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PALE ILLUSION • by Patricia J. Dorantes Ham

One day, he got tired of all of the dust that was lying inside of his soul. Tired of that familiar feeling, he decided: don’t wait until the next day to leave for good. Having packed a good bunch of moments inside of an old suitcase, he let out a small sigh before opening the door. For a moment, he wanted to turn back, and at least write a small note telling them about his decision, but the wind was already calling his name. Outside the wind was blowing sweetly, like trying to mumble a sweet ballad for an imaginary lover. The moon was shining in a breathtaking way, like if it were some kind of precious stone.

He looked at that marvelous silver mirror, and then knew what he had to do. It was weird, but that beautiful image made him feel a childlike happiness inside of his tormented heart.  Giving it no more thought, he took a huge leap in the dark, and went to chase the moon. He knew that it was no easy task, but certainly, it was better to spend a life trying to reach a pale mirage than crying in loneliness, like he used to do it.

Tomorrow, some might start looking for him, but they are never going to locate his physical presence in the Earth. His spirit still lingers in the nocturnal air, aiming to get a small taste of love in the arms of a goddess who covers with her starry cap the dreams of all the humans.

Patricia J. Dorantes Ham was born in Mexico City in November 1989. She is currently working as a freelance writer and translator. Her short stories appear in several publications in Spain and Mexico.

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Posted on April 13, 2014 in Stories, Surreal
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LITTLE SNOT • by Pat R. Steiner

The apartment wall vibrated with Vanessa’s pent-up anger.

“I know you’re here, you little snot.”

She turned and locked the door’s deadbolt, letting her school backpack slip from her shoulders to the carpet. It landed with a thud, her first day’s homework forgotten inside. From far down the shadowed hallway came the muffled sounds of Great Auntie’s TV. Vanessa glanced into the much closer kitchenette, and heard her empty stomach grumble. She would take care of her hunger later, for now she had other matters to deal with.

“Come on out, Dearest Bro-bro. Darling Percy. I got something for you.”

She lied. She hadn’t yet settled on her gift for her four-year-old kid brother’s latest outrage. But he wouldn’t know that.

She’d known he’d been up to something that morning, just knew it — his booger-eating grin should’ve been a dead giveaway — but she’d been late for the bus and had snatched the paper bag off the table and jammed it into her backpack without a second glance. She hadn’t noticed the glistening green finger streak marks that he’d used to autograph the bag until lunch hour.

Repeated whacks to the side of the head? Hold him down and tickle him until he peed himself? Pinch him till he cried? She’d tried all of these tactics before without much success — the little snot had an unbelievable tolerance for pain. Every time she thought she’d applied the correct revenge for one of the disgusting things he did to her, he would give her that slow sloppy grin, the one that disarmed every adult but made Vanessa seethe.

When no one replied to her greeting, she headed toward her bedroom. Of course, he’d be there, rummaging through her personal stuff while she’d been forced to attend school, getting his booger-covered fingerprints on everything. It wasn’t fair. Great Auntie never even yelled at him. He’s you’re little brother Vanessa. You’ve got to look out for him. Love him. She walked by the bathroom, heard his irritating melodic voice coming from behind the closed door, and paused to listen.

“Aw-mos god you. Aw… mos.”

He sounded excited, but at least he wasn’t in her room.

After the aborted lunch, the remaining school hours had crawled along as slowly as any caterpillar, always moving but never seeming to get anywhere. Vanessa had put the passing minutes to good use — while the new math teacher went over his countless boring class procedures, polices, and goals she had used each moment to feed her anger at Percy for his sick joke. By the time the dismissal bell rang, the clock hanging from the classroom wall had Percy’s ugly face, its hands her brother’s goofy crooked grin, smirking down at her. She’d stormed out the school building a miniature tornado. He’d ruined her first day of school, the little snot.

“Aw-mos. God you.”

What was he doing? Without making a sound, she placed her ear against the door, grabbed the cool knob, turned, but then hesitated. She could only imagine what new grotesque thing he was up to.

He shouted, “There,” and the door suddenly swung open in her hands.

She expected to see him playing with his boy-thingy, had intended to embarrass him about it. During homeroom while class schedules were being handed out, her brand new on-the-spot best friend, Sherry, had leaned over and whispered to Vanessa that all boys did that, even little ones. Beat their meat. Vanessa had seen Percy’s enough times in the past when she’d changed his dirty baby diapers that she knew what to expect, so she was a bit taken aback — and disappointed — when he (fully clothed) leaped through the door and grinned at her.

