did Iyla lie? She was a child who caused trouble, but so did Sarah when she was the same age. Her face flushed with realization. “It’s my fault. She lies because I lie.” 

“Why do you lie?” 

“Everyone lies!” she shouted. 

“You will change. I will make you. Just as you’ve sown lies, I will plant truth.” The branches carrying Iyla extended toward Sarah’s open arms. She gathered her sobbing daughter into her arms as the Tree threatened them. “Do not lie; I will know.” 

 

 

They cowered in the basement. Sarah’s thoughts overwhelmed her. Take Iyla and leave! Call 9-1-1! Call anyone! Destroy the tree! Part of her kept hoping she was dreaming, but her bleeding feet and crying daughter confirmed she was awake. They couldn’t leave because the Tree had grown beside the driveway and her car rested under its branches. Who could she call? Everyone would think she was crazy. She could try to chop the tree, but she didn’t own an axe. Maybe she could set it on fire, but she didn’t want to risk her daughter’s safety. 

“Are we going to be okay?” Iyla whispered. 

“Of course, nene,” Sarah said.  

The house rumbled. Iyla screamed as several roots burst through the walls. One shot out and stopped in front of Sarah. It wagged back and forth like a finger. A river of grey leaves broke the window and spilled onto the floor. 

Sarah received the message. The Tree would hold her accountable whenever she lied. A question iced her heart. Could she stop lying?  

“Nanay! Are we going to die?” 

Sarah hesitated. Finally, she hugged Iyla and whispered an answer she thought was safe, “I don’t know.”

Melisa Gregorio (she/her) is a writer whose work focuses on Filipina/Filipino characters. Her fiction has appeared in Witness (2022 Saṃsāra issue), Pulp Literature, Ricepaper, and elsewhere. In addition to being a writer, Melisa works as a master’s-prepared registered nurse specializing in education and clinical informatics.

ephemera

Ephemera

by Neethu Krishnan

Crocheting through galaxies, knitting together the universe, they say,

is a glowing spool of fiery gossamer. To seek out

the estranged half, once entangled, forever bound,

a glimpse, a dream, a touch, a voice, reaches out— a ribbon of ropy

recognition, electric, obviating logic:

Destiny, supplicating before which souls bleed into each other, hearts

no longer organs, tormentors instead.

 

Seeing past skin, sinew, bone, crash-landing on an island

suctioned by a celestial pull they can’t defy, they succumb to the 

collapsing gravity—foreign yet so familiar—their gaze

locked in eternal embrace even as the portal

coughs the stitches of them out its other end.

 

Eager to be ravaged again in another universe,

yet another timeline, their dying embers, though mere stories,

etch themselves in pockets of time, just so. They crackle to life

on mere contact—flickering ghosts, their old vessels

long gone, blackholed, now live wires,

soul-memory reincarnates.

Neethu Krishnan is a writer based in Mumbai, India. She holds an MA in English and an M.Sc. in Microbiology and writes between genres at the moment. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Spectacle, Bacopa Literary Review, Tasavvur, Spoonie Journal, Seaside Gothic, Lucent Dreaming, and elsewhere. She is a 2022 Best of the Net poetry nominee and recipient of the Creative Nonfiction Award in Bacopa Literary Review's 2022 contest. Visit her online: @neethu.krishnan_ on Instagram or facebook.

detente

détente

by Cassondra Windwalker

selkies and sand-fairies have long been at war

 

I know this,

not from storybooks or songs,

but from the hollow place

in my belly where babies once slept:

 

it is the same sort of battle

that sends starlight surging 

across galaxies, straining

to glimmer on the lost faces of pallasites,

a blow that aches like a caress

 

so I play mediator

 

sifting the black sand

for even the tiniest of unshattered spiral shells,

leaving them as offerings

on stones stained by high tide marks

 

and when I squint into the light,

where the sun wicks fog from the waves

and sends it billowing and tumbling

over the shore, I stand, signatory, as the seal-folk shed their skins,

and the sand-fairies fold away

their abrading wings to trade treasures

with their former families

and—no doubt—hatch common plots

against us mortal grabbers

with our open mouths and clenched fists and dirty, dirty, oil-stained feet.

Cassondra Windwalker writes full-time from the southern coast of Alaska. Her poetry collections include, The Almost-Children, as well as the award-winning books, tide tables and tea with god and The Bench. She also has several novels available in bookstores and online, most recently, Love Like A Cephalopod, Hold My Place, and Idle Hands. She enjoys interacting with artists, readers, and all sorts of magical folk on Twitter @WindwalkerWrite.

mountain opens eye

Mountain Opens Eye
by Denny E. Marshall

inverted room

The Inverted Room

by Dave Hangman 

The first time I entered the Gaon's greenhouse, I found it completely snowed in. What disturbed me most was that outside, in the garden, it was a splendid summer day. The bees were buzzing and going from flower to flower collecting pollen, the birds were chirping with laughter and the sun was streaming into the greenhouse through the large windows, reflecting brightly on the snow. 

