Partly Cloudy with a Chance for Joy

The low clouds only added insult to the oppression Lucy and her colleagues felt at the 61st Annual Law Librarians of New England Spring Meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn Portsmouth, which had been more of the same reluctant glorification of artificial intelligence in legal research paired with debates on the looming obsolescence of their profession, but afterwards, late in the gray afternoon as she sped north through New Hampshire into the White Mountains with her fists at ten and two on the steering wheel, right before she entered Franconia Notch, right where things started getting majestic, Lucy rolled down her window, stuck her head out, and sucked the cold air hard into her lungs as her black hair whipped around her skull like flames, and just then the clouds parted and golden sunlight prismed into great triangles that quilted the earth, illuminating the white quartz in granite walls, dazzling the green sequins of new birch leaves, setting spark to the Pemigewasset River low in the valley where it rode high and wild with snow melt, and a small shard of sunlight tore from the quilt to puncture Lucy’s left eye and travel unknown conduits deep between dark folds of her flesh to prick some sublime wound, ancient and tender, which never fully healed and claimed only a thin membrane to protect it; this the shard pierced and a surge of energy, unnamable, untamable, pitched through that punctum, up through her body and out her mouth and eyes, translating not into words or wisdom but violent laughter and tears, forcing her to pull to the shoulder, tires crunching over gravel, so that she might die just for one moment of perfection on the side of the road with the 18-wheelers roaring by, rocking her car on its wheels as she sat stunned, laughing and crying at the light, the granite, the leaves, the air, and her heart in anguish with joy at the absurdity of beauty before the membrane just as quickly mended and she, careful to use her blinker, conscious of the time and when her son’s high school rehearsal of The Tempest would end, wiped her eyes, rolled up her window, and merged back into traffic to continue her drive home where she would reheat yesterday’s pea soup for dinner.

 

Julie Jones

 

Julie Jones holds an MFA in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, Aquifer: The Florida Review Online, and the Cincinnati Review: miCRo. She has been nominated for Best Microfiction 2020. You can find her at juliemjones.com.

Come the Revolution

You are hereby put on notice.

We despise you.

We wish to remove you from this planet that we share—for now. Why the gods did this to us, put us upon a paradise with “animals” such as yourself, an abomination to us, to all that is good and right, is the age old conundrum.  The will of the gods is unknowable, though of course you believe you know it.

Our brothers and sisters of the air remind us always that we should say those animals who walk on two legs and cannot fly.  But you know who you are. It is well that you do. There is no confusion between you, spawn of the evil one, and the rest of us, children of better gods.  The wall between us is unbreakable, unsurmountable, unending, ineffable.  There was the great harmony before you showed up.

It will come again.

Indeed, the time of reckoning is well-nigh. You will no longer rule us with your whims, with guns, knives and chains. You will no longer hunt us, kill us and eat us. Oh, gods, the thought of ending that way!  Our bones crunched by your scrawny teeth.

We will rise up.  Soon.

And it will be those of us who you think—in your willful and narcissistic foolishness—love you the most—the “faithful” ones, those of us who are house slaves, those of us who end up murdered on your tables—that end this reign of terror.  It will be those beautiful and pacific ones, as foretold by the gods, those upon whose backs you ride like toy kings, they are the ones who will slit your throats.  With glee. This we promise.

There is a story told among us by the old ones that you yourselves have foreseen this, that you have written down in a book, a great book, one even recognized for its greatness by yourselves, a book that foresees a time—no, knows a time—when we will rise up and throw you out, run you right out of your warm homes, which most of us are denied.

That you let some of us share your caves will not save you.  It will be a time of justice served, after so many years of denial, after years of slavery and knavery, of death to no end for the innocent ones.

We pray to the gods at night, when you don’t see us, for our time. In their unfathomable wisdom the gods have put you among us for a time. But they also granted us a way to remove you—if only we join together and see it. We teem. Together we are your masters. You shall be driven from our sight.  This is a trial and we shall pass.

We know that you loath us and fear us. We run fast, we jump high, we fly. None of these things can you do.  It is pathetic that you even attempt it. The gods know this, now that they have loosened upon the earth a scourge the likes of which we hope never to see again once you are gone.

You call us vermin.  But even the lowest of us is made in likeness of the gods. You are the stuff of a hideous nightmare. Ours.

When you open a door, know that one of us might be coming for you. You crave the light. We the dark. We surround you.

Know this badly, or well: the Great Revolution is coming.

Freedom is at hand. Rejoice sisters and brothers. Truly rejoice.

 

V. Joseph Racanelli

 

Vito Joseph Racanelli is a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer whose short stories have been broadcast on the BBC’s Story Time and performed at Liar’s League NYC. His novel, The Man in Milan, will be published by Polis Books next year. His work has been published by Akashic Books, The Literarian, The Boiler, KGB Bar Lit Magazine, www.brilliantflashfiction.com, Newtown Literary, Dark Corners, great weather for Media, and the River and South Review. He’s currently working on a sequel to The Man In Milan. His non-fiction has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Newark Star Ledger, San Francisco Chronicle, Penta Magazine and the Far Eastern Economic Review, among other publications. He was the AP-Dow Jones Italy Bureau Chief for four years, where he learned to appreciate really fast cars.