“Hey, Sissy, when you get home? No, nevermind — you gotta check this out.” He held up his small hand. Lying in his palm was what looked like a squashed raisin. “Is in it coolest ever? God it awe in one peas.”

Vanessa stepped backwards, her anger forgotten for the moment by his excitement. “You got all of what?”

In reply, his lop-sided grin widened. He raised his other hand, displaying his forearm to her. “See? Pretty cool trick, huh?”

Trick? She had no idea what he was talking about, but then she noticed the silvery patch of skin right above his elbow, its shape a light reflection of the dark object in his hand, and remembered the scab.

They’d been playing in the overgrown lot next door. He’d been pestering her about school nonstop for what seemed like forever. Wanting to know what it was like, what kind of neat stuff they did there, what were the teachers like? Would she learn about dinosaurs? And woolly mammoths? And astronauts? Growing frustrated by the continuous barrage, she’d finally pushed him. Harder than she’d planned. He’d fallen onto a broken cinderblock. The resulting gash had bled a lot before it scabbed over. He hadn’t cried until he noticed the tears that marred her cheeks.

Now Vanessa watched open-mouthed as Percy picked up the scab between his thumb and forefinger and offered it to her much as the preacher did the communion wafers at Sunday mass. Her empty stomach heaved. She bent over and gagged but nothing came up.

When she looked back, Percy said, “Bet they don’ teach you how do that at your dumb old school, do they?”

It hit her then: the little snot was jealous. He’d put the boogers on her lunch bag because he’d wanted to go to school too. Hadn’t the glistening marks looked like a badly drawn P? She almost started to laugh, but before she could press her lips into a smile, he beat her to the punch once more, giving her the final knockout blow, disrupting her moment to gloat by popping the scab into his mouth. Eyes aglow, he chewed a few times, gave her a yummy thumbs-up, and then swallowed.

Afterwards, the famous grin returned and he said, “Did in think so.”

As a child, Pat R. Steiner once found himself hanging from a nail pounded into a tree. Left there by his older siblings, he happily communed with the tree until his mother dragged the whereabouts of the missing youngster from the guilt-ridden children. Since then he has had a fascination with nature (including the human variety) along with its many mysteries. His writings and art are his attempts to explain these BIG QUESTIONS as well as those more mundane. Pat’s stories have appeared in many small print anthologies. He lives in Wisconsin with his wife and two children.

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Posted on April 12, 2014 in Humour/Satire, Stories
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EIGHT MONTHS LEFT • by Katrina S. Forest

The officer emerged from nowhere, and seeing her made me want to crush the steering wheel into putty. They’d told me this path was clear. Told me no one bothered to guard some backwards road that just led to forests and dirt. Now my mind raced as I watched the uniformed woman approach, all muscular arms and confident steps. Maybe I could speed past her? Yeah, right. The old car barely crawled on these rocks. What were the odds she had the equipment to activate my tag? If she did activate it, my corpse wouldn’t drive well.

So I pulled to a stop. In those precious seconds before the officer reached my window, I checked the back seat and found Aria still sleeping. Even better, the blanket covered everything except her hair. I stared forward.

“Ellice Johnson,” the officer read off her scanner. “Step out of the car.”

My voice squeaked when I answered. “Why?”

Instead of snapping back, the woman looked like she’d swallowed something bitter. “Oh, please tell me…” she brushed a curl of hair aside. “Tell me you know that you’re a half-breed.”

My plan was to answer as little as possible, but her words threw me. “How does someone not know that?”

The officer shrugged. “You’d be surprised what the hum– what the mind can deny when it needs to.”

I nodded, rethinking my initial plan. Better to stall. Better to keep her talking while I decided what to do.

“So,” the officer said, “Who’s the alien? Your mom or dad?”

“Dad,” I said after a moment.

She tilted her head like this was an oddity. “How long were they together? ‘Cause this one half-breed told me her mom posed as human for five years before they had–”

“One-night stand,” I said.


We waited in silence a while, the officer’s eyes never leaving my arm. My sleeves had slid back now, revealing indigo scales underneath.

“Look, can you just let me pass?” I said, attempting a sigh. Judging from this woman’s stare and tone, she had a genuine fascination with half-breeds. Maybe I could use that to my advantage. “There’s nothing out there, and I really just… I want to get away from everything for a bit.”

“Why? You think you’re gonna change before your tag goes off?”