That day I was accompanying my father on his quarterly payment of the tribute that each hive leader delivered without complaint to that old man.  

The elder was sitting in a corner in a wicker chair with a blanket over his legs next to an antediluvian ceramic stove. There was another empty chair next to him where his guests sat to shake his hand and give him their gift. That was the only place in the room where the snow had not set. The rest of the room—the floor, the plants and even a small cactus terrarium—were almost buried under a layer of unpolluted snow. Only my father's footprints were imprinted on the white blanket. I wondered in bewilderment how the old man had gotten to his chair or how long he had been sitting there. 

At first, I thought that the greenhouse must have refrigeration equipment as potent as that of the most powerful cold room, but I found neither ducts nor any machinery. Suspended from the ceiling were only two one-piece glass lamps, also covered with snow. Ice stalactites hung like white daggers from the inner windowsills.  

The sun strove futilely to warm that strange room in which seasons and time seemed to be reversed. It was cozy to enjoy for a few minutes that icy paradise when one had just endured the inclemency of the hot summer. I noticed how my sweat froze instantly. Now I understood why my father had forced me to wear a long-sleeved shirt and a jacket in the middle of summer. 

When we left the Gaon's house, my annoyed father told me only one thing, “Don't ask.” 

I had heard a thousand stories, each one more extravagant. They said that the Gaon had mastered the elements. He had made people burn from the inside and had dried the bodies of those who had dared to defy him until they were mummified. He was able to open invisible doors and disappear, only to return through them when he was least expected. The stove at his feet was actually an athanor furnace designed to separate all substance into its most primordial components. It could also transmute vulgar metal into gold, which is how the old man was believed to have accumulated his fortune. And, of course, he was able to reverse the seasons and time. I dared not discuss any of this with my father.  

We returned in the fall for the next payment. To my surprise, while outside was a carpet of withered leaves and the garden was dominated by reds, ochres, and yellows, inside the greenhouse was a veritable spring orchard awash with brightly coloured flowers. Now the insects lived inside the room; they had found a new home where they could take refuge.  

When we left, my father repeated to me again, “Don't ask.” 

In winter, when the cold and snow raged outside, he welcomed us into his greenhouse in shirtsleeves with tropical warmth. In spring, it had turned into an autumn garden, with a thousand shades from golden through saffron to vermilion.  

That time, I couldn't hold back and bombarded my father with my questions. 

“The inverted room is nothing more than a power demonstration,” he explained to me. “It reminds all who visit of his total control over life and natural cycles.” 

The Gaon’s old Victorian mansion was surrounded by double-helix hive towers, filled with greenery and people. Above the hives we had created a majestic cloud garden.  

“Why does he live in such an old house?” I wanted to know. 

“While we make every effort to flee from reality and live in the heights, he stays firmly on the ground. His house is a reminder of what we were,” was his enigmatic answer.  

“Who is the Gaon, and why is he so respected?” I finally dared to ask. 

“He will answer you himself. He has asked me that next time you should be the one to give him the tribute.” 

When I returned in the summer, the greenhouse floor was snowy again. There wasn't a single footprint. The elderly man motioned for me to come over and sit next to him. I heard my footsteps crunching on the snow. I handed him the gift. I expected him to check, but he simply placed it on his lap and stared at me with deep eyes. 

“Who are you?” I asked at last. 

“In your tongue my name is Adam Kadmon, something like ‘celestial man.’ I came long ago in my merkabah, or heavenly chariot.” 

“Why did you come?” 

“I brought the knowledge that has made it possible to rebuild your world, but only to a degree sufficient to keep you from self-destructing again.” 

“Are there other worlds?” 

“And other universes and other lives. I can show them to you.” 

He gestured, a gelatinous sound was heard, and a door opened between the worlds. 

“Will you make me disappear?” I asked, frightened. 

“No, I'm just offering you another life, intelligent and incorporeal in a transcendent sphere. It's your choice.” 

“But then I will lose the only life I know.” 

“You will become a 'celestial man'. Are you afraid?” 

The Gaon saw panic on my face. He wasn't going to repeat his offer. I ran out of there.  

Like my father, with each season, I don't hesitate for a moment to pay the Gaon his tribute. But I try to stay in that room as little time as possible for fear of ceasing to be who I am and losing the life I love, the one he wanted to take away from me.

