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THAT NIGHT, IN YOUR ROOM • by Cathy S. Ulrich

That night, I put my head to your chest — do you remember that? This was before you died — and listened to the sound of your heart beating.

I had come over to your place; you hadn’t invited me. You never did, except you said come by and see me sometime, like you were Mae West as a boy, and I’d come by and sometimes you’d be there and sometimes you wouldn’t, and that night, you were.

The television was playing in the other room and you had caps hung up on nails on the wall behind your bed. Summer was just getting over or it was just beginning, and you had the window cracked.

I still remember the last time we kissed: I hadn’t seen you in years, but there you were downtown, and I pulled over and offered you a ride, for old time’s sake, playing chivalrous, like I was Jimmy Stewart as a girl, and you kissed me before you got out of the car and said don’t tell, and I said who would I tell anyway, and you laughed and were gone. And this was before you went off to Portland to get married, and to die.

But before you died, before your wedding, before our last kiss, I came to your place and we ended up in your bedroom. My head was resting on your chest and you had your arms around me, or maybe you didn’t, and I could hear the sound of your heart: So real, so alive and, maybe, sometimes, beating faster for me, and that was the night, the only night, that I might have told you that I loved you, but I never did and, instead, listened to the sound of your beating heart.


Cathy S. Ulrich should have written this story before her poetry teacher died. She was the officiant at his service.


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Posted on September 19, 2014 in Literary, Stories
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BACKSTITCHES IN TIME • by M. E. Garber

Ignoring her sobbing grandchild, Moira’s knobby fingers deftly made a single backstitch. She tugged, ever so gently, and the fabric pulled close again. She inspected her work, seeking any flaw, but there was none. The unraveling threads were invisibly re-bound; the tapestry appeared seamless.

She looked down at the one who’d caused this mess. The girl cried, her empty hands clutching air where moments before they’d held scissors. Turning back to the cloth, Moira peered closer and assessed her repair. Nine stitches saved, preventing a hole in her life’s work.

Moira knew the child had meant to help. She had an aptitude for, and a deep calling to, the Threads. But meddling! It could not be tolerated. She made her granddaughter look at the repair — look deeply, below the surface:

ONE: In St. Louis, Eileen Campbell sat in her doctor’s office with tears streaming down her face. The cancer that had ravaged three years of her life — that had turned her thick auburn hair into a sleek skull, that had wasted her muscles frame while making her simultaneously puffy, like an overripe tomato — was gone. The lab results, and the follow-up ones, had come back completely clear. She dropped her face into her hands and wept.

TWO: Down the river in Natchez, Mississippi, Mae Simmons woke up in the middle of the afternoon. She’d been cringing, waiting for her boyfriend to come home and beat her. As she awoke, her spine straightened. Her head cleared, her eyes sharpened, and her stomach went hard and cold. Thinking logically for the first time she could recall, Mae tossed essentials into a backpack one-handed. Her other arm, still cradled in the sling the EMT had given her yesterday, burned with pins and needles, urging her to work faster. With twenty minutes to spare, she walked out that door forever.

THREE, FOUR, FIVE, SIX, AND SEVEN: Colby Dean Whittaker took a deep breath. The school hallway smelled of old sneakers and disinfectant that leached out of the restrooms where he’d been teased and taunted for three years. His hand, reaching into his pocket ever so slowly, met the coldness of the gunmetal and he shivered. Something within him, something hot and angry, curled up and died. The deep chill of the metal, so like the desolation of his grandmother’s funeral, changed his mind. Instead of walking further, of continuing his plan to waste the gymnasium full of students, he twisted around and headed back outside. He strode to the duck pond, where he threw the gun with all his strength and watched it sink, traceless in the depths.