“No,” I snapped. Not that I knew what changing felt like, but everyone who saw my arm thought it would happen any second. Wasn’t that the whole point of the tagging system? Give me a few months to settle my affairs, but kill me before I changed and went on a murdering rampage?

“If you’re not gonna change, you might as well stay,” the woman said. “I mean, if there’s nothing out there.”

My throat constricted. A dozen excuses launched in my mind, but they fizzled into nonsense before they formed words. And while I sat immobile, the officer’s gaze wandered along the car’s side. I had to say something, anything to get her attention back on me, but the panic poisoned my mind. Helplessly, I watched her peek in the back window. Her body tensed.

“Someone’s there,” she said.

My voice returned way too late. “She’s sleeping.”

“I can see that. Pull the blanket back.”

I reached behind the seat. What would I do when she saw? Beg her? Kill her? We were just supposed to slip through unnoticed, no confrontations. I wasn’t the type of person to handle this choice.  Slowly, I tugged at the blanket’s side, and it fell to the floor.

Aria stirred and pulled her indigo arms closer together, but remained asleep. Her scales went up to her neck, revealing just how much closer she was to changing than I was. The officer gasped and stumbled back.

“My scanner only showed one,” she breathed, “you’ve got… she’s untagged.”

“She’s also nine years old,” I said, picking the youngest age I might get away with. I glanced back at Aria’s teenage figure and wished I’d gone higher. “They say… I mean, someone told me that the violent urges… that it’s just a stage, you know? If it runs its course away from people, where we can just survive on animals for a few weeks… we’ll get our minds back. You don’t…” I leaned forward, trying to hide my quivering hands. “…you don’t have to kill us.”

“People say lots of things when someone’s about to die. Doesn’t make it all true.”

I growled under my breath. This wasn’t working. I couldn’t reason with this woman. I had to move past her. She’d yet to pull a tag activation device on me. Probably didn’t have one. The gas just needed one good push, and yet…

“Will you kill me if I don’t let you pass?”

That did it. My grip on the wheel loosened, hot tears streamed down my face, and heavy breaths muddled my words. “I’m scared… I’ve never killed anyone. If I don’t, you’ll report her, I know, but…” I shut my eyes, willing my voice to stay low. “I’m scared.”

I didn’t see quite what happened next, but I heard the woman open the back door. For once, I reacted on time. My door flew open, but before I could step out, the woman said,

“Wake her. Tell her to go.”

I froze, thinking I must’ve heard wrong. Or that she was baiting me to attack. But, no, she pointed down the road ahead of us, almost looking depressed. “I don’t kill kids,” she said. “Or peop– or those who won’t hurt me even when they should.” She reached into her back pocket and pulled out a small, familiar-looking remote. “I can’t remove your tag,” she said. “But I can set it off when she’s gone. I mean… if that’s something you want.”

I shook my head. Driving out here might’ve been the first worthwhile thing I’d done with my life. And I had eight months left. Time to see what I could make of them.

Katrina S. Forest is a Clarion West alumna who has sold work to a variety of magazines, ranging from True Confessions to Highlights for Children. Her kids think she’s strange, but don’t say so because that word is not yet in either of their vocabularies.

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Posted on April 11, 2014 in Science Fiction, Stories
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THE WHITE DOOR • by Patrick Tiffany

Anji labored up the last few stairs, electric pain lancing through her body with each step. The rest of the class had long since passed in a scurry. They were blissfully ignorant to her struggles.

She had to hurry; the lunch hour was quickly winding down. Just a few more…

A spasm rocked her legs, and she collapsed in a heap of useless flesh. Her eyes bled tears as she stifled a cry. Flush with embarrassment, she managed to heave her body upright.

It was one of the few times she was glad to be forever alone.

Mocking stares met her at the classroom door. Waddling, wheezing, and light in the head, she finally found her seat just in time for the chime. The other children gathered their trays and empty milk cartons. Anji chanced a pleading look to her teacher, Mr. Mori, stick thin and humorless; but he only shrugged indifferently. That ubiquitous notion: can’t be helped.

Rules were rules. Special privilege was never given.

“I don’t know how she can be so fat when she never eats lunch,” one boy jeered, much to the amusement of his tablemates.

“It’s because she’s half-American. Don’t you know all Americans are fat?” another girl informed her.

Swallowing the wound, Anji brushed sickly strands of hair to cover her red-stained eyes.