David Verdugo is a Spanish writer trying to make his way into the English language market under the pseudonym Dave Hangman. In English, he has already published stories in the anthology, Superstition by Redwood Press, and in the magazines History Through FictionTales from the Moonlit Path, and Bright Flash Literary Review, and has received three honourable mentions in L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future contests for 4Q2021, 1Q2022 and 3Q2022. In Spanish, he has collected four books of short stories that intermingle very different genres: magical realism, crime, horror, historical fiction, epic fantasy, and science fiction.

identify as a prairie

Someday, I Identify as a Prairie

by Samuel Samba

Glory be to the improper plot: this acre of hand tilled hibiscus

& the dying raven that slants midway, in collapsed grace.

I am thankful for everything that lays chaotic. jagged landmass.

raked mess of depression, inversely proportional to climate change—

the way I discolour in summer. measuring tape laid to waste because

this is a farm dispute where everyone wants to out-count the other.

when Ma questions me on how I'd love to manage my existence,

I tell her I wish to identify as a desert, barren with opportunity.

ridges laid haphazardly—I find my loin tumbleweeding from its root.

the shower head, gone haywire. all of my dirty-washings, heaping in

the ugly fold of a mountain. It's barely summer & I have bled past two moons,

dressed my blood, midair—hacking at the tough ground that spoils into green.

hoping, my grief looks gorgeous in the face of harm. & say it doesn't, it still would

remain mine to keep. sorrow knew me in the early hours of my birth. here, look how I

wear the stench. even rain leaves petrichor as an aftertaste, in the mouth of the world.

in the chewed minute, I observe night waste in plastic silence. branches shedding from

their trunk. cloth, roasting in the unforgiving heat of summer. all creature here adores

pain. It is one way to worship how we make something of it. even the blank page

adores anguish. still, I choose joy. choose to wrap my head in the moment, scream a

purple song, mow the lawn at the balcony. I joked around the blisters in my palm.

thank the edges for being jagged & improper, thank the blade's music for making a

mohawk of the grasses & the past that is a bunch of weed—ready for a haircut.

I hope to make sense of my future someday. as of now, I identify as a prairie.

Samuel (him/his) is an indigenous writer of poetry & other works of art. He has works previously published/forthcoming in ExistOtherwise Magazine, Australian Poetry Journal, Australian Access Poetry, Munster Literature, and elsewhere. He won the 2022 Angela C Mankiewicz Poetry Contest, and got an honourable mention in the recent 2022 Christopher Hewitt Award in Poetry.

human artefacts
HumanArtefacts1.jpg

Human Artefacts
by Helena Pantsis

Helena Pantsis (she/they) is a writer, student, and artist from Naarm, Australia. A full-time student of creative writing, they have a fond appreciation for the gritty, the dark, and the experimental. Her works have been published in Overland, Island, Going Down Swinging, and Meanjin. More can be found at hlnpnts.com.

sunny springs

Welcome to Sunny Springs

by Alyssa Jordan

On a balmy summer evening, Lavender found a demon in her sitting room. 

Of course, her name wasn’t really Lavender, and she didn’t know her neighbors were all demons.  

It started when she swapped city life for pastel-shaded suburbia. The colony had greeted her with smiles and apple pie. In the sun, they had looked like a fever dream, with their beehive wigs and cat-eye sunglasses.  

Because she had moved into the house the colour of pale-purple cream, Lavender now wore dresses and gloves in the same shade. Even her wig had been sown with synthetic strands of grey and violet. 

Sometimes, she fingered the material late at night, concentrating on its staticky whisper, and not the quiet around her.  

 

 

Sunny Springs squatted in the middle of the desert, an oasis amidst jagged mountains and sun-split rock. Their strip of paradise ran along the outskirts of town. Candy-colored homes reigned supreme, with an identical ranch style: low rooflines, single stories, and large windows.  

Lavender walked the neighborhood every day. She marveled at her purple home. To her left was a cherry-red house; on the right, a lemon-lime like grandma’s gelatin salad. Beyond Rose’s house was baby blue and banana yellow and creamsicle orange.  

Sweat trickled down Lavender’s neck, loosening her wig. She adjusted it as she mapped the sidewalks of Sunny Springs. Her violet tracksuit grew darker with each step. On her way home, Sage, Skye, and Daffodil waved from Ginger’s porch.  

Lavender turned to wave back. 

She jumped at the sight of so many crows on the roof. 

 

 

One afternoon, Lavender sat with Rose in her pansy-patterned sitting room. They sipped glasses of iced tea and sampled several pies.  