EIGHT: Carlotta Ruiz weighed the pills in her hand, thinking, Surely this is enough? Isn’t it? Squinting in the too-bright bathroom lighting, she tipped a few more into her palm for good measure. As she did, the phone rang. Again. It had rung a moment before, and she’d let it go to voicemail without even checking the caller ID. She hesitated now, looking from the pills to her phone vibrating by the sink. It trilled again. Carlotta lifted the phone with her right hand, pills clutched tight in her left. This would be her final sign. “I had to call,” came her daughter’s voice, “and say how sorry I am. I love you so much, and I didn’t mean….” Carlotta’s hand opened, releasing the pills into the toilet. Shaking a little, she reached out and pulled the flush lever, while tears blurred her vision.

NINE:  A dark shape yowled and raced toward him from the blackness, so Harun Bahir did not step into the alley. The cat brushed by his ankles in a panic, and he stopped, leaning on the wall beside the black mouth of the alley, and listened. The female voice he’d heard a moment before, the scared one, crying softly for help, was replaced by whispered guttural curses of three men as they bitched about the cat ruining their setup. Harun Bahir stepped back, away from the alley’s mouth, and hurried back into the safety of the brightly-lit streets of the city.

A frayed thread waved, pulling Moira’s attention to where it had been cut. Cut! Moira frowned as she pulled out her spindles to find the one with the severed thread. She pulled the roughly-cut thread from her spindle up to the tapesty’s cut end, wet her fingers, and rubbed the ends, twisting them irrevocably together. Then she made the girl look at that repair, as well.

As one being, the staff around the operating table relaxed as it became clear their patient would live. Seiichi Narita had been clinically dead for two minutes, but his heart was beating normally, and he was breathing peacefully again. A nurse cleaned and put the paddles away.

She gave a sharp nod of satisfaction, then looked down her crooked nose to her grandchild, who cried silently beside her.

“What have you learned, then?” she asked, keeping her voice stern.

There was no room for sweetness, not when this child might become the next Moira. After centuries at her craft, the current Moira observed forming patterns and judged them carefully before she wove them into Fate. Her grandchild’s next words would hold weight.

The child sniffed, then gazed up with wide eyes. “Grandmas really do know everything.”


M. E. Garber grew up reading about hobbits, space-travel, and dragons, so it’s no wonder that she enjoys writing speculative fiction, and dreams of traveling the world(s). She used to live near the home of Duck Tape, then near the home of Nylabone. Now she lives near the home of Gatorade. She’s a 2013 graduate of the Viable Paradise Writers’ Workshop. You can find her blog at megarber.wordpress.com.


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Posted on September 18, 2014 in Fantasy, Stories
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BARN SWALLOW AND MASTER OWL • by Alaina Ewing

Swallow fluffed out her blue and orange feathers and shook her head. She watched for Master Owl with a careful eye from her favorite branch on the Silver Birch near the field. Today she had something important to tell him.

The barn owl swooped down to catch a mouse, grasped it with his talons, and glided up to her branch before touching down. Master Owl looked at her, clicked his beak three times, then swallowed his mouse.

Swallow shuddered.

“Top of the mornin’ to ya, my young apprentice,” he said, then fluffed out his own brown and white feathers.

“Good morning, Master,” Swallow said. “I have made a decision about the migration.”

Master Owl turned his head to a ninety-degree angle.

“I’ve decided,” she continued, “that I’m going to stay here for the winter.”

Swallow puffed out her pink, orange chest. She clicked her own beak several times.

“My young apprentice,” Owl said, “that is suicide. You know your tiny body cannot survive a winter here.”

“I can survive.”

“How will you find food?”

Swallow fluttered her wings and said, “I will eat the worms from Farmer’s compost and the berries I have gathered and dried over the months.”

“What of warmth? Surely you will die of cold if you stay here.” Owl turned his head upright again and stretched his legs one at a time.

“No, Master Owl, I will not die. I have the barn to keep me warm when you are gone, and when you are here, I will have your soft underbelly feathers to keep me warm.”

Master Owl hooted and looked straight at Swallow. He hopped to a higher branch, looking down at Swallow now.

“Why do you want to stay here rather than fly off with your flock?”

“I am not like my flock, Master. I am my own bird. I want to see winter and snow and feel the icy wind under my wings.”