Her blubbering would be ignored regardless. Cleanup students buzzed about like worker bees; more diligent peons in the making. Mr. Mori oversaw with military precision. Everyone fit so snuggly in their uniform culture, but there was no place for Anji here.

After lunch, the class departed for English in the foreign language room. The other students ardently hated it. What use did they have for broadening their minds? But Anji thrived here, soaking up every modicum of the language. It fed her dreams of a foreign paradise; offered an escape from the prison of this rigid society.

The impassive class greeting was already finished by the time Anji arrived. Their native assistant, Mr. Steve, stood nonchalantly to one side, making silent jokes with two of the quieter girls. He smiled and nodded as Anji sat, puffing hopelessly for air. Mr. Mori drawled on about the day’s lesson. His accent was atrocious, but he clearly didn’t trust Mr. Steve enough to do much of anything in class except introduce vocabulary. Little was thought of foreign workers’ capabilities in their town.

Mr. Steve snapped from his stupor, diving into the new words practice on cue. “Okay, repeat after me!”

As the monotonous list of vocabulary droned on, Anji wondered: perhaps he too faced the same isolation, eternally an outsider in this programmed world.

Problem sets arrived, and though the simple grammar points eluded the rest of the students, Anji faced each question with boundless vigor. The others sniggered at her diligence. It was just one more rift between them. “What does she hope to accomplish?” they wondered.

Fluency seemed an impossible pipe dream. But if she could just succeed in this one thing, it might give her the option, however improbable, of a brighter future. Even after the chime Anji studied on; the world around her drowned in syntax and spellings.

When she finally looked up from her work, the room was deserted save for Mr. Steve, gathering a pile of perpetually unused games and stickers. Ignoring the closer exit, he approached Anji, and her heart leapt frantically. She had never spoken with him in the two years he had been teaching.

Outside of class he seemed exhausted, his weary eyes worn beyond the years of his youth. He greeted her with a wistful smile. “Did you enjoy today’s class, Anji?”

“Yes, Mr. Steve. Thank you.”

He nodded pensively. “Tell me something; why don’t you raise your hand during class?”

“I’m sorry. Nobody participates. It isn’t my place.”

He seemed disappointed. “Why not? I visit six different schools, and amongst all those students, you’re the only one who has shown any interest in English. Or another culture for that matter. I’ve heard you practicing your pronunciation. You’re miles ahead of your classmates.”

“You don’t understand. I can’t. We’re taught to fit in. It’s in poor taste to show off one’s skill.”

The aberrant flower must be plucked.

He frowned. “Did you hear that in moral education class, where they teach you what to think and feel?”

She shrugged meekly.

“Listen to me.” His eyes searched with worry. “There’s nothing wrong with having dreams and goals. I gave up on mine, and now I’m coasting through a life I loathe.”

He paused, but Anji was at a loss for words.

“However, there is something special that keeps me going.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a secret, but I suppose I could share it with you,” he said with a wink. A spark of energy had touched him.

Reaching into his teacher’s bag, he produced a thin, hardcover book. The cover was stark: a russet field with a frameless white door.

He offered it. “This is The White Door, my favorite book. It’s unique; not another copy exists.”

“What’s it about?” she asked.

“Whatever you want,” he replied with a warm chuckle. “Take care of it for me.”

After he left, Anji inspected the book, only to find the pages blank within. Crestfallen, she gathered her things and headed for the door.

Touching the handle, she felt a static tingle. As she slid the warped wood door, a magnificent world opened up before her. The corroded concrete of her school was gone, replaced by vibrant hues of tangerine and lilac. Colorful lichens encrusted the walls, and a hint of roses scented the air. Amazingly, Anji found that the pain was gone. Her encumbrance had somehow lifted. For the first time in her life, she could move freely.

Overcome with emotion, she opened the book once more. This time the pages were filled. Cover to cover a magical story unfolded: a journey of love and wonder.

Anji blinked back tears. It was her story.

Patrick Tiffany is an Indiana native and speculative fiction enthusiast. He is currently working as an ESL instructor in Japan.

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Posted on April 10, 2014 in Inspirational, Stories, Surreal
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CHATTER • by Rachel Gurevich

Old Edith, Carolina, Ralph, and I decide to go downtown to Flash Mash, dance club slash well-stocked bar. Old Edith and I aren’t sure it’s a great idea, but Ralph wants to drink and Carolina is dying to party. Anyway, Jeannette’s been encouraging us to do more together, said it’s good for us, so we go.