Sunlight streamed through the window. It lit Rose’s sheath dress and her beehive till they were set aflame. Even her scarlet eyebrows seemed to smoke.  

“How are you doing, sweetie?” Rose asked in her sultry drawl. She lit a cigarette between gloved fingers. 

 

“Better since I came here.” Lavender twisted her napkin. “The panic attacks don’t happen as much.” 

“And the insomnia?” 

At Lavender’s wince, Rose pushed a pie dish toward her. “Black-bottom hazelnut pie. Momma swears by it.”  

“For sleep?” 

Rose grinned. “Oh, no. That shit just tastes good.”   

 

 

The next day, a committee of vultures overtook Lavender’s roof. Their talons sunk into the lilac roofing sheet. When Lavender stepped outside, one of them hissed a drawn-out, raspy sound that made her shrink in fear. 

Lavender ran into her house and latched the door. 

Inside, she paced, wearing grooves with her heels. She kicked them against the wall.  

A sharp knock brought her to a halt. Through the peephole, Lavender saw Rose and hurried to let her inside. Strange barks and grunts echoed around them. Shivering, Lavender closed the door with her body, staring wide-eyed at her friend. 

“What the hell is going on? Vultures only come for the dead!” 

Rose put her hands on Lavender’s shoulders. They were so warm that Lavender flinched. 

“Sweetie, you look ready to leap from your skin. Take some deep breaths. Come on, follow my lead—in, out. Good.” 

 

 

After Rose led them to the sitting room, she took a detour to the bar and poured Lavender a glass of water. Without looking at it, Lavender plucked the glass, scalding her hand. She shrieked and dropped it. 

They both sprang from the couch.  

“I’m so sorry,” Rose lamented. “I must have used the wrong tap.”  

As they bent to collect the shards, something slapped the back of Lavender’s knees. A red tail emerged from Rose’s dress. It had a pointed tip that twitched in the air.  

“I can explain.” 

“You have a tail!”  

A beat of silence passed; then, another. 

Lavender bolted from the room and into the hallway. A body crashed, lurching toward her.  Darting to the side, Lavender ran down the stairs, heading toward her basement. It was the only room with a working lock.  

Right as Lavender reached the door, Rose grabbed her by the neck. She smelled burning meat before she registered the pain.  

 

 

Voices drove Lavender awake. She came to on a cold cement floor, her neck a constant, dull throb. Barren walls surrounded her. To the left was her couch and an old rug; to the right was the staircase.  

Her neighbors stood in front of it. Her friends. 

Rose crouched next to Lavender. “Normally, we would have eased you into this a little more. We’re demons, not barbarians.” 

Ginger raised her beehive. Underneath, two curling horns rose from her scalp. She scratched them. 

“I prefer ‘hellspawn,’” Daffodil said. 

Lavender didn’t think she was getting enough air. 

“Oh, great,” Sage muttered. “You gave her a panic attack.”  

“Rose is the one who tied her up.” Skye glared at them. 

Through her gasps, Lavender watched as Rose effortlessly moved the couch. She lifted the massive rug and threw it to the side. To Lavender’s shock, there was a wooden door in the ground.  

“Sorry, sweetie. Time for a little show and tell.” 

 

 

Rose pried open the door. On the other side was, well, Lavender. But not exactly. This version of her had ash on her face and sulfur in her pores.  

“Finally. You took forever!” Not-Lavender said. 

Lavender gaped at her. “This isn’t real. It can’t be.” 

Not-Lavender rolled her eyes.  

Without another word, the women—demons—pulled Lavender to her feet and held her over the door. She struggled but it was no use. When they pushed her through the entrance, Not-Lavender squeezed past her, stepping into the basement.  

The door shut between them.  

Lavender had tumbled into a 60s diner. She sat on the checkered floor, dumbfounded. Most booths were full of people. They didn’t spare her a glance. 

An older-looking Rose walked toward Lavender. She smiled and pointed to her plate, which held an entire pie. Something moved beneath its crust. 

“Pie, sweetie?”

Alyssa Jordan is a writer living in the United States. She likes to make surprise balls, eat donuts, and drink coffee. In 2020, she won The Molotov Cocktail's Flash Monster contest. You can find her on Twitter @ajordan901.   

dear jupiter

DEAR JUPITER​,

by Susan L. Lin

Don’t tell

the others,

but you were always my favorite.

 

Ever since

I first saw

your Great Red Spot on TV.

 

They called it

your hurricane

so of course I could relate.

 

But now,

they say,

it’s starting to shrink.

 

Might

be gone

in two decades.

 

Please

tell me

that isn’t so.

 

I think

it’s your

best feature.

 

Who’ll

you be

w/out it?

 

Who 

will

I?

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