Swallow watched as Master Owl expanded his wings to full width. They were enormous. At least ten of her fit on one wing. His feathers were longer than her entire body.

Owl took flight and circled the tree. Swallow wasn’t sure why. She only knew him to do that when he was frustrated with her not understanding her lessons. But this was different. She understood perfectly what she was doing. Knew what she wanted and had planned for months to make her dream a reality.

When Master Owl landed again, he perched even higher up on the Birch than before. He raised his head, bobbed up and down, and looked at Swallow again.

“Young apprentice, you must listen to me,” Owl began. “You cannot do this. The wise choice will be to fly south for the winter and return when the berries are fresh, flies are abundant, and the ground thawed. You risk too much.”

“I risk what I must to live my dream, Master,” she said, standing tall.

“Your dream is to die?”

“My dream is to experience winter. Whether good or bad. To be part of it. To see things die and grow again in the spring.”

“Then you are a silly swallow who does not understand what I have taught.” Owl clicked his beak in annoyance and hopped down the branch, making the entire thing wobble under his weight.

“I am not a silly swallow. I understand much you taught me, which is why I planned this out. I am not afraid to be different. Not afraid to be myself. I want to know winter, so I will know winter.”

“And what if I should get hungry and eat you? Have you thought of that?” Owl moved to the same branch as Swallow and stuck his head in her face. His beak less than an inch from her.

“Then you will be the one at a loss.”

Master Owl stumbled away from her. His eyes widened. She moved closer to him.

“How would I be at a loss if I ate you? It is you that would lose your life, Swallow.”

“I may lose my life even if you don’t eat me. That is not the point. Living my dream is. If you got hungry and ate me, I would die knowing that I lived my dream. That I wasn’t afraid to be myself and wasn’t afraid to back down even with the threat of death. I would die happy and fulfilled.”

Master Owl looked into the field, his eyes locking on another mouse.

“You, Master Owl, would die too,” she said with heavy intent.

He looked back at her.

“How would I die? I am the Master, knower of things, the wise owl…”

“Yes, a wise Master who has taught me many things.” Swallow hopped closer to him. “Including what guilt and regret do to us.”

Master Owl lowered his head.

“If you ate me, you would be filled with sorrow. You would stare at my regurgitated bones every day, knowing that you lost control and consumed your dearest apprentice and friend. Your guilt would eat you alive, and soon, you’d join me in the after.

“So, Master Owl, my plan to experience winter is not silly or unthoughtful. I have put a great deal of planning into this, and I am willing to risk what must be risked, to feel what I want to feel. But if you are unwilling to take that journey with me, because of your fear, then I will experience winter alone. The point is… I will experience it. This is my choice and I am telling you that I made my decision.”

Master Owl bobbed his head up and down again and hopped to a branch below Swallow.

“Today,” he said, “you are the Master, and I the apprentice.” Then he stretched out his wings and bowed his head.


Alaina Ewing lives in the Pacific Northwest and writes science fiction, fantasy, young adult, mainstream, and just about anything that fits her mood. Her novel The Heart-Shaped Emblor and short story “Blood of the Mother” (in the anthology Witches, Stitches & Bitches) are printed by Evil Girlfriend Media.


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Posted on September 17, 2014 in Inspirational, Stories
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BACK OWN MY STAB • by Lou Antonelli

“Hello, Martin. Can I join you?”

“Sure, sit right down.”

“Thanks.”

“Well, Joan, how long has it been since we had a drink together? Fifty years?”

“At least.”

A waitress came over and took her drink order.

Martin hoisted his mug of beer.

“My wife is a fifth-generation Texas Baptist, so she never drinks. But she knows I’ll have a beer occasionally.”

He put the mug down and looked at his old girlfriend. “She’s sleeping in, it was a late night. I didn’t want to disturb her.”

“It looks like you certainly found the right girl,” Joan said. “I could tell from the way you looked at each other all night during the reunion.”

“Yeah, it took a while. I didn’t get married until I was 40, but it was worth the wait. I suppose you found the right guy, too.”