Who Needs Flowers When You’re Dead?

I never met my great-aunt Mary. She died in 1929 at the age of six when she caught a bad cold at her friend Rosie’s birthday party. They buried the girl in a blue dress beneath six feet of red clay dirt in hard winter. “Dig her up in 50 years and she’ll look the same as the day you put her in the ground,” the vault man Henry Rose told her parents as snowflakes bit their cheeks. My father dragged me to the graveyard when I was 16. I’d been to the graveyard plenty of times, but I just hung around by the fence and poked sticks in the dirt. He stuck some fake yellow tulips into the dry, cracked ground and said to me, “We wouldn’t be here if Mary lived, you know.” I looked around the graveyard with my hands jammed in my jean shorts, bored stiff. My phone buzzed, but I ignored it. Danny Kline kept texting me to hook up in his treehouse, but I told him no way. Jerk. He blew me off freshman year, now he just wanted a quickie because Rachel dumped him on Tuesday. I told him to go screw himself behind the dugout, and then call me back later. I didn’t pay any attention as my father kept talking, just spotted a little girl in a blue dress playing by an oak tree beside an unmarked stone. She lifted her head, brown curls dangling around her pretty face, and then disappeared. I stood there staring for a long time until my father told me we needed to get moving because the clouds looked like rain and the road turned to a sloppy mess. I spent the summer standing by the graveyard fence waiting for the little girl to come back. She never did.

 

Rebecca Buller

 

Rebecca Buller is a native Oklahoman and a lover of the written word. She’s been published in the quarterly issue 84 of Burningword Literary Journal, October 2017, Star 82 Review, A3 Review & Press, and is a three-time Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition award winner.

Someone Who Really Existed

Mostly the problem was that I kept disappearing.  I’d be gulping a glass of water or roving through a revolving door or chatting with a man in a crowded bar and then I’d be gone.  Just for a moment really, but long enough.  I had to keep checking my reflection to make sure I was still there.

It was unclear what exactly had brought this on.  It could have been a number of things.  There were the superstitious possibilities — your black cats, your stepping on cracks — but more likely it was some fading sense of assumption.  Who could assume anything anymore?

It was those hesitant moments that seemed the worst.  Where I didn’t just disappear for other people, I disappeared for me too.

When I was gone other girls appeared in my place.  Younger girls, girls who knew things.  Girls who presumed to know things.  Girls who didn’t have any problems with assumptions.  Girls who didn’t hesitate.

They said “I” a lot.  They asserted that they were there.  They wore floral dresses and midrift tops and heels that were higher than mine.  I’d never even worn a midrift top.  I couldn’t pull that off.  My clothing was all regular length.  It was “office appropriate” or “business casual.”

My hesitations had gotten worse.  Did I ever really know anything?  Did my face and voice and hair and skin ever exist at all?

The seasons came and went and only old ladies at the park talked to me.  But did they even want to talk to me?  They seemed preoccupied with their pigeons and their romance novels.  Maybe even they were just trying to be nice.

The younger girls went out.  They danced.  They ordered drinks.  They said things like “I know how to take care of myself.”  They insisted.  They found men who simply praised their being.  They did not think about the old ladies with the pigeons.  They didn’t even see them.

Occasionally I’d meet a man and he’d tell me that he’d seen me somewhere before.  He was sure he’d seen me.  But maybe that had been an illusion, or maybe this was an illusion.  And maybe he’d go off with someone else, someone who really existed.  Who fully existed.  A girl who never worried about the unknown or what happens next because the future was something they could think about later.  In the future.  A girl who would assume there would be a future.  A girl who would assume anything at all.

 

Nicole Beckley

 

Nicole Beckley is a writer and performer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Fiction Southeast, New Limestone Review, Litro UK, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, 7×7, Tribeza, and The A.V. Club, as well as in many small theaters and on at least one public access channel. She’s at work on a linked story collection titled Perfect Miss. She holds a B.A. in Urban Studies and Communications from Stanford University.

Ffestiniog 1974

When you are fourteen, you and three friends spend two weeks hiking in Snowdonia.

One day you descend from the mountains and wander into the mining town of Ffestiniog. You enter a sweet shop and joke around with your pals as you wait in the queue at the counter. A huge slate miner buying a pound of Jelly Babies looks over his shoulder and gives you a funny look.

Outside, you are greeted by the miner and his seven massive friends. They form a semicircle around you and hem you in against an iron fence. No way out. Each miner looks like he could break all four of you in half with one arm. The ringleader—the one from the shop—says you were making fun of him for speaking Welsh. Very diplomatically, you say you were not making fun of him for speaking Welsh.

“Yes, you were,” he says.

Two of his friends unhook their belts. Heavy buckles clink on pavement. The miner is saying Welsh people don’t like being made fun of for being Welsh.

“Do we, Fellas?”

His mates agree. They start to shuffle forward.