Carolina leads us into the club, and though it’s a snowy January night, she’s wearing fishnet stockings, silver high heels, and a leather mini plus halter top, adorned with dead end zippers and crystal studs. Techno beats rattle my ribs, while strobe lights reflect off zipper teeth and faux gems. Men and women gyrate together and apart on the dance floor; clouds of cigarette smoke and fake fog drift like spirits between swaying bodies. Cheap perfume, pheromone heavy sweat, and alcohol infused breath linger in the air.

Old Edith wants to find a nice spot to sit, nice not being a word I associate with a place like this, but she’s trying to take care of everyone, as she always does.  Ralph wants a drink and strong arms his way to the bar. Carolina wants to dance, but Ralph holds her back. He always gets what he wants.

When Ralph starts his fourth Southern Screw, a 20-something hunk with greased back hair, one ruby earing, and oversized arms sits on the stool next to us. Though Ralph is right there, the hunk only sees Carolina, and in an instant, Carolina is in action; she slides her hands over Hunk’s thick thighs and sways her back, pushing out her chest.

Hunk playfully yanks Carolina onto the dance floor, then grabs her by the waist and grinds his pelvis into the leather mini. Old Edith wants Carolina to sit back down and find a nice boy. Ralph enjoys the rough moves but remains alert. Carolina is aching with want, and I’ve lost control over everyone, probably three drinks ago.

Carolina and Hunk mash their bodies to Dragonette’s Hello and then, delivered by an electrified and stuttering Lady Gaga, to beat of Bad Romance. The DJ switches to a base-heavy, heart-bursting techno track and pumps up the volume; my ear drums throb from the auditory beating. The strobe lights transition from blues and yellows to dimmer reds and greens, and that’s when Hunk leads Carolina to the opposite end of the club and into an old coat room with wire hangers and metal racks.

Against yellow peeling paint, Hunk smashes his lips into Carolina’s. He starts pulling down the mini skirt. Carolina pushes Hunk’s hands away; she doesn’t want this. That’s when Hunk grabs her by the upper arms, turns her around, and slams her chest first into the wall. He grabs a metal hanger and threatens to strangle her if she doesn’t shut the fuck up. Hunk turns Carolina back around and reaches down to unbutton his pants, but before he can unzip, Ralph’s there in an instant. With one, two, three sharp knees to the balls, Hunk is on the floor, and we’re running — out of the coat room, down a darkened hallway, and away from the haunting, pulsating club.

We toss Carolina’s silver high heels into a snowbank, then run several blocks through icy, empty city streets; slipping and sliding, yet not falling, almost skating away. Finally, we wave down a taxi. As the cabbie maneuvers slick downtown alleyways, followed by intercity highways, the street lamps bend towards the car, their aura blurred, shaming.

Once home, I’m shivering at the dining room table. Old Edith is reviewing what went wrong. She blames me. Ralph agrees. Carolina is gone, and after a half hour of rocking back and forth on a chair, it’s just me and Ralph. He’s angry, talking about knives and sleeping pills. I try to ignore him, but he won’t shut up, so despite the late hour of four in the morning, I dial Jeannette.

She’s not picking up, so I dial again and again, until her groggy voice answers. I tell her everything — about the club, about Carolina’s dancing, about Ralph’s drinking. I tell her about Hunk, the near assault, and running through the wintry downtown. Then, I tell her about Ralph’s instability.

She asks for Ralph. I blink, and I fade, and Ralph speaks. He and she talk about staying safe and make a deal to talk more tomorrow at the mental health clinic. Jeannette then asks for me, I blink, and I’m back. She guides me through therapeutic imagery, as I picture turning down a mental volume control. Ralph fades away, until his chattering is no louder than the nearby refrigerator’s hum.

We hang up.

It is quiet.

I throw a fleece blanket into the dryer. Take off the damp and torn fishnet stockings, the leather mini, and the beaded halter top. Wrap the now warmed blanket tightly around my bare body.

The once audible buzz of voices — Ralph, Carolina, and Old Edith — are momentarily silent. Their chatter contained.

I am alone.

A creative writer and womb warrior, Rachel Gurevich’s poetry and fiction has appeared here and there. Rachel’s best known as the fertility expert at About.com, as the author of The Doula Advantage (Three Rivers Press, 2003) and as the coauthor of Birth Plans for Dummies (Wiley, 2012). She’d love to connect with you on Twitter @RachelGurevich, or have you visit her website at RachelGurevich.com.

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Posted on April 9, 2014 in Literary, Stories
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