“I did, we had 45 wonderful years together. He passed away last year,” Joan said.

“I’m sorry.  Do you have a family?”

“Three children, four grandchildren,” she said with a smile.

“Paula and I couldn’t have children.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“Oh, it’s just as well,” Martin said. “I probably would have made a terrible father, I spend so much time writing.” He looked thoughtful.

Joan looked at him, and gasped.

He looked up. “What is it?”

“Oh, my God, sitting here up close, listening to you… It was you!”

“It was me, what?”

“It was you, the man who came up to me on the Boston Common! It was you!”

“The Boston Common? The outdoor art exhibit? That was our last date. You dumped me like a ton of bricks after that.”

“Because of what the old man said, about you. But it was you! I recognize you now! I haven’t seen you in years, but it was you! Still, you looked even older than you do now.”

“You’re making no sense!”

“Remember when you went to the concession stand to get some hot dogs and drinks?”

“Yes, it took forever, the line was very long. When I finally got back, you had a bad attitude, had it for the rest of the day. Then you dumped me.” He winced. “I never did figure out what went wrong that day. And you never told me.”

“While I was sitting on the bench, a very old man came up to me — he walked with two canes. He sat down right next to me and said, “Hi, Joan.’”

“Who was he?”

“He said he had some important advice. He said he was related to you — I assumed because of his age he was a grand-uncle or something. He knew stuff about you only a relative would know.”

“Go on.”

“He said you really didn’t love me, you were only deeply in lust with me, that you were just a horny teenager and wanted to get me in bed and bang my brains out,” she said.  “He said if I was smart I’d throw you over, that you weren’t mature enough to have a real relationship.”

Joan stared him in the eye.  “You look like you think I’m crazy.”

“No, I’m amazed at what I pulled off,” he said.  “Did he mention a soybean field?”

“Ahh!” she gasped.

“Thought so.  It’s a joke I heard after I moved to Texas,” he said.  “About the differences between what teenage boys and girls want in a relationship.  The girl wants to be pampered and made to feel special and cuddled and listened to — and the boy is just looking at her, thinking “I just want to plow you like a soybean field.’”

Joan stared at him.  “So it was you?  But you were older, even older than now.”

“At my last check-up, the doctor said my heart is in great condition, my one problem is diabetes, and the neuropathy is slowly spreading in my legs.  Which is why when I’m older I will probably need to use a cane — or two. But otherwise my health is fine for a man of 68, and I may live a long time yet — maybe long enough that in the future I can hitch a ride in a time machine,” he said. “It all comes full circle; if you hadn’t dumped me, I wouldn’t have accepted the admission from UT and moved to Texas — which is where I met Paula in 1995.”

“UT is where I joined the science fiction club.” He smiled, thinly. “I have geeky chums right now who are working on time travel. In the future, if — I guess now I should say, when — it happens, going back to 1965 and telling you to dump my ass sounds exactly like something I would do. In retrospect, we weren’t all that compatible.”

He raised his mug and took a gulp. “Years after I moved to Texas, one day I heard that joke about soybeans, and I realized that’s why you were smart to dump me, because it was true about me — I had no good intentions, I just wanted to bang you until you started singing opera. I needed a lot of maturing. That’s why I wasn’t a decent prospect for marriage until I was middle-aged. Paula was the first gal who thought I would be worth the trouble.”

He rested the mug on the tabletop. “Now with all these years under my belt, I believe your story.

He chuckled. “Back own my stab.”

“What’s that mean?” Joan asked.

“That’s ‘stab my own back’, backwards,” he said. “Which is what I did. I’m sure our marriage would have been terrible. Instead, we both have been happy, just not with each other.”

He pushed a twenty-dollar bill across the table.

“A happy ending, courtesy of my future self. This is for our drinks and a tip. I gotta go. Paula is probably up by now.”

Joan looked amazed. “It’s too crazy to believe!”

Martin smiled as he got up. “That’s why it’s called science fiction.”