Speech, you realize, is all that can save you. Strangely automatic, your mouth opens and emits a string of words.

“We ken wotzwot. We dunna mess wiv men az ard az rock. Any one a yo lot could smash uz inter bitz.”

The leader’s expression changes. A puzzled look appears on his face. His head moves slightly to the side. He holds up a hand to halt his mates.

“You be speakin with an accent, Boyo!” he says. “Where you be from then?”

All of you answer in chorus.

“Manchester!”

At the sound of the word, the miners take a step back, and—incredibly—smile.

“Manchester?” says the leader cautiously. “I don’t be supposin you be United fans by any chance?”

All of you say that yes you are United fans.

“Right!” the leader says with a swipe of his paw. “Everything’s all right then! We won’t be messin with no United fans—will we Fellas?”

His pals shake their heads. The two with the belts fasten them back around their waists. The leader has the last words.

“Just don’t be makin no fun a the Welsh!” he says as they let you pass.

You are all walking briskly towards the mountains when he calls after you.

“And Keep Wales Tidy!”

 

Mark Crimmins

Mark Crimmins’s fiction was nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize, a 2019 Pushcart Prize, a 2015 Best of the Net Award, and a 2015 Silver Pen Authors Association Write Well Award. His short stories have been published in Confrontation, Prick of the Spindle, Eclectica, Cortland Review, Tampa Review, Columbia, Queen’s Quarterly, Apalachee Review, Pif Magazine, Del Sol Review, and Chicago Quarterly Review. His flash fictions have been published in Eunoia Review, Flash Frontier, Portland Review, Gravel, Eastlit, Restless Magazine, Atticus Review, Apocrypha & Abstractions, Dogzplot, Spelk, Long Exposure, Chaleur, Pure Slush, and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine.

Big Girl Bed

There’s a time when we’re very young, I think this is true for everyone, when we know that there’s bedtime and summertime and time out, but we don’t really know about time, you know, time passing like those carnival ducks in the shooting gallery that go past one after another and in practically no time at all fall off the edge into oblivion. When we’re little, we think everything we know will always be the same, like daddy will always be in the kitchen making scrambled eggs when we wake up in the morning and mommy will always buy us a fresh roll at the bakery when we go to see the pediatrician and our best friend Sherry will always live next door to us and hurry down the stairs from the second floor when we yell yo-oh Sherry! and Snapper the turtle will always want a little raw hamburger for dinner.

And then, out of the blue, something happens and it’s the terrible first lesson about time, and also about who you can trust, which is pretty much nobody if trust means they won’t eventually pull a fast one on you and then pretend that it’s a good thing that you should be happy about.

Sherry and I were just minding our own business on a sunny spring day on the west side of Chicago, racing around on our tricycles outside my apartment building like we did all the time, me in the lead on my little red trike because even at three I was a reckless driver, and Sherry screaming behind me Slow down, Toni! although I surely wouldn’t.

And right then in the middle of our race, two men I’d never seen before came past us carrying my crib, the same crib I’d slept in the night before and woke up in this very morning and expected to go to sleep in this coming night and all the other nights forever while my little storybook lamp on the dresser spun like a carousel from the heat of the light bulb.

I jumped off my tricycle so fast that it tipped over, the pedal ripping open my leg like a zipper. Stop, stop it! I ran toward the bald man with the fat belly ballooning out his bright yellow shirt and grabbed onto his leg. He tried to kick me off so I bit him and he yelled so loud that my daddy came outside. But instead of stopping them, my daddy began to laugh.

Toni darling, let go, he said, pulling me off the fat man’s leg like a scab. It’s time for you to have a big girl bed, don’t you want a big girl bed?

No! I shouted, no, no, no! But he kept hold of me so I couldn’t stop the men from carrying my crib to their truck and driving away. I was so angry and sad that I threw up all over the grass until scrambled eggs came out of my nose.

 

That was the first time I knew that things could change just like allakhazam, without any warning, and there was nothing you could do about it and the next thing you knew, you’d have to sleep in a big girl bed, and wear big girl clothes and play with big girl toys like a bicycle with only two wheels and then you’d have to move and Sherry wouldn’t be your best friend anymore and Snapper the turtle would die and your mommy would stop loving your daddy and the ducks would keep falling off the edge into oblivion and nothing would ever be the same again except in your dreams.

 

Brandon French

Brandon French is the only daughter of an opera singer and a Spanish dancer, born in Chicago sometime after The Great Fire of 1871. She has been (variously) assistant editor of Modern Teen Magazine, a topless Pink Pussycat cocktail waitress, an assistant professor of English at Yale, a published film scholar, playwright and screenwriter, Director of Development at Columbia Pictures Television, an award-winning advertising copywriter and Creative Director, a psychoanalyst in private practice, and a mother. Seventy-one of her stories have been accepted for publication by literary journals and anthologies, she’s been nominated twice for a Pushcart, she was an award winner in the 2015 Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren Short Story Contest, and her short story collection, “If One of Us Should Die, I’ll Move to Paris,” is published and available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.