A life-long science fiction reader, Lou Antonelli turned his hand to writing fiction in middle age; his first story was published in 2003 when he was 46. Since then he has had 81 short stories published in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia, in venues such as Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jim Baen’s Universe, Dark Recesses, Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine, Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD), and Daily Science Fiction, among others. His story “Great White Ship”, originally published in Daily Science Fiction, was a 2013 finalist for the Sidewise Award for alternate history.


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Posted on September 16, 2014 in Science Fiction, Stories
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TRUST ISSUES • by Laura J. Henson

Bitsy squeezed out the last of the baby oil and spread it on her sixth leg. She rummaged in her bag for the new bottle she had bought that morning with several other necessities.  Just as she found it buried under the latest issue of Nursery Crimes, a shadow fell over her.

“It rained last night,” said a smoke-rasped voice behind her.

“The sun’s out now.” She popped open the bottle and dribbled oil onto her seventh leg.

Harry plopped down beside her, grunting a little as his fat body hit the ground. “You should have come over. I was worried.”

She snorted.  “I didn’t want to interrupt your little party.”

“Hey, if the fly’s in my parlor, the old lady can’t swallow her.”

“And if she doesn’t swallow the fly, she doesn’t swallow the spider.  I’ve heard that before, Harry.”

Harry puffed on his cigar and blew out a smoke ring. “That parlor could use a woman’s touch. You could redo it, redo the whole damn house. I’d give you carte blanche. Anything you want, price be damned.”  Harry inched one of his feet over and slid his toes over hers.

She jerked her foot away. “Only if I could lock you out of it.”

Harry glowered at her with all six of his good eyes. “This bohemian lifestyle you’re so set on is no way to live. I promised your grandmother I would look out for you. She always wanted us to be married one day. That’s why she made me trustee of the estate.”

“Oh, go sit on a tuffet.” Bitsy closed her eyes, leaned back and angled the reflector under her chin.

“You can’t live in a waterspout forever. And you can’t afford the rent anywhere else or even this hovel for very much longer. You need to grow up, Bitsy. Remember which side of the bread is buttered, and who has the knife.”

Bitsy ignored him, humming a popular little ditty under her breath.

“You will marry me, Bitsy. I’ll even let you pick the date, as long as you make it soon.”

Bitsy hummed a little louder.

Harry loomed over her, blocking her sun for a minute or two, before she heard him stomp off.

“Soon, Bitsy. My patience won’t last forever.” His words floated back to her on the wind.

“Prick,” she muttered.

When she was sure he was gone, she opened her eyes and her magazine.

Nursery Crimes was a secret indulgence of hers.  The lurid illustrations and gruff prose that filled the magazine’s pages filled her with cheap titillation and a sense of superiority when she compared her carefree existence to the sordid and often brutally short lives depicted within its pages.

She certainly needed the distraction today. Any day she saw Harry she needed major distraction, and a margarita or maybe six.

Today, however, she got something else from the stories; inspiration.

A quick trip to the corner store with a few shillings got her paper, envelopes and stamps. She worked out the wording of the notes carefully and wrote them out in her best penmanship. She addressed the first to the fly in question and the second to a voracious old lady on the next street over but one. Bitsy slipped them into the post and settled back to let nature take its course.

She worked just as carefully on the third. It was addressed to the classified department at the newspaper but she tucked it aside for later.

Things worked out a bit slower than she anticipated, but eventually she had an occasion to wear her black hat with the heavy lace veil in public.

She mailed that third letter the day before the funeral. The classifieds were tucked into her beaded black clutch at the event, folded open to a copy of the advertisement.

For Sale or Rent: House on Sycamore St., 4 bdrms/2.5 baths, gourmet kitchen, large comfortable parlor.

Even with Harry gone, she wasn’t the least interested in living in that mausoleum.


Laura J. Henson lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter and one and a half cats. She is the author of Ten Little Elvi, and her award winning manuscript Quest for a Queen is currently seeking representation.


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Posted on September 15, 2014 in Humour/Satire, Stories
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